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Profile: Daniel Ortega
Daniel Ortega was a participant or observer in the following events:
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) physically assaults a Nicaraguan official during a diplomatic mission by US lawmakers to Managua. According to a witness, fellow senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), McCain is the co-chair, with Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT), of the bipartisan Central American Negotiations Observer Group; Cochran is a member of the group. They are in a meeting with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, the leader of the ruling Sandinistas, and several Nicaraguan diplomats, discussing tensions between the two countries. A number of armed Nicaraguan soldiers are also in the room. Cochran recalls that tensions in the room are high due to the heavy pressure being brought to bear by the US against the Nicaraguans. The American lawmakers are pressing “pretty hard,” Cochran will recall. During the discussions, “McCain was down at the end of the table and we were talking to the head of the guerrilla group here at this end of the table and I don’t know what attracted my attention,” Cochran later says. “But I saw some kind of quick movement at the bottom of the table and I looked down there and John had reached over and grabbed this guy by the shirt collar and had snatched him up like he was throwing him up out of the chair to tell him what he thought about him or whatever. I don’t know what he was telling him but I thought, good grief, everybody around here has got guns and we were there on a diplomatic mission. I don’t know what had happened to provoke John but he obviously got mad at the guy and he just reached over there and snatched him.” McCain does not actually strike the Nicaraguan, and the two eventually retake their seats. Cochran will recall that the Nicaraguan appears “ruffled” after the incident. [Biloxi Sun-Herald, 6/30/2008; Biloxi Sun-Herald, 7/1/2008; Associated Press, 7/2/2008] In 2008, McCain will call Cochran’s story “simply untrue.” [Time, 7/2/2008] “I had many, many meetings with the Sandinistas,” McCain will say. “I must say, I did not admire the Sandinistas much. But there was never anything of that nature. It just didn’t happen.” [Associated Press, 7/2/2008]
Nicaraguan presidential candidate Daniel Ortega says that if he wins the election on November 5, he will make sure that Nicaragua joins the Alternativa Bolivariana para la America (ALBA), or the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas. Initiated by Venezuelan and Cuba in 2005, ALBA is intended to counter Washington’s Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). One of ALBA’s stated goals is to promote social and economic justice. [Christian Science Monitor, 5/5/2006]
Nicaraguan presidential candidate Daniel Ortega strikes a deal with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that will allow an alliance of 51 Nicaraguan mayors, many from the Sandinista party, to purchase 10 million barrels of Venezuelan fuel on preferential terms. Under the agreement, the mayors will pay 60 percent of the cost of their purchases within 90 days of shipment, with the remaining 40 percent payable over the next 25 years at one percent interest, with a two-year grace period. In Nicaragua, high oil prices have led to rolling blackouts and transportation strikes. [Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 4/26/2006; Associated Press, 5/5/2006] Chavez says Venezuela will also donate 10,000 tons of urea to Sandinista farming organizations. [Associated Press, 5/5/2006] During Ortega’s visit to Venezuela, he also says (see April or May 2006) that if he wins the November 5 elections, he will make sure Nicaragua joins the Alternativa Bolivariana para la America (ALBA), or the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which was initiated by Venezuela and Cuba in 2005.
In an interview with the Financial Times, US ambassador to Nicaragua Paul Trivelli justifies his recent warnings to Nicaraguans that the country will suffer if they elect Daniel Ortega as their next president. He tells the newspaper that Ortega is “undemocratic” and that the US will likely reconsider its relations with the country if he is elected in November. He says that Ortega, who months before struck a deal with Hugo Chavez to import fuel on preferential terms (see April 25, 2006), “has made it pretty clear what kind of model he would put in place. And I think that under those conditions… [bilateral relations] would definitely be re-examined—and not only by the executive or the State Department or the White House but by the US Congress.” Trivelli makes it clear that Washington is concerned that Ortega’s election would embolden efforts by leftist Latin American leaders to counter US initiatives in the region. [Financial Times, 9/14/2006]
Congressman Dan Burton, Chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House’s Committee on International Relations, is in Managua, Nicaragua on a two-day visit to meet with presidential candidates Eduardo Montealegre and Edmundo Jarquin. The two US-backed candidates are running against Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, who polls suggest may win the presidency on November 5. Montealegre is a Harvard-educated banker; Jarquin, a Sandinista dissident. [Associated Press, 9/22/2006] During a press conference, Burton warns that the US could cut $175 million in aid to Nicaragua through the Millenium Challenge Account and block Nicaragua’s participation in the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) if Ortega wins the elections. He also states that if Ortega creates a state agency to process remittances from the US, as he has promised, Nicaraguan families might end up earning “much, much less money” and would experience “a significantly reduced quality of life.” Ortega has pledged to “make sure that Nicaraguans get 100 percent of their remittances.” Transfers from family members working in the US are usually sent through private companies such as Western Union, which charge a hefty commission. Remittances are the primary source of income for many families and accounted for 16.9 percent of the country’s GDP and 99 percent of its exports in 2005.
In an interview with the Nicaraguan newspaper La Prensa, US embassy spokeswoman Kristin Stewart hints at possible sanctions against Nicaragua if Ortega is elected president: “If a foreign government has a relationship with terrorist organizations, like the Sandinistas did in the past; US law permits us to apply sanctions.… Again, it will be necessary to revise our policies if Ortega wins,” she says. [La Prensa (Managui), 10/31/2006; Democracy Now!, 11/1/2006]
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