Daniel Ortega life and biography

Daniel Ortega picture, image, poster

Daniel Ortega biography

Date of birth : 1945-11-11
Date of death : -
Birthplace : La Libertad, Nicaragua
Nationality : Nicaraguan
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-07-21
Credited as : Politician and revolutionary, President of the Republic of Nicaragua, World's political leader

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Daniel Ortega, also known as Jose Daniel Ortega born November 11, 1945 in La Libertad, Nicaragua is a Nicaraguan politician, revolutionary and current President of Nicaragua.

Daniel Ortega joined the revolutionary Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista Liberación National--FSLN) in 1963, dedicating himself to the overthrow of the oppressive Somoza dictatorship, which had been governing Nicaragua since the 1930s. After years of imprisonment and exile for his revolutionary activities, Ortega led the Sandinista revolution, which resulted in the collapse of the Somoza regime in 1979. Serving as president of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990, throughout the years of bloody conflict between the leftist Sandinistas and the U.S.-backed Contra rebels, Ortega secured himself a position as both an international icon and an influential leader of the Sandinista movement and Nicaraguan politics.

Learned Rebellion at an Early Age

José Daniel Ortega Saavedra was born on November 11, 1945, in the small Nicaraguan mining community of La Libertad. He was the third son of Don Daniel Ortega, who worked as an accountant for a local mining company, and Lidia Saavedra Ortega. When the mine closed down, the family moved to Juigalpa, closer to Nicaragua's capital Managua, where his father began an import-export business and his mother opened a bakery. They had more children, two of which would also become Sandinista revolutionaries: Humberto (born 1948) and Camilo (born 1950). Camilo later died fighting in the revolution and Humberto became a top military strategist, appointed minister of defense by the revolutionary government in 1979.

Politically influenced by his parents, who had both been imprisoned under the Somoza dictatorship, Ortega became involved in politics at a young age. He attended private and Catholic schools, developing a deep devotion to his religion, but he received much of his education at home where his parents tried to thwart the widespread American influences stemming from the 24-year U.S. occupation of Nicaragua between 1909 and 1933. They shared stories of former Sandinista leader Augusto César Sandino (after whom the Sandinistas were named), who had resisted the U.S. occupation until his murder in 1934 when General Anastasio Somoza Garcia seized power in a military coup. In a 1997 interview with CNN, Ortega described his earliest motivations: "I had a Christian upbringing, so I would say that my main early influences were a combination of Christianity, which I saw as a spur to change, and Sandinism, represented by the resistance against the Yankee invasion."

After the assassination of Anastasio Somoza Garcia in 1956, Luis Somoza Debayle assumed his father's presidency and Anastasio Somoza Debayle took over the national guard, launching a major reprisal campaign during which political opponents were tortured and imprisoned, the press was censored, and civil liberties were suspended. This eventually ignited the opposition movement. Ortega took part in a widespread student struggle against the regime while still in high school, participating in protests organized by the Nicaraguan Patriotic Youth (Juventud Patriótico Nicaragüense--JPN), for which he was captured and tortured in 1960. He went on to establish the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Youth (Juventud Revolucionaria Nicaragüense--JRN) with FSLN's Marxist founders Carlos Fonseca Amador and Tomás Borge Martínez. He was arrested again in 1961, but this did not deter him from continuing his revolutionary activities.

Rose to Position of Power

Ortega began studying law at Managua's Jesuit-run Universidad Centro-Americana, but he soon gave up his formal education to follow in Sandino's footsteps and become a full-time revolutionary. Without any civic channels through which they could achieve change, leaders of the Sandinista movement came to the conclusion that the only way to overthrow the Samoza dictatorship was through armed struggle. The success of the Cuban Revolution had a huge impact on the Nicaraguan revolutionaries, with Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos acting as their main role models. They were also spurred on by the wars in Algeria and Vietnam. Ortega joined the underground FSLN in 1963 and helped organize the Federation of Secondary Students (Federación de Estudiantil Revolucionario--FES). He was again arrested and tortured for his activities. He went on to co-found the official paper of the revolutionary student front, El Estudiante, and was named to the FSLN's top policy council Dirección Nacional by 1965.

Ortega was put in charge of the FSLN's urban guerrilla wing, the Internal Front, in 1966. During this time, Anastasio Somoza Debayle was elected president and remained as director of the National Guard, giving him absolute political and military control over Nicaragua. As corruption and political repression increased, opposition to the regime grew, igniting a spiraling cycle of response and counter-response that threatened to destroy the country's economy and society. Ortega's first assignment was to rob a branch of Bank of America, an effort to secure funds to arm the revolution. The group was also responsible for the 1967 assassination of Gonzalo Lacayo, an alleged National Guard torturer. It wasn't long before the Samoza's National Guard captured Ortega, and he was imprisoned at the El Modelo jail on the outskirts of Managua. Political prisoners were treated with appalling cruelty, deprived of food and often forced to stand all day. This likely had a permanent effect on Ortega's personality, which has been described as "lonely, solitary, mistrustful, and hard" by his former deputy Sergio Ramirez. Searching for an outlet during his incarceration, he began to write poetry and caught the eye of fellow poet Rosario Murillo, who visited him frequently in jail and later became his wife.

When Sandinista commandos kidnapped Somoza's lackeys and foreign diplomats in 1974, Ortega was released, after seven years in prison, and exiled to Cuba as part of a hostage exchange. While there, Ortega affirmed the similarities between Cuba and Nicaragua, likening the Samoza regime to the Batista regime, both of which were backed by the United States. "I really felt transported to a country that was challenging imperialism, that was putting forward an alternative to capitalism," he told CNN in a 1997 interview for their "Cold War" documentary series. "I mean, it was challenging world capitalism and also the heavy weight of international imperialism. And one came face to face with these very spiritual, moral people who had a great fighting spirit." Inspired by this desire for social change, he returned to Nicaragua four years later to fight in the war against the government, leading one of the three FSLN guerilla groups.

Led Sandinistas to Victory

With weapons being smuggled into Nicaragua from Cuba, the FSLN was able to take up an armed struggle which led to the resignation of Samoza in July of 1979. Ortega was one of the leading commanders of the forces that ousted Samoza and soon became the head of the ruling junta for the Government of National Reconstruction. He went to Washington and the United Nations that same year in an attempt to neutralize a confrontation with the United States. "[We took power] with great enthusiasm and a great desire to transform the country, but also with the worry that we would have to confront the United States, something which we regarded as inevitable," Ortega explained to CNN. "It's not that we fell into a kind of geopolitical fatalism with regard to the United States, but historically speaking the United States has been interfering in our country since the last century, and so we said 'The Yankees will inevitably interfere. If we try to become independent, the United States will intervene.'" While visiting with President Carter, Ortega requested economic aid and material support to build up a new army. However, the United States perceived Nicaragua's communist ties a threat and took an opposing position to the Sandinista government. So Ortega turned to Algeria and the Soviet Union for support.

In November of 1984 the Sandinistas were victorious in the country's first democratic national elections, and Ortega became Nicaragua's president with 60 percent of the vote. 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 Contra rebels--a coalition of dissatisfied peasants, former Sandinista allies, and Somozistas. Nicaragua's civil war had become a cold war standoff, with the Marxist-Leninist vanguard supporting the Sandinista government and the United States supporting the Contra rebels, who unleashed armed guerillas across the countryside. The result was a cruel and costly civil war.

Arguably it was the five-year-long U.S. trade embargo that succeeded in strangling the Nicaraguan economy and undermining the Sandinistas, bringing the nation scarcity, rationing, and endless lines which the Nicaraguan people would associate with Ortega's rule for decades to come. Within a few years, though, U.S. support for the Contras was shaken by the Iran scandal, during which it emerged that Oliver North was a lynchpin in a CIA scheme to sell weapons to Iran illegally, using the proceeds to fund the Contra activities. But it didn't undo the damage done by years of civil war and the U.S. embargo. Desperate for legitimacy, Ortega was compelled to accept a peace plan and elections negotiated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sánchez, launched in February of 1987. The FSLN and the Contras signed a ceasefire agreement in March of 1988.

Relinquished Presidency to Chamorro

In the February 1990 elections under the Arias agreement, with international monitors in place, Ortega and the FSLN lost overwhelmingly to the UNO (Union of National Opposition), a right-centrist coalition led by Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, whose husband, Pedro Chamorro, was assassinated by the Samoza regime in 1978 for voicing dissent against the Somoza dictatorship. Ortega relinquished the presidency the following April, blaming the U.S. attack on Panama for his defeat. "It wasn't a completely free election because there was open interference from the United States, from President Bush, in the form of financial and political support to our opponents, as well as threats that the blockade would not be lifted and all the rest of it if UNO didn't win. The decisive moment was the invasion of Panama," he explained to CNN.

Since losing the 1990 election, Ortega has remained an influential leader in the Sandinista movement and Nicaraguan politics, remodeling himself a more democratic leader with the intention of meeting capitalism halfway. The FSLN has remained his personal tool, using strikes and the army to indirectly influence the politics of Nicaragua. However, the FSLN leadership has become more corrupt and undisciplined with time and Ortega's subsequent bids for office have all ended in defeat. His platform remained similar to his old model--defending socialist ideals and fighting for a just and free world--but in line with the new reality. Still, he lost an election bid in 1996, with 39 percent of the vote to Arnoldo Alemán Lacayo's 49 percent.

Ortega faced a personal defeat in 1998 when his adopted stepdaughter Zoilamerica Navaez, a militant Sandinista, accused him of sexually abusing her from 1978, when she was eleven, until her marriage in 1990. Ortega and his wife vehemently dismissed the accusation and supporters branded the incident a CIA plot. The incident threatened to destroy his political career. When he toured the barrios, Ortega required an assembly of guards to divide angry loyalists from protesters brandishing placards that read: "Ortega Violador" or "Ortega Rapist." However, he was never prosecuted and the case was dismissed in 2003, when the Nicaraguan Supreme Court upheld a judge's verdict that Navaez had waited too long to pursue the allegations.

Lost Third Bid for Presidency

Many predicted that the scandal would be his downfall, finally accomplishing what Somoza, Reagan, and the Contras never could. But he bounced back when the corruption of the conservative Alemán government enabled him to take up his cause once again, directing his campaign at the angry and dejected of Nicaragua, the world's poorest Spanish-speaking country. Ortega showed a significant lead the summer before his third election bid in 2001. However, he conceded defeat with 42 percent of the vote to Enrique Bolaños's 56 percent. His third loss could be attributed to a number of factors, including allegations of corruption made against him in relation to the last days of his government in the 1980s, the accusation made by his stepdaughter, and U.S. interference in the election campaign, including critical statements made about him by the State Department which linked him to terrorism and highlighted his ties to both the Libyan leader, Moammar Gaddafi, and Cuban President Fidel Castro.

Ortega's critics have given him his due for supporting the electoral process in his effort to reclaim the presidency. "Although he's obsessed with his quest for power, he's committed to doing it democratically," former FSLN Minister of Housing Miguel Vigil told National Catholic Reporter. "More than any other elected politician we've had in this country, Daniel has a democratic spirit at heart."

In the 2006 elections, Ortega ran for president once again. His political style had changed greatly since the 1980s, when he often traveled the country in a military jeep, wearing combat fatigues and sporting a machine gun. In 2006, he traveled in a silver Range Rover or a Mercedes SUV and campaigned in white button-down shirts and jeans, with a Nicaraguan flag around his shoulders. Ortega repeatedly promised to pursue political reconciliation. His campaign song was a Spanish hip-hop version of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance," with a chorus promising reconciliation and unity. For a running mate, he chose Jamie Morales, an ex-banker and Contra supporter whose mansion Ortega seized after the revolution. (A land swap had reportedly settled their long dispute over the mansion.)

Ortega said that he would respect civil liberties and the economic policies enacted in the 1990s and 2000s, such as a free-trade pact with the United States and the privatization of formerly state-owned businesses. He said he would work to attract foreign investment to deal with Nicaragua's enduring poverty (four out of five Nicaraguans earn $2 a day or less). In the 1980s, Ortega had distanced himself from the church and often fought with it. But by 2006, he had become a devout Roman Catholic who regularly attended mass, asked the church to forgive past Sandinista excesses, and befriended Nicaragua's Catholic Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, who had opposed Ortega's 1980s government.

Ortega won the five-way election with about 38 percent of the vote, ahead of Eduardo Eduardo Montealegre, who was second with about 29 percent. He was sworn in as president in January of 2007. His inaugural ceremony was filled with the sort of populist rhetoric he had embraced in the past but avoided during the campaign. A recording of an angry Ortega speech from the 1980s played over loudspeakers, and Ortega appeared with two other leftist Latin American presidents, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, who gave speeches supporting him. Ortega laid out his governing agenda in an extremely long speech: he promised to forge economic ties with other left-wing governments in South and Central America and pledged to provide electricity to impoverished areas of Nicaragua. "Our agenda is unfinished," he said (as quoted by Max Blumenthal on TheNation.com). "When we left the illiteracy rate was 13 percent. Today it is 35 percent."

The next day, Ortega, Chavez, Morales and Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura signed a pact implementing Chavez's economic cooperation project, which included $30 million in debt forgiveness and low-interest loans for Nicaragua, 100,000 barrels of low-cost oil, and more than two dozen new electric plants. In August, Ortega reached out to another developing nation estranged from the United States: Iran agreed to finance a $350 million port on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast, construct 10,000 new houses in the country, and help build a $120 million electrical plant. The power plants were meant to help alleviate an electrical crisis in Nicaragua, which suffered daily blackouts during much of 2007. Ortega also planned to ask the center-left leader of Brazil, Luis Inacio Lula de Silva, for help combating the power crisis.

Daniel Ortega won the re-election on November 6th, 2011 and heads to his second mandate tp stay in the office in Nicaragua, despite reports of voting problems. Ortega has 64% of the votes, while his nearest challenger Fabio Gadea scorred only 29%.

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