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.

6 thoughts on “Daniel Ortega: a little older, a little fatter

  1. DAD February 23, 2008 / 12:12 am

    Poverty everywhere. Unc Don is in Fl and wants to see you—-DAD

  2. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. February 23, 2008 / 9:08 pm

    Are the “mountains” of Nicaragua the result of volcanoes or the upheaval from the smashing together of the plates? Or both?

    I was always fascinated by Ortega’s appearance during the Sandinista/Contra struggle: he wore beautiful exquisitely tailor uniforms and expensive designer glasses. In the poster, we has the look of a leader the the California grape boycott.

  3. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. February 23, 2008 / 9:12 pm

    Once again, for too many times, I submitted without re-reading: read, “exquisitely tailored,” and, “leader of the California….”

  4. Kevin Koski February 25, 2008 / 8:04 pm

    Well I am not a geologist, but as I understand it, the volcanoes are formed by the collision of two tectonic plates. the Carribean plate, which is stationary, and the Cocos plate which is moving. The Cocos plate is sliding under the Carribean plate (a process known as subduction). The friction caused by the movement produces the molten lava that surfaces via volcanoes.

    As far as Ortega, I remember him as a young, handsome, well dressed revolutionary. I, too, was surprised by his current appearance, hence the title of the post.

  5. Capt. Don Kilpela Sr. February 26, 2008 / 3:36 pm

    I was amazed to learn that ground upon which the City of Minneapolis was built was once at the equator. Under the city one finds all kinds of interesting seashells and coral. In fact, if memory serves, there is a huge operating coral mine near Chicago. We need your dad to confirm this I think. Keep chucking and we’ll be seeing you soon. I take it you are not going to cycle all the way to Miami beach so at what point will you pack up and come home?

    For that matter, I think you might have been a a lot safer in South & Central America than you would be in the USA.

  6. Kevin Koski February 27, 2008 / 1:32 am

    My original plan was to cycle all the way home but that went out the window fairly quickly, so I decided to go as far as Honduras and fly out of Tegucigalpa. I flight is booked for March 16 so I have a couple weeks to see what Honduras has to offer.

    I would hate to cycle in Florida. They have the worst drivers for some reason. People just go berserk when they get behind the wheel.

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