Rene Nuñez Tellez (L) next to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega | Photo: Presidencia Nicaragua
Few people outside Nicaragua will appreciate the huge loss for the country when Rene Nuñez Tellez, president of Nicaragua’s National Assembly, died Sept. 10. People of all political loyalties in Nicaragua quickly acknowledged his immeasurable contribution to the country’s political development, economic progress and social stability.
Rene Nuñez won many distinctions in Nicaragua, the region, and internationally, but his greatest achievement is his exemplary life as a revolutionary. President Daniel Ortega recognized in a presidential decree how Rene Nuñez “stood out in the ranks of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation as a guerrilla, suffering persecution, prison and torture for his Christian, Sandinista, Socialist Revolutionary commitment to Liberty and Democracy for which the FSLN fought and continues to fight together with the People.”
Nicaragua’s government coordinator Rosario Murillo put it like this: “Rene’s legacy, as a militant with extraordinary qualities, is precisely the inheritance of Nicaragua’s youth, in terms of Inspiration, in terms of vision,” and “our Comrade René lives on, his example lives on among us, among our Youth and we’re going to carry that Legacy forward with us making it our own every single day.”
Rene Nuñez was yet one more of the generation of Latin American revolutionaries who as teenagers and young adults during the 1970s devoted their lives, a great many giving their lives, to their revolutionary beliefs. Just a few weeks ago, Eleuterio Fernández Huidobro, the Uruguayan Tupamaro guerrilla leader, died after suffering for many years like Rene Nuñez Tellez from effects of years spent in imprisonment under torture at the hands of the right wing dictatorships of the time. Huidobro spent eleven years in prison under the Uruguayan dictatorship. For his part, Rene Nuñe Tellez died of a debilitating lung condition resulting originally from years of torture and ill treatment prior to his liberation in 1978 as a result of negotiations following the daring capture of Nicaragua’s National Assembly by a Sandinista commando unit. Despite persistent ill health, right up until the last weeks of his life, he maintained an intense schedule of work both in charge of Nicaragua’s legislature and as one of the FSLN’s key political strategists.
In fact Rene Nuñez came from a whole family of revolutionaries in the university city of Leon, known in Nicaragua as the First Capital of the Revolution because Leon was the first city in Nicaragua liberated prior to the final days of the Somoza dictatorship. A great number of leading Sandinista militants, active in all spheres of national life, come from Leon. Rene himself, just 13 then, survived the notorious 1959 massacre of school students in Leon in which three students were murdered and over 60 wounded by the dictatorship’s National Guard. Ten years on in 1969 he joined the FSLN, abandoning his university studies to work clandestinely against the dictatorship. Rene’s sister Milena was an important leader of the teachers’ unions mobilized against the dictatorship. At a crucial moment in the final weeks of the overthrow of Somoza, Rene’s brother Comandante Carlos Nuñez organized the famous tactical retreat from Managua to Masaya at the end of June 1979, a decisive action prior to the revolutionary victory of July 19.
So Rene’s life was exemplary and inspiring in that militant sense but even more important was his decisive role as an administrative and political strategist. When people now seek explanations for the extraordinary success of the Sandinista government under Daniel Ortega, the fundamental reason is that President Ortega and his government colleagues have effectively implemented a National Development Plan worked out in consensus with all sectors of Nicaraguan society based on national reconciliation and unity. Rene Nuñez possessed in abundance the primarily political and administrative skills making that process possible, especially in terms of human relations. It is difficult to overstate how important the tedious, detailed work is building institutional control and stability to make possible the headline news of political and economic progress. The current ruthless attacks on democracy by Latin America’s right wing elites in Venezuela, Brazil and Argentina have cynically exploited control of their countries’ institutions mistakenly regarded as of secondary importance by the region’s progressive and revolutionary political movements. This underlines the importance of Rene Nuñez’s contribution enabling the Sandinista revolutionary process to neutralize the local oligarchy and, so far, block U.S. attempts at destabilization.
Rene Nuñez served in various senior posts during the revolutionary government during the 1980s and was a leading participant in the peaceful transfer of power following the FSLN’s electoral defeat in 1990. All through the 1990s he helped defend the achievements of the Sandinista Revolution and came to be trusted even by the political opposition during the endless horse-trading that characterized Nicaraguan politics during that period.
Eventually elected president of the National Assembly in 2005, he held that post again in 2007 and subsequently every year until he died. From 2007 onwards, he designed and coordinated important administrative, procedural and technological changes to reorganize and enhance the National Assembly’s law making. Under his guidance the legislature incorporated strong new elements of citizen participation, gender equality and intercultural understanding as fundamental to democratizing Nicaragua’s political culture. He also promoted initiatives consolidating the country’s cultural patrimony, especially in relation to Augusto C. Sandino. His most important legislative contribution was his groundbreaking work making Nicaragua the first country in the world with laws systematically addressing the issues of Food Sovereignty and Food Security.
In a country like Nicaragua with a completely cynical, mercenary, faithless right wing producing endless lies to be dutifully recycled by regional and Western media, it was striking to note that no one published a harsh word about Rene Nuñez. To the contrary, reports highlighted his rectitude, his openness to dialogue and his huge achievement in modernizing Nicaragua’s legislature.
Losing Rene Nuñez has meant remembering his typically understated style, his capacity for friendship across ideological boundaries, his personal humility, his integrity and his unshakable loyalty to the FSLN’s political program. For once people have had a chance to escape the opposition’s persistent, hateful vilification of Daniel Ortega and the cynical misogynist scurril reserved for Rosario Murillo. What they see is what Nicaraguans know as the true and faithful face of the Sandinista Revolution because, as Daniel Ortega’s presidential decree put it, Rene, like the great majority of Sandinista revolutionaries, stands out as “a tireless fighter for the well being and progress of Nicaragua’s families towards Justice, Peace and Prosperity.”
From the unarmed 13 year old confronting Somoza’s murderous National Guard to the elder statesman who made it possible in great part to defang Nicaragua’s right wing and scupper U.S .efforts at destabilization, Rene Nuñez’s life and work represents a master class in the detailed practice of how to help make and then defend a revolutionary process.