What the official TV channel didn’t show.
By Maynor Salazar (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Rosa, a government worker at the INSS, waits for a signal from her boss; Graciela dances “thankful” for the Comandante; thousands celebrate Ortega and Murillo, Nicaragua’s new “patron saints”.
Rosa: “I come to the square to keep my job and because I have a family to think about.”
Rosa awaits a signal to move from where she is standing. She keeps an eye on one of her superiors and awaits the order. Five minutes go by and nothing. She watches how the rest of the Nicaraguan people, who are in Plaza de la Fe in Managua, lighten their pace out of pure “devotion” even though President Daniel Ortega still hasn’t commenced his speech. The July 19th celebration, which resembles a patron saint holiday in honor of Ortega more than anything else, is about to be spoiled by a storm.
Rosa, who works at the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS), gives in five minutes later. Her boss hasn’t given any signal and while more people run away from the downpour, she pulls out a plastic bag out of her pants and puts her cellphone in it. She hears Ortega from afar, who is bidding farewell and while he takes leave, she is stuck there along with the rest of her colleagues having to put up with the rain which “spoiled” the Nicaraguan president’s speech.
“I got home soaking wet, but I was able to see the fireworks. They lasted about 15 minutes. I thought they would never finish… and the fights that broke out at the end, that was hell,” the woman confessed on the phone, after her work bus gave her a lift home.
Rosa, who has been working for the INSS for five years now, has to always attend President Ortega’s public speeches. Not going would mean being fired. Being absent because of a sickness is only considered if “you are dying, diarrhea or fever aren’t enough.”
She says that she owes a lot to his party. She got her job thanks to the recommendation from a Sandinista leader who lives near her house. She says that’s why she has to put up with her bosses’ arbitrariness. “If they told me it was optional (going to the square or any other activity, maybe I would go because I wanted to. But, by making it compulsory all they are doing is making us bored. I go so that I can keep my job and because I have a family to maintain, but it isn’t nice to be there sometimes until 10 or 11 at night just because the boss wants us to,” she contemplates.
This July 19th, Rosa left her home at midday. Her partner went to leave her at the INSS central offices and then, she walked to the square, along with the rest of her colleagues. She caught a lot of sun and then she got wet.
“I know that other colleagues were up there on the platform. But, it’s best I don’t say anything,” the woman remarked.
Graciela: “I have my career, a good job, I’m happy to be celebrating with the Comandante.”
Graciela accepted this interview on the condition that her real name not be revealed. She confessed to be an admirer of Ortega. At 29 years old, she claims that, even though she didn’t experience any stages of the revolution, she is happy with everything the president has done for the country.
“I have my career, a good job and that makes me happy. Celebrating with the President is beautiful. They tell you a specific time and then they take you in a minibus. You catch a bit of sun, but then you dance to the rhythm of songs and you feel like you are a part of everything,” Graciela says on the phone.
Graciela was one of the people who was up on stage behind Ortega. She was seated and she clapped her hands to the beat of testimonial songs. She had snacks and refreshments whenever she needed them. And when the rain began to fall down harder, she left the stage covered in flowers along with the other chosen ones.
Who asked you to be there that day? My boss. Several colleagues of mine went, not just me, she answers.
Graciela’s phone call doesn’t go on very long. She takes her leave because “she’s tired”. She has to wake up early tomorrow too, as she’s planning to spend the next day at the beach.
She is one of the hundreds of young people who have been mobilized on the vice-president Rosario Murillo’s orders, to follow the choreographies that have also been designed by the Comandante’s powerful wife. These young people are Murillo’s forged “army”, a new “party” which, according to what President Ortega said in a brief speech, is the “Revolution’s replacement leaders.”
The Sandinista Youth is a centralized apparatus which mobilizes tens of thousands of young people who take an oath to be living out the second stage of the revolution, but we have yet to see whether their fanatism passes the loyalty test if there is a change in the regime.
A patron saints’ day
Fireworks announced Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo’s arrival on the main stage. People were clapping, shouting and dancing in the square. It’s absolute euphoria. “Today, we’re going home early,” a young girl said to her boyfriend before kissing him.
From below, you can’t see the Sandinista Youth’s choreography properly. You can just see lots of flags and many hands asking for “peace”. Loudspeakers that are all over the square turn up the volume. People try to reach the security parameter that surrounds the stage where President Ortega is. The celebrations are about to start, which resemble a patron saint’s holiday where the Comandante is the patron saint being celebrated.
This July 19th, the square isn’t about to explode. There are huge gaps in the middle of that large space. Some people use the shadow of a “Tree for life” (the colored metallic tree initiative created by Vice-President Rosario Murillo which has been labeled a waste by her critics) to protect themselves from the sun’s rays. Other people go round in circles celebrating “Daniel”.
Getting close to the main stage wasn’t a difficult task this time. “I remember that you could never see him up so close before. I believe that’s because this square is bigger,” a woman tells her husband, who replies to her “it’s that not as many people came today, so we are making the most of it to see him.”
Amidst the crowd, a mother and her daughter try to see Ortega, but the flags don’t let the little girl make out the leader. A man picks her up onto his shoulders. The girl sees Ortega and begins to cry.
Why are you crying? “It’s because she saw the President, she’s never seen him before,” she replies.
A very noisy market
The other location for celebrating the Revolution’s 38th anniversary is Simon Bolivar Avenue, which looked more like a market. Lining the avenue were several stages decorated with pictures of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, revered as divine beings by the regime’s representatives. Every one of them had their own attraction: marimba bands, music bands, Arabic or traditional dancing. The excessive volume didn’t let people enjoy any of the attractions that were being put on show. It was a competition to see who could leave their visitor the most deaf.
Ruben Ramirez is a Sandinista militaryman and is 37 years old. He owes the memories he has about that July 19th revolutionary victory back in 1979 to his father. “And I have followed everything he taught me and that’s why I support the Comandante,” he firmly assured me.
The subject of building the Inter-Oceanic Canal, an unfulfilled promise which the government plans will literally split Nicaragua into two, isn’t an important issue in his life. If it happens good, if it doesn’t, better things will come along, he tells me.
Pablo Roberto Mercado walked along Bolivar Avenue with all of his family. He admires the Comandante, although he is unaware that the Government has started charging for its social programs. “He (Ortega) has done a lot for these people, so many public works and projects,” he claims. “I don’t know if they are going to build the Canal but that’s the least important thing,” he answers. “I didn’t know that they were charging for social programs, this Plan Techo (roofing material) and the other one,” he says.
The majority of citizens who have come to the square this afternon agree on the fact that the anniversary of the Nicaraguan Revolution is a real party that let’s you do anything. Several people walk past with a can of beer in their hands. Others have thermos’ full of rum, ice, sodas and glasses.
People walking don’t have time for interviews. And when I ask them about Ortega’s unfulfilled promises, they say “if it isn’t today, it’ll soon come to pass.”
Connie Obando is celebrating the “Nicaragua’s freedom” from the dictator (Somoza). She isn’t interested in whether the music on the platforms is so loud that it feels like they are going to burst her eardrums. “It’s a happy day, that’s what matters.” According to her, it isn’t a problem that some social programs are no longer free. “It’s a symbolic price what people are being charged now, everybody can pay it,” she says while one of her sisters takes her arm so they can keep on walking.
The rain “wet” the Comandante’s party
Ortega gave a speech in the middle of a parade of many of his “sympathizers”. The threat of rain made the square empty out slowly. Only State employees remained and groups of people who were still drinking alcohol and toasting to the President.
The speech didn’t have the power to make the people who were still in the square listen. The rain was falling harder and harder and the volume of the speakers was put up to the max. “Blessed rain,” Daniel said and people celebrated his cry.
Sandinista music interrupted the speakers and this was how the Comandante’s 17-minute speech was ended. There were fireworks again.
What did you think about the President’s speech?, I ask several attendees.
“Amazing, I loved it. Everything he said is true, so that Imperialism can hear him,” Pedro Lacayo Solis answered, who played down the importance of Ortega’s omission about the root problems that affect the country such as the Social Security Institute crisis or the opaque municipal elections.
“The rain came to dampen everything a bit. He didn’t say anything about this, but it doesn’t matter,” Lacayo Solis said defending him.
Jacobo Castillo said that Ortega’s speech was spot-on. “I liked how honest he was, he promises things and then keeps them,” he stated.
“What I really liked about his speech is that we are free, living in peace and happiness and that we aren’t being tortured,” Ivette Medina said.
At 6 PM, the rain beat down harder. And speakers on the platforms played testimonial music again. Live bands were put into action. Some people stayed to dance, others carried on walking. The market that had come to be on Bolivar Avenue slowly emptied. The downpour “spoiled” the party for Ortega and his loyal fans.