Dora María Téllez: Commander Two resists in Daniel Ortega’s worst dungeon | International
The euphoric Sandinista guerrilla columns entered Managua on July 19, 1979 and 93 kilometers away, in León, the new revolutionary government junta met to assume the newly conquered power. Months ago, a command led by a woman with short hair and a beret had defeated the Somocista forces in that city in a strategic victory for the overthrow of the dynasty. The woman is Dora María Téllez, then a 23-year-old medical student and a fearless combatant who had already participated in the assault on the National Palace. The morning after the victory, on the 20th, Téllez marched with the junta to Managua to join the jubilation and recover the positions that Anastasio Somoza Debayle had abandoned with his flight from Nicaragua. Now, 43 years after this transcendental episode in the recent history of Nicaragua, Commander Two is locked up in a prison run by Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo in solitary confinement, in the dark and, according to family reports, with a significant loss of weight at 66 years old.
The thinness and paleness of Téllez, a historical figure of Sandinismo abhorred by the current presidential couple, can be seen clearly in a Spoken portrait prepared from the testimonies of the few visits received, which his family collected and shared exclusively with EL PAÍS on July 19. The former guerrilla fighter and historian keeps her hair short, already very white, the skin of her face adhering to her cheekbones, but without losing the sharpness of her gaze. “She has lost more than 15% of her body weight, but she has coped well with prison because of her experience,” says a relative of the political prisoner.
Téllez was arrested in June 2021 along with other former Sandinista historical guerrillas, opponents, journalists and all the presidential candidates, who aspired to challenge Ortega and Murillo at the polls. The repressive escalation that year made it easier for Ortega and Murillo to perpetuate themselves in power. The commemoration of the 43rd anniversary of the Sandinista revolution is marked this year by a repressive atmosphere and the consolidation of a single-party regime, in which persecution, jail or exile are the condemnation of critical voices.
The political prisoners of 2021 have already served more than a year in the cells of the Judicial Assistance Directorate (DAJ), better known as The chipotle. A gloomy prison in which the main opposition figures, as denounced by various international organizations in defense of human rights with the United Nations at the head, are subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment. A compendium of practices that range from continuous interrogations, total and indefinite isolation, lights on perpetually or, on the contrary, constant darkness; psychological blackmail, lack of blankets, medical attention and a precarious diet that has affected most of the inmates: some have lost between 11 and 27 kilos, according to the complaints.
Along with Téllez, in El Chipote there were other historical figures that Ortega and Murillo have locked up, such as former Foreign Minister Víctor Hugo Tinoco and retired general Hugo Torres, known as Commander One in the assault on the Palace in 1978, which led to the liberation of Sandinista guerrillas that Somoza maintained, including Ortega himself. These two companions of Téllez are no longer in El Chipote because the first, Tinoco, was sent home to jail after Torres died in prison custody on February 12.
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Commander One did not receive timely medical attention to treat a pre-existing illness and collapsed in the cell, something that Téllez could see, his relatives explain. He was taken to a hospital, but it was too late. Torres’s death shocked and highlighted the precarious conditions of political prisoners, especially the twenty oldest. Ortega and Murillo decided to impose house arrest on political prisoners who presented delicate ailments, although in other cases inhuman treatment has continued.
In more than a year of confinement, the political prisoners have only been allowed eight visits, brief spaces that do not last more than two hours and that the guards of El Chipote monitor. The more than 47 opposition leaders have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from 8 to 14 years for the alleged crimes of “treason against the country” and “undermining national integrity”, in political trials in which they did not allow defendants the full right to defense.
The deterioration of the conditions in the prison has pushed the relatives, despite the fear that their visits will be suspended, the spread of spoken portraits like the one in Tellez. The relatives have launched a campaign whose purpose is summed up in its name: “Be human”, a cry for the release of prisoners for humanitarian reasons. A request that the government has ignored since, in the words of Ortega, those who are in El Chipote and in the prison system are “sons of bitches of imperialism.”
“What Dora can’t stand is being in the dark all the time, she can’t even see the back of her hand. They hardly take her out in the sun and she is translucent… Not in the poetic sense but a worrying paleness. Although she keeps exercising and encourages other political prisoners. The death of Hugo Torres hit her a lot,” describes the relative of the former guerrilla, who a few months ago suffered a severe skin infection in one of her arms that led to a second-degree burn. “After that skin episode she said she felt weak and slept for a whole week, until she recovered and went back to exercising,” adds the family source.
“A regime that practices torture”
Mónica Baltodano is another former Sandinista historical guerrilla and she is free because she went into exile in Costa Rica. Today a historian, she rejects the imprisonment of her comrades-in-arms and claims the names of other political prisoners linked to the Sandinismo of the revolution not as recognized as Téllez and Torres. “In El Chipote is Irving Larios, Father César Parrales, who was ambassador of the revolution before the OAS; There are also prisoners who are daughters of other fighters from the 1980s, such as Tamara Dávila, who has been kept incommunicado for a year,” she says.
A brother of Baltodano, Ricardo, was also a political prisoner of Ortega in 2018, in the first wave of arrests after the 2018 social protests that shook the regime. So the ex-guerrilla knows first-hand the mistreatment denounced by relatives and human rights. “I was imprisoned under the Somoza dictatorship. We were isolated but we could see our children, not like now, like Tamara Dávila and other prisoners. The Ortega regime does practice torture. In 2018 there were rapes of girls, as documented by human rights organizations. This regime has applied open and stark torture like Somoza’s. However, with the political prisoners of 2021, who are figures, they have been more careful in terms of not reaching beatings and applying electric shocks. But it is something more perverse because keeping a person totally isolated is one of the worst tortures in prison. They have no chance of knowing what is happening abroad or talking to each other”, regrets Baltodano.
43 years after the triumph of the Sandinista revolution, Baltodano sees everything perverted. Especially seeing his fellow fighters in a prison and not enjoying a peaceful old age. To the former guerrilla it seems infamous that Ortega and Murillo lavish so much cruelty disguised as revolutionary rhetoric.
“Daniel Ortega has turned the Sandinista Front into an apparatus at his service; an electoral apparatus whose fundamental principles are already foreign. The only objective and obsession is the power to defend the interests and privileges of his family, ”says Baltodano. “That force that Carlos Fonseca founded, for purposes of social justice, liberation and advancing democracy, no longer exists. It has been perverted by Ortega, just as it has done with the Army, the police, the Judiciary and all the institutions. Everything works like a leash of family power.”
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