- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

Miracle needed

The Bush administration will share the blame with squabbling conservatives in Nicaragua if Daniel Ortega wins Sunday’s presidential election and returns to office 16 years after his Marxist Sandinista party lost power, according to a former official with the anti-communist resistance that battled the Sandinistas in the 1980s.

“If Ortega wins in free and transparent elections, it will be thanks to the ineptitude of the Nicaraguan establishment and unrealistic U.S. policies,” Bosco Matamoros wrote in an analysis of the political climate in the Central American nation.

Mr. Matamoros, the former Washington representative of the Nicaraguan resistance, also known as contras, and a former ambassador to Spain, warned that a Sandinista victory could have wider ramifications in the region because of Mr. Ortega’s close ties with Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s anti-American president, Hugo Chavez.

Nicaraguan politics are complicated. Mr. Ortega, who leads in most public opinion polls, needs 35 percent of the vote and must finish five percentage points ahead of the second-place candidate to avoid a runoff election.

His two closest competitors are conservative, although their parties are called the Constitutional Liberal Party and the Liberal Nicaraguan Alliance. Most polls put Alliance candidate Eduardo Montealegre a close second to Mr. Ortega and Liberal candidate Jose Rizo third.

The United States has criticized Mr. Rizo because his party is led by a corrupt former president, Arnoldo Aleman, who forged a cynical alliance with the Sandinistas when he found himself the target of a corruption probe. Aleman was convicted and sentenced to 20 years for stealing tens of millions of dollars. He is serving his sentence under a loose form of “house arrest” because of Sandinista judges, who control the courts.

Mr. Matamoros and other Nicaraguan analysts say that Mr. Montealegre and Mr. Rizo will split the conservative vote and assure Mr. Ortega a first-round victory. Mr. Ortega could lose a runoff, if conservative voters unite behind one candidate.

“An Ortega victory, which would represent a remarkable return to power, would very likely inaugurate a period of Sandinista dominance of the Nicaraguan political landscape for the next 10 years,” Mr. Matamoros said.

“Internationally, it would represent a historic setback to U.S. policies in Central America. … Ortega’s close relations with Chavez has sent shivers throughout the region’s political establishment.”

Mr. Matamoros added that Nicaragua’s future “depends on a miracle at the polls.”

‘Normal relationship’

The United State hopes North Korea’s decision to return to multilateral talks over its nuclear weapons program will lead to a reduction of tension with the communist nation, the U.S. ambassador to South Korea said yesterday.

Ambassador Alexander Vershbow told university students in the capital, Seoul, that the Bush administration has agreed to review the financial sanctions slapped on North Korea because of money laundering and counterfeiting U.S. currency.

“We want to resolve these issues because we do want to have a normal relationship with North Korea,” he said.

Drugs in Bolivia

The U.S. ambassador to Bolivia this week announced plans to help build a military base to fight the production of cocaine in a country where the president is a former coca farmer.

“This is an example of the collaboration that has existed for a long time in the fight against narcotics,” Ambassador Philip S. Goldberg told reporters, after meeting with Defense Minister Walker San Miguel to discuss construction of the facility at an army outpost 155 miles north of the capital, La Paz.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has upset the United States by shifting the focus of the drug war from eradicating the fields of coca farmers to destroying drug labs.

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


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