A Cervantes prize, a novel kidnapped in Nicaraguan customs and the shadow of exile haunting Sergio Ramírez again. The 79-year-old writer is currently entrenched in Madrid while his latest book cannot enter his country of origin. Both have been left outside the Nicaraguan borders by mandate of the Government of Daniel Ortega, the president who has launched a wave of arrests against critical voices and alleged opponents of the country. Among them, Ramírez, whom the Prosecutor’s Office accuses of “conspiring”, inciting hatred and violence and undermining national integrity, among other crimes.
Madrid Book Fair: “We are overwhelmed”
The novel in question is Tongolele did not know how to dance and Alfaguara has been the house chosen to edit and distribute it in Spanish-speaking countries. The publication date is September 16 in Spain, where there will be no problems finding it in bookstores. The author received the Cervantes Prize in 2017 and enjoys good press on this side of the Atlantic. Not so in Nicaragua.
The Alfaguara packages have been seized at customs for two weeks, waiting for the publisher to send a summary of the plot before releasing them. But in the meantime, they have found a formula to circumvent border controls: WhatsApp. The book has been circulating since last Friday in PDF format as a kind of chain message. The label of “prohibited book” has worked like a spring and has helped to distribute it among the mobile phones of Nicaraguans. However, Ramírez has not yet ruled on this “solidarity piracy” – such as the one that occurred with Fariña and that the author himself criticized – when the novel has not yet been launched on the market.
But what hides Tongolele did not know how to dance so that they do not allow their entry to the country? Does it have to do only with the novel? The enmity and political rivalry between Ramírez and Ortega dates back to the end of the last century, but the trilogy that ends now and begins with Heaven cries for me (2009) and Nobody cries for me anymore (2017) has added fuel to the fire.
The protagonist is Inspector Dolores Morales, a former agent of the Sandinista revolution who works as a private detective in contemporary Nicaragua and serves as a vehicle to review the sewers of the country’s political system. “The crime novel that one reads from the United States, from Sweden, is based on characters who have behind them a pristine police apparatus, a transparent justice system, prosecutors who are not moved by any wind”, Ramírez expressed in the promotion of his previous book. “In Latin America, from Mexico to the south, passing through Nicaragua, a policeman, private or public, has to count on entering to investigate a case in quicksand.”
Corruption and the temptation of money are some of the author’s favorite themes. And although he always says that his characters are fictional, he recognizes that Dolores Morales is his alter ego and that his novels are “a mirror” of what is happening in Latin America, in Nicaragua, because according to the author it is what he knows best. The plot of TongoleleIn fact, it focuses on the 2018 riots, brutally repressed by the police and Sandinista paramilitary groups. There were 427 deaths. Tongolele is a mercenary who works for the regime and pulls the political strings that Morales must confront. It could only be a fictionalized scenario were it not for Sergio Ramírez’s own closeness to the Government and his past as a front-row politician. He became vice president with Daniel Ortega between 1984 and 1991. Five years later he retired from politics, but in 1999 he published a memoir –Bye guys– in which he made clear his enmity with Ortega.
All this has served as an excuse for the president to condemn the latest novel, accuse it of destabilizing the country, and issue an arrest warrant for Ramírez and a search warrant. “As they announce that they are going to raid my house, what they are going to find is a house full of books. The books of a writer. The books of all my life. I am a writer committed to democracy and liberate it, and I will not give up on this effort from wherever I am “, has published the Cervantes Prize on their social networks. Ramírez has recognized an exile sentence in Ortega’s destabilizing movement and these days in Madrid he has assumed that “returning to Nicaragua would mean death” for him.
It would not be the first time. In 1977, Anastasio Somoza accused him through the Prosecutor’s Office of crimes “similar to those of today,” Ramírez laments: terrorism, illicit association, committing a crime, and violating order and peace. Then he had to take refuge in Costa Rica. Despite years of rivalry, Nicaraguans perceived the author as one of the untouchables. The reality has changed and he does not doubt that it is because of the novel.
International support and other literary totems
The RAE and 14 other Latin American Language Academies have issued a statement in support of Sergio Ramírez to demand that the Nicaraguan government withdraw the accusations and the arrest warrant against the author. The RAE “defends the freedoms of thought and expression as the first values of any system of coexistence and regrets the serious attempt to curtail them.” According to the institution, “avoiding the free expression of all kinds of opinions, especially those of political content, is the most intolerable form of arbitrary exercise of power because it leads to the oppression of citizens for the exclusive benefit of those who rule.”
In recent months, the Nicaraguan Prosecutor’s Office has attributed the same charges as Ramírez to 34 other personalities critical of the Government. “We flatly reject the unfounded accusations made by the Nicaraguan Prosecutor’s Office against the writer Sergio Ramírez, for whom they have filed a arrest warrant and ordered the search of their properties, “said the Government of Spain through a joint letter signed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Culture.
In addition, this Monday, more than 250 signatures of literature, music, acting, journalism or diplomacy have published a letter against the actions of Daniel Ortega, which they perceive as an “attack on freedom and an insult to intelligence.” Among them are writers such as Héctor Abad Faciolince and Leila Guerriero; singers like Ana Belén and Miguel Ríos, actresses like Aitana Sánchez Gijón, directors like the Argentine Juan José Campanella, journalists like Sol Gallego Díaz and Joaquín Estefanía.