MANAGUA, Nicaragua — Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick met a onetime Sandinista loyalist Wednesday as part of an effort to thwart what Zoellick called a "creeping coup" by leftist Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega and right-wing former President Arnoldo Aleman.
On a two-day visit to Managua, the State Department's No. 2 official piled pressure on Sandinista and rightist opposition leaders whom Washington accuses of undermining President Enrique Bolanos, a U.S. ally.
That included Wednesday's discussion with former Managua Mayor Herty Lewites, who is critical of his former leftist allies.
The renewed U.S. interest in Nicaragua, where Washington supported Contra rebels against Ortega's left-wing government in the 1980s, angered the opposition.
"As Nicaraguans, as Central Americans and sons of Latin America, we protest to the world about the U.S. government's unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of our country," Aleman's Constitutional Liberal Party said in a statement.
Zoellick this week described an informal alliance between the Sandinistas and Aleman as a "corrupt pact."
Aleman was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2003 for a conviction on fraud and money-laundering charges after leaving office in early 2002.
Prosecutors said he diverted tens of millions of dollars to his own accounts.
Aleman was recently freed from house arrest on condition that he stay in the capital.
Ortega is a favorite to win next year's elections, a prospect that concerns U.S. officials.
Lewites wants to take on Ortega at the polls, but he might struggle to receive the support from the right that he would need to present a significant challenge.
Ortega and Aleman's unlikely alliance already controls the judicial and legislative branches of government.
Bolanos is facing the threat of impeachment for alleged campaign finance violations.
Saying Nicaragua is threatened by a "creeping coup" and corruption, Zoellick announced Tuesday that the United States had revoked visas held by Nicaragua's attorney general and Aleman's two adult children and might withhold millions of dollars in aid.