Nicaraguan president plugs CAFTA, faces impeachment

“Twenty years ago this summer,” the vile Otto Reich writes for the July 18 National Review, “Washington’s hottest debate centered on the Contras’ war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua — and how to keep the nations of Central America from falling into the hands of Marxist terrorists or right-wing death squads. It was the equivalent of today’s Iraq debate. The eventual victory of freedom in Nicaragua came at a cost of tens of thousands of lives — and it is now in jeopardy. The hard Left in Latin America has learned its lessons: It is no longer trying to gain power by force, because it fears (with just cause) the unmatched power of the United States and the willingness of recent Republican presidents to use it in the defense of freedom; it is therefore resorting to political warfare to regain power, and one of its battlefields is again Nicaragua.”

Reich must think we have pretty short memories—the US was backing the death squad regimes in El Salvador and Honduras to the hilt in the ’80s, and the “Marxist terrorists” (he can’t keep from using the contemporary buzzword) in Nicargua were legitimately elected in 1984. The UN gave the elections a clean bill of health, while the World Court ruled against Washington for illegally destabilizing Nicaragua’s government. But we’re not supposed to talk about that. Reich waxes paranoid about how those sinister Sandinistas are exploiting the political impasse in Nicaragua to try to seek power again. (Um, isn’t that what political parties are supposed to do in a democratic system, Herr Reich?) Urging support for Enrique Bolaños, Nicaragua’s “duly elected president” (now facing impeachment proceedings), Reich portrays him as democracy’s last bulwark against a resurgent Red Menace.

Bolaños, of course, is quick to get with Reich’s propaganda program. From VOA:

Nicaraguan President Urges Support for CAFTA Trade Pact
by David Gollust
State Department
14 July 2005

Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos Thursday appealed for Congressional support for the U.S.-Central America Free Trade agreement, CAFTA. The trade accord faces an uncertain fate in the U.S. House of representatives.

Mr. Bolanos used a signing ceremony for a new U.S. aid package to Nicaragua to make an emotional appeal for CAFTA, a trade accord years in preparation that is in danger of being voted down in the House of Representatives.

A major priority of the Bush administration, CAFTA would eliminate trade barriers between the United States, Dominican Republic and five Central American states, including Nicaragua.

The Senate approved CAFTA by a nine-vote margin late last month. But its prospects are unclear in the House, where many members – mainly Democrats – oppose it on grounds that labor and environmental protections are inadequate.

Presiding with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the signing of a $175 million U.S. Millennium Challenge aid package for Nicaragua, President Bolanos said CAFTA is of paramount importance to the region.

He said Nicaragua’s leftwing former Sandinista President Daniel Ortega, still influential in Nicaraguan politics, opposes CAFTA precisely because of its promise as an instrument of prosperity, security and the rule of law.

Mr. Bolanos said CAFTA is more than an economic issue but also one of security, and said its defeat could roll back progress made in Nicaragua and neighboring states since the political turbulence of the 1980’s:

“CAFTA will consolidate the gains made by our region during the past 15 years in stabilizing democracy, the market economy, and a safe neighborhood for the U.S,” he said. “If Congress were to send a message that the U.S. is now turning its back on the Central American region by rejecting CAFTA, the negative economic, political, and security implications of such a message will be difficult to assess.”


Nicaragua became the fourth country, behind Madagascar, Honduras and Cape Verde to conclude a Millennium Challenge compact with the United States.

The cornerstone of the Bush administration’s foreign aid strategy, the Millennium Challenge grants are made to low-income nations that commit to good governance, market reforms and action against corruption.

The five-year $175 million grant to Nicaragua aims to increase the income of farm families in poor areas by reducing transportation costs and improving access to markets.

Secretary Rice said the aid package will allow Nicaragua to build on market reforms that have already given it the highest annual economic growth rate in Central America, in excess of five per cent:

“Development aid works best when it goes to countries that govern justly, open up their economies and invest in their people,” she said. “The awarding of Millennium Challenge development funds to Nicaragua testifies to Nicaragua’s strong commitment to advance in all of these key areas.”

Now, for what Bolaños (and Rice) are trying to distract attention from. This report from UPI:

Nicaragua heading toward impeachment
July 11, 2005

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Nicaraguan lawmakers are laying the groundwork for impeachment proceedings against President Enrique Bolanos.

Two of the poor Central American country’s leading opposition parties, which control Nicaragua’s Congress, are leading the impeachment process. Bolanos is accused of election fraud and other corruption charges, La Prensa newspaper reported Monday.

The president says the impeachment is retribution for the 2002 impeachment of his predecessor and one-time ally, President Arnoldo Aleman, who was convicted in the misuse of $100 million. Opposition leaders say Bolanos was in cahoots with Aleman on the misappropriation of state funds.

Last month Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza visited Nicaragua to mediate talks between the opposition and Bolanos, though the talks fell through.

For those obsessed with the increasingly bizarre intricacies of Nicaraguan politics, this more detailed account from the LA Times:

Nicaragua’s Bolanos Dismisses Impeachment Bid as Dirty Politics
Onetime rivals unite in an attempt to prosecute the president, who has refused to pardon his predecessor, convicted of corruption in 2003.

By Chris Kraul, Times Staff Writer

MANAGUA, Nicaragua — The opposition-led congress initiated impeachment proceedings this week against President Enrique Bolanos, intensifying a political crisis in this impoverished country.

An alliance of two former rivals — the Sandinista National Liberation Front and the Constitutionalist Liberal Party, or PLC — is demanding that Bolanos appear before a congressional committee as part of an effort to strip him of presidential immunity and prosecute him for “electoral crimes.”

Bolanos sent his attorney to the hearing while he addressed the nation to say that the proposed impeachment was merely dirty politics, an assertion several political analysts supported.

The president accused Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega of pushing for his impeachment to repay a debt to former President Arnoldo Aleman, who was convicted on corruption charges in 2003 and whose pardon is being sought by the alliance.

Bolanos has refused to consider pardoning Aleman, who is the PLC leader and his former patron. Sandinista leaders were not available for comment but have said Bolanos was implicated in the misuse of $100 million for which Aleman was convicted.

The impeachment controversy is the latest in a political impasse gripping the nation. Although the Nicaraguan army and the National Police have so far not become involved, investors are said to be increasingly nervous.

During four days here last month, Organization of American States Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza was unsuccessful in what one observer called “pingpong mediation.” Insulza went back and forth to the opposing parties, who refused to sit at the same table.

In Insulza’s final attempt, Ortega, Roman Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando and Christian Liberal Party leader Noel Ramirez were prepared to sit down with Bolanos, but the president refused to meet with those who, in the words of his secretary, Ariel Montoya, had “stabbed him in the back.”

The crisis was sparked mainly by laws passed late last year and early this year that stripped Bolanos of various powers, including naming ministerial officials and responsibility for destroying the army’s 1,150 surface-to-air missiles as requested by the United States.

Bolanos refuses to recognize the laws, saying they were political maneuvers and should be put to a national referendum. He has also ignored rulings by the Supreme Court and other judges, most of whom were appointed by the Sandinistas.

Analysts trace the dispute to Bolanos’ decision in 2002 to prosecute Aleman, who is serving a 20-year sentence under house arrest. That move led 43 of 49 PLC deputies to drop their support for the president.

Bolanos then formed an alliance with the Sandinistas to get enough votes in congress to strip Aleman of his immunity and prosecute him. But in 2003, the president broke with the Sandinistas, reportedly at the urging of the U.S. State Department, which was worried that Ortega was gaining too much power through his relationship with Bolanos, said Elvira Cuadra, a sociologist at Communication Research Center, a local think tank.

Bolanos still counts on strong support from the United States, the OAS and other Central American leaders, but he enjoys little backing at home.

Although he portrays himself as an anti-corruption crusader, he has also been criticized by some analysts as an inept politician.

There are signs that Nicaraguans are increasingly disenchanted with their politicians. The Sandinistas, for example, have lost support for entering into the alliance with the PLC.

See our last report on the struggle over CAFTA.

NOTE: In 2001, President Bush used a recess appointment to make Otto Reich assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, bypassing strong Congressional opposition, a move he may now repeat with his choice for UN ambassador John Bolton. (CNN, June 22) In 1987, Reich was investigated by Congress for illegal activities in support on Nicaragua’s right-wing Contra guerillas. In 2003 the White House quietly moved him over to the presidential staff as special envoy to Latin America rather than face Congressional opposition to his re-appointment as assistant secretary of state. He resigned in 2004 and returned to (ostensibly) private life. (NYT, June 17, 2004)