Gabriel García Márquez and Nicaragua:

Writings on the Sandinista Revolution


"No hay drama humano que sea unilateral."

--Gabriel García Márquez


    Gabriel García Márquez, like many Latin American writers and intellectuals, identified with and spoke out in favor of the Sandinista Revolution during the Seventies and Eighties.  There were cases of strong identification and solidarity with the Nicaraguan Revolution between non Nicaraguan Spanish American authors, like Julio Cortázar,[i] Antonio Skármeta [ii] and Eduardo Galeano, who wrote fiction and non fiction texts on the Revolution and Revolutionary Nicaragua.  García Márquez falls into a second group of authors who were sympathetic to many of the aspirations of the Sandinista government and opposed U.S. intervention in Nicaragua's internal affairs.  Like Carlos Fuentes, García Márquez established close ties with Sandinista writers and saw the Revolution as a profound event in Latin America.  Their point of view contrast sharply with that expressed by Mario Vargas Llosa in a long article on Revolutionary Nicaragua published in The New York Times Magazine in April 1985.[iii]  Although Vargas Llosa found many positive things to say about the Revolution, he questioned the intentions of the Sandinistas to create an open, pluralistic democratic government and society in their country.
    The Sandinsta Revolution was—and continues to be—a very complex, contradictory phenomenon.  It has been—and will continue to be—the object of heated debate and analysis by political scientists.  While it was in some ways a socialist revolution, it was also a nationalist anti colonial movement with roots reaching back to Augusto César Sandino's war of resistance to U.S. intervention in Nicaragua between 1927 and 1934.  It was also, for many, simply a movement to do away with the Somoza dictatorship.
    I believe that an examination of several of García Márquez writings on Nicaragua from the late Seventies and early Eighties reveals that his interest, at least in his writings, was not primarily with the social change possible in a new socialist Nicaragua, but rather with the overthrown of the Somoza system and against U.S. imperialistic intervention in Latin America.  This reflects the situation faced by the Sandinistas: Many of the resources—people, time, and money—which they could have employed to carry out social change, were used in the battle against the U.S. sponsored Contra army.
The texts which I wish to consider are the newspaper reportage ``Los sandinistas se toman el Palacio Nacional de Managua,'' the film script ``El secuestro,''[iv] an interview published in Nicaráuac, and several newspaper items which appeared between January 1981 and August 1983 that appear in the collection Notas de prensa, 1980–1984.[v]
García Márquez's ``Los sandinistas se toman el Palacio Nacional de Managua'' is a newspaper report based on interviews he carried out with the Sandinista guerrillas that protagonized the August 22, 1978 take-over of Nicaragua's Palacio Nacional.  Led by Comandante Cero, Edén Pastora, the Sandinistas extracted strong concessions from Somoza, including a half million dollar ransom, release of fifty-nine political prisoners, and publication in the press and radio broadcasts of their political communiqué.  The released prisoners, as well as the twenty five guerrillas, received safe passage out of Nicaragua and were granted asylum in Panama.  García Márquez flew to Panama and was the first journalist to interview the leaders of the operation.  This piece is very objective in the presentation of events.  The Sandinista protagonists are presented as ordinary individuals carrying out a very simple but risky operation.  The principal events narrated include the initial take over, negotiations between the Sandinistas and Somoza, and the trip to Las Mercedes airport for their flight out of the country.
    García Márquez initially characterizes the action—which had tremendous symbolic importance in Nicaragua—as ``un disparate magistral''.  The author has taken an event that, had it been invented, would seem to another example of Latin American magic realism.  However, since the event is documented historical fact, there is no surprise element for the reader.
    The action had historical importance, since it demonstrated the weakness and vulnerability of the dictator, who was practically on his own in the negotiations with the Sandinistas.  For the Sandinistas it was a demonstration of strength and of the tremendous popular support they enjoyed in Nicaragua and Latin America.  This piece first appeared in the Bogota in Alternativa, and was later published in translation in many countries.  In a March 1983 article,[vi]``Las trampas de la fe'' García Márquez tells how this article was included in several books along with articles by other authors in an attempt by publishers to cash in on his name.  Editorial La Oveja Negra published a book, supposedly authored by him, titled Los sandinistas[vii], which was included in a package of his ``Complete Works.''  In Spain, Editorial Bruguera published the article in a book of articles by various authors with his name on it titled La batalla de Nicaragua.[viii]  The only thing in these two books by García Márquez was the article.  He had Los sandinistas pulled from publication and requested that Bruguera change their cover.
    Several Nicaraguan authors, Gioconda Belli and Sergio Ramírez for example, have characterized the literature produced within the literary boom of the Nicaraguan Revolution, as a heroic, epic literature.  In particular, the testimonios and popular poetry—which reflect the Nicaraguan peoples' struggle for independence, national sovereignty and the assertion of a national identity, can be seen in this light.  The problem with this kind of revolutionary literature is that it lost much of its power when the disposed became empowered with the triumph of the Revolution, and the revolutionaries were faced with the difficult task of making a revolution from a position of power.  For me, pieces like García Márquez's, therefore, lost much of their force after the Sandinistas came to power.
    The film script ``El secuestro,'' subtitled ``Historia de una acción revolucionaria por la libertad de un pueblo,'' presents another spectacular Sandinista operation that took place in December 1974.[ix]  A unit of the FSLN crashed a Somocista party in Managua and held partygoers hostage until the government met their demands:  payment of a large ransom, the publication and broadcast of their communiqué, and freedom for fourteen political prisoners.  The kidnappers and liberated prisoners received safe passage to Cuba.  This piece, unlike the previous one, has no semblance of objectivity.  Along with the dialogues of those involved, there is a narrator who comments on their character and narrates episodes of Nicaragua's history from the Sandinista point of view.  Also, at the end the Sandinista communiqué in its entirety is heard over the radio. Although the episode was highly successful in the long run—since it precipitated the insurrections that would later bring about the fall of the dictator—in the short run it provoked a campaign of terror in Nicaragua that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of peasants in the countryside.  The emphasis in this text, once again, is on a blow to the dictatorship and its North American sponsor.
    In June 1982, a Radio Sandino interview with García Márquez was published in Nicaráuac, the journal of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Culture.[x]  In the interview, García Márquez fielded live questions from his radio audience.  While most of the questions dealt with his books, one listener asked him about the role of intellectuals in the movements of national liberation in Latin America.  García Márquez's response demonstrated his distance from formal theoretical, ideological formulas. I quote:
Tengo cierta desconfianza por las preguntas teóricas, porque conducen siempre a respuestas teóricas.  Yo he dicho alguna vez y lo quiero repetir ahora, que el papel del intelectual, que el papel del artista en los procesos revolucionarios es, fundamentalmente, el de todos los trabajadores, en el sentido de que una labor revolucionaria consiste en que cada quien haga bien su trabajo.  Yo considero que uno de los deberes del escritor revolucionario es escribir bien, después hacer un trabajo de solidaridad como el que creo que estoy modestamente haciendo en los procesos con el cual me encuentro vinculado desde hace más tiempo de lo que usted . . . se imagina (143).
    Between January 1981 and March 1983 García Márquez published several short newspaper editorials on the Nicaraguan Revolution and the crisis in Central America.  All are directed at U.S. intervention in the region.  The first, titled ``Hay que salvar a El Salvador,'' denounces the interventionist policies of Ronald Reagan in the region—based on plans developed during the Carter administration.  For García Márquez, the cuban experience, where Kennedy carried out aggression against Cuba based on plans prepared during the Eisenhower administration, was being repeated in El Salvador.
    In a July 1981 article, titled ``Eden Pastora,'' García Márquez discuses Comandante Cero's desertion from the Sandinista ranks.  Pastora is compared to Ernesto Che Guevara, who abandoned Cuba to pursue revolution in other latitudes.  García Márquez praises Pastora, who would later be seen by many as a traitor to the Sandinista Revolution, as a professional revolutionary warrior.  He was, the author tells us, unlike the other Sandinista leaders.  He was ``un guerrero puro'' (130).
In another article, ``Nicaragua entre dos sopas,'' García Márquez argues that although the Sandinistas have sought to establish a pluralistic democracy, the United States is relentlessly pursuing their demise.  He also states that the Sandinistas' is a revolution without a blueprint, that the Sandinistas are pragmatists who are being forced into the Soviet Block in their desperation to survive.
García Márquez wrote three editorials denouncing U.S. intervention in Nicaragua and Central America during 1982 and 1983.  In ``EE UU: política de suposiciones,'' published in March 1982, García Márquez attacks Ronald Reagan's view of the conflict in El Salvador and the revolution in Nicaragua as simply another chapter in Soviet expansionism. He states:  ``Su analisis de la realidad se sustentó en la suposición falsa de que los conflictos en América Central y el Caribe no son el resultado de las condiciones históricas de la región, sino un capítulo más en una vasta conspiración soviética'' (237–238). He warns this view will leave the U.S. with only one option: the use of military force.  In a February 1983 article titled ``Sí: ya viene el lobo,'' García Márquez defends the Sandinista leaders who were then denouncing at that time a possible U.S. invasion of Nicaragua.  He claims that there was a real threat of aggression at that time and that the Sandinistas were justified in their claims. He states: ``. . . la amenaza desde territorio de Honduras no sólo es verdadera y constante, sino que cuenta cada vez con mayores recursos, y si no ha llegado hasta sus últimas consecuencias es porque distintos sectores del Gobierno de los Estados Unidos no han logrado ponerse de acuerdo para una decisión final'' (366). Once again, García Márquez sees a possible repeat of the Cuban experience.  The U.S. appeared to be planning another Bay of Pigs manoever.  In a March 1983 article, ``América Central, ¿ahora sí?,'' he discusses a CIA invasion plan conceived by former Secretary of State Alexander Haig.  Just such a plan had leaked to the media and was censured by politicians throughout the world.
    García Márquez believed that the only thing restraining the Reagan Administration was internal division at home and intense pressure abroad.  In a July 1983 article, he discusses the impact of the efforts of the Contadora group on the planned aggression.  He states that the Contadora group offers Reagan the only possible alternative to a military solution for the region.
    In a March 1983 article, ``El Papa, en el infierno,'' García Márquez criticizes the Popes lack of understanding of the social and political conditions in Central America.  He compares Nicaragua's human rights record to that of neighboring countries El Salvador and Guatemala, and wonders why the Pope is ignorantly crusading against the Sandinistas.  He concludes that the Pope is beginning to receive better information on Central America, and through his trips is becoming more conscious of the depth of the poverty and social problems of the region.
    García Márquez was prohibited from entering the United States during the Eighties, an issue he discuses in a November 1982 article, ``USA: mejor cerrado que entreabierto.''  Interestingly, García Márquez's point of view in the articles is no more radical than that found among many politicians and political commentators in the United States during the same period.
    Sandinista leaders, many of them writers, recognize García Márquez's contribution to the defense of the Revolution.  The activities of journalists in the U.S. and abroad certainly served as a restraint to greater American intervention in Nicaragua.  Given the tremendous amount of opposition here to the Reagan administration's crusade against revolution in Central America, it is surprising, and perhaps disturbing, that it succeeded.
    García Márquez's contribution was more of Latin American solidarity than intimate identification with the Nicaraguan experience.  This was, perhaps, the best way for the foreigner Nobel Prize in Literature to defend the Revolution.
    An anecdote told to me by Omar Cabezas Lacayo may throw some light onto Márquez's relationship to the Revolution and distance from internal events in Nicaragua.[xi]  Omar Cabezas's testimonio La montaña es algo más que una inmensa estepa verde was an inmensly popular book in Nicaragua, was translated into many languages—the English version, Fire from the Mountain, was a New York Time's best-seller—and was made into a movie.  This testimonio was applauded by literary critics and quickly canonized.  Omar claims he got the idea of recording his experiences from journalist Pilar Arias, who was preparing interviews with Sandinista comandantes.  He says that he recorded his experiences in the company of several female companions, and that later Ernesto Cardenal and Tomás Borge forced him to produce a written text of his guerrilla experiences in the mountains during the seventies.  Part of his testimonio appeared in Nicaráuac, the journal of the Ministry of Culture. If we can believe him, Omar says that García Márquez praised his testimonio in Managua during the celebration of the first anniversary of the Revolution.  I quote from the interview:
"Y entonces, un diecinueve de julio de mil novecientos ochenta, en el primer aniversario, la Revolución invitó a todas las vacas sagradas de la literatura latinoamericana al primer aniversario de la Revolución.  Y estamos en la casa de un compañero después de las celebraciones, un grupo celebrando, echándonos tragos, conversando.  Estaban Cortázar, García Márquez, Eduardo Galeano, Joaquín Gutiérrez de Costa Rica . .  .  Estaban un montón de comandantes, políticos, invitados, hablando de cualquier cosa.  Y lógicamente, con semejante fauna ahí, salió el tema de la literatura.  García Márquez es de la tesis, en ese momento que se toca el tema de la literatura, que en Nicaragua va a surgir una nueva literatura; y una buen literatura, dice.  En la plática, García Márquez ha estado diciendo que ser buen escritor no es fácil, que el buen escritor es el que escribe, deja descansar lo que escribe, lo revisa, lo vuelve a trabajar, lo vuelve a descanasar, y que el escritor bueno es el escritor que se faja con la cuartilla; que no es fácil ser buen escritor, que hay que trabajar para ser un buen escritor. . . .  Siguió hablando que aquí en Nicaragua iba a surgir una nueva literatura y, al final, digo, en un momento, García Márquez dice —yo no sé si esto lo recordará él, fue en mil novecientos ochenta, ya hace doce años— dice, yo acabo de leer, en la revista Nicaráuac del Ministerio de Cultura un trabajo de un compañero, dice, que se mira que trabajó, que se mira que lo revisó, que se mira que se empeñó en el trabajo, e incluso es comandante, se llama, Omar Cabezas, dice. Ay, dije, ése soy yo.  Y todo el mundo me volteó a ver.  Yo me quedé callado, porque yo digo si García Márquez se da cuenta que esto lo escribí desnudo, haciendo el amor, y que no lo he revisado, y que es la transcripción literal de lo que estaba en la grabadora, este hombre se va a morir, o lo voy a hacer el ridículo frente a todos los políticos y escritores que estaban ahí en ese momento.
    The Sandinista revolutionaries, like Omar Cabezas—now a deputy in Nicaragua's National Assembly—, are currently working within a democratic framework they helped create and implement.  Sergio Ramírez, in a recent conference, stated that the creation of this system—in a country that had never known democracy— was one of the greatest accomplishment of Sandinismo. Although the Frente is in disarray, they are trying to organize a democratic approach to social change.  This is a difficult time for them, one in which they find they have been abandoned by many of the foreign politicians and intellectuals that in the Seventies and Eighties jumped onto the bandwagon of the Revolution.
Edward Waters Hood
Northern Arizona University
June 25, 1993


[i]  Julio Cortázar's relationship with the Sandinista Revolution is documented in his book Nicaragua tan dulcemente violentamente dulce (Managua: Editorial Nueva Nicaragua, 1983).
[ii] Chilean author Antonio Skármeta published one of the first novels on the theme of the Nicaraguan Revolution, La insurrección (Hanover, NH: Ediciones del Norte, 1982).  The English translation appeared in 1984 (Ediciones del Norte) and a film based on the novel was made in Nicaragua by director Peter Lilienthal.
[iii] Mario Vargas Llosa. ``In Nicaragua.'' The New York Times Magazine  April 28, 1985.
[iv] Gabriel García Márquez.  El secuestro: historia de una acción revolucionaria por la libertad de un pueblo [guión cinematográfico] (Bogotá: Editorial La Oveja Negra, 1984).
[v] Gabriel García Márquez, Notas de Prensa, 1980–1984 (Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana, 1993).
[vi] ``Las trampas de la fe'' (14—3—83), en Gabriel García Márquez, Notas de prensa, 1980–1984).
[vii] Gabriel García Márquez.  Los sandinistas (Editorial La Oveja Negra, 1979).
[viii] García Márquez, Gabriel, G. Selser y D. Waksman.  La batalla de Nicaragua (Madrid: Editorial Bruguera).
[ix] According to Eduardo García Aguilar, El secuestro was never filmed (García Márquez: la tentación cinematográfica.  México: Filmoteca UNAM, 1985: 64–65).
[x] Gabriel García Márquez.  ``Línea directa: diálogo con los oyentes de Radio Sandino''.  Nicaráuac año III, núm. 7 (Junio 1982): 142–148.
[xi] From a June 1992 interview conducted with Omar Cabezas Lacayo in Managua, Nicaragua.  Cabezas became well known after publication of La montaña es algo más que una inmensa estepa verde (1982), a testimonio documenting his experiences as a guerrilla fighter with the Sandinista National Liberation Front during the seventies.  He published a second testimonio, Canción de amor para los hombres, in 1988. Cabezas attained the rank of Comandante in the eighties, and since the electoral defeat of the Sandinistas has served as a Deputy in Nicaragua's National Assembly.  The complete interview will appear soon in Hispamérica as a testimonio.  See another interview with Omar Cabezas: "Entrevista con Omar Cabezas" por Rafael Varela.