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Roque Dalton

Roque Dalton

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Roque Dalton García (San Salvador
San Salvador
The city of San Salvador the capital and largest city of El Salvador, which has been designated a Gamma World City. Its complete name is La Ciudad de Gran San Salvador...

, El Salvador
El Salvador
El Salvador or simply Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. The country's capital city and largest city is San Salvador; Santa Ana and San Miguel are also important cultural and commercial centers in the country and in all of Central America...

, 14 May 1935 – Quezaltepeque
Quezaltepeque, La Libertad
Quezaltepeque is a municipality in the La Libertad department of El Salvador. It is located about 15 km from San Salvador. Quezaltepeque is a modern city that has a little bit of everything, from shops, restaurants to swimming spots. It has one of the largest prisons in El Salvador, which...

, El Salvador, 10 May 1975) was a Salvadoran
El Salvador
El Salvador or simply Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. The country's capital city and largest city is San Salvador; Santa Ana and San Miguel are also important cultural and commercial centers in the country and in all of Central America...

 poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

 and journalist
Journalism
Journalism is the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion. Though there are many variations of journalism, the ideal is to inform the intended audience. Along with covering organizations and institutions such as government and...

. He is considered one of Latin America
Latin America
Latin America is a region of the Americas where Romance languages  – particularly Spanish and Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken. Latin America has an area of approximately 21,069,500 km² , almost 3.9% of the Earth's surface or 14.1% of its land surface area...

's most compelling poets. He wrote emotionally strong, sometimes sarcastic, and image-loaded works dealing with life, death, love, and politics.

Early life and education


Dalton was the son of Winnall Dalton and María García Medrano. Winnall Dalton emigrated to Mexico
Mexico
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

, and came to El Salvador in the early 1920s. Winnall Dalton married Aida Ulloa, from a wealthy Salvadoran family. He gained control of his wife's large farm and dedicated his life to agriculture. He survived a homicide attempt. The nurse who took care of Winnall Dalton in the Salvadoran hospital, María García Medrano, later gave birth to Roque Dalton. Her hard work and good luck allowed her to provide their children a high-quality education.

Roque graduated from Externado San José
Externado San José
Externado San José is a private and Catholic school run by the Society of Jesus in San Salvador, El Salvador.-Brief history:A recognized Catholic and private institution of basic and secondary education run by the Jesuits. It was founded in 1921 and operated as a school for boys until the 1970s,...

, an exclusive Jesuit school for boys in San Salvador
San Salvador
The city of San Salvador the capital and largest city of El Salvador, which has been designated a Gamma World City. Its complete name is La Ciudad de Gran San Salvador...

. Afterwards he was sent by his father to Santiago
Santiago, Chile
Santiago , also known as Santiago de Chile, is the capital and largest city of Chile, and the center of its largest conurbation . It is located in the country's central valley, at an elevation of above mean sea level...

 in Chile
Chile
Chile ,officially the Republic of Chile , is a country in South America occupying a long, narrow coastal strip between the Andes mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It borders Peru to the north, Bolivia to the northeast, Argentina to the east, and the Drake Passage in the far...

 to study law
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

 in the Universidad Nacional de Chile. There, he established close relationships to Leftist students and attended lectures with the Mexican
Mexican people
Mexican people refers to all persons from Mexico, a multiethnic country in North America, and/or who identify with the Mexican cultural and/or national identity....

 artist
Artist
An artist is a person engaged in one or more of any of a broad spectrum of activities related to creating art, practicing the arts and/or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only...

 Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Diego María de la Concepción Juan Nepomuceno Estanislao de la Rivera y Barrientos Acosta y Rodríguez was a prominent Mexican painter born in Guanajuato, Guanajuato, an active communist, and husband of Frida Kahlo . His large wall works in fresco helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in...

. Around this time, he developed a great interest in Socialism
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

.

When he returned to El Salvador, he was accepted by the Law School
Law school
A law school is an institution specializing in legal education.- Law degrees :- Canada :...

 of the Universidad de El Salvador (UES) and in 1955 he and the Guatemalan poet Otto René Castillo
Otto René Castillo
Otto René Castillo was a Guatemalan poet and revolutionary.- Early life and activism :Castillo was born in Quetzaltenango in 1934 to middle-class parents...

 founded Círculo Literario Universitario, which published some of Central America's most recognized literary figures.

Writing and political career


In 1961 he travelled to Havana
Havana
Havana is the capital city, province, major port, and leading commercial centre of Cuba. The city proper has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants, and it spans a total of — making it the largest city in the Caribbean region, and the most populous...

, where he was welcomed by Casa de las Américas
Casa de las Américas
Casa de las Américas is an organization that was founded by the Cuban Government in April 1959, four months after the Cuban Revolution, for the purpose of developing and extending the socio-cultural relations with the countries of Latin America, the Caribbean and the rest of the world...

, a gathering place for many exiled leftist Latin American writers. Dalton returned clandestinely to El Salvador
El Salvador
El Salvador or simply Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. The country's capital city and largest city is San Salvador; Santa Ana and San Miguel are also important cultural and commercial centers in the country and in all of Central America...

 in 1965 but was soon caught and taken prisoner. He awaited execution in Cojutepeque
Cojutepeque
Cojutepeque is the capital city of El Salvador's Cuscatlán department. It also serves as the administrative centre for the surrounding municipality of Cojutepeque...

, but he was miraculously saved. There was an earthquake
Earthquake
An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. The seismicity, seismism or seismic activity of an area refers to the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time...

 and the wall from his prison cell fell down. Dalton took advantage of this and escaped. He slipped into a passing religious procession
Procession
A procession is an organized body of people advancing in a formal or ceremonial manner.-Procession elements:...

 and managed to meet his fellow revolutionaries who helped him escape to Cuba
Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

 again. He was then sent to Prague
Prague
Prague is the capital and largest city of the Czech Republic. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of over 2.3 million...

 as a correspondent for The International Review: Problems for Peace and Socialism. While he was in Prague, he wrote his internationally acclaimed Taberna y Otros Lugares. He also produced a landmark biography of Miguel Mármol, a prominent Salvadoran communist who participated in the 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising
1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising
The peasant uprising of 1932, also known as La matanza , was a brief, peasant-led rebellion that occurred on January 22 of that year in the western departments of El Salvador...

 and was living in exile in Prague.

In 1970 Roque Dalton had become a recognized figure in the Salvadoran left. He tried hard to become a revolutionary soldier, for which reason he participated in military training camps in Cuba several times. He once wrote: "Politics are taken up at the risk of life, or else you don't talk about it".


Roque Dalton (1937–75) was the major literary figure and an important political architect of the revolutionary movement in El Salvador. Dalton represents a new type of Latin American writer: no longer the genial 'fellow traveler' of the revolution, like Pablo Neruda, but rather the rank and file revolutionary activist for whom the intricate cabbala of clandestine struggle-pass- words, safe houses, escape routes, forged documents, sectarian squabbles- was as familiar as Parisian surrealism. A dangerous and difficult profession, in which the event that seals a writer's reputation is often precocious martyrdom.



When he felt ready as a soldier
Soldier
A soldier is a member of the land component of national armed forces; whereas a soldier hired for service in a foreign army would be termed a mercenary...

, he sought admission in the Salvadoran Marxist-Leninist
Marxism-Leninism
Marxism–Leninism is a communist ideology, officially based upon the theories of Marxism and Vladimir Lenin, that promotes the development and creation of a international communist society through the leadership of a vanguard party over a revolutionary socialist state that represents a dictatorship...

, political-military organization FPL
-Fuerzas Populares de Liberación "Farabundo Marti-" (Popular Liberation Forces "Farabundo Marti" in English). However, the organization's leader, Commander "Marcial" (whose real name was Salvador Cayetano Carpio), rejected his application, arguing that Roque's role in the revolution was as a poet
Poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

, and not as a foot-soldier. Because of this, he applied to join the ERP - Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo- (People's Revolutionary Army in English). Though Dalton himself was not allowed to become part of the FPL
Fuerzas Populares de Liberación Farabundo Martí
.The Fuerzas Populares de Liberación "Farabundo Martí" was a left wing guerrilla military and political organization in El Salvador...

, both his sons joined the FPL in the late 70s. Roque Dalton's military career also included cooperation with Guatemala
Guatemala
Guatemala is a country in Central America bordered by Mexico to the north and west, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, Belize to the northeast, the Caribbean to the east, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast...

n revolutionaries in creating EGP
Guerrilla Army of the Poor
The Guerrilla Army Of The Poor was Guatemalan guerrilla movement, one of the four organizations comprising the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity that negotiated and signed the Peace accords in Guatemala with the Government and the Army of Guatemala.Initially, the guerrilla...

 - Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres (Guerrilla Army of the Poor in English).

Once an active member in ERP, Dalton stressed the importance of establishing bonds with the organizations from civil society. Some of the other members of ERP disagreed with him. They accused him of trying to divide the organization. This group, whose most internationally known leader was Joaquin Villalobos ("Atilio"), allegedly condemned him to death on 10 May 1975, only four days before Roque was to turn 40. Therefore, Dalton's literary production stopped when a group of commandos, whose members were Joaquin Villalobos
Joaquín Villalobos
Joaquín Villalobos is a Salvadoran politician and former guerrilla leader.Villalobos was one the main leaders of the People's Revolutionary Army, or Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo, a group that emerged in El Salvador in the early 1970s as a loose federation of cells with roots in various...

 and Jorge Melendez (nom de guerre 'Jonas') ended his life. This commando was sent by Edgar Alejandro Rivas Mira. Roque was shot to death in a house in Santa Anita neighbourhood in San Salvador city. There were possibly others involved in his execution, but these are the ones still alive today: Villalobos settled in Great Britain; Melendez is an MP for San Salvador City for FMLN and Rivas Mira hides behind plastic surgeries, which were paid with money obtained from the kidnapping and murder of the multi-millionaire Roberto Poma. The most commonly accepted version of facts suggests that Dalton was "mistakenly accused" of operating as an agent for the CIA
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

, reason for which he was executed. In this way his murder bears resemblance to that of Anna Mae Aquash
Anna Mae Aquash
Anna Mae Aquash was a Mi'kmaq activist from Nova Scotia, Canada who became the highest-ranking woman in the American Indian Movement in the United States during the mid-1970s.Aquash...

, an American Indian Movement activist who was mistakenly identified as an FBI informer.


In 1975, he was back in El Salvador working in the underground. This was a difficult time for the revolutionary movement, and Dalton's own organization, the ERP, was torn by a bitterfactional fight. Dalton criticized the organization's military adventurism and argued the need to build a mass base. Under circumstances that still remain obscure, he was accused of complicity with the CIA and assassinated by members of a rival faction of the ERP.


The reason was that many things he was privy to were subsequently known by the government, and by implication the CIA
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

. It is commonly suggested. that someone Roque knew, and confided in, was an "oreja" (ear, or CIA
Central Intelligence Agency
The Central Intelligence Agency is a civilian intelligence agency of the United States government. It is an executive agency and reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence, responsible for providing national security intelligence assessment to senior United States policymakers...

 spy/informant) and this is how confidential information was being discovered. Both the FPL
Fuerzas Populares de Liberación Farabundo Martí
.The Fuerzas Populares de Liberación "Farabundo Martí" was a left wing guerrilla military and political organization in El Salvador...

 and ERP were founding organizations of a united guerrilla front known as FMLN.

Trivia

  • Roque Dalton is currently featured on Salvadoran
    El Salvador
    El Salvador or simply Salvador is the smallest and the most densely populated country in Central America. The country's capital city and largest city is San Salvador; Santa Ana and San Miguel are also important cultural and commercial centers in the country and in all of Central America...

     postage stamps.
  • According to a legend, Roque Dalton underwent plastic surgery
    Plastic surgery
    Plastic surgery is a medical specialty concerned with the correction or restoration of form and function. Though cosmetic or aesthetic surgery is the best-known kind of plastic surgery, most plastic surgery is not cosmetic: plastic surgery includes many types of reconstructive surgery, hand...

    . He did this in order to be able to return clandestinely to El Salvador. According to the Salvadoran writer Claribel Alegría
    Claribel Alegría
    Clara Isabel Alegría Vides is a Nicaraguan poet, essayist, novelist, and journalist who was a major voice in the literature of contemporary Central America. She writes under the pseudonym Claribel Alegría.-Early life:...

    , he had to disguise his long nose and flapping ears. He grew a moustache, started using eye glasses and went around with a different hairdo.
  • Roque Dalton was already politically active in El Salvador when the Cuban revolution
    Cuban Revolution
    The Cuban Revolution was an armed revolt by Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement against the regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista between 1953 and 1959. Batista was finally ousted on 1 January 1959, and was replaced by a revolutionary government led by Castro...

     started in 1959. This year he was arrested and was allegedly sentenced to be executed by a firing squad. The day before his execution, Col. José María Lemus
    José María Lemus
    José María Lemus Lopez was President of El Salvador 14 September 1956 - 26 October 1960.He was a military ruler and member of the Party of Democratic Unification. He put into law the Tenant Law, over people renting and the renters of houses or "Mesones"...

     was overthrown from presidency
    Presidency
    The word presidency is often used to describe the administration or the executive, the collective administrative and governmental entity that exists around an office of president of a state or nation...

    , and because of this, Dalton's life was spared. Once he was freed from jail
    Prison
    A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

    , he travelled to Mexico
    Mexico
    The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

     in exile
    Exile
    Exile means to be away from one's home , while either being explicitly refused permission to return and/or being threatened with imprisonment or death upon return...

     and wrote much of the material that appeared in his books El Turno del Ofendido and La Ventana en el Rostro
  • Roque Dalton is credited with the following quote: "Poetry, like bread, is for everyone."
  • Roque Dalton's "Poema de Amor" (Love Poem) is the most popular poem among the Salvadoran community abroad. Many of his poems have been put into songs. Dalton's "Poema de Amor" was musicalized by the group Yolocamba Ita. and Bohemia
  • Roque Dalton's two sons, Roquito (i.e. Roque Dalton Jr.) and Juan José (also known as "El Vaquerito"), joined the FPL and were founding members of the FMLN in 1980. Juan José (whose FPL nom-de-guerre was Joaquin) had the honor to have the main speech on the FMLN's founding parade in Cuba. The other orator during the parade was supposed to be Commander Fidel Castro, but due to security reasons, the speech was delegated to Division General Arnaldo Ochoa
    Arnaldo Ochoa
    Arnaldo T. Ochoa Sánchez was a prominent Cuban general who was executed after being found guilty of treason.-Career:Ochoa was born from an old Oriente area family of farmers...

    .

Poetry

  • Mía junto a los pájaros, San Salvador,1957
  • La ventana en el rostro, México, 1961
  • El mar, La Habana, 1962
  • El turno del ofendido, La Habana, 1962
  • Los testimonios, La Habana, 1964
  • Poemas. Antología, San Salvador, 1968
  • Taberna y otros lugares, Premio Casa de las Américas, La Habana, 1969
  • Los pequeños infiernos, Barcelona, 1970
  • In Translation to English: "Small Hours of the Night", translated by Jonathan Cohen, James Graham,

Ralph Nelson, Paul Pines, Hardie St. Martin and David Unger. Edited by Hardie St. Martin, Curbstone Press, 1997.

Essays

  • "César Vallejo", La Habana, 1963
  • "El intellectual y la sociedad", 1969
  • "¿Revolución en la revolución? y la crítica de la derecha", La Habana, 1970
  • "Un libro rojo para Lenin", La Habana, 1970
  • "Miguel Mármol y los sucesos de 1932 en El Salvador", 1972
  • "Las historias prohibidas del Pulgarcito", México, 1974
  • "El Salvador (monografia)" UCA Editores.

External links