Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega wore a face mask as he presided over muted celebrations Sunday marking the 41st anniversary of the Sandinista revolution, although he has played down the coronavirus pandemic and taken no measures to contain it.
For the first time, however, the event at the Plaza de la Revolucion was limited to a small group of supporters, all young, and was not announced in advance.
"We are celebrating this anniversary with some measures to protect life from an epidemic that has surprised" all countries, said Ortega, who focused his speech on the pandemic, although he made it clear he would continue without taking measures to curb its spread.
Since the start of the pandemic, Ortega has been virtually absent and his last public appearance was in June on official media for an international meeting.
Despite criticism from health experts about management of the coronavirus in Nicaragua, Ortega claimed the country had been successful in its response and highlighted the latest government report of 91 deaths from the virus.
Ortega relegated responsibility to families to avoid getting infected and criticized that some people arrive at hospital "when they are already lacking oxygen."
The 74-year-old leader was accompanied by his wife Vice President Rosario Murillo, army and police chiefs and other officials, most of whom are under US sanctions for human rights violations during anti-government protests and corruption.
Washington on Friday slapped sanctions on another of Ortega's sons, Juan Carlos Ortega, accusing him of using a public relations firm to spread propaganda.
Critics accuse Ortega -- a former Sandinista rebel hero who has been in power since 2007 -- of running a repressive dictatorship whose crackdown on protests in 2018 left more than 300 people dead, according to rights groups.