Sergio Ramirez, My Friend

Nicaragua deserves writers like Sergio. What it doesn’t deserve is the cruel, coarse, and mediocre dictatorship that we unfortunately have.

Gioconda Belli y Sergio Ramirez. File photo:

13 de septiembre 2021


I first met Sergio Ramirez when I arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica as an exile in 1976, after evading capture. A military tribunal of the Somoza dictatorship had sentenced me to several years in jail. I arrived alone. I hadn’t been able to get my daughters out of Nicaragua. I stayed in a boardinghouse.

It was Easter Week, I recall, and Sergio must have noted my distress. With great kindness, he supported me by inviting me to some work sessions he was holding with the Puerto Rican filmmaker Diego de la Tejera. The two of them were collaborating on a screenplay about the life of Sandino. I learned a lot those days, and I admired Sergio’s detailed and profound knowledge of this outstanding figure of our national history.

At that time, the Sandinista Front was split between two factions: the Proletariats and the Prolonged Popular War (GPP o Guerra Popular Prolongada). There was a group of “intermediaries” between the two, who much later would become [a third faction] the Terceristas. The situation was confused. Like Sergio, I wanted the internal problems to be solved. We were sympathetic to the intermediaries without yet siding with one or another of the tendencies.

Sergio was working on a newspaper supplement that he had managed to get the daily Pueblo to publish. It was called Solidaridad [Solidarity], and it gave information about Nicaragua and the anti-Somoza struggle. He invited me to help him in that work. It was a handmade job, tricky because it involved cutting out strips of text and gluing them onto graph paper, adding photos, etc. The days of computers were still far distant, and each page design had to be done by hand, then left ready for the work of printing – I don’t remember if we were using a stereoplate or a screen-printing technique.  I see in my mind his dedication; recall him gluing the strips of text after his office hours in EDUCA, the university publishing company he directed.

I also recall our collaborative work ordering and draftng the testimonies of the Somoza dictatorship’s human rights violations. Fernando Cardenal took these to Washington to present before the US Congress. The FSLN was also involved in this task: from a distance, Eduardo Contreras – Comandante Zero from the December 27, 1974 action at the house of Chema Castillo – headed the team that provided the evidence and the information.

Later, Sergio became director of CSUCA [Central American Higher Education Council], and I found work and moved to an apartment to prepare for the arrival of my daughters.

My friendship with Sergio Ramirez dates from that era. During my exile in Costa Rica, he, his wonderful wife Tulita, and his family were always hospitable and generous to me and my daughters. Later, he ended up working with the Terceristas, and I joined the GPP. That didn’t keep us from continuing to be friends. I can attest that he’s a friend of all weathers – one who knows how to accompany you in mourning as well as in celebrations.

He’s read drafts of several of my novels. He’s offered me sound advice. He’s a man of great personal nobility. I suspect that during the Revolution, his moderation must have caused him some bad moments because I’m sure that he had to adapt to decisions and procedures out of discipline, more than because his heart was in them.

It was difficult, for those of us who did so, to break with the FSLN. Daniel Ortega began a ferocious smear campaign among the grassroots against those of us who advocated for a more democratic and modern approach within the FSLN. An approach that would surely have cut off his aspirations to become Secretary General and once more be the candidate.

We’ve already seen in these months how he can make those who don’t fit his interests sound like criminals and traitors.

Sergio and the FSLN bench in the National Assembly broke ranks with Daniel Ortega’s attempts to destabilize the government of Violeta Chamorro and utilize street violence, as he did. The MRS was founded with a proclamation signed by over 100 prominent Sandinistas, called: “Towards a Sandinism that returns to the majorities”.

It’s ironic that Ortega seeded in the private business world the notion that the MRS was more radical and to the left of Ortega’s own brand of Sandinista thought. If Ortega hasn’t ceased in his attempts to destroy the MRS – stripping it of its legal party status and recently jailing all its leadership – it’s because that party offers a democratic and much less ideological, violent and intolerant alternative than that which he and Madame Ortega decided to bring out on display following the April 2018 uprising, when the people put them up against the wall.

Had Herty Lewites not died so conveniently for Ortega in July 2006, the latter never would have come to be president [again].

I’ve gone off-topic. Memories join together like flakes of steel on a magnet when I think about the enormous differences between the man Sergio Ramirez has been and is, and the manipulative master of low blows that is Daniel Ortega.

That he’s dared to accuse Sergio of inciting hatred, of undermining the national integrity! That he’s dared to say that the funds the Luisa Mercado Foundation received were utilized to destabilize the country! Masatepe and all Nicaragua have seen and have benefited from the cultural projects that Sergio has promoted. The accusations against him – the same ones they brandish against all the political prisoners – are treacherous and absolutely lacking in truth.

If we Nicaraguans have enjoyed the opportunity to see and hear the very cream of world literature during  Centroamerica Cuenta, it’s because of Sergio Ramirez. If the kids in Masatepe have been able to have access to books, to writing and music workshops in the Luisa Mercado Foundation, it’s because of Sergio Ramirez. If a top-quality cultural magazine like Caratula has been created; if the country can count a recipient of the Cervantes Prize among its citizens; it’s through the tenacity and the pen of Sergio Ramirez.

In the government of Ortega and his wife, culture has been impoverished into mediocrity. If it wasn’t for the efforts of poets like Francisco de Asis Fernandez, who has maintained the Poetry Festival alive against wind and tide, and of Sergio Ramirez, with the cultural projects and his tireless personal labor in favor of other artists, we would have gone backwards decades, and possibly even lost our pride in the brilliant literary tradition that Ruben Dario left us.

In contrast, this dictatorship subjects us to elaborate ultra-Baroque diatribes over lunch; hidden daggers in badly written communications; music pirated from its authors; amusement park decorations in psychedelic colors that went out of fashion decades ago; and, lately, to diplomatic letters seemingly written by a bratty high school student who never learned to use punctuation, much less capital letters.

Nicaragua deserves writers like Sergio. What it doesn’t deserve is the cruel, coarse and mediocre dictatorship that, unfortunately, we have.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

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Gioconda Belli

Poeta y novelista nicaragüense. Ha publicado quince libros de poemas, ocho novelas, dos libros de ensayos, una memoria, y cuatro cuentos para niños. Su primera novela “La mujer habitada” (1988) ha sido traducida a más de catorce idiomas. Ganadora del Premio La Otra Orilla, 2010; Biblioteca Breve, de Seix Barral (España, 2008); Premio Casa de las Américas, en Cuba; Premio Internacional de Poesía Generación del ‘27, en España y Premio Anna Seghers de la Academia de Artes, de Alemania; Premio de Bellas Artes de Francia, 2014. En 2023 obtuvo el premio Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana, el más prestigioso para la poesía en español. Por sus posiciones críticas al Gobierno de Daniel Ortega y Rosario Murillo, fue despatriada y confiscada. Está exiliada en Madrid.