San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Ortega Packs Plaza for July 19 Anniversary

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez told more than 100,000 Sandinistas in Managua last week that Nicaragua’s 1979 revolution is “as alive as ever.”

Arriving in Managua from the far reaches of the country, supporters gathered in the Plaza de la Fe to hear a round of speeches from various leftist leaders to commemorate the 29th anniversary of the day Sandinista rebels took Managua to depose U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza.

Chávez downplayed the division in the Sandinista family by telling Ortega supporters that recent marches against the president have been “amplified” by the media, and that they were smaller than the Sandinista rally he attended in Managua.

More than 100,000 supporters turned out for the FSLN-sponsored anniversary of the revolution in Managua. The opposition press belittled the attendance numbers by questioning the government’s unexplained use of state funds and transportation to round up attendees and bus them in for the rally.

Thousands of Ortega opponents have marched against the president in recent weeks in protest of the government’s decision to disqualify minority political parties from municipal elections and for failing to counter rising food and energy costs that have battered Nicaragua’s poorest.

Ortega said at the rally that high inflation rates in Nicaragua and other parts of the world are proof of “the failure of capitalism.”

The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS), the alternative Sandinista party banned from upcoming elections, held a separate celebration in Sutiaba, the indigenous neighborhood in León, in which opposition leader Dora Maria Téllez said the Ortega government must “change or fall.” A former Sandinista guerrilla leader, Téllez has emerged as a fierce Ortega opponent after her party was prohibited from upcoming elections.

Téllez also criticized the Ortega government for a lack of transparency in managing Venezuelan aid. Ortega responded to that criticism by saying that the $200 million in aid received from Venezuela has been invested in public works here, though he didn’t indicate whether that is part of $520 million in Venezuelan aid he had detailed in a speech last May.

Chávez, who acted as the keynote speaker along with Ortega, called the anniversary a day of “revolutionary jubilation.” The Venezuelan leader said the return of the Sandinistas to power presented a unique moment in history for the various revolutionary movements in the Americas to converge.

Having recently won new influence in the region with oil aid for smaller countries, Chávez said the next U.S. president should respect Latin America’s “new socialism.” Costa Rica and Guatemala have recently joined Chávez’s oil group Petrocaribe, and Chávez announced Saturday that Honduras – whose President Manuel Zelaya was at the rally – may soon join ALBA, Chavez’s leftist trade bloc with Bolivia, Cuba and Nicaragua.

Zelaya did not respond to Chávez’s comments, but did not deny them either.

Also in attendance at the July 19 celebration was Paraguay’s President-elect Fernando Lugo, Cuban Vice President Esteban Lazo and Guatemalan Vice President Rafael Espada.

Ortega also honored the wife and daughter of revolutionary leader Che Guevara, the family of former Chilean President Salvador Allende, and Elizabeth Palmeiro, wife of one of five Cubans convicted in the United States on spying and conspiracy charges.


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