First in a two-part series on the FSLN’s minority “majority”
MANAGUA – Since winning the presidential elections with a rawboned 38 percent of the votes in 2006, President Daniel Ortega’s Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) has been trying desperately to become the new political majority in Nicaragua. The FSLN’s claim to majority status is an important part of its strategy to legitimize its “revolutionary” agenda and assure its continuation in power in the years to come.
“You can’t have a revolution without a political majority,” presidential adviser Orlando Núñez told The Nica Times in 2008. He said the Sandinistas must stay mobilized in the streets to “keep up the pressure” on the opposition and expand its base of support. “Like a soccer team that wants to win the game, we have to stay mobilized,” Núñez stressed.
And so they have. For the past three and a half years, the FSLN has remained on the offensive both in the streets and in government, where Ortega controls three of the four branches of government and runs all state institutions and government ministries with an iron fist, replacing any officials who fail to follow orders explicitly.
More recently, the Sandinista offensive has extended into municipal governments. According to the findings of the legislature’s Municipal Commission, 10 elected municipal officials have been illegally removed from office or coerced into joining the ruling party in the past two months (NT, July 8).
For a party that represents only 35 percent of the population, according to polling firms, the FSLN’s constant mobilization in the streets has also been a strategy for projecting an image of party strength and discipline. And when it comes to putting boots on the street as a show of force, no event is more important to the Sandinista propaganda machine than the annual July 19 anniversary commemorating the triumph of the 1979 revolution.
This year’s 31st installment of the anniversary event was no different. Some 500,000 Sandinista faithful, including hundreds of thousands of youths, packed into Managua’s lakesidePlaza de la Fe to celebrate the anniversary of the revolution, which in recent years has become a campaign event for Ortega.
Though the Sandinista government used virtually every tool at its disposal to ensure a massive turnout – obliging state workers to attend the rally, using government vehicles to mobilize people and spending tens of thousands of dollars in party or government funds to rent busses and transport people from across the country – it was still an impressive show of organizational strength and party mobilization.
The estimated half-million people who filled the plaza and the surrounding area was more than half the Sandinistas’ total base of support in Nicaragua, according to the party’s 2006 vote totals.
The caravans of overflowing buses full of party supporters, many of whom rode on the roofs of buses while waving flags and firing homemade mortars in the air, was a convincing reenactment of the original, organic July 19 celebration.
By the time Ortega appeared on stage around 3:30 p.m., the plaza and surrounding area was so packed with Sandinista supporters that the crowd density was already shoulder-to-shoulder half a kilometer away from the park, even before the stage or the plaza itself came into sight. From this observer’s point of view, there seemed to be about twice as many people as in previous years.
“If this is 38 percent of the population, then where is the rest of the country?” said former Sandinista combatant Santos Abaunza, adding that opposition leaders Arnoldo Alemán and Eduardo Montealegre could “never draw a crowd like this. Never!”
“Daniel is an indisputable leader, without competition in the Sandinista Front or among the politicians of the right wing,” said Abaunza, 52. “Alemán and Montealegre together don’t even come up to Ortega’s knee.”
The former soldier added with a laugh, “I think when the revolution turns 50, they are going to have to pave the lake so that all the people can fit.”
Abaunza’s revolutionary mate, Rodolfo Lacayo, a former guerrilla who participated in three insurrectional uprisings in Masaya in the late 1970s, said he thinks the crowd size continues to grow each year because “people see the changes being made by this government.”
Both men commented on the fact that many youths and new faces participated in this year’s rally, as opposed to the usual crowd of aging revolutionaries like themselves.
Victor Blanco, a 17-year-old member of the Sandinista Youth movement, said he thinks the FSLN is generating a lot of enthusiasm and support among young people, especially the children of the revolution.
“My parents and family were part of the party – they were guerrillas – so I was raised with this ideology,” he said. “I see lots of young people joining the party. People see the projects that the government is doing, and that’s why it’s growing.”
If Ortega’s support is indeed growing at home, his international standing doesn’t seem to be improving. The July 19 celebration, which traditionally draws and impressive list of international revolutionary guests, was attended this year by the virtually unknown presidents of the virtually unknown separatist nations of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. It was hardly the A-list guest list of notable dignitaries from past years.
And whatever it is that young people may find attractive about the Sandinista government, it’s most likely not related to Ortega’s oratory or charisma. In fact, many Sandinistas started to push and file their way out the plaza as soon as Ortega started to speak.
Those who left early didn’t miss much. In typical fashion, Ortega droned on in his repetitive, gassy and directionless manner, recycling old material about the evils of neo-liberalism and “savage capitalism” – a phrase he repeated six times – in a painfully unscripted speech without beginning or end.
On a more interesting note, the president credited his return to power in 2007 to the “hand of God,” and told his supporters to prepare themselves for a “great battle” in next year’s elections.
For many Sandinistas, next year’s election will be a chance to show the world that the polling numbers are wrong and that they are, indeed, the new majority in Nicaragua.
“We are not just the majority, we are everyone,” said party enthusiast Alberto Hurto, 31. “We are not only going to win next year’s elections, we are going to completely wipe out the opposition.”
Next week: How the FSLN could win the 2011 elections with 54 percent of the vote, even if they get less votes than they did in 2006.