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Ortega completes uneventful first 100 days as president

Ortega, however has not done much to honour promises to end the problems in his country.

world Updated: Apr 21, 2007 13:25 IST

Former guerrilla leader Daniel Ortega on Friday celebrates his first 100 days as Nicaraguan head of state, a period he has spent consolidating his own power and that of his influential wife Rosario Murillo but has not done much to honour promises to end the problems of his impoverished country.

Ortega, 61, governed the central American country from 1979-90 after the Sandinista Revolution. His first, stormy rule was marked by a civil war - between his Marxist-leaning regime and US-sponsored Contra insurgents - in which more than 50,000 people died.

His return to power on Jan 10, following 16 years in opposition and three straight defeats at the ballot box, made a lot of noise.

At least 75 per cent of Nicaragua's 5.5 million people live in poverty, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. Only dysfunctional Haiti has a lower per capita income in Latin America.

Still, under Ortega - as was the case earlier - only 14 per cent of the state's modest budget is devoted to fighting poverty, with no expansion of resources on the horizon for such efforts.

Instead, the Sandinista leader has continued to consolidate his political power, and political analysts are beginning to see the first signs of likely nationalisations in the economy.

Experts have pointed out that Ortega found a favourable setting when he took power this time. Exports topped $1 billion for the first time, and the country's debt - at $3.7 billion - was no higher than in 1990.

The conservative government of predecessor Enrique Bolanos had brought inflation under check.

From the start, Ortega made every effort to dispel notions that he would once again turn Nicaragua into a communist state.

He did make clear his alliances with Cuba and with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez - leader of a Latin American bloc often at odds with the United States. At the same time, though, Ortega attempted to reassure Washington.

The one-time revolutionary backed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but did not support his initiative to deny the Holocaust.

Ortega included a former opponent, former Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, in his reconciliation policy and sought rapprochement with neighbouring Costa Rica and Honduras despite border disputes.

He has maintained talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reassure foreign investors, who fear that the Sandinista leader could nationalize much of the economy - a route taken recently by fellow leftists Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales.

Two cabinet ministers have already had to relinquish their posts after expressing criticism over Ortega's moves to consolidate his own power and that of his wife Rosario Murillo.

Ortega has achieved direct control over the police, and he heads the armed forces, having failed so far to name a defence minister.

Ortega won the Nov 5 presidential election in the first round with 38 percent of the vote - enough to avoid a runoff under Nicaragua's election rules.

He has weakened the opposition through a controversial pact with conservative former president Arnoldo Aleman. The deal allows Aleman free movement around Nicaragua despite his conviction on corruption charges.

On Monday, the leader of a splinter faction from Ortega's own Sandinista party described the president's recent actions as anti-democratic. Edmundo Jarquin, head of the dissenting Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), criticised Ortega for allegedly leading an authoritarian family regime and of wanting to destroy the Nicaraguan economy again.