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by Elena Shore

The Sandinistas Are Back

(PNS) -- Nicaraguan and U.S. Spanish-language media closely followed the Nov. 5 presidential election victory of former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega. But they aren't sure which Ortega to expect: the old rebel leader or the image of a new, more moderate politician he has presented in recent months.

Although he is a well-known historic figure and symbol of the Sandinista Revolution of the 1980s, the present-day Ortega seems to be "an unknown," the Los Angeles-based La Opinion reported on Nov. 4. "The price (of his victory) seems to be his conversion from a revolutionary leader into a simple politician who wants to be elected at any cost," according to La Opinion, the largest Spanish-language paper in the United States.

Daniel Ortega Saavedra was one of the leaders of the Sandinista rebels, who ousted right-wing dictator Anastasio Somoza in July 1979 and established a leftist regime in Nicaragua. During the 1980s, Ortega led the Sandinistas in a long and bloody civil war against the U.S.-backed Contras. Ortega was elected president in 1984 and was president of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990.

In the United States, the Sandinista leader continues to be "the ogre of the past Cold War," La Opinion reports, but in Nicaragua, he has remade his image.

Ortega's "turn to the right," according to La Opinion, is evident in his political pact six years ago with former president Arnoldo Aleman, his old political adversary who is now under house arrest for corruption.

In 2000, then-president Aleman developed a strategic alliance with Ortega and lowered the threshold a candidate needed to win outright from 45 percent to 40 percent, or 35 percent if the winner held at least a five-point lead. This was the first election in which the new rules applied, according to Managua's La Prensa newspaper. With 91 percent of the votes counted on Tuesday, Ortega won with 38 percent of the vote and a nine-point lead.

La Opinion also cites Ortega's newfound alliance with the Catholic Church as evidence of his rightward tilt. Ortega took a public stance against abortion, backing Nicaragua's Oct. 26 ban of all abortions, including cases where the fetus was a product of rape or where the mother's health was at risk.

But the former Sandinista leader's attempts to change his image are hindered by his past.

"Daniel Ortega's worst enemy is named Daniel Ortega," wrote Nicaraguan poet and writer Gioconda Belli on Sept. 15. This is why, Belli writes, Ortega's public appearances have been highly controlled and choreographed. "If one thing has become clear in this electoral campaign," she writes, "it's his need to remain prevent the real Daniel Ortega from affecting the fictional image of Daniel Ortega that his party's political marketers are trying to sell the public."

Ortega's "best defense" during his presidential campaign, Belli writes, has been "to hide from his worst enemy -- himself -- and keep the real man quiet so the mirage replaces his true self."

This strategy, she adds, proves that his new image is inauthentic. "A person who truly changes," she writes, "doesn't hide from public scrutiny, or fear the public eye. Daniel Ortega has shown that he is afraid we will see him for who he really is."

Ortega has been accused of sexual abuse by his stepdaughter Zoilamerica Narvaez, who said in 1998 that Ortega had abused her from age 11. The son of journalist and former party member Carlos Guadamuz, who was murdered in 2004, accuses Ortega of the crime. Ortega denies both charges.

In an editorial titled, "Defending Liberty," Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, based in Managua, reports that during the 1980s the Sandinista dictatorship governed by "blood and fire" but "could not defeat those invested in liberty and democracy."

Today, Ortega's government contends with obstacles it did not face last time he took power, La Prensa reports. "As opposed to July of 1979, when Daniel Ortega and the FSLN took power with bullets and ousted the dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle, now they are taking office as a result of a popular democratic election." The party will not abolish institutions or void the Constitution, the editorial continues, but govern within a legal and Constitutional framework that they must respect.

But Ortega's ability to govern could be weakened by his new image and newfound alliances, commentator Onofre Guevara Lopez writes in the El Nuevo Diario, based in Managua. The country's economic conditions will not change with Ortega's victory, Guevara Lopez writes. Ortega has been weakened by his alliance with a Catholic cardinal and the right wing, and he will be unable to fulfill his electoral promises.

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Albion Monitor   November 8, 2006   (

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