Sandinista Loses Nicaraguan Vote
Businessman Defeats Ortega Handily
By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
MANAGUA, Nicaragua, Nov. 5 -- The former Sandinista president, Daniel
Ortega, was easily defeated by conservative businessman Enrique Bolanos
Nicaragua's presidential election, averting a potentially embarrassing situation for the Bush administration.
"Nicaragua is the winner!" declared a jubilant Bolanos, 73, in a victory speech today.
In an interview at his home tonight, Bolanos promised to direct his
attorney general to focus on corruption. "I want to clear up all the denunciations
of corruption of
past governments," he said. "It's a difficult task, and I do intend to clear up many of them."
Incomplete official results from Sunday's vote indicated Bolanos won
by a margin of about 10 percentage points, wider than predicted. Throughout
the country, his
supporters set off firecrackers, waved flags and rode around in endlessly honking caravans of buses. Their chant of "One, two, three strikes you're out" referred to
Ortega's third consecutive defeat in presidential elections.
But Ortega, 55, said in an interview that he has no intention of withdrawing
from public life. He said that Nicaraguan politics has been divided into
two camps for
nearly 20 years and that his new project will be to work in the parliament to end that division.
Despite what he called "inappropriate interference" in the election
by "certain U.S. officials," Ortega said he will work with Bolanos to further
U.S. goals of combating
terrorism and regional drug trafficking.
Ortega said State Department officials' critical statements about him
-- linking him to terrorists and highlighting his ties to both the Libyan
leader, Moammar Gaddafi,
and Cuban President Fidel Castro -- "weighed heavily" in his defeat.
"Our political adversaries took advantage of the tragedy of September
11 and the message of certain U.S. officials to make a campaign of fear,"
Ortega said. He
added that people began to fear "the U.S. would punish Nicaragua" if he were elected.
While Ortega headed Nicaragua's Marxist-oriented Sandinista government
from 1979 to 1990, Bolanos was jailed twice for brief periods. Bolanos,
an engineer who
studied at St. Louis University in Missouri, focused much of his campaign on reminding people of the economic and military difficulties of the Ortega era. Bolanos's
cotton and coffee fields were confiscated, as were the holdings of many wealthy people, after the Sandinista National Liberation Front marched into Managua in
1979 to overthrow the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.
The U.S. Embassy here continues to work on getting hundreds of pieces of confiscated property returned to their owners, many of whom are U.S. citizens.
Bolanos has run several of his own businesses, most recently a computer
consulting firm, and previously led the influential private business organization
COSEP. While honing his campaign image of a hardworking, honest family man, Bolanos did not shy from noting that, unlike Ortega, he had no violent past.
Ortega, who once robbed banks for his revolutionary cause, also was dogged by his stepdaughter's recent allegations of sexual abuse.
But many of Ortega's supporters said he never got a fair chance because
of meddling by the United States. "A lot of people thought the U.S. would
again if Ortega won. They hate him," said Miriam Gonzalez, a manicurist in the capital. "Look what they are doing in Afghanistan. If the U.S. doesn't agree with you,
they know how to hurt you."
But clearly, Bolanos had more support than pollsters predicted. Strong
feelings about the race drove huge numbers to the polls. Some stood in
line for seven hours to
vote and some polling stations stayed open until 11 p.m., five hours past the scheduled closing time, to accommodate overflow crowds. Even people interviewed
today in Managua slums -- where Ortega's support was thought to be solid -- said they were relieved the old revolutionary did not win.
In the market of the St. Judas neighborhood, a woman selling meat said
she voted for Bolanos because she remembered eating lard during Ortega's
tenure -- thanks
to the U.S. economic blockade. A woman selling crushed Ritz crackers in Ziploc bags said she worried about a return to war, recalling the contras who launched
attacks on the Sandinista government from bases in neighboring Honduras with help and funding from the CIA.
Said Margarita Barillas, 24, about Ortega: "He said he changed. I look in his face and I don't believe it. . . . Because of him many people died in this country."
"Ortega's era has come to an end," said outgoing President Arnoldo Aleman, as he emerged from a meeting with Bolanos.
Perhaps the bigger questions on many minds here were whether Aleman's
era was coming to an end, and whether Bolanos could clip his considerable
Bolanos, who served as Aleman's vice president, is to take over Jan. 10. But Aleman, who negotiated an automatic seat in parliament for himself, will continue from
that perch to wield power in Bolanos's Liberal Party.
Aleman has been widely criticized here and abroad for his spendthrift
ways and alleged corruption. Disgust with the Aleman presidency was widely
seen as a key
reason why Ortega garnered as much support as he did.