April 23, 2006

Chavez backs former US foe in Nicaragua election

By Greg Brosnan

CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez on Sunday backed the favorite to win Nicaragua's
November presidential election, days after Washington warned
the country not to vote for its former cold war foe.

"I shouldn't say I hope you win because they will accuse me
of sticking my nose into Nicaraguan internal affairs," Chavez
quipped to former Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega, who joined
him on his weekly television show. "But I hope you win."

The State Department last week urged the Central American
nation not to vote for Ortega, departing from its practice of
refraining from explicit opposition to candidates in foreign

The Bush administration has accused ex-presidents Ortega
and Arnoldo Aleman of orchestrating a "creeping coup" against
President Enrique Bolanos, a US ally whose government has
investigated graft during Aleman's rule.

Washington has also accused Chavez of destabilizing Latin
America as he pushes ahead with what he calls a socialist
revolution in the world's No. 5 oil exporter.

Along with Mexico's July presidential election, Nicaragua's
November vote is seen as a test of whether a trend of leftist
election wins in South America can take root further north.

Ortega's Soviet- and Cuba-backed Sandinista government
fought US-funded Contras in the 1980s. Washington referred to
him last week as a 'former dictator', urging Nicaraguans to
"reject discredited figures of the country's political past."

"The North-American government is actively trying to unite
the right to avoid a Sandinista victory and they say with all
clarity that they are investing millions," Ortega said.

Nicaraguans fear America will cut off aid if they elect
Ortega, but in a region wary of US interference, Washington's
call not to vote for Ortega could boost support for him.