[Marxism] Ortega Nears Victory In Nicaragua Election (WSJ)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 7 06:56:51 MST 2006

(There was a surprisingly long and moderately-toned report on NPR
about the election today, which pointed out, among other things,
that after Washington got what it wanted in 1990, it did nothing 
to help Nicaragua do anything to reduce poverty in the country.
Thus, in addition to the division among the rightist forces, the
NPR's correspondent attributed the fact that so many of Nicaragua's
voters were so young - voting age there is 16, same as in Cuba, by
the way - that these young voters had little or no memory of the
contra war, and basically voted for a change in the country's 
terrible economic situation. While the WSJ reports Ortega's 11th
hour conversion to Roman Catholicism garnered him the endorsement
of Cardinal Obando y Bravo, the Vatican was duly unimpressed, and
posted an article sharply attacking the Santinistas on Sunday:

Ortega Nears Victory
In Nicaragua Election
Sandinista Leader Appears
On Path to Retake Presidency
In Diplomatic Defeat for U.S.
November 7, 2006

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Sandinista Party leader Daniel Ortega appeared
headed toward a first-round victory in Nicaragua's presidential
election, handing the U.S. a diplomatic defeat and bolstering
populist forces in Latin America led by Venezuelan President Hugo

With returns in from about 61% of polling stations in Sunday's
election, the 60-year-old Mr. Ortega, a former guerrilla leader and
president, had an eight-percentage-point lead over conservative rival
Eduardo Montealegre. Yesterday, an analysis of the vote by a
respected civic organization, the Nicaraguan Civic Group for Ethics
and Transparency, said Mr. Ortega would win about 38% of ballots
cast. He needed at least 35% to avoid a runoff.

While Mr. Ortega campaigned as the candidate of reconciliation and
has refrained from criticizing the U.S., his victory will no doubt be
seen as a triumph for Mr. Chávez, whose influence had been waning
lately owing to a number of setbacks. He had failed in his attempt to
win a seat on the United Nation's Security Council and his political
allies in Peru and Ecuador lost, in part, because they were
identified with Mr. Chávez and his rhetoric.

In Nicaragua, Mr. Chávez may have won some votes for Mr. Ortega by
supplying Sandinista allies with cut-rate diesel fuel and fertilizer.
Mr. Chávez also has promised to set up an arm of Venezuela's
development bank in Nicaragua to fund local projects.

Washington, on the other hand, actively campaigned against Mr.
Ortega, in a kind of echo of the battles of the 1980s, when a
U.S.-backed rebel force known as the Contras battled Mr. Ortega's
Sandinista government. The U.S. ambassador staged a public campaign
against Mr. Ortega and senior U.S. officials said aid and investment
could be sharply cut and the country would come to ruin if Mr. Ortega
triumphed. Political analysts are sure to debate whether the U.S.
campaign backfired.

Mr. Ortega is a hard-knuckle political boss with a devoted, though
minority, following, according to most polls. He had lost three
previous attempts at the presidency because many Nicaraguans
identified him with the hyperinflation, scarcity and the 30,000 dead
left by the country's decadelong civil war against Contra forces. He
succeeded this time because his opposition was fractured and he had
cut a political deal that reduced the percentage of the vote needed
to win in the first round to 35% from 45%.

In deeply religious Nicaragua, Mr. Ortega received a politically
beneficial blessing from his old foe, Managua's retired but powerful
Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo. The cardinal married Mr. Ortega and
Rosario Murillo, his longtime companion and closest political
adviser. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Sandinistas reversed course
and helped to overturn a 100-year-old law that permitted abortion in
case of danger to the mother's life; the practice is completely

Mr. Ortega and the Sandinistas came to power in Nicaragua in 1979
when they toppled the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.
He left power after being defeated in elections in 1990, though the
Sandinista leadership allegedly stole hundreds of millions of dollars
in state lands and assets.

One of the poorest countries in the Americas, Nicaragua has been
experiencing an economic upturn thanks in part to a free-trade
agreement with the U.S. that has spurred investment and to a modest
tourism boom. To keep the country on track, Mr. Ortega will have to
convince the U.S., as well as his countrymen, that he has changed
from his days as a doctrinaire Communist.

"Nicaragua is like a plane that is taking off. If the pilot makes a
bad move, the plane will crash," says Antonio Lacayo, a prominent
businessman here. "Ortega must convince everyone that he will keep
Nicaragua within the system of free enterprise and civil liberties
and democracy."

Mr. Ortega says his days as a Marxist revolutionary are behind him
and that he would like to have friendly relations with the U.S. Many
fear his authoritarian tendencies could be given free rein if he gets
generous financing and strategic support from Mr. Chávez.

Mr. Ortega's supporters rejoiced. "It's going to be different this
time," said Pedro Joaquin Romero, a former Sandinista lieutenant, who
has been confined to a wheelchair since a 1986 ambush by Contras. "I
think he can get the country moving forward."

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