Monday, November 06, 2006

Ortega wins in Nicaragua

Note: What is not being said.
When the Sandinistas were in power they were attacked by forces financed and organized by the U.S. Some 30,000 Nicaraguans were killed in this mercenary war.
Now, former Sandinista President Ortega is winning the election.
NPR and other news reports say that he is opposed by the U.S. We should correct them. He is opposed by the U.S. Government and the Bush Administration. The U.S. does not have an enemy nor an opponent in Daniel Ortega.

Ortega leads Nicaragua vote
By Jill Replogle and James C. McKinley Jr.
The New York Times

Sixteen years after he left power, Daniel Ortega, a former Marxist president and the Sandinista leader who is still regarded as a sworn foe by many in Washington, appeared headed Monday to a victory in the Nicaraguan presidential election.

Though electoral officials had yet to release final tallies from Sunday's vote, preliminary results and the country's electoral watchdog groups all predicted Ortega, who had failed twice before to gain the presidency in elections, would win a clear victory.

An Ortega win in a five-way race would mark a defeat for the Bush administration, who strongly opposed his election and worked hard to unite a fractious opposition against him with little success. The White House has said it will withdraw aid from an Ortega government.

With just more than 61 percent of the vote counted, Ortega had 38.6 percent of the ballots, about 8 points ahead of the second-place candidate, Eduardo Montealegre, a Harvard-educated financier and conservative Washington has openly supported.

Now 60 years old and balding, Ortega has maintained he is no longer a Marxist, but more of a pragmatist. He has promised to keep good relations with the United States and chose a former foe as his running mate. He has also vowed to help the poor and ran a positive campaign around the themes of "peace, love and unity."

But he maintains close ties to Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the leftist president who has become a thorn in side of the United States. Chavez lent the Ortega campaign significant support by sending subsidized oil to Nicaragua and distributing it through Sandinista politicians.

Ortega's victory appeared to be another gain for leftists in Latin America, who, despite recent setbacks in Peru and Mexico, have also persuaded voters to abandon conservative governments in Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Bolivia.

Although the results were preliminary, supporters of Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front party set off fireworks around the city on Monday, and drove around honking horns, shouting victory slogans and waving red and black Sandinista flags. Ortega had yet to make a statement.

Cuba immediately congratulated Ortega. "This is good for the people of Nicaragua and for the integration of Latin America," Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told The Associated Press Monday.

Ortega's opponents refused to recognize his victory until all the votes were counted. The United States took a similar stance. The State Department's deputy spokesman, Tom Casey, said Monday that the administration would wait to comment until the Nicaraguan Electoral Commission announced who won. He also said it was too early to comment on procedural problems during the voting, noting that several groups of observers planned to file reports.

Casey said the United States delegation in Nicaragua had remarked on "high turnout and given praise to the Nicaraguan people for their patience and their willingness to show support for this democratic process."

Ortega was one of the leaders of the Sandinista rebels that swept to power in 1979, toppling the Somoza dynasty of rightwing dictators friendly to the United States and setting up an authoritarian leftwing government.

With the cold war still driving United States policy, President Reagan imposed sanctions on the country and financed anti-Sandinista guerrillas, known as contras, in part by secretly selling arms to the revolutionary Islamic government in Iran. It was Ortega who led his Soviet-backed army in a bloody decade-long civil war.

The last time Ortega ran Nicaragua, he seized private assets and redistributed land to poor peasants. Capital fled the country, along with many of its business leaders. He vows a different approach this time.

The advertising campaign against the former rebel leader was vicious, showing images from the civil war, weeping women, guns blaring. His opponents lost no chance to remind people of the economic collapse that followed the fighting and the United States embargo.

Ortega served as an unelected president from 1985 to 1990, before losing in elections to Violet Chamorro. He has struggled to regain power through the ballot box since then, but without success, in 1996 and 2001.

This time, however, a change in the election law and a strong throw-the-bums-out sentiment in the country after campaign financing scandals involving former President Enrique Bolanos helped carry him to victory.

The key to his victory was a change in election rules allowing a candidate to win in the first-round with only 35 percent of the vote, so long as he is 5 points above his next closest opponent. If Ortega had not won on the first round, most political strategists predicted he would not have survived a second round, as the splintered anti-Sandinista vote would have united.

As it was, the anti-Sandinista vote seemed split mostly between Montealegre, with 30.9 percent, and José Rizo, the candidate of the conservative ruling party, who had 22.9 percent, according to the Supreme Electoral Council, the Nicaraguan election authority. Two other candidates, Edmundo Jarquin, a dissident former Sandinista, and Eden Pastora, a former Contra rebel, trailed behind.

Results of a quick count carried out by a local monitoring group, Ethics and Transparency, were tracked with the official results.

"It's been a pretty exact count, we can say that Ortega's triumph is almost sure," said Carlos Tunnerman, a political analyst and former Nicaraguan ambassador to Washington during the early years of the Sandinista government, from 1984 to 1988.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who was in Nicaragua to monitor the election, said the quick count was "among the most definitive I have ever scene." The count is based on a large, and strategically varied sample of votes from urban and rural areas and different social strata, explained Carter and local analysts.

On Sunday night, following the first presentation of results by the election authorities, Montealegre denounced the early closure of some polling places and problems with the delivery of voter identification cards. He said he would not concede defeat until all votes are counted.

Carter agreed that there were minor problems with the voting process, but said he did not think they were significant enough to affect the results.

"The likelihood is that those few anomalies, which exist in every election in the world, will not be substantive enough collectively to change the apparent results of this election," Carter said.

Electoral observers have said the vote was mostly peaceful and orderly, despite long lines and some angry confrontations among voter who claimed polling stations closed before they could vote.

Observers from the Organization of American States said 2 percent of potential voters were not able to cast a ballot, and they estimated turnout around 70 percent, the Associated Press reported.

Since the frontrunner was a cold-war icon for the left, the race generated interest in the United States. Even Oliver North, the former White House aide, visited to speak against Ortega. North was at the heart of a scandal that became known as the Iran-contra affair when it emerged that Washington had secretly sold arms to Iran and used the money to arm the contras.

But in recent years, American money has flowed into Nicaragua in the form of investments. The country's has cheap labor, low crime rates and recently joined the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

During his campaign for the current election, Ortega emphasized his goal of peace and reconciliation, choosing bright pink as the color for his campaign and adopting the rhythm of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" for his jingle.

For some, Ortega and the Sandinistas still conjure up memories of the war and tough economic times. Marlon José Sánchez Padilla, 36, who sold oranges on Sunday outside of a polling station in the town of Nindirí, bitterly recalled his two years of military service in the 1980's. "Many people were mutilated," he said. "Now he promises the sky, earth and highways but we don't believe him anymore."

Others, at the polls on Sunday, said it was time to give Ortega another chance. "It seems that Daniel Ortega has asked for pardon," said Ninosca Leets, a housewife who said she fled to the United States during the former Sandinista government. "He's asked for reconciliation. He's asked for a change, and I think he should be given the opportunity."

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