Who Was Guillermo Sánchez Borbón?

The following four segments were compiled by Josh Whitlock, Ariel Rene Pérez Price and Nicholas Corea as part of an educational series to raise awareness about Guillermo Sánchez Borbón during creation of “El Mural de Tristán Solarte y El Ahogado.” Learn more about Bocas del Toro’s most celebrated poet, author and journalist here and explore the mural’s Instagram page @tristansolartemural.

VERSIÓN EN ESPAÑOL “¿Quién fue Guillermo Sánchez Borbón?

Guillermo Sánchez Borbón

Although far from his only outstanding and lasting contribution to Panamanian life and culture, Bocatoreño luminary Guillermo Sánchez Borbón likely is best known for his illustrious career as a poet and author under the pen name Tristán Solarte.

Solarte’s works earned numerous awards, domestically and beyond. He won the prestigious Rogelio Sinán Medal and won the Ricardo Miró Prize (Panama’s highest literary award) three times. He also was a distinguished member and leader of the Academia Panameña de la Lengua and is the only Panamanian author included in the “Mil Libros” catalog, which highlights the one thousand best books in the world as chosen by literary experts.

Bocas del Toro permeates Solarte’s writing, which often includes detailed and compelling descriptions of the archipelago’s scenery, culture, people, and history. His works also bless readers with delightfully complex stories and characters; exquisitely-chosen language; and transformational messages regarding (for example) kindness, non-judgment, connection with nature, the power of laughter, appreciation of silence and stillness, and helpful perspectives on life and death.

Solarte’s published books include El Ahogado, El Guitarrista, Confesiones de un Magistrado, La Serpiente de Cristal, La Luz de Esta Memoria, Voces y Paisajes de Vida y Muerte, Evocaciones, and Antología Poetica.

The man behind that prolific output had an especially deep and lifelong love of poetry and poets, which he studied extensively. Many of his works pay tribute to other poets and to poetry itself, and his closest friends and family members often referred to him affectionately as “The Poet.”

Guillermo Sanchez Borbon

In addition to his epic literary career, legendary Bocatoreño Guillermo Sánchez Borbón was an incredibly important and highly regarded journalist who courageously used the power of his pen to defy, and ultimately help destroy, military dictatorship in Panama.

His long-running and beloved La Prensa column called “En Pocas Palabras” employed wit, humor, and searing truth-telling to highlight and condemn political and military corruption and atrocities. The column was so devastating to tyrannical leaders, in fact, that they twice imprisoned and twice exiled Mr. Sánchez Borbón because of it. Undaunted, he bravely persisted.

He also co-authored (with fellow journalist R. M. Koster) the widely-read and hugely impactful tour de force In the Time of Tyrants. The book’s inside cover states that it is “the story of Panama and how, during two decades of U.S. involvement and Panamanian complicity, darkness fell on a democratic and prosperous land.”

The Columbia University School of Journalism honored Mr. Sánchez Borbón with the coveted Maria Moors Cabot Citation for his epic work in inter-American journalism, and United States Senator Bob Graham famously said of In the Time of Tyrants, “History will recount that Koster and Sánchez had more lasting power than Noriega.”

El ahogado Tristan Solarte El Mural de Guillermo Sanchez Borbon

Although Guillermo Sánchez Borbón considered himself first and foremost a poet and wrote much award-winning and powerful poetry under his pen name Tristán Solarte, he also was a brilliant novelist, and his most well-known and celebrated work is the novel “El Ahogado.” “El Ahogado” won Panama’s highest literary prize, has been required reading in many Panamanian schools, has been adapted into play form, and now comes to life again as the subject of the exciting new mural behind the Gran Hotel Bahía.

The book centers on the murder of a charismatic 17 year old Bocatoreño poet and musician named Rafael. Much more than just a murder mystery though, “El Ahogado,” like all of Solarte’s work, is beautifully layered and multi-dimensional.

It involves complex characters and storylines; pays extensive tribute to the people, history, and breathtaking scenery of the author’s beloved Bocas del Toro home; masterfully incorporates the fascinating legend of the Tulivieja; and contains the type of profound and exquisitely-delivered philosophy and wisdom so characteristic of Solarte’s writing.

Mr. Sánchez Borbón once called “El Ahogado” “a work of compassion,” and in interviews about the book he revealed that he based Rafael in part on a young and popular Bocatoreño musician of his time and in part on Nicaraguan poet Carlos Martinez Rivas. He wrote “El Ahogado” in 15 days and once said that the book had, in a way, “been with him since his childhood.”

“El Ahogado” is a true literary masterpiece worthy of worldwide recognition and repeated and careful study.

Guillermo Sanchez Borbon Gran Hotel Bahia

Legendary poet, author, and journalist Guillermo Sánchez Borbón (pen name Tristán Solarte) filled his writing with details about Bocas del Toro, his birthplace and primary muse, and he had a special connection to the Archipelago’s iconic Gran Hotel Bahía, where he now is memorialized.

Mr. Sánchez Borbón and the Hotel’s visionary founder José “Tito” Thomas were such close friends that many considered them more like brothers. Sánchez Borbón spent much time at the beautifully-colored and impressive hotel on Isla Colon’s Third Street and with the family of Mr. Thomas, whose children saw Mr. Sánchez Borbón as a dear uncle. Additionally, in his last trip to Bocas del Toro at over 90 years of age, Mr. Sánchez Borbón stayed at the hotel and enjoyed many hours there talking and laughing with Bocatoreño friends, family, and admirers.

Last week’s addition of the Tristán Solarte “El Ahogado” mural to the back wall of the Gran Hotel Bahia made the Great Poet’s presence there highly visible and permanent, and the mural celebration brought together friends and family of both he and Mr. Thomas in a place that they both loved.

El Mural de Tristan Solarte y El Ahogado




The Bocas Breeze is a digital and print newspaper proudly serving the Bocas del Toro community since 2004; reporting news, advertising local businesses and promoting tourism in Bocas del Toro, Panama.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *