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Ortega's Return? By: Frank J Gaffney Jr.
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, November 01, 2006

This Sunday, the people of Nicaragua will cast votes that may elect their next president in the first round of balloting.  Depending on their choice, that exercise in democracy may be the last for some time to come – if the winning candidate reverts to form and ushers in a new era of authoritarianism in a country too long afflicted by his misrule. 

According to the polls, all other things being equal, Daniel Ortega – the communist revolutionary whose repressive regime ruled in Managua in the 1980s – might be able to exploit divisions in the democratic opposition, rigged electoral arrangements and a transparently fraudulent political make-over as a “centrist” to return to power. 


The price tag associated with such a development will likely be measured in more than a loss of political freedom and economic opportunity at home.  It would surely translate as well into dire financial repercussions for a population accustomed to the infusion of vast sums (by some estimates as much as $850 million per year) through remittances from Nicaraguans living in the United States.


There is ample precedent for a U.S. government crackdown on such payments should Ortega’s Sandinista (or FSLN) party win an outright victory in Sunday’s balloting.  Just as Saudi “charities” and other informal money-transfer mechanisms suspected of ties to terrorism became the focus of American law enforcement and intelligence agencies after 9/11, the reemergence in Managua of a government that was once deeply involved with, and supportive of, international terrorist organizations and their state-sponsors will compel Washington to take measures to limit flows of funds to an Ortega regime.


This is especially true insofar as the Sandinistas’ ties to terror-sponsoring states are not simply a matter of historical record.  The close relationships with America’s enemies that once prompted Ronald Reagan to brand Ortega’s government as “one of the world’s principal refuges for international terrorists” and a “partner of Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Cuba in a campaign of international terror” have continued during the FSLN’s years out of executive power.   


Of special note are the bonds between the Sandinistas and Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez.  In Nicaragua, as in other nations throughout the hemisphere, Chavez has been supplying funds and operatives to help his fellow anti-American radical leftists secure power.  Should these machinations succeed this weekend in a key Central American nation as they previously have in Bolivia, Ecuador and Argentina, a powerful new impulse will be given to the subversive regional agenda long pursued by Chavez’s ailing mentor, Fidel Castro. 


The worrisome national security implications of an Ortega victory in this weekend’s balloting – in which he need only receive 35% of the vote to avoid a run-off – have already raised alarms on Capitol Hill.  Senior congressional figures, including the chairmen of the House Intelligence Committee and the International Relations Terrorism Subcommittee, Reps. Pete Hoekstra and Ed Royce, respectively, have written top officials like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff urging that contingency plans quickly be drawn up to address, among other things, the danger that remittances might wind up in the wrong hands.


As Messrs. Hoekstra and Royce put it in a letter to Secretary Rice this week:


A return to power by Daniel Ortega and the FSLN would leave the U.S. government without a reliable Nicaraguan partner to satisfy security issues of mutual concern.  We share U.S. Ambassador to Nicaragua Paul Trivelli’s assessment that an Ortega victory would force the United States to fully “re-evaluate” relations with Nicaragua.  In anticipation of this development, we encourage the State Department, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security and other appropriate agencies, to begin the process of reviewing this bilateral relationship, including all forms of assistance, as well as the unregulated movement of remittances from the United States to Nicaragua


The point in expressing such concerns is not to dictate to Nicaraguans who to elect.  Rather, it is to underscore that there may be real and, indeed, exceedingly high costs associated with the election of a certain candidate, the notorious “El Comandante, Daniel Ortega – costs of which most voters in Nicaragua may be insufficiently aware. 


Should the strong bilateral relationship that has developed in recent years between Washington and Managua – a relationship rooted in no small measure in the two governments’ close cooperation on counterterrorism matters – be destroyed this Sunday, the people and economy of Nicaragua will surely be adversely affected.  It is imperative that fair notice be served now, lest a lack of pre-election transparency about the repercussions of a Sandinista victory become a post-election pretext for the anti-American activities that Ortega and his FSLN will put into practice once back in power.


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Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is the founder, president, and CEO of The Center for Security Policy. During the Reagan administration, Gaffney was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Forces and Arms Control Policy, and a Professional Staff Member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Senator John Tower (R-Texas). He is a columnist for The Washington Times, Jewish World Review, and Townhall.com and has also contributed to The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New Republic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Los Angeles Times, and Newsday.

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