By Stephen Marks
MANAGUA — More than 50,000 people overflowed the Plaza of the Revolution here on July 19. By bicycle, on foot, in buses and trucks, people streamed into the plaza from all directions to mark the 17th anniversary of the Sandinista revolution.
Mobilisations started in the days preceding the rally. The night before, when we visited poor suburbs in the eastern part of the city, District 6, celebrations were well under way with open-air dances, bonfires, parties and rallies. At 2am we briefly visited the plaza where the rally was to be held. Thousands of people were already enjoying themselves in what seemed to be an all-night party.
The rally was more than just listening to speeches from the distant speaker's podium. Young people climbed up on each other's shoulders to form human pyramids. Those who reached the top waved the red and black flag of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), winning the cheers of the crowd.
Vendors selling food, drinks, souvenirs, ice cream and fairy floss wandered through the throng. One enthusiast climbed to the top of the old Managua Cathedral and performed death defying gymnastics while waving an FSLN flag. Overhead the skies were ablaze with skyrockets and the erratic salvos of homemade mortars. Out of the reach of these makeshift "missiles", a light aircraft flew over to shower the gathering with flowers.
Many people wore parts of their old militia uniforms and campaign medals. Significant numbers of young people were present who could not have been born in 1979 and some of whom would hardly have known the previous FSLN government.
Celebrations of the fall of the dictator Anastasio Somoza start throughout the country some weeks before July 19. Many provincial cities hold their own celebrations on the anniversary of their liberation. For example, 10,000 rallied in León on July 7, and 10,000 in Estelí on July 16. In addition, many cities held their own July 19 rallies. In Matagalpa in northern Nicaragua, 15,000 people rallied on July 19.
The Managua celebration also served as the official launch of the FSLN's election campaign. In keeping with the pledge that women will be placed in 50% of electable positions, the rally was addressed by many women, such as National Directorate member Monica Baltadona.
The keynote speakers, presidential candidate Daniel Ortega and vice-presidential candidate Juan Manual Caldera, both emphasised the alliance which the FSLN is building with agricultural and industrial producers. Caldera reported that an FSLN government would control the seven state ministries related to national production. Caldera, who is not a member of the FSLN, also announced that there would be no confiscations of private property.
Ortega explained that an FSLN government of national unity and convergence would be of neither the extreme left nor the extreme right. He welcomed the participation of the many Nicaraguans living in the United States in a future FSLN government. However, the right-wing response to this message of reconciliation was the bombing of the FSLN campaign office in Miami on July 29.
Tragedy marred the celebrations. An anti-FSLN business person intentionally drove into a convey of cyclists on their way to the rally, killing four and hospitalising 16. The driver claimed that the Virgin Mary wanted her to kill Sandinistas.
The following day, I attended the funeral of one of the victims. Orlando Cajina was a community leader in the indigenous barrio of Monimbo, Masaya, which had been a no-go area for Somoza's troops.
The procession became an impromptu demonstration as the community poured onto the streets. We stopped in front of the cyclist's clubhouse for a special commemoration. The sign above the doorway still bore the inscription "Register before July 1 for the July 19 bike marathon — don't miss it".