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Nicaraguans relieved after political crisis averted - for now

President Bolaños breathes easy after move to impeach him was dropped last week.

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Central American leaders let out a collective sigh of relief last week when Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega announced he would drop efforts to have President Enrique Bolaños impeached - thus averting a political crisis threatening to shake Nicaragua, and possibly destabilize the whole region.

The relief felt here, however, may be short lived. Nicaragua, say observers, remains in the throes of the worst political crisis in its brief 15 years of democracy.

"Nicaragua's main political actors," says Carlos Rosales, special secretary to the president of El Salvador," have engaged in a type of political cannibalism that threatens its democracy, its future and the stability of the region."

"One issue may be over. But the story is not," says Manuel Orozco, a Nicaragua expert at the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. "Ortega managed to distract the government and put it on check for a while with this 'one' .... Now, he will look for another strategy and the saga will continue until the [2006 general elections]."

Congress was to have voted last week on whether to strip Mr. Bolaños of criminal immunity for alleged electoral campaign funding abuses. If he were to have lost his immunity, Bolaños would most likely have been prosecuted and, if found guilty, forced to resign.

The crisis began in 2002, when ex-president (1997-2002) Arnoldo Alemán's hand-picked successor Bolaños turned against his former mentor, accusing him of massive corruption. A trial ensued, and Alemán, an anti-Sandinista crusader who was once a US favorite, was convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison for fraud and embezzlement.

But instead of being applauded as an anticorruption leader, Bolaños found himself dragged into a political crisis filled with backstabbing, revenge, and as many twists and turns of plot as any afternoon telenovela (soap opera) here. Ultimately, the crisis has diminished his presidency and stalled most of his desired legislation, including the ratification of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with the US.

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