Accurately presenting Washington’s uneasy attitude regarding Nicaraguan presidential hopeful Daniel Ortega in your July 7 article, “In Nicaragua, old US foe rises again,” author Tim Rogers may be overlooking a key obstacle in Ortega’s presidential bid—his political correlation, if any, with Hugo Chávez. Though the involvement of Chávez in the Nicaraguan race has not yet had great political consequence, the Venezuelan leader has recently expressed his support of Ortega’s cause through gifts of fertilizer and promises of cheap oil to pro-Ortega, Nicaraguan municipalities, which may end up being detrimental to Ortega’s campaign.
Chávez’s previous endorsement of leftist contenders in Mexico and Perú, in the two most recent Latin American presidential elections, hurt each of his favored candidate’s success. In Mexico, the center-right candidate Felipe Calderón, effectively shifted the focus of the presidential debate to his adversary’s non-existent connection with Chávez and his populist message, a tactic that heavily contributed to Calderón’s narrow victory. Similarly, in Perú, Ollanta Humala’s supposed affiliation with the Venezuelan leader helped Alan García win the presidential seat. As for the upcoming presidential election in Nicaragua, although the close political backing of Chávez has not yet been used by Ortega’s challengers, his opposition will undoubtedly jump at any chance to damage his campaign as the presidential race heats up. At this stage, Ortega would be wise to distance his campaign from Chávez’s populist rhetoric if he wants to ensure his focus on local issues. The failure to do so could needlessly expose his campaign to substantial ideological, albeit unfair, criticisms from his political opposition.