Former Marxist guerrilla and United States Cold War enemy Daniel Ortega was sworn in as Nicaraguan president on Wednesday 16 years after voters tired of a civil war with Contra rebels threw him out of office.
Ortega won the presidential election last November, with 38% of the vote, allied with some of the Conservative groups he fought against two decades ago and on promises to combat poverty, to promote social programs and calling for national reconciliation. Since Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere after Haiti he has anticipated a delicate balancing act between left leaning regimes such as Venezuela and Cuba and respectful relations with United States, the IMF and the strong liberal opposition. Actually last Monday Ortega was on the phone with President George Bush who promised help to combat poverty which is extensive to 70% of the country's population. Furthermore the incoming regime has decided to maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, --one of the few in the world--, instead of switching to China as happened during Ortega's first presidency. The decision was announced to visiting Taiwanese President Chen Shui-Bian ending weeks of speculation. Nevertheless on Thursday he's scheduled to sign a far reaching economic and financial cooperation agreement with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez who already supplied cheap oil to those cities and provinces under Sandinista political control. The agreement is considered proportionally more significant than those Chavez signed with Cuba and Bolivia. The former guerrilla leader, apparently turned pragmatic, unsuccessfully bid three times for the presidency in the last sixteen years and finally reached but distant from the revolutionary ideals of the eighties. His message has been one of peace and reconciliation and improved relations with the Catholic Church. The latest public opinion polls show that 67% of Nicaraguans are hopeful that Ortega this time will help solve the endemic poverty, mal nutrition and unemployment that scourge Nicaragua. But the survey also indicates that a similar percentage of people fear the weakening of "institutions" if the alliance with Conservative groups means a distribution of government jobs. Fifteen foreign dignitaries were present at the swearing in ceremony among which outstood Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo Morales and Ecuadorean elected President Rafael Correa. United States was represented by Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. One of the first challenges Ortega must face is what attitude his administration will adopt towards the IMF and the free trade agreement with United States both of which represent hundreds of millions of dollars in aid annually.
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