'There is a feeling of hope'
Nicaraguan leader's priority is more jobs
Enrique Bolaños, a former anti-Sandinista activist who was Nicaragua's
vice president, took over as
president Jan. 10 amid much anticipation and expectation. After beating Sandinista leader Daniel
Ortega in a crushing victory, Bolaños pledged to combat corruption and bring employment to a nation
where nearly half the people are without steady work.
Bolaños spoke recently with Managua Bureau Chief Frances Robles
about his plans for governing and
increasing investment in his country.
Q: Why do you think there is such a buzz in the air over your election?
A: First of all, on the 4th of November, Nicaragua did something historic
for Central America and the
world: More than 93 percent of the voters went to the polls -- in a country where voting is not
mandatory. Second, that victory was a mandate. There was a 14 percent spread
between first- and
second-place winners. It's what in English you call a landslide.
Third, during the campaign I did not promise anything. I did not tell anyone
they could have anything. I
didn't say: ''I will give you this'' or ''I will solve all problems.'' What I offered Nicaraguans is help. What I
said was, ''Nicaraguans, roll up your sleeves and work for your benefits.'' People will be successful
because of their own efforts.
For the first time, the next day after an inauguration, there was an investors'
forum here. First time. We
sent invitations to 300 people, and 400 came. That means there is a feeling of hope in this new era.
Q: What are investors' fears?
A: Investors invest to make money. That's what motivates them. To make
profits, they need personal
security. In this country, they don't need to go around with bodyguards. I am going to ensure clear
rules of the game, and for when there are differences, courts that guarantee correct decisions.
Q: How do you change something so fundamental?
A: Through the will of the people. We are mobilizing people. I think there
were more than 20,000
people at my inauguration celebration -- the newspaper claims 10,000 -- people who came by their own
will on foot or by paying bus fare. There is great enthusiasm by the people. The people want to make
changes; they will make changes.
Q: Wouldn't those kind of changes have to be made by the government? The
people don't run the
A: The people will make these things happen. It can succeed. It has succeeded in other countries.
Q: What are the biggest economic problems Nicaragua faces?
A: The gravest problem is unemployment, undeniably. Nicaragua is a poor
country. Well, not a poor
country -- an impoverished country. Money that in 1979 was worth seven cordobas for the dollar
reached 25 billion cordobas to the dollar. I am not exaggerating the zeros, nor am I mistaken. Foreign
debt that was equal to two years of our annual exports reached the value of 48 years of exports --
impossible to pay. Half a century of exportations to pay debt? That brings poverty.
When there's an accident on the corner, the car's bumper winds up dented.
You can leave it the way it
was -- it takes a lot of work to fix it. Our economy was damaged. Rehabilitating it, putting it back to how
it was, takes years. I don't expect or promise to cure all the economy's ills in five years.
Nicaragua is in the center of Central America. It takes less time to get
to Managua from Miami than from
Miami to Washington. We are two hours from the largest port and international market ever.
Investors are convinced. They were waiting for this administration's inauguration.
Payless is coming
with 6,500 jobs, and in two years, they will have different factories in different parts of the country with
20,000 jobs. Yasaki is bringing an electrical parts factory with a little more than 5,000 jobs. Then there
is Hotel Pacifico, a $42 million investment.
In the campaign we said, ''More jobs.'' The slogan was, ''With Bolaños,
more jobs. Yes, we can.'' We are
proving that yes, we can.
Q: Do you have any specific target goals?
A: My specific goal is 450,000 [additional] jobs in five years.
Q: Can you do it?
A: In five years, you will attend my going-away speech where I will say,
''Yes, we could.'' It will be a
short speech, two or three minutes. You don't have to talk a lot to say, ``Yes, we could.''
Q: Does all this expectation make you nervous? Maybe this is a mission nobody can complete.
A: Why do you say nobody can do it? The people of Nicaragua can. Nobody
in the world has ever seen
93 percent of its voters at the polls. Nicaragua did that; Nicaragua can do a lot of things.
Q: How is your relationship with former president Arnoldo Alemán,
particularly since you supported
his opponent, Liberal Party President Jaime Cuadra, to be president of the National Assembly?
A: I don't think I supported Jaime Cuadra. I am highly respectful of separation
of powers. This is the
executive, that is the legislative. What I said was that it would be an honor if Jaime Cuadra became
president of the assembly. I said that for two reasons: We have been friends since childhood. Second:
He is honorary president of my party and has not reached a high position in government. All the others
have. He deserves a high position.
Q: Wasn't that politically risky for you?
A: To say that it was an honor? I don't see it that way. It doesn't have a major political gain or loss.
Q: Getting back to the question, how is your relationship with Alemán?
A: Same as before the elections. For journalists, since I became vice president,
they have said we were
at odds every day. . . . Nobody ever saw a fight between us. What happens is that we are talking
about two people with a certain degree of minimal intelligence who express their opinions. We had a
difference of opinions in a few things. That's natural in a democracy.
Q: Now that he is president of the assembly, will it be harder for you to govern?
A: With him as president of the assembly, and the clout he has with the
rest of the Liberal Party, it will
be much easier to pass legislation.
Q: You've talked a lot of battling corruption. How will you do it?
A: First of all, I have never been accused of doing something dishonest
or that wasn't transparent. In
any ministry in the entire country, generally the functionaries act in the example of the head of state. If
ministers are dishonest, the people will act in that manner. My government will act in the aura I project.
I will not tolerate any corruption. Under my government, everyone will be the same under the law.
Q: If you only accomplish one thing, what would it be?
A: More jobs. We live in a market economy. Everyone has a right to work
and everyone has a right to
happiness. You get that through sweat. That gives dignity and prosperity. Work is most important.