Connect to share and comment

Daniel Ortega's cult of personality

Is Ortega pushing Nicaragua toward a retro-tropical dictatorship with a God complex?

So instead of celebrating this week’s 31st anniversary of the revolution with Ortega in the plaza, many former Sandinista leaders stayed at home with mixed emotions.

“The majority of Sandinistas with revolutionary credentials are either dead or remain outside the circus that Ortega has made of the revolution, July 19 and FSLN,” said Sofia Montenegro, a former Sandinista militant who edited the official party newspaper in the 1980s.

Still, many former rank-and-file Sandinista combatants remain loyal to Ortega and the red-and-black FSLN flag they fought to defend. And in a party that comes from clandestine military background with a vertical command structure, most former combatants are not used to questioning the comandante’s orders — even if the battle is now electoral and the “enemy” is an opposition presidential hopeful.

“We are going to see their faces next year in the great electoral battle — that’s when we’ll see their faces, and it’s the people who will have to decide,” Ortega told the throng of supporters during Monday's rally.

Though the Sandinistas represent only 35 percent of Nicaragua’s population, the military discipline and ideological fanaticism make them the most tenacious political bloc in the country. So much so that an M&R Consultants poll released last week shows that if the 2011 presidential elections were held today, Ortega would win with 54 percent of the vote, thanks to a 100 percent Sandinista turnout and an abstention rate that could reach as high as 50 percent among the rest of the population, which has little faith in the country's election process.

For many ex-combatants who fought to defend the revolution against U.S.-funded contra invaders in the 1980s, defending Ortega’s continuity in power now is part of the same struggle that has shaped their lives.

“For us, the re-election of Daniel is necessary so that there will be continuity in his revolutionary project,” said former Sandinista combatant Santos Abaunza, a jovial man who turned out to the plaza wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt and a red-and-back Sandinista bandana. “I think Daniel needs at least another two terms in office (10 years) so that the revolutionary project will be firmly installed.”