President of Nicaragua
Daniel Ortega Saavedra, President of Nicaragua
Born in La Libertad, Nicaragua, on November 11, 1945, to middle-class parents who were actively opposed to Nicaragua’s dictator, Anastasio Somoza, Ortega was first arrested for his political activities at the age of 15.
During the early 1960s, after only a few months as a student at the Central American University in Managua, he joined the underground Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). He was put in charge of its urban guerrilla wing in 1967. However, that same year Somoza’s National Guard captured him. Ortega was in prison until 1974. Upon his release, the result of a Sandinista hostage taking, he went to Cuba and next returned to Nicaragua to continue what was now a war against the government.
Ortega was one of the leading commanders of the forces that ousted Somoza in July 1979 and became the head of the ruling junta at the head of the government of national reconstruction. A coalition of various opposition groups at first, the junta quickly became the exclusive domain of the Sandinistas as the other members left, dissatisfied with what was turning into a leftist and somewhat corrupt dictatorship. However, the Sandinista regime did initiate significant reforms that, in many cases, were of great benefit to Nicaragua’s poor and could have achieved more, had it not been for a new civil war.
In November 1984, the Sandinistas were victorious in national elections, and Ortega became Nicaragua’s president. Opponents charged that the Sandinistas had manipulated conditions during the election campaign in such a way that, although clean at first sight, the vote was actually rather tainted. The U.S. government of Ronald Reagan shared the opposition’s criticisms and further intensified U.S. support for the so-called “Contra” rebels — a coalition of dissatisfied peasants, former Sandinista allies and Somozistas. The result was a cruel and costly civil war that in 1989 compelled the Sandinistas to accept a peace arrangement negotiated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez.
In the February 1990 elections under the Arias agreement, Ortega and the Sandinistas lost to a right-centrist coalition led by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro. Ortega relinquished the presidency the following April. Since that time, he has remained an influential leader in the Sandinista movement and through it, although less so recently, in Nicaraguan politics. Most recently, he has been in the news in connection with accusations of sexual abuse by a female member of his family.