Chavez Influence Seen in Ortega Victory
The victory of Sandinista candidate Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua is likely boost to the so-called Bolivarian axis in Latin America, according to Central American media.
Hugo Chavez's dream of building an anti-U.S. bloc in the Americas had lost some of its luster in recent months and the defeat of leftist candidates in Peru and Mexico suggested to some that the populist crusade of the Venezuela's president was losing momentum.
But Ortega's victory has given Chavez new cause to celebrate -- and Central America's conservative media cause for consternation.
"The almost sure victory of the 'brother Sandinista' to whom Chavez has promised cheap petroleum, will be a relief for the Venezuelan president who had just suffered a reverse in United Nations, where he failed to win a permanent chair in the [U.N.] Security Council," reported the Agence France-Presse in Managua's leftist Nueva Diario.
Fidel Castro, Chavez's ailing ideological patron, congratulated Ortega on his "magnificent victory."
The "Chavez Factor" loomed large in the campaign, according to El Universal in Caracas. Neither Chavez nor the United States made any pretense of neutrality or non-interference. Chavez said of Ortega, "I want him to win." U.S. officials made clear they supported Montealeagre.
La Prensa Grafica (in Spanish) in El Salvador did not have to mention Chavez to see his shadow in the Nicaraguan results.
"Populism is a regional threat," said the San Salvador daily.
"The Sandinista victory in Nicaragua and diverse developments in the region in recent times are a without a doubt a response to the fragility of our democracies and the necessity to search for alternatives without going beyond democratic norms," the newspaper said. "Along this road, the temptations of the past are resurgent, chief among them populism."
La Prensa defined populism as "using the needs of the people as lockpick to force social and institutional structures in provide for those that practice it." Ortega campaigned on a promise to tame "wild capitalism" and boost the country's poor majority.
Chavez predicted Ortega's government will "join the Bolivarian project for regional unity," according to La Tribuna in Honduras,
But the Tegucigalpa daily also asserted that the Sandinista party's agenda today is "more 'Daniel-ism' than revolution."
Ortega made a point to show voters the new politician he has become since rising to fame as the Sandanista who toppled a pro-U.S. dictatorship and then battled U.S.-backed rebels in the 1980s. The Toronto Globe and Mail called Ortega "an old rebel with a new cause."
After losing the 1990 presidential election, Ortega was able to retain leadership of his Sandinista National Liberation Front party. In 1998, he survived allegations of sexual molestation from a stepdaughter. Once an atheistic socialist, he has embraced the Catholic church. When local bishops took advantage of the election to push for a ban on "therapeutic abortion" to protect the life of the mother, Ortega was supportive.
"It seems his burning ambition to regain the presidency is worth even these compromises, which have horrified many old FSLN stalwarts, especially women," notes a correspondent for The Herald of Scotland.
"But there is no doubt," says Kathy Hoyt of the Washington-based solidarity group Nicaragua Network, "that the name and the romance of what the FSLN once stood for has a strong pulling power."
Andrew Anthony reported on the appeal of the Sandinista party in the London Observer: "Unlike the majority of Latin American cities with huge disparities in wealth, Managua has little serious crime. Kidnapping is not a problem, carjackings are unheard of, the streets are relatively safe, and the mostly unarmed police force, while not averse to small traffic bribes, is seen as dependable and largely uncorrupt. A number of Managuans I spoke to attributed this discipline to the legacy of the Sandinistas. But they also feared that law and order would break down if social division continued at the same pace."
Ortega's victory "opens the doors to uncertainty," says Guatemala's Prensa Libre.
Now in his 60s Ortega, could be considered mature and, therefore, unlikely to repeat the errors and mishaps of the first Sandinistas government, said Prensa's editors. But his victory might also allow Chavez to "exercise excessive influence" on Central America.
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