Carlos Mejía Godoy: “My silence ended up being complicity”

It has been two years since the April 2018 uprising against the Ortega government. Many of those who rose up were Sandinistas appalled at the brutality of the response of the regime to the demonstrators. This interview of the songwriter most associated with the revolution follows this vein, where he criticizes himself for staying silent too long, out of the “the facile excuse: I have to continue fighting from within.”

Carlos Mejía Godoy: “My silence ended up being complicity”

By Fabián Medina in La Prensa, April 25, 2020

[see original Spanish]

Carlos Mejía Godoy talks about his days in quarantine, and appraises his participation in the Sandinista revolution. He recognizes that he should have resigned from the Sandinista Front when he began to see “all types of vices.”

What does the most famous living Nicaraguan songwriter do, and how does he spend his days in these times of coronavirus? Carlos Mejía Godoy, 76 years old, will have spent two years in exile this coming August. He left Nicaragua to keep himself safe from eventual reprisals that Daniel Ortega could take against him, when he decided to confront him publicly and head on. Since then he has been seen in concert tours, received in each country by Nicaraguans who see him as a national symbol, and, at times, missing from the public scene.

In this interview, held at a distance and with all the complications that have to be done in these times of plague, Mejía Godoy talks about his days of quarantine in a city in California, the ups and downs of his most recent musical work, and of course, he reviews the situation of Nicaragua and his participation in the Sandinista revolution. He maintains that he continues being Sandinista, but recognizes that he should have resigned from the Sandinista Front when he began to see “all types of vices” in the last revolutionary years. “I fell into the sin of omission,” he confesses.

Where is Carlos Mejía Godoy right now? If it can be made known, of course…

I am in California. In a city located two hours from San Francisco. In the beginning of April when my wife Xochitl and I got ready to fly to Costa Rica, this pandemic forced us to stay here, in the home of my sister, Conchita, married to a Russian citizen. They have been true angels for us. The home is spacious. It has a garden where we get some  sun every morning, and it offers us a certain amount of freedom of action. I feel blessed because there is an acoustic piano here in perfect condition, which allows me to exercise my limited piano skills, and, what is most important, be able to compose new songs and play popular and classical music.

How is your health?

Without wanting to be triumphalistic, I feel more vital and optimistic in my 76 years. Because, even though it is true that the prolonged exile is  physical and spiritual wear and tear, when I think about the dramatic situation of our brothers and sisters inside and outside the country, jailed, threatened, persecuted and now more beaten down by the global coronavirus plague, I feel that I am privileged. In my last stay in Costa Rica I had a general checkup, and for the advanced age that I am in, I find myself in optimal conditions.

How are you experiencing this coronavirus pandemic?

Fortunately, it hit us in this house in California and not in Costa Rica. Our apartment there in San José is comfortable, but is more limited in area. We are complying to the letter, my family and my sister, with all the WHO (World Health Organization) recommendations. And from here we are exhorting our relatives and friends of Nicaragua that, in spite of the demented and criminal attitude of the Ortega Murillo government, what is most consequential is staying home.

Do you have new projects, new songs?

Very impressed by the heroic role that doctors and health workers throughout the world are carrying out, I wrote a new song titled “Pandemic of Love”. Recording this was a true odyssey, especially with all of us dispersed in different countries. I tell you: to sing this we needed basic technical resources. Here in California my only option was the studio of a friend who is ten kilometers from our house, but his wife firmly refused due to the danger of the pestilence. So I asked my brother Luis Enrique, who is in Costa Rica, if he was able to access a studio close by. And my sister in law did not let him go out even to the corner. In that context I spoke with Hugo Castilla, who has a studio in Nicaragua, but he did not have anyone to sing the song. And in the face of his stupor, I told him: you sing it. And that was followed by a byzantine discussion, and after two days, almost against his will, Hugo Castilla took charge.

The female voices are Alma Rodríguez and María Alejandra. They were recorded in Costa Rica with a cheap cell phone and in Nicaragua just biting the bullet. This very complex work that could have cost $1,500 dollars was done with $450, which I was able to pull together selling my drawings. The video recording, the same. There are no resources, we are in lock up. An excellent producer, whose name we are concealing because he is “suspect” by the dictatorship, did a beautiful job.

You sell drawings you say? You also draw?

My three brothers, Chico, Luis, Armando and Luis Enrique, have reached a professional level in their drawings and paintings. To not leave myself behind them, since the exile began, I have also been doing free hand, creating modest works inspired by the civic struggle and the prodigious nature of our Nicaragua: volcanoes, flowers and birds. Even, with the death of the dear poet Ernesto Cardenal, I dared to depict, without pretension, the profile of the poet in several versions. And an acrylic landscape scene with the poet reading in a hammock on the Island of Mancarrón, the largest of the Archipelago of Solentiname, where the Trappist priest founded that small community of artisans, painters, poets and guerillas.

You published in the Magazine of La Prensa a column telling about your experiences and the histories of your songs. Have you thought about publishing your complete memories?

I am not disciplined enough to write a daily [column], in the strict sense of the word, but at any moment I am communicating with my friends from different parts of the world, and spontaneous prose emerges, which I am saving as inputs for my book of memories that provisionally will be called “A Somoteño called Carluchín”, my nom de guerre on the streets of my town, playing with tops, jumping puddles or flying kites. I am in communication with Jesús de Santiago from Hispamer [publisher] to give shape to the book, “And the word became song” with the material that we published in Magazine.

You have sung in two wars, a revolution, a civic insurrection and now in a world pandemic. I suppose you accumulated many moments of pain.

Without a doubt the parting of my parents has been the most impactful. And in that order of feeling I was impacted by the death of two indispensable people in my development as a singer: Ernesto Cardenal and my dear brother Chale Mántica. But if we are talking about the most heartrending moment, since the events of April, it was that night that I describe as Kafkaesque. On television Daniel Ortega cynically talking about peace and reconciliation, invoking God, and in that instant was massacring university students protected in the Divina Misericordia Church. I got up and said to my wife, “I have had it!” I have to call the dictator and tell him to quit killing our people. Sincerely, I thought that Xochitl, who was crying with me, indignant and impotent, was going to stop me, because of the danger that was hanging over us. In the end I got her support.

More than one person described me as impassioned on hearing that letter confronting the despot and reminding him of an anecdote with his father. I responded, “I did not get impassioned, I am impassioned.” And that is the truth. I have always maintained that the things that are not done “with passion” end up impersonal, because they do not bear the imprint of the heart. I say it with no holds barred, I am impassioned in all moments of my life. As a singer and as a wild human being.

Does Carlos Mejía Godoy continue being Sandinista?

Of course I am. Because my Sandinism did not come to me from a brooch or an identity card. I was never raised to be a militant through this or that ceremony. My militancy has its roots in my convictions, many years before my organic inclusion in the FSLN. Even more, once again I declare this: I do not regret having given the best years of my life, as an artist and a human being, to a cause that I heartily embraced. I am absolutely convinced that that was the correct path. But yes, long before the electoral defeat, I began to perceive all types of vices that were in contradiction with that “revolutionary mystique” of our catechism. And for the first time I am going to be categorical in this statement: My duty was to resign!

Why didn´t you?

Because of that blessed pretext of not wanting to play into the hands of the right and the empire. The facile excuse: I have to continue fighting from within. Serious mistake. And today I confess to my people. With all the gallantry of my soul: my silence ended up being complicity.  From my Christian option, I fell into the sin of omission.

It could also be thought that it was to not lose the privileges that you had as a singer of the revolution.

I never had privileges, nor, thanks to God, did I ever make money under the shadow of power. I gave the house that I lived in back to its legitimate owners, and I went to rent a home like any other common citizen. I can declare with pride: I entered the FSLN poor and I left poorer when I went. And that will be the only legacy that I will leave my children: a handful of decent songs and an honest life, dedicated to just one, nearly obsessive idea, to tell the world that Nicaragua is a beautiful country, full of hardworking and intelligent people, but betrayed by their rulers.

How do you see Nicaragua from exile, two years after the events of April 2018?

I am very stressed with what is happening in Nicaragua. The Ortega Murillos are worse than the pandemic, that is why they are not reacting, and scoff criminally at the WHO. I think that this genocidal attitude is going to progressively hasten the fall of the regime.

Do you see a violent end again?

I continue maintaining that the sustained and relentless civic struggle is the only way. I have a seamless faith and optimism. In spite of the disinformation and some dissonant voices that use discrediting and defamatory language as a weapon, I think that this redeeming light will come at the end of the tunnel.

Have you thought about returning soon?

I am eager, but not desperate to return to my beloved Nicaragua. I have asked different friends if it is prudent to go back in these times, and all of them in chorus have told me that it would be a mistake. Sincerely I feel more insecure that in the time of Somoza. Anecdotally, after winning the OTI award[1] they asked the dictator if Carlos Mejía Godoy could return to his country. Somoza responded immediately, “Mejía Godoy is a citizen with the same rights as everyone to remain in this country.” Would Daniel Ortega respond the same? I turn the question back on you.

Personal Plane

Carlos Arturo Mejía Godoy was born in Somoto, Madriz on June 27, 1943. He has been married three times and has eight children. Currently he is married to Xochitl Acatl Jiménez Guevara.

For the general elections of 2006 he was a candidate for the Vice presidency for the Sandinista Renovation Movement. His running mate was Edmundo Jarquín.

As a child he sold gum and shined shoes to help his family.

He studied in the School of Journalism, where he was a classmate of Bayardo Arce and he also studied Law and had classes with former President Arnoldo Alemán.

He has a fear of planes. The first time he got in one was in a trip to Guatemala, and he does not like to fly in small planes to the Caribbean Coast.

He eats everything, especially beans and rice, fried cheese, cream and on Sundays he never misses eating his nacatamal. He is an addict of soft drinks. He does not know how to cook anything. According to him, “I burn water”.

“I never quit complaining to the Government for using our songs as the soundtrack for crimes, terror and genocide,” he said in an interview for Domingo about the use of his songs by the Daniel Ortega regime.

In exile he says he misses his library in Nicaragua where he has a collection of Nicaraguan poetry: Rubén Darío, Salomón de la Selva, Alfonso Córtes, José Coronel Urtecho, Pablo Antonio Cuadra, and Joaquín Pasos, among others.

Memories of Hadrian, of Margueritte Yourcenar, a Belgian-US novelist, is one of his books by his bedside. “It marked me forever since the year 2000 when I discovered it,” he says.

[1] Very prestigious singing competition in Spanish speaking world

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