Remember Daniel Ortega? He's back.
(Page 2 of 2)
Adults cheer, children step forth to receive free FSLN bandannas, and old rebel anthems blare from the loudspeakers. Ortega's wife, revolutionary poet Rosario Murillo, thrusts her thin arms into the air, her bejeweled fingers clenched together in a tight fist.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Everywhere Ortega goes, people circle around him, hugging, kissing - and handing him handwritten notes. Most begin in the same way: "Please, Commandante ..." A young girl in El Jicaral has no school books. An old lady in Masaya needs arthritis medicine. A mother of five in Santa Rosa del Pinon wants shoes for her children - and a new house.
The notes get passed along to a burly man with a gold watch and thick mustache named Chico Lopez, or to Julio Paladino. Mr. Lopez is Ortega's financial officer in charge of "disbursements," Mr. Paladino, a handsome man with a big black bag, is the Sandinista leader's doctor, in charge of prescriptions. Some requests are handled on the spot - 300 cordoba ($17) for clothes here, 200 ($11) for medicine there. Larger requests - for scholarships, say, or operations - are dealt with later, back at headquarters in Managua.
Nicaragua remains one of the poorest countries in an impoverished region. The money disbursed, says Lopez, is all from donations. "We are the only ones who consistently help the people," says Paladino as he checks someone's distended stomach behind the stage. "This is what Daniel is about and that is why he is loved."
And yet for all these pronouncements, and US anxiety, analysts here say Ortega's political future is far from assured.
A poll done this month by B&A, a regional company based in Costa Rica, shows Ortega, with 20 percent of the vote, lagging behind both Eduardo Montealgre, a right-center candidate with 23 percent of the vote, and Mr. Lewites, with 35 percent.
Lewites, the former mayor of Managua, was expelled from the Sandinista Party when he announced his intention to run for president. Ortega canceled his challenger's permits to hold political rallies, forbade him to use Sandinista Party symbols, and accused him of corruption.
Central America, unlike South America, is actually moving away from left-wing anti-Americanism, says Victor Borge, director of B&A. Upcoming elections in El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Honduras are all expected to be won by moderates, he says. "If Ortega manages to come to power in 2006," he adds, "...it would indeed symbolically be a big deal and might motivate other leftists. But that does not seem in tune with the mood in the region."
Lewites calls the new mood "lite left," and it is one he subscribes to. Lewites says he does not share Ortega's singleminded obsession with the US - but neither is he running to Washington for validation. "I think we should maintain good relations with the US. We need each other," he says. "I will be respectful, but firm."
If elections are fairly run, says Lewites, he is confident of victory. But will they be fair? "Of course not," he responds. Thanks to his pact with [former president] Aleman, Ortega all but controls the parliament, the supreme court, and the electoral commission, he adds.
Ortega, too, says is worried about cheating in the elections - but a different kind. "Elections in Nicaragua are not normal elections - they are a confrontation between the US and the Sandinista front," he says, concluding the interview and heading into a midnight meeting. "The US will do anything to decimate us," he says. "But we are here."
1961: Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) founded.
1979: President Anastasio Somoza Debayle overthrown.
1980: FSLN government led by Daniel Ortega nationalizes lands held by the Somoza family.
1982: US-sponsored attacks by Honduras-based contra rebels begin; state of emergency declared.
1984: Mr. Ortega elected president in elections boycotted by opposition.
1987-88: FLSN signs cease-fire pact. Later, holds talks with contra rebels.
1990: US-backed center-right National Opposition Union defeats FSLN in elections; Violeta Chamorro becomes president.
1996: Ortega loses presidential bid.
2001: Liberal party candidate Enrique Bolaños beats Ortega for president.
2002: Opposition Sandinista Party re-elects Ortega as its leader despite his three consecutive defeats since 1990.
2005, September: After pressure from neighboring countries, the US, and the Organization of American States (OAS) to avert a political crisis in Nicaragua, Ortega tells Sandinista lawmakers to drop efforts to have President Bolaños impeached.
Sources: BBC, AP, Reuters.