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Obituaries

Pablo Antonio Cuadra, 89; Nicaraguan Literary Activist

January 24, 2002|ELAINE WOO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pablo Antonio Cuadra, a revered Nicaraguan poet, journalist and essayist whose career and art survived decades of harassment and censorship under opposing regimes, died of a respiratory ailment Jan. 2 in Managua. He was 89.

Cuadra was a leading literary voice in a country where poets are so prized that some have risen to high government office, such as former president Daniel Ortega and his culture minister, Ernesto Cardenal. Cuadra gave voice to his passionate beliefs about Nicaragua not only through his poetry but as editor of the influential daily La Prensa, a post he assumed in 1978 after Somoza forces assassinated his cousin and the paper's co-director, Pedro Joaquin Chamorro.

"In Nicaragua, he is appreciated for being a shaper of several generations of writers and intellectuals of the most diverse ideologies and literary tastes imaginable," said Steven F. White, a professor of Spanish at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., who knew Cuadra for more than 20 years and translated a volume of his poems. "Everyone from Ernesto Cardenal to [poet] Francisco Valle ... learned to see Nicaragua, in part, through Pablo Antonio's eyes.''

In the 1920s he was a pioneer of a literary movement known as la Vanguardia, which used conversational language, free verse, dialogue and satire in an effort to create a poetry indigenous to Nicaragua.

Its members, who included poets Jose Coronel Urtecho, Joaquin Pasos and Octavio Rosas, were influenced by European fascism and supported the U.S.-imposed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza Garcia.

But by 1934, when his first collection, "Nicaraguan Poems," was published, Cuadra had begun to question la Vanguardia's political underpinnings. In 1937 he was jailed by Somoza for opposing the dictatorship.

He was jailed twice and continually harassed for exposing the corruption and criminal violence of the Somoza family during its three-decade reign. After the rise of the Sandinistas during the Nicaraguan revolution, he worked clandestinely with the guerrilla army, only to arrive at a new assessment that would again cast him in the opposition.

Throughout his and his country's struggles, he said he remained devoted to the principles of Nicaraguan nationalism, democracy and self-determination. These concerns were echoed in his writing, from his early "Poem of the Foreign Movement in the Jungle," in which he railed against the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua in the 1920s, to the more recent, mythic "The Calabash Tree."

In the late 1970s and '80s, when politics interfered in his own free expression, he chose self-imposed exile in Costa Rica and Texas for several years.

"You need freedom to create," Cuadra once said. "The artist and the poet must become personally engaged in the political struggle, but he must not compromise his art."

Born in Managua, Cuadra studied with the Jesuits and was briefly enrolled in law school. He was 19 when he dropped out to co-found la Vanguardia and edit its leading journal.

He edited several newspapers and journals over the years but his longest association was with La Prensa and its literary supplement, La Prensa Literaria.

During the 1980s, La Prensa denounced human rights violations under the Sandinistas and endured tight censorship and a yearlong publishing ban.

When the Sandinista regime was defeated in early 1990, Cuadra stepped down as editor and devoted himself to poetry.

According to White, he completed a new collection before he died that, like previous works, blends history and myth in its exploration of Nicaragua's origins.

Among his literary honors were the Ruben Dario Prize in Poetry, named for one of Nicaragua's major 19th-century literary figures, and Spain's Ruben Dario Prize for Hispanic Poetry.

He is survived by his wife, Adilia, and several children and grandchildren.

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