Daniel Ortega

From New World Encyclopedia

Daniel Ortega
Daniel Ortega

President of Nicaragua
Assumed office 
10 January 2007
Preceded by Enrique Bolaños
In office
January 10, 1985 – April 25, 1990
Vice President(s)   Sergio Ramírez
Preceded by Junta of National Reconstruction
Succeeded by Violeta Chamorro

Junta of National Reconstruction
In office
July 18, 1979 – January 10, 1985
Sergio Ramírez
Violeta Chamorro
Alfonso Robelo
Arturo Cruz
Moisés Hassan
Rafael Rivas
Preceded by Francisco Urcuyo
Succeeded by Office abolished

Born November 11 1945 (1945-11-11) (age 78)
La Libertad, Chontales, Nicaragua
Political party FSLN
Spouse Rosario Murillo

José Daniel Ortega Saavedra (pronounced [xoˈse ðanjεl ɔrteγa saˈβeðra])(born 11 November 1945), who served as Nicaragua's president from 1985-90, was elected president for the second time in 2006. For much of his life, he has been a leader in the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional or FSLN).

After a popular rebellion resulted in the overthrow and exile of dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle in 1979, Ortega became a member of the ruling junta and was later elected president. His first period in office was characterized by a controversial program of land reform and wealth redistribution, charges of human rights abuse by the Miskito Indians, and establishing a Soviet-style communist dictatorship, which led to an armed rebellion by U.S.-backed Contras. During his first presidency, Ortega and the FSLN became a focal point for the Cold War contest between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Ortega was defeated by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, widow of the former journalist of La Prensa, in the 1990 presidential election, but he remained an important figure in Nicaraguan opposition politics. He was an unsuccessful candidate for president in 1996 and 2001 before winning the 2006 presidential election. [1]

Personal life

Early years

Ortega was born to a middle-class family in La Libertad, department of Chontales, Nicaragua. His parents, Daniel Ortega and Lidia Saavedra, were in opposition to the regime of Anastasio Somoza Debayle. His mother was imprisoned by Somoza's National Guard for being in possession of love letters which the police insisted were coded political missives. He has two brothers, Humberto Ortega, former general, military leader and published writer, and Camilo Ortega, who died during combat in 1978. Ortega was arrested for political activities at the early age of 15. In 1963, he attended the Universidad Centroamericana in Managua, where he studied law,[2] and quickly joined the then-underground FSLN. Ortega was imprisoned in 1967 for taking part in robbing a branch of the Bank of America brandishing a machine gun, but was released in late 1974 along with other Sandinista prisoners in exchange for Somocista hostages. While he was imprisoned at the El Modelo jail, just outside of Managua, he wrote poems, one of which he titled "I Never Saw Managua When Miniskirts Were in Fashion".[3]

After his release, Ortega was exiled to Cuba, where he received several months of guerrilla training. He later returned to Nicaragua secretly.[4] Ortega married Rosario Murillo in 1978 but remarried her in 2005 to have the marriage recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. The couple has eight children.[2] She is currently the government's spokeswoman, government minister, among other positions.[5][6]

The Sandinista revolution (1979-1990)

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

To begin the task of establishing a new government, they created a Council (or junta) of National Reconstruction, made up of five appointed members. Three of the appointed members belonged to FSLN, which included – Sandinista militants Daniel Ortega, Moises Hassan, and novelist Sergio Ramírez (a member of Los Doce "the Twelve"). Two opposition members, businessman Alfonso Robelo, and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro (the widow of slain journalist, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro), were also appointed. Only three votes were needed to pass law.

The FSLN also established a Council of State, subordinate to the junta, which was composed of representative bodies. However, the Council of State only gave political parties 12 of 47 seats, the rest of the seats were given to Sandinista mass-organizations. [7] Of the twelve seats reserved for political parties, only three were not allied to the FSLN. [7]

By 1980, conflicts began to emerge between the Sandinista and non-Sandinista members of the governing junta. Violeta Chamorro and Alfonso Robelo resigned from the governing junta in 1980, and fears developed that members of the Ortega junta would consolidate power among themselves. Some feared that it was Ortega's goal to turn Nicaragua into a state modeled after Cuban Communism. In 1979 and 1980, former Somoza supporters and ex-members of Somoza's National Guard formed irregular military forces, while the original core of the FSLN began to splinter. Armed opposition to the Sandinista government eventually divided into two main groups: The Fuerza Democratica Nicaraguense (FDN), a U.S. supported army formed in 1981 by the CIA, U.S. State Department, and former members of the widely condemned Somoza-era Nicaraguan National Guard; and the Alianza Revolucionaria Democratica (ARDE), a group that had existed since before the FSLN and was led by Sandinista founder and former FSLN supreme commander, Eden Pastora, a.k.a. "Commander Zero."[8] and Milpistas, former anti-Somoza rural militias, which eventually formed the largest pool of recruits for the Contras. Although independent and often at conflict with each other, these guerrilla bands—along with a few others—all became generally known as "Contras" (short for "contrarrevolucionarios," en. "counter-revolutionaries").[9]

The opposition militias were initially organized and largely remained segregated according to regional affiliation and political backgrounds. They conducted attacks on economic, military, and civilian targets. During the Contra war, the Sandinistas arrested suspected members of the Contra militias and censored publications they accused of collaborating with the enemy (i.e., the U.S., the FDN, and ARDE, among others).

After the resignation of Chamorro and Robelo, the preponderance of power also remained with the Sandinistas through their mass organizations, including the Sandinista Workers' Federation (Central Sandinista de Trabajadores), the Luisa Amanda Espinoza Nicaraguan Women's Association (Asociación de Mujeres Nicaragüenses Luisa Amanda Espinoza), the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (Unión Nacional de Agricultores y Ganaderos), and most importantly the Sandinista Defense Committees (CDS). The Sandinista controlled mass organizations were extremely influential over civil society and saw their power and influence peak in the mid-1980s. [7]

The FSLN's literacy campaign, which saw teachers flood the countryside, is often noted as their greatest success. Within six months, half a million people had been taught rudimentary reading, bringing the national illiteracy rate down from over 50 percent to just under 12 percent. Over 100,000 Nicaraguans participated as literacy teachers. One of the stated aims of the literacy campaign was to create a literate electorate which would be able to make informed choices at the promised elections. The successes of the literacy campaign was recognized by UNESCO with the award of a Nadezhda Krupskaya International Prize. (Krupskaya was the wife of Soviet leader, Vladimir Lenin.

The FSLN also created neighborhood groups similar to the Cuban Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, called Sandinista Defense Committees (Comités de Defensa Sandinista or CDS). Especially in the early days following the overthrow of Somoza, the CDSs served as de facto units of local governance. Their obligations included political education, the organization of Sandinista rallies, the distribution of food rations, organization of neighborhood/regional cleanup and recreational activities, and policing to control looting, and the apprehension of counter-revolutionaries. The CDS's organized civilian defense efforts against Contra activities and a network of intelligence systems in order to apprehend their supporters. These activities led critics of the Sandinistas to argue that the CDS was a system of local spy networks for the government used to stifle political dissent; the CDS held the power to suspend privileges such as drivers licenses and passports and other political perks. After the initiation of full-scale U.S. military involvement in the Nicaraguan conflict the CDS was empowered to enforce wartime bans on political assembly and association with other political parties (i.e., parties associated with the "Contras").

Election to presidency

In November 1984, Ortega called national elections; he won the presidency with 63 percent of the vote and took office on January 10, 1985. From his position in the ruling junta and control of many of the instruments of civil and political society, Ortega was able to win the support of the masses. It is still a matter of dispute as to the fairness of the election.

According to some international observers, the 1984 elections were free and fair. A report by an Irish parliamentary delegation stated: "The electoral process was carried out with total integrity. The seven parties participating in the elections represented a broad spectrum of political ideologies." The general counsel of New York's Human Rights Commission described the election as "free, fair and hotly contested." A study by the U.S. Latin American Studies Association (LASA) concluded that the FSLN (Sandinista Front) "did little more to take advantage of its incumbency than incumbent parties everywhere (including the U.S.) routinely do."

Thirty-three percent of the Nicaraguan voters cast ballots for one of six opposition parties—three to the right of the Sandinistas, three to the left—which had campaigned with the aid of government funds and free TV and radio time. Two conservative parties captured a combined 23 percent of the vote. They held rallies across the country but some of their rallies were disrupted by FSLN supporters.

The Reagan administration charged in the U.S. press that it was a "Soviet-style sham" election.[10] Some of the opposition parties boycotted the election with the support of the U.S. embassy. Reagan thus maintained that he was justified to continue supporting the Contras' "democratic resistance".[11]

Human Rights abuses

As the Sandinista regime extended its influence over the region via its Comités de Defensa Sandinista[12] several Miskito groups eventually formed guerrillas in response, carrying on armed struggle against the Sandinista government. On 25 February 1982, Steadman Fagoth, one of the guerrilla leaders, took refuge in Honduras along with 3,000 Miskitos[13], while the Sandinistas began to denounce the activities of Contras in the Rio Coco zone. The Miskitos occupied the village of San Carlos during the "Red December" (20-21 December 1982) during which several Sandinista soldiers were killed. In retaliation, the state massacred 30 Miskitos in the following days, prompting many of them to escape to Honduras to live in a difficult state of exile. A state of emergency in the Rio Coco zone was proclaimed in 1983, and lasted until 1988.[14] In 1983 the Misurasata movement, led by Brooklyn Rivera, split, with the breakaway Misura group of Stedman Fagoth allying itself more closely with the FDN, one of the first Contra commanded by Enrique Bermúdez. A subsequent autonomy statute in September 1987 largely defused Miskito resistance.

In 1992, after the Sandinistas' defeat during the elections, the Miskitos signed an agreement with the Minister of the Interior, Carlos Hurtado, creating "security zones," preparing the return of the police forces to the region and the integration of 50 Miskitos to the police force. Brooklyn Rivera, one of the Miskito guerrilla leaders, became the director of the INDERA (Nicaraguan Institute of Development of Autonomous Regions), an illegal structure regarding the 1987 law on autonomy still in force in Nicaragua. The INDERA was suppressed a few years later, allegedly because of opposition between Miskitos and other native groups.

Interim years

In the 1990 presidential election, 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 National Opposition Union (Unión Nacional Opositora, UNO), an alliance that ranged from conservatives and liberals to communists. Contrary to most pre-election polling data, Chamorro surprised Ortega and won the election. Pollsters later admitted that some of those polled had given them false information fearing retribution for expressing anti-government sentiments. In Ortega's concession speech the following day he vowed to keep "ruling from below," a reference to the power that the FSLN still wielded in various sectors. He was also quoted saying:

…We leave victorious… because we Sandinistas have spilled blood and sweat not to cling to government posts, but to bring Latin America a little dignity, a little social justice.

Daniel Ortega[3]

Ortega ran for election again, in October 1996 and November 2001, but lost on both occasions to Arnoldo Alemán and Enrique Bolaños, respectively. 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.

Ortega's policies became more moderate during his time in opposition. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he gradually reduced much of his former Marxist rhetoric in favor of an agenda of more moderate democratic socialism. His Roman Catholic faith has become more intense in recent years as well, leading Ortega to embrace a variety of socially conservative policies; in 2006 the FSLN endorsed a strict law banning all abortions in Nicaragua.

Charges of child abuse

In 1998, Daniel Ortega's stepdaughter Zoilamérica Narváez released a 48-page report describing her allegations that Ortega had systematically sexually abused her for nine years beginning when she was 11.[15] The case could not proceed in Nicaraguan courts because Ortega had immunity from prosecution as a member of parliament, and the five-year statute of limitations for sexual abuse and rape charges was judged to have been exceeded. Narváez's complaint was heard by the Inter American Human Rights Commission on March 4, 2002.

In 2006, Hillel Neuer, the executive director of UN Watch, expressed concern that election of Ortega, described as having "highly substantiated" charges of sexual abuse raised against him, to the Presidency of Nicaragua, could undermine worldwide NGO efforts against child abuse and sexual violence.[16]

Political Comeback

FSLN-PLC Alliance in the National Assembly

Ortega was instrumental in creating the controversial strategic pact between the FSLN and the Constitutional Liberal Party (Partido Liberal Constitucionalista, PLC).

The controversial alliance of Nicaragua's two major parties aimed at distributing the powers between the PLC and FSLN, and preventing other parties from rising. "El Pacto," as it is known in Nicaragua, is said to have personally benefited former presidents Ortega and Alemán greatly, while constraining then president Enrique Bolaños. One of the key accords of the pact was to lower the percentage necessary to win a presidential election in the first round from 45 percent to 35 percent, a change in electoral law that would become decisive in Ortega's favor in the 2006 elections.

2006 Presidential Election

The 2006 Nicaraguan presidential election was held on November 5 2006. FSLN presidential candidate Ortega was the victor in the November elections, having attained 37.99 percent of the votes cast. The Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) gained 28.30 percent, the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) won 27.11 percent, the Movement for Sandinista renewal (MRS) 6.29 percent and the Alternative for Change (AC) 0.29 percent. The FSLN were the party out in force to celebrate a victory the night after the election took place on November 6. Following his election, Ortega was congratulated by Hugo Chávez, the president of Venezuela, and Fidel Castro, then-president of Cuba.[17].

Herty Lewites—who was also running for president prior to his death in July 2006—suggested that Ortega's pact with Alemán had given Ortega de facto control of the bodies responsible for administering the election, and thus that Ortega would most likely have been the winner. Under the old law, Ortega would have gone to a second round against Eduardo Montealegre (he would have needed 45 percent instead of 35 percent.) International observers, including the Carter Center, judged the election to be free and fair. Ortega was congratulated by telephone by Hugo Chávez, who chanted "long live the Sandinista revolution!" The White House confirmed on January 8, 2007 that U.S. President Bush also had called Ortega to congratulate him on his election victory.


First presidency

Ortega's first presidency was controversial, touted by those sympathetic to the FSLN and vilified by those critical of its Marxist leanings. The education program for which he receives credit was criticized by others as using textbooks that contained anti-U.S. propaganda. Despite polls showing him with a comfortable lead, his first Presidency ended in an unexpected defeat. Ortega left office voluntarily, accepting the will of the voters.

Second presidency

While supporting abortion rights during his presidency during the 1980s, Ortega has since embraced the Catholic Church's position of strong opposition.[18] While non-emergency abortions have long been illegal in Nicaragua, recently even abortions "in the case where the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life" have been made illegal in the days before the election, with a six-year prison term in such cases too–a move supported by Ortega.[19]

In his first week as President of Nicaragua, Ortega met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The two heads of state toured shantytowns in Managua. Ortega told the press that the "revolutions of Iran and Nicaragua are almost twin revolutions… since both revolutions are about justice, liberty, self-determination, and the struggle against imperialism."

As of June 2007, a CID-Gallup survey published in the Managua daily La Prensa found that Ortega's approval level had dropped significantly, 26 percent of Nicaraguans having a positive image of his handling of the job, 36 percent a negative impression, and the remaining a neutral impression.

On March 6, 2008, following the 2008 Andean diplomatic crisis, Ortega announced that Nicaragua was breaking diplomatic ties with Colombia "in solidarity with the Ecuadoran people."[20] Ortega also stated, "We are not breaking relations with the Colombian people. We are breaking relations with the terrorist policy practiced by Alvaro Uribe's government."[21] The relations were restored with the resolution at a Rio Group summit held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on March 7, 2008. At the summit, Colombia's Álvaro Uribe, Ecuador's Rafael Correa, Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Ortega publicly shook hands in a show of good will. The handshakes, broadcast live throughout Latin America, appeared to be a signal that a week of military buildups and diplomatic repercussions was over. After the handshakes, Ortega said he would re-establish diplomatic ties with Colombia.[22][23]

Political offices
Preceded by:
Francisco Urcuyo
Member of the Junta of National Reconstruction
1979 – 1985
Succeeded by:
Office abolished
Preceded by:
Junta of National Reconstruction
President of Nicaragua
1985 – 1990
Succeeded by:
Violeta Chamorro
Preceded by:
Enrique Bolaños
President of Nicaragua
2007 – present


  1. Ortega wins Nicaraguan election: Nicaragua's former leader, Daniel Ortega, has won the country's presidential election BBC News. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Five facts about Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.[1] Reuters. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Ed Vulliamy. Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega; In the Lions' Den Again. [2] Commondreams.org. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  4. Hispanic Heritage in the Americas: Ortega, Daniel. Encyclopædia Britannica
  5. Iran and Nicaragua in barter deal. [3]BBC News Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  6. Nicaragua-Venezuela Talk Cooperation. [4]Prensa Latina quote "… Government minister and first lady, Rosario Murillo." Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Philip Williams, "Dual Transition from Authoritarian Rule: Popular and Electoral Democracy in Nicaragua." Comparative Politics 26(2) (January 1994): 177
  8. International Court Of Justice. Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua. (Nicaragua V. United States of America) (United Nations Press, 2000. ISBN 9210708261), 512
  9. Timothy C. Brown. When the Ak-47s Fall Silent: Revolutionaries, Guerrillas, and the Dangers of Peace. (Hoover Institute Press, 2000. ISBN 081799842X), 162
  10. 'The Sandinistas won't submit to free elections' Article from "Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting"]fair.org. November 1987 Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  11. Aid to the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance. October 1987. [5] U.S. Department of State Bulletin Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  12. Jamie Glazov, "The Black Book of the Sandinistas", November 21, 2006, FrontPage Magazine. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  13. Vern Asleson, Nicaragua: Those Passed By. (Galde Press, 2004. ISBN 1931942161)
  14. Gilles Bataillon, « Cambios culturales y sociopolíticos en las comunidades Mayangnas y Miskitos del río Bocay y del alto río Coco, Nicaragua (1979-2000) », Journal de la Société des Américanistes, 2001, tome 87, On line (Spanish) Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  15. Isabel Hilton. "The sins of Nicaragua's fathers." 1999-04-19 [6] BBC News Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  16. "Nicaraguan Vote Could Send Wrong Message on Child Abuse." 2006-11-03 [7] Human Rights Tribune Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  17. Duncan Kennedy, November 8, 2006, BBC Article Second chance for Nicaragua's OrtegaBBC News. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  18. Nicaragua brings in abortion ban: Nicaraguan President Enrique Bolaños has signed into law a ban on all abortions, even in cases when a woman's life is judged to be at risk BBC news. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  19. Kristen B. Shelby, October 27, 2006, Abortion Outlawed in Nicaragua Ten Days Before Controversial Elections upsidedownworld.org. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  20. "Nicaragua breaks diplomatic relations with Colombia" CNN.com.Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  21. Xuequan Mu. Nicaragua breaks off relations with Colombian gov't. [8] Xinhua News. Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  22. Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela Agree to End Border Crisis VOA 2008-03-07 Retrieved September 20, 2008.
  23. Leaders say Colombia crisis over BBC News. 2008-03-08 Retrieved September 20, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Asleson, Vern. Nicaragua: Those Passed By. Lakeville MN: Galde Press, 2004. ISBN 1931942161
  • Brown, Timothy C. When the Ak-47s Fall Silent: Revolutionaries, Guerrillas, and the Dangers of Peace. Hoover Institute Press, 2000 . ISBN 081799842X
  • International Court Of Justice. Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua (Nicaragua V. United States of America). United Nations Press, 2000. ISBN 9210708261

External links

All links retrieved January 25, 2024.


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