Daniel Ortega

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Daniel Ortega Saavedra
Date of Birth: November 11, 1945
Date of Death:
President of Nicaragua
Tenure Order: Constitutional President
Term in Office: January 10, 1985 – April 25, 1990
Predecessor: Junta of National Reconstruction
Successor: Violeta Barrios de Chamorro

Daniel Ortega Saavedra (born 11 November 1945) was the president of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990. For much of his life he has been an important leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional or FSLN).

Rise to power

Ortega was born to a middle-class family in La Libertad, Nicaragua. His parents were active in opposition to the regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and he was arrested for his own political activities as early as age 15. In 1963 he attended the University of Central America, Managua in Managua and quickly joined the then-underground FSLN. By 1967 he became a leader in the FSLN, in charge of the urban guerilla campaign, but shortly after that he was arrested. He remained in prison until 1974, when he was released in exchange for hostages held by the FSLN. He immediately visited Cuba, a major source of aid for the Sandinistas, and returned to his role as guerrilla commander.

When Somoza was overthrown by the FSLN in July 1979, Ortega became a member of the five-person Junta of National Reconstruction, which also included Sandinista militant Moisés Hassan, novelist Sergio Ramírez Mercado, businessman Alfonso Robelo Callejas, and journalist Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (associated with the newspaper La Prensa). The FSLN came to dominate the junta, Robelo and Chamorro resigned, and Ortega became the de facto ruler of the country.

In November 1984 Ortega called national elections and won the presidency with 63% of the vote, taking office on January 10, 1985. At the request of the United States, some opposition parties boycotted the election, which was immediately denounced as a "sham" by the Reagan administration; however, most international observers declared the election to be fair.

For more details on Ortega’s presidency, see Sandinista National Liberation Front.


In Nicaragua's 1990 elections, Ortega lost to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, his former colleague in the Junta. Chamorro was supported by a 14-party anti-Sandinista alliance known as the United Nicaraguan Opposition (UNO). The various anti-Sandinista guerrilla movements collectively known as the Contras, as well as the United States’ trade embargo against the country, greatly hurt Ortega’s popularity in this election.

Ortega stood for election again in October 1996 and November 2001, but lost on both occasions. In these elections, a key issue was the allegation of corruption. In Ortega’s last days as president, through a series of legislative acts known as “The Piñata”, estates that had been seized by the Sandinista government (some valued at millions and even billions US$) became the private property of various FSLN officials, including Ortega himself. It is also alleged that Ortega appropriated national bank funds for his personal account. In reference to these allegations, critics often call Ortega “El Piñatin”.

In 2001, the allegations of corruption against Ortega were somewhat overshadowed by those against Arnoldo Aleman, who defeated Ortega in 1996 and was still president in 2001. However, Ortega was then confronted with other scandals. His stepdaughter, Zoilamérica Narváez, made public allegations that he sexually abused her. Entities in the United States, most notably Jeb Bush, ran large ads in Nicaraguan newspapers associating Ortega with international terrorism.

Ortega has long been accused of caudillismo (anti-democratic politico-military populism) and excessively authoritarian leadership. Prominent Sandinistas including Sergio Ramirez and Herty Lewites have left the party or have been expelled for dissenting to Ortega’s power. Many such dissenters support a small splinter group, the Sandinista Renewal Movement (the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista or “MRS”), although this party eventually chose to support Ortega’s candidacy in the 2001 election. More recently, journalists Carlos Guadamuz and María José Bravo Sánchez were murdered for their reporting critical of Ortega. Others have received death threats, including the well-known political cartoonist Manuel Guillén. There is no clear evidence that Ortega was directly involved in any such incidents. [1]

Daniel Ortega was instrumental in creating the controversial strategic pact between the FSLN and the Constitutional Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Constitucionalista, PLC). This alliance of Nicaragua's two major parties has changed the structure of the government and minimized the participation of other parties. "El Pacto," as it is known in Nicaragua, is said to have personally benefited former presidents Ortega and Aleman greatly, while constraining current president Bolaños.

Ortega continues to lead the Sandinista party, which holds 43 seats in the Nicaraguan Parliament, making it the country's second largest party. Presidential elections are due in November 2006, and public opinion polls (as of late 2005) suggest Ortega will be one of a few leading candidates. Herty Lewites -- also running for president -- has suggested that Ortega's pact with Aleman has given Ortega de facto control of the bodies responsible for administering the election, and thus that Ortega will be even more formidable than polls indicate.

Preceded by:
Junta of National Reconstruction
President of Nicaragua
Succeeded by:
Violeta Barrios de Chamorro

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