Ringing warning bells in Washington, former revolutionary Daniel Ortega assumed office in a ceremony attended by a dozen anti-American world leaders and left ideologues even as he promised to balance economic and ideological considerations. Ortega had promised that his leftist background and social agenda would not come in the way of developing an economic agenda and it is not clear if he still harbors enmity with the US for its suspected role in backing a rebel insurgency to topple his earlier regime in the 80s. But, many analysts say that Ortega will develop closer relationships with anti-American opponents such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and communist government in Cuba but they do not know if this closer association with the US will be at the cost of relations with Washington.
Chávez, who called US President George Bush the “devil,” promised impoverished Nicaragua 32 power plants, low-interest loans for the poor, help to revamp the country’s starved health and education systems. Bolivian President Evo Morales, who recently made it mandatory for US citizens to obtain visas to visit his nation and expressed reservations in co-operating with the US anti-drug programs in the Andean region, is also expected to attend along with a representative from Cuba. Washington is uneasy about the growing bonhomie between Morales, Chavez and Castro (and his representatives) and would no doubt be very uneasy about their congregation in Managua. Another anti-American cheerleader Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was expected to attend the ceremony but has since changed his plans and send a representative to the ceremony.
Washington has been taking halting steps accepting the verdict in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua but did extend the hand of friendship to Ortega praising him for his promises to respect private property and continue with previously concluded free trade agreements. Ortega even had a cozy meeting with Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt leading an annual American delegation and exchanged pleasantries and desire to maintain strong ties. Leavitt reportedly told Ortega of Washington’s “desire” to “worth with” him and Ortega also reportedly said he hope that this visit was “first of several” future visits between the two nations. Bush had also a “very pleasant and positive conversation” over the phone with Ortega.
Pleasantries aside, there is little indication whether both sides are ready to look to the future instead of the Cold War past littered with spy games and public insults. After all, the US despised Ortega’s regime from 1985-1990 and then US President Ronald Reagan ordered a secretive and illegal deal to sell arms illegally to Iran’s radical Islamic regime and use the profits to finance Contra rebels to bring about a regime change in Nicaragua. Reagan’s successor George Bush senior (current President’s father) abused Ortega in uncharitable language and unbecoming of a world leader.
While Ortega says that he wants to build strong relations with Japan, Korea, Russia, and China he has not been so forthcoming about the US and generally guarded on the direction of policies in this term. Perhaps his swearing in ceremony later today may reveal his plans as he nominates his Cabinet. Unlike the past, his Sandinista Party has a simple majority but not large enough to effect new laws and may ally again with others. Already, opposition members in the Congress warned Ortega not to take the country back to the days of chaos in the 80s. Outgoing President President Enrique Bolanos, who was victimized by Ortega in the first regime through manufactured arrests and seized property, predicted that Ortega’s second innings will not “be a democracy, because democracy requires divided power.” However, prospective partners have warned Ortega not to “fall victim to totalitarian temptations” and set back the country’s democracy “even a centimeter.