Thirty-four years ago, a war took place where the Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. The war left 50,000 people dead, but the dictatorship was changed into a democracy. July 19th marks the anniversary of the day that the Sandinista army arrived in Managua during the war. The date is now a public holiday, but unlike any holiday that I have ever seen.
The popular thing to do on the Anniversary of the Revolution is to head to Managua, the capital, and celebrate with the rest of the country. With no intent to miss out on an important cultural celebration, I took the hour-long bus ride from Granada to Managua and Couchsurfed on both Thursday and Friday. I had hosted a girl, named Alejandra, in Granada a week ago who is from the US but whose mom is from Nicaragua and dad is from Mexico. Alejandra is spending the summer in Managua so I had the chance to meet her a few times already and she was nice enough to host me over the weekend.
What made this holiday so interesting is that the revolution was started by the Sandinista party, who happens to still be a major political party today. Since Daniel Ortega, Nicaraguan’s current president, is from the Sandinista party, this holiday basically turns into a festival for the president and his party. The other parties do not celebrate. I met several people who said they won’t be leaving their houses on the holiday because they are against the Sandinistas. So you have half of the people in the streets drinking, carrying the Sandinista flags, and celebrating, while the other half of the people are at home doing whatever it takes to avoid the celebration. That seems a bit ironic, to have a very clear split between the people on the Anniversary of the Revolution.
I arrived in Managua on Thursday evening and had intentions of staying one night, spending a bit of time at the celebration on Friday, and then taking off Friday evening. I found out on Friday morning that there are no public buses on this holiday. The reason? Not because everyone has the day as a holiday. The reason is that they use all of the buses to pick people up in every town and city in Nicaragua and bring them to Managua. That means that getting around is almost impossible except for taxis, which are charging double. So the Sandinista party is stopping services on buses to drive to every part of the country in order to haul people in for the celebration, all for free. Meanwhile, the non-supporters are stuck where they are unless they want to spend a bunch on taxis. A small effect this had on me was that I had to stay overnight in Managua on Friday, as well.
To get a glimpse of the celebration, a group of us Couchsurfers (3 Germans, 1 Nicaraguan, 1 American) walked down Calle Bolivar as the crowds were starting to roll in. The entire boulevard was becoming packed with people. It reminded me of what I’d imagined Obama’s inauguration to be like in Washington DC. We walked about a half a mile in, decided not to go any further, and headed back out. Because of the huge crowd of people and the number of drunken people, it’s not the safest place to be. So we just took a peek and then headed out.
Overall, I’m glad I was in Managua to see the atmosphere of the city during the Anniversary of the Revolution. To me, it seems like a ridiculous holiday when the entire country is split and the government is using public buses and funds just to make the celebration bigger for their own good. People have strong political beliefs here, as corruption is typically very relevant. Unfortunately, many people feel they have little power to make any changes. Several people told me that they hadn’t even voted during the last election, thinking that the current government would rig the result either way. It’s sad but seems to be a reality for the people here.