Short in stature with big square glasses, Daniel Ortega did not resemble a typical military strongman when he first caught the world’s attention in the 1980s.
Yet as the leader of Nicaragua’s left-wing Sandinista revolution, he was credited with first bringing down a dictator, and then the US-sponsored rebels, who tried to block his move into legitimate power.
Now in 2018, almost four decades later, he is serving his third consecutive term as president, while fighting new battles. Large-scale protests against his presidency have plunged the country into turmoil and led to hundreds of deaths.
To his supporters, he remains a true patriot; they call him Comandante Daniel, with a mix of reverence and affection. Some have taken to the streets in his name, forming brutal paramilitary gangs to crack down on any signs of dissent.
His critics, who include many former allies, say he has become a corrupt and authoritarian ruler, turning his back on his revolutionary ideals and coming to resemble the dictator he deposed. They have also taken to the streets; some peacefully, some throwing homemade mortars.
How did he rise to the top?
Daniel Ortega, the son of a shoemaker, was still a teenager when he joined the left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN).
The group was fighting against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, whose family had ruled the country since 1936.
In the 1960s, the young Ortega dropped out of a law course to fully…