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Daniel Ortega leads Nicaragua again, but he has many critics.
“These economic agreements (such as ALBA) are at the core of the clashes of ideology that are erupting right now,” said Adrienne Pine, associate professor of anthropology at Washington’s American University. “Should Latin Americans be looking to Latin America for their development? Does development mean increasing profits of a few or does it mean making education, health care and infrastructure accessible? Those are the basic questions that are being asked and people are lining up along class lines,” she said.
Especially among the region’s poor, “there’s a great attraction to the south” instead of the north, she added.
Among Ortega’s fiercest critics are women’s rights groups. Ortega drew ire for forming an unlikely partnership with the Catholic Church and consequently banning therapeutic abortion, which is used when an expectant mother’s health is at risk. Also, the sexual abuse charges filed by Ortega’s stepdaughter against him did not help his standing among rights groups.
The government hit back at those critics late last year, launching investigations and office raids on NGOs and feminist groups that have spoken out against Ortega.
Feminist organizer Geni Gomez said her association Grupo Venancia was among those targeted in the investigation, in a crackdown that’s “not at all coherent” with the government’s revolutionary message. “This government is revolutionary and Sandinista only in its discourse; it’s capitalizing on its history,” she said.
However, Ortega and his administration can still draw the huge crowds. Speaking Sunday before thousands of flag waving supporters in the Plaza la Fe, first lady Rosario Murillo claimed there are more than 1 million Sandinista members nationwide. The country has a population of more than 5.7 million, according to the San Jose, Costa Rica-based Central American Population Center.
When Ortega addressed the thousands of supporters Sunday, he called for the term limits for president to be scrapped, which would allow him to run for reelection. This is a controversial move, sure to draw increased opposition from his critics, but it was cheered by his supporters.
“I feel so moved, so full of hope,” said 61-year-old Azucena Larios, who walked by the Plaza de la Revolucion Saturday night, before attending the massive celebration on Sunday at nearby Plaza la Fe along with thousands of Nicaraguans and foreign sympathizers and participants of the revolution. “I’m from the time of the ‘muchachos’ — we call them muchachos, the guerrillas who fought for the ideals of the Front,” she said.
After midnight Saturday, crowds and families with children were still lingering outside the plaza in anticipation, sipping light beer and listening to a blend of salsa and leftist folk anthems that blasted over car speakers. Flags are everywhere, and more often they bear the red and black of the revolutionary party — the Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN — rather than the national flag’s blue and white.
For Comandante Cero, the red and black revolution lives on. “We definitely look back at these 30 years with joy, the revolutionary victory was a defeat for a military dictatorship of a dynastic family. That’s the triumph. Now we’re facing forward.”
Another GlobalPost dispatch on Nicaragua: