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Daniel Ortega: 1945—: Former Nicaragua President, Revolutionary

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."

At a Glance . . .

Born on November 11, 1945, in La Libertad, Nicaragua; son of Don Daniel and Lidia (maiden name, Saavedra) Ortega; married Rosario Murillo (a poet); seven children. Politics: Sandinista.

Career: Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista Liberación National—FSLN), Federation of Secondary Students organizer, 1963-65, National Directorate leader, 1965-66, 1975-79, Internal Front leader, 1966-67, Juanta for the National Reconstruction Government leader, 1979-85; Nicaraguan president, 1985-90.

Memberships: Nicaraguan Patriotic Youth, 1956-60; Nicaraguan Revolutionary Youth, co-founder, 1960-61; El Estudiante, co-founder and editor, 1965.

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.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Grace Napolitano: 1936—: Politician to Richard (Wayne) Peck (1934-) Biography - CareerDaniel Ortega: 1945—: Former Nicaragua President, Revolutionary Biography - Learned Rebellion At An Early Age, Rose To Position Of Power, Led Sandinistas To Victory