MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Election monitors from the Organization of American states told Washington Saturday not to meddle in Nicaragua's presidential election, which polls show Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega could win.
The OAS said remarks this week by U.S. Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Ambassador Paul Trivelli on their concerns about an Ortega win ran counter to its plea in September for foreign governments not to intervene in the Nov. 5 vote.
"Given the separate declarations by Carlos Gutierrez and Paul Trivelli about the Nicaraguan electoral contest, the OAS Mission feels obliged to reiterate the spirit and the text of the aforementioned declaration," the OAS said.
Two opinion polls this week gave Ortega - whose Sandinista government fought a bruising civil war through the 1980s against U.S.-backed Contra rebels - a strong enough lead to win the election in one round.
Ortega's lead is largely due to a split in the ruling Liberal Party, with U.S.-educated Eduardo Montealegre and former vice president Jose Rizo competing for the conservative vote. The Liberal Party has been in power for 16 years.
While Ortega, 61, says he has left his Marxist days behind and now wants free, but fair, markets, the United States is rattled by his friendship with U.S.-bashing Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez and Cuba's Fidel Castro.
Gutierrez said this week an Ortega victory could scare off foreign investors and jeopardize Nicaragua's participation in Central America's CAFTA free-trade accord with the United States.
Washington has made clear it favors Montealegre over Rizo, whose party agreed a much-maligned congressional pact with Ortega's Sandinistas six years ago, which has kept the two main parties in a virtual power duopoly.
Trivelli, who earlier this year tried to get Nicaraguan conservatives to regroup to block Ortega, told reporters this week that voting for Rizo was practically the same as voting for the former guerrilla.
Ortega first came to power in a 1979 revolution that ended a hated decades-old dictatorship. He was elected president in 1984 but was voted out in 1990 as Nicaraguans tired of the war, which killed 30,000 people, and crippling U.S. sanctions.
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