President Bush, comparing Daniel Ortega to a skunk invading a garden party and repeatedly calling him "that little man," Saturday denounced the Nicaraguan leader's plans to end a cease-fire with the U.S.-backed Contra rebels.
"Do not break that cease-fire," Bush warned the Sandinista leader at a news conference on the last day of a summit of 16 leaders from North and South America.Bush, who stands well over 6 feet, heaped sarcasm on Ortega, referring to him several times as "that little man." He also poked fun at the fact the Nicaraguan leader showed up at the summit in military fatigues, calling it "Boy Scout stuff."
Ortega announced Friday night he was ending a 19-month cease-fire, saying that growing Contra attacks had killed 48 Sandinista soldiers in the past month.
"We have to find a way to protect the lives of Nicaraguans and to guarantee the electoral process. This means that the cease-fire has to end," he told university students.
Noting that a reporter had compared Ortega's action to a skunk invading a garden party, Bush said, "That's exactly what happened.
"Mr. Ortega looks like that unwanted animal at a garden party," he added.
But Bush also said that several presidents at the summit had talked to Ortega Friday night and "they leaned on him pretty hard. The man had a little bit of backing off, a little bit, so let's wait and see," he added.
Bush said Ortega went out of his way Friday to be seen in photographs with the president. "He's always kind of sidling up to me looking for some photo op. What he ought to do is talk to the resistance," the president said.
Calling Ortega's plan to end the cease-fire a "shameful blow to democracy," Bush declared, "I can't figure it out. It's an offense to the president of Costa Rica, it is an offense to the democratically elected leaders here. It is the most outrageous use of this meeting on democracy that I can think of."
While bluntly warning that the cease-fire should be honored, Bush refused to say how the United States would respond to renewed warfare.
"We'll cross the bridge when we come to it," he said.
The dispute between Washington and Managua overshadowed a two-day summit of 16 leaders from the Western Hemisphere, a gathering intended to celebrate 100 years of democracy in Costa Rica.
Ortega, in interviews with the New York Times and the Miami Herald, said the Sandinista army would begin an offensive against an estimated 2,500 Contra rebels in Nicaragua Wednesday.
But the Nicaraguan defense ministry on Saturday said that Sandinista military leaders have not yet given orders to end the cease-fire and are waiting for official authorization.
Ortega is due to give a speech on Sunday in southern Nicaragua where he may issue an official end to the cease-fire, Sandinista officials told Reuters.
A Contra leader in Miami said a government attack could lead to a massacre of the poorly armed rebels. Under a bipartisan agreement with Congress, U.S. aid to the Contras is limited to food, clothing and other humanitarian supplies.
Bush also lashed out at military strongman Manuel Antonio Noriega, who he accused of "lead pipe politics."
"He's won nothing more than a fragile status quo. The day of the despot, the day of the dictator is over," Bush declared.