The Nicaraguan capital was turned out in red, black, and olive green on Saturday as the ruling Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) celebrated its 25th anniversary with a show of military hardware amid a sea of party flags. An estimated 80,000 Sandinista supporters gathered under a relentless sun to hear President Daniel Ortega Saavedra pay homage to FSLN founder Carlos Fonseca Amador, who died on Nov. 8, 1976, in a guerrilla skirmish with government troops. Reviewing the party's 15-point political platform, Mr. Ortega gave a lengthy speech full of anti-American invective and praise for FSLN achievements.
The celebration, involving a variety of festivities, has far outshadowed the FSLN's normal annual high point - the anniversary of its July 19, 1979, revolution. Barricada, the party newspaper, leading a general campaign to improve economic productivity, produced an extra evening edition throughout the week. The Sandinista Cultural Workers' Association put on a fashion show. Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet came to town.
Memorials to fallen guerrillas were spruced up and new slogans appeared on the city's walls, proclaiming that ``the FSLN is the people ... 25 years of struggle confirm it.''
Slogans also decorated the headbands sported by many in the overwhelmingly youthful crowd on Saturday. Mobilized by Sandinista neighborhood committees, trade unions, and youth groups, the crowd filled Carlos Fonseca Square with the red, black, and green of flags, neckscarves, and T-shirts.
In the reviewing stand, the nine members of the FSLN National Directorate were flanked by guests from more than 80 countries - most of them representing those nations' communist and socialist parties.
Some 5,000 troops paraded past the stand, led by a contingent of grandmothers and grandfathers who had fought with Gen. Augusto C'esar Sandino in his battle 60 years ago against occupying United States Marines. The Sandinista's latest weapons followed - tanks, heavy artillery, anti-air missiles, and helicopters now in use against the US-backed contra guerrillas fighting to topple the Sandinistas from power.
An enormous billboard overlooked the plaza, firmly linking Sandinista history to the current war. It depicted US flyer Eugene Hasenfus, led at the end of a rope by the Sandinista soldier who captured him Oct. 6. ``More than a batallion of you will bite the dust, blond invader,'' read the Sandino quotation alongside.
Across the square, two other posters recalled the past, picturing the nine men who founded the Sandinistas clandestinely in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in 1961. The only member of the group to survive the entire 25-year history is Interior Minister Tom'as Borge Mart'inez.
The Sandinistas have come a long way from that first tiny guerilla group, though their early years were hardly glorious. By the end of the first decade, the Cuban-inspired strategy of establishing ``focal points'' of guerrilla activity in the countryside had failed miserably.
By 1975, a new Chinese-inspired strategy of organizing rural peasants for a ``prolonged popular war'' had provoked fierce criticism from more orthodox Marxist-Leninists. One of them, current Agricultural Development Minister Jaime Wheelock Rom'an, broke away to form his ``Proletarian Tendency,'' that emphasized organizing in the cities.
Two years later, Daniel Ortega and his brother Humberto, now defense minister, formed a third group, the ``Insurrectional Tendency,'' advocating broad social alliances and dramatic military strikes.
In March 1979, through internal efforts and under strong pressure from Cuban leader Fidel Castro, the three Sandinista groups merged into a single front. Four months later, the FSLN won its final victory.
Internal differences over how to win power have long since been buried by debates on how to exercise it. Deliberations within the FSLN leadership or the 77-member party assembly, however, are carefully shielded from public view. Only when agreement has been reached on an issue is the result communicated to the FSLN's 12,000 militants. Their role, as members of the ``vanguard,'' is to drum up maximum support for party policy among their friends, colleagues, and neighbors.
The behavior of FSLN members, however, has often made enemies for the party. Significantly, in his Saturday speech, Ortega made ``improving work styles'' the leading point of his 15-point program for the FSLN.
``We must energetically fight tendencies toward bureaucratization,'' the President urged, ``and we must be careful of our own weaknesses.''
``We cannot accept arrogance, abuse of power, or snootiness in militants of the vanguard,'' he added.
``In these decisive moments of our history, we must sharpen the machete of the Nicaraguan people that is the Sandinista front.''