October 4, 2005

US warns of “creeping coup” in Nicaragua

By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (Reuters) - The United States, piling
pressure on Sandinista and rightist opposition leaders that it
accuses of undermining Nicaraguan democracy, revoked visas held
by some politicians and their families and threatened to
withhold millions of dollars in aid.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick delivered a blunt
message as a crisis threatens President Enrique Bolanos, a U.S.
ally under pressure from his party dissidents and leftist
Sandinistas to accept constitutional reforms weakening his

Nicaragua's "promising future is threatened by a creeping
coup. It's threatened by corruption ... This is the way of the
corrupt pact," Zoellick told a news conference, referring to an
unlikely alliance between Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and
former right-wing president Arnoldo Aleman.

The United States canceled visas for two of Aleman's adult
children and the country's attorney general and said others
will have their visas revoked as well.

"The United will not welcome corrupt people in our country"
and will work to have other countries deny access as well," he

Ortega, an old adversary of Washington, was Nicaragua's
president in the 1980s during a civil war against the
U.S.-backed Contra rebels. He could win a return to power at
polls next year.

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.

Attorney-general Julio Centeno said the visa cancellations
were purely political.

"Your government can give and deny visas to whoever it
wants but no one can violate the sacred human right of dignity
by calling honest citizens corrupt simply for not thinking like
you," he said in a letter of the U.S. Embassy.


Zoellick said Nicaragua was poised to benefit from $4
billion in debt forgiveness, $175 million promised from the
U.S. Millennium Challenge Account and trade benefits promised
under the new Central American Trade Agreement, which Nicaragua
has yet to approve.

But all this could be lost if anti-democratic forces in
Nicaragua prevail, he said.

Ortega and Aleman, who is serving a 20-year sentence for
massive corruption during his 1997-2002 term, are political
rivals who have joined forces to try to limit Bolanos' powers.
Aleman was sentenced to prison under Bolanos's government.

Despite his sentence, a court has given Aleman freedom to
move around the Nicaraguan capital due to health concerns.

Zoellick, U.S. officials said, was aiming in particular at
some members of Aleman's Liberal Party who may erroneously
think Washington is so opposed to Ortega's rule that it would
accept a "corrupt puppet" of Aleman.

"There is going to be no deal here with Aleman on the part
of the United States," Zoellick insisted.

He was to meet later with the country's archbishop, members
of the Liberal Party, business leaders and an activist group
that has organized pro-democracy demonstrations in Nicaragua.

The conflict has at times threatened to force Bolanos from
office and the Organization of American States described it
last week as the most frustrating crisis in the Americas.