Enrique Bolanos’ precipitous victory over Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua’s neck-and-neck presidential election is a welcome development during a critical time. The resurrection of another Ortega-led government would have presented a fully-extended U.S. administration with yet another challenge.
During his communist rule of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, Mr. Ortega became a major U.S. foreign policy concern. And until yesterday, his potential resurgence seemed alarmingly feasible in the country’s presidential race. Mr. Ortega, however, ended up conceding defeat in the election, after Mr. Bolanos was found to be leading with a comfortable nine point-lead amid a large turnout with slightly more than 13 percent of the vote counted. He trounced Mr. Ortega’s second attempt to regain the presidency.
The Bush administration played an effective role in support of the democratic process, but it also made its reservations regarding Mr. Ortega refreshingly clear. The Sandinistas, which were led by Mr. Ortega, have a “history of trampling civil liberties, violating human rights, seizing people’s property without compensation, destroying the economy, and have ties to supporters of terrorism,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Oct. 5. In addition, the U.S. ambassador to Nicaragua, Oliver P. Garza, demonstrated the administration’s preference for Mr. Bolanos by inviting the candidate to help pass out U.S.-donated food aid to impoverished villagers. In a country that has been helped significantly by U.S. aid in the face of repeated calamity, this message seems to have resonated decisively.
Although Mr. Ortega had refashioned himself in a moderate, pro-business likeness for this latest election, his violent, revolutionary past could hardly be overlooked. Since Mr. Ortega marched into Managua at the head of the victorious Sandinista rebel army in 1979, the former dictator sought to spread Marxist ideology in a poor and susceptible region. Although the overthrow of the corrupt Somoza dictatorship could hardly be lamented in and of itself, Mr. Ortega’s regime wasn’t an improvement for Nicaragua. Mr. Ortega’s legacy was marked by the confiscation of property, jailing of opponents and drafting of tens of thousands of youths to fight U.S.-backed rebels. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans perished in the bloody conflict that ensued in the wake of Mr. Ortega’s coup.
Mr. Bolanos’ personal history seems diametrically opposed to that of his political rival. During part of the time Mr. Ortega held Nicaragua in his dictatorial grasp, Mr. Bolanos was in prison jailed by Mr. Ortega for refusing to nationalize his farm service company. And when he was released, Mr. Bolanos refused to follow other Nicaraguans into exile, maintaining: “This is my country. They will never force me to leave.”
Other elements of Mr. Bolanos’ history, however, are not as impressive. Indeed, he served as vice president to the outgoing government of Arnoldo Aleman, who has led a corrupt and wildly unpopular administration. But Mr. Bolanos succeeded in distancing himself from Mr. Aleman and pledged to lead an honest government.
Mr. Bolanos’ victory will allow the U.S. administration to focus on its ongoing war on terrorism and count on a solid ally in what was once a volatile region. Given the challenges the White House currently faces, the defeat of an old nemesis could have hardly come at a better time.