Book Review: The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli

Note:  This review covers only a section of this book.  I write about Belli’s exile.  

With Gioconda Belli being involved with the Sandinista and being ordered to go to Europe for safety while her organization tried to pull off an operation against the Somoza – that ended up failing, when she came back to Nicaragua – against her boss – whom she was having an affair with wishes,. When she came home and finally reunited with her family after so long, she began to read some of the newspapers her dad saved for her and realized that her oddly easy return to her country had to be part the Somoza’s plan to use her as some kind of decoy. She began talking over her limited options of what to do now with her mom, dad, and husband. She was thinking her option was to seek political asylum her dad agreed to take her to the embassy, but after she talked to Dr. Baez who had seeked asylum and she could find out how that worked, what to do and what embassy she should go to. When she went to talk to him he told her to wait, and that to seek asylum was like going into a world of uncertainty. She stayed put in her house for two weeks out of fear. After that she started doing low-key things for her political organization like driving different Sandinista members to different meeting places and picking them up. Letting a few of them stay at her place. But she realized that the Somoza dictatorship was catching up to her, the doctor she was confiding in was captured. As soon as she found out another one of her bosses sent word to her to leave the country immediately. And that she had one week to tidy up her affairs and leave. Under the Sandinistas code of honor it was expected that the doctor would remain silent for a week before succumbing to the torturing of the Somoza.  With that being said she began preparing to leave for Mexico. A week after she left she found out that the Somoza’s secret police went to her job and took all her papers and a few months later her name was added to the list of the hundreds of people who were to b e tried by the Military Tribunal. After a month in Mexico she was indicted by the Military Tribunal, and she now knew there was no way for her to go back to Nicaragua until the dictatorship fell. In 1975 this is how Gioconda began her life in exile. While living in exile she lived in both Mexico and Costa Rica – most of her exile she lived in San Jose, Costa Rica.

Her first three months of living in Mexico she wrote a book of poems called Linea de fuego- Line of Fire, which won the Casa de las Americas prize in Cuba in 1978. Since she no longer had to hid or worry about disclosing her political views she was able to write her poems freely.   While in Mexico  she and her husband divorced, and at first her husband didn’t want to send her kids to her so she kind of threaten him and he then sent her two daughters to her. By this time she was living in Costa Rica. Though she was in exile she was still very helpful to the Sandinistas, she became more of runner for them and housed different members when they came for meetings and hosted meetings at her home. When I mean she was more of a runner that meant she was used to take weapons, money letters, tapes to different drop off locations, or met and exchange information with different people, due to her upper class look she wasn’t suspected hardly at all. She mostly went on these runs between Costa Rica, Honduras, and panama. She gave a few accounts on how she was able to pull off some close calls.

It was almost like it was straight out of the movies, once she was carrying a doll in the air port with its legs stuffed with letters and other important documents with plans and ideas for other members of the Sandinistas, she had it on conveyer belt and she realized that of she left it there the letters would look like bags of drugs and she would get caught. So before it could get scanned she grabbed it and hugged it and went through the metal detectors with the doll in her hands.

Another way she described how she would trade information with other members of her party was she would sit and wait till someone came and talked to her and left a suitcase at her feet then she would take it on the plane get to her destination and then someone else would be waiting and she would leave it next to they so they could take it.

The most memorable smuggling tricks she used were box of money. Her job was to deliver a sum of money to members of the Sandinistas who were in Panama approximately $10,000, however, when she got the money it was given to her in small bills didn’t know what to do, then came up with an idea to carry it as a wedding gift so she wrapped the money up in individual bundles and but it all in a big box and decorated the box as if it was a big wedding gift and she dressed as if she was on her way to a wedding.  When she got to Panama the airport had all the Nicaraguans form line and everyone else in another. This is when she started to panic trying to think of a plan. The she happened to see a Panamanian leader who was a sympathizer for the Sandinistas she then stepped out of line and started talking to him as if he was an old friend. She asked him for help and he was able to help her get out of there without being searched.

Later on she decided remarried to a man named Sergio.  Here is the story of how her son Camilo was born. She went through some complications. Due to political anxieties and other issues her doctor put her on bed rest. Guest started to come to visit and they had to hold meetings in her home so she was only on bed rest for a few days, so during one of her task as a runner, she was the driver to take care of little details and figure out where the safe house would be for their new leader Modesto. So being in the car sitting from morning till 5 in the evening when she got out of the car and finally ended her day she started to have really bad contractions and so her husband Sergio took her to the hospital, since she was only 5 months pregnant they gave her something to stop contractions and she had to stay in the hospital. She talked about how the doctors and nurses there were rude, treated all the mothers as if they were stupid and hardly gave them any information on how they were doing. She ended up getting an infection at the hospital so they gave her antibiotics and she said they kept referring to her baby as “the product” as her infection got worse they had to do an emergency C-section and when the baby was delivered they told her it was a boy and it died. Then right after he said that a few minutes past and a nurse came back into the room and called for the doctor, the baby was alive. Of course she was relieved that her baby was alive.  The doctor finished sowing her up and then went to see the baby and came back and told her that it was a mistake her baby was dead. When they took her back into the room to recover another nurse came into the room and was like “oh I just saw your baby boy” she was like “no my baby died” so they kind of went back and forth. She was like what is going on is my baby dead or alive? So the head nurse came and confirmed that her son was alive.

How she was able to finally come back to Nicaragua after 4 yrs of exile was a few things. The Sandinista had a new operation under way called Operation Eureka. How they prepared for this mission was cool, for example through their pirate radio station broadcast for Costa Rica they would air ingenious songs that Carlos Mejia Godoy a popular Nicaraguan singer would sing the lyrics composed by the leader of her group. The lyrics were nothing but step-by-step instructions on how to use assemble and disassemble riffles that people were capturing from National Guards in street battles. However the biggest catalyst for the ending of power of the Somoza was when Bill Stewart, an American journalist was brutally assassinated. It was filmed by his camera man who then sent the tape back to America, and it was shown all over. With this and pictures from American photographers pictures of what really was happening in Nicaragua started to become know thus leading to America withdrawing their support to Somoza. News then spread about a Red Cross medic driver being shot by the National Guard. The international community reacted again. Then in 1979 Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama broke their diplomatic relations with Somoza. Thus ending the 45 yrs of dictatorship from the Somoza. It was all over the radio and she was in such disbelief that not only is the dictatorship over but she is actually free to go back to her country. Her team then set out to write a special newspaper talking about the events there in Costa Rica b/c the newspaper office in Nicaragua was bombed they titled their special report Free Country. This is how she finally goes back to her country Nicaragua.

– Posted by A. Chambers (2011)

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2 Responses to Book Review: The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli

  1. aktreadwell says:

    The story about the money disguised as wedding present is my favorite. And I agree, it is like a movie thats why I enjoyed the book it so much; It is packed with action.

  2. Adrie says:

    Very interesting story! This story just goes to show that there are people out there who really do stand up for what they believe in, either good or bad, and they do not give up without a fight. Her true character really stood out when she went out of her way to help her country which she loved so much.

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