Robert Zoellick
Esteban Felix  /  AP
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick speaks during a news conference Tuesday in the Presidential House in Managua, Nicaragua.
updated 10/4/2005 9:35:55 PM ET 2005-10-05T01:35:55

America’s No. 2-ranking diplomat said Tuesday that Nicaragua is “threatened by a creeping coup” and warned its opposition leaders — including a former U.S. ally — that their political scheming could cost their country international aid and trade.

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick’s declaration was the strongest support yet for President Enrique Bolanos, whose anti-corruption campaign drove his own party’s lawmakers to oppose him.

Bolanos’ cleanup crusade led to a 20-year sentence for his predecessor, Arnoldo Aleman, and outraged the majority of legislators from his own Constitutionalist Liberal Party, which is dominated by Aleman, a former U.S. ally.

The Liberals, pressing for Aleman’s release, have aligned themselves with their historic enemies, the Sandinista Front, to pass laws stripping Bolanos of power while splitting control of appointments to the courts, electoral agencies and comptroller’s offices.

U.S. officials have long denounced Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista Front leader who was the target of a U.S.-backed guerrilla war in the 1980s, but Zoellick’s words were clearly aimed at backers of Aleman.

Nicaragua “is threatened by a creeping coup,” Zoellick said. “It is threatened by corruption. It is threatened by a clique of caudillos,” using the Spanish word for political bosses in a reference to Aleman and Ortega.

“There’s going to be no deal here with Aleman on the part of the United States,” Zoellick said, branding the former president as “a convicted criminal.”

Under a pact reached in the late 1990s, Aleman and Ortega agreed to have their parties split control over the courts, electoral organs and other agencies — effectively freezing out small parties. While many polls show that Aleman and Ortega are deeply unpopular, they have managed to maintain hold of their parties and laws they encouraged have kept most rivals off the ballots.

Diplomat: Aid in the balance
Zoellick said a $175 million American grant and other funds would be blocked if Nicaraguan leaders continued to support Aleman and Ortega in “a corrupt process where you remove a democratically elected president from power” and said the United States would work to halt aid from other sources.

Zoellick noted that the United States already has removed the visas of Aleman and several of his relatives and allies and threatened that others, too, could face international travel bans.

“The United States will not welcome corrupt people to our country,” Zoellick said.

“His family is not welcome in the United States. He is not welcome in the United States,” Zoellick said of Aleman, adding “We’re going to everything we can to make sure he’s not welcome anywhere else, either.”

He said leaders of the governing party need to decide “if they want to go down that path” of following Aleman “and frankly cut off their relations with the United States.”

Many of the Liberal Party leaders had been exiled to the United States during the Sandinista era of the 1980s and others have close business and family ties there.

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