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Chávez and drugs finance Nicaragua, say US dispatches

DEA taped Ortega's minister helping Escobar's men load cocaine on plane

US Embassy dispatches from Managua suggest that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega is running a country that has for some time has been financed by drug traffickers and by "suitcases full of money" from Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Writing in the spring of 2009, US Ambassador Robert J. Callahan quotes a "strictly" confidential source who explains how some government officials are terrorized by Ortega and his closest aides. "The president is completely crazy," the source is quoted as saying. "He has become a threat for the country. He even thinks that the old nuns are praying for someone to assassinate him."

Four other cables sent to Washington between 2006 and 2008 by then-Ambassador Paul Trivelli delve further. One of the dispatches alleges that Ortega and his Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) party financed their 2007 electoral campaign with money from drug runners "in return for ordering Sandinista judges to allow traffickers caught by the police and military to go free."

"Ortega has regularly received money to finance electoral campaigns from international drug traffickers"

Callahan wrote that officials from Ortega's government regularly receive gifts from Venezuelan representatives during official visits. The cable also quoted various "unconfirmed sources" as claiming that Ortega had $500 million from Chávez's government at his disposal in 2008.

But the Embassy doesn't just point the finger at Chávez for helping Ortega with his financing. In a lengthy dispatch dated May 5, 2006, Trivelli describes the criminal links to his government.

"Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas have regularly received money to finance FSLN electoral campaigns from international drug traffickers, usually in return for ordering Sandinista judges to allow traffickers caught by the police and military to go free. Most of these schemes are orchestrated by Lenin Cerna, the former Director of State Security, and are supervised by Sandinista Supreme Court judges such as Rafael Solis and Roger Camillo Arguello," he writes.

In the same cable, the then-ambassador explains how in 1984 Ortega allowed the famous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar to take refuge inside the country for several months after the Colombian trafficker had tried to assassinate the justice minister in his country. Escobar used Nicaragua as a stopover for his planes carrying cocaine to the United States. "In return, Ortega and the FSLN received large cash payments from Escobar," said the cable. "Interior Minister Tomas Borge and his subordinates went so far as to assist Escobar with the loading and unloading of drugs onto his airplanes in Nicaragua. The Drug Enforcement [Administration] (DEA) managed to place a hidden camera on one of Escobar's airplanes and obtained film of Escobar and Ministry of the Interior officials loading cocaine onto one of Escobar's planes at Managua's international airport."

Another cable paints Ortega as an unscrupulous person, capable of anything. "In September 2004, boxer Ricardo Mayorga allegedly raped a young woman in a Managua hotel. Sensing an opportunity to blackmail Mayorga, Ortega and the FSLN agreed to protect the boxer in the courts if he would give the party a large portion of his international boxing winnings and 'advertise' for Daniel in public. Mayorga agreed, and an FSLN judge found him not guilty in December.

"Much of Mayorga's winnings now reportedly go to Ortega, and when Mayorga fought in Chicago in August 2005, he dedicated the fight to Daniel, wore the FSLN colors, and flashed the number of the FSLN slot on the electoral ballot (casilla) to the international media."

In another report, Callahan said he was suspicious about conciliatory gestures made toward the US ambassador by Ortega and first lady Rosario Murillo. "At this point, we can only speculate as to Ortega's underlying aim or motive behind this current amiable countenance," he wrote.

Caracas "pays" Bolivia's military

Venezuela has created a parallel structure of advisers and loyalists in Bolivia that has irked some of President Evo Morales' closest aides, according to US Embassy cables sent from La Paz to Washington.

US diplomats say that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has extended his influence among Bolivian military officers by paying for their deployments. "Although Venezuelan 'bonuses' have cemented some loyalty, it has also created much resentment in the mid- and lower-ranks and cost the high command significant legitimacy," states an Embassy cable dated December 14, 2007 and signed by then-Ambassador Philip Goldberg.

Goldberg's predecessor, David N. Greenlee, noted in a series of dispatches that Venezuela's financing of the Bolivian military has also raised tensions between Caracas and Havana because Cuban officials, while they are able to send advisers, cannot compete with the oil-rich nation's cash donations.

Greenlee also said that Morales divides his advisors into three groups: politicians who collaborate with him directly; another group made up of different Bolivian personalities; and a third group that gets the special attention of the United States. Greenlee described them as "a Pandora's box of Cuban and Venezuelan advisers, who may have growing influence with the president."

Morales meets with them privately "multiple times a week without any domestic advisers present," said Greenlee, adding that if Morales "grows wary of his domestic advisers he is likely to rely more heavily on his foreign advisers to carry out his vision."

Another cable describes how in September 2008 Ambassador Goldberg was kicked out of the country.

Morales had accused the US envoy of working with the opposition in a bid to topple him. Goldberg said he was informed that he was persona non grata by Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca during a meeting. US diplomats also reported the tensions between some members in the military and Morales, who had wanted Bolivian troops to take on the role of a law enforcer.

The Bolivian leader also wanted military commanders to declare themselves "socialists," to which then-armed forces chief Wilfredo Vargas- who Washington described as "a mystery"- had refused. Morales replaced him in February with Antonio Cueto, who publicly stated recently that the military was "anti-imperialist, socialist and anti-capitalist."

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