The Miami Herald
January 11, 2002

Troubled Nicaragua swears in new leader


 MANAGUA -- A businessman who locked horns with the ruling leftists of the 1980s was officially declared Nicaragua's third democratically elected president since 1990 on Thursday, taking the next step toward stabilizing a still shaky democracy.

 Enrique Bolaños, 73, takes a job leading a Central American nation of five million people plagued by poverty, corruption and a recent history of dictatorial regimes.
 Speaking under a hot sun where thousands waited up to seven hours in the national stadium to see him, he pledged to govern with honesty and nonpartisanship.

 The crop of Cuban Americans who attended watched with friendly jealousy as a community with which they once shared exile began its 12th year of democracy. When Sandinista guerrillas overturned a dictatorship here in 1979 and installed a regime all their own, thousands of Nicaraguans fled to Miami. The result: a bond between two South Florida communities.

 ``Bolaños was a hero to this nation during its darkest hour,'' said Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, which sent a delegation of 20 people to the inauguration. ``He never flinched.''

 When west Miami-Dade swelled with Nicaraguans, Bolaños wasn't among them. The cotton grower stayed behind as a business activist, occasionally getting jailed and being stripped of his properties.

 He counts among his friends CANF Chairman Jorge Mas Santos and Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas.

 ``Cubans and Nicaraguans have always identified [with each other]. They were victims of the same thing: communism,'' Garcia said. ``But Nicaraguans were able to
 escape, and we were not. We look at this with great envy.''

 For Bolaños, victory was particularly sweet: He defeated Daniel Ortega, the former Sandinista president who had jailed him.

 Bolaños faces a 50 percent underemployment rate and plunging coffee prices that have devastated the economy.

 ``He's very humble -- he doesn't look like much when you see him -- but he is one of the nicest and strongest guys you can meet,'' said Penelas, who attended the
 inauguration and will speak at an investors forum here today.

 ``Friends, the solution to our problems will not be easy or magical,'' Bolaños said. ``I always said I did not have a magic wand to solve Nicaragua's problems. I always said to generate more jobs and improve our people's well-being, we had to roll up our sleeves and work together.''

                                    © 2002 The Miami Herald