'I want to help my people'
Nicaragua's president-elect an industrialist
BY FRANCES ROBLES
MANAGUA -- It was a Friday night in March 1985 and uniformed agents showed up at business mogul Enrique Bolaños' house, demanding that he appear for questioning.
Under bright lights and a tough inquisition, Sandinista Front chiefs accused him and other critical industry leaders of hatching a CIA plot. So what did Bolaños do? He held a press conference the same day denouncing the threat, this time before the glare of camera lights.
``He was never afraid,'' said Haydée Acosta, who runs an ethics program out of Bolaños' office. ``He had no problem telling the truth, even if the authorities didn't like it. At that time, that was extremely dangerous.''
Three months afterward, the Marxist Sandinistas seized Bolaños' cotton farm after 1,200 peasants stormed upon it. Now 16 years later, Bolaños has gotten his payback: He triumphed over his former enemy, trouncing Sandinista ex-president Daniel Ortega in a race for the Nicaraguan presidency. A man who was jailed and threatened will now run the nation -- as his old adversary looks on from a minority spot in Congress.
Despite preelection polls that claimed the two were in a dead-heat, Bolaños won a landslide victory Sunday with a 14-point margin. The next day, Bolaños personally went around town with a paint brush, painting over his own party's campaign propaganda. It was hardly a surprising gesture for a former cotton farmer known as a hard-working straight-arrow determined to do his job right.
``I want to help my people,'' he said. ``I know I can help them.''
Bolaños, 73, was raised in Masaya, 20 miles east of Managua. His father, a pharmacist, was poisoned to death in 1963, in a scandal so salacious that The New York Times covered it. An employee was convicted of the murder, but Sandinista opponents have suggested the president-elect did it for the money, an accusation Bolaños calls ``perverse slander.''
After his father's death, Bolaños became a wealthy industrialist, at one point owning about 16,000 acres.
When leftist revolutionaries took over the country, Bolaños became president of the elite business chamber that fought against property confiscations. About $7 million in farms were taken from him by the Sandinista Front. He was never compensated for most of it.
``The only thing they left me was my house, because it was humble,'' Bolaños said in an interview with The Herald earlier this year.
Once his agricultural estate was gone, Bolaños made a living as a computer programmer. In 1996, he joined then-Managua Mayor Arnoldo Alemán on the right-wing Liberal Party's ticket for the presidency.
``The 1980s made him a politician -- he was a businessman,'' said Bolaños advisor Norman Caldera. ``He felt obligated to get involved in politics, because they got involved with him.''
As vice president, he oversaw the country's Y2K conversion while Alemán was accused of padding the payroll with relatives.
During his run for the presidency, Bolaños tried hard to depict himself as a genteel and trustworthy elder untouched by corruption.
``He was portrayed on the campaign as more honest than Alemán -- which is not hard to be,'' said Geoff Thale, senior associate for Central America and the Caribbean at the Washington Office on Latin America. ``His ideology did not come across in his campaign. I see no special evidence that his government will be soft and grandfatherly. He's a very conservative businessman.''
Caldera jokes it's true that Bolaños was the candidate for the rich -- he will try to make the poor richer by boosting investment and creating jobs.
Those close to Bolaños say he is exact and tenacious. A St. Louis University graduate, he is married and has four children.
``They said he could never be a candidate because he was not Alemán's first choice,'' Caldera said. ``Then they said he was too old. Now they say he can't govern. Watch him.''