Lil Milagro Ramírez–poet and founder member of the Resistencia Nacional–was born in San Salvador in April 1946. An avid reader and writer, she was recognised–at age nineteen–as El Salvador’s “youngest female poet.” She completed a law degree at the University of El Salvador but, appalled by the hypocrisy of the legal system in her country, decided not to practise, instead joining a nascent revolutionary group in 1970.
Although the civil war didn’t officially begin until 1980, the decades before were marked by increasing violence. Prior attempts to oust a string of military dictators and introduce social reforms had only fostered corruption and electoral fraud. Protest, as throughout the history of El Salvador, was met by political repression. By 1971, Ramírez was living a completely underground existence.
For a time, Ramírez struggled with the idea of continuing to write:
“Many consider it impossible to balance being a revolutionary fighter with being a writer and poet. I went through that phase too, feeling considerable guilt when I was only writing. At such times, yes, I think you should give up the pen and take up the gun in defence of freedom. But once you’re on the right track, sure of your role and fulfilling what you believe to be your duty, then it is possible and valid to spend your free time writing poetry.”
The poems in this selection were written around 1972. Ramírez was aiming to produce a collection and had completed about forty poems. Of those forty, less than half survive, the ones she had managed to copy out and send to her mother ‘in some disarray’. The poems were published posthumously by Cuadernos Universitarios, Universidad de El Salvador, in 2002.
Ramírez was captured in 1976. She spent three years in brutal conditions in a clandestine jail, before her death at the hands of the Salvadoran National Guard in October 1979. According to those who were held alongside her, and survived, she continued to be a source of inspiration even in the harshest of circumstances, developing a form of Morse code so she could communicate with other detainees and reciting poems from memory to instill courage and hope.