October 5, 2005

US’s Zoellick steps into Nicaragua political crisis

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Deputy Secretary of State
Robert Zoellick, stepping into a political crisis in Nicaragua,
met a one-time Sandinista loyalist on Wednesday to press U.S.
influence in the divided Central American nation.

The discussion with former Managua mayor Herty Lewites, now
critical of his former allies, was part of an effort to thwart
what Zoellick called a "creeping coup" by Sandinista leader
Daniel Ortega and former right-wing president Arnoldo Aleman.

On a two-day visit to Managua, the State Department's
number two official has piled pressure on Sandinista and
rightist opposition leaders whom Washington accuses of
undermining President Enrique Bolanos, a U.S. ally.

He announced that the United States had revoked visas held
by Nicaragua's attorney general and Aleman's two adult children
and threatened to withhold millions of dollars in aid.

Ahead of Wednesday's meeting, Zoellick said he was eager to
meet Lewites "because he stood against the pact," a reference
to the unlikely alliance between Aleman's Liberal Party and the

"I want to get a better sense of his vision and sense of
direction," Zoellick said.

Ortega and Aleman's alliance already controls the judicial
and legislative branches of government and the conflict has at
times threatened to force Bolanos from office.

Ortega, an old adversary of Washington, was Nicaragua's
president in the 1980s during a civil war against the
U.S.-backed Contra rebels.

U.S. officials have expressed concerns that Ortega, who
Washington accused of running a Soviet-backed government during
the Cold War, could return to office when elections are held
next year.

As he delivered his blunt U.S. message and probed political
possibilities, Zoellick also met on Tuesday with Eduardo
Montealegre and Jose Alvarado, two Liberal Party politicians
now at odds with their party.

Like Lewites, they have expressed interest in running for
president and are trying to decide if it is practical without a
major political party behind them, a U.S. official said.

The U.S. diplomat also met leaders of the Moviemiento para
Nicaragua, an activist group that has organized pro-democracy

Afterward, members praised the interventionist U.S.
approach to Nicaragua's political crisis and Zoellick's support
for new political players.

"Both the left and right need new options in which they can
compete democratically for power and to open new spaces," Rhina
Cardenal, a prominent television personality and Moviemiento
member, told Reuters.

"We have a strong left wing current in Nicaragua, but if
the only choice they have is with Ortega's party, where do they
go? The same thing from the right ... We need choices," she