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Aleman: A Popular Businessman on the Cusp of the Presidency

October 22, 1996

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) _ As early results trickled in before dawn, conservative presidential candidate Arnoldo Aleman raised his arms jubilantly and declared ``an overwhelming victory.″

It is this confidence that took him from being a prosperous businessman to the cusp of the Nicaraguan presidency.

The 50-year-old widower and father of four took the lead in Nicaragua’s presidential election Monday, virtually guaranteeing his election to a five-year term that begins Jan. 10.

No stranger to theatrics, he promised at campaign’s end that he would ``marry at midnight″ on election day _ to his beloved Nicaragua.

If the portly, bespectacled Aleman marries no one else, his eldest daughter, Maria Dolores, 24, will serve as First Lady.

A self-described liberal, Aleman was on the conservative edge of the spectrum of 23 presidential candidates in the balloting Sunday.

``Nicaraguans, today begins a new era,″ he told cheering supporters. ``Today we are taking steps to consolidate democracy in Nicaragua. Today I can say with a Christian conscience that God is watching out for Nicaragua.″

He appealed for unity from all parties.

``Despair and massive unemployment are our biggest challenge,″ Aleman told The Associated Press. ``The despair that drives our people beyond our borders looking for a better life and the lack of opportunities that causes one of every two Nicaraguans to be out of work.″

As a younger man, Aleman was a member of the dictator Anastasio Somoza’s Liberal Youth Organization, but boils at suggestions that the Liberal Alliance he heads has ties to Somoza’s old Liberal Party.

``Somoza was the antithesis of liberalism. I believe in the liberalism that stands for freedom and equal opportunities for all. Somoza was a murderer. Arnoldo Aleman never killed anyone,″ he said.

The Sandinistas, who toppled Somoza in a 1979 revolution, jailed Aleman for six months in the 1980s for his former links to the dictator. His wife died seven years ago while he was under house arrest.

After the loss of his wife, Aleman decided to enter politics.

A year later he was elected mayor of Managua. He was admired by many in the capital as being honest and efficient.

One of his early acts was to order the Sandinista slogans and paintings scrubbed from the walls of schools and markets and the initials FSLN, for the Sandinista National Liberation Front, to be replaced with the word FIN, or ``the end.″

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