Amid scandal, fisticuffs, drunken revelry, and misfortune, Sandinista enthusiasts last weekend celebrated the 33rd anniversary of the 1979 “Repliegue Táctico” in what, by all measures, was another state-sponsored production dedicated to President Daniel Ortega’s cult of personality and the first lady’s penchant for protagonism.
Surrounded by a throng of several hundred police officers and private bodyguards, President Ortega and wife Rosario Murillo marched triumphantly through the streets of Managua July 7 to commemorate the annual anniversary of the Sandinista rebels’ “tactical retreat” to Masaya, prior to the insurrection’s final offensive to oust the Somoza dynasty in July 1979.
Though neither Ortega nor his wife were a part of the original Repliegue Táctico—a hairy affair where dozens of young rebels were killed by Somozas’ National Guard as they fled from Managua—the presidential pair headlined this year’s event, which was treated as another installment in their habitual whistle-stop campaign tour. Of the surviving leaders of the original Repliegue Táctico, only two—Raúl Venerio and Supreme Court magistrate Rafael Solís—participated in this year’s commemorative engagement. But only Ortega and Murillo were featured on the mega-billboard that served as a backdrop to the culminating political rally.
Ortega’s speech touched on variety of unrelated issues that were mostly disconnected from the events of the original Repliegue, such as his government’s aspirations to build a canal, the importance of ALBA, and Taiwan’s generosity in offering to pay for the remodeling of Managua’s decrepit Denis’ Martinez National Baseball Stadium. While the president did make mention of several former revolutionary heroes and martyrs, he further twisted the commemoration by oddly dedicating the 2012 Repliegue to recently ousted Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo. Any parallel between the Sandinistas’ tactical retreat 33 years ago and Lugo’s hasty impeachment last month remains a mystery to all but Ortega.
The president also took advantage of afternoon festivities to announce that his party will be supporting the reelection of Daysi Torres as Mayor of Managua next November. Torres, whose most memorable moment as mayor was when she replaced former boxing champ Alexis Argüello after his 2009 suicide in office, has not used her post—once considered the steppingstone to Nicaragua’s presidency—to gain any political prominence. Indeed, Torres’ first term was so spiritless and unmemorable that Ortega and Murillo—always leery of internal challenges for power—apparently decided she is the perfect candidate to continue at the helm.
As unfocused as the 2012 Repliegue was, there were a couple of incidents that set it apart from that of year’s past.
First was the sad occurrence of police officer Antonio Talavera’s sudden death during the march. Talavera, who was one of the many officers assigned to Ortega’s security detail, reportedly fainted and collapsed during the march. The 46-year-old officer died moments later; the cause of death was not made entirely clear.
Other Repliegue 2012 moments highlighted by the local press were slightly more tabloidal, but insightful nonetheless.
The first “Nicaragua TMZ” moment concerned an unfortunately inattentive cameraman for Channel 6 TV who recklessly kept the live camera rolling on what appeared to be a connubial hen-peck session by First Lady Murillo. Opposition media, delighting in the briefly uncensored scene on live TV, reported that Murillo seemed to be angrily berating Ortega, who took it silently with the faraway eyes of a man who has heard it all before.
The second incident was uglier and ultimately more suggestive of “problems at home.” When the Sandinistas arrived at the plaza to listen to Ortega’s speech, a brief dust-up broke out between a group of aging Sandinista veterans and a larger group of uniformed members of the Sandinista Youth. The police stepped in a broke up the fight before it spread through the crowd, but the brief altercation hints at deepening divisions between old- and new-guard Sandinistas.