FOXNews.com's Adam Housley is in Nicaragua to cover regional elections and to interview Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, who hopes to win the presidential election in November. Here is the third installment of the Reporter's Notebook.
Daniel Ortega is careful in the way he criticizes the United States. He is quick to say "the American democracy is based on imperialism." He also calmly fumes and repeats his displeasure with the Iran Contra affair and the United States' support of the Somoza dictatorship.
He claims the Americans along with Great Britain and the Europeans, have created many of the problems facing Latin America by continuously exploiting the people and the region's resources over the years.
I remind him that much of the fighting in Nicaragua has come from within and that the corruption that plagues his country is also homegrown. My response is dismissed. Ortega acknowledges there have been problems here, but he blames the democratically elected governments since he was voted out of power in 1990.
In fact, Ortega says the socialist Sandinistas deserve a shot during a time of peace. He reminds us that their last chance to lead was during a civil war to oust Somoza and then as a Cold War partner of the Soviet Union against the United States.
At this point we begin to notice the air conditioners that keep the room cooler have been turned off for a quieter backdrop. The air has begun to thicken and I notice several swarms of mosquitoes that have formed in various parts of the room. Our wicker chairs remain comfortable and Ortega seems oblivious to it all. He does not sweat, the bugs stay away from his brow.
This, he reminds me, is his first major interview in about three years. I remind myself that it is one I have been working on getting since last July.
Ortega seems pleased that the interview is being conducted in his native Spanish. My questions are partly in English, but I get help from our producer Elka Worner who speaks Spanish fluently.
He becomes more comfortable with our questions, but is still cautious not to condemn the United States in the same disparaging way as Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez. That does not mean he leaves President Bush alone.
Several times he mentions the United States' mistakes in Iraq and basically says that we should have worried more about hurricane Katrina rather than issues or leaders in other countries.
Daniel Ortega gets agitated only once during our 90-minute interview. It comes after we again ask him about Chavez and Fidel Castro. He calls the men his brothers, but assures us they are not injecting money or influence into this Nicaraguan campaign.
I ask about Colonel Muammar al-Qaddafi, pointing out that in the 1980’s the Libyan leader faced strong U.S. opposition as he seemed to snub his nose at President Reagan.
Ortega responds quickly and a bit louder. He is not angry, but obviously he wants to make this point quickly and directly. Ortega tells us in Spanish that Lybia and Nicaragua are separate cases too different to compare.
I tell him the comparison has to do with opposition to U.S. policy and leadership in the 1980s. Quickly Ortega turns our question into more rhetoric about the United States not caring about Latin America and how American imperialism is to blame for many of the problems in Nicaragua.
He says he, Chavez and Castro are well respected in Latin America and that the three "brothers" are fighting for the people.
Our talk is not entirely about relations with the United States, or even international policy. Ortega tells us, unlike years past, he will win this November’s presidential election. He says he wants to build the country back by supporting the small farmers and small business. He promises not to nationalize foreign companies or seize property belonging to individuals who have invested in this country. He does tell us he would nationalize electricity, water and various other essential services.
Several times "El Comandante" (as he is known) cites China’s progress and how the socialists there are doing well by adopting some forms of capitalism. Ortega also takes a shot at U.S. foreign policy by citing the friendship and trade with Socialist China, while at the same time opposing smaller socialist nations like Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela.
Of course Ortega fails to mention Nicaraguan support of the Soviets before their fall.
Ortega admits Nicaragua is a very poor nation, by most accounts the second poorest in the western hemisphere next to Haiti. He says the way to improve conditions here is through investment, but he really doesn’t give us much in the way of examples.
His greatest idea, though, is an old one. He talks about the need to expand the Panama Canal and the difficulties associated with that process. Ortega argues that a second canal built across Nicaragua would be a huge benefit to this nation and to the world. He suggests the nations of the world could pay for such a grand idea, adding that the canal would be used solely for commerce and not for military movement.
Our talk basically ends on that note. The air is very thick now and everyone has some sort of sweat forming. Rosario, who sat by her husband’s side throughout the interview and even chimed-in a few times, opens a book to show us some of her favorite ancient mystical artwork.
Everyone exchanges pleasantries and I tell Ortega that our next meeting needs to include his "brothers" Chavez and Castro.