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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ortega's First Lady Seen as Influential

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- It is too early to say where Daniel Ortega will take Nicaragua in the five-year presidential term he just began, but there is consensus on who is likely to be the most influential figure in the former revolutionary's government: his wife, Rosario Murillo.

In one of his first moves after being sworn in, Ortega made her the government's chief spokesperson and gave her a say in a wide range of affairs, including health, education and culture.

The government's official web site, still under construction, lists her as "First Lady of the Nation" and places her third after Ortega and his vice president, Jaime Morales. But some Nicaraguans think that ranking does not fully reflect reality. "The people of Nicaragua," said a caller to a television talk show a few days after Ortega was sworn in on Jan. 10, "are under the impression that the person in charge is Rosario Murillo."

The caller exaggerated, but judging from conversations with Nicaraguans from all walks of life, Comrade Rosario, as she likes to be called, is seen by many as the power behind the throne.

Murillo, 56 and the mother of six of Ortega's eight children, has been likened to Hillary Rodham Clinton, and there is incipient speculation in Managua's small political class that she, too, harbors long-term presidential ambitions.

"She's a mixture of political strategist, image consultant, and cheerleader," said a Latin American diplomat. "But even more importantly, she controls access to Ortega."

A noted author of poetry, much of it erotic, Murillo ran the election campaign that brought Ortega back to power 16 years after he was voted out of office in 1990 -- at the end of a decade of turbulence and a U.S.-Soviet proxy war between the Marxists of Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front and U.S.-backed Contra rebels.

Her touch was everywhere, from pink as the signature color of campaign posters to a Spanish-language version of John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" as the signature campaign tune.

Even critics concede that she was instrumental in Ortega's victory, on his third attempt to recapture the presidency.

Murillo is widely believed to have been the driving force behind some of the backroom deals that reshaped the political landscape in the past few years as Ortega forged alliances with former enemies, including the man who is now vice president and the former archbishop of Managua, Miguel Obando y Bravo.