Gioconda Belli: Ortega & Murillo Don’t Represent Nicaraguans

Gioconda Belli, Nicaraguan writer. Photo: EFE

The poet and writer is the third Nicaraguan to have been honored with the Reina Sofia Prize for Ibero-American Poetry, the highest award of the Spanish or Portuguese speaking world.

By Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – Writer Gioconda Belli, winner of the XXXII Reina Sofia Prize for Ibero-American Poetry, affirmed that this award – the most important recognition in the world of Spanish and Portuguese poetry – demonstrates that: “what we have right now in Nicaragua doesn’t represent us; the government of Ortega and Murillo doesn’t represent us; we’re a much better people than the population they want to create.”

The Spanish government agency National Patrimony, together with the University of Salamanca, award this prize annually in recognition of a living author whose body of work has a literary value that comprises a relevant addition to the common cultural patrimony of Ibero-America. Belli is the third Nicaraguan to win this prize; it was awarded to Ernesto Cardenal in 2012, and to Claribel Alegria in 2017.

“This is also an award for Nicaragua. One of the things this prize demonstrates to me is that Nicaragua has an extraordinary poetic tradition, and that’s because we’re a people who love art, literature, and life,” the poet stated in an interview broadcast via the internet television news program Esta Noche.

Belli, born in Managua in 1948, is currently exiled in Spain. She’s one of over 300 people who the Nicaraguan authorities recently stripped of their nationality “for treason to the homeland.” They include political opponents and critics of the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

The judges extended this prize to you in recognition of your expressiveness, creativity, liberty, poetic valor, and also of your contributions to contemporary culture. What does this recognition mean to you?

It’s a very high rung in a poet’s career. It’s a prize that I never thought I was going to win. I didn’t know they were discussing the prize at this time, and it was a very pleasant and lovely surprise. I’ve worked really hard all my life, but it was unimaginable that they could put me on the same level as [Latin American poets] Juan Gelman and Jose Emilio Pacheco. This prize was previously won by Ernesto Cardenal and Claribel Alegria.

How are you celebrating this prize in exile, so far from Nicaragua?

I celebrate it equally content, because I believe it’s a prize for Nicaragua as well. One of the things this award demonstrates is that Nicaragua has an extraordinary poetic tradition. That’s because we’re a people who love art, literature, and life. It makes me aware that [the situation] we have right now in Nicaragua doesn’t represent us; the government of Ortega and Murillo doesn’t represent us. We’re a much better people than the population they want to create and maintain under their domination, and that’s why we have this great capacity to make poetry, to love beauty. That’s not what we’re experiencing right now, but just the opposite.

You began writing under the Somoza dynasty and continue writing under another family dictatorship. How has this marked your verses, your vision of poetry, and your sense of love for Nicaragua?

It has definitively left its mark, but not because my poetry has taken a political turn. In one way or another, it’s always reflected my most vital commitments – not only to beauty and the work, but also to life, in the sense of my city, my country, my people. The fact of having written poetry during the time of Somoza, afterwards during the revolution, and now under this second dictatorship, responds to my ties with Nicaragua, the love I have for it, and how important Nicaragua is to me.

How would you describe the evolution of your poetic and narrative work? What have been the key moments?

It was key when I began to write novels. The poetry I had written received a lot of praise. I began writing poetry with a lot of affirmation about who I was as a woman. That was considered quite scandalous. I wrote as the subject of my own sexuality, not as a sexual object, with a notion of my own power as a woman. That made my poetry stand out and be talked about.

Later, I went on to write a novel. My first novel La Mujer Habitada [“The Inhabited Woman”] has had a trajectory that not even I understand, because that novel was published in 1988 yet is still the one I’m most often asked to sign when I do book signings. It’s one of the novels that sells the most, and that people talk to me about most often. They tell me it moved them greatly, that it changed their vision of many things. As a writer, alone in a room, you can’t imagine the echo that something you do can have. That always surprises and amazes me because I believe that’s what literature does.

In your prose and poetry, as you already said, there’s a lot of sensitivity for social and political topics, women’s rights too, and characteristic elements such as eroticism, passion, love. How do you bring all these things together in your work?

WE [women] are an integrated packet. Men have a greater facility for compartmentalizing themselves; that is, for separating the emotional from the more professional. They have a public personality and a private one. We women function with a much more integrated personality. The public, the private, emotions, are much more present in who we are all the time. I believe that’s what my poetry reflects, and I wanted it that way. I’ve wanted my poetry to have all those dimensions and levels, because I think that’s the reality of life.

How do you see the role of women in society today, and how has it changed from what it was three or four decades ago?

It’s changed, but not as much as it should. For example, if you read my poetry, it’s a poetry that’s very erotic, but at the same time respectful. It doesn’t have any vulgar expressions. I touch on the topic of sex with the respect and vision that it’s something sacred, that it’s something that has given us life. Nonetheless, it’s been vulgarized.

Dangers for the new generations

How do you view the future of poetry and literature in Nicaragua, under a dictatorship that censors, that persecutes its writers and strips them of their nationality?

I’m extremely worried about the education the young kids are receiving in Nicaragua. One indication is the very negative and restrictive measure of wanting to teach people a faith, a way of seeing the world, that’s not reality, but this magical construction they want to spin about themselves and the world we live in. In addition, with values that are completely controversial and confrontational, and that totally diverges from everything that has been the idiosyncrasy and the spirit of Nicaragua. We’re going to have a youth that won’t have inspiration; a docile, domesticated youth, who’ve been led to believe things that aren’t true, and that’s very dangerous. However, I still have faith in the work that the independent media do, the work that’s done on a digital level. It’s going to be very difficult to keep all those kids isolated from what’s happening in the world.

What do you consider your principal contribution to culture and literature in Nicaragua and in Ibero-America?

Valor as a woman to say what you think, because I really never thought this would be received as something scandalous, I thought it was something very natural. On the other hand, I’ve also tried in my novels to take certain myths [and deconstruct them]. For example, [in the novel] Infinity in the Palm of her Hand I try to deconstruct the myth that the woman is to blame for our having lost earthly paradise. My book The Scroll of Seduction is about Queen Juana de Castilla, who they called “Crazy Juana.” I wrote it to prove that she wasn’t crazy, but that the notion was a construction of her time and of her father and husband, who wanted power.

I believe I’m going to leave a testimony of my time as well. For example, in my memoir The Country under my Skin, which I wish more people would read, so they could see how it was with everything that happened in Nicaragua, that it was nothing like they portray it now. How all the history of the revolution and Somoza’s time is being distorted. What I want is to leave a footprint from someone who has lived as you should.

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