Nicaragua leftist Ortega on a roll but not home yet
CHINANDEGA, Nicaragua, (Reuters) - Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega is
being greeted with wild enthusiasm at carnival-like rallies as he cranks
up his campaign for Nicaragua's presidency, buoyed by a solid lead that
Leftist Ortega was met with quasi-religious fervor when his caravan
of flashing lights, fireworks and pumping music rolled into the tropical
town of Chinandega this week.
Two polls released this week predicted him winning in the first round
on Nov. 5, the latest on Friday by Zogby International giving him 35
percent support or a 15-point lead over his nearest rival, conservative
Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front led a popular uprising
which removed the Somoza family dictatorship in 1979.
He ruled Nicaragua through the 1980s. During most of the Sandinista
government, Nicaragua fought U.S-backed Contra rebels in a civil war
that killed 30,000 people before Ortega was voted out in 1990.
He says he is less radical now, and his running mate is an ex-Contra
leader. Still, Ortega promises greater state control over the economy
and is also an ally of Venezuela's U.S.-bashing President Hugo Chavez.
U.S. officials are nervous.
Ortega has a hard-core group of supporters, but polls show that for
every two bandanna-wearing Ortega fans, there are three voters who
remember the hardships of the Sandinista years too well to let him
Still, a split among Nicaragua's ruling conservatives has allowed
Ortega to become the front-runner.
Buoyed by his lead, Ortega is campaigning hard.
At the rally in Chinandega, supporters waved black-and-red Sandinista
flags as Ortega told them he was ahead, but he warned of overconfidence.
"Be careful of traps. The trap of making us think we are already
there so that a load of people will not go to vote," Ortega said.
"Until the harvest is in you mustn't neglect it," he told his
followers, many of whom grow bananas or sesame seeds in the tropical
Pacific coast lowlands.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez warned this week that an
Ortega victory could scare off foreign investors and hurt Nicaragua by
derailing a regional free trade accord.
"There is a big danger," he told reporters in Managua by telephone.
"It would be a shame to put this treaty at risk."
Washington is losing hope that conservatives will regroup to block
Ortega's return, amid bitter sparring and political differences between
the main candidates.
Ortega's closest rivals are the ruling party's Jose Rizo, a prominent
coffee farmer, and Washington's favorite Montealegre, who is close to
outgoing President Enrique Bolanos.
If Ortega is unable to win in the first round, he will face a tough
run-off because combined support for the conservatives matches Ortega's.