"But we're giving him the benefit of the doubt.''

 

His Sandinista government frequently sent censors to La Prensa and parked tanks in front of the newspaper's offices. Chamorro's reporters had no access to Ortega during the campaign.

 

Ortega, 61, has yet to reach out to members of the news media, though he has publicly promised to embrace freedom of expression and has been tolerant of feisty opposition media.

 

"They can say what they want. There is freedom of expression here even to say any crude thing, any slander,'' he said in his victory speech after he was elected on November 5.

 

"I harbour no sentiment of hatred or revenge against those sending this kind of message, this dirty campaign.'' 

 

"It was a honeymoon. Now we'll see how long this honeymoon will last"

Xiomara Chamorro, La Prensa

Similar statements were expressed by Ortega's Sandinistas after toppling Anastasio Somoza in 1979.

 

The Sandinistas promised a free press in a drive to gain international support as they fought for power.

 

Chamorro, whose paper was heavily censored after Ortega was first elected president in 1984, said: "It was like this into the first six months of the 1980s.

 

"It was a honeymoon. Now we'll see how long this honeymoon will last.''

 

Ortega's Soviet-backed Sandinista government seized private assets, distributed land to poor farmers and battled US-financed Contra rebels throughout the 1980s.

 

Shortly after taking power, the Sandinistas closed one newspaper, passed a law making it illegal to criticise the revolution and imposed censorship that nearly drove La Prensa into the ground.

 

This was even though La Prensa shared anti-Somoza beliefs with the Sandinistas, disheartened by the political dynasty that had ruled Nicaragua for more than 30 years.

 

Violeta Chamorro, the former publisiher of La Prensa, defeated Ortega in an election in 1990, ending Sandinista rule.

 

Washington softens

 

Ortega has also proposed talks with Washington, where the idea is viewed favourably, according to a diplomatic source. The US had backed Eduardo Montealegre, a conservative rival to Ortega, in the election.

 

But afterwards, the state department said: "We respect the decision of the Nicaraguan people and we look forward to establishing positive relations with Mr Ortega and his new government.

 

"As we have said, we will work with those leaders based on their actions in support Nicaragua’s democratic future."

 

Ortega has indicated a possible break with at least some of the ideology of the past.

 

After his election last week, the former Marxist revolutionary moved to mend fences with business interests, which were hit hard between 1985 and 1990.

 

Meeting bankers, financiers and foreign investors, Ortega said Nicaragua "is open" to their money.