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
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
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
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
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."