Nicaraguan historian and former Sandinista leader Dora María Téllez declined a visiting professorship this spring at the Harvard Divinity School (HDS) after the U.S. State Department denied her a visa for her alleged role in “terrorist activities.”
Téllez—who helped overthrow Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza during the Sandinista revolution of the 1980s—had applied for a student visa to study English at the University of San Diego, but after it was denied in January, she decided not to seek a visa allowing her to teach at HDS.
In an e-mail yesterday, Téllez denounced the State Department’s decision.
“In order to deny the visa, they have described me within the section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that typifies terrorist activities,” she wrote. “I think it constitutes a violation to my human rights and a threat to my safety and personal integrity.”
Officials at the State Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Téllez has served as president since 1998 of the Sandinista Renewal Movement, a political party allied with the leftist Sandinista movement in Nicaragua.
HDS Dean William A. Graham said in a statement earlier this week that the Faculty was “very disappointed” that Téllez would be unable to teach courses on religion and society at the school, as she had planned.
“We strongly support the free exchange of scholars and scholarship internationally,” Graham said.
Graham said HDS would help Téllez apply for a visa if she decided to teach at Harvard in the future.
Téllez would have held the position of Robert F. Kennedy Visiting Professor under a joint appointment with HDS and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies.
Gutman Professor of Latin American Affairs John H. Coatsworth, the center’s director, said he did not believe the denial of the visa could be justified on national security grounds.
“It’s just another cost we’re all paying for the restrictions on international travel to the United States under the Patriot Act,” Coatsworth said.
Coatsworth also referred to the State Department’s decision to deny visas to 65 Cuban scholars seeking to attend a Latin American studies conference in Las Vegas last October. The Rockefeller Center had invited six of those scholars. Coatsworth and two other faculty members protested the decision at the time.
“We are more intellectually impoverished each time some interesting scholar from abroad is denied a visa into the United States,” Coatsworth said earlier this week.
Rudenstine Professor of the Study of Latin America Davíd Carrasco had been working with Téllez design courses on religion in the Americas.