Con Sangre de Hermanos narrates Nicaragua’s recent political history (1970’s – 1997) as more than just a series of verifiable events. A reasonably profound reading of this work allows a much more stimulating reflection than that of an inventory of fault. More than an ideological critique, the author provides questions about the human spirit, authoritarianism, fanaticism, social suppression and the aspirations of a people who had revolutionary Nicaragua for a chronotope. These brief words highlight a few technical details in Aguirre’s storytelling technique as well as provide a reflection on the authoritarian personality.
A prose written in a clear and somewhat colloquial language, tries to appear modest in its constructions, but shows itself to be penetrating with multiple connotations and frequent introspections. Aguirre sets out to treat historical reality without a manicheistic simplification that just insults people’s intelligence. Despite the dark language and severity with which the author treats the Sandinista establishment, in the following quote I would like to emphasize the metonymic quality that speaks about the author’s leftist convictions:
…cuando le dijeron que reconociera que sólo había sido un exabrupto, locuras de borracho; se levantó de su asiento y pidió su renuncia. A la semana siguiente fue expulsado del partido y fue dado de baja en vigilancia estricta. Tiempo después anotó en su cuaderno que, aun con todo lo sucedido, el seguía considerándose sandinista. Y lo hizo constar en acta. (Aguirre, 2002: 235)
This last sentence makes irony of the leitmotifs of an era characterized by ideological jargon.
This polyphonic narrative discourse accuses itself of being fragmentary, I disagree. There is way too much textual cohesion and it is very easy to notice different times in the narration. Chronological shifts are much clearer than in Pedro Páramo and in Rulfo’s time the word fragmentary was not in such prolific use.
The work’s polyphony is determined by the existence of three narrative voices: a protagonist-narrator (Gerardo) an anonymous investigator that provides an omniscient narration and an implicit narrator that appears in official documents and whose intertextual function is to be the voice that anthropomorphisizes an ever changing State that never renounces to its authoritarian nature.
Gregorio is implied in the work’s two official texts. The first one was written by him and the second is his defendant’s deposition. These texts morph in the same manner that the State does; the first text is militaristic and the second is civilian. They also demonstrate changes in Goyo’s situation in the first he is a powerful spy and in the second little more than a petty criminal. The first text is grave and the second humorous.
The furthest flashback reaches Gerardo’s childhood; where he at an early age remembers his military vocation. This was influenced by his uncle’s participation in a guerrilla and American TV shows in which the Allied Forces were the heroes.
The most advanced prolepsis reaches to a point that the novel considers contemporary (the second half of the 1990’s). The most notable ellipsis begins in the beginning of the novel and concludes with Gregorio Suárez’ incarceration, after he tried to assassinate Arnoldo Alemán during his presidential inauguration:
…se recuerda a él mismo aconsejando a sus superiores, hablándoles del presentimiento funesto que le provocó desde el comienzo el vertiginoso ascenso político de aquel abogaducho gordo de típica estirpe somocista. Al reflexionar sobre eso no puede evitar pensar en el chino Fujimori, presidente autoritario de Perú, y en la idea que alguna vez escuchó mencionar en la radio, algo así como un nuevo concepto social latinoamericano eventualmente denominado “autoritarismo civil”. (Aguirre, 2002: 265)
The metonymic value of the previous quote, as with the one before, resides in its semantic operators. Let’s note the term “autoritarismo civil”, a variation of “dictadura civil”: a contemporary Nica term. Also in the previously cited passage, where Gerardo Soto’s expulsion was related, “él seguía considerándose sandinista” is a common idiom used in present day Sandinista dissent. This phrase was specially used by the deceased leader of this important new tendency in Nicaragua’s left.
Another elliptical element in the novel in constituted by Nelly a former State Security agent. Nelly as a spy was obligated to have sexual relations with a priest that was thrown into the streets during the consummation of this act, to reveal his weaknesses and to vilify the Catholic Church. Nelly was unwilling in her fieldwork. Later when Gregorio was caught by the police she was found and frisked in Goyo’s apartment; this ended her marriage and her affair with Gregorio that spanned decades.
Topographic spaces in the novel are mostly open, some more so than others. For example up in the mountains in comparison to the city. The chronological periods are very neatly divided and are three: the pre-insurrectional and insurrectional period, the eighties and the period from Violeta Chamorro’s government to Alemán’s inauguration.
The first time is one of innocence and self-recognition, for the characters and the collective psyche as well. The second epoch is one of betrayal, homicide, the corruption and innocence lost of those who had been altruistic liberators. The third is a sad epoch of impoverished capitalism that coincides with the two main character’s middle age.
Hasta que de pronto, una voz valiente de mujer gritó: ¡Abajo la dictadura! Todos quedamos en suspenso unos instantes. Yo me volví hacia donde había surgido el grito. Era mi madre. (Aguirre, 2002: 50)
The previous passage goes from the political to the symbolic and makes a distinction between fear and cowardice. Citizens did not express their thought because they feared Somoza’s National Guard and Somoza censured (not only the newspapers) out of cowardice. The cowardly act of censorship suddenly confronts the mother (land) that is accompanied by her children.
In this first epoch, inexperience and idealism are notable, here one of many historical vices is pointed out and rejected, little did the characters know that this and many other vices would reappear in a new regime where the only changes were the political flag and Nicaragua’s GDP.
If ideology had shifted and nonetheless the old vices persist, then it is to be considered that the real problem was never ideological. According to Fromm authoritarianism is born from a sadistic tendency to control others (masochists and conformists) who’s need to be controlled is born from the incertitude of independent life. Both the sadist and the masochist are codependent, and their behavior is rooted in deep desperation and self loathe.
The “present” is related like a time of unemployment and generalized poverty; the characters lack the preponderant roles that they had in Sandinista society. The descriptions regret what happened to the country with the irony with which one protests a society with freedom of speech that nonetheless is not free.
La democracia en la que el Cristo Popular quiere ser castrado por un obeso Cardenal con cabeza de topo y cerebro de boxeador, que se sienta en su trono los domingos frente a las cámaras de TV como un orangután gruñón que hace la siesta y observa con hostilidad a los curiosos. (Aguirre, 2002: 280)
The masses conform to the wishes of a handful of selfish people that feed appetites directly proportional to their insecurity and lack of self-love. This is not an ideological problem, this is an emotional problem. An ideology can be the most altruistic ever thought, but if its representatives haven’t outgrown deep childhood feelings of inadequacy, ideology cannot be implemented.
Thus also in alienation be it ideological, nationalistic or consumer-driven; the individual runs quickly to make themselves what the authority or dominating idea wants. In consumer societies we can observe how adolescents derive their identity from a musical genre. This preference determines their values; way of speech and dress and in some cases their place in labor.
In the case of the 1980’s in Nicaragua there were different organizations where the Nicaraguan could discover his or herself: the Sandinista Defense Committee, Sandinista Youth, Sandinista Children, Ministry of Culture Workshops, etc. All of them directed to finding the “place of the individual in the collectivity”.
Con Sangre de Hermanos is a work that shows a Nicaragua that was tried to be erased off the face of the earth and whose weaknesses contributed to the consolidation of these ends. This however is seen through the eyes of two ordinary men who were in many ways innocent and suffered in the hands of an authority that first stole their youth and then threw them away.
This novel has unconventional and interesting form and in its content we can appreciate not only the meditation of these brief words, but also the detail of a historical period that lacked journalistic scrutiny and thus is mysterious; more so for my generation and the ones that shall follow.