Roque Dalton - Otto René Castillo: His Example and Our Responsibility

[Otto René Castillo: su ejemplo y nuestra responsabilidad]#


Otto René Castillo was born in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, in 1936. The overthrow of the Ubico dictatorship and the beginning of the democratic era (the governments of Arévalo and Árbenz) fell like a wave over the childhood of this future poet and revolutionary hero, filling his surrounding life, his elementary school years, and his adolescence with social-political stimuli. When imperialism overthrew the Árbenz government in 1954, stifling the Guatemalan revolution for a long season, Otto René Castillo was President of the militant Association of Post-Primary Students and one of the most stand-out youth activists of the Guatemalan Labor Party (Communist). At 18, he settles in El Salvador alongside a large group of Guatemalan revolutionaries, seeking a proximity to his country which would make the continuation of the struggle more effective. He enters university after a time spent working various jobs to earn a living: night watchman in a parking lot, house painter, and bookseller. At the same time and with great intensity, he writes revolutionary poems which, despite their immaturity, gain attention in the social circles of El Salvador and which, paradoxically, open the doors of the Salvadoran literary mainstream to him, above all after his winning of the University’s Central American Poetry prize in 1955.

“Paradoxically” because that mainstream had traditionally been reactionary and because the poet was a communist militant, albeit an interrupted one. Indeed, Otto René Castillo immediately joined the ranks of the Salvadoran Communist Party, performing not only intense organizing work in the intellectual world but also regular revolutionary activity related to the struggle of the Guatemalan people, which had fronts for clandestine work established in and from El Salvador. During this period, Otto René Castillo crossed the Guatemala-El Salvador border on various occasions under extremely rigorous clandestinity and running palpable risks. From then on, he proved his bravery, his willingness to take on tasks from the point of view of their revolutionary importance and not from the personal danger they might entail, that youthful and at once wise way of living communist militancy as that which it can never stop being: a constant battle.

His poetry drew on the pain of his people and his unbowed hope and was a fiery call to arms, as well as an homage to Guatemala’s most exploited sectors: the indigenous masses. His poems to Atanasio Tzul are a concrete example of this attitude. His political and literary activity in El Salvador was extremely significant: from within the University Literary Circle he was a tireless worker for the unification of the criteria of the young artists and writers of that time on the problems of the social-revolutionary responsibility of the creator. Likewise, Otto René Castillo was an educator on the revolutionary poets who most influenced the jumping-off point of what would later be called the “Committed Generation”: Nazim Hikmet, Miguel Hernández, César Vallejo (understood as a communist poet), Pablo Neruda, etc. From the organizations of the Communist Party and other democratic organizations, he was a hard-working communicator of Marxist ideas. Likewise, he had an important influence on numerous young Salvadoran artists and writers taking up revolutionary ideas and communist militancy. His poetic work transcended the borders of El Salvador, returned to Guatemala (where it won the University’s Autonomous Prize in 1956), and resonated in Europe (from Budapest, the World Federation of Democratic Youth granted him the International Poetry Prize in 1957).

Extroverted, lively, with a strong and likable personality, Otto René Castillo was not, however, exempt from the mistakes and weaknesses of the youth of his times. His desire to live life intensely and passionately provoked severity on the part of his older and more experienced comrades and meant conflicts, confrontations, and problems. His younger comrades, however, always accepted him in his rich human fullness, which inevitably conflicted with their environment. Perhaps the most important reason to cite this aspect of his personality is to save him from the risk, which his admirable death may grant him, of passing into history as a saint, as one of those flat characters which posthumous apologetics have accustomed us to.

In 1957, Otto René Castillo returns to Guatemala, ending his fruitful Salvadoran exile. He studies Law and Social Sciences at the Universidad de San Carlos, where, as top student he wins the Filadelfo Salazar Prize and a scholarship to study in the German Democratic Republic. In 1959, he begins his studies in Literature in Leipzig. In 1962, he abandons this first degree to join the Joris Ivens Brigade; a group of filmmakers who, on the basis of intense technical and paramilitary preparations, would be the cadres of a vast plan to film the armed liberation struggle of the Latin American peoples, directed by the famous Dutch documentarian. Upon finishing his courses, Otto René returns to Guatemala in 1964. The turbulent mix of political militancy and cultural activity begins again, marked by a key event in Guatemala’s history: the popular struggle against the oppressor has begun. In this period, Otto René effectively synthesizes his poetic sensibility and his capacity for revolutionary work, directing the Experimental Theater of the Municipality of Guatemala while participating directly in the underground activities of the armed struggle. Soon, the enemy’s apparatus of repression will fix its eyes on his intense work and begin to lay the noose around him. When he is captured in 1965, he is preparing to go up into the mountains to create an official cinematographic report on the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR) for the guerilla detachments.

The military regime sends him into exile once again. Guatemala’s revolutionary organizations then give him a responsibility on the world stage: Otto René Castillo becomes Guatemala’s representative to the Organizing Committee of the World Youth Festival, to be held in the capital of Algeria. In this capacity, the poet travels again through Germany, Austria, Hungary, Cyprus, Algeria, and Cuba. Finalizing the work of the Committee, he remains in Cuba for a few months and then returns for good to Guatemala to join the FAR guerillas commanded by ‘Cesar Montes.’ He performs important ideological work within the guerilla units and is named propaganda chief for the FAR’s Western Region. His military commanders and comrades-in-arms speak emotionally of his material and human contributions to the hard guerilla struggle, his commitment to his work, his jovial spirit in the face of sacrifice, and his merits in combat. Wounded in battle, Otto René Castillo was captured by the government’s anti-guerrilla forces. Along with comrade Nora Páiz he was taken to the Zacapa military base, where after having been terribly tortured and mutilated he was burned alive. His own executioners have testified to his integrity and courage facing the enemy, torture, and death: he died an unbreakable revolutionary fighter, without giving up a shred of information during interrogation, reaffirming his principles based in Marxism-Leninism, his fervent Guatemalan and international patriotism, and his conviction that he was following— despite all the risks and temporary defeats — the only true path of liberation for our peoples, the path of popular armed struggle.

The poetic work of his last years of life was compiled in the book Vámonos patria a caminar, whose first drafts had been corrected by the author in prison in 1965. This book was republished posthumously in Mexico in 1968, with a preface by ‘Cesar Montes’ (in 1964 Otto René Castillo had published Tecún Uman in Guatemala). Later, a relative of the poet sent the person writing these lines an extensive collection of his unpublished works, which Otto René Castillo was still working on until shortly before his death.

It is primarily materials included in Vámonos Patria a caminar and the unpublished collections which have been used to compile the anthology of his works published in Havana by the Casa de las Américas under the title of Poemas. These are poems written in two clear modes: the romantic mode and the political-ideological mode. In the former, it is evident that in the poetry of Otto René Castillo, love is something more than a simple exaltation of the man-woman relationship: it is the constant reaffirmation of life, always counterposed with injustice, sadness, and death. In the latter mode, poetic expression becomes an instrument of calling others to join the revolutionary struggle (Direct Nerudian incitation is used to this end, as are some conscious, Brechtian-style distancings).

Otto René Castillo died before taking his poetry to the highest level of stylistic refinement. He was murdered at 31, and it must be said that his poetic labor was in the end hindered by his complete dedication to the revolutionary struggle. However, his work— of which the book published in Cuba is only a representative part —will live on as a remarkable testimony of passion, created in the language needed to move men in these times through which he, like the heralds and prodigies of always, passed as a burst of force and authenticity.


Otto René Castillo exemplifies the highest level of responsibility of the revolutionary intellectual, of the revolutionary creator, in unifying theory and practice. We must, however, attempt to inquire into the characteristics of his vital and intellectual processes in order to extrapolate their relevant lessons, which will no doubt be extraordinarily useful for the new movement of revolutionary artists and writers (and for all revolutionaries in general) who, particularly in the countries of Central America, are confronted with the endless number of moral, aesthetic, and sociopolitical alternatives posed to them by the intensification of peoples’ revolutionary struggle. Otto René Castillo’s life is something more than a political militant’s or Central American revolutionary intellectual’s typical process of consciousness-raising and self-improvement. Are there new elements in this process, which we have characterized as exemplary? What does it contribute to the living problem of the intellectual/revolution relationship?

Otto René Castillo begins his public activity in the final phase of Guatemala’s democratic period (1944-1945), inside the Guatemalan Labor Party. It is a complex and contradictory time: on one hand, he has the exceptional opportunity, given the conditions of Central America, of being able to come into direct contact with revolutionary literature in the clear light of day; with the vision, no matter how remote and schematized, of the socialist world; with the experience of contact with the masses, understood as work fronts of the Party’s organizations. This opportunity gave him undeniable advantages in comparison with the youth who in those days were just beginning to wake up to the concerns of creation and the social problems of El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua; it gave him advantages, likewise, in comparison to his Guatemalan comrades who did not pass through the school of political experience. But on the other hand, the young, fiery poet was directly influenced by the dogmatic current which fundamentally monopolized the global revolutionary thinking of the day. He was affected by that crucial stage of generative decomposition of (among other factors) the conditions which fostered the defeat of 1954 and allowed the reaction to seize power. He was affected too by the activity of those revolutionary sectors who together were responsible for the final defeat of that stage in the way that this defeat came to pass, which is to say; they did not fight back. The true strength of revolutionary theory is such that even the fruits of its deformations have specific functions in concrete circumstances. In the phase of profound demoralization that followed the humiliating defeat of Guatemala, certain connotations of the old militant spirit— which had before been so insisted upon that they had come to take on an air of ridiculousness —served many Guatemalan revolutionaries in letting them hold on to an intimate hope for the final triumph though their jaws were clenched and their fists were stuffed in their pockets. Otto René Castillo’s example was therefore proof of an important truth: he was among those who overcame the defeat through the militant spirit.

From such problematic heights, Otto René Castillo dropped into the sunny cavern that was life in El Salvador’s capital. In those days, Colonel Osorio governed during a period of “fat cows”: coffee prices climbed Everest in the international market; repression had temporarily eliminated the danger of a left opposition; and as if all this were not enough, the governments of Central America, the Guatemalan right, and US imperialism had just wiped out “communism” in Guatemala. Osorio handed out checks, land, and lottery prizes to his friends, bribed the active forces, and maintained a limited climate of repression. Students stood in solidarity with Guatemala’s revolutionaries and denounced the illicit enrichment of the great hierarchs. This was the environment in which Otto René Castillo arrived with his youthful Guatemalan experience. For its part, the Salvadoran left— mainly the Marxist cell appointed the Salvadoran Communist Party —was trying to exit not only the restricting secrecy to which it had been led by Osorio, but also its decades-long seclusion. Its influence grew in university circles through the work of comrades like our Guatemalan poet. The government of Colonel Lemus, which replaced the discredited Osorista regime in 1956 and which knew that the fat times were past, came into power with measures meant to attract popular approval: it allowed exiles to return, granted the working class permission to organize, overturned fascist laws, and made huge promises.

In these conditions, broad horizons opened for revolutionary cultural work at the public level. Various organizations of young writers and artists were founded, including the University Literary Circle, which acted as a university organization to promote culture, but which had the fundamental role of bringing together and organizing the young creators of the universities. The poets of El Salvador, especially Otto René Castillo, invaded the pages of local newspapers and magazines, held conferences and readings, debated a range of subjects, set up round tables, protested, and, marginally, created a militant and bohemian life: from Party meetings they would head to the bars, and sometimes the other way around; great, fleeting loves arose, tragic passions that would repeat Los versos del Capitán to the point of exhaustion.

But beneath this feverish activity lay real concerns. Discussion soon revolved around the social responsibility of the writer and artist in the conditions of the backward, super-exploited countries of Central America. Miguel Angel Asturias, the Guatemalan poet who was assumed to have been cleansed of his Ubiquista past by the democratic era of Arévalo and Árbenz, was respected by the youth of Central America as a creator and an honest revolutionary. The desires of the youth, who were tired of accepting that poets made their living by licking up the scraps of the oligarchy’s soiree, were synthesized in a phrase which Asturias supplied: “the poet is a moral conduct.” Upon this phrase they improvised a small but solid structure of ethical-aesthetic principles: the poet is a moral conduct; he should write as he thinks and live as he writes; he is committed to the people, to their liberation struggles, and to the revolution.

Otto René Castillo was one of the principal promoters of that spirit. Apart from Asturias’s formula, the youth who surrounded Otto René Castillo preferred to believe that they owed very little to previous generations and that, on the political-cultural terrain, the youth of Central America were a generation without guides, without model teachers. The exiled Salvadoran “communists” who returned to El Salvador with the permission of the Lemus government soon showed their true faces, from those whose contact with the nation’s reality rapidly deteriorated to those who simply proved themselves to be conclusively divorced from the ranks of the revolution. The books that members of that generation scrambled to publish in order to explain “the iconoclasm of the youth” (like the deplorable, ecclesiastically primitive Patria y Juventud, by Dr. Julio Fausto Fernandez, ex-General Secretary of the Communist Party of El Salvador, who “chose freedom”) fell to the cold ridicule of indifference. It was necessary, humbly but furiously, to go back to the drawing board.

In this environment, supercharged with innocence, good intentions, turmoil, wordiness, and underdevelopment, Otto René Castillo participated as a new type of Salvadoran and a new type of Guatemalan; a new type of fellow-countryman and a new type of foreigner; as a Central American revolutionary who, in making El Salvador his homeland— not his second homeland —proved Guatemala’s identification with the oppressed peoples on the other side of its borders. That was what took him beyond mere rhetoric (literary and political) and placed him, alongside a reduced group of Salvadorans, at the vanguard of that stage’s revolutionary concerns.

In 1957, he returned to Guatemala. In that year, for the first time since 1932, young Salvadorans traveled to the USSR, and upon their return they related their experiences out loud. Was it still insisted upon then that the poet is a [moral] conduct? Indeed it was, and that conduct was defined organizationally. When Otto René Castillo returned to Guatemala, the foremost young poets and writers of El Salvador had accepted that the highest embodiment of the poet’s moral revolutionary conduct, as well as the highest form of fulfilling their commitment to their people, was to join and be active in the Communist Party. Their acceptance of this ideal was in part due to Otto René Castillo’s tremendous effort in promoting it.

Before he has had the chance to shake off the dust of the road from San Salvador to Guatemala, Otto René Castillo and all of Latin America receive news that bursts with romanticism and poetry: a group of young Cubans, led by Fidel Castro, have landed in Cuba to begin revolutionary war against the Batista regime.

Otto René Castillo’s return to Guatemala is the opportunity for an assessment, for the birth of the spirit of self-criticism (both of himself and the ranks of his militancy), face to face with his origins. Here some clarifications must be made on aspects which up to this point have been noted in their most general terms; this is not to pronounce the last word but to begin to set out the terms of a discussion, of a deepening in the knowledge of this problem, which will be increasingly unavoidable.

The “cultural movement” to which Otto René Castillo belonged in Guatemala possessed a series of features that distinguish it among all others in the course of the century. Politically, this generation lacked the group ties characteristic of the previous generations (a “group” of choir-leader intellectuals in the successive periods of dictatorships; partisan groups formed on the basis of petit-bourgeois and bourgeois political parties in the Arévalo and Árbenz era, etc.). This placed Otto René Castillo in an advanced position given his militancy in the PGT; it organized him and made him, in a certain way, the individual embodiment of cultural organization. But this was a militancy in a stage on the edge of defeat, which neither deeply examined the concrete experience of what had been lived through nor explained the responsibilities all revolutionaries had in the recent debacle. The new, unaffiliated generation saw the PGT with respect essentially because it was the only force which, under the reactionary terror, had tried to organize clandestine resistance, and because these youths were committed to the Revolution with a capital “R”: idealized, abstract, lacking precise contours and a concrete path, motive forces, character, or forms of struggle (or indeed, possessing thousands of these).

Otto René Castillo, as one of the most advanced militants, was among the few members of his “cultural movement” with material possibilities of accessing the central problem of this disconcerting knot: the problem of the political line of the revolutionary organization, the problem of the political line which had been produced by defeat, the problem of the political line which would allow a return to the correct path of effective revolutionary struggle. Having access to the problem did not mean solving it, of course, or even grasping it in its correct terms. For Otto René Castillo, this direct access, which stemmed from his militancy, ended up as a heap of pieces of evidence which would only acquire a workable order later on.

Another feature of the Guatemalan movement to which Otto René Castillo belonged was supplied by the material conditions in which its members were forced to develop the movement’s initial creative work. Their body of literary work was initially written in adversity, exile, or inside of Guatemala itself, with Castillo Armas’s hordes assaulting houses, burning books in the city center, hunting Moors and Christians in an attempt to cleanse the country of “communists.” After the ebb tide of 1954, the youth of Guatemala found themselves facing a destroyed home, their almost-adolescent dreams shattered, and the gigantic test of remaking what their elders had allowed the enemy to crush and destroy. Despite all the bitterness, this situation had its relative advantages: the problem of combining literary work and revolutionary activity was solved by the enemy, who threw the youth from passive resistance into exile. It is clear now that not all resistances were equal, and neither were all exiles. We have already seen a vision of Otto René Castillo, a newcomer poet in El Salvador, dividing his time between poetry and conspiracy.

Meanwhile, the great majority of the writers trained in the bourgeois-democratic, reformist decade of 1944-54 languished in a nostalgic exile which turned them into foreigners, or they sought accommodation in the country, in the very heart of the new dictatorship. Regardless, the majority of the youth, advancing groping in the dark, understood more clearly each day that the only effective way of fighting for a historically responsible literature and art was to combat the enemy, the oppressor, the restorer of the dark past. This would be the slogan of Otto René Castillo and of his comrades in the movement who took the leap forward and left behind all or the heaviest of their burdens.

The murky death of Castillo Armas allowed the Guatemalan exiles to return to their homeland, but otherwise, that bloody feat neither closed nor opened other stages. The chain of oppression initiated by the counterrevolution of 1954 had more extensions and branchings-off than were immediately apparent. In the history of the Guatemalan revolutionary movement, that period, which came to be called “transitionary,” resulted in the the taking of power (in the face of a left set on “national conciliation”) by the old Ubiquista general Miguel Idígoras Fuentes. Although the situation apparently left little room for the political action of a young revolutionary poet, for Otto René Castillo this brutal run-in with a reality that was politicized in a sense contrary to the moral dreams of the youth represented not an estrangement but instead a concrete lesson. In strictly literary and cultural terms, Otto René’s return to his country meant meeting his old friends again, meeting again the writers he had in some way admired, and the recounting not only of each one’s achievements but of desertions and loyalties as well. He enrolls in the School of Law, which had been one of the few bastions of resistance. There, he gives himself over to the task imposed by the moment: to regroup, seek new forms of organization, to create them, even to invent them. Thus, in the heart of that university department, the monthly magazine Lanzas y Letras (on whose editorial committee Otto René Castillo served) appeared as the first coherent expression of Guatemalan militant culture since 1954.

Soon, Lanzas y Letras surpassed the limits that its founders had set out for it. Originally imagined as a student organ of culture, the pages of the magazine were immediately invaded by every voice of the national and global present, transforming it into a living fountain of concerns, suggestions, questions, and outlines of responses. In Lanzas y Letras appear the first babblings of self-recognition of Guatemala’s revolutionary culture after years of total mercenary obscurantism. This publication’s work was critical in that period, even reaching the neighboring countries of Central America. Otto René Castillo only saw a few of its first issues published, since he was granted, through the Association of University Students (AEU) of Guatemala, a scholarship to study in Germany.

From a specific point of his literary and political life, Otto René Castillo is an ascendant example of rupture from the various levels of the tradition. Firstly, he introduced into poetry and the cultural-political vision a new focus on the vernacularly-tackled issue: that of the exploited indigenous masses. In a terrain so profoundly marked by the indigenous, the reality was that even communist parties lacked an indigenous policy. Otto René Castillo’s proposal in this area involved a complete reexamination of our nationalities on the basis of ancestral cultural roots and an invocation of the revolutionary potential of the Indian population. We must understand that for the local revolutionary leaders of the time, this assertion was understood as a lyric exaltation, circumscribed to the fancies of the youth and lacking serious political implications. There was also a rupture with the political stupidity of the environment: the call to communist militancy, of which Otto René Castillo became one of the primary promoters. The already described circumstances of the Guatemala of 1958-1959 spurred him towards a new type of rupture, which is why he travels to Europe. He goes to Germany, it is true, as a communist militant, and with a certain uncritical candor that makes him assimilate somewhat lyrically to the complexity of life in the GDR, but he is to some degree also heir to the tradition inaugurated by the Popol Vuh, which reaches the neighborhood of Goethe and Bach. A few years later, in the GDR itself, another instance of rupture would occur for the young revolutionary poet. Having finished his German language studies, Otto René Castillo had entered the Literature Department in Leipzig, where he distinguished himself as a brilliant student, the best brilliant student, the best foreign student. It is in this academic environment where he is profoundly moved by news of the triumph of Fidel Castro’s guerrillas. At the end of 1961, he hears news that captivates him: the famous Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens is recruiting young intellectuals to form a brigade (named after himself) of cameramen and film technicians. This brigade will spread out over the various countries of Latin America to carry out a vast, ambitious plan: the filming of movies on the liberation struggles of our peoples. This is the moment in which, propelled by the stimulus represented by the Cuban Revolution, the boom of the first stage of armed struggle begins in the various countries of the Continent. Enlivened by the Cuban impact and even against the will of his Party, Otto René Castillo enrolls in the brigade, an act which to some degree implied an entry into the manifold, multifaceted, complex reality of the Latin American armed struggle, given that preparing for that group’s work included learning not only cinematographic technique but intense, irregular military training. From as early as 1962 (he joined the Joris Ivens Brigade in January) Otto René Castillo had become convinced that the only path for the definitive liberation of the peoples of Latin America had to pass through the armed struggle and that, consequently, the militant’s task was to prepare for and throw themselves into action. “The poet is a moral conduct”: those who were convinced of this had to embody it, on the front lines if necessary. Otto René Castillo would accept this responsibility to its ultimate consequences, even to the degree of offering his own life.

We must return to the question asked above: what is new in Otto René Castillo’s vital-revolutionary process? What in it presents us with a renewing lesson for today’s revolutionary youth in Central America and on the Continent? Independently of his literary-poetic merits (merits of a body of work which, as has been said, should be judged as a work of youth and which was neglected in the poet’s last years of life due to his dedication to more committed activities, in culture as well as militancy), the life and death of Otto René Castillo unquestionably present a rupture with the traditional form of revolutionary militancy in our countries; in keeping with the new stage of Central American history, they present the path of the new revolutionary militancy, which must be conducted and resolved through mass armed struggle. This new type of militancy brings with it the highest types of responsibilities; the most thorough forms of discipline that can be demanded of a person; the most titanic tasks; and implies fundamentally questioning the organic structures, political lines, and strategic perspectives of the traditional revolutionary organizations. Again, Otto René Castillo came to tell the youth that it was not enough to be a revolutionary in the present. In 1957, he agreed that it was not enough to be an individual Marxist to be a revolutionary: one had to commit oneself methodically, had to enter the party. Now, in the actual conditions of the Central American revolutionary struggle, Otto René Castillo stands by the concern that had been coming together for a long while deep in the hearts of so many militants: it is not enough to enter the party, not enough to be a militant in the old ways. In body and soul, one must personify the revolution’s new path: the armed, national, Central American, revolutionary struggle. Can this still be done in one or some of the traditional Central American, Latin American organizations? The question must be resolved concretely, but each passing day demands a more urgent response.

An enormous distance, measuring politically, lies between 1954 and the date on which Otto René Castillo was murdered as he wore the uniform of the insurgent Guatemalan forces. Where once we had stood as outsiders to our own fate and looked away from it, Central Americans began to look inside of our common reality, our history. This deepening in ourselves gives us a clear vision of the degree to which we are a vital part of the Latin American and world revolutions and compels us to concretely set out our conceptual principles. It must be said that in the interval we are talking about, we saw the triumph and consolidation of the Cuban Revolution, which, like a renewing and enriching hurricane, forever shattered the myths of revolutionary exclusivism, questioning down to the deepest roots of its structures and organizations the traditional forms of struggle whose inefficacy on several levels has on various occasions become an objective brake on revolutionary development.

After years of armed struggle— difficult and heroic, painful and full of glory, but above all, inevitable —Guatemala presents the revolutionaries of Latin America, and especially the youth of Central America, with an example of fully taking on the historic task. It will be vital to assimilate this example into our common experience. On the individual level, this taking-on is embodied by heroic fallen combatants like Comandante Luis Augusto Turcios Lima, like Pascual, like Nora Páiz, like Captain Arnoldo, like Comandante Néstor Valle, like Otto René Castillo. But the course of these years has also brought, like any process of crisis in the old structures, another type of example that should be considered carefully.

As stated earlier, in 1954 the young writers of Central America, through the group which Otto René Castillo formed part of in El Salvador, raised Miguel Ángel Asturias’s phrase, “the poet is a moral conduct,” as a banner. Time has traced out the courses of conduct of those who declared that they were taking on this calling. Alongside those who were loyal to their principles, to self-sacrifice in the interest of living the propriety of the unbendable revolutionary attitude, we can locate, in the ranks of the revolutionaries of the time (and specifically in among the young revolutionary intellectuals of the time), those who fell to the banalization of this attitude, to frivolity in conduct and in work, to opportunist accommodation, and to desertion and betrayal.

It is correct to say that these negative cases, in Otto René Castillo’s generation, are infinitely worse than those in previous generations: fundamentally, the majority of his contemporaries and those who participated in his initial struggle maintain their positive attitude.

The sides are laid out more clearly each day, and resultingly we must establish certain clarifications that may seem cutting.

In terms of the intellectuals, specifically in terms of the writers and artists, the death of Otto René Castillo (and the later deaths of Leonel Rugama, combatant in the Sandinista National Liberation Front of Nicaragua, and of Roberto Obregon Morales, the Guatemalan poet murdered with the complicity of Guatemalan and Salvadoran authorities), the death of the revolutionary guerrilla, of the communist combatant, comes to tell them that armed violence has now invaded Central America’s cultural fields and will be present in the deepest corner of the most airtight marble tower; that in Central America, the peoples’ war began slowly and arduously and is now securing its roots. The peasants, the workers, the men of the political vanguard have had the proof of this in the flesh for a long time: now the creators should know it too. And they should prepare to act, in their work and their lives, as the circumstances demand. The reactionary enemy— national, Central American, and international —seeks to throw a smokescreen over this truth and at the same time seeks to impose an unblemished “pacification” based on one of the most criminal repressions in the recent-decade memory of the Central American countries, launches campaigns of bribery and subjugation meant to obtain— if not complicity —at least silence and frivolous sectarianism from those who are obligated, by virtue of the instruments they hold, to speak for the rage, pain, and hopes of the exploited peoples. Otto René Castillo’s consequential example should inspire the men of culture of Central America to take charge of their hard historical responsibilities.

The heroic death of Otto René Castillo is the ultimate proof of the support he gave with his actions to the endorsement that “the poet is a moral conduct.” In this respect, one comparison in particular jumps to mind which strips bare the poverty of certain aspects of the historical circumstances that it has fallen upon the peoples of Central America to experience. Utmost loyalty to that content of that phrase led Otto René Castillo to torture and to death. The most total betrayal of the principles which that phrase implies has been executed by the man who coined it— Miguel Ángel Asturias. He has done so by receiving bourgeois society’s greatest honors: the Paris embassy of the criminal Guatemalan military dictatorship which murdered Otto René Castillo; and the enjoyment, use, and usufruct of the Nobel Prize in Literature, on the road to which, incidentally, Asturias slandered even the name of Lenin. There are few examples more morally telling that this is a world that must be changed despite all the risks and all the sacrifices.

For the revolutionary writers and artists of Central America, this exemplary situation presents itself as a decision: whatever the degree to which they assume it, from now on they will forever have to choose between the path of Otto René Castillo and the path of Miguel Ángel Asturias. On one hand, the hard, clean road of the revolution; on the other, the path that tempts so many, and which leads in the end to betrayal and to the pigsty.