- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

Free-trade benefits

Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos concluded a successful visit to Washington this week with a free-trade agreement and a promise to ease his nation’s crippling debt incurred under the Marxist Sandinista regime.

The Central America Free Trade Agreement will benefit the United States by improving the economies of the four other nations included in the pact and reducing legal and illegal immigration, he said. In addition to Nicaragua, the agreement will eliminate U.S. tariffs on a range of exports from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

“The United States will benefit from the improvement of the socioeconomic situation of Central America, stopping migration and opening investment opportunities,” Mr. Bolanos told the International Republican Institute.

He also announced the successful conclusion of a deal with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to cut up to 80 percent of Nicaragua’s debt of about $6.5 billion.

Mr. Bolanos has promoted economic and political reforms that have satisfied the financial institutions, but he said more must be done.

“In order to make the best of the opportunities that just opened for Nicaragua, we need to keep pushing for broader institutional reforms aimed to liberate the judiciary and electoral systems from harmful political influences,” he said.

Nicaraguan Ambassador Salvador Stadthagen complained in a recent interview that too many judges are still under the influence of the Sandinistas, who ruled the nation from 1979 to 1990.

Mr. Bolanos said the debt incurred under the Sandinistas was equal to 42 years of Nicaraguan exports. The debt relief will cut the country’s financial burden to the equivalent of three years of exports, he said.

Nicaragua, one of the poorest nations in the hemisphere, can defeat poverty only with a strong economy that creates jobs, he said.

“In the long run, the problem of poverty can only be resolved through economic development and not by social programs that sometimes do not achieve their objectives and are filled with expensive bureaucratic administrators and sizeable overhead,” he said.

Malawian corruption

Greed and graft are so widespread in Malawi that the southern African nation fails to qualify for any U.S. money to help fight AIDS, American Ambassador Steven Browning said in an interview published yesterday.

“Putting money where corruption is not controlled is a waste,” Mr. Browning told the Nation and Daily Times newspapers in the country’s largest city, Blantyre. “We therefore cannot go into partnership on this account.”

The Bush administration has dedicated $15 billion to fight AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean, but nations must qualify for the assistance by demonstrating a commitment to good government and economic freedom, the ambassador said.

“To qualify, a country has to score above the median on half of the indicators,” Mr. Browning said, adding that Malawi’s efforts to combat corruption are “not good enough.”

Threat in Bosnia

The U.S. ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina fears that Islamic fighters who volunteered to fight alongside the beleaguered Muslims during Bosnia’s civil war now present a terrorist threat to the country.

“The threat of terrorism exists throughout the region, as we saw from the terrible event in Istanbul a few weeks ago,” Ambassador Clifford Bond said, referring to terrorist attacks in Turkey.

“The threat, I believe, is present here in Bosnia,” he told reporters this week after meeting with Bosnian Serb Prime Minister Dragan Mikerevic.

“I think that in part [the threat] was brought in by foreign elements during the [1992-95] war here, and they have the potential of supporting terrorists, either in their transit through Bosnia or in carrying out activities here.”

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]om.

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