The State demands that we register as “foreign agents” and none of us, writers committed to freedom, accept this imposition.
By Gioconda Belli* (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Since several years ago, 2014 to be exact, I have been the president of PEN Nicaragua. The organization started in London in 1921, first as a PEN Club with a group of writers-friends. Then it found during the World Wars its vocation to defend imprisoned writers and to fight for the rights of those whose books were banned, or who were silenced by oppressive regimes.
In its one hundred years of existence, in 2021, PEN brings together more than 40,000 writers in 140 centers around the world under its mantle. Under the presidency of figures such as Arthur Miller, Thornton Wilder, E.M. Forster, Alberto Moravia, H.G. Wells, Mario Vargas Llosa, Homero Aridjis, John Ralston Saul, up to Jennifer Clement currently, PEN has continued to honor its Charter and its humanistic principles.
Each PEN center is autonomous and national. Its relationship with PEN International is based on adhering to its philosophy and principles in the promotion and readership of literature and in the defense of freedom of expression and solidarity with persecuted or harassed writers in the world.
PEN International promotes literary awards in the United States and Europe.
With its work, PEN Nicaragua has tried to promote reading and disseminate national culture in a country lacking such programs. Over the years, we have organized dozens of book forums to read and comment on books. We also carried out language workshops for journalists and writers. Additionally, we have warned about the growing violations of freedom of the press and expression in Nicaragua.
Our work is done with volunteers. In the past, we have had small projects supported by international cooperation and carried out events and programs with the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation.
Since 2018, even though we presented the documents requested in order, a certificate from the Ministry of the Interior was not issue. This happened to numerous NGOs. As a result, we lost the possibility of opting for projects and our bank account was canceled. Since then, PEN Nicaragua has functioned with the minimum, making a volunteer effort to continue in 2020 with Book Forums, which continue to be well received by the public.
The Foreign Agents Law, with its infinite requirements that demand personnel that we lack, only applies in our case because we subscribe to the ideals and ethical proposals of PEN International. PEN does not lay down a particular way for us to function. Nor is there any other link other than being part of this international network of cultural centers and support for the work of writers.
Even though our aims and work respond to humanitarian and libertarian ideals, we are aware that this connection would allow the State to force us to register as foreign agents and impose compliance with monthly requirements that do not correspond to the reality of our limitations.
On the other hand, none of us consider ourselves a foreign agent. We are Nicaraguans who only seek the cultural development of our country. For these reasons, the Board of Directors that I preside and the Assembly of members, have decided to suspend indefinitely the PEN center in Nicaragua.
We regret this decision, given the cultural gaps existing in the country and the constant violations of freedom of expression. However, under the conditions imposed by this law we could not continue to operate and comply with the independent and libertarian mission that supports the philosophy of PEN centers in the world.
We have informed PEN International of the decision to suspend our affiliation. Each one of us on the board, members, writers, poets, journalists, academics and essayists, will continue to contribute to Nicaraguan culture as creative individuals who love our country.
On behalf of the PEN Nicaragua’s board of directors and its members, we thank Hispamer, the INCH (Nicaraguan Institute of Hispanic Culture), and the Violeta Chamorro Foundation and all those who supported us.
We are grateful for the foresight of Gloria Guardia, Vidaluz Meneses and those who founded PEN Nicaraguan. Established to join this global initiative of writers dedicated to promoting the free circulation of ideas, freedom of expression and of literature as witness and guardian of the miseries and greatness of the human condition.
*President of PEN Nicaragua since 2014