I arrived on the streets on Managua amidst the jubilant celebrations on the holiday commemorating the successful overthrow of ruthless dictator Anastasio Somoza. In July of 1979, fighters organized under the banner of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), a group funded by Cuba and the Soviet Union, successfully pressed Somoza out of power, forcing him into exile in Paraguay. Lead by a young idealist named Daniel Ortega, the FSLN would establish a junta until Ortega’s election as Nicaragua’s President in 1984.
Today, thirty two years later, serving a second term as president separated by sixteen years, Ortega remains not just a powerful figure in Nicaraguan politics, but has transcended his seat of power to personify the ideology of the FSLN. It’s official position is to provide a path for the Nicaraguan masses to come forth and take charge of their country. It seems to resonate well. His face is everywhere. When his face cannot fit on a power pole or street sign, the trademark red and black colors of the FSLN party are displayed. The FSLN flag flies from businesses to houses to overpasses. In Granada, a FSLN monument, replete with a grenade throwing solder affixed to the top, greets you as you enter the city. Large billboards of Ortega line the streets in cities and rural area alike.
Bitter over two defeats in the 1996 and 2001 elections, Ortega seeks reelection in 2011 despite Constitutional law forbidding consecutive terms as president, Ortega had it successfully modified to allow him to run for his third term. To do so, his six pro-Sandinista Supreme Court justices forced out the three opposing justices and replaced them with Ortega sympathizers.
The future of Nicaragua is an uncertain one. It sits on a rocky foundation formed by a Socialist-Marxist in Ortega, and it is apparent that he does not wish to give up his grip on power again any time soon. Despite his personal wealth, estimated to be USD $400 million, his nation, one of the poorest in Latin America, struggles to maintain a faltering infrastructure poised to fail at any time.
What will the will of the people be then? And can Ortega relinquish power peacefully? We shall see.
Residents of Masaya, just outside of Managua, on their way to the celebration of the 32nd anniversary of the overthrow of the Samoza regime. Later that day, I watched local TV as Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua and leader of the FSLN (Sandinista) party, celebrates alongside his wife, poet Rosario Murillo (furthest on the left), in front of a crowd of tens of thousands.
My arrival into Granada, an hour drive south of Managua was met with little political fanfare, much to my jubilation. Cathedral in Parque Central, Granada. Taking a nap on a lazy Tuesday (Wednesday probably works, too).