Marketing himself as a pro-democracy, "vegetarian" leftist, complete with reassuring sound bites, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega finally recaptured the presidency in November 2006 with a mere 38 percent of Nicaraguan votes. It was his third re-election attempt since leaving that office in 1990. Ortega, now 62, assumed the presidency for the second time in January 2007. As he approaches the first anniversary of his inauguration, however, his carnivorous tendencies are beginning to re-emerge. The United States must use diplomatic and economic channels to keep Nicaragua on the path to real democracy and free markets.
Vegetarians and Carnivores
In their amusing, but also very serious book, The Return of the Idiot, Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, Carlos Alberto Montaner, and Álvaro Vargas Llosa analyze the unmistakable slide back to a socialist South America ruled in some cases by despotic leftist and populist "caudillos" (strongmen), capturing perfectly the ridiculous and sobering results. They divide the new wave of leftists into two camps: vegetarians and carnivores.
The most notable "vegetarian" democratic socialists are Presidents Michele Bachelet of Chile, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ("Lula") of Brazil, and (most recently) Álvaro Colom of Guatemala. These leaders see the many benefits of capitalism and are willing to work within the market-based global economic system to create good and sustainable private-sector jobs. Although they tend to favor excessive regulation, rigid labor markets, and bloated bureaucracies, these leaders do not pose a threat to either market-based democracy or to the United States.
On the other hand, totalitarian dictator Fidel Castro of Cuba
has now been joined by younger "carnivores," such as Hugo
Chávez of Venezuela, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales
of Bolivia, as well as Mr. (and most recently Mrs.) Nestor Kirchner
of Argentina. All of these leaders (to varying degrees) oppose the
United States and appear determined to tear apart market-based
democratic capitalism and anyone who stands in their way. In place
of the "neo-liberalism" they despise, the carnivores would
Nicaragua on the Fence
Daniel Ortega certainly has a carnivorous pedigree. He was a leader of the Sandinistas when they initially seized power in 1979 after a bitter and violent guerilla war against the Somoza dictatorship. The Sandinistas remained powerful during Ortega's years out of office and were able to retake the presidency for him both through corruption and intimidation and collusion with corrupt politicians on the right. The former Comandante has walked a tightrope since taking office in January 2007, appearing to support capitalism as well as the U.S.-Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement. He has maintained relations with the U.S. while simultaneously seeking close relations with--and cash from--world troublemakers such as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chávez, and Moammar Qadhafi. In exchange, those leaders have been demanding that Ortega mouth their anti-U.S. rhetoric and permit their agents to operate freely in Nicaragua. Based upon his performance to date, then, it is unclear whether the Daniel Ortega of 2007 still craves red meat or has hopped aboard the vegetarian wagon.
What the U.S. Should Do
U.S. authorities should take the following steps to prevent a Nicaraguan slide into "carnivore" socialism:
Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega continues to walk a tightrope
between his "vegetarian" campaign promises and his "carnivorous"
past and tendencies. To advance the security and prosperity of both
Nicaragua and the United States, U.S. leaders must use the
diplomatic and economic tools at their disposal to encourage the
development of democracy and free markets--not only in Nicaragua
but throughout South America. The United States must also take a
hard look at its current policies and those of international
organizations, working to end or change those that are not
effective. The ultimate goal must be the victory of freedom over
both "carnivorous" and "vegetarian" socialism.
James M. Roberts is Research Fellow for Economic Freedom and Growth in the Center for International Trade and Economics at The Heritage Foundation.