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Daniel Ortega: 1945—: Former Nicaragua President, Revolutionary

Led Sandinistas To Victory

With weapons being smuggled into Nicaragua from Cuba, the FSLN was able to take up an armed struggle which led to the resignation of Samoza in July of 1979. Ortega was one of the leading commanders of the forces that ousted Samoza and soon became the head of the ruling junta for the Government of National Reconstruction. He went to Washington and the United Nations that same year in an attempt to neutralize a confrontation with the United States. "[We took power] with great enthusiasm and a great desire to transform the country, but also with the worry that we would have to confront the United States, something which we regarded as inevitable," Ortega explained to CNN. "It's not that we fell into a kind of geopolitical fatalism with regard to the United States, but historically speaking the United States has been interfering in our country since the last century, and so we said 'The Yankees will inevitably interfere. If we try to become independent, the United States will intervene.'" While visiting with President Carter, Ortega requested economic aid and material support to build up a new army. However, the United States perceived Nicaragua's communist ties a threat and took an opposing position to the Sandinista government. So Ortega turned to Algeria and the Soviet Union for support.

In November of 1984 the Sandinistas were victorious in the country's first democratic national elections, and Ortega became Nicaragua's president with 60 percent of the vote. Opponents charged that the Sandinistas had manipulated conditions during the election campaign in such a way that, although clean at first sight, the vote was actually rather tainted. The U.S. government of Ronald Reagan shared the opposition's criticisms and further intensified U.S. support for the Contra rebels—a coalition of dissatisfied peasants, former Sandinista allies, and Somozistas. Nicaragua's civil war had become a cold war standoff, with the Marxist-Leninist vanguard supporting the Sandinista government and the United States supporting the Contra rebels, who unleashed armed guerillas across the countryside. The result was a cruel and costly civil war.

Arguably it was the five-year-long U.S. trade embargo that succeeded in strangling the Nicaraguan economy and undermining the Sandinistas, bringing the nation scarcity, rationing, and endless lines which the Nicaraguan people would associate with Ortega's rule for decades to come. Within a few years, though, U.S. support for the Contras was shaken by the Iran scandal, during which it emerged that Oliver North was a lynchpin in a CIA scheme to sell weapons to Iran illegally, using the proceeds to fund the Contra activities. But it didn't undo the damage done by years of civil war and the U.S. embargo. Desperate for legitimacy, Ortega was compelled to accept a peace plan and elections negotiated by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sánchez, launched in February of 1987. The FSLN and the Contras signed a ceasefire agreement in March of 1988.

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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