CONFIDENTIAL: Lords of the Narco-Coast: Part I – Deadly Confrontation

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/12/21
TAGS: SNAR SOCI PGOV PHUM PREL KCOR ASEC NU
SUBJECT: Lords of the Narco-Coast: Part I - Deadly Confrontation at
Walpa Siksa 

REF: MANAGUA 1051 (MOSQUITO COAST INDEPENDENCE) 

CLASSIFIED BY: Robert J. Callahan, Ambassador, State, Embassy
Managua; REASON: 1.4(A), (B), (D) 

1. (C) SUMMARY: On December 8, after a plane laden with cocaine and
cash crash landed in the remote, small village of Walpa Siksa in
the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), a deadly confrontation
took place between Nicaraguan anti-drug units and drug smugglers
allied with a some number of local residents.  Stories of how the
clash came to pass on December 8 are divergent, but the Walpa Siksa
incident,  the ensuing actions of regional leaders and local
residents, as well as the enhanced posture of security forces seems
to indicate there are stronger linkages between drug smugglers and
local communities than previously believed.  This message is the
first in a series that reports on the Walpa Siksa incident and its
immediate aftermath, and explores what these events have revealed
about the actual state of organized trafficking operations in
Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast.  END SUMMARY 

WALPA SIKA: THE OFFICIAL ACCOUNT 

2. (C) On Tuesday, December 8, a Nicaraguan anti-drug unit clashed
with suspected drug traffickers, leaving two sailors dead and five
other government security forces wounded.  The following account of
events is based on Government of Nicaragua (GON) official briefings
and conversations between senior GON law enforcement/military
officials and Embassy personnel.  On Tuesday, December 8, a
Nicaraguan anti-drug unit combined force of navy and national
police traveled to the remote, small village of Walpa Siksa in the
North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) to investigate reports of a
plane crash linked to drug smugglers.  The joint patrol arrived in
the evening and was ambushed by civilians from the remote village,
who were allegedly defending the drug traffickers.  In the melee,
two sailors were killed, and three other military personnel and one
police officer were severely wounded.  One villager from Walpa
Siksa was also killed.  On Wednesday, December 9, a joint
Nicaraguan navy-army patrol returned to Walpa Siksa to detain those
suspected of involvement in the ambush, only to find the community
abandoned of all males.  On Thursday, December 10, anti-drug forces
from the Navy confronted an additional group of drug smugglers near
the community of Prinzapolka, in which one suspect was killed and
another wounded.  Two more were detained, and the fifth suspect
escaped.  Subsequent missions by the anti-drug unit over several
days resulted in 20 suspects arrested (18 in connection with the
first clash), and confiscation of a powerboat, several guns,
ammunition, small quantities of drugs and $177,960 in cash.
Nicaraguan security forces have seized and are now operating out of
several homes in the Walpa Siksa community that are believed to
have housed drug smugglers.  The military has announced plans to
establish a permanent presence in the area to discourage drug
traffickers from using it as a base of operations any longer. 

3. (U) Capt. Roger Gonzalez, newly-installed chief of the
Nicaraguan naval forces, told the press that "we understand there
is a Colombian criminal, suspected drug trafficker, [Alberto Ruiz
Cano] who has $500,000 and has armed certain area individuals, and
we are searching for him."  Police investigators revealed that Ruiz
Cano, whose real name is Amauri Pau, was illegally issued a
Nicaraguan national identity card (cedula) and owns several
properties and businesses in Managua believed to be involved in
money laundering (see SEPTEL).  Ruiz Cano is also believed to have
been on the crashed plane and is suspected of leading the December
8 attack against the anti-drug unit.  Officials detained two
Colombians -- Ruiz Cano's father [Fernando Melendez Paudd known as
"el Patron"] and his cousin [Catalina del Carmen Ruiz] -- but
neither has been willing to talk to police about Ruiz Cano or his
whereabouts.  Ruiz Cano's associates have hired attorney Julian
Holmes Arguello to defend them.  The presence of Holmes Arguello, a
well-known and expensive attorney, has reinforced official
suspicions about Holmes own possible drug connections. 

WALPA SIKSA: EYE-WITNESS ACCOUNTS -- EARLY "WHITE" CHRISTMAS OR
FAILED DRUG RESCUE? 

4. (U) The national daily newspaper El Nuevo Diario "END"
(left-of-center) has provided continuous coverage of the Walpa
Siksa incident, since it came to light on the evening of December
8th.  According to the paper's accounts, events leading up to the
deadly December 8 firefight differ somewhat from the official
account.  The paper's sources, who requested anonymity for fear of
possible reprisals from traffickers, other residents and the
government, stated that the plane crash-landed in the Walpa Siksa
cemetery on Sunday, December 6 at 11 a.m.  The impact killed the
pilot and co-pilot instantly, and broke the plane into several
pieces scattering packets of cocaine and bundles of dollars in the
debris.  Walpa Siksa residents quickly discovered the dead pilots
and one crash survivor, to whom they gave medical attention.  They
were also surprised at the large quantity of cocaine the plane was
carrying.  According to the paper's sources, some community elders
wanted to immediately contact the police and navy about the plane
crash and drugs, but others argued that it would be better to
divide the cash and drugs within the community and then burn the
plane to hide the evidence.  According to the media reports, the
latter group prevailed and armed themselves with weapons (pistols,
AK-47 rifles) that had been stored since the 1980's.  According to
the eye-witness accounts, on December 7 at 2 p.m. two boats with
approximately 40 Colombian narco-traffickers, who were "armed to
the teeth," arrived in Walpa Siksa to rescue the pilots and the
third passenger (known as "el Jefe" or "the boss," believed to be
Alberto Ruiz Cano), and to recover the plane's lost "merchandise."
The Colombians spent the night of December 7 and all day December 8
trying to convince the community to return the missing drugs and
cash.  According to END reports, when the narco-traffickers learned
that a government anti-drug unit was coming from Bilwi to
investigate the plane crash, they armed the community in order to
repel the Navy.  As soon as the two Navy boats arrived, the
narco-traffickers opened fire on the sailors, who also shot back,
killing four community members [NOTE: only one death in the
community has been confirmed. END NOTE].  The navy boats returned
to Bilwi at 7 p.m. with their dead and wounded.  On December 9, the
wounded civilians from Walpa Siksa were taken to a nearby village
and, by the afternoon, the Walpa Siksa village was evacuated
because villagers feared reprisals by the Government. 

5. (C) Our Embassy contacts on the ground in the RAAN have relayed
an account similar to that reported in the newspaper, but that
differs on some important details.  According to our sources, on
Friday, December 4, an airplane carrying hundreds of pounds of
cocaine and sacks of cash ran out of fuel on its way to a
clandestine runway in the RAAN and was forced to make an emergency
landing on the beach near Walpa Siksa.  The plane's pilot and two
passengers, allegedly Colombians, suffered minor injuries and were
sheltered by the local community.  Members of the community quickly
emptied the airplane of its cargo, estimated to be approximately a
half-ton of cocaine separated into individual one kilo packets.
Our contacts told us that word of the plane crash quickly spread
throughout the coastal communities and on Saturday morning,
December 5, several local merchants left Bilwi with their boats
full of commercial goods and food to sell to the community with its
sudden new windfall.  By Saturday evening narco-trafficker "rescue
boats" carrying approximately 40 Colombians and Hondurans
(reportedly from Honduras and San Andres) arrived in the community
to save the pilot/passengers and recover the drugs and cash.  Over
the ensuing three days, village elders urged by the narco "recovery
team" tried to persuade the community to sell the cocaine packets
back at a price of $3,000 a kilo.  According to our contacts, the
major sticking point was that the $3,000 price was only half the
$6,000 per kilo price that locals knew they could get by taking
their windfall slightly up the coast to Honduras.  When one group
of Walpa Siksa residents ultimately refused to sell back their
stash to the narco-traffickers, they were attacked and robbed of
their "windfall."  This group subsequently traveled to Bilwi on the
morning of Tuesday, December 8, and filed a formal complaint with
the police there, which confirmed rumors of a drug-plane crash.
Our contacts told us that it was this formal complaint that lead to
the government dispatching the counter-drug unit to investigate at
Walpa Siksa.  The anti-drug unit arrived in two boats to Walpa
Siksa at approximately 6 p.m.  Our contacts told us that there had
been no ambush when they arrived, but rather an "amicable" meeting
between law enforcement and village elders.  However, things turned
sour after one of the Colombians from the "rescue team," who was
drunk and under the impression they were under attack, shot his
automatic weapon into the group of uniformed sailors, killing one
and seriously wounding several other counter-drug unit members.
Our contacts told us that the "ambush" story was fabricated later
by authorities to account for their dead and wounded. 

COMMENT 

6. (C) Walpa Siksa has obliged us to revise our views about the
nature and extent of trafficking activity on the Atlantic.
Previously, our assessment had been that the majority of the local
indigenous Miskito villages were too xenophobic to actively support
outsiders (even Nicaraguans from the Pacific side of Hispanic
descent) in transporting drugs (or, frankly, any other activity)
for extended periods.  We had also believed that local interaction
with traffickers had been intermittent, and normally took place
upon the instruction or advice of a small number of corrupt
political and indigenous leaders in the region.  We maintain our
basic assessment is still valid; however, all three versions of the
Walpa Siksa incident reveal evidence that there is likely a much
higher degree of cooperation and support than we previously
believed between foreign drug trafficking organization and, at
least, the more remote local communities of Nicaragua's Atlantic
Coast.  In some cases there may be persistent and pervasive
relationships within an entire community.  We fear that it now
appears that organized criminal elements may have made major
inroads within some remote coastal communities, convincing them to
join forces by offering perhaps the only secure and steady
employment opportunity on the Coast - maintaining drug trafficking
supply routes.  Nicaragua's Atlantic is a key mid-point for an
increasingly busy transit corridor of South American drug shipments
bound for the United States.  It is also the most underdeveloped
and economically backward region of the country and has been
generally ignored by the current and previous central governments
in Managua.  This combination of political neglect, limited
economic opportunity and daily shipments of drugs creates
conditions for a possible "perfect storm" where Nicaragua's
Atlantic Coast could degenerate into an ungoverned "Narco-Coast,"
with serious repercussions for Nicaragua's political stability and
U.S. counternarcotics cooperation.  In subsequent messages we will
address reaction to Walpa Siksa by local, regional and national
figures.  We will also provide more detailed reporting about the
key figures caught up in the Walpa Siksa incident and outline some
of the networks and relationships that we believe traffickers have
been able to establish.
CALLAHAN