Nicaragua frees 222 opponents of Ortega, sends them to US



MEXICO CITY — In the midst of the evening, political leaders, clergymen, college students and activists languishing inside Nicaragua’s most infamous prisons have been awoken, given the garments they’d been arrested in and advised to decorate. Hours later, 222 of them, broadly thought of political prisoners, landed at a Washington-area airport, deported from their very own nation.

The US authorities mentioned the huge launch was each a “unilateral choice” by the federal government of President Daniel Ortega and the results of concerted diplomatic efforts.

President Joe Biden mentioned Thursday that the U.S. believes all political prisoners ought to be launched.

“And whether or not this can be a token of their demonstration that they’re prepared to start to alter the human rights insurance policies or not stays to be seen,” Biden mentioned in an interview with Telemundo Noticias. “However the truth that they have been launched, we’re completely satisfied to obtain them and I’m glad they’re out.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken mentioned it was a optimistic step.

“The discharge of those people, one in every of whom is a U.S. citizen, by the federal government of Nicaragua marks a constructive step in direction of addressing human rights abuses within the nation and opens the door to additional dialogue between the USA and Nicaragua relating to problems with concern,” he mentioned.

It was a shock transfer after months of intransigence by Ortega, together with present trials and the sentencing of 5 Catholic clergymen earlier this week, all of whom have been apparently on Thursday’s flight. Ortega had not tempered his rhetoric about alleged “Yankee” interference in his nation and at the least publicly had not signaled that mounting U.S. sanctions towards his household and inside circle have been having the specified impact.

Ortega has maintained that his imprisoned opponents and others have been behind 2018 road protests he claims have been a plot to overthrow him. Tens of hundreds have fled into exile since Nicaraguan safety forces violently put down these antigovernment protests.

U.S. State Division spokesman Ned Value mentioned Nicaragua had recognized 224 prisoners to be despatched on the airplane, however two of them declined. They weren’t recognized.

Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez was on an inventory of 39 prisoners who weren’t on the airplane compiled by the nongovernmental group Mechanism for Recognition of Political Prisoners.

Value mentioned those that arrived in Washington got here voluntarily and would obtain humanitarian parole permitting them to remain within the nation for 2 years. They have been staying at resorts beneath accountability of U.S. Customs and Border Safety and the Division of Homeland Safety and the federal government would work with nongovernmental organizations to assist in their resettlement.

“It was the Nicaraguan authorities that determined to supply the chance to those people to journey the USA,” Value mentioned. “After I say this can be a product of American engagement, as you already know, we’ve lengthy referred to as for the discharge of people imprisoned in Nicaragua for exercising their elementary freedoms as a primary step in direction of the restoration of democracy and an improved human rights local weather in Nicaragua.”

Outdoors a lodge in Northern Virginia the place the Nicaraguans have been staying, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, an opposition and pre-candidate to problem Ortega for the presidency in 2018, advised reporters of the data vacuum during which the expulsions occurred.

“It was a whole shock,” mentioned Chamorro, a nephew of former President Violeta Chamorro. “Issues have been occurring in the course of the evening that had by no means occurred.” He mentioned he was positioned in a cell with some 25 different prisoners, which had by no means occurred earlier than within the most safety jail the place he had nearly no contact with some other prisoners.

They have been loaded onto buses and pushed by the capital. They handed the courtroom and for a second they thought they have been being taken there, however when the buses continued they noticed solely two choices: the infamous Modelo jail close to the airport or they might be placed on a airplane and expelled from Nicaragua.

“Personally, I assumed we have been going to Modelo,” he mentioned. On the door to the airplane they have been requested to signal types assuring they have been going voluntarily. Chamorro, who had been arrested June 8, 2021, mentioned that being reunited along with his spouse and daughter was like a dream.

Again in Nicaragua, whereas their airplane was nonetheless within the air, a decide learn a press release saying the 222 prisoners had been “deported.”

Octavio Rothschuh, a Justice of the Peace on the Managua Appeals courtroom, mentioned the deportation was carried out beneath an order issued Wednesday that declared the prisoners “traitors to the nation.” He mentioned they have been deported for actions that undermined Nicaragua’s independence and sovereignty.

Later Thursday, Nicaragua’s Congress unanimously authorized a constitutional change permitting “traitors” to be stripped of their nationality. It should require a second vote within the subsequent legislative session later this yr.

Wilma Nuñez, president of the Nicaragua Heart for Human Rights, mentioned in a press release that whereas the prisoners’ launch was welcome, “deportation is a authorized time period that applies to foreigners who commit crimes in a rustic. They need to name exile a deportation, which is totally arbitrary and prohibited by worldwide human rights norms.”

Berta Valle, the spouse of opposition chief Felix Maradiaga, additionally appeared together with her husband in Virginia after the airplane landed.

In response to U.S. officers, additionally amongst these aboard the flight have been Cristiana Chamorro, who had been a number one presidential contender earlier than her arrest in 2021. Daughter of former president Chamorro, she was sentenced final March to eight years in jail. She was convicted of cash laundering by her mom’s nongovernmental group as Ortega pursued NGOs that acquired overseas funding. She was being held beneath home arrest.

One other one-time presidential hopeful Arturo Cruz was additionally on the flight, U.S. officers mentioned.

Ortega upped his pursuit of political opponents in early 2021, trying to clear the sphere forward of presidential elections in November of that yr. Safety forces arrested seven potential presidential contenders and Ortega romped to a fourth consecutive time period in elections that the U.S. and different nations termed a farce.

Nicaraguan judges sentenced a number of opposition leaders, together with former high-level officers of the governing Sandinista motion and former presidential contenders, to jail phrases for “conspiracy to undermine nationwide integrity.”

Given the notoriously dangerous situations on the notorious El Chipote jail and others, in addition to the age of a number of the opposition leaders, kin had feared the phrases might successfully be demise sentences.

Hugo Torres, a former Sandinista guerrilla chief who as soon as led a raid that helped free then insurgent Ortega from jail, died whereas awaiting trial. He was 73.


Madhani reported from Washington. Related Press writers Matthew Lee and Colleen Lengthy in Washington and Christopher Sherman in Mexico Metropolis contributed to this report.

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