President: Daniel Ortega
Left-wing Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega made his political comeback in the November 2006 elections, having led Nicaragua through revolution and a civil war before being voted out in 1990.
Mr Ortega was re-elected to another five-year term with a landslide victory in 2011, winning 63% of the vote. Independent election observers, as well as opposition figures and US diplomats, voiced concern about the fairness of the poll.
His first period in office, in 1985-90, was marked by a programme of wealth distribution and a pro-Cuban orientation in foreign policy, which triggered a crippling trade embargo from the US administration of Ronald Reagan, which suspected Nicaragua of fomenting revolution elsewhere in Central America. The US also armed and funded attacks by Contra rebels.
A peace deal with the Contras led to the 1990 presidential election, which he lost to a former Sandinista ally turned liberal opposition leader, Violeta Chamorro, in the midst of public exhaustion and economic collapse.
By the time he came to stand for re-election in 2006, Mr Ortega had toned down his former Marxist rhetoric in an effort to calm fears in a Nicaragua that, although seeing steady market-based economic growth, was still plagued by poverty and corruption.
However, the global financial crisis that began a few years later prompted him to declare that capitalism was in its "death throes".Socialist ties
Mr Ortega has maintained close ties with fellow leftwing populist leaders in the region, in particular Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, and relations with the right-leaning pro-US Colombian leadership have been strained at times.
Although Mr Ortega still enjoys solid support among the poorer parts of Nicaraguan society, his critics have accused him of exhibiting dictatorial tendencies. This criticism was not assuaged by the October 2009 Supreme Court decision to amend the constitution to allow him to stand for re-election.
Born in 1945, the young Mr Ortega joined the Sandinista movement in 1963. He rose rapidly through its ranks and was a leading player in the guerrilla war against dictator Anastasio Somoza. He was imprisoned several times.