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Nicaraguan President-elect Enrique Bola�os, who takes office today in a lavish inauguration ceremony in Managua, has a controversial new idea for resolving an old problem. Nicaraguans and Nicaraguan-Americans have filed claims totaling tens of millions of dollars to compensate them for property confiscated by the leftist Sandinista government, which ruled the Central American country in the 1980s. Bola�os’ proposed solution? Let the United States pay. Since 1990, successive Nicaraguan administrations have sought to use government bonds of dubious value to buy off thousands of moldering claims for pennies on the dollar. Some claimants have settled, while many others have not. Now, according to a U.S. government official who asked not to be identified, Bola�os, a wealthy businessman, is chatting up the notion that it’s Uncle Sam who should reach into his deep pockets. The rationale: The United States is responsible for the Sandinista regime because the Carter administration supported the Marxist insurgents for a short period in the 1970s before they toppled right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. It’s unclear what, if any, legal or political avenues Bola�os may have to make his claims. Meanwhile, Bola�os is putting the finishing touches on forming a government heavily weighted with current and former South Floridians: � Eduardo Montealegre, a banker who was active in Miami’s anti-Sandinista Nicaraguan-American community during the Sandinista regime, will be treasury secretary. � Jose “Tuto” Navarro, a former fighter with the U.S.-backed anti-Sandinista Contra forces who owns Jan Farms, an ornamental tree farm in Florida City, will be minister of agriculture. � Gilberto Wong, ex-president of the Nicaraguan-American Banker and Businessman’s Association whose brother owns the Los Ranchos restaurant chain along with two of Anastasio Somoza’s nephews, will head the nation’s important free trade zone. � Carlos Ulvert, a former Contra spokesman in Miami now in the commercial insurance business in Nicaragua and Miami, will be Nicaragua’s ambassador to the U.S. LOCAL EUPHORIA An official U.S. delegation headed by Mel Martinez, President Bush’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development, will attend today’s inauguration. It will include George P. Bush, son of Gov. Jeb Bush. A congressional delegation, including U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., also will attend. In advance of Bola�os’ inauguration, flights to Nicaragua were booked and hotel rooms reserved. Among the most enthusiastic are members of Miami’s Nicaraguan-American community, estimated 250,000 people. “I don’t think there’s a Nicaraguan-American left in Miami this week, and I’m serious about that,” says Ana Navarro, the daughter of Jose Navarro and a Jeb Bush political adviser. “For us, for the Nicaraguan-American, it’s a tremendously special thing. I think we believe that Bola�os can not only be a good leader, but more importantly at this point, be an honest leader.” Until he resigned to run in 2000, Bola�os, 73, was vice president in the scandal-plagued administration of outgoing President Arnoldo Aleman. Bola�os, however, maintained a reputation for honesty. With the strong support of the George W. Bush administration — which drew criticism by actively campaigning for him — Bola�os won the presidency by trouncing Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega at the polls in November. He’s made it clear that the business of the new administration will be business. Hundreds of potential foreign corporate investors from around the world were invited to his swearing in. “The day after, they’ll all start a two-day investment forum,” says Ana Navarro. Investment is desperately needed in impoverished Nicaragua, where unemployment has soared and foreign debts are enormous. The once relatively prosperous country is now the second-poorest in the western hemisphere, after Haiti. “Nicaragua is facing a difficult economic situation. They have suffered with a drought and a drop in mainstay coffee prices. And they’ve fallen out of IMF [International Monetary Fund] compliance,” says Lino Gutierrez, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for western hemispheric affairs and a former U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua. CLAIMS IMPEDE INVESTMENT Yet it will be difficult to win foreign investment with the compensation issue for Sandinista-era property disputes unresolved. The U.S. embassy in Managua recognizes the problem. The disputes “are a significant impediment to economic growth in Nicaragua,” says a statement on the embassy’s Web site. According to the embassy, about 12 percent of Nicaragua’s land was confiscated as part of the Sandinistas’ agrarian and urban land reforms. “Over 5,500 former owners filed claims for some 16,000 pieces of property that were received by about 128,000 beneficiaries,” the embassy reports on its Web site. “The latest count of pending property claims includes 874 U.S. citizen claims currently filed with the embassy by 279 U.S. citizens. Some individuals have more than one claim.” Ana Navarro points out another dimension to the problem. “Every year more and more Nicaraguans become U.S. citizens and so more and more file claims,” she says. When U.S. citizens file such property claims against foreign governments, the U.S. government gets involved in pressing their cases. U.S. law requires the suspension of foreign assistance to countries that don’t work to resolve compensation claims. For the last six years, Nicaragua has gotten a waiver by demonstrating progress. ENTER THE U.S.? Still, with its crushing foreign debt, Nicaragua can’t hope to pay the tens of millions needed to resolve all claims for compensation. Enter the U.S., Bola�os hopes. Kathy Bentley, a spokeswoman for the U.S. embassy in Managua, declined to discuss Bola�os’ idea of getting the United States to pay. “While it is too early for us to comment on this issue as of yet, since Bola�os has not even taken office, I can tell you that the embassy has not yet been approached on the subject.” If and when Bola�os does formally propose his idea, however, he’ll have an awful lot of convincing to do. Even the George W. Bush administration is cool to it. “It’s just not in the cards,” says one U.S. official. “I don’t see the U.S. government allocating money to a foreign government for that. It would set a bad precedent.”

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