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New Nicaraguan President Facing Enormous Challenges - 2002-01-11


In the Central American nation of Nicaragua, 73-year-old businessman Enrique Bolanos took the presidential oath of office on Thursday. The new president faces enormous challenges in leading one of the poorest nations in the hemisphere.

The inaugural ceremony took place in the national stadium in the capital city of Managua, with at least 80 foreign delegates on hand. Prominent Nicaraguan political and social figures were also present, however legislators from the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front boycotted the event. The Sandinistas complained that Bolanos supporters had come to the stadium wearing their party's colors and thereby violated the non-partisan nature of the ceremony.

Mr. Bolanos defeated Sandinista candidate and former president Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua's presidential election in November. Mr. Ortega had sought to use the slump in the Nicaraguan economy as leverage with voters, but Mr. Bolanos countered by reminding people of the deprivations that existed during the previous Sandinista government.

From 1979 to 1990, the Sandinistas confiscated properties, arrested people who expressed opposition and promoted strong ties with the former Soviet Union and communist Cuba. As a result many business leaders left the country and the economy stalled. A war with U.S.-backed rebels, known as contras, further weakened the economy and forced the Sandinistas to accept democratic elections under international supervision in February of 1990.

Mr. Bolanos is the third president to assume office since that time and the economy continues to be the main concern of most Nicaraguans. The country is burdened with $6 billion in foreign debt and prices on the world market for major exports like coffee are in a downturn. More than 70 percent of the population lives in poverty and more than 40 percent of the workforce is unemployed. Per capita income in the nation of five million is only $430 a year.

Mr. Bolanos has promised to make reviving the economy his number one priority, but observers say the road ahead will not be easy, especially if the recession in the United States continues. The United States is Nicaragua's chief trading partner and the source of millions of dollars in remittance payments from Nicaraguan immigrants.

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