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Nicaraguan Leader Pledges to Fight Corruption, Improve Economy, Defend Human Rights

Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños Geyer told an audience at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) on Sept. 23 that Nicaragua has been leading national and sub-regional efforts to promote "good governance." His address was part of a series of world leader visits to Columbia, in conjunction with recent U.N. General Assembly meetings.

"Good governance is the result of democracy, and combating corruption while respecting human rights for all Nicaraguans at home and abroad," he said. "It is the result of resolving our disputes with our neighbors without the use of force or threat of use of force. It is the result of upholding freedom of the press and freedom of expression while recognizing that the limits to our own rights start where we meet the rights of our neighbors."

Nicaragua has presented a proposal to governments of Central America to find ways to balance defense forces and still reduce dangerous weapons, he said. The country is also "a reliable partner in the fight against terrorism." For instance, Nicaragua recently sent a team of doctors, nurses and mine sweepers to assist the Spanish brigade with humanitarian aid in Iraq.

Bolaños, in a multi-faceted anti-corruption campaign, has issued indictments against the country's former president and high-ranking government officials. His administration is also overhauling the judicial system and, in the short term, identifying alternative dispute resolution systems.

With the help of Michael Porter of the Harvard Institute of Strategy and Competitiveness, Bolaños also is trying to increase "national competitiveness" by reducing the costs of business transactions and investment and eventually providing better basic infrastructure in the form of roads and ports. Nicaragua is now focusing its resources on agriculture, agribusiness, beef and dairy, coffee, manufacturing, wooden products and tourism.

But given the country's $700 annual per capita income, Bolaños said help is needed from other nations if the country's economy is to improve. Currently Nicaragua receives aid from the United States, the European Union, Japan and multinational financial institutions.

"We need help in infrastructure and development, help in poverty alleviation, help in measuring the strength of governance," he said. "Look at this as bridge financing, not as a permanent fixture."

Bolaños closed his remarks to students and faculty by identifying his cabinet members and other staff who hold post-graduate degrees from prestigious universities in the United States. Many in his cabinet hold degrees from Ivy League universities. Among others, three members of Nicaragua's foreign service graduated with advanced degrees from Columbia, including Nicaragua's minister counselor to the United Nations.

"Only when we have environmentally sustainable economic growth and good governance, with equity for all our men and women, our ethnic groups, and our regional autonomies, can we have real human development," he said. "That is our goal, that is our vision, that is our dream. And that is precisely what we have set out to do during my term."

Bolaños commented that political and social developments in Latin America are rarely the subject of academic attention or study beyond specialized courses. He said this is even more the case in relation to Central America.

"Revolutions make headlines, and thus very few outside academia know that Daniel Ortega, whom they all recognize, has lost three consecutive elections in Nicaragua and is now a very quiet deputy in the National Assembly."

Bolaños called Managua the "safest capital in the Americas by far." He noted that Nicaragua's inflation rate is in single digits, its AIDS infection level is one-tenth of the United States', and Nicaragua's economy will grow through a new three-year agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

His government has now proposed a Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the United States, which is likely to be signed into action by the beginning of 2004. This and other efforts are part of Bolaños long-term vision for his country and the region.

"Only when your sights are set on a long-term goal, can you take the short-term steps that will take you there, in hops and bounds, frog leaping sometimes, advancing at a snail's pace sometimes, but never stopping on the way to development."

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Published: Oct 10, 2003
Last modified: Jan 10, 2005

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