MANAGUA – Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega headed on Saturday the national parade of percussive bands and rhythmic gymnastics held each year on occasion of the Central American country’s two-day independence celebrations.
Nicaragua commemorates its national holiday between Sept. 14-15, the respective anniversaries of the symbolic 1856 Battle of San Jacinto and of the country’s independence from the Spanish Empire in 1821 (it shares the latter date with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, which all belonged to the same captaincy-general at the time).
Ortega, who was accompanied by his spouse, Vice President Rosario Murillo, read out a student oath at the parade’s inauguration and stressed the importance of upholding the “Christian, socialist values and solidarity” that his government claims to promote.
The members of 10 percussive bands – a majority of which belong to Nicaragua’s largest public schools – marched and performed complex choreographies while garbed in colorful attires as Ortega looked on.
The parade, which began in the early evening, included presentations by cadets of the armed forces and national police academies.
Earlier in the day, state school students paraded through the streets of their hometowns across this multi-ethnic country of more than six million people.
The five countries that currently make up the region of Central America declared their independence from Spain on Sept. 15, 1821, through a congress of “criollos” (native-born descendants of Spanish colonists) gathered in Guatemala City.
Less than a year later, however, the entire region was annexed by the First Mexican Empire, though once the latter became a republic in 1823, Central America regained its independence from any foreign nation.
During the Battle of San Jacinto of Sept. 14, 1856, 160 Nicaraguan soldiers defeated around 300 mercenaries hired by the filibuster William Walker, who sought to establish an English-speaking private colony in the region.
The symbolic victory, which followed four hours of close-quarters combat at the Hacienda San Jacinto compound in Managua, is often referred to as Nicaragua’s “Second Independence” and was even compared to the famous Battle of Marathon (490 AD) by French geographer Elisee Reclus.
This is the second consecutive year that Nicaragua celebrates its national holidays amid an ongoing political crisis and violence that has left at least 328 dead, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,
Local opposition groups, however, claim that at least 595 lives have been lost in the clashes between protesters and security forces, while Ortega’s government only acknowledges 200 deaths and describes itself as the victim of a “failed coup attempt.”