Newsmakers : El Comandante’s Comeback



Daniel Ortega then

Former Nicaraguan guerrilla leader Daniel Ortega, one of the most outspoken foes of the US during his first administration in the 1980s, will be sworn in as president in January after a November 5 election win. Ortega, a Marxist icon, says hes changed, but Washington remains concerned that he will join Latin Americas growing club of leftist radical leaders, such as Cubas ailing Fidel Castro, Venezuelas Hugo Chvez and Bolivias Evo Morales.

While the White House threatened to cut off $200 million in aid to Nicaragua, the regions second-poorest nation after Haiti, if Ortega won the election, it now says its support will hinge on Ortegas commitment to democracy. During Ortegas first regime, which came to power after overthrowing dictator Anastasio Somoza, he seized private property, aligned himself with the Soviet Union, supported plans to overthrow the government in neighboring El Salvador, held some 10,000 political prisoners, censored the press, fueled 20,000% inflation and sparked a mass exodus of exiles to the US.


and now, as the new


Ortega, who has since become openly religious and contends he has moved to the center-left, says he learned from his mistakes and will work with the IMF to maintain economic stability. There will be no dramatic or radical changes to the economic foundations laid over these years, Ortega said after his Sandinista party victory over conservative candidate Eduardo Montealegre.

The US, which imposed a blockade against Nicaragua during the first Ortega administration and unleashed the Contra insurgency against his government, is taking a cautious approach and awaiting signs that the president-elect means what he says. Ortega vows to protect private property, support free enterprise, respect civil liberties and uphold the DR-Cafta free-trade pact with the US. He also says he will work with Washington to curb his countrys crushing poverty.

Antonio Guerrero