Dora María Téllez

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Dora María Téllez c. 1980 Sandinista Cmdr.

Dora María Téllez (born 1955) is a Nicaraguan historian most famous as an icon of the Sandinista Revolution, which deposed the Somoza regime in 1979. As a young medical student in the late 1970s, Téllez became a comandante in the popular revolt to oust the Nicaraguan dictator, Anastasio Somoza Debayle.

As "Commander Two", at age 22, she was third in command in a daring operation on August 22, 1978 that occupied the Nicaraguan National Palace in Managua (home to the Nicaraguan National Assembly, in full session). They captured 1,500 civilian hostages, including children, and threatened to murder them unless their demands were met. The demands included a prisoner release and a $10 million ransom. They ltimately gained the release of key Sandinista political prisoners and a million dollars ransom money. Téllez, during the three days of the siege personally managed the negotiations that humiliated the dictator.

This feat represented the first blow to precipitate the fall of the 50-year-old Somoza's dynasty of dictators, since it exposed Somoza's regime as vulnerable. The successful operation had devastating consequences to the Somoza regime. While eliminating skepticism, it won international cooperation from Latin American governments, united diverse factions of the opposition to the regime, and prompted them into action.

Following the operation, thousands of youths and women joined the Sandinista ranks, unleashing a popular insurrection that culminated with the fall of the Somoza regime on July 19, 1979, less than a year later.

Military commander during the Nicaraguan Civil War[edit]

Téllez proved to be an effective military commander. Upon her arrival in Panama with the released Sandinistas in August 1978, she trained in Cuba and Panama. In February 1979 she was back fighting in Nicaragua. Her fame won her an important place in the Tercerista leadership structure. For five consecutive months she led Sandinista platoons all over the country in skirmishes with the Nicaraguan National Guard: first in the Southern Front with Eden Pastora's forces, and later in Central and northern Nicaragua. According to Sandinista Commander Monica Baltodano, her raids on the northern provinces in conjunction with Cmdr. Leticia Herrera's fighters often surprised the enemy and succeeded in dispersing their forces in favor of the newly devised urban insurrectional war strategy.

Finally, she led the Sandinista units fighting the enemy's elite forces block by block for six consecutive weeks until capturing in June 1979 the city of Leon, the first major city to fall to the Sandinistas in the Revolution, followed by Managua two weeks later. This feat paved the way to the Sandinista Provisional Government Junta's installation in this city soon after.

Public service in the Sandinista government[edit]

She later served as Minister of Health in the first Sandinista administration, initiating a public health campaign that won Nicaragua the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's prize for exceptional health progress.

Academic life as a historian[edit]

She wrote a definitive book on Nicaraguan history that underscores the importance of the north-central region of the country to the nation's political and economic history. In 2004 she was appointed Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor in Latin American studies at the Harvard Divinity School, but was barred from obtaining an entry visa to the US on grounds that she was a terrorist due to the raid the Nicaraguan National Palace in Managua. [1][2] This prompted 122 members of the academic community from Harvard and 15 other North American universities to publish a statement in her defense, stating:

The accusation made by the State Department against Dora María Téllez... amounts to political persecution of those who have engaged in overthrowing the atrocious dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza in Nicaragua...This regime was almost universally viewed as criminal and inhumane, and yet it was financially and militarily supported by the United States...In reference to dictatorships, just as the State Department cannot affirm that the activities of Nelson Mandela against the atrocious dictatorship of apartheid in South Africa were terrorist activities, neither can it affirm that Dora María’s activities against the atrocious Somoza dictatorship were terrorist.[3]

Political career[edit]

In 1995 she founded the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) after leaving the FSLN. Other Sandinistas such as Ernesto Cardenal and Sergio Ramirez are now dissidents and have joined the MRS political party. The party's 2006 presidential elections candidate, Herty Lewites died of natural causes before the elections.

On June 4, 2008, Téllez began a hunger strike to protest the "dictatorship of Daniel Ortega", her former comrade-in-arms who was elected again to the presidency in November, 2006. Ortega and his supporters stripped the MRS of its legal status about one week later. Téllez suspended her hunger strike on June 16, after doctors told her she would suffer irreparable damage if she continued her fast. She vowed to begin "a new stage of struggle" against what she termed the dictatorial policies of Daniel Ortega.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Campbell, Duncan (March 4, 2005), "US bars Nicaragua heroine as 'terrorist'", The Guardian (London: Guardian Unlimited), retrieved 2007-02-16 
  2. ^ Jusino, William L., Would-Be Prof Denied Entry Visa, The Harvard Crimson, retrieved 2007-02-16 
  3. ^ Rogers, Tim, Schooled in Revolution (– Scholar search), retrieved 2007-02-16 [dead link]