U.S. threatens to tighten noose on Nicaragua

On his October 4 visit to Nicaragua, US deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick met with President Enrique Bolaños and other senior officials to discuss the country’s ongoing political crisis. Speaking with reporters in Managua, Zoellick warned of stark consequences if an opposition alliance succeeds in ousting Bolaños.

Pledging strong US support for the embattled Bolaños administration, Zoellick aimed his remarks at opposition leaders now attempting to strip Bolaños and his cabinet members of their immunity from prosecution. Such measures, charges the State Department, are intended to allow Bolaños’ political opponents to bring him to trial on bogus charges, thus enabling them to seize control of the government.

Nicaragua’s “promising future is threatened by a creeping coup,” said Zoellick. “It is threatened by corruption. It is threatened by a clique of caudillos.”

The caudillos, or political bosses, in question are Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and Nicaragua’s former right-wing president, Arnoldo Aleman—who was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003 for looting the national treasury, but recently was released. Zoellick charged that Ortega and Aleman have formed their left-right alliance against Bolaños in response to Bolaños’ efforts to crack down on corruption.

Denouncing the “corrupt pact” between Ortega and Aleman, Zoellick warned: “There’s going to be no deal here with Aleman on the part of the United States.” He described the former president as “a convicted criminal.”

Zoellick was unflinchingly direct about the price to be paid if the Ortega-Aleman succeeds in winning power. A $175 million US grant and other funding will be blocked if Nicaraguan politicians continue to support Aleman and Ortega in “a corrupt process where you remove a democratically elected president from power,” he said. Zoellick added that the United States would work to halt aid from other sources, as well. (Washington File, US State Department, Oct. 5)

In a sign that this campaign is succeeding, Mercosur reports Oct. 6 that a coalition of seven nations, the World Bank and the European Union warned Nicaragua it must preserve the rule of the law to ensure continued financial assistance from the “Budget Support Group.”

The group’s coordinator in Managua, Swiss diplomat Jurg Benz, said at a press conference: “It’s essential for the recipient country to have solid macroeconomic policies as well as anti-poverty programs, free and fair elections, accountability and anti-corruption measures.”

The Budget Support Group which includes Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Britain and Finland, along with the World Bank and EU, is supportive of the Nicaraguan administration’s efforts to curb corruption, added the European diplomat. Writes Mercosur:

Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños administration’s has been blocked for over a year by Congress which is controlled by a tactical alliance of centre-right Liberals and leftist Sandinistas who have put aside their ideological differences with the purpose of ousting Mr. Bolaños and his anti corruption campaign.

Actually Congress has approved several constitutional amendments wresting power from the Executive branch and recently lifted the immunity of several Cabinet members, clearing the way to prosecute them for alleged campaign-finance irregularities dating back to 2001.

Bolaños enraged his own Liberal colleagues by pursuing an anti-corruption crusade that led to the conviction of predecessor Arnoldo Aleman, who retains control of the party and is accused by the president of making concessions to the Sandinistas in hopes of winning their support for a pardon.

See our last post on the new Nicaraguan crisis.