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Daisy Zamora: “We’re Exiled from the Country We Yearn For”

The winner of the Casa de America” prize for American Poetry warns that education and culture in Nicaragua is dominated by the “dictators’ personality

Daisy Zamora

La poeta nicaragüense Daisy Zamora.// Foto: Tomada de Revista Kametsa

Redacción Confidencial

12 de noviembre 2023

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Nicaraguan writer and poet Daisy Zamora maintains that the country’s education and culture is dominated by the “personality cult” of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

“They’ve erased history and reality. The students are only given indoctrination, lies, fairy tales. The youth in Nicaragua are ruled by the slogans, by fanaticism, like some kind of personality cult,” states Zamora, who was recently awarded the XXIII Casa de America Prize for American Poetry in Madrid, for her work “El encuentro absoluto” [“The absolute encounter”].


Zamora – an essayist, editor, translator, and cultural activist, is the first Nicaraguan to receive this prize. The jury stressed that the work “offers a deep meditation on the life of people who have settled in lands not their own, evoking the nostalgia that arises from the memory of the lost time and country.”

The writer served as Vice Minister of Culture in the 80s, under the first Sandinista government. She was an FSLN combatant during the war against Somoza, and participated in the takeover of the National Palace, site of Congress during the Somoza era. She was also program director and an announcer for Radio Sandino when it was a clandestine radio station.

In an interview with the internet news program Esta Noche, the writer expressed regret at being unable to go back to Nicaragua, because the current regime has prohibited it. “We’re all banished. We’re exiled from a country we yearn for.”

Who did you dedicate this prize to?

The prize is for Nicaragua. It’s symbolically important for Nicaragua, especially in these moments we’re living through, which are so harsh. It’s good to have some positive news for the country.

How was “El encuentro absoluto” born? What inspired it, and what does this collection of poetry contain?

El encuentro absoluto” was born of a certain time; I’m always writing poems, and that’s how it was conceived. All of a sudden, I had a book.

What was your inspiration? What is it principally about?

As with all art, my inspiration is life. I try to express all the experiences and life lessons – everything we’re living through in the world and in Nicaragua – through the personal filter of how I see it, how I interpret all these things that we’re going through, personally as well as collectively.

Where can we obtain and read “El encuentro absoluto” and the rest of your works?”

El encuentro absoluto” will be published next year [2024], and will be available through the Visor publishing company. There’s also a recent book out, an anthology that Visor published in Spain, which brings together selections from my past books. That’s the most recent work there is, and it’s called “La violenta espuma” (“the violent foam”).

There’s also a book called “Cerrada luz” that was published in Peru in 2021 by Editorial Summa; and in Nicaragua there’s a book called: Como te ve tu hombre? (“How does your man see you?”), a kind of pocket dictionary for women, that is still available in bookstores there.

“Exiled from a country we yearn for”

When was the last time you visited Nicaragua? Do you consider yourself someone who found a life in another country, or someone who was de facto banished?

The last time I visited Nicaragua was in 2020, after all the terrible events of 2018. I came to see Father Ernesto Cardenal on his birthday. From then on, I haven’t been able to return.

The topic of banishment has become common in Nicaragua, with over 300 people in that condition.  Are these experiences of other Nicaraguans also contemplated in this work?

Yes. There are several poems that have to do with the situation we face in Nicaragua – that we’ve been left without a country. That is, we carry the country with us, but we can’t return.

Those landscapes, those smells, tastes, memories that we have from our Nicaragua. We can only yearn for them, but we can’t go back to our land. We’re all banished. We’re exiled from a country we yearn for.

In what way does Nicaragua – both present and past- permeate your work?

It permeates it from the first poem I wrote right up to the most recent ones, because my poetry expresses our existential reality in Nicaragua. All those moments of the past, the present, and also what we aspire to or dream about for the future. Poetry anticipates the future; it’s a kind of prophecy because we articulate the dreams we have for our country and for all of us.

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Nicaragua is central to my poetry, that’s where I write from: from the country, from being Nicaraguan.

Her role in the Ministry of Culture in the 80s

Following the fall of the Somoza dictatorship, when you led the Ministry of Culture together with now-deceased poet Ernesto Cardenal, the slogan was democratizing culture. How do you see the Nicaraguan cultural scene currently, in the context of this new dictatorship?

The cultural conception of the Ministry of Culture back then was to democratize culture, which meant that as much as possible, Nicaraguans should have the tools to express themselves in all the arts: through poetry, literature in general, the visual arts, dance, music. That concept clashed with a different view, espoused by Rosario Murillo, of culture as akin to entertainment, spectacle and also a view of culture that served political ends. The cult of certain personalities.

That’s why there was such a clash.  Ernesto would say to me that no Ruben Dario’s should be left caring for goats in the brush, that all the youth, the children who had talent should have the opportunity to develop those talents. That was the fundamental concept.

And today? What’s your impression of this?

I see a lot of spectacle, all those carnivals and crazy things they do. That carnival they put on, “Love in times of Covid,” and such things. These are very picturesque, and draw people in, but what do they leave behind? What happens with all those activities? They don’t leave anything, even much entertainment. The things they do now as if they were cultural don’t make a lot of sense. There’s really no grassroots program so that people could have access to cultural wealth. Quite the opposite.

They’ve erased history and reality. They only indoctrinate the students, offer them lies and fairy tales. The youth in Nicaragua are dominated by slogans, by a fanaticism like a kind of personality cult. That’s the culture that exists now in Nicaragua – a cult of personality around the dictators.

Amid that panorama, do you believe a new generation of Nicaraguan poets, writers, will be able to replace your generation, despite the repression or exile?

I always place my trust in the talent that exists in Nicaragua. I believe there are surely young writers who are dedicated to their poetry, their narrative or whatever art they’re devoted to.

There’s a great deal of talent in Nicaragua, but I doubt very much that there’s any promotion of those talents, because they [only] put value on what serves the regime in furthering their politics. That co-opts the true talents and true artistic expression. That kills literature.

The power of Rosario Murillo

The theme of the struggle for gender equality has also been constantly present in your work. In this moment, how are the tensions, the regressions, the advances in women’s rights reflected, on the continent, and in the United States where you live?

In my poetry, I’ve always tried to express what has been impossible to express in past centuries, because half of humanity has been silent. It’s only fairly recently that we’ve come to know women’s works, because in the past those who could express themselves were the exceptions.

In my poetry, I not only write about the past and present things we’re living through, the struggles we confront, the rights we fight for, but there’s also a humanist proposal present, from an equity perspective. There are a lot of poems where I talk about what I wish society could be.

Present-day society, as we know it, is very bad, because it’s a society that was determined by men, and reflects the world vision of the patriarchy.

Speaking of power and the patriarchy, today more than ever the power that Vice President Rosario Murillo has amassed and exercises in Nicaragua is clearly evident. Why isn’t she considered a feminist figure?

Because she didn’t come to power through a struggle for the rights a woman should have; she came to power using traditional methods – the methods of the weak, as Rosario Castellanos [Mexican poet and author, 1925-1974] put it: manipulation, lies, accepting any kind of humiliation, as long as she’s able to maintain herself there, at the side of the powerful man.

Because they accept the concept of power as the power to dominate, acquire more power; not the power to resolve, not the power to change history. Of course, she’s a woman, but her methods can’t be differentiated from how men exercise power, and she reached there by putting up with the worst, to the point of putting up with having her daughter sexually abused and having to consent. What could be more grievous than that?

In addition, she exercises power from the perspective of always taking care that they don’t betray you, that people remain loyal and obey her blindly, which is the way that power has always been exercised throughout history.

She has a very backwards mentality. She exercises power like the kings and queens, the emperors did, an absolutist power in which she’s already foreseeing what could happen with Ortega, assuring that she’s doing everything she can to consolidate that power from where she stands now. But she’s not a person who has a vision for the State. She’s not a stateswoman, but a manipulator of power in the most traditional style. 

Likewise, Murillo has even created the idea of an internal enemy, people who are evil, who are demons. All those epithets she uses, they’re very backwards – like from the Middle Ages, or the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. That talk of struggles between good and evil where she supposedly represents the good, and all those who don’t agree with her represent the evil. It’s a Manichean vision of the world. How can a person like that be a feminist?

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times. To get the most relevant news from our English coverage delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe to The Dispatch.

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Redacción Confidencial

Redacción Confidencial

Confidencial es un diario digital nicaragüense, de formato multimedia, fundado por Carlos F. Chamorro en junio de 1996. Inició como un semanario impreso y hoy es un medio de referencia regional con información, análisis, entrevistas, perfiles, reportajes e investigaciones sobre Nicaragua, informando desde el exilio por la persecución política de la dictadura de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo.

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