MANAGUA, Nicaragua – President Daniel Ortega stepped out on stage Sunday before thousands of lively Sandinista-flag-waving supporters at the anniversary celebration of the 1979 revolution, and took the opportunity to put forth a taboo topic of the day: extending presidential term limits.
“I want to call on politicians to work on making a better constitution,” Ortega said. “Here the lawmakers say they are against re-election but they are re-elected all the time. If we are going to be just and fair, the right to re-election has to be for everyone so that the people with their vote can award or punish (candidates),” he said.
That issue lies at the heart of a problem in neighboring Honduras, where suspicion of President Manuel Zelaya’s alleged ambitions toward term extension helped lead to his ouster on June 28 (see separate story for a mediation update).
Last week, leaders of Nicaraguan opposition group, the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC), promised to block any attempt by Ortega to remain in office beyond his term ending in 2012.
“We’ve decided to flatly oppose the successive (presidential) re-election or third time re-election of any person who has been president twice,” PLC Secretary General Francisco Aguirre told newswire EFE.
But if Sunday’s lively event was any testiment, Ortega might serve for an eternity. Verging on a drunken bachannalia, all ages of Sandinista rank and file sang and danced in the sweltering heat of Plaza de la Fé, only a stone’s throw away from the very Plaza de la Revolución in which Ortega and his troops swept to power 30 years ago to the day. The happy revellers mouthed the lyrics of the president’s catchy campaign music and other songs borne of the Sandinista movement.
The event, however, failed to turn out the expected grand billing of certain visiting leaders, especially Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez – Ortega’s closest ally and partner in the cooperation and trade bloc, ALBA – who instead sent his top diplomat, Nicolas Maduro. Also present were indigenous Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, foreign minister of the deposed Honduran government, Patricia Rodas, and Cuban Vice President Esteban Lazo.
But the absence of Latin America’s highest profile leaders meant the floor was open for the clear protagonist of the event, this nation’s revolutionary hero and president, Ortega. His followers seemed nearly transfixed by the leader known to them as Daniel.
“There isn’t a leader as intelligent as Daniel,” said 65-year-old Oscar Araica. “He fights for the poor, not for his own capital gain or property.” A carpenter by trade, Araica wore a red and black bandana tied around his neck and a matching baseball cap with the letters FSLN – the Spanish initials of the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front. Araica, who fought alongside the Sandinistas in Managua’s Barrio San Judas, said the revolution must continue. “There’s no turning back. We can only go forward, that’s the only way.”