The second great stop this Monday for the writer Sergio Ramírez, after accompanying the Cuban Leonardo Padura to deposit his legacy in the Caja de las Letras del Cervantes, was the inauguration in the afternoon, at the Casa de América, of a new edition of the Central America Counts Festival, which for the first time welcomes Spain. The opening day of the meeting, promoted by Ramírez himself, which began in 2013 with the aim of contributing to the projection and dissemination of Ibero-American literature from Central America, was starred by the Cervantes Prize itself and the Nobel Mario Vargas Llosa. The two engaged in a dialogue on literature and Latin America, which was moderated by the Colombian writer Carlos Granés and editor Pilar Reyes.
Recent events caused the conversation to inevitably sideline toward politics. The author of ‘La fiesta del chivo’ opened the evening, even before his turn, demanding applause for Ramírez as a “tribute” to the “situation he is in”, because “he has just suffered a completely scandalous outrage. Let’s make up for it with loud applause. Vargas Llosa stressed about Ramírez that, in addition to being “a magnificent writer, he has been very active in politics, in a moderate way, which is associated more with his convictions and his personality.”
The Cervantes prize, grateful for this “fervent support”, was moved and recognized that “these are not easy days that my wife and I are going through, that we have had to flee the country to avoid going to jail.” The writer left Nicaragua last June after being questioned by the Prosecutor’s Office. “In this way I have avoided accompanying the 140 political prisoners who exist today in Nicaragua,” among whom are “all the candidates” for the elections next November. Something that would even be “too exaggerated” if a novelist wanted to put it on paper, he joked. “Anyone who threatens the ubiquitous power of the presidential couple is stopped in Nicaragua.”
Ramírez, an author now banned in his country, as the regime has banned his latest book ‘Tongolele did not know how to dance’, inspired by the social outbreak of 2018 in his country, addressed today, before a full audience, the reasons that have led to politics is so present in his works, and in Nicaraguan literature in general. “Since independence our reality has been violent, turbulent, bitter … And that is what definitely ended up entering the novel, in the novel seen as an epic, but also as a defeat,” he added. And he referred to authoritarianism, “an evil that affects Latin America and is long-standing,” which has led to a struggle between institutionalism and caudillismo, “which has not yet been resolved in the 21st century. It is something that is pending.
The “subversive” value of the novel
Vargas Llosa, for his part, underlined the novel’s “subversive” value, hence “it was forbidden for 300 years in the colony.” And he recognized that it is very difficult in Latin America not to be affected by political life where there are dictatorships, “because the first thing they establish are forms of censorship, or if they do not directly imprison writers, they prohibit books. There is a insecurity in the world of literature that has to do with political problems, and it is not uncommon for it to be impregnated with it. Although there are exceptions, few writers do not feel concerned by the political issue. Another of the characteristics highlighted by the Nobel Prize for Latin American literature is that of “doing politics. Be very close to her. Reality forced writers to talk about it, whether they wanted to or not.
Ramírez recalled that his own reality – he was born and lived for many years under the Somoza dictatorship, and now he faces that of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo- it prevented him from “extricating himself” from politics. The writer abandoned literature “to overthrow Somoza” through the Sandinista revolution and, after ten years, returned to it, already as Ortega’s vice president. “The revolution cost me ten years of writing,” he admitted. He left politics in 1998 to devote himself entirely to writing, an activity that has led him to be banned in his country. But that experience helped him, he admits, to learn the ins and outs of power, and to pour it into his books, which has become a dangerous threat to the Ortega regime.
The best literature creates uncomfortable citizens. That is why all powers have tried to establish control over it, even in the freest countries, “said Vargas Llosa, adding that it is also” a source of renewal and progress in cities. “