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  • Ruben Dario

    Ruben Dario | Photo: La Voz del Sandinismo

Published 6 February 2016
The influence of the two men beyond Nicaragua has been immense, making them integral to the history of Latin America and the Caribbean's emancipation from foreign domination.

This February Nicaragua is commemorating the centenary of the writer Ruben Darío's death in 1916 and also one more anniversary of General Augusto Sandino's murder at the behest of the U.S. government in 1934. People outside Nicaragua may well be familiar with some of the story of Sandino, but most non-Spanish speaking people will be much less familiar with the enduring influence and legacy of Ruben Dario because it is so tied to Dario's importance to the Spanish language and literature. The influence of the two men beyond Nicaragua has been immense, making them integral to the history of Latin America and the Caribbean's emancipation from foreign domination. Anyone seeking to understand the springs of contemporary history in Latin America and the Caribbean needs to appreciate the meaning of Sandino and Darío in Nicaragua now.

Beyond their importance for Nicaragua's national cultural identity, both Dario and Sandino in their different ways embodied resistance to foreign domination and the defense of Latin American identity. It may worth remembering that when the Cuban writer Roberto Fernandez Retamar included Darío in his litany of Latin American and Caribbean heroes and martyrs in his classic 1971 essay “Caliban,” he did so like this: “Ruben Dario (yes, when all is said and done).” Presumably, Retamar added that curious rider to his ratification of Darío because he felt uneasy at Dario's embrace of European culture, regarding it as perilously double-edged, as if it were necessary to excuse Dario for the facts of that extraordinary Nicaraguan writer's life.

Understanding of Dario has been transformed since Retamar's essay, especially as a result of the Sandinista People's Revolution of 1979 which set free a wave of studies of Ruben Dario long stifled, with few exceptions, by the intellectual mediocrity of the Somoza dictatorship. In 2009, the distinguished Nicaraguan writer Aldo Diaz Lacayo, academic, diplomat and historian, gave a talk about Sandino and Dario in his inimitable style, talking directly with the tremendous fraternal solidarity of the guerrilla fighter he once was. His talk was about the links between Ruben Dario and Augusto Sandino, explaining that Dario's death in 1916 coincided with a period of pro-U.S. conservative government whose intellectuals sought to bury Dario's reputation because the poet was a prominent anti-U.S. Liberal.

During the same period, the young Sandino left Nicaragua to travel up to Mexico, forming on his journey a passionate anti-imperialist commitment to Simon Bolivar's vision of an independent and integrated Latin America. Lacayo argues that while Dario's direct ideological and intellectual influence on Sandino was practically negligible, despite that, the two men share a powerful common influence in the formation of Nicaragua's national consciousness and too a great influence internationally as revolutionaries who helped transform the world far beyond Nicaragua. In Darío's case, not for nothing were his most important works published first in Chile and Argentina. So when writers from Pablo Neruda to Jorge Luis Borges to Octavio Paz affirm and reaffirm the importance to them of Darió's work and example, it is worth asking why.

It provokes much thought, for example, that someone of the conventional literary stature of Borges should write, “Dario renewed everything, vocabulary, metric, the peculiar magic of certain words, the sensibility of poets and readers, his work is not over nor will it be. Those of us who fought it now understand we are continuing it. We can call him Liberator.” That word alone reverberates throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Among the first measures of the Venezuelan opposition in the National Assembly, Borges' ideological allies, was the removal of portraits of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, from the legislature's building. So when a center right ideologue like Borges praises Dario as a Liberator, the ironies and subtleties run deep.

Aldo Diaz Lacayo cites many quotes from Dario's work, for example, “When leading thinkers point to the menacing future and how the sheer greed of the North is clear for all to see, all that remains is to get ready to defend against it...” (The Triumph of Caliban) or, “Right now in Central America there's a small country that seeks only to develop its industry and trade in peace and good order; that wants nothing else but to ensure its place in the sun and to follow its destiny... but a revolution is paralyzing and weakening it. This revolution is fomented by a great nation which is the republic of the United States. And Nicaragua has done nothing to the United States that could justify this policy.” (Mr. Roosevelt's words and deeds.)

Dario remarked, appraising himself, “Do I have in myself some drop of blood from Africa or Chorotega or Nagrandano indian? That might well be...” and, “If Our America has any poetry it lies in the ancient things: in Palenke and Utatlan, in the legendary (indigenous peoples) and the fine, sensual Incas and in the great Montezuma of the golden throne.”

Dario's rejection of U.S. imperialism in the "Ode to Roosevelt" is well known, as is the later, more ambivalent, “Saluting the Eagle.” Less well known is Dario's criticism and self-criticism of Latin American lethargy in his poem “The Swans,” “Are we to be betrayed to the savage barbarians? Will so many millions of people end up speaking English? Are there no longer noble leaders and soldiers? Shall we stay quiet now, to weep openly only later?”

Diaz Lacayo summarizes all that and points out that, “Sandino and Dario are not alien to each other. In their own sphere, both are supreme expressions of the collective national unconscious. They both invoke the blood and culture of the original peoples as the basis of their own identity and both recognize Spanish transculturization as an irrevocable, but not fundamntal, factor of that identity. Both are equally open to the world, devoted to the defense of freedom and to a religious, philosophical view of life. In consequence, both are national paradigms, the highest representatives of Nicaraguan identity.”

And while most English speaking people know very little of Darío's revolutionary transformation of Spanish language and literature, similarly, those who are aware of General Augusto Sandino's successful campaign against the U.S. military occupation of Nicaragua between 1927 and 1933, know very little about Sandino's own beliefs. Sandino wrote several important documents during that period, among them, quite well known is his 1927 “Manifesto to Nicaraguans, Central Americans and to the Indo-Hispanic peoples” and his famous “Plan to Realize the Supreme Dream of Bolivar” of 1929. Less well known is the “Light and Truth Manifesto” of 1931 which is worth translating in full because it is a document that explains a great deal about how Sandino's idealism and spirituality interacted with his practical military know how to command the loyalty of ordinary people and motivate many thousands of Nicaraguans to stand firm against foreign military occupation by the greatest power in the hemisphere:

Manifesto 'Light and Truth'

February 15th 1931

Manifesto to the members of our Army in Defense of Nicaragua's National Sovereignty.

A divine impulse encourages and protects our army from its beginning and until its end.

That same impulse asks in justice that all our sister and brother members of this Army get to know the laws that govern the Universe in their own Light and Truth.

So then, sisters and brothers:

All of you are in the presence of a power superior to your own and to that of all the other powers of the Universe. That invisible power has many names but we have come to know it by the name of God. No doubt very many among you have sought out someone to explain to you these things that are so beautiful.

So then, sisters and brothers:

What existed in the Universe, before all the things you can see or touch, was the ether, Nature's only and original raw material. But before the ether, which fills the whole Universe, there existed a great Will: that is to say, a great longing to Be of what was not, and we have come to know that longing as Love.

All this explains that the beginning of all things is Love : or in other words, God. One might also call it the Parent Creator of the Universe. The only daughter of Love is Divine Justice.

Injustice has no reason to exist in the Universe and was born from the envy and antagonism of people, before they had understood its spirit.

But the incomprehension of men and women is only transitory in the life of the Universe: and when the majority of women and men come to know that they live by the Spirit, injustice will end forever and only Divine Justice will reign: the only daughter of Love.

So then sisters and brothers:

Often you will have heard talk of the Last Judgment of this world.

By the Last Judgment of the world one ought to understand the destruction of all injustice on Earth and the reign of the Spirit of Light and Truth, or in other words Love.

Also you will have heard talk that for this 20th Century, or as some say the Century of Lights, the prophecy is of the Last Judgment of the world.

So then sisters and brothers:

The century in question has 100 years and we're already in the thirty first. Which means the predicted apocalypse should happen in the next 69 years left.

It is not true that Saint Vincent has to arrive with his trumpet, nor is it true that the world will explode and then collapse on itself : No.

What will happen is the following:

The oppressed peoples will break their chains of humiliation with which the imperialists of the Earth have wanted to hold us down.

The trumpets to sound will be the bugles of war, sounding the hymns of freedom of the oppressed peoples against the injustice of the oppressors.

The only thing that will collapse is injustice : and what will reign will be Perfection, Love; with its favoured child Divine Justice.

Sisters and brothers, we have the honor of having been chosen in Nicaragua by Divine Justice to begin the trial of injustice on Earth. Fear not my dear sisters and brothers and be sure, very sure that we will soon have our definitive triumph in Nicaragua with which the fuse will be lit of the “Proletarian Explosion” against the imperialists of the Earth.

Sincerely, your brother,

In the headquarters of the Army in Defense of Nicaragua's National Sovereignty
El Chipotón, Las Segovias, Nicaragua. Central America

February 15th 1931

Our Country and Freedom

A.C. Sandino”

In recent history, perhaps only Comandante Hugo Chavez has shared that kind of eclectic faith and the charismatic ability to project that faith so as to inspire a whole people.

In any case, the careers and biographies of Augusto Sandino and Ruben Dario have a kind of inverse symmetry. For decades after his death, Darío's renown among European and Latin American literary and intellectual elites gave him a kind of petrified prestige and status, propped up like a mummy by the good opinion and debates of the intellectual and academic literary industry. His writings were largely treated like any other great writers', mined by academics and imposed as set books students had to learn for examinations and which were then forgotten. As Diaz Lacayo points out, it was the Sandinista Revolution of 1979 that really reclaimed Dario as a living and vital influence as Nicaragua's emblematic national poet, as the archetypal Latin American poet and also projecting his work beyond the Latin American sphere as an authentic embodiment of regional unity and anti-imperialist resistance.

On the other hand, while Sandino's anti-imperialist struggle is very well known, Sandino's own idealism and the spirituality that motivated and inspired him have tended to be either suppressed or else exploited by ideologues of one camp or another in attempts to diminish the scale and reach of his huge achievements. That is also true of the contribution of his partner Blanca Arauz, the decisive influence in so many ways in Sandino's life prior to her death in 1933. It has been the Sandinista leadership since 2006, Daniel Ortega and, especially, Rosario Murillo that have celebrated that crucial aspect of the lives of Sandino and Arauz, complemented greatly by tireless research by Sandino's family.

The life and work of both Dario and Sandino have begun to be appreciated in all their dimensions only over the last few years. Dario's centenary year commemorations through 2016 offer a wonderful opportunity for a wider appreciation of his achievements and importance for Latin America and to learn how they have interacted with the achievements of Sandino. Together they transcend Latin America as a lesson, perhaps unequaled, of how the formation of cultural and political identity can enhance and reinforce spiritual, moral and intellectual resistance in defense of Latin American and the Caribbean integrity and sovereignty.

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