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Sandinista leader poised for victory
Nicaraguan voters defy U.S. threats

By Nicole Colson | November 10, 2006 | Page 12

DESPITE A relentless campaign by the Bush administration to derail his election, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega seemed poised to win Nicaragua's presidential election as Socialist Worker went to press.

Preliminary polls showed Ortega, the candidate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN, by its initials in Spanish) and the country's president from 1985 to 1990, with about 40 percent of the vote in his race against four other candidates. That was more than enough to avoid a runoff against the U.S.-backed candidate, Harvard-educated banker Eduardo Montealegre.

For weeks, U.S. officials pulled out all the stops to try to derail Ortega's victory, including pressuring the country's right-wing parties to come together behind a single candidate. But when conservatives remained divided between Montealegre and ruling party candidate Jose Rizo, the U.S. turned to making dark threats in the event of an Ortega victory.

U.S. Ambassador Paul Trivelli warned Nicaraguans not to vote for Ortega, promising some "surprises" in the run-up to the election. Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher threatened an economic embargo against the impoverished country, while other politicians warned that the U.S. might take action to block Nicaraguans living in the U.S. from sending money home to Central America's poorest country.

But if anything, the anti-Ortega rhetoric and threats may have prompted more Nicaraguans--particularly the poor--to vote for Ortega as a protest against U.S. intervention.

Historically, the U.S. not only propped up the brutal dictatorship of Anastazio Somoza, but it funded and armed the right-wing paramilitary contras, who carried out a bloody war against the left-wing Sandinista government following Somoza's overthrow in 1979.

The Bush administration even sent former White House aide Oliver North--best-known for his role in organizing the secret illegal funding and arming of the contras during the Reagan administration--to warn Nicaraguans that an Ortega government would be faced with the cutoff of the country's estimated $220 million in annual aid.

"Imagine Osama bin Laden visiting the United States 10 or 15 years from now," wrote Mark Weisbrot, a Latin America expert at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, "telling Americans who to vote for if they want to avoid getting hurt."

Today, Ortega insists that he is a "pragmatist" in favor of "reconciliation." That was evident during his campaign, when he chose Jaime Morales--a former political opponent and contra supporter--as his running mate.

Ortega has also held back from criticizing the U.S, and promised that he would not institute drastic reforms that would threaten business interests.

In the days leading up to the election, he supported a vote for a ban pushed by the Catholic Church outlawing all abortions, even when a woman's life is in danger. The measure passed.

Despite this, Ortega's victory is worrying to the U.S. for a number of reasons--especially his ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. "Though Ortega...is a pale shadow of his former self, having jettisoned his leftist rhetoric and hostility towards his northern neighbor, nevertheless, Washington must now recognize that it has patently failed to isolate Chávez diplomatically," wrote author Nikolas Kozloff in an article on the CounterPunch Web site. "Ortega will be hampered in bringing about radical change, but will at least look upon Venezuela as an important regional ally and friend."

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