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WikiLeaks: Chavez-Ortega partnership strained over aid

U.S. diplomats viewed Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega as a mercurial opportunist who bashed the United States in public even as he cozied up to officials in private — particularly when he feared Venezuela and other benefactors might not come through with funds.

In a fresh batch of diplomatic communiqués published this week by WikiLeaks, U.S. diplomats describe how Nicaraguan officials toted suitcases of cash from Venezuela as part of an off-the-books aid effort that also was used to finance municipal campaigns.

A cable from 2006, part of a trio of memos designed to provide talking points in the run-up to the Nicaraguan presidential elections, rehashes two decades worth of incendiary misdeeds and allegations about Ortega and his Sandinista Front for National Liberation, or FSLN. Among the allegations: that Ortega and the Sandinistas blackmailed drug traffickers and a prominent boxer to finance their campaigns.

The allegations aren't new but the cables provide a more complete picture of U.S. diplomatic efforts in Nicaragua — a country that is reliant on U.S. aid even as it rails against the sins of its "imperialist" benefactor.

In a memo from Feb. 25, 2010, titled "Ortega and the U.S.: New-Found True Love Or Another Still-Born Charm Offensive," U.S. Ambassador Robert Callahan speculated that Ortega's sudden responsiveness to embassy requests came amid financial duress. Attempts to recruit Iran and Russia as financial backers fell flat and there were signs that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez was tired of forking over cash.

There are "indications that the Ortega-Chávez revolutionary partnership may be suffering a cold snap," the cable reads. "Over three years, Chávez has supplied Ortega with nearly a billion dollars in badly-needed 'assistance,' but Ortega's constant need for operating cash to offset forfeited donor assistance is likely now wearisome for Chávez who faces growing domestic difficulties."

Ortega — a former guerrilla commander who helped topple the Somoza dictatorship in 1979 and waged a bloody war against U.S.-backed CONTRA rebels in the 1980s — has found a kindered spirit in Chávez. Both are founding members of the left-leaning ALBA bloc of nations, which includes Cuba and Bolivia.

The cable speculates that relations between the "dynamic duo" were strained over how to best "exploit" the 2009 coup in Honduras and "rivalry over who is the Hemisphere's rightful heir to Castro's 'revolutionary' legacy."

Ortega was said to be stung when Chávez and Cuban President Raúl Castro failed to appear at the 30th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and at a military ceremony.

Referring to Ortega as Chávez's "Mini-Me," the embassy concedes that their partnership is "not in imminent danger of collapse."

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