EL JICARAL, NICARAGUA
Little seems to have changed in this small rural village in the past two decades: women are down by the river doing their washing, cattle are roaming among the cacti, cowboys are drinking beer at the canteen, and Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega is in the town square, holding forth on the evils of capitalism and the United States.
"The US no longer rules Latin America!" Mr. Ortega thunders into the dark night. "The Yankees no longer rule Nicaragua!" The small crowd of farmers hoist their black and red Sandinista flags high and chant: "Daniel, Daniel!"
Fifteen years after unexpectedly being voted out of power, and with two unsuccessful runs for the presidency since, the iconic head of the Marxist Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) is back on the campaign trail. Ortega, a name many US officials had hoped to consign to the history books, has a fighting chance of returning to power.
Just staying in the running has looked doubtful for Ortega at times. His credibility has taken a beating since he signed a self-serving pact in 1999 with political rival and former President Arnoldo Aleman, now serving a 20-year sentence for embezzlement; his grown-up stepdaughter accused him in 1998 of abusing and raping her for years; and his former comrade-in-arms Herty Lewites is now running against him, mounting the first serious challenge to his leadership from within the Sandinista ranks.
But despite it all, Ortega says he is confident the November 2006 elections will put him back in the presidential palace. Even his critics say divisions within the ruling party, coupled with Ortega's grip on the electoral machine, make his resurrection possible. "Conditions are ripe for triumph," says Ortega in a late-night interview in Managua. "We will win, and we will wield great power here."
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