By Stephen Marks
MANAGUA — The size of the turnout at the rally to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution surprised everybody this year.
The FSLN had announced they did not have the resources to bus and truck people from the country to the rally. The atmosphere in the lead-up did not seem to be the same as in recent years, and the confidence of the far right seemed to be growing. Even the usual rumour that Fidel Castro was going to attend didn't circulate.
Sharp differences in the leadership of the FSLN had not been resolved by the May extraordinary Congress. The July 17 El Nuevo Diario, a pro-Sandinista paper, quoted FSLN parliamentarian Carlos Gallo as saying that the FSLN bench in the National Assembly would assert their independence as they had no confidence in the National Directorate (DN) of the FSLN.
However, on the eve of July 19, the Plaza of the Revolution was already the place to be. Loudspeakers drowned out the generators to blast out salsa and meringue music, and despite the dark (Nicaragua is facing up to eight hours of blackouts each day because of drought) thousands of young people danced and socialised in the start of what would for many be an all-night vigil.
Next morning the bus hired by the FSLN committee in our suburb was quickly filled up with people waving red and black flags, singing revolutionary songs, hanging out the windows and sitting on the roof. As well as arriving in buses, trucks and trailer contingents came in from closer-by suburbs and a fleet of bicyclists sped in from Masaya, a neighbouring city.
As we filed into the Plaza, fireworks and home-made mortars exploded into the sky above the giant banner proclaiming "Death to Somocismo". Members of the Community Movement collected signatures in defence of the Sandinista's land reform program as hundreds of vendors sold food, drinks and souvenirs to the crowd of all ages and classes. Former soldiers and militia members wore their old uniforms and decorations from heroic battles.
Most impressive was the number of young people — especially those 14- to 16-year-olds who would have been conceived and born around the time of the 1979 revolution. The FSLN's program of fighting poverty, democratising property ownership and deepening democracy clearly still offers hope for many Nicaraguans.
Daniel Ortega's speech to the rally reaffirmed the FSLN's commitment to defend the poor and the dispossessed and to win the youth. Looking to the future Ortega pledged that the FSLN would not commit past errors "commercial restrictions, lack of communication with the base, confiscations and expropriations".
He said military conscription was a thing of the past, but defended it as a tactic necessary to fight the US-led war during the 1980s. Ortega's appeal for Sandinista unity was greeted with great enthusiasm by the crowd: "Sandinista unity signifies making it clear to those companeros that go around sowing discord that we should instead be fighting against unemployment, poverty and hunger".
The Sandinista daily, Barricada, estimated the crowd to be between 50,000 and 60,000; the right wing La Prensa had to admit that 25,000 attended. Cable services put the figure at between 30,000 and 40,000. Certainly the attendance was much greater than expected.
Rallies also took place in regional centres with 2000 in Leon and 5000 in the northern city of Matagalpa among the largest. The Matagalpa rally was particularly impressive as, Barricada reported, as dozens of Sandinistas have gone underground after being threatened by armed supporters of the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC).
The PLC is led by former Somocista youth leader and current Mayor of Managua, Arnoldo Aleman. While FSLN leader Tomas Borge told the Matagalpa rally that Somocismo will never return to Nicaragua, DN member Bayardo Arce reportedly told a rally in Carazo that if the Somocistas do regain political power, the Sandinistas will go back underground.
Despite the Somocista's threats the turnout for July 19 shows that the FSLN still has the ability to mobilise its members and sympathisers. This will help in the process of voting for new local and regional leaders of the FSLN to be carried out in the next few weeks. Sixty thousand FSLN members are expected to register to vote.