Nicaraguan Presidential Candidate Dies
Monday, July 3, 2006; 1:54 AM
MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Nicaraguan presidential candidate Herty Lewites, who broke with the leftist Sandinista party to run against its leader Daniel Ortega, died of a heart attack Sunday, a political ally said. He was 67.
His death increased the chances that Ortega _ the rebel leader who fought the U.S.-backed Contra rebels in a bloody 1980s civil war _ could return to the presidency in Nov. 5 elections.
Lewites, a former Managua mayor who had long suffered from heart problems, died at a hospital in the capital, said Dora Maria Tellez, president of his splinter party, the Sandinista Renovation Movement.
Lewites was expelled from the Sandinista National Liberation Front party in March 2005 after challenging Ortega, who served as Nicaragua's president from 1985-1990. Since his departure from the party, Lewites had attracted the support of several key party figures and was drawing votes away from Ortega ahead of the election.
If most of Lewites' voters shift to Ortega, the Sandinista leader could be close to victory. Nicaraguan election laws give a first-round victory to a candidate who wins 35 percent of the vote if he is 5 percentage points ahead of the second-place finisher.
Election officials said it might be too late to replace Lewites on the ballot. If so, a victory would leave the presidency to his vice presidential running mate Edmundo Jarquin, the son-in-law of former President Violeta Chamorro.
A recent poll by the Nicaraguan firm M&R Consultants, published in May, found 28 percent favored Eduardo Montealegre of the Liberal Nicaraguan Alliance-Conservative Party and 27 percent chose Ortega. Lewites, who had led earlier polls, fell to third with 18 percent, ahead of Jose Rizo, with 13 percent. The poll had an error margin of 1.5 percentage points.
Lewites, the son of a candy maker, rebelled against the Somoza family dictatorship in 1960 by joining an attack on a local police barracks. He later fled into exile, studied business administration in Mexico and spent much of the 1970s in California, organizing support for the Sandinista rebels.
While in the United States, he admitted shipping guns to the rebels and spent six months in federal prison in Los Angeles.
After the Sandinistas seized power in 1979, Lewites became tourism minister in Ortega's Soviet-backed government, building a convention center and beach resorts in the war-ravaged country.
When the Sandinistas lost power in 1990, he opened a car rental agency and built an amusement park called Hertylandia. He was elected mayor of Managua in 2000.