Arnoldo Alemán showed up at lunchtime. Ten minutes before he arrived, the animator in charge of pumping up the crowd for the Liberation Constitutional Party’s campaign closer shouted that 150,000 “true Liberals” had gathered along the “Road of Resistance,” a stretch of roadway between the Larreynaga Bridge and Edén Bridge.
“We have blown past our expected goal of 90,000 people,” he bellowed.
In reality, the number of party supporters who gathered for the rally was closer to 25,000, according to calculations based on Google Earth Pro.
When Alemán, with his flabby stomach joined the party committee on the main stage, the PLC party supporters started to jump and wave their red flags madly. The animator led the crowd in a syncopated chant of “Ar – nol – do, Ar – nol – do, Ar – nol – do!”
As the crowd chanted, several buses from Chontales pulled up, and the animated multiplied— with wild euphoria—the crowd of 150,000 to 200,000 “Liberals supporting the true Liberal formula.”
Based on Google Earth Pro and the visible density of the crowd (where people were hardly packed in like sardines, as vice presidential candidate Franciso Aguirre Sacasa affirmed with cattle whip in hand), there were only about three people per square meter in the crowd below the stage. Considering the size of the occupied road was 8,600 square meters, three people per square meter would have meant the total size of the crowd was closer to 25,000.
The 250,000 people the PLC animated estimated in attendance would have fit only in the party’s fantasies.
But, indeed, the PLC rally turned out to be a day of fantasy. PLC lawmaker Wilfredo Navarro let his imagination go early in the afternoon, throwing baseballs out into the crowd while mimicking the windup of a Major League pitcher.
María Haydée Osuna raised her congested-sounded voice in “prayer to the Highest,” calling on the PLC poll watchers to “defend the vote” on Nov. 6.
As she was praying, hundreds of red and white balloons were released prematurely into the sky, prompting Navarro, who at this point had stopped throwing baseballs into the crowd, to yell at the balloon-releasers for not waiting until the end of the rally, as was the plan.
PLC supporter Erving Herrera, a campesino who trekked to the Managua rally all the way from Rancho Grande, Matagalpa, swears—using any argument within his reach—that Alemán will not hatch another power-sharing pact with Daniel Ortega.
“Look, the doctor isn’t involved in that kind of thing anymore, man,” he said. “You can tell at first sight who the people are who have formed pacts with Ortega, and Alemán deserves another opportunity because he, and only he, brought progress to Rancho Grande when he was president. He built schools, health centers and roads, and he gave us seeds…” Erving’s list of benefits ended in midsentence as he turned distractedly to watch the balloons float away, exposing a plastic rosary hanging around his bare chest.
Many of the PLC supporters present at the final campaign rally seemed to base their faith in Arnoldo based on the public works his government accomplished during his first term as president (1997-2001). The slogan “Actions, not Words” is still alive and repeated excitedly among the PLC faithful.
The cane that Juana Bautista Sánchez uses is tied together with pieces of wire. She is 56 years old and has suffered from meningitis her whole life. Her sad face and dark, wrinkled skin makes her look older than she is. But with pride, she says Arnoldo was the president who built the most roads in Nicaragua. Since he left office, unemployment has soared, she says.
Juana has three daughters, all of whom are unemployed. The family survives off a small pulpería in her neighborhood, Jorge Dimitrov. She came to the rally confident that Arnoldo will be able to deliver the 1 million jobs his campaign has promised and help her family find work.
However, Juana may have to keep waiting. At the campaign rally came to a close, Arnoldo did not elaborate on any of his campaign promises— including his famous pledge to create jobs.
Instead, the ex-president, dressed in his usual long-sleeved red shirt, used his closing words to tell Daniel Ortega his days are numbered and recount the fun of his previous campaign rallies, emphasizing that during the rally in El Ayote “we really knocked it out of the park.”
His speech was full of “Liberal love and mistica,” mixed with kudos to his party’s organizers for bringing 250,000 Liberals to the rally. Playing on current events, Alemán said, “If they could get rid of Gaddafi, then we can get rid of Ortega. The people are fed up with Ortega and comandantes!”
Accusing no one in particular, Alemán, sweating from his flabby second chin, said “They wanted to destroy the true Liberal Party by getting rid of Zelaya, by killing Somoza and by throwing me in jail. But it didn’t work out for them.”
As Alemán yelled to his supporters, many seemed preoccupied first by the balloons, and then by the helicopter circling overhead to film the crowd.
“Lower your flags and wave to the helicopter so all of Nicaragua can see who the true Liberals are and convince themselves not to vote for a piricuaco who is pretending to be a democrat,” Alemán said, referring to challenger Fabio Gadea’s running mate, Edmundo Jarquín, using the Miskito word for “rabid dog” (an old Miskito insult for the Sandinistas).
Alemán said he will propose a new law to regulate the inscription of political parties, and submit all parties to primaries.
Alemán also lashed out against therapeutic abortion. “Abortion, as therapeutic as it may be, is murder; that’s why I am completely against all forms of abortion. The PLC says yes to life,” Arnoldo said, suddenly appearing serious.
He then took a deep breath, twisted his face into a worried look and worried aloud that Jarquín wants to be a murderer by supporting therapeutic abortion.
Without any further message, the ex-president, who is no longer fat, confused his campaign slogans. Meanwhile, the skies darkened.
Looking for a way to deliver a movie ending to the campaign, the PLC released the last of the balloons and fired confetti into the crowd. They also tried to release white doves, which didn’t want to fly.
And that was it – with a pop and a fizzle, Arnoldo Alemán, who’s running in third place and hopes to be the next President of Nicaragua, ended his reelection campaign.
Wilfredo Miranda Aburto is a student of social communication. His passions are reading, writing and poetry.