U.S. Department of State
    

Remarks With Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolanos Before Their Working Dinner


Secretary Colin L. Powell
Casa Presidencial
Managua, Nicaragua
November 3, 2003

PRESIDENT BOLANOS: (In Spanish) Of the founding of Panama as a republic: the event was with Heads of State from everywhere in the world. This included U.S. Secretary of State Mr. Colin Powell. He was so kind as to invite me to accompany with him on his plane, as he was en route to visit Nicaragua and will be here tonight and tomorrow morning. He will leave, following other meetings, he will be going to Honduras. And we will be talking about mutual interests, particularly interests of the long lasting friendship between Nicaragua and the United States. And we’re talking about issues of mutual interest that are of benefit to Nicaragua that we have.

I wanted to remind all the representatives of the press, both the written press and the other media, those that are listening to us, that last year, 22 months ago when I took office, we had to put in order the finances of Nicaragua. We had at that time a budget that was too small and that was heavily weighted by a fiscal deficit, that we were able to negotiate with the IMF, and other countries of Central America have also wanted to negotiate their fiscal deficit but they have not been able to do so in the fashion we were able to do so. And that was largely due to the generosity of the United States, because the United States helped with the IMF so that they would give us favorable conditions. We had to straighten up our finances and we were able to do so.

Today it is another country, it is another Nicaragua. We are more orderly now and we also had to address the problems of corruption, and we did so. We did it to our own will because this is something that we, on a personal level, I had had a great…a very high esteem, rather…for the struggle against corruption and also to be able to do things in a transparent fashion. We set up a system in the Ministry of Public Finance through which the budget and the budget administration and management, the revenues, expenditures, are all exposed to all Nicaraguans, and this is an example of transparency and honesty. Nicaraguans know how we are using their money.

Also, in the Foreign Ministry we once again set up a web page of the Foreign Ministry and in this Web page it shows the source and the use of all external resources: the donations, as well as the loans, and this is available to all Nicaraguans and the Ambassadors and friends of Nicaragua. It is available to all, including organizations and countries that help Nicaragua. These are programs that Nicaragua has set up at its own decision to solve as an example to the world in terms of the management of public funds with complete transparency and veracity. What else have we wanted to do for the good of Nicaragua? We want to have access to the consumer market that is the largest in the world, which is the U.S. consumer market, to be able to sign with the U.S. a free trade agreement that we call CAFTA, which is the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

When I was President-elect I visited the United States, and I visited Secretary Powell, and Secretary Powell asked me what he could do for me, what I wanted. And I said at that time that we wanted to sign a free trade agreement between Central America and the United States. I recall that he looked at me with distrust at that time, or disbelief, as if to say how pretentious: five tiny countries wanting to sign a free trade agreement, five little sardines wanting to sign a free trade agreement with such a large whale. But we are now approaching the ninth round of successful negotiations and when we confirm next month the free trade agreement, and starting at that point the congresses of the Central American countries, and particularly the U.S. Congress, will then approve and ratify this as a free trade agreement, with the rank of a treaty.

We’ll have a different Central America. There will be great opportunities for the future. Central America will have changed for the better and ordered to prosper with its own efforts, looking towards the future, and that is what we want, as well.

Also, with the Central America sisters and brothers, we are trying to reach the point where the custom borders that currently exist in Central America will disappear. We are in the process of negotiating this. How happy would be the day we are able to trade with trucks filled with merchandise among all the Central American countries, as if we were just traveling from Grenada to Leon or Matagalpa, as we currently do within Nicaragua.

We are talking about big changes that we are bringing about. These are deep changes in order to bring well-being to Nicaraguans. Much of what we have accomplished we can thank the United States for their support, because it has been principally the United States that has been providing financing for organizations such as the Inter-American Development Bank and the World Bank. And you who are here know that many of the projects we have been able to carry out we have been particularly using loans: those are funds from these international organizations. So as we came to Nicaragua we were talking about all these things with Secretary Powell this afternoon on the plane. There are so many other things, as well, that we would like to discuss with Secretary Powell: the issues of security. We live in a world that is tormented by terrorism, by drug smuggling that goes through Nicaragua. The terrorism which is difficult to detect because it is like fighting against a shadow, and we would like to give Nicaraguans and Central America and the world full security. And for this reason, because Nicaragua, as well, in the past has received huge amounts of humanitarian assistance, I would say that there is no country in the world that has received so much humanitarian assistance as has Nicaragua. Starting with the earthquake in 1972, Hurricane Fifi, H Hurricane Joan and Hurricane Mitch, it’s been…as well as the revolutionary war in 1979 and the aid that came in, and the immediate recovery for democracy in 1990, with the cancellation of part of the foreign debt in the year 1993 and all of this assistance that we have received from so many different countries.

Today in Nicaragua, as in other occasions, our friends such as El Salvador and Costa Rica, who have also required humanitarian assistance, we have gone to provide this humanitarian aid and we have offered humanitarian aid because Nicaragua is a grateful people and that’s why today we are providing humanitarian aid in Iraq and we intend to continue providing that. Thanks be to God, our soldiers there, our zappers there digging up anti-personnel mines and providing medical assistance to the people of Iraq, are well, they are protected, and God is protecting them.

And the most important part is just around the corner, that which is the pardoning of the debt: we still have a huge foreign debt and with the IMF and the policy that we have followed and the agreement with the IMF we are just at the edge of being able to reach our aim of 80 percent of the remaining foreign debt which is still large for Nicaragua. And the United States, once again, can help us with the IMF and God willing before January first of next year will have the pardoning of this 80 percent approved. And we have done all this in 22 months of our Administration. We’ve done a great deal to change the setting of Nicaragua and we would like to thank all those countries that have helped us in this case in the presence of Secretary Powell. I would like on behalf of Nicaragua and on behalf of myself and of all Nicaraguans in the government, we would like to thank you for the assistance and the aid and the generosity with which you have dealt with us. I would like to now give you the floor to say what you would like to say to us, Mr. Colin Powell. I give you, ladies and gentlemen.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much, Mr. President, and let me express my thanks to you and the Foreign Minister for the very very warm welcome that I have received in Managua. I have been looking forward to visiting here for a long time and you have invited me on a number of occasions and I’m pleased to finally have the opportunity to visit Nicaragua. As the President mentioned, we spent the early part of the day in Panama helping the Panamanians celebrate their Centennial of Independence, but I could not come to this part of the Americas without also visiting Nicaragua.

The President and I have met on a number of occasions over the past two and a half years, before he was actually inaugurated, but of all the meetings we have had, I will never forget the meeting that the President made reference to before he became President and he spoke to me of his vision. He told me what he wanted to do for Nicaragua, he told me how he wanted to end corruption, he told how he wanted to deal with the debt issue, he told me how he wanted to put Nicaragua on a firm foundation of democracy, he told me of his dreams to reform the economy, to free trade and attracting investment into the country so that the people of Nicaragua would see jobs start to come in this direction with investment. He talked to me about the Central American Free Trade Agreement, or a free trade agreement of some kind. And so much of what he talked to me about has really come to pass, in terms of his vision. He has a strong record going after corruption. He has been a leader in pushing the region towards a free trade agreement and we are now before the end of this year is over going to see, I hope, a Central American Free Trade Agreement. And I’m reasonably confident that when that agreement is put before our Congress, our Congress will approve it. And I hope the other legislatures in the region will approve it as well.

As the President said, you are this close, as he said, to dealing with 80 percent of your foreign debt and I hope that with the President’s leadership, the legislature will do what is necessary to satisfy the outstanding requirements and to get rid of this huge burden on the Nicaraguan people. The United States has been glad to provide assistance to Nicaragua: humanitarian assistance, economic assistance, assistance needed to make sure that the Nicaraguan people understand that democracy works, that democracy will provide a better life for all Nicaraguans.

The President has also been a leader in dealing with regional security issues. And encouraging the other leaders of the region to take a look at the expenditures that are going into military forces and to determine what is the real baseline needed for security. And as a result of his regional initiative, the countries of the region will be putting forward what that baseline is for each of their countries and what do you really need to be secure in an entirely new environment where the borders are going to be open for trade and for commerce and where you’re living in peace with one another and not threatening one other. All of these things have come in the course of the President’s 22 months. The United States is deeply appreciative of all that he has done to foster a good relationship between the United States and Nicaragua, a relationship that I hope will be strengthened even more in the future as we move in the path that the President has described to you.

I also want to take this opportunity to express my thanks to the President and the Foreign Minister and to the people of Nicaragua for their support with respect to our efforts in the global war against terrorism and especially the support they have given to us, tangible support, to help the people of Iraq to a better life, a life that will be founded on a political system that is based on democracy and once again, open trade and living in peace with neighbors. Your zappers are doing a terrific job in Iraq and they will come back proud of what they have accomplished, knowing that they have helped a nation in need.

And when the President and I were getting on the airplane, we went into the cabin that I have, and as the President sat down, the first thing that he noticed was my computer. And he says, “Ah, you’re on the computer every day.” And I said, “Every day.” And he said, “So am I, beginning at 4:30 in the morning.” And then he described to me what he has on his computer: a full transparency of where the budget is, who is getting what money, how do various Ministries are using the money that is available to them. And he specifically noted the Foreign Ministry, has on its website all of the money that comes in support of the Nicaraguan people from around the world and how that money is spent. It is that kind of transparency, that kind of understanding, that people of the world expect from Nicaragua that will encourage the people of the world to not only give aid to Nicaragua, more aid, but more importantly to see in Nicaragua investment opportunities so that aid will draw trade into this country. The history between the United States and Nicaragua has been mixed over the years, and I was part of an earlier era. But this is a brighter era: an era of democracy, rule of law, the end of corruption, the encouragement of trade, the education of young people and the diversity of economy that will allow Nicaragua to play an important role, its rightful role, in Central America and in the Americas. And Mr. President, I thank you for your warm welcome. And I look forward to continuing our conversation over dinner.

PRESIDENT BOLANOS: Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what do you about Nicaragua’s (inaudible) and what you think the dangers are that they pose? And what do you believe Nicaragua should do with them? And, Mr. President, has your government made a decision about what to do with these?

SECRETARY POWELL: As the President knows, we have felt strongly for a long period of time that the MANPADS in the Nicaraguan inventory should be destroyed. The President and I have discussed it, the Foreign Minister and I have discussed it, and President Bush has discussed it directly with President Bolanos. He is aware of our concerns, I know that he ensures that these weapons are under tight control, and they’re secured. But I do not believe they add any security to Nicaragua. I think they are, frankly, a burden. They have to be maintained, they have to be secured, they’re costing the Nicaraguan armed forces money, and so I hope that they will be destroyed in the near future. But that is a decision with respect to timing, that is up to the President and of course, he may wish to comment.

PRESIDENT BOLANOS: (In Spanish) (Inaudible) and more than a civilian, I am a civilist. I can nearly say with great pride that I have never carried a gun, in spite of the fact that I worked more than 30 years in agriculture and would go from place to place at midnight in the farm, but I felt safe enough. And this makes me think, or consider, with certain horror that one of these missiles could cause damage, and more than cause damage in terms of human lives, valuable human lives, as well as the reputation of the country, which would definitely cause a setback in everything that we want to do to attract more investment and employment to Nicaragua. And for this reason I presented to fellow Central American Presidents a plan to reach a reasonable balance of forces of defense in the Central American region. And they accepted this with great enthusiasm. And they, in turn, have each passed it to their Ministers of Defense or Minister of Interior or of Homeland, as we call it Nicaragua, as well as their chiefs of police and heads of the military forces, who were studying this proposal and have presented a plan for the reduction in order reach a reasonable balance of defense forces in the Central American region. And they have now set up a timetable among Central American nations to be able to reach a balance throughout the year 2004, up until December 31 of that year. And this also includes being able to present to the OAS respective inventories, because among the Central American nations we no longer need to have fear, in a sense. We are fine with Honduras, we are fine with Costa Rica, we are fine among all the Central Americans. And what we want to do is to use our time and energy to work and produce. And we are studying the military, how, when, this reduction can be carried out, that would lead us to this reasonable balance of forces among Central American nations.

QUESTION: I would like to know what your points of discussion when you plan on talking to the military leadership tomorrow, specifically Mr. President Bolanos was talking about a balance of forces. You’re talking about eliminating all the missiles. There’s a question as to if, disarming partially, completely, and what exactly is the specific proposal that your government has? And as a footnote, I’d like to know why President Bolanos flew on your plane and is that a statement you’re trying to make.

SECRETARY POWELL: Why was he on my plane? Because I offered him a ride, that’s the fastest way to get from Panama City to Managua. (Laughter) That’s the way it was. And it was also, of course, a great opportunity for us to have an hour and a half to talk in private, we’ve had many conversations, and if I may say, I consider the President a good friend. We had good discussions. With respect to your first question, I will discuss with the Minister of Defense and Chief of the Armed Forces any issues they wish to discuss. And I will discuss them not only as the Secretary of State, but as somebody who used to be a soldier, and knows something about these matters. I’ll want to hear their view with respect to the proposal that the President has put before the Central American leaders on finding the right balance of weaponry in the region. With respect with MANPADS, we have a very strong view of that, that they should be eliminated. And the President is aware of that, as are the Minister of Defense and the Chief of the Armed Forces. And I will hope to persuade them from a military perspective as well as Chief Diplomat that these are not weapons needed for any kind of regional balance and certainly not for the security of Nicaragua. And they are a potential danger in the manner the President described. And we believe strongly that they should be eliminated in their totality.

QUESTION: (In Spanish) Good evening. Is the government of the United States interested in the Central American army’s reorienting their emphasis towards combating narco…drug trafficking? And however the Central American armies have arms that still reflect their previous conflict and so to what degree is the United States willing to cooperate in exchange of arms or a change of arms for a transition towards the more appropriate weapons. And also, officially it’s been mentioned that CAFTA negotiations have now gone beyond the technical aspects to the political aspects, specifically what will be the proposal of the United States to the government of Nicaragua in this regard?

SECRETARY POWELL: To answer your second question, CAFTA is a regional arrangement for Central American nations and as the President noted, we are coming into the ninth round which should conclude this all and I hope that an agreement can be reached with all the Central American nations and the United States by the end of the year. With respect to your first question, the world has changed and the threats of this region have changed. Narco trafficking is one of the major threats now. Terrorism is a major threat. But the likelihood of war breaking out between the Central American nations, the kind of threat that used to cause people such distress years ago, that kind of threat is gone, just as the President has said. We are opening up trade, we are opening up the ability to move back and forth, we’re moving customs. And I’m astonished at how often the Central American Presidents now get together and talk about issues of common interest to each other. And so when you have that kind of sea change, in the political situation in the region and the economic situation in the region, the military situation should also adjust. I had some experience in this, when the Soviet Union went away in the early 1990’s, the United States reduced its armed forces by 500,000 active duty soldiers, 250,000 reservists, and 250,000 civilians. We took one million people out of the military structure and we cut our budget by about 30 percent. Which caused a great deal of difficulty in defense industries in the United States, but it was appropriate to do so. And I think the same kind of philosophy applies here, when the threat has changed, adjust to the change, and bring the force structure down to the appropriate level, and then realign the force structure to the real threat. The Nicaraguan people and the people in the other nations in Central American should be more worried about narco trafficking and terrorists than they should be about being invaded by a neighbor. Most unlikely, and I think what the President has done with the initiative on security that he presented to the other Presidents in the region reflects the new reality.

PRESIDENT BOLANOS: (In Spanish) I would like to add to the question that the Nicaraguan army has been professionalizing in the new lines of being an army with providing civil assistance for the people. We have a unit called civil defense which is a model, I would say, for all of Latin America. They are the first who appear and run out when there is a problem, when there’s been too much rain, when there’s been earth tremors, when there’s a risk of a mudslide on some mountainside or volcano and they provide very professional assistance to the population. They are members of the armed forces and yet they’re not military in the sense of being involved in fights, but rather in helping people. We have other units that work directly in the defense to make sure that we will not have narco trafficking coming through. They work jointly with the police in these efforts and to be able to protect the wealth we have on our seas because we have two, both on the Pacific coast and the Atlantic coast and they become more professional in these efforts. We have also increased the professional scale of the practice against terrorism so that there’s some small bands that are operating in the interior part of the country, but we have the professional responsibility to defend our properties against these groups. This is not the type of army that’s prepared to go out and fight against a neighboring army, but rather that is trained to defend the national populus and help the inhabitants of the country. This transformation of the army in Nicaragua has been taking place through the professional training of the members and we want them to become increasingly professional in these areas.

Thank you very much Mr. President and Mr. Secretary Powell.
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