Gioconda Belli is an award-winning Nicaraguan author. She has published novels, poetry collections, essays, and a memoir called “The country under my skin,” which recounts her time as a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN. 

The Sandinistas were born in the 1960’s to fight for Nicaragua’s liberation from the Somozas, a family of dictators who had ruled for over 40 years with the support of the U.S. government. After almost two decades, in 1979, the Sandinistas finally accomplished what seemed impossible: They removed the Somozas from power. 

At that moment, Gioconda was in exile in Costa Rica, forced there by the Somoza regime. Also in exile was Daniel Ortega, the current president of Nicaragua—and a fellow Sandinista. They both returned to help rebuild the nation. But in the 40 years since the victory of the Sandinistas, their paths diverged radically. Gioconda Belli is no longer an FSLN militant; she has dedicated her life to literature. And she is once again in exile, stripped of her Nicaraguan citizenship by the person who once was her comrade: President Daniel Ortega.

The success of the Sandinista Revolution was followed by more than a decade of civil war with the emergence of the Contras—a far-right, counter-revolutionary faction supported by the Reagan administration.

In the elections of 1984, Daniel Ortega became president of Nicaragua. He ran again six years later, but lost the country’s vote. Ortega tried to return to power in every single election that followed, finally succeeding in 2007.

But by then, the FSLN was no longer the revolutionary party of the 1970s. And neither was Ortega. He has been in power for the last 16 years, and has become increasingly authoritarian and repressive—particularly after the violent repression that followed massive anti-government protests in 2018.

Since she distanced herself from the FSLN, Gioconda has been one of the most prominent Nicaraguan voices speaking out against the Ortega regime. And in February of 2023, she was one of more than 300 writers, journalists, students, human rights activists, and opposition leaders, who were accused of treason and stripped of their Nicaraguan citizenship by the government of Ortega. Gioconda is now living in Madrid after she accepted the citizenship offered by the Spanish government to recent exiles.

Gioconda Belli and Maria Hinojosa connecting across the Atlantic for their conversation.

In this episode of Latino USA, Gioconda talks about her long history of standing up to dictators, what she finds revolutionary in writing, and what hopes she still has for the future of Nicaragua.

Featured image by Charles Castaldi.

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