|President of Nicaragua|
10 January 2007
|Vice President||Jaime Morales Carazo
|Preceded by||Enrique Bolaños|
10 January 1985 – 25 April 1990
|Vice President||Sergio Ramírez Mercado|
|Succeeded by||Violeta Chamorro|
|Coordinator of the Junta of
National Reconstruction of Nicaragua
18 July 1979 – 10 January 1985
|Preceded by||Francisco Urcuyo (Acting President)|
|Succeeded by||Himself (President)|
|Born||José Daniel Ortega Saavedra
(1945-11-11) 11 November 1945
La Libertad, Nicaragua
|Spouse(s)||Rosario Murillo (1979–present)|
Born into a working-class family, from an early age Ortega opposed ruling President Anastasio Somoza Debayle, widely recognized as a dictator, and became involved in the underground movement against his regime. Joining the Sandinistas, he also travelled to Cuba to receive training in guerilla warfare from Fidel Castro’s Marxist-Leninist government. After the Nicaraguan Revolution resulted in the overthrow and exile of Somoza’s government, Ortega became leader of the ruling multipartisan Junta of National Reconstruction. A Marxist-Leninist, his first period in office was characterized by a controversial program of nationalization, land reform, wealth redistribution and literacy programs.
Ortega’s relationship with the United States was never very cordial, due to U.S. support for Somoza prior to the revolution. Although the U.S. supplied post-revolution Nicaragua with tens of millions of dollars in economic aid, relations broke down when the Sandinistas supplied weapons to leftist El Salvadoran rebels (something which Ortega later admitted occurred). His government was opposed by the Contras in a vicious civil war; the Contras were funded by the Reagan administration of the United States. A joint peace proposal by the Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright and Ronald Reagan helped precipitate a peace agreement at a meeting of five Central American chiefs of state in July 1987, which won Costa Rican President Oscar Arias the Nobel Peace Prize. This led to free elections in which Ortega was defeated by Violeta Chamorro in the 1990 presidential election, but he remained an important figure in Nicaraguan opposition politics, gradually moderating in his political position from Marxism–Leninism to democratic socialism.
Ortega was an unsuccessful candidate for president in 1996 and 2001, before winning the 2006 presidential election. In office, he made alliances with fellow Latin American socialists, such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, and under his leadership, Nicaragua joined the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas.
Ortega was born in La Libertad, department of Chontales, Nicaragua. His parents, Daniel Ortega Cerda and Lidia Saavedra, were opposed 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 stated 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. He also had a sister named Germania who is also deceased.
Ortega was arrested for political activities at the age of 15, and quickly joined the then-underground Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). He was imprisoned in 1967 for taking part in robbing a branch of the Bank of America while 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 Managua, he wrote poems, one of which he titled “I Never Saw Managua When Miniskirts Were in Fashion”. During his imprisonment, Ortega was severely tortured. After his release, Ortega was exiled to Cuba, where he received several months of guerrilla training. He later returned to Nicaragua secretly.
Ortega married Rosario Murillo in 1979 in a secret ceremony. and moved to Costa Rica with her three children from a previous marriage. Ortega remarried Murillo in 2005 to have the marriage recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. The couple has eight children, three of them together. She is currently the government’s spokeswoman and a government minister, among other positions. Ortega adopted stepdaughter Zoilamérica Narváez in 1986, through a court case.
Sandinista revolution (1979–1990)
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, businessman Alfonso Robelo, and Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, the widow of a murdered journalist. The FSLN came to dominate the junta, Robelo and Chamorro resigned, and in 1981 Ortega became the coordinator of the Junta. As the only member of the FSLN National Directorate in the Junta, he was the effective leader of the country. The FSLN embarked upon an ambitious programme of social reform upon attaining power. 5 million acres of land were redistributed to about 100,000 families, a literacy drive was launched, and health improvements were carried out which got rid of polio and reduced other diseases. The Sandinista government implemented a policy of forced conscription for all men aged 17 to 35. The Sandinistas used this army to help guerrilla groups throughout Central America. Ortega pursued a policy of centrally planned economy and nationalization. Ortega took a very hard line against opposition to his policies: On 21 February 1981, the Sandinista army killed 7 Miskito Indians and wounded 17. Forced displacement has also been documented to have occurred with the native population: 10,000 individuals had been moved by 1982. Thousands of Indians took refuge in Honduras and 14,000 were imprisoned in Nicaragua. Anthropologist Gilles Bataillon termed this “politics of ethnocide” in Nicaragua. The Indians formed two rebel groups – the Misura and Misurasata. They were joined in the north by Nicaraguan Democratic Force (FDN) and in the south by former Sandinistas and peasantry who under the leadership of Edén Pastora were resisting forced collectivization. In 1980 the Sandinista government launched the massive Nicaraguan Literacy Campaign, and claimed the illiteracy rate fell from 50% to 13% in the span of five months; these figures are disputed, as many “unteachable” illiterates were omitted from the statistics, and because many people declared literate turned out to be unable to read or write a simple sentence. The UNESCO rewarded Nicaragua the Nadezhda K. Krupskaya price in recognition of its efforts. The FSLN also focused on improving the Nicaraguan health system, particularly through vaccination campaigns and the construction of public hospitals, and halved child mortality to 40 deaths per thousand.
In 1981, United States President Ronald Reagan accused the FSLN of joining with Soviet-backed Cuba in supporting Marxist revolutionary movements in other Latin American countries such as El Salvador. People within the Reagan administration authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to begin financing, arming and training rebels, some of whom were former officers from Somoza’s National Guard, as anti-Sandinista guerrillas. These were known collectively as the Contras. This also led to one of the largest political scandals in US history, (the Iran Contra Affair), when Oliver North and several members of the Reagan administration defied the Boland Amendment, selling arms to Iran and then using the proceeds to fund the Contras. Soon the country was in a civil war that claimed 30,000 Nicaraguan lives. The tactics used by the Sandinista government to fight the Contras have been criticized by some historians for their suppression of civil rights. On 15 March 1982, the Junta declared a state of siege, which allowed it to close independent radio stations, suspend the right of association and limit the freedom of trade unions. Nicaragua’s Permanent Commission on Human Rights condemned Sandinista human rights violations. However, some historians accuse the Contras of having a far poorer Human Rights Record during the same period, with documented cases of murder, rape and torture used to terrorize the rural population. That the Contras engaged in destruction of schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure, in order to disrupt the social reform programs of the Sandinistas.
At the 1984 general election Ortega won the presidency with 67% of the vote and took office on 10 January 1985. International observers judged the election to be the first free election held in the country in more than half a century. A report by an Irish governmentary 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 US 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.” However some people described the election as “rigged”. According to a detailed study, since the 1984 election was for posts subordinate to the Sandinista Directorate, the elections were no more subject to approval by vote than the Central Committee of the Communist Party is in countries of the East Bloc.
33 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 (a few of which were disrupted by FSLN supporters) and blasted the Sandinistas in harsh terms. Most foreign and independent observers noted this pluralism in debunking the Reagan administration charge—ubiquitous in the US media—that it was a “Soviet-style sham” election. Some opposition parties boycotted the election, allegedly under pressure from US embassy officials, and so it was denounced as being unfair by the Reagan administration. Reagan thus maintained that he was justified to continue supporting what he referred to as the Contras’ “democratic resistance”.
Interim years (1990–2007)
In the 1990 presidential election, Ortega lost his reelection bid to Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, his former colleague in the junta. Chamorro was supported by the US and a 14-party anti-Sandinista alliance known as the National Opposition Union (Unión Nacional Oppositora, UNO), an alliance that ranged from conservatives and liberals to communists. Contrary to what most observers expected, Chamorro shocked Ortega and won the election. 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 also stressed his belief that the Sandinistas had the goal of bringing “dignity” to Latin America, and not necessarily to hold on to government posts.
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 of US dollars) became the private property of various FSLN officials, including Ortega himself.
Ortega’s policies became more moderate during his time in opposition, and he gradually changed much of his former Marxist stance in favor of an agenda of democratic socialism. His Roman Catholic faith has become more public 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.
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 is aimed at distributing power 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 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% to 35%, a change in electoral law that would become decisive in Ortega’s favor in the 2006 elections.
2006 presidential election
The FSLN also won 38 seats in the congressional elections, becoming the party with the largest representation in parliament. The split in the Constitutionalist Liberal Party helped to allow the FSLN to become the largest party in Congress; however, the Sandinista vote had a minuscule split between the FSLN and MRS, and that the liberal party combined is larger than the Frente Faction. In 2010, several liberal congressmen raised accusations about the FSLN presumably attempting to buy votes to pass constitutional reforms that would allow Ortega to run for office for the 6th time since 1984.
Second presidency (2007–present)
|Presidential styles of
|Reference style||Daniel Ortega, Presidente de la República de Nicaragua Daniel Ortega, President of the Republic of Nicaragua|
|Spoken style||Presidente Ortega President Ortega|
|Alternative style||Señor Presidente Mister President|
Soon after his inauguration, Ortega paid an official visit to Iran and met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 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.” Since the start of his second presidency, various measures have been introduced to combat hunger and to improve access to healthcare, education, credit, and social security. In addition, other reforms have been carried out, including an enhancement of labour rights, the introduction of low-interest loans and training for female micro-entrepreneurs in rural areas, and the distribution of transport subsidies, scholarships, medicine, land titles, and housing materials throughout the population. Altogether, these policies have helped to reduce high levels of poverty and inequality in Nicaragua.
In June 2008 the Nicaraguan Supreme Court disqualified the MRS and the Conservative Party from participation in municipal elections. In November, 2008, the Supreme Electoral Council received national and international criticism following irregularities in municipal elections, but agreed to review results for Managua only, while the opposition demanded a nationwide review. For the first time since 1990, the Council decided not to allow national or international observers to witness the election. Instances of intimidation, violence, and harassment of opposition political party members and NGO representatives have been recorded. Official results show Sandinista candidates winning 94 of the 146 municipal mayoralties, compared to 46 for the main opposition Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC). The opposition claimed that marked ballots were dumped and destroyed, that party members were refused access to some of the vote counts and that tallies from many polling places were altered. As a result of the fraud allegations, the European Union suspended $70m of aid, and the US $64m.
With the late-2000s recession, Ortega in 2011 characterised capitalism as in its “death throes” and portrayed the Bolivarian Alternative for the People of Our America (ALBA) is the most advanced, most Christian and fairest project. He also said God was punishing the United States with the financial crisis for trying to impose its economic principles on poor countries and said God was rewarding Nicaragua with an increase in GDP (PPP) to $2,600 per-capita from $1,800 a decade ago. “It’s incredible that in the most powerful country in the world, which spends billions of dollars on brutal wars … people do not have enough money to stay in their homes.”
During an interview with David Frost for the Al Jazeera English programme Frost Over The World in March 2009, Ortega suggested that he would like to change the constitution to allow him to run again for president. In Judicial Decision 504, issued on October 19, 2009, the Supreme Court of Justice of Nicaragua declared portions of Articles 147 and 178 of the Constitution of Nicaragua inapplicable; these provisions concerned the eligibility of candidates for president, vice-president, mayor, and vice-mayor—a decision that had the effect of allowing Ortega to run for reelection in 2011.
For this decision, the Sandinista magistrates formed the required quorum by excluding the opposition magistrates and replacing them with Sandinista substitutes, violating the Nicaraguan constitution. Opposing parties, the church and human rights groups in Nicaragua denounced the decision.
While supporting abortion rights during his presidency during the 1980s, Ortega has since embraced the Catholic Church’s position of strong opposition. While non-emergency abortions have long been illegal in Nicaragua, recently even abortions “in the case where the pregnancy endangers the mother’s life”, otherwise known as therapeutic abortions have been made illegal in the days before the 2006 election, with a six-year prison term in such cases, too—a move supported by Ortega.
Ortega himself denies that the abortion legislation outlaws medical procedures necessary to save the woman’s life if they result in the termination of pregnancy. “The medical Procedural Code, he says, is not affected by the law, and requires doctors to do what is necessary to save a woman’s life if it is threatened by conditions related to her pregnancy.” He claims that the accusations that the abortion laws outlaw medical procedures necessary to save the life of the mother are part of “a media war”.
Ortega was re-elected president with a vote on November 6 and confirmation on November 16, 2011. In January 2014 the National Assembly, dominated by the FSLN, approved constitutional amendments that abolished term limits for the presidency and allowed a president to run for an unlimited number of five-year terms. Although billed as a measure to ensure stability, critics charged that the amendments threatened Nicaraguan democracy.
As of 2016, Ortega’s family owns three of the nine free-to-air television channels in Nicaragua, and controls a fourth (the public Channel 6). Four of the remaining five are controlled by Mexican mogul Ángel González, and are generally considered to be aligned with Ortega’s ruling FSLN party. There are no government restrictions on Internet use; the Ortega administration attempted to gain complete control over online media in 2015, but failed due to opposition from civil society, political parties, and private organizations.
In June 2016, the Nicaraguan supreme court ruled to oust Eduardo Montealegre, the leader of the main opposition party, leaving the main opposition coalition with no means of contesting the November 2016 national elections. In August 2016, Ortega chose his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his vice-presidential running-mate for re-election.
According to the Washington Post, figures announced on November 7, 2016 put Daniel Ortega in line for his third consecutive term as President, also being his fourth term overall.
On 6 March 2008, following the 2008 Andean diplomatic crisis, Ortega announced that Nicaragua was breaking diplomatic ties with Colombia “in solidarity with the Ecuadorian people”. Ortega also stated, “We are not breaking relations with the Colombian people. We are breaking relations with the terrorist policy practiced by Álvaro Uribe’s government”. The relations were restored with the resolution at a Rio Group summit held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on 7 March 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 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. Uribe then quipped that he would send him the bill for his ambassador’s plane fare.
On 25 May 2008, Ortega, upon learning of the death of FARC guerrilla leader Manuel Marulanda in Colombia, expressed condolences to the family of Marulanda and solidarity with the FARC and called Marulanda an extraordinary fighter who battled against profound inequalities in Colombia. The declarations were protested by the Colombian government and criticized in the major Colombian media outlets.
On 2 September 2008, during ceremonies for the 29th anniversary of the founding of the Nicaraguan army, Ortega announced that “Nicaragua recognizes the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia and fully supports the Russian government’s position”. Ortega’s decision made Nicaragua the second country (after Russia) to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia. A day after Venezuela recognised the two Republics, Nicaragua established diplomatic relations with Abkhazia, and followed this by establishing diplomatic links with South Ossetia. Embassies have been mooted, but as of 2013 these had not opened.
When seeking office, Ortega threatened to cut ties with the Republic of China (Taiwan) in order to restore relations with the People’s Republic of China (as in the period from 1985 to 1990). But he did not do so. In 2007 Ortega stated that Nicaragua did not accept the One China Policy of the PRC government and that Nicaragua reserved the right to maintain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan. He reassured President Chen Shui Bian in 2007 that Nicaragua would not break diplomatic relations with Taiwan. He explained that during the Reagan administration the United States imposed sanctions on Nicaragua. But cutting ties with Taiwan was a sad and painful decision because of the friendship between Nicaragua and Taiwan’s people and government. Ortega met with Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou in 2009 and both agreed to improve the diplomatic ties between both countries. However, with a trade show from China in Managua in 2010, he is attempting a two-track policy to get benefits from both sides. In 2016 Nicaragua and Taiwan signed an air services agreement and Ortega stated that Nicaragua’s free trade deal with Taiwan had benefited both nations. Taiwan increased its investment in Nicaragua. In 2017 Ortega reaffirmed Nicaragua’s diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
In September 2010, after a US report listed Nicaragua as a “major” drug-trafficking centre, with Costa Rica and Honduras, Ortega urged the US Congress and Obama administration to allocate more resources to assist the fight against drug trafficking.
During the Libyan Civil War, Ortega was among the very few leaders who spoke out in clear defense of the embattled Muammar Gaddafi. During a telephone conversation between the two, Ortega told Gaddafi that he was “waging a great battle to defend his nation” and stated that “it’s at difficult times that loyalty and resolve are put to the test.”
Ortega has said that Assad’s victory in the Syrian presidential election, 2014 is an important step to “attain peace in Syria and a clear cut evidence that the Syrian people trust their president as a national leader and support his policies which aim at maintaining Syria’s sovereignty and unity”.
In 2016, Daniel Ortega didn’t sign the Paris Agreement because he felt the deal did not do enough to protect the climate. Moreover, Nicaragua rejected projects of mining of the Canadian group B2 Gold which could represent a threat to the environment. According to government estimates, Nicaragua has passed from 25 percent renewable energy to 52 percent between 2007 and 2016.