The Miami Herald
November 2, 2001

Old allegiances shifting as Nicaraguan election draws near


 MASAYA, Nicaragua -- Bemilda Salazar waved black and red flags at the Sandinista Front's closing elections rally Wednesday, taking joy in a single word: convergencia.

 ``Convergence'' is the term given to the leftist Sandinista Front's new pool of allies. It's become the catch-phrase of Nicaragua's presidential election, the one former
 President Daniel Ortega hopes will catapult him back to power.

 ``Different political parties are now within the Front, and they will keep an eye on things,'' Salazar exhorted. ``If it was just Daniel Ortega being the big man in government, then it could be a problem. It will be different than last time.''

 Ortega, a leftist revolutionary who ran the country from 1979 to 1990, is running in a dead heat against former vice president Enrique Bolaños, of the ruling Liberal Party.


 Throughout the campaign, Ortega has pushed hard to convince voters that the Sandinistas have changed. They have even made friends with some former contras, the U.S.-financed guerrillas who waged civil war to end the Sandinista Front's 11-year reign.

 The most startling endorsement came two weeks ago from Antonio Lacayo, former President Violeta Chamorro's son-in-law, a man who served as chief of staff in the administration that ousted Ortega in the 1990 election. Lacayo recently announced that he would be foreign minister should the Sandinistas win on Sunday.

 His crossover was part of a long legacy of party-switching here that some say reflects an allegiance not to partisanship, but to personal need. Bolaños also has some
 converts among his supporters.

 Among the crossovers:

   Moises Hassan, one of the original Sandinista guerrillas, endorsed Bolaños.

   José Antonio Alvarado, recently a Cabinet member under the ruling Liberal Party, was a vice presidential candidate for the Conservative Party.

   Ortega's own vice presidential candidate, Agustín Jarquín, a former dissident who was jailed several times during the 1980s for fighting the Sandinistas.

 Other former adversaries who endorsed Ortega include President Arnoldo Alemán's brother-in-law Eddy Gómez, former contra Elia María Galeano, Miskito Indian leader Steadman Fagoth, and former ally-turned-critic Dora María Téllez.

 ``We will not judge people by their political party,'' Ortega said in a speech Wednesday night, ``but instead by their professional capacity. We will not be exclusionary.''


 Critics say non-Sandinistas would be kicked aside with an Ortega win, and joke that Jarquín will wind up in a basement office with no telephone.

 Ortega's endorsements, opponents say, are nothing but a campaign image-making tactic which included changing the party's colors from black and red to hot pink.
 Earlier this year, Ortega proclaimed that he is no longer an atheist: he's now a man of God.

 That apparently did not make an impression with Nicaragua's widely respected Catholic cardinal, who Thursday offered a veiled but strong endorsement of Bolaños.

 ``In electing our candidates, we should see if they preach with the testimony of their lives, if they have been exemplary in their families,'' Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo told hundreds gathered for a pre-election Mass.

 The cardinal, as always, avoided naming the candidates. But his repeated emphasis on a virtuous family life was clearly directed at Ortega, whose stepdaughter has
 accused him of repeatedly raping her during his term as president in the 1980s. Ortega has used immunity as a member of congress to avoid prosecution.

                                    © 2001