The United States has warned Nicaraguan politicians that millions of dollars of aid will be withheld from the country if any moves are made to oust the president, Enrique Bolaños. In a move that has echoes of US intervention in the country’s politics in the 80s, the US deputy secretary of state, Robert Zoellick, is in the capital Managua this week to head off the possibility of the Sandinista leader, Daniel Ortega, returning to power.
The Nicaraguan national assembly is at present debating a proposal to impeach Mr Bolaños, who was elected in 2001, for alleged campaign finance violations. He claims he is the innocent victim of an agreement, known locally as el pacto, between Mr Ortega and the former president, Arnoldo Aleman, of the Constitutionalist Liberal party, who has himself been sentenced to 20 years for corruption.
“For those who think they can remove him [Mr Bolaños], my message is: there will be consequences in terms of their relations with the United States,” said Mr Zoellick. He attacked Mr Ortega and Mr Aleman and what he described as the “corrupt pact” between them. He said $4bn (£2.3bn) in debt forgiveness and a $175m grant to the country would be withheld if Mr Bolaños were toppled. Corrupt Aleman backers could also face the withdrawal of their visas to enter the US, he added.
“The United States will not welcome corrupt people to our country,” Mr Zoellick said at a press conference, according to the Associated Press. “We will take actions to block them.”
Mr Zoellick added that Nicaragua’s “promising future is threatened by a creeping coup”. He also met a number of Nicaraguan politicians in what was seen as an indication of who enjoys US favour.
The pro-business, pro-US Mr Bolaños, who was vice-president under Mr Aleman but came to power promising to fight corruption, has said that he is the victim of a “rolling coup d’etat”.
He had enjoyed a working relationship with Mr Ortega in the early part of his administration but is thought to have been warned off any such association by the US and no longer has a strong power base in the national assembly. He has made pleas to international bodies for assistance but attempts by the Organisation of American States to resolve the dispute have so far been unsuccessful.
The pact between the conservative Mr Aleman and the leftist Mr Ortega has dismayed Nicaraguans. Many leading Sandinistas, who participated in the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza, have quit the party, disillusioned with Mr Ortega and what they see as his unholy alliance with Mr Aleman, which is regarded as a cynical device to secure power and immunity for the two men. Mr Ortega’s power base is now centred around a rump of remaining Sandinistas known as the “Danielistas.”
There is also, however, some resentment at the role of the US, which backed Mr Aleman when he was elected in 1997 and who illegally aided the anti-Sandinista “contras” in the 1980s civil war when the then President Ronald Reagan vowed to make the Sandinistas say “uncle”. The US also made clear in 2001 that voters should elect Mr Bolaños or face financial consequences, and the Bush administration has rehabilitated many of those implicated in supporting the contras.
Mr Ortega, who was elected president in 1984 but lost two subsequent elections, has long harboured ambitions to return to power. His chances in next year’s poll are seen as slim.
Mr Aleman, who left office in 2002, was investigated when Mr Bolaños came to power and found to have embezzled $100m from the state. Despite his 20-year sentence, he is free to move around Managua, supposedly for health reasons.
The 1979 revolution in Nicaragua saw the end of the Somoza dynasty, overthrown by the Sandinista National Liberation Front, led by Daniel Ortega. The “contras”, backed by the US, fought to overthrow the Sandinistas. Mr Ortega was elected president in 1984 but lost in 1990. Arnold Aleman held office until 2002 but has been convicted of embezzling state funds. Enrique Bolaños replaced him on an anti-corruption ticket. The Guardian