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Daniel Ortega: 1945—: Former Nicaragua President, Revolutionary

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.

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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