Nicaragua’s conservative ruling party is claiming victory over Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua’spresidential elections, which were held yesterday. Until the last days of this election, many analysts predicted thatOrtega would return to power and defeat the ruling Liberal Party candidate, conservative businessman Enrique Bolanos.
But just as the first Bush Administration waged a not so secret war against the Sandinistas, the second BushAdministration has waged a not so secret campaign against Ortega.
After Secretary of State Colin L. Powell met with the Nicaraguan foreign minister last month, the State Departmentissued a statement saying it had “grave reservations” about Ortega’s party, claiming it had “ties to supporters ofterrorism.” Another official said “We cannot forget that [during the Sandinista period of government], Nicaraguabecame a haven for violent political extremists from the Middle East, Europe and Latin America.”
Ortega’s pro-U.S. opponents took the cue and started running TV ads saying that if Osama bin Laden could vote inNicaragua, he’d vote for Ortega.
Ortega was swept to power in the 1979 Sandinista revolution and led Nicaragua throughout the 1980s. The ReaganAdministration waged a decade long war against the Sandinistas by arming, training and directing a proxy army knownas the Contras, killing nearly 50,000 people and wrecking the Nicaraguan economy in the process. Nicaragua is stillamong the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere.
Ortega’s attempt to return to office, and US opposition to him, highlights the role of members of the first BushAdministration in shaping US policy toward Central America more than a decade after the supposed end of the Cold War.
- Thomas Walker, Director of the Latin American Studies Program at Ohio University, Author of ??Nicaragua,Land of Sandino.