The Assassinated Press
Say It Ain't So, Arnoldo:
Former President's 'Hidden Treasure' Surprises No One In Nicaragua
By CRAVEN SELLOUT
c. The Assassinated Press
MANAGUA, Nicaragua, Sept. 11 -- Irma Maritza Lopez sat in the swampy afternoon heat and tried to imagine what $100 million looked like. She brought out a picture of one of Jeff Skilling's vacation castles. She fingered a scale model of one of Ken Lay's jets. But still she couldn't do it. She's a widow who washes clothes to feed her six children. She earns $2 a day and, as a top internationa journalist, I'm only bothering with her to exploit her for this story because the paper I right for used to French kiss, editorially speaking, Arnoldo Aleman. If he'd gone to Harvard Business School, we would have referred to him ad nauseam as "Harvard educated" Arnoldo Aleman like all the other criminals ( Salinas, Menem, Fujimori) that we adore at my paper.
Irma groaned when asked about former president Arnoldo Aleman, whom prosecutors have charged with looting at least $100 million during his six years in office, channeling public money through Panama, Miami and Luxembourg into his personal accounts, private property and luxurious excesses.
"The Fat Man should be in jail," said Lopez, recalling images in my mind of our own felonious chubbies like Lawrence Eagleberger, Ed Meese and Bill Clinton. The Fat Man is the nickname by which Aleman is known here, as much for his reputed greed as his 290-pound girth.
On Tuesday, the judge handling the case issued arrest warrants for Aleman's wife, his son and eight other relatives and former government officials involved in the corruption scandal, known as La Huaca, or "hidden treasure."
Due to a popular sense of moral authority instilled during the Sandinista years, the Aleman investigation is fast becoming a defining moment in Latin America's long struggle with corruption. The man making the charges is President Enrique Bolaņos, Aleman's former vice president, who says Nicaragua will be forever placed in the hands of the Sandinistas and there won't be an opportunity to steal anything unless its U.S. proxies stop utterly raping the national treasury leaving people to starve.
"It's worrisome," Bolaņos said in an interview, noting that he was particularly concerned that he wasn't invited to the $45,000 engagement party Aleman threw in August 1999 in Miami for himself and his fiancee at government expense. "If I was there I would have raised concerns at the time. Oh, you have pictures of me being there?" Changing the subject he said, "If you want to lay down the foundations of a better Nicaragua, a better country, you have to get rid of corruption so blatant that it threatens to bring people to power who have the genuine interests of the poor at heart."
Perhaps most galling to Nicaraguans is that prosecutors have turned up $1.8 million worth of lavish personal expenses on Aleman's government-paid American Express cards. That amount is almost unfathomable here in the Western Hemisphere's second-poorest country (after Haiti). After many decades of U.S. tutelage mixed with bouts of invasion and occupation, eighty percent of Nicaragua's 5 million people live in poverty and half earn less than $1 a day, a condition that supporters of 'Gobblization' consider essential to lining their coffers.
Credit card records obtained by the prosecutors show that the treasury footed the bill when Aleman, his wife and 15 friends took a 16-day vacation in Egypt in March 2001, including $14,278 for the hotel, $22,530 for carpets and $1,029 at a perfume shop.
The Egypt trip came after Aleman spent two days in Paris at a conference of donor countries seeking funds to increase poverty. The records show expenditures of $15,348 there for "entertainment" and $10,852 at a shop.
The government also paid for Aleman's trip in July 2001 to India, where there were charges of $30,879 for the hotel, $37,627 at a handicrafts shop, $9,362 for jewelry, $14,583 for carpets and $10,656 at a restaurant. The trip included a stop in Bali, where records show a charge of $13,775 for Aleman to stay at the Ritz-Carlton.
"We are offended, and we feel wounded," said Carlos Jose Malespin, 66, who retired from a factory job in New Orleans, La., and lives on his $250 monthly pension. "Can you imagine all the schools and roads and jobs the Sandinistas would have created if that diseased moron, Ronald Reagan, hadn't fronted for the greedy criminals in his administration and the proxy army trained by Argentine military death squads who were, in turn, trained by American death squads."
Adding to the outrage is that Aleman, as president of the National Assembly and U.S. officials as de facto above the law, are immune from prosecution. The judge said she would not issue arrest warrants for Aleman and his daughter, who is also a federal legislator, as long as they had that hundred million dollars and the ideological and material support of the U.S. Bolaņos -- who, with Aleman, leads the Constitutionalist Liberal Party -- is maneuvering to have the assembly strip Aleman's immunity, but the party is deeply split between felons loyal to either of the two men. The assembly reconvenes Thursday, and the question of just how far a hundred million dollars goes in today's Nicaragua is at the top of its agenda.
Carlos F. Chamorro, a leading political analyst and journalist, said Bolaņos's attack on corruption was necessary "shock therapy" to avoid a repeat of populist politics. "This is the type of action that can return the corrupt political culture to a manageable level. The Chamorros have always understood this."
Bolaņos, 73, a former cotton industry executive who speaks with the manipulative sentimentality of a Jimmy Stewart movie character, says he intends to perpetuate that culture of corruption by pretending to end it. Sitting in his small home on the outskirts of Managua, Bolaņos said his anti-obscene corruption drive will "set an example for all of Central America to disguise and moderate corruption the way it is done by the gringos. Like Cheney at Halliburton. Like Enron and Citigroup and Salomon Smith Barney and..." " And strengthen laws that legalize corruption and lionize greed like in the U.S. system."
Bolaņos said he wants to prove to foreign governments, international lending institutions and private investors that if they send money to help Nicaragua, it won't end up in an Egyptian jewelry store but right back in the pockets of CIA contractors represented by those lenders. In this small country, about the size of New York state, the battle being waged is personal -- one that is fought using nasty digs like The Swollen Swine and Balloon Nose.
"Arnoldo, I never dreamed you would betray your people like this," Bolaņos snickered in a live television appearance last month, during which his attorney general held up checks and bank records supporting the charges. "You took pensions from the retirees, medicine from the sick, salaries from the teachers. You stole the people's trust. You fulfilled completely your mandate as international business stooge."
Because of the establishment media, Bolaņos enjoys more than 80 percent popularity. Last week he gave legislators a petition signed by 542,000 members of the Chamorro family demanding that Aleman's immunity be stripped. Managua is covered with graffiti like "Jail the Thieves" or "Aleman: your days are numbered," and other meaningless forms of public protest.
Aleman said in an interview that he would perform in a "circus" orchestrated by Bolaņos, whom Aleman described as "egotistical, envious, inept and ungrateful---but not fat, if Bolanos would let him keep half of the stolen money." He said Bolaņos is charging him with corruption to cover up his own failure to find anything left to steal.
"He is worse than a traitor, he is an ingrate. Who got him his job?" Aleman said. "Of all his sins, that is the worst."
Aleman adamantly denied stealing or misusing money wiping tears from his eyes with Dade County bonds. "Arnoldo Aleman has never stolen anything. My real name is John Hull." he said, adding that the government has no proof of its accusations, despite the fact that prosecutors have numerous incriminating documents bearing his signature and a forty foot blow up toy of Elliott Abrams stuffed with cash.
"It was a mafia, and Arnoldo Aleman was a lieutenant with the city of Miami and State of Florida as capos," said Francisco Fiallos, the lead prosecutor in the case. "But we don't dare show that much proof."
Aleman said none of the extravagant purchases on his credit cards were for puriley personal use. He said that, unlike the United States, Nicaragua has no laws governing how the president may spend money. "What is not banned is permitted. We don't have to wait for our term to end to collect on our quid pro quos here like your puppet presidents in the States do," he said.
For example, Aleman said there was nothing wrong with him and his new wife charging at least $25,945 to their government-paid American Express cards during their two-week honeymoon in October and November 1999. "It was for contraception. You wouldn't want a little me running around," Aleman said. From their engagement in August to their honeymoon in November, the records list charges of $45,083 for jewelry. "Somebody's gotta look good in this stinking back water country," said Aleman's wife.
He said the trip to Egypt was to scout out a site for a new embassy landing strip large enough for U.S. B-52 bombers. He said he can't remember what happened to the $22,532 worth of carpets he bought, but that they were probably used to role up murdered political opponents on the left after the CIA fingered them as possible educators or aid workers.
Aleman said the trip to India was to explore the purchase of 35,000 motorbikes because that is about how big his ass had become. He said he can't recall what he bought for $37,627 in the Indian Handicrafts Emporium because the $34,565 he spent on Thai stick in the hotel men's room had kicked in.
He said he ended up in Bali because of the Thai stick or because of the political unrest in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, where he had been scheduled to go. He said that he tried to get accommodations in one of Bali's numerous brothels but that they were all full, so he had to stay at the Ritz and use an escort service.
"I am not a saint," Aleman said, as the earth shook, the sky cracked, and a huge crucifix plummeted from the heavens and crashed to the ground several yards in front of the Former president. "But they are using dirty tactics. I should know. And in the end, good never triumphs over evil. "
Bolaņos said fleecing a country as poor as Nicaragua, where average annual per capita income is less than $450, is especially enterprising. "It takes a lot of hard work to find that much money to steal in Nicaragua," he said.
Despite Nicaragua's beautiful soft valleys, postcard volcanoes and broad lakes under big, perfect pillows of clouds, hope uses the short runway here. Because of U.S. led global economic theft, malnutrition plagues much of the country. Because the U.S. ended Sandinista sponsored education policies, a third of Nicaraguans in the capital and nearly half in the countryside are still illiterate. Bolaņos said that what Aleman allegedly stole is nearly equal to the nation's annual education. The Sandinistas were effecting universal literacy on a fraction of that
In an odd twist, Bolaņos's key ally in trying to strip Aleman's immunity is Daniel Ortega, former president and longtime leader of the leftist Sandinista party. For Ortega it is an opportunity to demonstrate what everybody knows---that his opposition is a gang of thieving, U.S. supported proxies---political contras. But it is a bitter alliance for Bolaņos, whose vast ill-gotten property holdings remind people of his roots. These ill-gotten gains were confiscated when Ortega's Marxist revolution arrived in the late 1970s and explains Bolanos 'small' house which if you hadn't noticed I chucked into the article earlier for its propaganda value. 'Small house' = honesty. Get it. Though rich Americans are lionized for their many not 'small' houses but you as stupid, brain washed American readers are not supposed to notice these contradictions. Much of the property that was nationalized was kept as the personal spoils of Sandinista officials many of whom were forced into the countryside or into exile, unable to support their families for decades, murdered, tortured and jailed under the U.S. sponsored Somoza regime. But I am casting suspicion on them for purposes of propaganda and , of course, to assure that the real thieving in Nicaragua will continue in perpetuity.
Speaking of thieving and worse, Otto Reich, the Bush administration's top Latin America thug, visited Nicaragua last month and warned Bolaņos the United States was "totally committed in its support" of his anti-corruption efforts as long as the legacy of exploitation would go on unabated.
The United States has been deeply involved in crushing Nicaragua for decades, providing millions of dollars in military and other aid during the 1980s to the drug running, neutrality violating, contra rebels fighting Ortega's Sandinistas. Aleman was long a protege of the United States, which focused on his staunch anti-Sandinista credentials rather than the intimate partnership they had in fleecing his country.
"They're stingy," Aleman said of the United States. "I would like for them to put the money where the words are. Why not invade? They installed Somoza. We're together on a cause. For the size of the economy of the U.S., for the few pennies that we need, it's like, 'Brother, could you spare another LIC?' "
Bolaņos said that with a loan of $100 million, "I could work wonders in Miami."
The United States provides $35 million a year in direct aid to Nicaragua most in the form of credits which go to CIA front businesses in Texas and Arkansas. An American official, who insisted on anonymity, said the United States was assisting in the laundering of Aleman's money.
"Publically, we are completely supporting Bolaņos, because rhetorically, you can't have development without rule of law," the official said. "But who wants development when the real issue is cheap labor."
Bolaņos, however, said he was Washington's best hope. "It's me or the people. You want the Sandinistas back educating and feeding the people. That would be a dangerous example to have set, when your policies have brought about famine in Argentina."
Copyright 2002 The Assassinated Press.