- In-Country Power
- International Power
- Military Strength
- Special Skill: Taunting the Titan (USA)
- Official Title: President
- Government: Established democracy
- Years Left in Office: To 2012; no re-election possible
- Political Classification: Left
- Education: High school
- Age: 73 (born November 11, 1945)
Daniel Ortega Facts and Information
- Nicaragua is underdeveloped but is quickly catching up, especially with a new trans-oceanic canal on the horizon.
- Daniel Ortega leans way left, spent some time with Fidel Castro, and was best buds with Hugo Chávez.
- Ortega and the United States are not huge fans of each other (probably for above reason).
- Ortega is on his third presidential term now after being defeated three times between his first and second.
Nicaragua may be small but do not let that fool you like David fooled Goliath. This small country has had a much bigger role in American affairs than its size or economy would warrant. Nicaragua is the poorest country in Central America and severely underdeveloped. It is still covered in jungles, volcanoes, and lakes. The country has debt from civil war and hurricanes. It relies on foreign aid, but after accusations of election fraud in 2008, it lost most of it. Despite these factors the 2012 GDP grew by 4% and they are on the road to reducing their debt. Being a part of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) has helped their economy immensely, also. Nicaragua has been a thorn in the United States side, and eyesore in their “backyard” for quite a while now. It might have something to do with their leftist leanings. The current president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega spent some time in Cuba for a couple different reasons we will get to later and he became buddy-buddy with Hugo Chávez. This was at a time of anti-Communism for the United States. They wanted to keep Communism out of Nicaragua at all costs so they got involved in this tiny country. The US loved hanging out in its own “backyard.” The US hated Nicaragua because of its lean to the left, their human rights violations, and the fact that they called the US a worldwide dictatorship. These two countries just do not see eye to eye on much. Most of the trouble seems to come back to one man, Daniel Ortega.
Revolutionary hero or authoritarian ruler. President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua has both allies and enemies but many of his enemies are former allies. Ortega has been a dominant force in Nicaragua for the past three decades. Waiting sixteen years between presidential terms can do that. He was president in 1984 and elected again in 2006 after several defeats. The fourth try is the charm, right? Ortega was born in 1946 to a shoemaker and his political views seem to be hereditary. Like father like son. His parents opposed the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Debayle and had been imprisoned. Daniel Ortega would be one of the revolutionaries to replace Anastasio Somoza.
Ortega attended Central American University in Managua before starting his political career. His career started by tunneling into the underground organization Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in 1963. The Sandinistas took him to Cuba to learn guerrilla warfare techniques from Fidel Castro’s Marxist-Leninist government. He moved up the ladder quickly to become the head of the FSLN’s urban resistance campaign against Somoza. However, he immediately fell off the ladder when he was arrested for robbing the Bank of America with a machine gun. FSLN needed funds for the revolution. Ortega spent seven long years in jail for this offense. During his time in jail he was tortured. He and other Sandinistas were released in exchange for hostages that had been seized by FSLN guerillas.
The Somoza family was militarily trained by the US. The US first became involved in Nicaragua in 1909 when they supported a rebellion against President Jose Santos Zelaya who was an opponent of US policies. After many years and negotiations with the US, Somoza became head of the National Guard and then became president in 1937, staying in power until 1979. However, his rule was more of a rightist military dictatorship than a presidency. Somoza led an oppressive regime against the FSLN killing many guerrillas including one of their leaders. The US fully supported Somoza until this time and then President Jimmy Carter threatened to cut off aid unless the human rights violations stopped. The Nicaraguan National Guard was accused of human rights violations and the United Nations passed a resolution condemning the Nicaraguan government.
The tides turned in 1978 after a bitter armed struggle with 50,000 casualties. Somoza fled to the United States and the Sandinistas took power. They did not inherit the country in its original state, but a country devastated by war. The Sandinistas formed a five person Junta of National Reconciliation. Five years later, in 1984, Ortega was elected president. President Ronald Reagan refused to accept the election because of Ortega’s Marxist ideals. He instead supported the Contras, the armed counter-revolutionary groups. The Sandinista government was able to improve Nicaragua during their reign in the areas of health, nationalization, wealth redistribution, literacy programs, and land reform.
The U.S. tried to help the Nicaraguan economy after the revolution, but the Sandinistas supplied the leftist El Salvadoran rebels with weapons instead. The US used funds from illegally selling weapons to Iran to finance the Contras. The Contras refused to accept the election of Ortega. The US imposed economic sanctions and tried to damage the economy by mining Nicaragua’s harbors. A civil war started killing 30,000 Nicaraguans. In the US this scandal became the Iran Contra Affair.
President Ortega did all he could but Contra war and the U.S. Sanctions did not help with economic reconstruction. Much to everyone’s surprise and especially Ortega’s, he was defeated by liberal opposition candidate Violeta Chamorro in 1990. She was in the Union of National Opposition (UNO). He accepted defeat gracefully but claimed the Sandinistas would continue to be in power by controlling huge groups of people such as the Nicaraguan army and trade unions. Ortega’s losing streak continued in 1996 and 2001. In 1996 Ortega was defeated by the conservative candidate Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo. He was again defeated in 2001 but was able to win 42 percent of the vote. The Sardinista movement struggled during this time because of allegations of corruption and deep splits. People started to lose faith in Ortega and the party. The accusation of Ortega repeatedly raping his step-daughter sure did not help matters either. Lucky for him, being in the National Assembly made him immune from criminal prosecution.
The time in between his presidential terms changed him. He moved away from his Marxist-Leninist views and toward democratic socialism. He was Roman Catholic so he was actually socially conservative going so far as banning abortion in Nicaragua. Today abortion laws have gotten even more extreme and are illegal in any form. A six year imprisonment is the punishment for abortion.
2006 was finally Ortega’s year. It may have had something to do with his alliance with the Constitutional Liberation Party (PLC). This alliance made it harder for other parties to rise and changed the vote necessary to win the presidential election from 45% to 35%. The change significantly helped Ortega and hurt the current president. Ortega gained the support of the poor and defeated conservative candidate Eduardo Montealegre. By this time people were leaning to the left again and ready to get out of poverty and corruption. His wife Rosario Murillo helped him win the election by making him into more of a socialist. His first year in office was terrific. He kept all of his promises, but his second year he started to restrict news coverage, deny journalists access to government reports, and align himself with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. People started to question his motives. The icing on the cake was when he announced that he wanted to amend the constitution so that the president can be reelected to a second term. The Nicaraguan Supreme Court lifted the constitutional ban and Ortega ran in the 2011 presidential election. Ortega won with a whopping 60% of the vote. However, some accused him of election fraud.
The United States and the European Union did not like any of this stuff going on in Nicaragua so they froze aid to the government. Relations between the US and Nicaragua were usually strained during the time of Ortega because of his leftist leanings and Marxist-Leninist views. Hugo Chávez was waiting in the wings to help by giving them loans and cheap oil. Even the Sandinistas stopped supporting Ortega because they saw him as the overly powerful hypocritical man he was. He dropped his revolutionary ideals and started his own fiefdom. Ortega went as far as joining the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas. This is a group with socialist views that wants to combine the countries of South America into one giant nation. He chose this organization because it was fair, Christian, and advanced. Ortega saw capitalism as dying and God punishing the United States with the financial crisis for trying to impose its economic principles on poor countries. God rewarded Nicaragua by increasing their GDP. Ortega and the United States could just never see eye to eye.
When Ortega visited Iran after his 2006 inauguration, he saw many similarities between the revolutions of Nicaragua and Iran. He saw them both campaigning for justice, liberty, self-determination, and the struggle against imperialism. Ortega reduced high levels of poverty and inequality in Nicaragua through low-interest loans, training for female micro-entrepreneurs, scholarships, medicine, and many other programs.
Nicaragua is involved with many other countries also. They seem to have many problems with Colombia. During the 2008 Andean diplomatic crisis Ortega broke ties with Colombia in support of Ecuador. Ortega wanted it to be clear that he was not against the Colombian people but against the government’s terrorist policy. After a week however, Ortega shook hands with the Colombia’s president Álvaro Uribe and it was all over. Ortega went on to offend Colombia later when he expressed condolences for the death of FARC guerrilla leader Manuel Marulanda who was battling against inequality in Colombia. Now Ortega is battling with Colombia over maritime limits. These are important because of the natural resources located in these areas. There is plenty of oil and Nicaragua wants to lay claim to it. While Ortega is not so good at keeping peace in Colombia, he is good at pleasing both Taiwan and China. Nicaragua has relations with both countries, especially China right now. China is looking to build a bigger and better Panama Canal, but in Nicaragua. Chinese billionaire Wang Jing and Ortega’s son met and discussed the $40 billion project recently. This project would create a huge boost to the pitiful Nicaraguan economy. It would bring so much more trade through the area, as the canal would connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Ortega is also a trail blazer being the second country, the first being Russia, to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia as being independent of Georgia. He even supported Muammar Gaddafi during the Libyan civil war. Not many leaders wanted to support that crazy guy. One positive relationship between the United States and Nicaragua is one of drugs. The U.S. listed Nicaragua as a major drug-trafficking center. Nicaragua actually asked the United States for more resources to assist the fight against drug trafficking.
President Ortega has had a bumpy ride to power, but now he seems to know what he is doing. He may be on his last term now, but do not hold your breath. He could very well end up amending the constitution once again to allow him to run one more time. Ortega is a man who knows what he wants and gets it, except for those three elections he lost. If he gets his way with the new canal, he could be the head of a major up and coming country.
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