"There’s Nothing to Talk About: We Want Ortega to Leave"

Ernesto Cardenal was removed from the priesthood by John Paul II in 1984 along with other Sandinista priests. In 2007 he became an outspoken critic of Ortega. (DW)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Gabriela Selser, Managua, 28 March 2019 —  He was in the hospital for 16 days and many feared the worst. But at 94, the Nicaraguan poet and priest Ernesto Cardenal not only survived a serious kidney infection, but he has returned to his literary routine.

“I feel very well, I just have a little night cough but nothing serious, it must be an ache of old age,” the famous author of Psalms, Lost Life and Epigrams tells Deutsche Welle in an interview. Cardenal’s vast literary work has been translated into more than 20 languages and included in some 100 anthologies.

He greets us at his home in Managua dressed in his typical while peasant shirt, baggy jeans and a black beret over his gray hair. He is sitting next to a rustic desk in his austere, monastic room, where there is only one wide leather armchair, a hospital bed and a blue canvas hammock, his favorite place to think and rest.

The small typewriter does not stop typing as the poet speaks his words. Three affable nurses take turns reminding him to take his medicine or assist him in his readings.

Although he has been in a good mood, Cardinal is anguished thinking about Nicaragua. “The situation is worse, we want to get out of this, we want a total change in the country, a real social change,” he says.

Almost a year ago he wrote a proclamation denouncing the government’s repression of a student rebellion that broke out on April 18. In it he expressed himself against the opposition dialogue with President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

“And I keep saying: no to dialogue, we just want the presidential couple to leave, there is nothing to talk about,” he exclaimed when asked about the new negotiation, which began on February 27, to try to resolve the political crisis that has already gone on for 11 months.

What would you say to outsiders about what happens in Nicaragua? “They should know what is going on without me telling them, I have no freedom to say it, there is no freedom of any kind, anyone can suffer repression. Nor would I be free,” he says.

How to resolve what is happening in Nicaragua? “I do not know. I know the people, that is the people who can do it. And the young people mainly, who tried even though they did not succeed, but we are still waiting, hope is what keeps us going.”

Ernesto Cardenal began to compose verses as a child before he learned to read. He wrote his first poem, dedicated to the tomb of the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío, inspired by his father, who read aloud to him the rhymes of that forerunner of modernism (1867-1916).

“That poem was a childish thing, very primitive, it was not really poetry, but I called it poetry,” he recalls with a smile.

With the same passion that loved letters, he embraced religion. He was ordained as a priest in 1965, and founded a community of peasant artists in the Solentiname archipelago, in the southern Lake Nicaragua, where guerrilla groups emerged to fight the dictator Anastasio Somoza.

During the Sandinista Revolution, which included the first government of Daniel Ortega from 1985 to 1990, he was Minister of Culture. Because of his political commitment, Pope John Paul II applied an A Divinis sanction in 1984, prohibiting him as well as three other Sandinista priests from exercising the priesthood.

The papal sanction lasted for 35 years despite the fact that Father Ernesto distanced himself from Sandinismo and, in 2007 after the return of Ortega to power, he became a fierce critic of what he called “the new dictatorship.”

In mid-February, when the Cardinal was in serious condition, Pope Francisco annulled the 35-year long sanction. That same day, the author of The Gospel of Solentiname co-celebrated mass in the hospital with the apostolic nuncio in Managua, followed by other eucharistic celebrations at home, with close friends.

He says that the papal sanction did not affect his life as a priest. “I did not become a priest to administer sacraments, communions or marriages, my priestly vocation was always of social commitment and I never abandoned it,” he makes clear.

Ernesto Cardenal speaks to the scandals of pedophilia that have shaken the Catholic Church in recent years and attributes them to the obligation of celibacy in priests, something that he considers “unnatural.”

“Saint Paul said that he was celibate because he wanted to be, he did not oblige anyone to be celibate, and the other apostles were not, so there does not have to be obligatory celibacy,” he argues.

Cardinal admires the management of the Argentine pope Jorge Bergoglio. “It’s a miracle, a blessing from God, he’s making a revolution in the Vatican and, therefore, also in the Church and in the world,” he says.

The theme of God as author of the universe appears in many of his works from the famous Cosmic Canticle (1993), a poem of more than 500 pages translated into several languages, which he considers his most beloved book. “It’s my masterpiece, because of its length and because of the way in which the subject is approached,” he says.

In a similar vein he would later publish Telescope in the Dark Night (1993), This World and Another One (2011), Thus in the Earth as in the Sky (2018) and Sons of the Stars (2019), among others.

Now, the award-winning writer awaits the upcoming publication of a new anthology, Complete Poetry, which will see the light in Germany and Spain, countries where thousands of people have enjoyed his works.

Meanwhile, a new poem emerges from his typewriter. Titled We Are in the Firmament, its verses repeatedly blurring the dividing line between religious narrative and scientific theory. “The universe has a creator that is God, and an evolution that goes towards him, therefore, there is no cosmos without God,” concludes Cardenal.


Note: This interview was published by Deutsche Welle Latin America. We reproduce it with authorization from that newspaper.

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