Daniel Ortega: a little older, a little fatter

Call him the comeback kid. After 17 years out of office Daniel Ortega was again elected president of Nicaragua. As one of the leading commanders of the Marxist Sandinista forces that ousted Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in July 1979, Ortega became head of the ruling junta in the subsequent leftist regime. In elections held in 1984, Ortega won and assumed the presidency from 1985-1990. But his leadership was marred by a bloody civil war in which his Sandinista forces fought rebels known as the Contras–a coalition of dissatisfied peasants, former Sandinista allies and Somozistas, who were financed by the United States. About 50,000 people died in the conflict. He also tried to implement Marxist ideas such as collectivization and central planning. Both failed to improve the lot of the long-suffering Nicaraguan people.

A peace arrangement led to national elections in 1990, and Ortega and the Sandinistas were defeated by a right-centrist coalition led by Violeta Chamorro. Unlike other revolutionary leaders, and to his credit, Ortega relinquished the presidency.

So what does the middle-aged Ortega have planned this time? He has apparently abandoned his Marxist ways and says he will focus on bringing in foreign investment in order to relieve the poverty in Nicaragua, which is the poorest country in Central America. A full 80% of Nicaraguans live on $2 a day or less. Can you believe it? Two dollars a day. There was a dirty kid, barefoot and dressed in rags hanging outside a cafe I was in. He was hoping for people’s leftovers. He looked like an animal, like that feral kid in the Mel Gibson movie The Road Warrior. So I ordered extra food and gave it to him when I left. He devoured it with his grubby hands. I felt sick.

Ortega has put up billboards on the highways promoting his message. In this one the translation is something like, “supporting the poor people of the world!”

Many people who do work are what they call underemployed: street vendors, people selling gum or shoe shines. Take a look at this guy. Is he fully employed?

Enough editorializing. Back to the beginning. The first thing you notice when crossing the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua is the very long line of trucks waiting to get through customs. There must have been a hundred lined up on either side. It takes them days to get through. Whatever happened to free trade?

Here’s a view of the trucks waiting to enter Costa Rica.

I passed by Lake Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America. Here’s a shot of the lake with the volcano of Ometepe island in the background.

My first stop in Nicaragua was San Juan del Sur, yet another beach town. I guess you can tell by now I like the beach. Not much to do there but stroll the beach, lay in a hammock, and watch the housekeeper hang the linens, which was fine by me.

Next stop was the fine colonial town of Granada. A cool place to hang out and wander around. Lots of gringos though, almost as many as in Costa Rica.

This is part of the cathedral.

A few shots from the street.

I took a tour of some of the islands on Lake Nicaragua. While there I made friends with these parrots.

Next I made a quick pass through Managua. The poverty is evident. In this photo, a woman has made a simple buffet on her front porch and sells food to passersby.

Nicaragua sits at the junction of two tectonic plates which makes for interesting seismic activity. Here is one of Nicaragua’s many volcanoes.

I stayed a few days in the town of León, another interesting place full of colorful churches, cathedrals and tourists.

With about a month to go, I will leave Nicaragua in a couple days, pass through El Salvador rather quickly, then spend about two weeks in Honduras before finishing up phase one of the trip. Watch this space.