The election of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua

By Pedro G. Cavallero (for Safe Democracy)

Pedro G. Cavallero writes on the reelection of Daniel Ortega to the Presidency of Nicaragua after a sixteen year hiatus from politics. Once an ardent revolutionary following in the footsteps of Castro, Ortega claims to have cast aside his inflammatory rhetoric. And despite the presence of Hugo Chavez at the swear-in ceremony, and the protests of electoral opponent Montealegre that Ortega has not changed, in Cavallero‘s opinion, Ortega may be ready to finally give peace a chance. President Bush‘ congratulatory phone call immediately following Ortega‘s victory may be just one step in the right direction away from anti-Americanism, towards moderation, collaboration, and peace.

Pedro G. Cavallero is a policy analyst based in Washington DC. He holds a master degree in Comparative Law and comments regularly on U.S. foreign policy and inter-American affairs.

THROUGHOUT THE FINAL MONTHS OF PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNING IN NICARAGUA, the improbable sounds of John Lennon’s Give Peace a Chance filtered through the narrow, unpaved streets of far-off villages. And as the electoral season drew to a close, turquoise flags and pink scarves replaced the traditional reds and blacks of the reinvented Sandinista party. Their cold warrior, Commandante Daniel Ortega had won.

Once Washington’s bĂȘte noire (black beast) in Central America, President Ortega seems to have relinquished his fiery, anti-Americanism. Allegedly, he no longer personifies that mix of authoritarian, Cuban-sponsored, revolutionary gospel that so inflamed Nicaragua in the past. Nevertheless, he has continued to regale crowds with his continued attacks at what he considers to be the presence in Nicaragua of savage capitalism.

Personal popularity, a divided opposition, and a well-organized campaign made Ortega’s comeback possible. And on January 10, the former guerrilla commander was sworn-in as president. Left behind were the hard-to-swallow defeats of 1990 (during his re-election bid) 1996 and 2002. After a hiatus of 16 years, an ecstatic Ortega had finally regained the international limelight.

Of Nicaragua’s 5 million inhabitants, spread throughout a country roughly the same size as the state of New York, 80% live on fewer than 2 dollars a day. From the 1930s when US Marines occupied the territory, to the four decade-long Somoza dynasty, to the Sandinista years between 1979 and 1990, Nicaragua has long ranked high among Washington’s foreign policy concerns.

Last year, Oliver North –the key Reagan Administration official involved in the 1986 unauthorized funding of the Sandinista-armed opposition– visited Managua. His presence evidenced America’s continued influence in domestic politics in Nicaragua as both a beacon of local elites and a target of the left-wing Sandinista forces.

According to Eduardo Montealegre, the businessman favoured by the Bush administration during the campaign, Ortega hasn’t changed. He highlights the former guerrilla’s close relations with leaders such as Fidel Castro, the eccentric Libyan Muammar Gadafi and more troublesome still, Ortega’s rapport with Venezuelan strongman, Hugo Ch