Published on Friday, March 4, 2005 by the Guardian/UK
US Bars Nicaragua Heroine as 'Terrorist'
Writers and Academics Voice Anger as State Department Refuses Visa to let Sandinista Revolutionary Take Up Post as Harvard Professor
by Duncan Campbell
The woman who epitomized the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution that overthrew the dictator Anastasio Somoza has been denied entry to the US to take up her post as a Harvard professor on the grounds that she had been involved in "terrorism".
The decision to bar Dora Maria Tellez, one of the best-known figures in recent Latin American history, who has frequently visited the US in the past, has been attacked by academics and writers.
It comes at a time when President George Bush has appointed as his new intelligence chief a man associated with the "dirty war" against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
A spokeswoman for Harvard University said it was "very disappointed" that she would not be taking up her appointment.
Ms Tellez was a young medical student when she became a commandante with the leftwing Sandinistas in their campaign to topple the dictator.
She was Commander 2' in 1978 when a group of guerrillas took over the National Palace and held 2,000 government officials hostage in a two-day standoff. After negotiations, she and the other guerrillas were allowed to leave the country. The event was seen as a key moment that indicated the Somoza regime could be overthrown.
She later led the brigade that took Leon, the first city to fall to the Sandinistas in the revolution, and she is celebrated as one of the popular figures of the revolution. She became minister of health in the first elected Sandinista administration.
Last year Ms Tellez, now a historian, was appointed as the Robert F Kennedy visiting professor in Latin American studies in the divinity department at Harvard, a post which is shared with the Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies. She was due to start teaching students this spring.
The US state department has told her she is ineligible because of involvement in "terrorist acts". A spokesman for the department confirmed yesterday that she had been denied a visa under a section making those who had been involved in terrorist acts ineligible. He said he could not comment further on the reasons for the ban.
"I have no idea why they are refusing me a visa," said Ms Tellez from her home in Managua yesterday. "I have been in the US many times before - on holidays, at conferences, on official business."
A number of academics and writers are protesting against the ban. "It is absurd," said Gioconda Belli, the Nicaraguan writer who was also an active member of the Sandinistas and is now based in Los Angeles. "Dora Maria is an outstanding woman who fought against a dictatorship. If fighting against tyranny is 'terrorism' how does the United States justify the invasion of Iraq? It is an insult."
Ms Belli, whose memoirs of her time as a Sandinista, The Country Under My Skin, was published two years ago, said many people were puzzled and angry about the decision.
Professor Andres Perez Baltodano, a Nicaraguan sociologist based in Toronto, said: "Dora Maria is as much a terrorist as George Washington." He described the taking of the National Palace as a heroic act which had helped to lead to the overthrow of a dictator.
The US, under President Ronald Reagan, opposed the Sandinistas even after they had been elected in 1984 and supported the contras, or counter-revolutionaries in their attempts to overthrow them.
In the 1987 Irangate scandal, it was discovered that the US was secretly supplying arms to Iran in exchange for money being channeled to the contras. When Mr Bush took office he rehabilitated a number of people associated with the contras and one, John Negroponte, is now his chief of intelligence responsible for dealing with terrorism.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005