Nicaragua won't be next Venezuela - Ortega aide

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MANAGUA, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Nicaragua's incoming president, former Cold War Marxist rebel Daniel Ortega, will not copy the radical economic policies of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, his main foreign ally, a top aide said on Tuesday.

Ortega will rely heavily on Venezuelan aid to fight extreme poverty after he takes office on Wednesday, and is expected to join a Chavez-led group of leftist Latin American governments that worries the United States.

But Jaime Morales, a former right-wing guerrilla leader who will be vice president in the new government, said Ortega would not mimic Chavez, who on Monday vowed to nationalize major utilities.

"There will be no nationalizations in Nicaragua," Morales told Reuters in a telephone interview. "We will totally respect private property, entrepreneurial liberty and the market economy."

Morales was a leader of the U.S.-backed Contra rebels who fought Ortega's 1979-1990 Marxist government in a fierce civil war, but he later made up with his former enemy and was his running mate in the November election.

He said Nicaragua suffered "tremendous consequences" from nationalizations under Sandinista rule in the 1980s and Ortega would be much more pragmatic this time around.

"We are not following the footsteps, paths or directions of any government anywhere in the world, from the right, the left or the center," Morales said.

Chavez announced on Monday he would seek increased powers from Venezuela's Congress, nationalize utilities and telecommunications companies and strip the central bank of its autonomy.

"We respect the decisions that Venezuela makes. He is a democratically elected president, much loved in Nicaragua," Morales said.

Chavez accelerated his socialist revolution by seeking increased powers from Congress, nationalizing utilities and telecommunications companies and promising to strip the central bank of its autonomy.

While Chavez has cracked down on critical media that backed a brief 2002 coup against him, Morales said Ortega preferred even a vitriolic anti-government press to any censorship.

Chavez, who will attend Ortega's inauguration, sends cheap fuel and fertilizer to Sandinista-affiliated mayors in Nicaragua and has offered to build an oil refinery here.

Morales said Managua was fully aware the Venezuelan help was an attempt by Chavez to increase his influence in Central America.

"Venezuelan aid, like that from other countries, has interests attached. Nothing is free in international relations."

Ortega first came to power in 1979 at the head of a revolution that toppled Anastasio Somoza, the last in a line of U.S.-backed dictators who had ruled the small Central American nation for much of the 20th century.

Chavez sees the former rebel's victory at the polls after 16 years of free-market governments as a triumph in his battle with Washington for influence in Latin America.

During Nicaragua's election campaign, Chavez championed Ortega, who was a foe of late U.S. President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s and was voted out of office in 1990.