Sees Nicaraguans Rejecting Foes as U.S. ‘Mercenaries’ : Ortega Discounts U.S. Election Aid

Times Staff Writer

President Daniel Ortega said Tuesday that he is not worried by the prospect of massive American financing of opposition parties in next year’s election because voters will reject them as “political mercenaries of the United States.”

Ortega said he is certain that he will win the Feb. 25 election by a large majority, that the vote will be widely accepted as fair and that this will unlock enough new foreign assistance to help his Sandinista party meet its ambitious campaign promises for postwar recovery.

Speaking to reporters two days after his nomination for reelection, Ortega said reconstruction aid will flow whether or not the Bush Administration contributes, and he ruled out any power sharing with his U.S.-backed opponents in a Sandinista-led coalition.

No Votes for a Loser

“I don’t see how it is possible for the opposition to get a good percentage of the votes,” he said. “The people are not going to vote for a loser. They are not going to vote for the interventionist policy that the United States has been trying to impose here.”

After a decade in power, the Sandinistas have outlasted the U.S.-armed Nicaraguan rebels at the cost of a wrecked economy and diminished popular support. Now they are facing a 14-party opposition alliance led by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the widow of a slain revolutionary hero.


The Bush Administration, turning its strategy from the Contra war to an election it believes Chamorro can win, asked Congress last week for $9 million to help assure a fair vote. Most of the money would be channeled through opposition groups for party building, voter registration and election monitoring.

At the United Nations, Secretary of State James A. Baker III asked the foreign ministers of Japan and West Germany to request political parties in their countries to contribute funds to Chamorro’s campaign.

A senior State Department official said Baker planned to make similar requests later this week of other countries in which political parties have a tradition of supporting political movements abroad.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama told Baker that the ruling Liberal Democratic Party would make a contribution.

In his first extensive comment on the proposal, Ortega made it clear he relishes the idea of aid and will try to turn it to his own advantage.

“We are not going to worry about those who are willing to serve as political mercenaries of the United States, because we are going to beat them anyway,” said Ortega, who looked tanned and relaxed in a blue sport shirt and blue jeans. “In the same way we defeated the armed mercenaries, we will defeat the political mercenaries.”

Not once during the 90-minute news conference did he mention Chamorro or her running mate, Virgilio Godoy Reyes. He said he would neither attack them personally nor debate them during the campaign.

“They are nothing but instruments,” he said. “My real opposition is the North American government. My latest adversary is named George Bush. He is the other candidate in Nicaragua. . . . I am ready to debate him in Washington or Managua, or we can debate by satellite. . . . He knows what he wants, so we can talk. With the others there is nothing to discuss.”

Chamorro said Tuesday that Ortega is avoiding the issues.

‘Hold Him Accountable’

“Ortega’s great problem is that he has to confront the people, who are asking for a change,” she said. “The people of Nicaragua are going to hold him accountable for 10 years of leadership that has produced only sadness, exile, economic backwardness and suffering.”

Opposition leaders and U.S. officials defend the proposed election aid as necessary to offset the Sandinistas’ own outside aid and a one-party state apparatus.

“If the Sandinistas gave back all the property they confiscated from the people, if they stopped financing themselves out of the (state) budget and did not receive dollars from abroad, the opposition would not need external support,” said an editorial last week in La Prensa, Chamorro’s newspaper.

The Sandinistas have not disclosed how much they are spending on the campaign, but Carlos Carrion, the mayor and party chairman of Managua, said $700,000 has been budgeted for the capital. About 60% of the party’s funds come from its members and commercial ventures, he said, and the rest from Sandinista allies abroad, mostly in Eastern Europe.

Ortega and Vice President Sergio Ramirez were nominated Sunday at a Sandinista convention. The 1,700 delegates also adopted a platform that offers 5% annual economic growth, with specific promises such as 6,000 new homes and 1,000 new classrooms per year.

Closer Election

Some Sandinista delegates predicted the election will be far closer than in 1984, when Ortega won two-thirds of the vote, and that a victorious Sandinista party might need to form a coalition with Chamorro’s forces in order to attract U.S. economic aid.

But Ortega said Tuesday that will not be necessary. He said aid is certain to flow from Western Europe, Japan and multilateral lending agencies such as the World Bank after the election, which is to be monitored by observers from the United Nations and other groups, including one led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

“What the observers say about the fairness of the election will be more important than the vote itself,” Ortega said. “If they give a positive report--and I am convinced they will--that will free up the resources we need.”

In the throes of an anti-inflation program that has cut 35,000 jobs, the government has sought $250 million in emergency cash from Western sources this year but received less than $50 million. Ortega declined to comment on what armaments Nicaragua receives from the Soviet Bloc--a sensitive point in Washington since the cutoff of military aid to the Contras--but indicated that would be on the agenda when Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze visits Nicaragua and Cuba next week. Meeting with U.S. officials last week, Shevardnadze insisted that Moscow had halted the flow of Soviet arms to Managua but was powerless to oblige Cuba and other allies to follow suit.

Times staff writer Norman Kempster, at the United Nations, contributed to this story.