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LAS AMERICAS The Return of the Sandinistas BY GABRIELA BOCAGRANDE Hey! Remember Nicaragua? A day’s drive from Brownsville? Home of the Sandinistas and the comunistas and Daniel Ortega the child molester with designer glasses? Well, guess what? It’s still there. So? Big deal. We don’t really care because this year we’re worried about wait, who is that guy? The one with three names and a turban? Hosanna bin blah-blah? Also we’ve been worried about that little Cuban boy they found on an inner tube and about terrorism at patriotic public events. That’s quite a lot and it’s been keeping us busy, so we’ve had to let other, more forgettable things slide, like Mars, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the presidential election. Actually, in Washington we’ve been distracted this season by the Israel/Syria dispute over the Golan Heights. To solve this problem, Madeleine Albright trundled off to a remote negotiating location with her Middle Eastern counterparts in late December. But just when we thought it was safe to go outside, we received news of another geopolitical crisis a day’s drive from Brownsville! That’s right. Nicaragua, which is just about to have a little war with Honduras. In Washington there is one saying that is more or less true: “Nothing is ever finished, nothing is ever over.” And so Madeleine and the State Department are not finished with Nicaragua. They are still afraid of the comunistas, even if Ortega and associates have been out of power for almost ten years. The State Department needs to make sure that they never get in the way again. And ever since last summer, they’ve been quietly inching back into the way. It all started in May, 1999 well no it actually started with Hurricane Mitch in the fall of 1998. Mitch hit Honduras and Nicaragua with devastation of Biblical proportions, killing thousands and displacing hundreds of thousands by putting a lot of rivers back where Nature had originally placed them. Still, as you know if you are a politician, even a hurricane has a silver lining. With Mitch, it came in the form of foreign aid. In May, the “Donor Community” convened in Stockholm with the Central American governments to decide on a package for the affected countries. The I.M.F., the World Bank, The Inter-American Development Bank, and Kofi Annan joined in. And all things considered, the package was quite good. It even included two billion dollars in loans and presents for Nicaragua. Now, if you are a sticky-fingered politician and you have just negotiated a two-billion dollar aid package for your immiserated little country, you want to be sure that you and your cronies are around to get a piece of the pie \(Sp. trans.: tajada del Unfortunately, though, the meeting of the Donor Community did not go particularly well for Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman, and he must have felt a little insecure. Two months earlier, the Nicaraguan comptroller general had launched an investigation into the baffling increase in Aleman’ s personal estate during the period that he served as mayor of Managua and president. In seven years, his wealth had increased 900 percent, and he didn’t even have a “.com” affixed to his name. And then in May, while he was in Stockholm with the other Central American politicos and the banks, an embarrassing headline in a Managua newspaper exposed the sale of donated food in Managua’s main market. “Mitch Brought Hunger for Many and a Fortune for Others,” the Nuevo Diario announced. Donated cans of fish and milk stamped “For Emergency Projects of the World Food Program Not for Sale” were found for sale in large quantities. Oh, it was bad. There were pictures and everything. Someone with access to food and money sent as relief for the hurricane victims was selling the stuff instead. Who could it be? Questions were asked. Mistakes were made. But in spite of it all, Aleman came away from Stockholm with the $2 billion package. The banks defended their decision. Aleman was an honorable man. The King of Spain had awarded him the Isabela la Catolica Decoration, and the Government of Argentina had made him a member of the Grand Order of the Belgranian Cross. Plus, he was an Honorary Citizen of Taipei and New Orleans. Nevertheless, the banks were clever. They don’t like anybody stealing too much of their money, including Arnoldo. They would dole out the aid over a period of three to five years, and for Arnoldo, this could be a problem. Nicaragua holds presidential elections in 2001, and the allegations of corruption have not done him any good at all. His party might lose, and if that happens, someone else pockets the presidential cut of the two billion. Caca, he thought. But he is clever, too. For his team to win the elections next year, what he needed was a good solid alliance with a reliable vote getter. Hmmm. He called Daniel. At first the negotiations were tricky. After all, Arnoldo had called Daniel a totalitarian Marxist and other really mean things throughout his presidential campaign in 1995. He had hurt Daniel’s feelings and made him mad. However, with $2 billion on the table, Daniel was prepared to let bygones be bygones. Much of the Sandinista party was outraged, but Daniel rammed the alliance with Arnoldo through the Party Assembly. The pact was to produce a constitutional reform, Arnoldo wanted the reform to allow Nicaraguans who had previously renounced their citizenship to run for president. In other words, rich expatriate politicos living in Miami, wearing Versace shirts, and keeping in close touch with Arnoldo. Daniel wanted to eliminate the requirement for a majority vote in order to win the presidency, and change it to a plurality. This would be good for him, since he reliably polls about 30 to 35 percent. Happily, the two of them began maneuvering and plotting. Meanwhile, what about Washington? These things may slip by us while the little Cuban boy is bouncing around The Miami Herald like a football score, but eagle-eye THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23 FEBRUARY 4, 2000