Socialist Worker

Daniel Ortega: how the leopard changed his spots

Issue No. 2027

Daniel Ortega campaigning

Daniel Ortega campaigning

In 1979, a 40-year dictatorship in Nicaragua was overthrown by a mass movement. It was headed, in its final months, by the Sandinista Liberation Front, led by Daniel Ortega.

Now, Ortega is set to become president again, following elections held on Sunday of last week. His campaign was conducted under the red and black banner of the Sandinistas, and exploited the memory of their role in overthrowing the dictatorship.

For the ten years that followed that victory, the US financed and armed a counter-revolutionary force, the Contras, which fought with particular savagery against the new government.

The US also used its financial might to destroy the fragile Nicaraguan economy. In 1990, the Sandinistas were voted out of power by a population weary of war, and enraged by the continuing gulf between the rich and poor even after a decade of revolution.

Since then, Nicaragua has lived under right wing governments that have protected the wealthy, deepened poverty for the majority, and opened the frontiers to the global market.

Perhaps that is why many Nicaraguans have invested their hopes in a man who claims to represent a tradition of resistance and a legacy of hope. There are even people outside Nicaragua who claim that Ortega’s election is another link in the chain connecting Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia.

The reality is very different. Ortega is a cynical political operator whose sole concern was to win power. In pursuit of this goal he has forged alliances with some of the most sinister forces in Nicaraguan society.

When the Sandinistas lost the elections in 1990, their leaders took with them everything that they could carry. They called it the “piñata” - the “golden goose” you might say. Overnight they became wealthy, owners of land, property and the odd bank account.

In 1996, the Nicaraguan presidency passed to Arnaldo Aleman - a banker and wealthy and corrupt businessman. The Sandinistas under Ortega struck a series of deals with Aleman, agreeing a 50-50 deal to share power with him.

Weeks before the election, the Sandinistas rushed through a parliamentary law to ban abortion. This was the result of a deal made with the Catholic church and its leader, Cardinal Obando, the man who had led the attacks on the Sandinistas throughout the 1980s. Ortega’s vice?presidential candidate, Morales Carazo, had been a leading negotiator for the Contras.

Despite all this some still claim that Ortega will join the fight against neoliberalism. But it was Ortega who drove through the decision for Nicaragua to enter the Central American Free Trade Agreement, the key instrument of globalisation. Ironically, the right voted against it!

The resulting privatisation measures met no resistance from the man who agreed before he was elected to accept the dictates of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Ortega’s campaign called for “the unity of all Nicaraguans”. But there can be no unity with ex-Contras, corrupt businessmen, the IMF and the hierarchy of the Catholic church. It’s no accident that Ortega insisted on dropping the line of the Sandinista anthem that said “the Yankees are the enemies of all humanity”.

Ortega wants power at any price. He wore the Sandinista colours to win votes, but we will see him in his true colours as soon as he enters office.

Mike Gonzalez’s books include Che Guevara and the Cuban Revolution. For books on Latin America, phone Bookmarks on 020 7637 1848 or go to

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Sat 18 Nov 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2027
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