President of Nicaragua January 10, 1997 – January 10, 2002
Preceded by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro
Succeeded by Enrique Bolaños
Born January 23, 1946, Managua, Nicaragua
Political party Constitutionalist Liberal Party
José Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo (born on 23 January 1946, in Managua) was President of Nicaragua from 1997 to 2002.
Alemán was born in Managua and received his early education at the La Salle institute in Managua. In 1967 he graduated with a law degree from the National Autonomous University of León with specializations in regional economic integration and financial law. Between 1968 and 1979, he worked as a lawyer in the commercial and banking world. He became an official in the government of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. In 1980 he was arrested by the Sandinista junta, had some of his property seized and spent 9 months in prison. The period of his arrest coincided with the death of his father. This kept him from attending his father's funeral. After he was released from prison, he spent some time in the United States.
Upon his return to Nicaragua, Alemán became heavily involved in business, political, and academic activities. He was a member of the Consejo Superior de la Empresa Privada (COSEP, 1988–1990), vice-president of the Unión de Productores Agropecuarios de Nicaragua (UPANIC, 1986–1990). He was president of the Asociación de Cafetaleros de Managua (1983–1990); the Unión de Cafetaleros de Nicaragua (UNCAFENIC, 1986–1990); the Federación de Municipios de América Central (1992–1993) and of the Federación Municipal de Ciudades de Centroamérica (1993–1995). He also imparted conferences at Tulane University and at Florida International University in the United States.
In the early 1990s he became Mayor of Managua after serving for two months as a councillor in Managua. He was popular due to his urban renewal projects which helped spruce up the city, severely damaged and never rebuilt after a 1972 earthquake. He became known as "El Gordo" ("The Fat Man").
Alemán became President of the Liberal Alliance and helped to resurrect it. Besides the PLC, other members of this alliance were the Partidos Neoliberal (PALI), Liberal Independiente de Unidad Nacional (PLIUN) and the Liberal Nacionalista (PLN). On 1 September 1995 he resigned as Mayor in order to be able, under Nicaraguan Law, to stand as a candidate in the forthcoming presidential election
In 1996 he campaigned for president as the Liberal Alliance's candidate under a strong anti-Sandinista platform. It is reported that unidentified individuals attempted to shoot Alemán, killing one of his bodyguards in the process. He defeated Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader, by 48% of the vote to Ortega's 40%. Many claimed widespread election fraud and Ortega refused to concede.
Alemán was successful in promoting economic recovery with reduced inflation and growth of GDP. Foreign investment grew during his administration, which helped to improve Nicaragua's infrastructure. Under his slogan of "Obras, no palabras! (Actions, not words)", Alemán directed a comprehensive reconstruction of the roadway system throughout Nicaragua. During the 1980s, roads throughout the country had deteriorated to the point that many were little more than sparsely paved dirt trails. Alemán also created a program to build schools throughout Nicaragua in some of the poorest regions.
He has participated in international conferences and some awards given to him include the Orden Nacional al Mérito of the Colombina Government and the Orden de Isabel la Católica of the Spanish government.
His first wife, Maria Dolores Cardenal Vargas died of cancer in 1989. Alemán has two sons and two daughters by his first wife. On 23 October 1999, nine years after the death of his first wife, he married Maria Fernanda Flores Lanzas, with whom he has two daughters and a son.
Corruption charges and conviction
Alemán was constitutionally barred from running for another term, and was succeeded by his vice president, Enrique Bolaños. Allegations emerged that Alemán was concealing massive corruption in his administration. At the end of his presidency, public information about alleged corruption committed under his government became available.
Bolaños accused Alemán of widespread corruption and was integral in exposing this alleged corruption throughout the Alemán administration. The scheme was reported to have involved several members of Arnoldo Alemán's closest family, including a brother and sister. Ex–ministers and close friends were also charged, some of whom fled the country. However, one of the central figures in the corruption complot, the former Chief of Department of Taxes Byron Jeréz, was imprisoned on the basis of another charge of corruption. All in all, fourteen persons were charged." Several foreign governments froze Alemán's bank accounts in their countries and threatened to confiscate the funds. In such cases, his defense has been to claim that the funds were not stolen, but that they came from his coffee plantations.
Alemán was formally charged in December 2002, and on 7 December 2003 he was sentenced to a 20-year prison term for a string of crimes including money laundering, embezzlement and corruption. During his trial, prosecutors produced evidence showing that he and his wife had made extremely large charges to government credit cards, "including a $13,755 bill for the Ritz Carlton hotel in Bali and $68,506 for hotel expenses and handicrafts in India." Because of health problems, he had been serving his prison term under house arrest. He was also barred from entering the United States. In 2004, Transparency International named him the ninth most corrupt leader in recent history, estimating that he had looted the country of $100 million.
Meanwhile, following his presidency, Alemán developed a strategic alliance with Daniel Ortega to rule without effective opposition by offering employment in public offices and other privileges to key members of the Sandinista party, in order to stabilize the country. There are those who claim that the main purpose of this agreement, which led to a constitutional reform, was to distribute the institutions of the state in proportion to the power managed by the two main political parties of the country.
On 16 January 2009, Nicaragua’s Supreme Court overturned the 20-year corruption sentence against former President Arnoldo Alemán. The decision generated some controversy: "stunned opposition lawmakers immediately suspected a secret deal between Mr. Alemán, ranked one of the world’s 10 most corrupt leaders ever by Transparency International, and Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua and leader of the Sandinista Party, who wields considerable influence and control over the courts. “He’s handing over the National Assembly in exchange for his personal liberty,” said Congressman Enrique Saenz (MRS). Mr. Alemán, who denies the allegation, said, “Justice has finally been served.”
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