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How WikiLeaks may give Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega an upper hand with US

WikiLeaks revealed that Nicaragua received 'suitcases full of cash' from Venezuela, but also showed the limitations of US intelligence-gathering in Ortega's country.

By Tim RogersCorrespondent / December 8, 2010

View of the WikiLeaks homepage taken in Washington on Nov. 28.

Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Newscom

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Managua, Nicaragua

Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and other top officials in his Sandinista administration have bankrolled their political campaigns and party activities with “suitcases full of cash” from Venezuela and narco-dollars from Colombian drug lords, according to a new batch of cables that WikiLeaks published Dec. 6.

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The latest series of leaked diplomatic cables, allegedly written over the past five years by the current and previous US ambassadors to Nicaragua, detail the worrisome decline of democracy under Mr. Ortega, who is described as corrupt, power-hungry, and unscrupulous.

But the cable leak also reveals the limitations of United States intelligence-gathering in Nicaragua, potentially empowering Ortega as he attempts to sidestep the Constitution and run for reelection in 2011. Ortega, whose political career suggests he’s not easily shamed by accusations or scandal, could even gain the upper hand from the latest WikiLeaks dump, especially if US diplomats embarrassed by "Cable Gate" try to tip-toe around him.

“Daniel will try to capitalize on this and put the US embassy at a disadvantage in their future dealings with him,” says opposition lawmaker Francisco Aguirre, the former Nicaraguan ambassador to the US. “He’s been dealt a card he didn’t know he could play.”

'Nicaragua's Most Wanted'

Two "unclassified" cables from 2006 are titled "Nicaragua's Most Wanted Part 1: The Crimes of Daniel Ortega and His Family" and "Nicaragua's Most Wanted Part 2: The Crimes of the Sandinistas." The documents detail the alleged murky relationship between the former revolutionary government and Colombian narco-kingpin Pablo Escobar, who reportedly lived in Nicaragua for eight months in 1984 under Sandinista protection and disguised as a Colombian guerrilla.

The leaked cables, attributed to former US Ambassador Paul Trivelli, claim that hidden cameras revealed Mr. Escobar loading cocaine onto a plane in Managua along with the then-Minister of the Interior Tomas Borge, who currently serves as Nicaragua’s ambassador to Peru.

“Escobar's drug trafficking operation received Ortega's approval to land and load airplanes in Nicaragua as they sought to ship cocaine to the United States. In return, Ortega and the FSLN received large cash payments from Escobar,” the leaked cable reads. The US embassy in Managua would not comment on the leaks.

Though the Sandinista-Escobar connection has been public knowledge in Nicaragua for years, this week’s leaked cables claim the Sandinistas’ connection to narco-financing continued well after the revolution ended in 1990. Ortega was eventually reelected president in 2006, after 16 years out of power.

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