When There Is No Other Way
Gioconda Belli’s journey from privilege to Sandinista fighter begins with a spark that echos in our cities today
Anger at leaders behaving badly is nothing new. We have certainly experienced our share of late. But what sort of event does it take for us to move to the streets in protest? When is the right time to raise our voice?
Consider the case of Gioconda Belli, a Nicaraguan author, novelist, and poet. She came from wealth, recalling her journey from debutante balls to Sandinista fighter in her book The Country Under My Skin, A Memoir of Love and War. Disappointment and boredom followed her marriage at age nineteen reinforcing a feeling that she was destined for something greater. For Belli, the event that changed everything was the 1972 Nicaraguan earthquake near its capital, Managua.
When Belli became aware that Nicaraguan dictator Somoza was stealing the human aid coming into the country, she joined forces to topple him. What follows is a gripping account of her involvement as a resistance fighter.
A wife, mother, journalist, and member of this underground movement in its infancy, she operated in secret. When she was finally able to reveal her sympathies, those that knew her were shocked. Belli was in danger constantly and was twice forced to leave her beloved country or be arrested, tortured, possibly even murdered.
What struck me most were the risks she took. Exiled in Costa Rice, she delivered automatic weapons to the Nicaraguan border in her VW beetle. Her family home became the central meeting place for many covert activities. She did not see her daughters for months waiting for the right time to return home. When her husband attempted to take custody of their children because of her underground involvement, Belli did not back down, fighting to get them back using the same tenacity helpful to the Sandinistas.
As I reflect on my own country’s challenges, this Nicaraguan poet has provided an invaluable backdrop. How does an ongoing struggle become more visible to the world? What sustains it — and what sacrifices are necessary to achieve the desired state?
The death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, exploded into our view and pushed “protest” to a whole new visible and meaningful level. The images of tear gas, batons, and rubber bullets as consequences for taking a knee are a frighteningly consistent tinder box for movement toward social justice. Belli’s passion and love of country drove her to continue to push for what was right. In my hometown of Philadelphia, I see that same passion and determination.
I remember back to the Regan era when the Sandinistas were branded on the wrong side of the law. If you are looking for the correct version of the struggles during that very tumultuous time, Belli’s book is that truth. If you are looking for the truth regarding today’s narrative, grab your phone, search for #BLM and press play.
May the courage and sacrifice of those who have ignited this movement continue, strengthened by their convictions and vision for a just world. Gioconda Belli will tell you — it’s a long yet worthwhile road.
Anna Maria DiDio is a writer, speaker, and coach. Her first book — Love at the Border, An Adoption Memoir from Mexico — is now available. See her author page on Amazon.