Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Another week, another victory for Chavez 

Last week it was Lula's turn to give a big victory for the Left. This week it is Nicaragua's turn.

Ulises Fernandez, a teacher-turned-squatter, lives with 26 other families in a buckled and broken building condemned more than three decades ago after Nicaragua's devastating 1972 earthquake.

He lost his job in 1990, the year Daniel Ortega fell from power — the new government of Violeta Chamorro fired him and others who didn't have university degrees. He moved into "The Ruins," a shattered Art Deco building of twisted metal and crumbling concrete behind the president's office. Life since then has been a daily struggle just to find enough to eat.

"It's like we don't have a right to life," Fernandez said. "We've always planned to leave, but there's no money."

Fernandez and his family voted for Ortega in Sunday's election — among the impoverished Nicaraguans who make up the former Marxist revolutionary's base.

With 61 percent of the vote counted Tuesday, Ortega had 39 percent compared to 31 percent for Harvard-educated Eduardo Montealegre, enough to win the first round of voting outright.

Ortega has refused to declare victory, but his vice presidential candidate, Jaime Morales, told The Associated Press he was confident the Sandinista leader had won. "You can't hide reality," Morales said.

The United States, which had warned against an Ortega win, has refused to comment on the results. But former President Jimmy Carter, who served as an election observer, said Tuesday that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice "assured me that no matter who was elected, the U.S. will respond positively and favorably." Rice's office confirmed the two talked, but gave no details.

In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez celebrated, saying: "Latin America is ceasing to be — and forever — a backyard of U.S. imperialism. Yankee, go home!"

He was joined by Ortega loyalists across Nicaragua, who danced in the trash-strewn slums of Managua and watched results trickle in on televisions in the jungle. Like Fernandez, they are convinced things are going to change in the poorest country in the hemisphere after Haiti.

The middle and upper classes warn that Ortega will scare away investment, jeopardize U.S. relations and even plunge the country back into civil war like the 1980s, when about 30,000 people were killed.

Some are preparing to flee to Miami or neighboring Costa Rica, haunted by memories of the uncontrollable inflation during Ortega's decade-long rule, when the dollar rose 33,000 percent against Nicaragua's currency.

But Fernandez remembers a better life.

Ortega's regime sent Fernandez, a Miskito Indian from the remote, northeastern border with Honduras, to Cuba for two years to be trained as a teacher. When the civil war threatened his village, Ortega's government relocated everyone to a safer town.

Thousands of Miskitos were outraged at being forced to move and many joined the U.S.-backed Contra rebels fighting the Sandinistas. In September, some accused Ortega of genocide in a complaint filed with the attorney general's office.

But others have turned toward the Sandinistas in recent years.

Among them is Fernandez's family, who say at least under Ortega they had access to state-funded medical care and schools.

"Even though there was war, I never went hungry," said his daughter, Noemi Fernandez, a 29-year-old single mother of two.

For those of us who remember like it was yesterday all the U.S. dirty tricks in that country, from mining the country's harbors and other terrorist activities, to funding and getting save haven for their own little "insurgency", to even getting oil supplies cut off, Ortega's victory is sweet.

So put another one in the win column for Chavez. And the most important prize of all is coming up - December 3rd.


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