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Aleman favored in Nicaragua's presidential election

October 18, 1996
Web posted at: 12:00 a.m. EDT (16:00 GMT)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (CNN) -- Daniel Ortega, a former Sandinista leader who once was Nicaragua's president, will try to regain the office in elections Sunday.

But, his past is haunting his campaign. His opponent, conservative Arnoldo Aleman, is constantly reminding Nicaraguans of the abuses of the Sandinistas, who overthrew the dictatorial Somoza regime in 1979 and ruled for 11 years.

Most polls predict an election-day victory for Aleman, but Ortega's popularity can't be dismissed. The backgrounds of the two candidates will play heavily into how the impoverished country casts its ballots.

Aleman: Conservative on an anti-Sandinista mission

Born: Managua, Nicaragua's capital, in 1946

Family: Four children by his wife, Maria Dolores Cardenal, who died of brain cancer in 1989. He has not remarried.

Job history: Aleman graduated from Nicaragua's Autonomous University in 1967 with a law degree. He has worked as a lawyer for many of Nicaragua's major banks and businesses, and was a leader of the coffee producers' union.

He was Managua mayor for five years, starting in 1990. He began his tenure in office by firing thousands of Sandinistas on the city payroll.

Aleman is running for president on the Liberal Alliance ticket.

Platform:He believes a free-market approach to Nicaragua's economy will create jobs. He plans to help small and medium-sized producers and reactivate agriculture.

He has also pledged to make wealthy Sandinistas pay for what they took away from other people before they left power in 1990. The house Ortega lives in was confiscated from banker Jaime Morales Carrazo, now Aleman's campaign chief, and Aleman says Ortega must pay for the house or get out.

Sandinista sentiments: Aleman has nothing good to say about the former leftist Sandinista government, which ruled Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990. During that time, some of Aleman's property was confiscated, and the government arrested him.

As mayor, he wiped out as much of the Sandinista influence as he could in Managua. Among his actions: he ordered that workers paint over several elaborate revolutionary murals on public buildings. He cut off the gas to a lamp burning at the home of Carlos Fonseca, founder of the Sandinista party. And he had letters carved into a hillside changed from FSLN, the initials of the Sandinista party, to FIN, "the end" in Spanish.

Ortega: "New-look" candidate abandons revolutionary roots

Born: La Libertad, Chontales, Nicaragua, in 1945.

Family:Ortega is married to Rosario Murillo. The couple is raising nine children.

Job history: Although he was born to a shoemaker, Ortega briefly studied law in the 1950s. He dropped out of school in the late 1950s to join the then-illegal Sandinista Front.

His political philosophy matured during seven years' imprisonment by former dictator Anastasio Somoza, whose government Ortega helped topple in the 1979 Sandinista takeover. When the Sandinista government won control of the country, he became Nicaragua's president, remaining in that position until 1990.

During his tenure, U.S. President Ronald Reagan dubbed him a "dictator," and Reagan's administration supplied the opposition Contras with arms and money, escalating an armed conflict between the two political groups. Violeta Chamorro defeated Ortega for the presidency in 1990.

Platform: Ortega has promised to be the "candidate of the poor," recalling the early days of his party's rule during which the state provided every citizen with tortillas and beans. Like Aleman, he advocates a free-market economy.

He also supports continuing the reconciliation process between the Contras and the Sandinistas -- their eight-year civil war killed about 25,000 people.

Sandinista sentiments: The Sandinista leader admits his party made mistakes in the past, but has promised that "these mistakes will never be repeated." He also upholds his stance as a revolutionary, although he has shed military fatigues for a shirt and tie.

"I'm a revolutionary, and a revolutionary needs to be constantly changing if he wants to carry out the reforms that are needed," he said. "The international reality has changed and the Sandinista Front has changed with it."

Reuters contributed to this report.

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