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Nicaragua's newest tycoon? 'Socialist' president Daniel Ortega.

Daniel Ortega's opaque business dealings, linked to Venezuela President Hugo Chávez, are blurring the lines between party, state, and first family, say critics.

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Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega doesn't talk like most successful businessmen. The former revolutionary leader is much more likely to rail against the evils of "savage capitalism" than he is to discuss his multi-million dollar business ventures.

Yet despite his rhetorical stance against the "failed imperialist model," Mr. Ortega and his inner circle of Sandinista confidants are quickly and quietly becoming the new masters of the impoverished country's economy.

Since returning to the presidency in 2007 – 17 years after being voted out of office at the end of the Sandinista revolution in 1990 – Ortega has created a network of private businesses that operate under the auspices of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA), an opaque cooperation agreement of leftist countries bankrolled primarily by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez.

Ortega's "ALBA businesses" – known by an alphabet soup of acronyms, including ALBANISA, ALBALINISA, and ALBACARUNA – have cornered Nicaragua's petroleum import and distribution markets, become the country's leading energy supplier and cattle exporter, turned profits on the sale of donated Russian buses, and purchased a hotel in downtown Managua, among other lucrative investment moves.

While government secrecy has cast a long shadow over the business operations, the light that gets through reveals profits registering in the hundreds of millions of dollars, despite the economy's slip into recession.


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