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
What the U.S. Should Do
U.S. authorities should take the following steps to prevent a
Nicaraguan slide into "carnivore" socialism:
- The Bush Administration should conduct a review of the U.S.
Millennium Challenge Corporation's (MCC's) $175 million, 5-year
Compact with Nicaragua to determine if the Ortega government is
complying with its terms. It should report to Congress on its
- The MCC compact should be reduced or cancelled if it is
determined that MCC funds are not producing the changes needed to
keep the Nicaraguan government and economy on the path to having
more market-based, democratic institutions and policies. Although
more than $60 million was scheduled to be disbursed during 2006 and
2007, less than $10 million had actually been disbursed as of
- The Bush Administration should order the U.S. Agency for
International Development to devote more resources to democracy and
governance programs that encourage the viability of strong,
transparent, and pro-democracy political parties and institutions
- The Bush Administration should order the Office of the U.S.
Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Commerce to conduct
a study of Nicaragua's participation in--and benefit from--the
U.S.-Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement and
should report to Congress on its findings.
- The Bush Administration, through the Offices of the U.S.
Executive Director, should request that detailed studies be done by
the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, and the
International Monetary Fund to determine the effectiveness of those
institutions' programs with regard to achieving U.S. goals. The
results of those studies should be reported to Congress.
- The Bush Administration should increase and enhance its State
Department public diplomacy efforts in Nicaragua to encourage the
viability of strong, transparent, market-based, and pro-democracy
political parties, economic policies, and institutions in
Nicaragua. Congress should increase funding for this purpose.
- Congress should hold hearings to assess the situation in
Nicaragua and to determine whether the Ortega government's actions,
especially with regard to Venezuela and Iran, constitute any threat
to U.S. national security.
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