Nearly two decades after Daniel Ortega's Marxist Sandinista government battled U.S.-financed contra rebels, Ortega is poised to win back control of Nicaragua in Sunday's election.
In his fourth attempt to regain power, Ortega leads in most opinion polls, but he probably won't win enough votes to avoid a December runoff.
Like the recent stalemate between Venezuela, Guatemala for a seat on the U.N. Security Council, the Nicaraguan election has become a proxie battle between the U.S. and the leftist Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez.
The U.S. favors Eduardo Montealegre, a Harvard-educated banker, who says he would continue with the free-market economic policies that Nicaraguan leaders have pursued since Ortega lost the 1990 presidential election:
Without explicitly backing Montealegre, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez warned Nicaraguan voters to "reject the politics of corrupt and discredited caudillos," noting that Nicaraguan exports to the U.S. are up 33 percent since the signing of a free-trade agreement with the U.S.
Oliver North, the former NSC staffer who coordinated the -contra scheme, came to town last month to warn against an Ortega victory. And several House Republicans said if Ortega wins, they would urge the U.S. government to intercept $800 million in remittances that Nicaraguan immigrants send home so they don't help prop up a hostile regime.
Venezuelan President Chávez has openly supported Ortega, whom he brought on his television show.
Chavez also sold Nicaraguans tens of thousands of barrels of diesel fuel at discount last month.
I hope the Sandinista-in-chief fails in his bid to regain power. I don't expect a Sandinista army to invade Texas, but an Ortega government would clearly side with Cuba and Sandinista against the U.S. in many diplomatic matters.