Foreign Affairs

The Dangers of Daniel Ortega

In time for the Halloween season, former Communist dictator Daniel Ortega is back from the political grave. This Sunday, November 5, Nicaraguans will vote for their next president, with Ortega leading in the polls as several other candidates split the anti-Sandinista vote. Those who remember the battles of the Reagan years know that Ortega seized power in 1979 and aligned his government with the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro while brave Nicaraguans known as the contras fought to free their nation from Ortega’s Marxist tyranny. Now Ortega is poised to retake control of Nicaragua’s executive power and foreign policy, this time through democratic procedures. What’s more, since 1998, Ortega’s Sandinista stepdaughter has maintained that Ortega sexually abused her from age 11.
 
Of course, Ortega’s regime committed the usual genocidal killings, in this case against the indigenous Indians, and the usual killing and torturings of political opponents. All from the standard Communist playbook.
 
Though the Soviet Union lies on the ashheap of history and Castro has been displaced by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez as the darling dictator of the Latin left, Ortega never really went away. After being given the boot in 1990 by Nicaragua’s electorate, Ortega and his cronies seized personal control of much of the country’s best property and also kept a lock on much of the nation’s government. Ortega even promised to “govern from below,” sabotaging the pro-American, free-market reforms attempted by successor presidents. His current campaign has taken Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) support as his base. Backed by the hysterically anti-American Chavez, Ortega’s campaign has reportedly benefited from Venezuelan petrodollars just as other leftist candidates’ all over Latin America and the Caribbean have been as the radical left continues its slow, successful march to subvert republican governments in the region.
 
Ortega isn’t all bad—or perhaps he’s just trying to appeal to better people, people outside his Sandinista base of support. Formerly pro-abortion and persecutor of Christians, Ortega now says he has embraced the Catholic Faith and is pro-life (abortion is so unpopular in Nicaragua that the country’s Congress just voted unanimously to outlaw it in all circumstances). He even embraced a bourgeois institution par excellence and married his longtime girlfriend, Rosario Murillo. But then there is the question of Murillo’s daughter, Zoilamerica Narvaez Murillo.
 
In 1998, Narvaez publicly accused Ortega of sexually abusing her for a decade beginning when she was 11 years old. She claimed he continued making harassing phone calls to her up to the time of her public accusations. A pro-Ortega judge of the largely Sandinista-controlled judiciary—why do radicals control the judiciary everywhere?—ruled against her, but she obtained a favorable ruling from an international court, which said that the Nicaraguan government had failed to give her due process and that her charges should be investigated. She continues to press her case today, despise attempts to intimidate the media into silence by Ortega’s henchmen. Ortega gained a lot of practice with censorship during his rule in the 1980s.
 
Politics doesn’t seem to be the motivation behind Narvaez’s accusations since she remains a committed Sandinista revolutionary. Others close to Ortega have said they suspected something was going on between Ortega and Narvaez. Despite these credible accusations, Narvaez has never gotten her day in court from the Sandinista judiciary.
 
Why would Nicaraguans vote for a former Communist dictator who killed innocents, violated basic freedoms of religion and speech, blatantly stole from his people, favors socialist policies that would destroy Nicaragua’s still-weak economy, and whose sycophants have denied his stepdaughter the workings of justice?  Most will not. If he wins, it will be by plurality, with several other candidates splitting the majority of the vote. Attempts by Nicaraguan conservatives and libertarians to unite behind one candidate have failed, and Ortega has managed to persuade some former political enemies to join him.
 
Other countries have dictators, but Nicaragua would have the distinction of electing a dictator accused of molesting his stepdaughter.
 
In his sex abuse scandal, Ortega may be much like his new patron. Chavez once beat his wife so badly she had to go to the hospital. But he will probably be re-elected, too. Feminism is a sinister philosophy, but one has to wonder about the culture of some Latin American nations if this sort of treatment of women is considered no big deal. And if being a corrupt, violent left-wing dictator is no big deal, either.


Sign Up