Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega dubbed 'Chavez Mini-Me' in leaked U.S. cables
The president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, has received almost $1 billion in aid from President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela -- sometimes in "suitcases full of cash" sent from Caracas -- a relationship that prompted a U.S. diplomat to dub Ortega a "Chavez Mini-Me," leaked U.S. diplomatic cables show.
Ortega, the cables say, also funds his party's political campaigns with money from drug traffickers and once bribed a prominent Nicaraguan boxer to stump for him in public in exchange for not facing sexual assault charges -- which Ortega himself has faced, as alleged by his stepdaughter.
The batch of new cables, released by WikiLeaks and published by the Spanish newspaper El Pais and other sites, paint a deeply unflattering portrait of the ex-guerrilla leader, asking at one point of Ortega's foreign-policy ambitions: "Petulant Teen or Axis of Evil Wannabe?"
Ortega and first lady Rosario Murillo are described as being "uncharacteristically friendly" to the United States delegation in Managua on certain occasions, in the interest of short-term strategic goals, the U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan wrote in a cable dated February 2010.
Another cable, dated May 2008 and classified by the former U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, Paul Trivelli, remarks: "Ortega's guiding principle in foreign relations seems to be, 'Will this annoy the U.S.?'"
The former leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front assumed the presidency in January 2007. Ortega has since built a cult of "Danielismo" in his own honor and continues to pursue a change in the Nicaraguan Constitution that would allow him to run for reelection next year, as The Times' Tracy Wilkinson reported in August from Managua.
His government has made no official statements in response to the leaked cables, maintaining an "unusual silence," the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diario reported on Monday (link in Spanish).
The Nicaragua cables are among the most negative and critical of those released so far on Latin America.
The cable from 2006, before Ortega was elected, reminds U.S. authorities in Washington that the Sandinistas harassed Nicaragua's Jewish community after overthrowing the dictatorship in 1979, bombing the Managua synagogue and threatening elderly Jews, some of whom were Holocaust survivors. The May 2008 cable details Ortega's overtures to Iran and describes an "increasingly public support" for the FARC, the Colombian guerrilla army classified as a terrorist organization by the United States.
U.S. authorities in Managua describe a sense of frustration over the pursuit of American interests, and untrustworthy and insincere communications from Ortega's government.
"Our goals are to keep Nicaragua on the democratic path; to combat corruption, terrorism and all forms of trafficking; to promote private sector-led development and to protect the interests of U.S. citizens residing in Nicaragua," says the 2008 cable, classified by Trivelli. "Though our interests remain unchanged, Ortega has made it increasingly difficult for us to work towards these goals, by restricting our access and pressuring our partners."
-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City
Photo: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Credit: Momento24