MANAGUA – Ten pounds skinnier and on the verge of serious health problems, legendary guerrilla leader Dora María Téllez ended her 12-day hunger strike this week and announced that she is now taking her protest movement to phase two: winning the streets.
At the behest of doctors and friends, Téllez, 52, the heroic Sandinista rebel leader known as “Comandante Dos,” decided to call off her hunger strike Monday morning after the medics performing her daily exams warned her that she was on the verge of “irreversible complications” to her health, including diabetes. The doctors said that due to the heat of downtown Managua and her insistence on giving interviews and remaining active, Téllez had worn down her body much faster than if she had conducted her hunger strike under different conditions.
So instead of moving her hunger strike to an indoor, air-conditioned location under constant medical care, Téllez decided to call it off – a decision that was also made by her young hunger-strike companion, Roger Arias, 26, a candidate for city councilman of Managua for the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS).
Téllez and Arias declared their hunger strike in protest of the government’s efforts to remove the MRS and other minority parties from the upcoming municipal elections – just one more step, she said, in the Ortega administration’s efforts to impose an “institutional dictatorship” (NT, June 13). As forewarned by Téllez, the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Elections Tribunal (CSE) ruled June 11 to outlaw the MRS and Conservative Party – a decision that has been decried by civil society and foreign governments.
“The rights to form political parties and participate in elections are essential elements of a democratic system of governance. We share the concerns expressed by Nicaraguan civil society about the CSE’s decision to bar those political parties from participating in municipal elections in November,” Heidi Bronke, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department Office on the Western Hemisphere, told The Nica Times this week.
“It would be our hope that the CSE would expand the ability of Nicaraguans to participate in their democracy, not restrict it.”
For the MRS, which is headed by several of the historic leaders of the Sandinista revolution, the CSE’s decision to close democratic spaces could be treading on dangerous terrain.
“The government is on a very dangerous path,” said retired Gen. Hugo Torres. “By closing civil spaces, the only option people are left with is rebellion.”
Téllez, upon announcing that her hunger strike was ending, said she is now moving her protest into its “second phase.”
Though the MRS has said it will exhaust all its legal and administrative options in fighting for continued party status, the party leadership is already considering turning to the international community for help.
Edmundo Jarquín, the MRS’ former presidential candidate, told The Nica Times this week that within the next month the party expects to present its case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In the meantime, Téllez promised on Monday, shortly before climbing into a waiting ambulance to take her to the hospital after ending her strike, “We are going to take it to the streets.”
Joining Téllez’s protest for the past two weeks was a growing number of Nicaraguan university and high-school students who have been galvanized by the revolutionary hero’s hunger strike. Using online mediums such as Facebook and YouTube, hundreds of mostly well-to-do Managua youth have started to mobilize against the Ortega administration, organizing nightly vigils, concerts and marches during the 12-day strike.
One Facebook group called “We Support Dora Maria Téllez” attracted more than 1,100 members within the first week, mostly students in Managua. Another group, “Daniel Ortega Doesn’t Represent Me,” was approaching 1,600 members by week’s end – relatively impressive statistics in a country where only 3 percent of the population has access to the internet, according to government statistics.
In the hours following the suspension of the hunger strike, Facebook support-group founder Luis Caldera posted a message to the rest of the group members urging them to continue the struggle. Caldera called Téllez “our fuse for the great detonation.”
Luciana Chamorro, one of the group’s online organizers, said that many of the upper middle class youth in Managua are already networked on the Internet, in groups such as Facebook and Windows Messenger, so the next step of organizing politically has come as “something natural.”
It’s a small group, she acknowledges, but one “with education and lots of ideas.” These young people are sharing those ideas on the Internet to mobilize new and concrete forms of social protest, she said.
Chamorro admits that some of the youth have affiliated with the Facebook group because it’s the cool thing to do at the moment, but she insists that a core group of the members are turning to the Internet to find out how to support a cause that is bigger than them.
“Most people who are on the page are there because they want to do something,” she said.“There (on the Facebook page) people are convened to come to the protest and they really do show up.”
For Roger Arias, the recent university graduate who joined Téllez for 11 days of hunger strike, the turnout of young people has been encouraging.
“Seventy percent of the population is young, and we don’t say anything, we remain quiet while a wave of abuse of power is committed by Arnoldo Alemán and Daniel Ortega,”Arias said.“But I think that the message has gotten to people little by little; I see the enthusiasm of many young people, mostly from the universities who have joined the protest here.”
Chamorro said the situation could continue to grow as more young people create new spaces for protest on the Internet, which then transcend to the streets.
“The people are angry and they need to express themselves. This could turn into a big movement,” she said.