'Pragmatic' Daniel Ortega to be Sandinista candidate
The foreign dignitaries who are brought in to see Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega Saavedra are prepared for the often strident rhetoric. What surprises them is the shy, almost boyish smile of the Nicaraguan junta coordinator.
This contrast is in some ways typical of the man. While he is considered one of the most pragmatic of the nine Sandinista directorate members, he is also famous for his high-pitched, emotional, anti-United States speeches, which often seem to go on forever.
Although Ortega has recently toned down his rhetoric, he remains, like other directorate members, something of an enigma.
This week, the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) publicly announced that Daniel Ortega will be the group's candidate for president in November elections. This has been unofficially known since the beginning of the year. All year diplomatic and other observers in Managua have been trying to assess what effect, if any, Ortega's new role will have.
Ortega has often taken a moderate position, despite his awareness of historical wrongs inflicted on Nicaragua since the 19th century by the US giant to the north.
He and his brother Humberto (also a directorate member and chief of the armed forces) have been the principal movers behind the current elections, which were initially opposed by more radical elements of the FSLN, Sandinista officials say. These same observers say that Daniel Ortega has for the last few years favored a more flexible treatment of the opposition parties and press than did many other Sandinista leaders.
Those who stress Ortega's moderation also cite a well-known speech he gave two years ago calling for a lessening of FSLN influence over the day-to-day operations of the government, especially in matters having to do with economics. Such a stance would mean that government decisions would be taken more on the pragmatic basis of what works economically and less on the basis of ideology.
A left-wing politician allied with the Sandinista front said that despite their rhetoric, both Daniel and Humberto favor flexibility in the current negotiations with the US.
When the Ortega brothers joined the Sandinista front in the late '60s, Daniel was only a few years out of high school and Humberto was a little older. Their still younger brother, Camillo, was killed in the war.
The Ortega family was not well off financially. The boys' fther died when they were young and their mother struggled to make ends meet. But thanks to relatives, the boys were able to attend an upper-class high school. There they were radicalized by their contact with Jesuit priests.
Daniel and Humberto became the leaders of the ''Tercerista faction'' of the Sandinistas, which emerged as a third group after the FSLN split in two factions in 1976-77.
At that time, the struggle against Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle was not going well. Half of the Sandinistas thought the solution lay in continuing a Chinese-style, prolonged guerrilla struggle in the countryside. The leaders of this Prolonged Popular War Group - are Bayardo Arce, Tomas Borge, and Henry Ruiz - are today the most radical members of the nine-man Sandinista directorate.
The other half of the Sandinista front - the Proletarian Tendency - believed the war should focus on workers in the cities. This group wanted to organize an urban uprising. Its leaders - Jaime Wheelock, Carlos Nunez, and Luis Carrion - today are regarded as the most pragmatic members of the directorate.
When the split between the two factions occurred, the Ortega brothers were members of the Prolonged Popular War Group. But at this critical juncture the Ortegas broke off to form the Terceristas.
The Ortegas felt it was suicidal for the Sandinista front to split into squabbling radical groups. They believed the only way the Sandinistas would win the war was to open up to the rest of the society and make alliances with non-Sandinista students, professionals, and even the bourgeoisie.
Then, while continuing the guerrilla struggle in the countryside, the Sandinistas could launch massive insurrection in Nicaragua cities and win the struggle against Somoza, they reasoned. This is what finally occurred. The Ortega brothers, particularly Humberto, were considered to be the architects of the final victory against Somoza.
Many Nicaraguans and foreign diplomats who wish to see a moderate solution today hope the pragmatism that characterized the Ortegas in the anti-Somoza struggle will show itself again.
They hope the brothers will feel that the only way out of the problems that face the Sandinistas is to ally themselves again with broader segments of the society - above all with those members of the middle classes and private sector who once were sympathetic to the revolution but who are now alienated from it.
After the election, the Ortega brothers will be very well positioned to change Sandinista policy. Daniel Ortega will be the head of the government apparatus and Humberto will control the army.
The brothers reportedly remain on very close personal terms and work well together, although from time to time reports surface that Humberto is more radical than Daniel.
Many FSLN and Western diplomatic observers believe that while the Ortega brothers' final goal for Nicaragua may or may not be very different from the ultimate goals of people like Tomas Borge, their more pragmatic outlook will lead them to embark on a policy of accommodation with the FSLN's external and internal critics.