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Nicaragua Real Estate

Nicaragua Real Estates a softer side of Ortega emerging? - March 11th 2008

MIAMI — It has been just over a year since Daniel Ortega — the one-time guerrilla leader considered by Washington to be a menace in Central America — resumed the presidency of an impoverished Nicaragua, a post he coveted for more than 15 years before being re-elected.

Though Mr. Ortega remains an outspoken critic of the United States, he appears to have tempered some of his hard-line leftist ways by honoring a recently brokered free-trade agreement between Central American nations and the United States.

He remains on good terms with the International Monetary Fund.

The Nicaraguan president has also been onboard in promoting poverty reduction, with the help of U.S. aid, surprising many by his apparent willingness to cooperate with Washington.

"Ortega's big goal is to alleviate poverty. Our goal is to alleviate poverty in Nicaragua as well," said a U.S. State Department official, calling the shared goals a welcome "coincidence."

The United States pledged $175 million to Nicaragua during the administration of Mr. Ortega's predecessor, Enrique Bolanos.

The money, set to be delivered over a five-year period, is designated for helping raise incomes for Nicaragua's small businesses and farmers, improving access to international markets for local goods and improving the country's infrastructure, among other projects.

So far during his first year in office, Mr. Ortega made no efforts to tamper with the funding provided by the U.S.-funded Millennium Challenge Corp.

"Ortega has been incredibly practical in this front," said the State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "This is his goose laying the golden egg, and he doesn't want to mess with it."

The Nicaraguan president has also been surprisingly agreeable to Washington's efforts to combat drug trafficking in his country, telling a visiting group of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and State Department officials last month of his willingness to cooperate.

"We are seriously committed to the fight on drug trafficking because the poorer the country, the more easily it can fall apart," said Mr. Ortega. "Our goal is to turn a new page on our relationship with the U.S. and its institutions and agencies to strengthen this fight."

While the second coming of Mr. Ortega as an amicable ally of the United States has impressed some, opponents and critics contend he hasn't completely abandoned his Sandinista roots.

Since assuming office in early 2007, Mr. Ortega has been busy trying to cultivate supreme authority in Nicaragua by way of small local political groups — established by the ruling Sandinista party — that have direct allegiance to Managua.

Known as Consejos de Poder Ciudadano, or Citizen Power Councils, the groups are made up mostly of Sandinista loyalists who lobby government officials.

"The Sandinistas are trying to undermine democracy" with the councils, said Jim Roberts, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation in Washington focusing on Latin American economies

Perhaps in the mind of Mr. Ortega, the councils are a necessary evil considering the small margin of victory he garnered in his last election.

Mr. Ortega served as president throughout much of the 1980s, when he fought a war with U.S.-backed Contra rebels, before agreeing to hold elections in 1990. He lost, and multiple attempts to regain power at the ballot box failed until his 2007 election.

Mr. Ortega won the presidency with just 38 percent of the popular vote.

The lack of a majority has made him susceptible to opposition criticism, though his handle on authority in Nicaragua remains strong, noted Michael Shifter, vice president for policy at the Inter-American Dialogue, another Washington think tank.

"I think it's his intention to try and tighten the grip of the executive," said Mr. Shifter.

Others contend that Mr. Ortega's objectives are more nefarious, and that the president may have designs on trying to amend the constitution so that he could pursue another run at the presidency when his current term expires in 2011.

Mr. Ortega's detractors also point worriedly to his recent diplomatic inroads with nations like Iran and his continuing close ties to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, an ardent critic of the Bush administration.

Mr. Chavez is said to have donated some $50 million to Mr. Ortega's presidential campaign, a charge that Nicaragua denies. Venezuela also provides Nicaragua with deeply discounted oil.

In turn, Mr. Ortega often echoes Mr. Chavez's anti-U.S. rhetoric, when it comes to Washington's policy in the region.

Recent visits to Nicaragua by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as pledges by Tehran to build a port there, have not gone unnoticed by the Bush administration.

The State Department official expressed Washington's particular concern with Nicaragua's decision to lift visa requirement for Iranians visiting the country.

Iran is also reportedly planning to build one of its largest embassies in Managua.

"So far it's a lot of talk, though," said Mr. Roberts, referring to Iran's supposed commitment to build a $350 million seaport and other projects discussed during the Ahmadinejad visit to Nicaragua.

"It's nothing to push the panic button for now, but it's worth watching."


Source: The Washington Times  

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