President Daniel Ortega’s government has developed the economy and created new millionaires, but has also outraged an array of opponents who condemn his tight control over elections, Congress, the police, the military and the courts. Ortega’s family, friends and allies enjoy newfound luxuries like beachfront homes and expensive cars. They control fuel companies, television stations and public construction projects, which has many critics comparing his family to the right-wing Somoza dynasty that Ortega helped topple in 1979. Ortega enjoys strong support among the poor. More than 35,000 houses have been distributed among the poor in the past two years, according to a government website. Many low-income people have benefited from Mr. Ortega’s administration and are hardly bothered by complaints about its excesses. World Bank statistics show that the poverty level dropped six percentage points from 2005 to 2009. However, Ortega is widely criticized for constitutional changes that repealed term limits, allowing him to run this year for a third consecutive term.
“We started seeing people in the hierarchy of the ruling party buying luxury cars and $350,000 houses in cash,” said Octavio Enríquez, an award-winning reporter at Confidencial, a newsmagazine. “We started to see a new social class.” The head of the elections agency, Roberto Rivas, has a luxurious seaside house with a helipad. The home was once featured on the television show “House Hunters” and has been expanded considerably since then, news outlets reported. Rivas imported more than $400,000 in luxury vehicles in 2009 alone, the opposition newspaper La Prensa said.
Ortega’s children and some of their spouses hold top leadership posts at television stations acquired by the government under murky circumstances. His daughter-in-law runs the national chain of gas stations that receives Venezuelan oil. One of Mr. Ortega’s sons, Laureano, who works for the government’s investment promotion agency, was photographed wearing a $47,000 Rolex.
The Sandinista party treasurer, Francisco López, runs the state-owned oil company and a quasi-public entity that has doled out contracts to his own family company to build houses for the poor, Confidencial has reported. “I would see him coming in from his trips to Venezuela with a diplomatic valise filled with cash,” said Rodrigo Obregón, who worked as a manager at the quasi-public company and attended high school with López. “He and members of his family would close the door and count all night.” Obregón said he lost his job when he refused to sign a rosy audit of the company’s finances.
Bayardo Arce, the president’s economic adviser, who was an original member of the Sandinista directorate during its first time in power, dismissed the issue of Sandinista wealth as a controversy manufactured by the opposition. He defended the use of Venezuelan oil money to fund private companies as a new way of using international development funds, no more improper than the millions of dollars in aid that the United States gives to Nicaraguan civic groups to promote democracy, human rights and governance. Arce said. “Who decided that the person who believes in social justice has to be barefoot?” The government has lifted import taxes for luxury items like yachts and helicopters. Arce, a successful businessman, lives in a handsome home recently built on a 12-acre property confiscated during the war.