Dora Maria: The Girl with the Short Hair

Dora Maria Tellez

HAVANA TIMES – Given the critical current situation in Nicaragua, and the arbitrary imprisonment of Dora Maria Tellez, Sergio Ramirez wrote the following for Proceso, a Mexican online news magazine. In this piece, he emphasizes the total honesty of the former Sandinista combatant, who demonstrated her courage and integrity in the revolution of the seventies. Ramirez, a former Vice President, resolutely states: “for having convictions, you pay a price your entire life, (..) be it under a dictatorship like the one from those times, or this other one now.”


By Sergio Ramirez (Proceso)

When I got back home after being summoned to testify before [Nicaragua’s] Public Prosecutor’s Office, in the legal process and fallacious accusation they’ve mounted against Cristiana Chamorro, alleging that the Violeta de Chamorro Foundation she headed was engaging in money laundering operations, the first supportive call I received was that of Dora Maria Tellez. “We would have sent people to support you, if we’d known,” she said.

I had decided to attend alone, accompanied only by my lawyer, without advising anyone. However, when I came out, with my stack of papers under my arm, a cloud of reporters was waiting for me outside, and that’s when Dora Maria found out. They had summoned me as president of the Luisa Mercado Foundation, which organized the International Literary Festival Centroamerica Cuenta. We had signed an agreement with Cristiana’s foundation, which supported our gatherings and workshops on modern journalism.

The prosecutor didn’t ask me any concrete questions, and it appeared that he only wanted to have me there before him, to interrogate me, and have me sign the record, in accordance with orders received. I didn’t have to touch any of the documents I carried with me – accounting statements, copies of checks, receipts. I told Dora Maria all about it, and we laughed, as always; and also, as always, we shared our sorrow for that revolution of our youth, a dream now turned vile.

Flashback to the ‘70s

I first met Dora Maria in Managua, in August 1978, in the underground, shortly before she would participate in the spectacular National Palace takeover as number two in command. Hugo Torres, number one, is now a prisoner, as is she. She was 22 at the time, the only woman among the 25 members of the contingent, and they had to cut her hair like a man’s so she’d resemble a soldier from the EEBI, Somoza’s elite troops. Disguising themselves as members of that force was the ruse used by the guerrillas to secretly enter the building.

The following year,- on July 1, 1979 – she received us in Leon, when the Government Junta landed at midnight from Costa Rica, on a landing strip built for the crop dusters that fumigated the cotton crops, lit by kerosene candles. Under her command, the Sandinista guerrilla forces had liberated the city, fighting block by block, until they trapped “Vulcano” in the National Guard barracks, the five-star general who was able to escape them, because he emerged ringed by a protective shield of trussed prisoners.

Dora Maria was the heroine of that epic day. As she proceeded down the street, people came to their doors, and she soon had an entourage of admirers following her.  At her age, and as a woman – which was no small thing at that time – the other guerrilla fighters, much older than she and weathered in combat, obeyed her without blinking.

The Government Junta took possession in a ceremony held in the auditorium of the 100-year-old university, and Dora Maria, her hair still short under the felt beret, sat with us on one of the high-backed chairs reserved for the university’s rector and deans, her rifle between her legs.

She had left the halls of this very university for the underground a few years earlier, abandoning her medical studies in order to do battle against the Somoza dictatorship, now approaching its end.

She was Minister of Health in the years of the revolution, and when the FSLN electoral defeat occurred in 1990, together we moved to head the Sandinista parliamentary bench in the National Assembly, seeking at that time to build bridges with our adversaries, who were now in the majority; to achieve consensus, a foreign word in Nicaragua’s political life.

Those were the years when Daniel Ortega, after initially accepting Violeta de Chamorro’s triumph, later disavowed that democratic commitment, and lit the bonfires of confrontation under his slogan of “governing from below”, which meant a permanent angry protest aimed at destabilizing the freely-elected government.

Also together, in 1995 we headed the legislative proposal to reform the Constitution, in alliance with other parliamentary factions. We succeeded in prohibiting presidential reelection; inhibiting a president’s close relatives from succeeding them in office, or any family ties between the head of the army and the president; and strengthening the country’s institutions, especially the independence of the Judicial Branch.

These reforms were rescinded through the alliance that began in 1999 between Daniel Ortega and Arnoldo Aleman. During Aleman’s presidential period [1997-2002], he committed acts of corruption for which he was later found guilty; in exchange for not going to jail, with Ortega holding the keys, he consented to facilitate [Ortega’s] return to the presidency in 2006, now free to be reelected for perpetuity.

Dora Maria continued absorbed in the struggle for a democratic Sandinista ethic. From the ranks of the Sandinista Renewal Movement that we founded in 1995, she continued fearlessly combatting the Ortega regime’s growing authoritarianism; even so, she found time to obtain a doctorate in History, with a brilliant thesis on the indigenous rebellions in the times of the conservative governments at the end of the XIX century. It was published under the title “Muera la gobierna”, which was the war cry of the indigenous rebels.

In her hair, still short, strands of gray now appear. We’re accustomed to laughing about age as well. She’s a lot younger than I am. “But those of us from back then, we’re not the same anymore,” she says, and laughs again.

They came for Dora Maria with an army of special forces

She was abducted [on June 13th] in an operation involving dozens of police and members of the special forces, the streets closed off and drones flying over her house, surely to determine if she had arms in her possession to resist. She had none. In the days of the struggle against Somoza, when she was underground, they wouldn’t have taken her alive. Now, her decision was to turn herself in, as a form of peaceful resistance, convinced that jail is also a form of resistance. Convinced that the armed struggle engenders, over and over, caudillo strongmen prepared to maintain themselves in power forever.

They slugged her in the stomach, they handcuffed her. They were afraid when they took her prisoner. Capturing a living legend like that isn’t something you do lightly. And since that time, she’s been in an isolation cell, not allowed to see her lawyer or relatives.  The charge against her is violating the national sovereignty. She’s accused of treason.

I imagine her in the solitude of her reclusion, firm and serene. She knows that struggles are always hard, and that for having convictions, you pay a price your entire life, be it under a dictatorship like the one of those bygone days, or this other one today.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times.

2 thoughts on “Dora Maria: The Girl with the Short Hair

  • Yes, this was thoughtful writing. I would also urge those interested in the betrayal by Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murrillo of the Sandinista Revolution to read Stephen Kinzer’s review of two new books about this subject in the September 23, 2021, issue of the New York Review of Books. Better yet, buy and read the 2 books under review:

    “Déjà Vu: Somoza-Ortega”
    by Avil A. Ramírez
    Managua: Self-published, 324 pp., $15.69 (paper)
    “El Preso 198: Un Perfil de Daniel Ortega [Prisoner 198: A Portrait of Daniel Ortega]”
    by Fabián Medina Sánchez
    Managua: La Prensa, 246 pp., $15.69 (paper)

  • This text is art and life at its best, each mirroring and enriching the other. No piece of writing, since Ortega/Murillo began their cruel assault on Nicaragua, has moved me more than this.

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