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CAFTA to Figure in Nicaragua Political Battle

Latin American leaders traveled to Washington this week with the aim of convincing U.S. lawmakers to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). But the sweeping trade deal has yet to win approval in some Central American nations, where opposition groups are raising concerns over its possible effects. In an interview with VOA Friday, Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos talked about the challenges he faces in getting the deal approved in his country and the political struggle currently going on there.

President Bush invited the six Latin American leaders to Washington to generate support for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The presidents of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua all support the deal and hope U.S. lawmakers will do the same in a vote expected later this year.

If the trade deal is approved it would cut tariffs and lower trade barriers.

Speaking to VOA Friday, Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos says the deal is needed to increase trade, create new jobs and help lift millions of Central Americans from poverty. But Nicaragua is one of the Central American nations that has yet to approve the deal, raising some concern about its future.

President Bolanos says if Nicaraguan lawmakers don't approve the CAFTA deal, it would be an injustice to the country and a slap in the face to the people's needs.

While the pact has generated some protests in Managua, Mr. Bolanos says the majority of Nicaragua's people support it. And he rejects criticism of the deal from opposition lawmakers, including those from the Sandinista Party and the Liberal Constitutional Party of former president Arnoldo Aleman.

President Bolanos says the two parties have joined forces over issues that have nothing to do with CAFTA. And he says they are using that political alliance to press an agenda unrelated to the trade deal.

The clash between President Bolanos and the two-party alliance is a source of growing tension, as Nicaragua struggles to rebuild from civil war. Recently the two sides have been at odds over destroying war-era missiles and over bus fare hikes, which sparked violent protests last month.

But the president warns the political clash is also threatening the country's democratic institutions.

He says the opposition has taken control of the country's Supreme Court and the entire justice system to wage political battles. He says party leaders can accuse anyone of a crime and convict them.

And he says Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega has already used that power against party rivals, who might challenge him in next year's presidential vote. Mr. Ortega, a former president, is seeking to run for president again, after losing three elections since leaving office in 1990.

Next year's vote will be a key chance for Sandinistas to try to regain the presidency, which they held during Nicaragua's civil war. President Bolanos is hoping new economic plans like CAFTA will win him support and help move the country forward.