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|Tags:||PREL PGOV PBTS ETRD ECON KJUS HO UNGA|
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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 TEGUCIGALPA 002534 SIPDIS STATE FOR WHA, WHA/CEN, DRL, AND EB STATE PASS AID FOR LAC NSC FOR AMB MAISTO E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/10/12 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, PBTS, ETRD, ECON, KJUS, HO, UNGA SUBJECT: A/S REICH MEETS WITH HONDURAN PRESIDENT MADURO; DISCUSSION FOCUSES ON BORDER/TARIFF DISPUTE WITH NICARAGUA Ref: Tegucigalpa 2472 Classified by PolChief Francisco Palmieri, Reasons 1.5 (b) and (d) 1. (C) Summary. WHA A/S Reich met August 28 in Tegucigalpa with Honduran President Ricardo Maduro. The discussion was positive and covered a wide range of issues, with the focus being the ongoing dispute between Honduras and Nicaragua on border issues and the Nicaraguan 35 percent tariff on Honduran goods. Reich praised Maduro for not imposing a retaliatory tariff and urged him to seek an amicable solution to the dispute. Unfortunately, it appears that there is no immediate solution in sight on the issue. Reich and Maduro also discussed the issue of an ICC Article 98 Agreement (see reftel). End Summary. 2. (U) Participants in WHA A/S Reich meeting with Honduran President Ricardo Maduro in Maduro's office in Tegucigalpa: USG: A/S Reich, Ambassador, WHA/CEN Director Trivelli, DCM, PolCouns, EconCouns, and PolOff (notetaker). GOH: President Ricardo Maduro, Foreign Minister Guillermo Perez-Cadalso Arias, Minister of the Presidency Luis Cosenza, the President's Executive Assistant Xavier Arguello and Cesar Batres, the President's Special Advisor on Land Issues Nicaragua and the Tariff ------------------------ 3. (C) Maduro welcomed A/S Reich to Honduras and opened the meeting by asking Reich about his trip to Nicaragua August 26-27, noting that the GOH has many issues pending with the GON. Reich told Maduro that he had met with prominent GON officials while in Managua, including President Enrique Bolanos. Reich said Bolanos was doing the best he could with a difficult situation, including a struggling economy. Reich noted that Bolanos was attacking corruption, just as Maduro was doing in Honduras. Reich explained that the question of stripping former President Arnoldo Aleman of his congressional immunity was the major issue in Managua. He added that he had also discussed obstacles to Central American integration, including the 35 percent tariff leveled in late 1999 against Honduran goods by Nicaragua. 4. (C) Maduro replied that it appeared reversing the tariff had unfortunately become linked to the debate over stripping Aleman's congressional immunity. Maduro then recalled that Nicaragua's 35 percent tariff on Honduran goods was imposed by the Nicaraguan Congress in reaction to Honduras ratifying a Caribbean maritime boundary treaty with Colombia in 1999. He explained that the Nicaraguans felt the treaty ignored GON territorial claims. Maduro said he understood the GON position that the GOH had to renounce its treaty with Colombia. However, Maduro said now that the GON has filed a case before the International Court of Justice on the maritime boundary the GOH's position is that it will await the court's ruling on its boundary claims before taking any action on that treaty. 5. (C) Maduro outlined how Honduran FM Perez-Cadalso had explored options to resolve the tariff issue with Nicaraguan FM Norman Caldera. GOH/GON discussions had included the possibility of joint maritime exploitation not just in disputed areas, but in all areas. Maduro recognized that Aleman had criticized Bolanos for seeking cooperation with the GOH. However, Maduro charged that Caldera's recent statements on oil exploration in the Caribbean were contrary to statements made in private GOH/GON discussions and done for political reasons. He explained that those comments had provoked a strong negative reaction in the Honduran Congress and private sector. 6. (C) Maduro also detailed efforts made by Cardinal Rodriguez, the Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, to approach his Nicaraguan counterpart Cardinal Obando y Bravo to discus the possible elimination of the tariff but that Obando y Bravo had declined to get involved. Subsequently FM Perez- Cadalso, Nicaraguan MFA Sub-Secretary Salvatore (FM Caldera did not attend), and Vatican officials discussed the issue of possible Vatican mediation of the issue without success. 7. (C) Maduro said he understood that Bolanos had the political will to eliminate the tariff but recognized the problem Bolanos faced with Aleman. He offered that the GOH was looking at different approaches to solve the tariff problem, but warned that domestic political pressure on him to take action was growing. He explained that some political opponents were alleging he was not taking the border issue seriously because he was not really Honduran. (Note: Maduro was born in Panama and the issue of his citizenship was a hot political issue during the 2001 presidential campaign. End Note.) 8. (C) Maduro said he was seeking to dampen political rhetoric on the tariff issue and hoped to find a creative solution. However, he flagged that even deputies of his own party (the National Party) were calling for a retaliatory tariff. Maduro underscored his strong personal belief that a retaliatory tariff would be contrary to Central American integration. Reich complimented Maduro and the GOH for not responding with a retaliatory tariff against Nicaraguan goods. Gulf Of Fonseca --------------- 9. (C) Maduro also discussed the Gulf of Fonseca border dispute with El Salvador and Nicaragua, saying that the 1992 ICJ ruling had clearly given Honduras an exit point from the Gulf in the Pacific Ocean. Maduro opined that a trilateral economic agreement to develop the gulf would be the best solution. However, he noted that the Inter-American Development Bank did not want to get involved in the issue due to a lack of interest from the GON and GOES. He noted that the 10-year anniversary of the ICJ ruling on the Honduran/Salvadoran border would occur September 11. Maduro said he wanted to lower border tensions and emphasize positive economic issues between the countries. 10. (C) A/S Reich responded that the USG would be happy to help if it could to reduce tensions in Central America. He noted that no one wanted to return to the tensions of the 1980s. Reich emphasized that President Bush was very interested in Central America. Reich added that Honduras needed to catch up economically with El Salvador and Costa Rica, but acknowledged that would not be easy and that expectations needed to be realistic. Regional Disarmament? --------------------- 11. (C) Maduro said that he had discussed with El Salvadoran President Francisco Flores the idea of regional disarmament. Maduro said that if disarmament occurred it could lead to savings that could be used for social investment. A/S Reich said that the USG was concerned about the number of arms in Central America, and cited the recent case of 3,000 rifles that went from Nicaragua to Colombia via Panama. Reich also noted that in Nicaragua there was a plethora of AK-47 rifles but a shortage of pistols for police. He stressed that all of the arms left over from the 1970s and 80s in the region concerned the U.S. Maduro noted that Honduras had fewer weapons and a smaller military than its neighbors do and was concerned by its neighbors' military spending. Maduro said that the GOH could not invest in military hardware because it needed the money for police, teachers, and other important productive domestic investments. He asked for U.S. support on the disarmament issue, saying American leadership would be helpful. A/S Reich offered U.S. and pledged to look into ways to assist this effort. Trade is Key ------------ 12. (C) Maduro emphasized his vision that Central American integration and free trade within the region were key to making progress against poverty in the region. He noted he has now met with Bolanos and Flores together at least 4 times since taking office in January. He shared that he would soon meet again privately with Bolanos, and separately with Flores, to encourage more concrete efforts toward regional integration. 13. (C) Maduro stressed the importance of a Central American free trade agreement with the U.S. Maduro said the GOH was happy about the U.S. Congress voting to grant the President Trade Promotion Authority. Maduro pointed out that increased trade was key to reducing illegal immigration to the U.S., but underscored that Honduran remittances from the U.S. were a critical element to maintaining a stable economic situation in Honduras. Maduro said he hoped the proposed Central America Free Trade Agreement would boost foreign investment in the region. A/S Reich said such investment usually followed a trade agreement, especially if progress was made against corruption and in favor of judicial security. Land Disputes and the Administration of Justice --------------------------------------------- -- 14. (C) Maduro introduced Cesar Batres, his Legal Advisor, who explained (as expected) that the GOH had decided to seek to resolve land disputes involving the GOH by submitting them to arbitration (similar to the process used in Costa Rica for expropriation cases). The proposal required a change in legislation. Batres provided the draft law prepared by the Supreme Court to Ambassador. A/S Reich and Ambassador thanked Maduro for this initiative. 15. (C) Reich noted that the administration of justice (AOJ) was key for investment. Why would a business invest if the law and protection for investments were not clear when they could invest in another location where investments were protected, asked Reich. Maduro agreed that AOJ was critical for investment. Limited Progress on Economic and Security Problems --------------------------------------------- ----- 16. (C) On agricultural issues, Maduro suggested the need for a coordinated international response to the free-fall in coffee prices. Reich noted the importance of coffee in Central America and the challenge producers in Central America and the Andean Region faced from Vietnamese coffee. Maduro said that even though oversupply had led to falling producer prices, it had not affected consumer prices, which if anything were rising. 17. (C) Maduro commented that the tourism and textile sectors were improved. He said his administration was trying to foster home ownership, infrastructure development, and micro and small businesses. Maduro explained that though the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was disappointed in the GOH's wage settlement with teachers, he hoped they would be successful in negotiating a new three- year IMF program, when the IMF team arrived in October. He indicated that tax receipts had risen since July, due to use of enforcement measures in the new tax law that included temporarily closing businesses that did not pay taxes. 18. (C) Maduro noted he had boosted police patrols with the military to crack down on crime and claimed that both homicides and crime in general had dropped since his inauguration. GOH Appreciates Visit --------------------- 19. (C) Reich thanked Maduro for the GOH's support on issues of concern to the USG at the UN. Maduro thanked Reich for his visit and noted that U.S. support is key and very much appreciated. Maduro praised retiring Ambassador as a friend of Honduras and of Maduro. Candid Discussion Reveals No Quick End to Tariff Issue --------------------------------------------- --------- 20. (C) Comment. Reich and Maduro had a friendly and open discussion, dominated by discussion of the tariff and border dispute with Nicaragua. In the lengthy talk it was clear that there was no immediate solution at hand on the tariff issue. Maduro is likely to face growing political pressure to retaliate against the Nicaraguan tariff unless there are signs of progress in resolving the issue. Reich's visit was an important statement that the USG recognizes Maduro's leadership in avoiding such retaliation, and that its resolution is key to Central American free trade and integration. End Comment. PIERCE
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