- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

A uneasy calm has settled over Nicaragua after an agreement brokered by the United Nations and a Catholic cardinal rescued President Enrique Bolanos from a “constitutional coup” that would have stripped him of most of his powers.

“We are in a holding period,” said Manuel Orozco, Nicaragua specialist at the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based policy group.

Nicaragua’s democracy came under assault when former President Daniel Ortega and his cadre of supporters in the Marxist Sandinista party joined forces with insurgents in former President Arnoldo Aleman’s Liberal Party.

The effort was intended to end an anti-corruption campaign championed by Mr. Bolanos by gutting the office of the president.

The “two caudillos,” or bosses, as Aleman and Mr. Ortega are known in Nicaragua, are cynically using each other at the expense of the Nicaraguan people for their own personal and political gain, said a senior U.S. State Department official on the condition of anonymity.

Aleman, convicted of stealing millions of dollars while president, is for the moment allied with his former enemy, Mr. Ortega, who has managed to place Sandinsita judges on the Supreme Court.

The court released Aleman from a 20-year prison term, imposed after he was convicted of stealing $100 million, to a comfortable house arrest at his luxury ranch outside Managua.

Mr. Ortega and Aleman then joined to sponsor legislation that would have stripped the presidency of most of its power.

On Jan. 12, a constitutional crisis was averted when Cardinal Obando y Bravo, U.N. representative Jorge Chediek, Mr. Bolanos and Mr. Ortega announced the “Accord for National Dialogue,” which keeps new measures restricting the president from going into effect.

Nevertheless, the Sandinistas, with the backing of Aleman, have gained “virtual control” over the legislative and judicial branches of the Nicaraguan government, according to Salvador Stadthagen, Nicaragua’s ambassador in Washington.

“The Sandinistas are in the best position they have been in since 1989 or 1990, to win the presidency [in 2006] … both sides are being played by Daniel [Ortega],” the U.S. official said.

“The democratic forces have to realize that they have more in common than what divides them,” the official said. “The Sandinistas’ ability to use the judicial process” to punish enemies and reward their friends is paralyzing the country.

Nicaraguan citizens continue to support Mr. Bolanos.

In a recent poll by M&R;, published in the El Salvadoran newspaper La Prensa Grafica, 77 percent of those surveyed disagreed with Mr. Ortega’s statement that the time had come to “put an end to the current administration.”

The Sandinistas, led by Mr. Ortega, have never won the Nicaraguan presidency in three elections since being forced to the ballot box by the U.S.-backed Contras in 1990.

But the Sandinista party retains a substantial following, consistently winning about 40 percent of the vote in each national election.

It lost the presidency first to Violeta Chamorro in 1990, Aleman in 1996 and then to Mr. Bolanos in 2001, who won with 56 percent of the vote.

The difference in 2006 is that 40 percent of the vote may be enough to give Mr. Ortega the presidency this time if Aleman supporters continue to work with the Sandinistas, analysts said.

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