Bush discusses cooperation with Nicaragua’s Ortega

WASHINGTON – US President George W. Bush told Nicaraguan president elect and former US foe Daniel Ortega that he hoped to work together on a range of issues, the White House said.

Bush telephoned Ortega, who assumes office this week, “to congratulate him and the Nicaraguan people on their commitment to democracy,” said national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

“The president expressed his strong commitment to the well-being of the Nicaraguan people and our continued interest in a relationship with Nicaragua, noting such ongoing areas of cooperation” as trade and reform-driven economic development, he said.

“The president also noted that reconciliation, unity, democracy, and job creation — the agenda outlined in Daniel Ortega’s election platform — are areas for possible cooperation,” said Johndroe.

Ortega, 61, on Wednesday is to be sworn in to a five-year term as Nicaragua’s president.

Bush also spoke with outgoing Nicaraguan President “Enrique Bolanos to thank him for his service to his country, commitment to democracy, and friendship with the United States,” said Johndroe.

Ortega was the Marxist leader of the leftist Sandinista National Liberation Front that ousted US-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979. The Soviet-backed Sandinista government seized private assets, distributed land to poor farmers and battled US-financed Contra rebels throughout the 1980s.

Ortega was voted out of power in 1990, at the end of a bloody civil war against the Contras, and lost two subsequent presidential elections, before prevailing in his third earlier this month to succeed Bolanos on January 10.

During his campaign against US-backed conservative rival Eduardo Montealegre, Ortega toned down his revolutionary rhetoric. But Washington, and particularly its ambassador in Managua, urged Nicaraguans to defeat him.

The White House also announceed that US Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt would lead the US delegation to Ortega’s inauguration.

The goup will also include the head of the US Millenium Challenge Corporation that rewards free-market and democratic reforms with aid, and the assistant US secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere, and the US ambassador to Nicaragua.