The audacity and invincible laughter of Dora Maria Tellez

Dora María Téllez, comandante guerrillera e historiadora nicaragüense. // Foto: Confidencial

Words of gratitude on the occasion of Dora María Téllez being awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the Sorbonne Nouvelle University in Paris, France.

By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidencial)

Mr. Jamil Jean Marc Dakhlia, President of Sorbonne Nouvelle University and members of the Academic Council of the university.

Colleagues of Dora María Téllez, who today receive this Honorary Doctorate: Stanislas Spero Adotev, Djaïli Amadou Amal, and Barbara Hendricks.

Ms. Marie-Laure Geoffray, Professor of Political Science at Sorbonne Nouvelle University

HAVANA TIMES – Good afternoon. In Managua at this hour, it is already past ten in the morning and the sun is shining brightly, but the cell of Dora María Téllez, a political prisoner in El Chipote jail, is always in semi-darkness. There is not even enough light to be able to see the toothpaste on her toothbrush. The former guerrilla commander, historian, intellectual and social justice advocate who is being awarded this doctorate Honoris Causa by the Sorbonne Nouvelle University cannot read or write in her cell either, because this basic human right has been denied her, and to all the political prisoners in that jail, by the family dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.

Dora María Téllez, and three of her comrades in struggle –Ana Margarita Vijil, Suyen Barahona and Tamara Dávila– have spent, as of today, 533 days resisting in solitary confinement cells. Dora María is doubly isolated. She is being held in the men’s cellblock, where she does not even have visual contact with her fellow inmates. Forty other political prisoners are also being held in isolation in that same jail. 

By this time this morning,  Dora María has already begun her daily routine of three hours of physical exercise in a 6×4 square meter cement cell. In the solitude of her cell, she struggles to let go of the torrent of thoughts she cannot control in her mind. But at the end of the day she will dedicate some time to think about and imagine the political actions she will take in the future –when Nicaragua is free of the dictatorship– to promote the democratic transition.

After 85 days without a visit or any kind of communication, last Saturday, November 19th, the regime finally authorized a family visit to El Chipote jail. Dora Maria’s brother, Oscar Téllez Argüello was prevented from visiting her, as a political reprisal. Her nephew Oscar met with her for more than an hour, and was then incarcerated for 48 hours. Despite this attempt to silence her by extending the torture to include her family members, Dora María Téllez managed to send a message through her nephew, to express her gratitude for the high honor conferred on her by the Sorbonne Nouvelle.

This Honorary Doctorate is a recognition of the extraordinary trajectory of a woman of ideas and of action. Dora María Téllez risked her life in her youth with weapons in hand against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, and has risked her life again now by going on a hunger strike in jail for 19 days, as an extreme form of protest against the tyranny of Ortega and Murillo.

In her hunger strike she demanded an end to solitary confinement and isolation for all prisoners of conscience, the establishment of the right to read and write for all political prisoners, and that she be allowed to sign a power of attorney so that her family can withdraw her Social Security retirement pension, which she is entitled to by law. Dora María Téllez has not yet achieved the goals she set for herself, but neither has she been defeated. On the contrary, she has exposed the moral collapse of a regime that holds on to power only through repression and the desire for revenge without offering any solution to the people of Nicaragua who have begun a massive exodus to the United States, Costa Rica, and other countries.

Dora María’s hunger strike has once again put the emergency situation faced by prisoners of conscience in Nicaragua on the international agenda. In February of this year, after eight months in the El Chipote jail, political prisoner Hugo Torres, a hero of the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship and Dora María’s comrade in the guerrilla assault on the National Palace in 1978 which freed more than 50 Sandinista prisoners, died.

Now it is up to us –journalists, human rights defenders, academics and intellectuals, and above all, the democratic governments of the world– to re-launch the fight for the release of all political prisoners with even greater force. As Chile’s President Gabriel Boric said last week before the Mexican Senate: “We cannot turn a blind eye to the political prisoners in Nicaragua.”

From the El Chipote jail, Dora María Téllez dedicates this honorary degree to the political prisoners of Nicaragua and reiterates her “decision to continue the struggle despite the torture and inhumane prison conditions to which she and all political prisoners are subjected. She hopes that this recognition will serve to raise awareness of the importance of denouncing the atrocities of the Ortega-Murillo regime, which has subjected an entire people to a regime of absolute silence and terror.”

Today there are more than 225 political prisoners in Nicaragua. They are a representative sample of the broad diversity of the national pro-democracy movement. Among them are political and civic leaders from the center, right, and left, seven presidential pre-candidates, university leaders, peasant leaders, human rights defenders, journalists, business leaders, diplomats, social activists, academics and intellectuals, priests, and a bishop of the Catholic Church.

They are the prisoners of the repression that was unleashed after the civic rebellion of April 2018, which demanded an end to the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship and the calling of free elections. The massacre, ordered by Daniel Ortega and carried out by police and paramilitaries with the complicity of the army, left more than 325 murders in impunity and a police state that continues to this day, annulling all democratic freedoms, with hundreds of political prisoners and tens of thousands of exiles.

They are the political prisoners of the 2021 raids, when Daniel Ortega essentially canceled the presidential elections by eliminating all political competition, and proclaimed himself president on November 7 in an electoral farce without opposition.

They are also the political prisoners of the totalitarian dictatorship that consolidated itself this year, in 2022, with the total closure of civic space, the confiscation of the media, the criminalization of freedom of the press and expression, the closure of more than 3,000 non-governmental organizations, and the persecution of the Catholic Church.

And they are also the prisoners who are family members of the politically persecuted, such as French citizens Janine Horvilleur and Ana Carolina Álvarez Horvilleur, wife and daughter of Javier Álvarez. They were taken prisoner as hostages in an act of cruelty: When the police did not find Javier Álvarez, they took revenge by imprisoning his family members who were not at all politically active. 

Like Dora María Téllez, all the prisoners of conscience are innocent. Without the right to a defense, they have been sentenced in mock trials to prison terms ranging from 8 to 13 years for the alleged crimes of “conspiracy against national sovereignty”, treason, spreading fake news, and money laundering.

The recognition awarded today by the Sorbonne Nouvelle to Dora María Téllez calls on citizens and governments everywhere to not accept the normalization of dictatorship and torture in Nicaragua. This honorary doctorate urges governments and democratic left-wing movements in Latin America to define themselves around the values and political practice symbolized by Dora Maria Tellez, and to abandon double standards and opportunism for supposed reasons of state. A dictatorship cannot be justified in the name of the left, nor can there be a true left without a full commitment to democracy and respect for human rights.

In granting her this recognition, the Sorbonne Nouvelle has highlighted the unquestionable intellectual merits of Dora María Téllez as a social scientist, as well as her life-long commitment to social justice and democracy. We would like to add some additional qualities that make her stand out even more among the best of her political generation in Latin America.

First, her audacity in all the aspects of her life, as a guerrilla fighter and as a politician, as a feminist and innovator. Also, her loyalty and unwavering commitment to defend her principles and convictions, her solidarity and capacity for empathy with the causes of the excluded and discriminated, her extraordinary capacity for communication, displaying exceptional intelligence with humility and humanity. And above all, the irreverence of her humor and invincible laughter that mock both adversity and power.

Thank you to the Sorbonne Nouvelle University for awarding this Doctorate Honoris Causa to Dora Maria Tellez, who, together with her fellow political prisoners, represent today the hope for democratic change in Nicaragua. 

I therefore invite you, in France and in Nicaragua, in North America and in Europe, to continue to demand an end to the torture and isolation of prisoners of conscience, as well as their unconditional release, as the first step towards the liberation of all of Nicaragua.

Thank you very much. 

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff.

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