"This time they're being more careful," said an old friend of mine as we sat in the White House Pizzeria on a lazy, sunny Sunday afternoon in northern Nicaragua. "The times have changed, they can't be so radical." The large billboard hanging just outside, emblazoned with a portrait of a smiling President Daniel Ortega, seemed to emphasize this. "Socialism, Solidarity, Christianity" is the theme of Ortega's second Sandinista revolution. Gone are the days of feared military checkpoints brandishing the harsh red and black flag of the atheistic FSLN - the color of the new revolution is a pretty pink.
Nevertheless, since Ortega took office in 2007, dark clouds have appeared ominously on the horizon. He orchestrated a fraudulent municipal election in 2008. He has closed more than twenty radio stations and taken over several television stations. A new trinity of "national security laws" passed in December of 2010 threaten to extend partisan control over what had become a professional, credible and trustworthy army and police. Most importantly, he has manipulated the judiciary to allow him to seek re-election this year despite constitutional term limits. The FSLN party is increasingly active at the base, playing the usual electoral games to stilt this year's results in their favor. "We will do whatever it takes to not hand over power," said Tomas Borge, a Sandinista activist who directed the feared security forces in the 1980s.
Yet despite these very obvious concerns, I was struck more by a different aspect of Ortega's revolution. I expected this revolution to smell of blood. Ortega's new socialist revolution instead smells of something else - money. "This is the hotel that Ortega bought," said my taxi driver as we drove by the Seminole in the center of Managua. "Along with this came several cattle ranches ... He paid $12 million for them. He also bought TV Channel 8, for eight million ..." and the list went on.