July 19, 1999

Nicaragua marks 20th anniversary of Sandinista revolution

                  MANAGUA, Nicaragua (Reuters) --Thousands of Nicaragua's Sandinistas
                  set aside internal party differences on Monday to celebrate the 20th
                  anniversary of a revolution that overthrew a U.S.-backed dictator and
                  lit a beacon for leftists worldwide.

                  Hours before party chief and former President Daniel Ortega took the
                  stage, at least 20,000 supporters dressed in the party's red-and-black
                  packed Managua's central plaza, where 20 years ago Sandinista guerrillas
                  declared Nicaragua free from half a century of Somoza family tyranny.

                  "We fought against the dictatorship," Carlos Rodriguez, 38, told Reuters as
                  he tied red-and-black kerchiefs on his three daughters, one of whom was
                  celebrating her 11th birthday.

                  "We were Sandinistas since before 1979, and we will always be
                  Sandinistas," he said.

                  Each year the July 19 celebration gives cause to look back on the legacy of
                  the former guerrillas, who became a fabulously popular government and then
                  watched it all slip away due to their own blunders and a vast U.S. campaign
                  to undermine them.

                  While the Sandinista government took aid and inspiration from Cuba and the
                  Soviet Union, Washington armed the "Contra" rebel army that led to a
                  bloody war -- 35,000 died -- and eventually brought down the Sandinistas
                  in a 1990 election.

                  Throughout the 1980s Nicaragua became a safe haven for leftist radicals
                   the world over, where Bulgarian engineers and Basque separatists
                   rubbed elbows with Latin American intellectuals and anti-war protesters
                   from the United States.

                   Today the opposition Sandinista Front faces internal divisions sparked by
                   Ortega, the bank robber-turned-president who leads the party's hardline
                   wing in opposing moderate "renovators" who have lost all sway within the

                  But in the carnival atmosphere of the plaza on Monday, characterized by
                  exploding fireworks and strains of revolutionary music, those differences
                  seemed to evaporate.

                  For many rank-and-file Sandinistas, the struggle to uplift the poor and
                  establish social justice in the hemisphere's second-poorest nation continues
                  20 years after Somoza fell.

                  "We don't want another dictatorship that represses us, and at the moment
                  the current government is repressing us," said Lilian Espinoza, 57, whose
                  only son was killed in 1984 during the Contra war.

                  Ortega, 54, scheduled to address the crowd later on Monday, was looking
                  ahead to next year's municipal elections and the 2001 presidential race,
                  when he is expected to run again.

                  Some division was apparent on Monday, as the dissident Sandinista
                  Renovation Movement, founded by former guerrilla commander Dora Maria
                  Tellez and former Vice President Sergio Ramirez, staged a separate
                  celebration for "true Sandinistas."