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US rages but Ortega's victory is no revolution
THE ELECTION of the Sandinistas leader Daniel Ortega as President of Nicaragua has thrown some right-wing commentators and politicians in the US into fits of anger. Ortega won with 38% of the vote, beating two right-wing candidates who won 55% of the vote between them.
Politicians in the US have petitioned secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, demanding that remittances sent by Nicaraguans living in the US back to their families should be blocked.
The notorious former US colonel Oliver North, (who spearheaded US support for the right-wing Contras guerrillas in Nicaragua in the 1980s, with the backing of President Reagan) returned to Nicaragua just before the election. He spoke about Ortega's potential victory saying: "That's not good for your country. That's not good for my country". The Bush administration has said that it would withdraw aid from an Ortega government.
Why has this election result provoked such a response? Ortega's victory follows those of left-leaning and populist candidates in Latin America. Certainly Ortega's links with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, a thorn in the side of US imperialism, has angered them.
Chavez has co-sponsored with Cuba "Operation Miracle". This is a project to offer free eye surgery and has restored the sight of hundreds of Nicaraguans. Chávez has also signed an agreement with Nicaragua's mayors to supply cheap oil.
But for US imperialism there is always the legacy of the Sandinista revolution and fears that they will carry through similar policies as before.
The FSLN (Sandinistas) came to power in the 1979 revolution overthrowing the 40 year-old brutal and corrupt Somoza dictatorship. This revolution followed a long and heroic struggle but most decisively took place on the back of action by the working class - a series of strikes, a general strike and an uprising.
Following the revolution infant mortality was cut from 33% to 8% and illiteracy was cut from 50% to 14% with 1,200 new schools being built in the following years through limited nationalisation.
US imperialism feared these revolutionary developments would spread across Latin America and heavily backed the Contras with massive amounts of cash and arms.
Whilst the Sandinistas did improve the lives of the masses they attempted to appease the big landowners and industrialists, calling for a mixed economy. 60% of the economy remained in private hands and 80% of agriculture was still privately owned. This left the way open for imperialism to sabotage the Nicaraguan economy, while the US, Nicaragua's biggest market, imposed a trade embargo.
The Sandinistas faced a choice of abolishing landlordism and capitalism, establishing democratic socialism and calling for the spread of the revolution throughout Latin America and beyond, or the capitalists and landlords would re-establish their position and overturn the gains of the revolution.
By the time Sandinistas lost the election in 1990 inflation had reached 33,600%. Wages had fallen by 90% since 1981 and the standard of living was even lower than Haiti's.
Since 1990, the masses of Nicaragua have endured even more. 78% of Nicaraguans live on less than a dollar a day, education has suffered and people face power cuts of up to ten hours a day. Right-wing governments have sold off more than 360 state-owned enterprises, privatised the banks and entered a free trade agreement with the US.
Will the election of Ortega make a fundamental difference to the masses of Nicaragua? Whilst he talks in vague terms of helping the poor and had a campaign slogan of "jobs, peace and reconciliation", Ortega has moved to the right.
His vice-president was a member of the Contras. He has assured the US that he will respect property rights, free enterprise, and the capitalist market. He is also opposed to abortion rights.
Policies such as these will further worsen the conditions of Nicaraguans. The masses have shown their willingness to struggle. What is urgently needed is a revolutionary party armed with a socialist programme to provide a determined leadership in that struggle for a socialist society.
In The Socialist 26 November 2006:
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