Ernesto Castillo – 4 poems

ernesto castillo salaverry
Ernesto Castillo

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.


September 1978

Some are for your sister;
let her enjoy them
if she likes them ,
if not,
let her accept them,
because it was she
who created them;
not all,
just some.
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,
are yours,
I wasn’t sure before.
These poems
and these feelings
are yours
because you earned them.

Thanks for having given me your kisses,
your moments of joy and loneliness
thanks for sharing
my problems.

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.

Columbus Day – The Panels of Hell

José Coronel Urtecho

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 murderous successors?

All of them are at the bottom of the latrines of History

February 1980

Translation by John Lyons