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Gioconda Belli Reflects On Nicaragua


Nicaragua holds a presidential election this November. The current president, Daniel Ortega, is seeking reelection, and he has either arrested every candidate running against him or forced them to flee to avoid detention. It is not just politicians he's after. It is journalists and dissidents, too. Gioconda Belli is one of them. She's a poet and writer who once worked side by side with President Ortega during the Sandinista revolution. She's now taken refuge from him in the United States, and she joins us now.

Gioconda Belli, welcome.

GIOCONDA BELLI: Thank you, Mary Louise.

KELLY: I'm sorry to say this is not the first time you have fled Nicaragua. I know you left once before in 1975. This was after you fought to overthrow the Somoza family, and you were put on military trial. And now you find yourself exiled again. And I wonder, did you ever imagine this would happen again?

BELLI: Well, no. You know, I left my house in May to come and visit my daughters who live in the United States, and I just came with a suitcase with summer clothes. I never thought that I wouldn't be able to go back to Nicaragua. But during the month of June - on June 2 they captured the first person, Cristiana Chamorro, who was running for president. And then they continued with Arturo Cruz and so on and so forth. My friends from Nicaragua called me and said, don't come back, because I have been very critical of Daniel Ortega.

KELLY: May I ask; was there something specific that made you decide it was too dangerous to return?

BELLI: My brother was in Nicaragua. He was called to this fiscalia, where they would interview you. And very often they would capture you when you came out. And so he decided not to go. And that day they came to his house - 30 policemen and - to do a search of his house. And they took all his computers. So it was very scary. And I thought, you know, this is not a good sign for me. So I have been here, waiting to see what happens.

KELLY: Is your family OK now? May I ask?

BELLI: I only have one brother left in Nicaragua. You know, we are all spread out around the world.

KELLY: How do you understand what is happening in your country? You know Daniel Ortega well. Do you recognize him as the same man you once worked with?

BELLI: Well, you know, he's a person that doesn't know how to handle power, and he begins to get very arrogant. He was very shocked at what happened in 2018. I think he had the idea that everything was going fine. And in 2018, we had this uprising of the people. And since then he lost all sense of prudence and began to just kill. You know, they killed 328 people. And since then, he decided he had to hold onto power at whatever price.

KELLY: So you find yourself here in the U.S. for - I guess you don't know how long. Are you able to write?

BELLI: I wrote a poem. Yes, I wrote a poem about the bicentennial anniversary of the independence of Central America. I get very passionate. I get very angry. It's so hard for me to imagine that I won't be able to go back to Nicaragua. I mean, it, like, seems totally unreal. I have my house, my books, my dogs. I never, ever thought in my life that I would live through two dictatorships, you know? I mean, we fought so hard to get rid of Somoza. You know, we do not deserve as a people to go through what we are going through now. It's really cruel.

KELLY: I want to ask about something you said that I saw from a recent interview. You said our lives are very short and history is very long and that we shouldn't be disappointed if our dreams don't come true. What are your dreams for your country now?

BELLI: My dreams are that we are able to live in a democracy, however complicated that is, and that we have social justice and we are able to progress, you know, to have - to develop, to - Nicaragua has so many talented people, but they are all live in the country now. You know, and I don't know if they're ever going to go back. You know, maybe we do not see our dreams come true because we live very short time. So we have to push the car of history. We have to do our duty to our countries even if we are not going to see what is going to happen because we can be sure that doing our duty to our country - we are contributing to a better future, whatever that future might be.

KELLY: That is the Nicaraguan poet and writer Gioconda Belli.

Thank you very much.

BELLI: Thank you, Mary Louise. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Miguel Macias is a Senior Producer at All Things Considered, where he is proud to work with a top-notch team to shape the content of the daily show.