Name at birth: José Daniel Ortega Saavedra
Daniel Ortega has been Nicaragua's most internationally-famous political figure since the 1980s. He has twice been elected the country's president: in 1984 and again in 2006. From an early age Ortega was a political aspirant with revolutionary leanings, ditching college in 1963 to work with the underground political group called Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (also called the Sandinista National Liberation Front, the FSLN or, popularly, the Sandinistas). Ortega emerged as a leader in the urban resistance campaign against the U.S.-trained forces of the ruling Somoza family, but in 1967 he was jailed for bank robbery and then exiled to Cuba for seven years. The Sandinistas came to power in 1979 by overthrowing Anastasio Somoza Debayle, and Ortega was elected president in 1984. Ortega's years in office were dominated by the civil war and factional turmoil. In addition, the FSLN and Ortega were condemned by U.S. president Ronald Reagan for their Marxist ideology and their close ties to the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro of Cuba. The U.S. financed a group of counter-revolutionaries, or Contras, using funds obtained by selling weapons to Iran in an illegal scheme run by Oliver North. (This became the Iran-Contra scandal in the U.S. in 1986-87.) Ortega lost his bid for re-election in 1990. The FSLN remained the biggest political party in Nicaragua but was dogged by accusations of corruption, and Ortega lost two more presidential races in 1996 and 2001. Ortega was finally able to cobble together enough unlikely political alliances to regain the presidency in the elections of November 2006. Ortega has toned down his anti-capitalist stance over the years, but his ties to Castro and Venezuela's Hugo Chavez aggravate many American policy makers, especially those in the George W. Bush administration.
The Sandinistas took their name from the revolutionary martyr Augusto Cesar Sandino (1893-1934)… Ortega won about 38% of the vote in 2006, just barely enough to avoid a second round of voting (35% is required by Nicaraguan law)… In 1998 his grown step-daughter, Zoilamérica Narvaez Murillo, accused Ortega of sexually molesting her between 1979 and 1990. Ortega denied the charges and as a member of the National Assembly was immune from criminal prosecution.