Ernesto Castillo Salaverry (1957-1978) was born in Managua, Nicaragua; he died barely two months before his 21st birthday, fighting against Somoza’s National Guard on the streets of Leon. His poetry reads like a diary of the daily struggle against the dictatorship, interwoven with love and nostalgia. Days before his death he wrote a letter to his parents:
Sunday, August 27, 1978.
To all those who love me, and among them, especially you.
I had thought not to write these lines, because you know I do not like goodbyes, I believe that every separation is temporary because when several people are together, when they love each other in the way that we love each other, it is impossible to forget each other, and at happy times, in the sad moments, we are together, sharing, as we have done so often. You are always with me. You are in the rain, you are on the streets mingling with the people, accompanying me every time I go to work. When I talk with colleagues, and we touch on family matters, matters of love, I just smile, because I have the good fortune to have your support; I am happy to know that you understand the need to fight; happy because the training I received made me aware of the need for change, for the revolutionary transformation of an unjust society.
In addition to having you, I am not alone; colleagues who work with me are very fraternal, we live together in danger, we share the same ideology, and our Sandinista convictions make us brothers. The people, the workers, the taxi driver, the newspaper seller, the cornershop keeper, they all accompany me. They trust me, without even knowing me, they love me, they have great faith in me, in us.
For you, for them, for Nicaragua, I am willing to fight to the end.
I cannot say that I don’t miss you, that would be a lie. I’d like to be with you, sharing every moment, enjoying every word, every gesture, every look. Today it’s not possible, but we must sacrifice ourselves, and I confess that I find it hard, we must fight in these conditions so that thousands of families can come together, so that Nicaraguan mothers do not continue to see their children murdered by the National Guard.
I’m not afraid, I know I’m going to brush with death, and I’m not afraid. You, and an entire nation, are with me. I love you.
4 poems by Ernesto Castillo
The list of revolutionary
martyrs is long;
I know that the road
to Liberation is painful;
but if I fall,
another will take my place
and maybe fight
longer than me,
and his work combined
with what has been done,
may finally achieve
The streets wet with rain
reflect the night.
I crawl along the path
as though trying to prolong
the steps that must take me
to my death.
Some are for your sister;
let her enjoy them
if she likes them ,
let her accept them,
because it was she
who created them;
The others are scattered
in women’s names
I’d already have forgotten,
had I not written them
in my poems.
The last ones,
the most recent,
I wasn’t sure before.
and these feelings
because you earned them.
Thanks for having given me your kisses,
your moments of joy and loneliness
thanks for sharing
I can only leave you my poems
and my memories, the memory of the silent
nights with my hands running across
your body and my eyes glistening
as our mouths met.
I see you rereading my letters and poems,
remembering the why of each sentence,
trying to revive my love in every
one of those pages.
I’ll leave my sensation of loneliness,
because where I’m going you cannot reach me;
and in your sleepless nights
you’ll remember that I can never
come running to you, that you’ll no longer
even have my distant presence,
because my body
will be eaten by worms
that will erase every trace of your
kisses on my neck.
Time will turn my bones to dust,
everyone will forget me, but you
will sometimes feel the urge to cry;
a veil of sadness will overwhelm you
and my memory will reappear in your eyes.
Translations by John Lyons
Following the United States occupation of Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933, during the so-called Banana Wars, the Somoza family political dynasty was installed, and, with US backing, would rule the country until the final dictator was ousted in the 1979 Nicaraguan Sandinista Revolution.
In the 1970s the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) had begun a guerrilla campaign with isolated attacks which led to national recognition of the group in the Nicaraguan media and solidification of the group as a force in opposition to the dictatorship. The Somoza regime, was defended by the National Guard, a force highly trained by the U.S. military, that used torture, and extra-judicial killing, intimidation and censorship of the press in order to combat the FSLN attacks. In 1977, mounting international condemnation of the regime’s human rights violations led the Carter Administration to cut off aid to the Somoza regime. By the end of January 1978, civil disobedience had turned into a full-scale popular uprising throughout the country, ending in July 1979 when Somoza abandoned Nicaragua and the first Sandinista government was installed.