The On-Going Responsibility: Cleaning the Flag

In 1985 during the terrorist contra war in Nicaragua, Brazilian bishop Pedro Casaldáliga visited and engaged in what he called the ministries of the border and of consolation. His reflection on these ministries: “The visits and the contact are a comfort to all of us and make us like brothers and sisters. I’ve always thought informal visits, with a little faith and human affection, are the most effective kind of pastoral activity.” He kept a journal of his experiences, which included the following poem.

To Reagan

You are being excommunicated by me and the poets, the children, the poor of the land:
Pay attention!
We’ve got to see the world in human terms.
Don’t play Nero.
This isn’t a movie, you screen monkey:
You’re the leader of a great nation!
(I will tell your people to clean off forever
The shit your cowboy boot has tracked over your flag.
And I will tell them, when they vote,
To realize that they may be selling much blood and their own honor!)
You may have inebriated the world with Coca-Cola,
But there is still someone lucid enough to tell you “No!”
The profits and power of your weapons
Cannot be valued above
The feverish wail
Of a little black child.

Empires no longer suit the race of human beings.
Listen, Reagan: the sun
Rises as sun for everyone
And the same God rains
Over every life God has invited to the celebration.

No people is the greatest.
Stay in your own backyard.
Respect us.

Rachel has found you out, Herod,
And you will have to answer for her desolation.

Sandino’s star
Is waiting for you in the hills
And in the volcano a single heart awakes:
Like a sea of indignation little girl Nicaragua
Will smash your aggression.

The blood of the martyrs holds up our arms
And becomes song and fountains in our mouths.
You have never seen the hills, Reagan,
Nor have you heard in their birds the voice of the voiceless.
You know nothing of life,
And do not understand the song.

Don’t come to us with your hypocritical morality,
You mass murderer, you’re aborting a whole people and its revolution.
The lie you try to pass off to the world (and to the pope)
Is the worst drug.
You are showing Freedom (in an exclusive screening)
While you block the way to Liberation.

“The United States is powerful and mighty.”

All right! “We trust… in God.”

You may think you’re the owners, you may have everything,
Even god, your god
–the bloodstained idol of your dollars,
The mechanical Moloch—
But you don’t have the God of Jesus Christ,
The Humanity of God!
I swear by the blood of his Son,
Killed by another empire,
And I swear by the blood of Latin America
–now ready to give birth to new tomorrows—
That you
Will be the last
(grotesque)
emperor!

–from Prophets in Combat: The Nicaraguan Journal of Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga [1986]

Pedro’s comment: “In Nicaragua someone even doubted that this poem was mine. It’s mine, all right. The Bible has much harsher words for kings and lords who murdered the poor and sought to take over the world.”

For another perspective on Reagan, see former Nicaraguan foreign minister Miguel d’Escoto, “Reagan was the Butcher of My People.

For more on Pedro, see Mev Puleo’s interview with him in her book ,The Struggle is One: Voices and Visions of Liberation (1994).

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