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Ortega Follows Zelaya By: Jaime Daremblum
Weekly Standard | Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A few weeks ago, at a public celebration to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1979 Sandinista revolution, Nicaraguan president Daniel Ortega moved one step closer to creating an autocracy. Speaking to a large crowd, Ortega called for changing the Nicaraguan constitution to allow his own reelection. Under current law, Nicaraguan presidents are prohibited from serving consecutive terms and are limited to two five-year terms overall. In order to be "just and fair," said Ortega, whose term ends in 2012, the country should amend its constitution to let presidents seek reelection.

His timing was impeccable. The ongoing political crisis in Honduras began when its former president, Manuel Zelaya, tried to rewrite the Honduran constitution in hopes of changing term-limit requirements and prolonging his presidency. Now Ortega wants to do something very similar. Like Zelaya before him, he is following the Hugo Chávez playbook. The radical Venezuelan leader rewrote entirely his country's constitution shortly after taking office in 1999, and earlier this year he succeeded in demolishing presidential term limits. Two other Chávez imitators, President Evo Morales of Bolivia and President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, have also changed their countries' constitutions. The pattern is unmistakable: Chávez established the model, and his fellow populist leftists are copying it.

Ortega, Morales, and Correa are all members of Chávez's Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, as was Zelaya prior to his removal. It's clear that they receive their instructions from Caracas. While all claim to be democrats, they have a curious understanding of how genuine democracy works. Upon searching the headquarters of Zelaya's unconstitutional "referendum" project, Honduran authorities seized computer files with voting results--even though no actual voting had taken place. (This story has been widely reported in Honduras, though not in the United States.) According to Honduran reports, one of the confiscated files already contained 480 "valid" ballots out of 530 ballots "cast." Not surprisingly, 450 of these ballots said "yes" to Zelaya's proposal for a constitutional convention and only 30 said "no," meaning that 93.7 percent were in favor and only 6.3 percent were opposed. In addition, there were ballot boxes stuffed with the prearranged results, all courtesy of Hugo Chávez, who actually had them flown in from Venezuela. This evidence suggests that Zelaya and his allies were planning to perpetrate massive electoral fraud.

Zelaya's attempt to fix the Honduran vote before it even occurred provides further evidence that he is no true democrat. His conception of democracy is more like the "democracy" practiced in Iran, where Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his cronies recently stole a presidential election through the use of mobile ballot boxes rigged with their desired results. Unfortunately for Ahmadinejad, even his dictatorial regime was not able to conceal the embarrassing fact that there were more votes cast than the number of registered voters.

Ortega is a big supporter of the Iranian leader--he has honored him with two of Nicaragua's most prestigious awards: the Liberty Medal and the Rubén Darío Medal--and, like Ahmadinejad, he has committed blatant electoral fraud. The November 2008 mayoral "election" in Managua represented a shameless theft by Ortega's Sandinista party. Indeed, the election-rigging was so shameless that it prompted European nations to suspend aid to Nicaragua. If Nicaragua holds a vote on changing its constitution, there is no doubt that Ortega will use whatever tricks and shenanigans are necessary to secure his preferred result.

Zelaya is currently a "guest" of his good friend in Nicaragua. The ousted Honduran president and his supporters have set up camps near the Honduras-Nicaragua border. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration appears to be "softening" its support for Zelaya. In a letter sent to Republican senator Richard Lugar and reviewed by the Journal, senior State Department official Richard Verma writes that "President Zelaya's insistence on undertaking provocative actions contributed to the polarization of Honduran society and led to a confrontation that unleashed the events that led to his removal." As the Journal notes, this represents "the harshest criticism yet of Mr. Zelaya's own actions that preceded his removal from office." On the other hand, a Foggy Bottom spokesman unfamiliar with Verma's letter told the Journal that "there has been no decision to soften the policy on Honduras," and the letter itself reaffirms that the U.S. government "energetically" denounces Zelaya's expulsion from the presidency.

When it comes to Central America, U.S. officials should remember that Zelaya and Ortega are faux democrats willing to commit fraud in the service of their political ambitions. They prefer elections with predetermined results, akin to the "democratic ratification processes" in Castro's Cuba. Neither should be trusted.

Jaime Daremblum is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.

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