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Young & Kent: International Relations since 1945 2e

Daniel Ortega

Daniel Ortega was born 11 November 1945 in La Libertad and became President of Nicaragua from 1985 to 1990, during the Sandinista government that removed Anastosio Somoza, the US backed dictator. Inspired by the guerrilla leader Augusto Sandino, who was  murdered by the Somoza family in 1934 when leading the struggle for justice against foreign intervention, Ortega became one of several leaders of the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinistas)founded in 1961. The Sandinistas fought a guerrilla war against Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza in the 1970s. When Somoza was forced to flee Nicaragua in July 1979, Ortega became a member of a five-person Junta of National Reconstruction. After two members – Alfonso Robelo and Violeta Chamorro – resigned from the junta because of its radical policies, the Sandinistas under Ortega’s leadership became undisputed heads of the new government that undertook a programme for the economic transformation of the war-torn country, partly inspired by Fidel Castro’s socialist system in Cuba. Though much of the Sandinistas’ Marxist platform was supported by the nation’s large poor population, western democracies alleged that the new government actively suppressed political dissidents and violated human rights as the Nicaraguan constitution was suspended, and freedom of the press curtailed. The Sandinistas faced a violent campaign largely created and funded by the United States through assistance to a group known as the Contras operating out of Honduras. The US under the Reagan administration in early 1984, with its continued support for the Contras, illegally mined Nicaragua’s harbours and Ortega turned more to the Soviet Union for arms and supplies. In November 1984 Ortega called national elections and won the presidency with 63 percent of the vote. Although the Contras were never able to win militarily inside Nicaragua, by 1990 the US strategy of low intensity conflict, which combined Contra guerrilla attacks with domestic sabotage and a debilitating trade embargo, left Nicaragua economically devastated and politically polarised. Agreement was finally reached with the Contras in 1988 just as Hurricane Mitch brought further devastation to Ortega’s Nicaragua. Ortega then stood for re-election in 1990 against Violeta Chamorro, and campaigned in 1996 and 2001, but lost on each occasion.