A French ‘honoris causa’ for Dora María Téllez, the former Sandinista guerrilla imprisoned by Daniel Ortega | International

In the dark prison cells of The Chipote, the former Sandinista guerrilla Dora María Téllez has served a year in prison and sentenced to eight in prison for “conspiring” against the regime of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua. It was in this prison, denounced as a torture center, that the hero of the Sandinista revolution learned that the Sorbonne University in Paris had awarded her a doctorate honorary cause as “tribute to his exceptional political and scientific career, and his contribution to international social commitment”, according to the academic institution, which will also recognize former German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the same ceremony. Téllez has received the news with “pleasure and joy”, his brother, Óscar Téllez, tells by phone, while the voices that demand the release of who is considered one of the most outstanding intellectuals in Latin America multiply at the international level. “She is one of the brightest minds from the Rio Bravo to Patagonia,” says a Nicaraguan intellectual.

The president of the Parisian university, Jamil Jean-Marc Dakhalia, informed Téllez of the recognition in a letter issued on May 19, in which he explains that the academic council of that house of studies has unanimously decided to award the tribute with the approval of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “With this title – Dakhalia writes – we wish to acknowledge his exceptional career… We want to recognize his long commitment to social justice and democracy, both in his country and throughout Latin America.” Along with Téllez, in addition to Merkel, the philosopher Stanislas Spero Adotevi, former Minister of Culture of Benin; the Cameroonian writer and feminist Djaïli Amadou Amal and the American soprano Barbara Hendricks.

Dora María Téllez’s life has been marked by political commitment and a personal struggle against injustice in her country. As a young woman she decided to study medicine outraged by the terrible health conditions suffered by the children of Nicaragua in times of the Somoza dictatorship, the dynasty that ruled the Central American country for more than four decades under the approval of the United States. She later joined the ranks of the Sandinista Front, the guerrilla formed to overthrow the dictatorship. Téllez was one of the most audacious and courageous figures of that movement and her bravery was demonstrated in 1978, when she, together with other guerrillas, took over the Congress of Deputies, in Managua, in one of the most important actions against the dictatorship. The guerrillas held legislators loyal to Somocismo hostage and in exchange negotiated the release of all Sandinista political prisoners. “Perhaps there has never been a Latin American woman who has played a more audacious military role in a liberation struggle than Téllez,” wrote journalist John Carlin, who in the 1980s was a correspondent in Nicaragua for the English press.

During the so-called war of insurrection, the guerrilla Téllez led the rebellion in the city of León, a tourist enclave in Nicaragua, dealing another blow against the dictatorship. After the Sandinista triumph in 1979, she occupied the Ministry of Health and maintained a strong influence in the revolutionary government, dominated by men, including the current president Daniel Ortega, her current prisoner. “We Nicaraguans invested a lot of effort, work and blood to overthrow the Somoza dictatorship and, obviously, the democratization processes were insufficient because another dictatorship was installed again,” Téllez said in an interview with this newspaper in 2019. “A dictatorship forged in the propagandistic matrix of the Sandinista revolution. I say the propaganda matrix because what is happening has nothing to do with Sandinismo. It has to do with a monstrosity called Ortega, a machinery of political power that has been occupied by the Sandinista Front, a party that could never settle as a formation with a democratic vocation,” she added.

After the electoral defeat of 1990 and the fall of the Sandinista government, Téllez became a critical voice of Sandinismo and later joined the Sandinista Renovation Movement, created by former president Sergio Ramírez in response to what they considered a “kidnapping” of the Sandinista Front. Sandinista for Ortega. Téllez supported his political activity with prolific scientific research. As an academic and historian, she researched the political history of her country and that of Latin America, and her work brought her recognition from major international education centers. Harvard University invited her in 2005 to occupy the chair of Robert Kennedy Visiting Professor of Latin American Studies, but the George W. Bush administration denied her visa for considering her a “terrorist” for her participation in the guerrilla that overthrew to Somocism. Other American and Latin American universities have recognized her academic work.

Voices for his release have multiplied in Latin America, Europe and the United States. At the beginning of June, the Mexican magazine Process published a report in which friends and relatives of Téllez assure that the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, “is capable of interceding for her to be released.” In an article published in El Periódico de Guatemala, the Guatemalan economist Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight –son of the renowned social-democratic politician Alberto Fuentes Mohr– called for the release of Téllez, for representing “social justice and democracy”, and left-wing organizations have published letters in which they demand the release of the former guerrilla.

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In the dark cells of El Chipote prison, Téllez spends his days away from academia, classrooms, libraries, and writing essays for magazines in the region. His brother Óscar de him assures that he is in good spirits, but he suffers from confinement: he spends his days exercising, although he has had health problems. Recently, Óscar says, he suffered an allergy in his arm and the prison doctors prescribed a cream that caused major skin problems “like third degree burns”, for which he had to undergo antibiotic treatment. The terrible food in prison – rice and beans most of the time – has caused intestinal problems and the little exposure to the sun has also affected him. “She has felt a little weak,” says her brother, who was able to visit her a week ago. She is also bored with her, because her regimen has deprived her of reading and writing, both of which are so important in the historian’s life. This is a harsh reprisal for a woman who has dedicated her life against injustice in Nicaragua. Despite this, says her brother, Commander Two does not bend. “She has the same inner strength, her sense of humor and her convictions,” says Óscar Téllez.

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