Last night a pure white swan floating on the black waters of the Grand Union Canal up at the top of Ladbroke Grove as I crossed the bridge : and visible on the other side out of the corner of my eye one of the grand side-gates to Kensal Green cemetery where Harold Pinter lies still
and I remembered the many glasses of Chablis we once shared and the power of his mind the power of his handshake the power of his friendship and the frailty of all lives
The poem below was written by José Coronel Urtecho (1906-1994) in the months following the July 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua. These were the days of innocence and euphoria, the likes of which had never before been known in that very poor Central American country. In those early days of the revolution the whole country was undergoing a radical transformation; the young, educated few were going out in brigades into the countryside and the poor urban neighbourhoods bringing the gift of literacy to the hundreds of thousands who had been denied any sort of education under the successive governments of the US-backed Somoza dictatorship. Alongside, there were brigades of doctors and nurses and health workers taking healthcare, for the first time ever, to the same marginalized sectors of the population in order to vaccinate, to provide antenatal and perinatal care and to conduct an all-out offensive against infant mortality and preventable disease.
Coronel Urtecho, one of Nicaragua’s greatest poets, had earlier in his life been a supporter of the Somoza dictatorship but he was gradually radicalized through contact with members of the Sandinista National Liberation front, and Panels of Hell was written as an act of contrition for the sins of his earlier ideological beliefs.
My translation of the poem was eventually published by Harold Pinter in 1989 at the height of the illegal Contra war against the people of Nicaragua, instigated by Ronald Reagan and spearheaded by the Oliver North.
It is salutary, on this Columbus Day 2015, to reflect on the significance of today’s commemorations, to ask exactly who in the Amercias has anything to commemorate, to speculate how the native American peoples, for example, might be taking Christopher Columbus to their hearts, how the poor and dispossessed of the Americas might like to remember that fateful day, 12 October 1492, when according to his log, Columbus, in his search for a new route to the spice lands of the East, first sighted land in the West.
The two avatars of that discovery were (and remain to this day) wealth and poverty, or as they are known euphemistically: North and South! Happy Columbus Day!
PANELS OF HELL (extract)
Who remembers the octogenarian swine in his sedan chair the one who first stole Nicaragua the country the government the land for himself and for his family the first one who saw Nicaragua as a business his own business the first one who in Nicaragua established the business of slaves the exploitation and selling of slaves the first of the usurious foreign bankers and financiers in Nicaragua the one who first brought to Nicaragua his genocidal dogs to guard over his minerals the one who first killed in Nicaragua ‘two million’ Indians (2,000,000) the first one who installed his dynasty in Nicaragua the first of the first dynasty in Nicaragua continued by his daughter and his son-in-law and his grandchildren tyrant usufructuaries of the Empire who in Nicaragua today remembers the worst of all the Spanish conquerors of America and his murderous descendants?
All of them are submerged in the dung heap of History
What became of the cold paranoid filibuster robber of countries the ill-famed adventurer from Tennessee gone bust in Sonora ill-adapted in California who very nearly stole Nicaragua from the democrats and legitimists or Liberals and Conservatives who amongst themselves were killing each other to exploit the Nicaraguan people the first North American to see Nicaragua the country the government the land as a subsidiary business to North American business the first imperialist racist North American pro-slaver who tried in Nicaragua to introduce the black slave trade importing the slavery of the slave States of the South of North America through the elimination of Nicaragua’s Indians and mestizos but could get nowhere with the people of Nicaragua Costa Rica Honduras El Salvador and Guatemala
the first North American of the South or the North the East or the West who brought his dogs to Nicaragua and thugs or mercenary animals enlisted in New York and New Orleans and San Francisco California
the first agent of the thieving bankers of Frisco competitors of the usurious bankers of Manhattan concessionaires of the inter-oceanic Transit of foreign passengers through Nicaragua
the first North American arsonist destroyer of Nicaraguan cities who would have reduced them all to ashes and left them in ruins and sown the land with wooden crosses and scattered cemeteries and common graves before handing it over empty to his pro-slaver filibusters but could get nowhere with the resistance of the people of Nicaragua Costa Rica Honduras El Salvador and Guatemala
the first for us of the models of North American imperialism without a mask or with a mask in person or if not through an intermediary but in any case the model for the North American invaders interveners ambassadors swindlers mediators and for the North Americanizing dealers and businessmen and traffickers of the Nicaraguan patrimony-peddling bourgeoisie
the first of the first North American military occupation of Nicaragua never really discontinued rather immediately continued by the Conservative and Liberal oligarchies and from 1936 to the 19th of July 1979 by the proconsular family of the pentagonal dynasty enthroned on Tiscapa Hill by the Yankee Empire who today is aware in Nicaragua of the worst of all the filibusters of America—admired by Truman—and of his murderoussuccessors?
All of them are at the bottom of the latrines of History