- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 11, 2000

Return to Nicaragua

Nicaraguan Ambassador Francisco Aguirre Sacasa is Latin America's most senior diplomat, only three years after arriving in Washington.

"This is an interesting comment on the transient nature of diplomacy," he said yesterday. "After three years, I am dean of the Latin American diplomatic corps."

His seniority, however, is ending. Mr. Aguirre Sacasa is finishing his last week as a full-time ambassador and returning to Nicaragua as foreign minister.

He will probably come back to Washington briefly to help with the transition to the new ambassador, but his primary focus will be on Nicaragua's foreign policy throughout the world, not just its relations with Washington.

"I tend to be an activist," he said over lunch at the University Club.

When he has finished what he set out to do, he is ready for a new challenge and he sees many at home.

One of the most immediate foreign policy problems is a dispute with Honduras over territorial waters in the Caribbean Sea.

The issue nearly brought Nicaragua and Honduras into an armed confrontation earlier this year.

Since then, the two countries agreed to allow the International Court in the Hague to decide the conflicting claims to 52,000 square miles of sea with possible oil reserves.

"It is an expensive process and a time-consuming process, but it beats shooting at each other," he said.

"We already have very determined enemies poverty and underdevelopment. We need to concentrate on what unites our countries and find ways to live together."

Mr. Aguirre Sacasa is proud of four accomplishments here.

He worked to help secure congressional passage of an amendment to the Caribbean Basin Initiative that will allow tariff-free access to the U.S. market for Latin American textile manufacturers.

"That put us in parity with Mexico," he said, referring to Mexico's advantages under the North American Free Trade Act.

He also kept a media spotlight focused on the widespread destruction caused by Hurricane Mitch. The United States provided $90 million to Nicaragua and millions more to Honduras, which was also hit by the 1998 storm.

Mr. Aguirre Sacasa also helped promote U.S. immigration reform that led to amnesty for 55,000 illegal Nicaraguan immigrants. Many were refugees from the Sandinista regime.

"They will eventually become U.S. citizens," he said.

Mr. Aguirre Sacasa said he helped "close the last chapter in the Cold War" that once pitted the United States against the Marxist Sandinistas by working to restore U.S.-Nicaraguan military ties.

Under the Sandinistas, which were defeated in a 1990 election, the army was little more than a political arm of the ruling party.

"The United States now realizes that the Nicaraguan army is no longer politicized," he said.

Mr. Aguirre Sacasa will also hold an additional position as minister for external cooperation to coordinate aid and development programs. He will represent Nicaragua on the board of governors of the InterAmerican Development Bank and the World Bank, where he once served as senior expert on Latin America.

For Mr. Aguirre Sacasa, leaving Washington will not be the same as leaving a foreign post. He came to the United States when his newspaper publisher father, Francisco Aguirre, left Central America as a political dissident in the 1940s. His father, also a longtime Washingtonian, is editor-publisher of Diario Las Americas.

The ambassador was educated at Georgetown Preparatory School, Georgetown University's foreign service school and Harvard University's law school.

Mr. Aguirre Sacasa will be replaced by Alfonso Ortega Urbina, now Nicaragua's ambassador to the United Nations. Mr. Ortega Urbina, 75, has served as ambassador to several other countries since he entered diplomatic service in the 1970s.

Italians move

The Italian Embassy's press office has moved to new quarters in the new embassy at Whitehaven Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW.

The new phone number of the Press and Information Office is 202/612-4444.

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