December 26, 2005

Nicaraguan ex-minister, key in US aid fight, dies

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (Reuters) - Former Nicaraguan Foreign
Minister Ernesto Leal, who fought against a freezing of U.S.
aid in the early 1990s, died on Monday in a Miami hospital,
Nicaragua's government said.

Leal, the presidential chief of staff in current President
Enrique Bolanos' government, died of pneumonia aged 60.

Leal held a minor ministerial post under the Sandinistas
who won power in a 1979 revolution but resigned in 1981 when
the government took a turn to the left.

He served as foreign minister under conservative President
Violeta Chamorro, who took office in 1990 after defeating the
Sandinistas at the polls.

Leal was at the forefront of Nicaragua's fight to have $104
million in blocked U.S. aid unfrozen in 1992. Republicans in
the U.S. Congress held back the money because they were unhappy
at Chamorro's slowness in rooting out Sandinistas from the
security forces and undoing land confiscations.

The United States began releasing that money in late 1992
but Nicaragua and Washington had frequent other spats over aid.

Leal helped Bolanos defuse a constitutional crisis earlier
this year over opposition-backed reforms that would have
weakened the president's powers and given some of them to