President Defends Himself, Crisis Worsens
GRANADA – Responding to theworst institutional crisis in the history ofNicaragua’s 14-year democracy, PresidentEnrique Bolaños this week rejected accusationsthat he committed electoral fraudin the 2001 presidential campaign, andwarned Nicaraguans of a menacing coupplot that is threatening to plunge the countryinto chaos and economic ruin.In a nationally televised addressMonday afternoon, Bolaños insisted on hisinnocence and transparency in all financialmatters, and asked for Nicaraguans to cometo his defense for the sake of the nation.“You can rest assured that neither theCIA, the KGB, the Mossad, MacGyvernor Spiderman would be able to find anyevidence of corruption in the bankaccounts of Enrique Bolaños,” thePresident said, making one of several curiousreferences to television and cartooncharacters from the 1980s.THE current institutional crisis startedlast week, when the Comptroller General’sOffice presented the National Assemblywith a report accusing Bolaños of committingcampaign-finance violations, andcalled for his impeachment (TT, Oct. 15).The President, claiming the allegationsare an act of political sabotage authored byopposition party bosses Arnoldo Alemán(Liberal Constitutional Party) and DanielOrtega (Sandinista National LiberationFront), turned quickly to the internationalcommunity for help.The 34-member Organization ofAmerican States (OAS) responded onMonday by sending a fact-finding delegationto Nicaragua to investigate the matterand offer unified international support forthe country’sdemocracy.Bolaños publiclyacknowledgedthe rapidresponse of theOAS by saying,“not even SpeedyGonzalez couldhave responded soquickly.”The specialdelegation, headedby interim OAS Secretary General LuigiEinaudi, met with the President, theSupreme Court, the Comptroller General’sOffice and different political leaders,before returning to Washington, D.C. topresent the team’s findings to the OASGeneral Assembly yesterday afternoon atpress time.BOLAÑOS addressed the delegationMonday in a convention hall filled withflag-waving supporters, government leaders,and international dignitaries, includingU.S. Ambassador Barbara Moore. Infront of the cameras and the cheeringcrowd, Bolaños present a rapid-firePowerPoint presentation of his personalbank account records and campaignchecks, insisting he had nothing to hide.Bolaños gave an explanation for the 19questionable accounts mentioned in theComptroller’s report, noting that severalof the accounts were managed by the sameLiberal congressmen who are now tryingto impeach him, while other accounts arehis personal bank accounts from when hewas a private citizen before the campaignbegan on Aug. 18, 2001.Under Nicaragua’s Electoral Code,Bolaños does not have to provide informationfrom private accounts from before theofficial campaign. But, as the Presidentexplained, he wants to provide Nicaraguawith his entire financial history – includinghis income-tax records – as a demonstrationof his transparency.BOLAÑOS also responded to the“ghost donor” accusations by presenting theidentities of several dozen of “the thousands”of Nicaraguans who contributed tohis campaign. He explained that he used anoffshore bank account in St. George to expeditethe process of clearing campaignchecks given by Nicaraguans living in theUnited States – a practice that is not prohibitedby the Electoral Code.The President concluded his presentationby challenging perennial Sandinistacandidate Daniel Ortega to offer a similarexplanation of bank accounts and campaigndonations. He also painted an economicdoomsday scenario – hyper inflation,a cutoff of foreignaid, 45% tax hike, risingunemployment,depleted bankreserves, decreasedproduction and salaryrollbacks – that couldoccur if the caudillos(Ortega and Alemán)succeed in what hecalled their “coupattempt.”He insisted thecrisis is evidence that the “pacto” betweenAlemán and Ortega is still alive and well,and asked the Government Attorney’sOffice to investigate the ComptrollerGeneral’s Office.Concluding the OAS delegation’svisit to Nicaragua, Einaudi saidWednesday he is confident a democraticprocess is taking place in Nicaragua,and the situation is not as arbitrary as hefeared it would be.THE immediate reaction to thePresident’s televised address revealed thathis close political allies still support him,and most citizens claim they are convincedby the hurried slideshow of small-printbank statements.U.S. Ambassador Moore was quick tocongratulate Bolaños on his “transparency,”and a phone poll conducted Mondaynight by M& R Consultants suggested62% of Nicaraguans believe Bolañosproved his innocence.“The United States Government standsfirmly with the democratically electedgovernment of President EnriqueBolaños,” said U.S. Department of Statespokesman Richard Boucher. “We deplorerecent politically motivated attempts,based on dubious legal precedent, toundermine the constitutional order inNicaragua and his presidency.”Moore added that impeachment “couldcause serious problems for our (financial)assistance. A good part of the MillenniumFund is based on governability and theimpeachment of the President would putinto question any assistance of this type.But aside from dollars, the progress thatNicaragua has made in democratic developmentwould take a step backwards.”OPPOSITION political leaders, however,are blasting Bolaños’ presentation asa political charade that failed to addresspertinent issues.“This was a smoke screen to hide a situationthat is becoming more difficult forBolaños every day,” congressmanWilfredo Navarro, vice-president of theLiberal Constitutional Party, told The TicoTimes this week.Navarro, top spokesman for theLiberals now that Alemán is serving a 20-year jail sentence for corruption, notedthat Bolaños did not provide informationabout how much each identified donorgave to his campaign, nor did he offer anydetails about what happened to the $7 milliondollars in the questioned accounts.“He said how the money got into theaccounts, but never said how it was spent,”the congressman said.Navarro, who was the legal representativefor the Bolaños campaign (before thePresident defected from the party), deniedhe had anything to do with the donations,and insisted there are other accounts thathaven’t been explained.ORTEGA, meanwhile, calledBolaños’ challenge to him to present hisbanking records “pathetic,” and said this isnot the time for such games.The Sandinista leader insists Bolañoshas failed to explain what happened to the$700,000-a-year supplemental income thatformer President Alemán claims to havepaid him while he served as Vice-President of the Republic (1996-2000).Ortega, in a line that appeared to beborrowed from the President, said the corruptionscandal proves the existence of a“pacto” between Bolaños and Alemán.NICARAGUAN political analystAlejandro Serrano told The Tico Timesthis week he considers the current crisis tobe the worst so far in the country’s youngdemocracy, but doesn’t expect it to end inBolaños’ impeachment.According to Article 138 of theConstitution, Congress can only impeachthe President if he is determined incapableof governing, Serrano said. The NationalAssembly could, however, vote to stripBolaños of his immunity – as it did withAlemán – to clear the way for hisimpeachment in the Supreme Court forelectoral offenses, the analyst explained.During the beginning of Bolaños’ anticorruptioncampaign against Alemán, thePresident said publicly that he wouldrenounce his immunity, but never did.Now, it appears Congress is prepared to doit for him, according to statements thisweek by Liberal and Sandinista congressionalleaders.Serrano predicts the most likely of possiblescenarios is that Congress eventuallywill strip Bolaños of his immunity – mostlikely after the Nov. 7 municipal elections –but that the Sandinista- and Liberal-controlledSupreme Court will sit on the caseuntil the President’s term expires in 2007.That way, the caudillos will be able tomaintain enough of a political crisis to useas political leverage for backroom negotiations,but will stop short of plunging thecountry into utter political and economicchaos, which would not serve anyone’sinterest, Serrano said.
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