By Tim Hazell
“A poet must also learn how to lead an attack.” – Ho Chi Minh
Poet and revolutionary Roque Dalton maintained a love-hate relationship with El Salvador, where he was born in 1935. His father, one of the members of the infamous Dalton brothers gang, had settled there after a career of robbing Kansas banks and invested his fortune in coffee plantations.
Roque was arrested in 1959 for “forming Communist red cells among workers, students, and peasants to protest against landowners.” Sentenced to be executed by firing squad, the professional revolutionary was saved the day before when the Salvadorian dictatorship was overthrown by coup d’état. He spent 1961 in Mexican exile until leaving for Havana where he published his first book, Mine with the Birds, and received military training.
Two months after his return to El Salvador in 1965, Dalton was arrested, tortured by the CIA, and once again sentenced death. This time, an earthquake shattered the outer wall of his cell. He escaped through the rubble and returned to Cuba. Sent by the Party as a correspondent to Prague, he wrote his chronicle, Tavern and Other Places, which won the Casa de las Américas poetry prize in 1969, establishing him as one of Latin America’s leading poets.
Roque’s own organization, the ERP (Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo), condemned him to death for treachery in 1975. He was executed on May 10. “Tavern” comes from the warrior’s pen:
Old poets and new poets too
have aged an awful lot in the past year…
In streets I’m getting to know by heart
countless bodies are making the eternal music of footsteps
Here is a surprising excerpt about the poet from an interview with Nicaraguan author Claribel Alegria: “He wrote me beautiful letters; never of politics or poetry, only Salvadoran recipes. We both missed the Salvadoran food very much.”
El Salvador has indeed made a rich contribution to Central American cooking. Influences of Mayan culture and Spanish colonial kitchens are strong. Roque would have approved of this light and refreshing Shredded Beef Salad!
Salpicón de Res
2 lb. beef flank or skirt steak (Falda de Res)
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar
2 tsp. oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 Serrano chile, minced
2 avocados, chopped
Add beef, chopped onion, and salt to a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 hours, or until meat is very tender. Remove the meat and reserve stock for another use. Shred the meat with fingers when cool. Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add the tomatoes, sliced red onion, and chile and toss. Set aside for a few minutes to let the vegetables marinate. Gently fold the shredded beef and avocados into the marinated vegetables and adjust seasoning. Serve chilled or at room temperature with warm tortillas or tostadas.