Ernesto Cardenal Martínez (born January 20, 1925) is a Nicaraguan Catholic priest, poet and politician. He is a liberation theologian and the founder of the primitivist art community in the Solentiname Islands, where he lived for more than ten years (1965–1977). A member of the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, a party he has since left, he was Nicaragua's minister of culture from 1979 to 1987.
Born into an upper-class family in Granada, Nicaragua, Cardenal is a first cousin of the poet Pablo Antonio Cuadra. Cardenal studied literature first in Managua and from 1942 to 1946 in Mexico. Later, from 1947 to 1949, he continued his studies in New York and traveled through Italy, Spain and Switzerland between 1949 and 1950.
In July 1950, he returned to Nicaragua, where he participated in the 1954 April Revolution against Anastasio Somoza García's regime. The coup d'état failed and ended with the deaths of many of his associates. Cardenal subsequently entered the Trappist Monastery of Gethsemani (Kentucky, United States), under the other poet-priest Thomas Merton, but in 1959 he left to study theology in Cuernavaca, Mexico.
Cardenal was ordained a Catholic priest in 1965 in Granada. He went to the Solentiname Islands where he founded a Christian, almost monastic, mainly peasant community, which eventually led to the founding of the artists' colony. It was there that the famous book El Evangelio en Solentiname ("The Gospel of Solentiname") was written. Cardenal collaborated closely with the leftist Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista National Liberation Front, or FSLN), in working to overthrow Anastasio Somoza Debayle's régimen.
Many members of the community of Solentiname engaged with the process of the Revolution in the guerrilla warfare that the FSLN had developed to strike at the regime. The year 1977 was crucial to Cardenal's community since Somoza's National Guard, as a result from an attack to the headquarters stationed in the city of San Carlos, a few miles from the community, raided Solentiname and burned it to the ground, with Cardenal fleeing to Costa Rica.
On 19 July 1979, immediately after the Liberation of Managua, he was named Minister of Culture by the new Sandinista regime. He campaigned for a "revolution without vengeance" His brother, Fernando Cardenal, also a Catholic priest (in the Jesuit order), was appointed Minister of Education. When Pope John Paul II visited Nicaragua in 1983, he openly scolded Ernesto Cardenal, who knelt before him, on the Managua airport runway, for resisting his order to resign from the government and admonished him: "Usted tiene que arreglar sus asuntos con la Iglesia" ("You must fix your affairs with the Church"). On February 4, 1984 Pope John Paul II defrocked Cardenal because of his participation in liberation theology, a decision overturned 30 years later, August 4, 2014 by Pope Francis. Cardenal remained Minister of Culture until 1987, when his ministry was closed for economic reasons.
Cardenal left the FSLN in 1994, protesting the authoritarian direction of the party under Daniel Ortega but insists that he has retained his leftist opinions. He is a member of the Movimiento de Renovación Sandinista (Sandinista Renovation Movement, MRS) that participated in the 2006 Nicaraguan general election. Days before the election, Cardenal stated, in a clear reference to his dispute with Ortega, "I think it would be more desirable an authentic capitalism, as Montealegre's (Eduardo Montealegre, the presidential candidate for Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance) would be, than a false Revolution."
Cardenal has been for a long time a polemical figure of Nicaragua's literature and cultural history. He has been described as "the most important poet right now in Latin America" politically and poetically. He has been a very vocal figure of Nicaragua and a valid key to analyze and understand the contemporaneous literary and cultural life of Nicaragua. He participated in the Stock Exchange of Visions project in 2007.
- 1980: Peace Prize of the German Book Trade
- November 1990: Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award
- 2005: Nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature
- 2009: Ibero-American Poetry Prize Pablo Neruda
- 2009: GLOBArt Award in the monastery church in Pernegg
- 2010: Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, 1st class
- 2012: Queen Sofia Prize for Ibero-American Poetry
- Gethsemani Ky
- Hora 0 ("Zero Hour")
- Epigramas ("Epigrams")
- Oración Por Marilyn Monroe ("Prayer for Marilyn Monroe")
- El estrecho dudoso ("The Doubtful Strait")
- Los ovnis de oro ("Golden UFOs")
- Homenaje a los indios americanos ("Homage to the American Indian")
- Salmos ("Psalms")
- Oráculo sobre Managua ("Oracle on Managua")
- Con Walker en Nicaragua ("With Walker in Nicaragua and Other Early Poems")
- Cántico Cósmico ("Cosmic Canticle")
- El telescopio en la noche oscura ("Telescope in the Dark Night")
- Vuelos de la Victoria ("Flights of Victory)
- Pluriverse: New and Selected Poems
- El Origen de las Especies y otros poemas ("The Origin of the Species")
- "Revolution ohne Rache" in: Ernesto Cardenal 80. In: Berliner Morgenpost, 10. Juni 2008. Abgerufen am 23. Januar 2013.
- La Prensa, November 2, 2006. Managua's Daily Newspaper (in Spanish) http://www-ni.laprensa.com.ni/archivo/2006/noviembre/02/noticias/ultimahora/153819.shtml
- La Prensa August 26, 2007, (in Spanish) http://www.laprensa.com.ni/archivo/2007/agosto/26/noticias/enfoque/.
- The Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Recipients List
- "Reply to a parliamentary question" (pdf) (in German). p. 1979. Retrieved 14 January 2013.