- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

Anti-Ortega vote

The anti-American president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, will gain a foothold in Central America if Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega wins the November presidential election in Nicaragua, a leading conservative candidate warned yesterday.

Eduardo Montealegre told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that Mr. Chavez publicly has endorsed Mr. Ortega and is trying to “buy the election” by lavishing Sandinista-controlled towns with oil and fertilizer, valuable commodities for an impoverished nation heavily dependent on agriculture.

“We’re fighting Ortega funded by Chavez,” Mr. Montealegre said. “Chavez sees himself as a new Castro.” Cuban leader Fidel Castro is a close ally of Mr. Chavez’s.

However, Mr. Montealegre predicted victory if he can consolidate a fractured electorate that is united only in its opposition to the Sandinistas, whom they remember for a failed Marxist revolution that nearly bankrupted the Central American nation. The Sandinistas drew 30 percent to 40 percent support in past elections.

“The Nicaraguan people are smart. They are overwhelmingly anti-Ortega,” he said. “I believe if we continue what we are doing, we will win.”

He also noted that Nicar-aguans also oppose outside interference in their elections.

“People do not like intervention. It is one thing for the American ambassador to talk about democracy and corruption. It is another thing for Chavez to try to buy the election,” he said. “I tell the people, ‘Take his oil. Take his fertilizer, but vote for me.’ ”

Public opinion polls show Mr. Montealegre, leader of the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance, and Mr. Ortega running neck and neck with about 26 percent support apiece in a campaign with five presidential candidates. The next closest candidate is Jose Rizo of the Liberal Constitutional Party, who polls about 12 percent.

Some critics, such as former Nicaraguan Resistance leader Adolfo Calero, are worried that Mr. Montealegre will split the anti-Sandinista vote and guarantee an Ortega victory. Mr. Ortega has lost three consecutive presidential elections in 1990, 1996 and 2001.

However, Mr. Montealegre noted that the alliance is a coalition of nine political parties, including Mr. Calero’s Conservative Party and the party of the former resistance fighters who battled Mr. Ortega’s Sandinista government in the 1980s and finally forced him to hold democratic elections.

Mr. Montealegre also thinks that Mr. Rizo is tainted because he is the handpicked candidate of former President Arnoldo Aleman, who was convicted of widespread corruption and later formed an alliance with Mr. Ortega. The courts and high-level government jobs are packed with Aleman and Ortega supporters.

“Aleman decided who goes where and who gets what in the Liberal Party,” Mr. Montealegre said.

Mr. Montealegre, a 51-year-old former foreign minister, was on a high-profile visit to Washington this week. He met yesterday with Vice President Dick Cheney and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. On Wednesday, he talked with Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican and chairman of the House International Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere. He also addressed the Heritage Foundation and was the guest of honor at a reception hosted by Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, both former assistant secretaries of state.

He said he has explained that his administration would be pro-American and promote free markets and free trade. Mr. Ortega opposed the Central American Free Trade Agreement and has vowed to nationalize some industries and confiscate some private property to finance social welfare plans.

Mr. Montealegre also dismissed reports that he has been getting support from U.S. Ambassador Paul Trivelli, who frequently has criticized the widespread corruption in both the legislative and judicial branches of the government.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail [email protected]

washingtontimes.com.

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