- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 29, 2006

On Sunday — just two days before the American election — Nicaraguans will also have an election to choose a new president. With an estimated 400,000 of them living in Florida alone, and the potential of a flood of new immigrants should the Nicaraguan election herald a return to policies which failed in the past, the United States has a lot at stake. Many observers of the political situation in Central America are deeply concerned about the upcoming Nicaraguan election because former President Daniel Ortega is leading in most polls. Although Mr. Ortega and the rest of his Sandinista colleagues claim to have learned from their mistakes, many Nicaraguans are rightly convinced that if the Sandinistas win the election they would revert to their failed leftist policies of the past.

Most polls show that the election is a tight race between Mr. Ortega and myself, and any candidate only needs 35 percent of the vote to win in the first-round vote. If no one wins, there will be a second round in December. But there is a risk that Mr. Ortega could squeak by with a win in the first round since the anti-Sandinista vote is split. In 2001, I ran as vice president against Mr. Ortega and our liberal party, the Constitutional Liberal Party (or PLC), won by a landslide. If elected, I will work very closely with the United States and other allies in guaranteeing that Central America and the Western Hemisphere are prosperous and secure. I am called the “clean hands” candidate because I have served my country honorably, and, unlike other candidates, I have never been implicated in any corruption scandal.

Upon becoming president, I will promote a constitutional ban on presidential re-election in Nicaragua. My economic policy is called “Nicaragua First” and is designed to take full advantage of the trade, investment and employment opportunities that have been created by the Central American Free Trade Agreement. It is also founded on truly free, transparent and open-market strategies and institutions.

In an extraordinary turn of events, President Enrique Bolanos turned against the party that elected him and decided to promote presidential candidate Eduardo Montealegre. The Ethics and Transparency Commission of the Nicaraguan Congress recently found Mr. Montealegre responsible for the looting of Treasury funds for the benefit of his own bank while he was secretary of the treasury for Mr. Bolanos. The Sandinistas are gleeful about this split in the PLC vote and are quietly supporting it.

The most surprising development in this Nicaraguan political fight is the strong intervention of Bush administration. It has been misled by the Bolanos administration and their key cronies who are desperate to hold onto power. This confusing and troubling U.S. involvement in this election is so transparent that many prominent U.S. citizens have felt compelled to openly call for a more neutral American policy. Unfortunately, as it did with Iraq, the Bush administration is receiving its information from biased exile leaders and misguided policy experts. If the Sandinistas win the election, they will most likely enact their previous failed totalitarian policies and join the likes of Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez in the anti-American crusade in Latin America. More importantly, tens of thousands of Nicaraguans will likely flee the country again and seek to relocate in the United States.

It is not too late for the Bush administration to declare its neutrality in the upcoming election and its willingness to work with any democratically elected government. Unless it does so within the next 10 days, it might actually help cause what it fears the most: the election of Daniel Ortega as president of Nicaragua.

Jose Rizo is former vice president of Nicaragua. He is running for president representing the PLC, the largest political party in Nicaragua. Mr. Rizo also studied at the London School of Economics.