January 11, 2007
Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista leader who turned Nicaragua into a Marxist-Leninist state in the 1980s, has been inaugurated president. Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales were among the attendees. Ortega had campaigned as a moderate leftist, along the lines of Brazil's "Lula," but his inaugural speech was filled with defiant words aimed at rallying his leftist supporters, as he pledged common cause with Chavez. Ortega "has said he will respect private business and support CAFTA," and so far there is no panic among investors. See CNN.com.
Managua's La Prensa (in Spanish) had a detailed analysis of Ortega's inaugural address. He called for a "new road" for Nicaragua, saying the "neoliberal model" had failed to meet the needs of the country's poor people. He claimed that illiteracy has risen from 12% when he left office in 1990, to 35% now. He vowed to join the "Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas" created by Hugo Chavez. He did at least recognize that the DR-CAFTA free trade pact had paved the way for a major increase in Nicaraguan exports, and he tried to ally fears of the business sector. Finally, he made an implicit plea to would-be land squatters to refrain from invading land parcels, saying that institutional mechanisms should be created to redistribute land more evenly.
So what is Ortega really up to? Like Peru's Alan Garcia, I'm sure he is older and wiser, having learned some hard lessons from the 1980s, so he is probably not as radical as he used to be. Like all politicians, he must appeal to his "base" first and foremost, and he knows that he can gain attention and negotiating leverage by raising rhetorical hell every once in a while. Some people say that's all Hugo Chavez is really doing, but I think the ego-inflated Chavez is deadly serious about his agenda.