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Dalton García Roque
(1935—1975)

Dalton García Roque  (1935—1975)

Roque Dalton García was a leftist Salvadoran poet and journalist. He is one of Latin America's most compelling poets. He wrote emotionally strong, sometimes sarcastic, and image-loaded works dealing with life, death, love, and politics.

He was the son of Winnall Dalton and María García Medrano. Winnall Dalton emigrated to Mexico, fought in the Mexican Revolution and came to El Salvador in the early 1920s. Winnall Dalton married Aida Ulloa, from the well-known and wealthy Salvadoran family, descendant of General Francisco Morazan (one of the most important leaders in the history of Central America) . He gained control of his wife's large farm and dedicated his life to agriculture. He survived a homicide attempt and the Salvadoran nurse who took care of Winnall Dalton in the Salvadoran hospital, María García Medrano, later gave birth to Roque Dalton. Her hard work and good luck allowed her to provide their children a high-quality education.

Roque graduated from Externado San José, an exclusive Jesuit school for boys in San Salvador. Afterwards he was sent by his father to Santiago in Chile to study law in the Universidad Nacional de Chile. There, he established close relationships to Leftist students and attended lectures with the Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Around this time, he developed a great interest in Socialism.

When he returned to El Salvador, he was accepted by the Law School of the Universidad de El Salvador (UES) and in 1955 he and the Guatemalan poet Otto René Castillo founded Círculo Literario Universitario, which published some of Central America's most recognized literary figures.

In 1961 he travelled to Havana, where he was welcomed by Casa de las Américas, a gathering place for many exiled leftist Latin American writers. Dalton returned clandestinely to El Salvador in 1965 but was soon caught and taken prisoner again. He awaited execution in Cojutepeque, but once again he was miraculously saved. There was an earthquake and the wall from his prison cell fell down. Dalton took advantage of this and escaped, he slipped into a passing religious procession and managed to meet his fellow revolutionaries who helped him escape to Cuba again. He was then sent to Prague as a correspondent for The International Review: Problems for Peace and Socialism. While he was in Prague, he wrote his internationally acclaimed Taberna y Otros Lugares. He also produced a landmark biography of Miguel Mármol, a prominent Salvadoran communist who participated in the 1932 Salvadoran peasant uprising and was living in exile in Prague.
In 1970 Roque Dalton had become a recognized figure in the Salvadoran left. He tried hard to become a revolutionary soldier, for which reason he participated in military training camps in Cuba several times. He once wrote "Politics are taken up at the risk of life, or else you don't talk about it".

When he felt ready as a soldier, he sought admission in the Salvadoran Marxist-Leninist, political-military organization FPL -Fuerzas Populares de Liberación "Farabundo Marti-" (Popular Liberation Forces "Farabundo Marti" in English). However, the organization's leader, Commander "Marcial" (whose real name was Salvador Cayetano Carpio), rejected his application, arguing that Roque's role in the revolution was as a poet, and not as a foot soldier. Because of this, he applied to join the ERP - Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo- (People's Revolutionary Army in English). Though Dalton himself was not allowed to become part of the FPL, both his sons joined the FPL in the late 70s. Roque Dalton's military career also included cooperation with Guatemalan revolutionaries in creating EGP - Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres (Guerrilla Army of the Poor in English).

Once an active member in ERP, Dalton stressed the importance of establishing bonds with the organizations from civil society. Some of the other members of ERP disagreed with him. They accused him of trying to divide the organization. This group, whose most internationally known leader was Joaquin Villalobos ("Atilio"), allegedly condemned him to death on 10 May 1975, only four days before Roque was to turn 40. Therefore, Dalton's literary production stopped when a group of commandos, whose members were Joaquin Villalobos and Jorge Melendez (nom de guerre 'Jonas') finished his life. This commando was sent by Edgar Alejandro Rivas Mira. Roque was shot to death in a house in Santa Anita neighbourhood in San Salvador city. There were possibly others involved in his execution, but these are the ones still alive today: Villalobos settled in Great Britain; Melendez is an MP for San Salvador City for FMLN and Rivas Mira hides behind plastic surgeries which were paid with money obtained from the kidnapping and murder of the millionaire Roberto Poma. The most commonly accepted version of facts suggests that Dalton was "mistakenly accused" of operating as an agent for the CIA, reason for which he was executed. The reason was that many things he was privy to were subsequently known by the government, and by implication the CIA. It is commonly suggested that someone Roque knew, and confided in, was an "oreja" (ear, or CIA spy/informant) and this is how confidential information was being discovered. Both the FPL and ERP were founding organizations of a united guerrilla front known as FMLN, other known cases of revolutionaries being executed by FMLN forces include Commander Roberto Castellanos, who has been regarded as a proven case of treason and was gunned down by FMLN commandos while he worked along government forces against his former guerrilla peers. The other important case is the one of commander Mayo Sibrian who was found guilty of a series of abuses during a summary trial by the FPL leadership. The summary conviction of Sibrian accounted for ordering the deaths of eight-hundred FPL combatants in a war front under Sibrian's authority. Sibrian was also said to be mentally disturbed (somewhat resembling commander Castellanos' case) after being liberated from the government of El Salvador's torture chambers by the FMLN. Unlike Roque Dalton's case, the FMLN kept the previous heroic history of the executed commanders in a low profile. These incidents, just like Commander Salvador Cayetano Carpio's case, are not listed in the United Nations' Truth Commission reports. This Truth commission was under the mandate of ONUSAL. Carpio's case was clear of any wrong-doing after his suicide-death in Nicaragua. Carpio's not-guilty verdict was passed by a Nicaraguan government's court of justice. Carpio had been accused by the FMLN leadership of being behind the extrajudicial execution of Commander Melida Anaya Montes whom FMLN hardliners regarded as playing along CIA counter-insurgency plans thus promoting the working class revolution's self-defeating estrategies. The perpetrators of Anaya's death accepted boldly their responsibility during their trial by Nicaraguan prosecutors. They were all members of Anaya's own security personnel and never linked Carpio to their actions.


El Salvador, 2005, Roque Dalton

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