Leftist Movements Must Face the Case of Dora Maria Tellez

Former guerrilla commander and historian Dora Maria Tellez in 2016, at her Ticuantepe studio in Nicaragua.  Photo: Confidencial archives

Dora Maria makes them uncomfortable. Her dignity. Her consistency. Because she won’t give in, she won’t sell out, she won’t surrender.

By Raul Zibechi* (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – Some time ago, Monica Baltodano commented that repression under the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo in Nicaragua is even worse than it was under former dictator Anastasio Somoza, who the Sandinistas rose up against in 1979. I confess that Monica’s statement left me cold, and I thought it seemed exaggerated. However, when I began following the case of Dora Maria Tellez, the pieces of the regime began to assemble themselves in my mind.

Last weekend, Dora Maria’s brother, Oscar Tellez Arguello, revealed that Dora Maria was to receive an honoris causa from Sorbonne University in Paris, France, “in recognition of a life dedicated to defending social justice and democracy.” From her jail cell, she announced that she was dedicating the honorary title, which journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro would receive in her name, to the political prisoners whose lives were devoted to freeing her country.

“In addition to her gratitude, my sister wants to express her firm decision to continue the struggle, despite the torture and inhumane jail conditions that the political prisoners are subjected to. She hopes this recognition will serve to highlight [the situation in Nicaragua] and create more and more awareness of the importance of denouncing more strongly and frequently each day the atrocities of the Ortega-Murillo regime, which has subjected an entire people to a regime of absolute silence and terror,” Tellez’ brother Oscar declared.

Dora Maria has been a prisoner in Managua’s El Chipote jail since June 2021, accused of “treason to the homeland”. “There’s not even enough light there to distinguish the toothpaste on a toothbrush,” Chamorro explained, speaking of the cell where Tellez, 67, survives. While accepting the title in the name of the prisoner, Chamorro called on the leftist movements and governments of Latin America to raise their voices against the Nicaraguan regime. He stated: “A dictatorship can’t be justified in the name of the left.”

That’s where the crux of the problem lies. If we’re not witnessing a broad campaign today for her freedom, or widespread denunciations of the Ortega-Murillo regime, it’s precisely because the left and the progressive forces aren’t interested. They’re only looking towards power; they’ve placed all their bets on power; and for the sake of power, they sacrifice ethics and dignity. This has its logic: if power is everything, the rest is of little importance, subordinated to the greater objective. 

Dora Maria makes them uncomfortable. For her dignity. For her consistency. Because she didn’t surrender, nor did she sell out, nor did she give in. However, the Left isn’t disturbed by the regime, because they don’t want to see themselves in that mirror, or in any mirror that reflects back to them their obsession for power. That Left that crows: “Coup!” each time they suffer a political setback, they blame the right for their own limitations; and prefer to look the other way when the subject turns to Nicaragua and the political prisoners being tortured there in the name of a “revolution” that only exists in their imagination.

The Leftists of the world carry an enormous theoretical and political debt, because they never looked straight on at Stalinism – as if that regime hadn’t been born from the very entrails of the Russian revolution. Reaching an understanding of how that ferocious and criminal regime led by Stalin came to be, obviously requires looking in the mirror and coming to serious conclusions. Such conclusions can’t consist in putting all the blame on the enemy, which is what they always do.

The current brand of progressivism isn’t accustomed to taking criticism; rather, they accuse those who formulate such critiques of being rightists. For the same reason, they also can’t permit self-criticism. Without that collective exercise, it’s impossible to promote changes. I don’t know of any progressive Latin American president who has admitted that he was mistaken in something or outlined what the errors or deviations were. However, they always accuse others – be it the right, the empire or the movements that supported them – for the resounding failures they harvest.

Some of the region’s presidents are demanding the liberation of Dora Maria Tellez. That seems to me necessary. But it’s not enough: the Ortega-Murillo regime must be condemned and isolated for their repression and their crimes, because, even if they say the opposite, they’re deeply allied with the United States and the Nicaraguan right. Not to do this, is to become their accomplice.

In a recent article, Baltodano denounced the closure of all the spaces and freedoms in Nicaragua, and the fact that thousands of persecuted Nicaraguans have had to go into exile. Nearly 3,000 organizations have been closed, “irrefutably demonstrating the regime’s will to maintain itself in power through fire and lead.” That’s why, in November’s municipal elections, the FSLN had no real opposition and declared itself the winner in all of the country’s 153 municipalities, despite a level of abstention over 80%.

The obsession for power, clinging onto State control, the repression of all dissidence, and the lack of self-criticism links this Left that calls itself democratic to their Stalinist past. We already know that the right is worse, possibly much worse. But it’s also been forever true that the one thing more dangerous than a wolf, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

 *Originally published in Mexico’s “La Jornada”.


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