Cablegate Chronicles: 'Would You Like Me to Hold a Trial and Then Hang Them?'

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An American ambassador writes a short biography of Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki.

FROM: ASMARA, ERITREA
TO: STATE DEPARTMENT
DATE: NOVEMBER 12, 2008
CLASSIFICATION: SECRET//NOFORN
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Isaias is an austere and narcissistic dictator whose political ballast derives from Maoist ideology fine-tuned during Eritrea's 30-year war for independence. He is paranoid and believes Ethiopian PM Meles tried to kill him and that the United States will attempt to assassinate him. He is not notably nepotistic and has not favored his ancestral village or immediate family. This message includes some biographic tidbits offered as an addendum to USG bio information on foreign government leaders.

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¶13. (C) No Pork for His Ancestral Village: In November 2008 emboffs visited Tselot and saw no indication that the village has received any special favor from Isaias. Like most Eritrean villages, it has electricity but no running water or sewer system. Gaunt cattle and untended donkeys roam the village. Their droppings are quickly gathered and formed into oval patties, which are then stuck on rock walls, dried, and used as fuel for cooking. Afwerki is said to be buried in the village cemetery, but emboffs could not locate his grave. Isaias' immediate family is rarely featured in the state-run media and keeps a low profile. Although his portrait adorns many shops in Asmara, there is no cult of personality in Eritrea. Isaias often appears in the media clad casually in slacks, jacket, open-necked shirt, and sandals or loafers. He rarely travels in a motorcade.

¶14. (C) Hard-hearted: When a visiting U.S. movie star in early 2008 raised the plight of two Embassy Asmara FSNs who have been imprisoned without charge since 2001, Isaias glared stonily at her and replied, "Would you like me to hold a trial and then hang them?"

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