The Blog

Another Chavez Gambit

2:36 PM, Jul 23, 2006 • By DANIEL MCKIVERGAN
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Once again, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has become an issue in a presidential campaign. This time in Nicaragua, where Chavez has been showering gifts upon Sandinista party leader Daniel Ortega. Today's Washington Post reports:

Ortega, 60, whose armed revolution made him the Reagan administration's chief antagonist in the hemisphere during the 1980s, is also getting a boost this time from Washington's current bête noir in Latin America: Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Among other shows of support, Chávez recently bypassed Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños and negotiated a deal directly with Ortega to sell oil to Nicaragua under a long-term credit scheme intended to free more government funds for social spending…. In addition to the oil deal, Chávez has arranged to distribute fertilizer at cut-rate prices to Nicaraguan farmers through an association allied with the Sandinistas….

But there are signs that Chávez's assistance could backfire. In a recent poll commissioned by the Nicaraguan weekly Confidencial, 49 percent of Nicaraguans said they thought Venezuela was interfering. And there are rumors that Chávez is directly financing Ortega's campaign -- fueled by the abundance of enormous posters of Ortega's smiling face across not merely the capital but also in the countryside.

Aside from delivering a political black eye to the U.S., Chavez may have other things in mind with his oil charity and in pushing for an Ortega victory. He may hope that a President Ortega returns the favor by derailing Managua's current plan to allow for more extensive oil exploration off its coast. The prospect of tapping these potentially large oil deposits is something that I'm sure doesn't sit well with the oil-rich Chavez. Stay tuned ...