US foes unite: Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega cozies up to Iran's Ahmadinejad
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran will be the guest of honor at the inauguration of Nicaragua's newly-reelected president, Daniel Ortega.
Nicaragua's president and longtime US foe Daniel Ortega is stirring old tensions with Washington by inviting a special guest of honor to his inauguration Tuesday: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.Skip to next paragraph
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In the 1980s, the US backed the Contra rebels to fight Mr. Ortega's communist Sandinista government – a dark chapter in both countries' history that closed when Ortega was swept from office in democratic elections in 1990.
Since Ortega's return to power by ballot box in 2007, Washington's response has been limited. The US has criticized his antidemocratic power-grab and cut $64 million in Millennium Challenge development aid, but generally tried to work with the Ortega administration while turning a deaf ear to the Sandistas' "Anti-yanqui" diatribes.
Now several Republican congressmen now want to use the Iran issue to turn up the heat on Ortega and reclassify him from State Department bugbear to national security threat – a dubious distinction the Sandinista government hasn’t had since the 1980s.
“This trip by Ahmadinejad to Nicaragua reaffirms why the Obama administration’s lack of action regarding the undemocratic and fraudulent measures taken by the Ortega regime in the last election in Nicaragua are not only misguided, but could pose a threat to our national security as a State Sponsor of Terrorism is given a warm welcome in our backyard,” Florida Congressman David Rivera (R), of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Monitor.
Late last year, former Costa Rican Ambassador Jaime Daremblum testified before a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Iran is using Nicaragua to establish a “strategic presence” close to the United States’ borders, just like the US has military troops stationed in the Middle East in close proximity to Iran.
“Iran wants to the do exactly the same thing with its presence in Nicaragua,” Mr. Daremblum said, starting a buzz that continues to reverberate in Washington.
What Iranian presence?
But back in Nicaragua, it’s hard to see what the hubbub is about.
Since Nicaragua and Iran renewed diplomatic ties in January 2007, the relationship has hardly evolved beyond lofty promises and ideological commiserating. Iran’s unlikely promises to build a $230 million hydroelectric plant and a $350 million deep-water port in Nicaragua are just as implausible today as they were in 2007.