- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

It was late afternoon on Tuesday and midterm voting was in high gear across the United States when freelance correspondent Carmen Gentile got home to Miami from Managua, where he had traveled at our request to cover the Nicaraguan elections.

Mr. Gentile says he was struck as much by the similarities as by the differences in the two elections.

“In Nicaragua, there were a lot of promises made by the candidates, in particular by [former revolutionary and Sandinista party leader Daniel] Ortega, about how he was going to provide jobs and security, and better the lives of the impoverished, but very few details about how he was going to do that,” Mr. Gentile says.

“From what I saw of the American election, the Democrats were similarly successful by saying things were going to change under their watch, but did not say how they were going to do that.”

In both countries, trees and lamp poles were plastered with campaign signs and the airwaves were filled with ads. But Mr. Gentile did notice one striking difference: In Nicaragua, all campaigning stopped three days before the election.

“After that the candidates are not even supposed to do any more television or newspaper interviews. This is common in Latin America. The idea is to give people time to reflect on whom they want to vote for. I think it’s an interesting concept.”

It was the first visit to Nicaragua for Mr. Gentile, who spent more than four years in Brazil as a correspondent for United Press International and has traveled to Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and Haiti on reporting assignments, some of them for this newspaper.

“It is a beautiful country,” he said. “The forests remind me of the Amazon in Brazil, lush and varied. There are breathtaking lakes and spectacular mountains, some of them with smoldering volcanos, I had never seen that before.

“But its also a very poor country. Driving into downtown from the airport it was very apparent — you see the shack homes built from scrap metal and open water running through canals that also serve as sewers.”

That Czech woman

Before leaving home, Mr. Gentile says he got in touch with contacts at a Washington think tank and arranged introductions to some of the leading players on the Nicaraguan political scene.

He put those contacts to good use during the days before the Sunday election, turning in articles that explored the latest polling data, Mr. Ortega’s curious alliance with some of his old foes, and the belief by some Nicaraguans that a policy blunder by the United States had eased the way for an Ortega victory.

Among those he interviewed was a former foreign minister named Emilio Alvarez Montalban, who talked about relations with the United States during his tenure in the late 1990s.

“He said he had had lunch with ‘that wonderful little Czech woman at the State Department, what was her name?’” Mr. Gentile says. “I asked him, did he mean [former secretary of state] Madeleine Albright? ‘Yes that’s it,’ he said.”

The day before the election, Mr. Gentile drove a rented car over rutted and potholed roads to a town on Nicaragua’s southwest coast and spent the night, rising before dawn to be in place when the first polling stations opened.

He spent much of the day driving around the country — which has a land area a little smaller than New York State — stopping randomly to talk to voters and official observers.

By about 3 p.m., he was back at his hotel in Nicaragua, writing a story in time to meet the early deadline for our first edition; then came a long evening of watching television and working the phone, hoping for some sign of a trend before we shut down our second edition at 12:30 a.m.

As it happened, the first projections didn’t come out until 2 a.m., and the final result was not announced until very late on Tuesday. By that time Mr. Gentile was home in Miami and settling in to watch the U.S. election results.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times.

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