Nicaragua frees greater than 200 political prisoners, sends them to U.S.


Nicaragua’s dictatorial authorities freed 222 political prisoners Thursday, together with high opposition politicians and enterprise leaders, and despatched them to america in a shock twist in certainly one of Latin America’s grimmest human rights sagas.

The Biden administration mentioned in a notice to Congress that the federal government of President Daniel Ortega “determined unilaterally” to launch the prisoners. The U.S. authorities “facilitated their transportation and entry into america,” the notice mentioned. The detainees had been free of Nicaraguan prisons at daybreak Thursday, in response to members of the family, and bused to Managua’s airport, the place they boarded a constitution airplane certain for Washington. They landed at Dulles Worldwide Airport shortly earlier than midday.

Javier Álvarez, 68, heard Thursday morning from Nicaraguan activists that his spouse, Jeannine, daughter Ana Carolina and son-in-law Felix Roig had been among the many freed prisoners. “Completely happy, comfortable, comfortable,” was his response, in a phone interview. “This was completely sudden. But it surely appears there have been secret talks, and so they managed this.”

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The prisoners had endured a number of the harshest situations in any jails in Latin America, in response to their households. They had been denied visits with relations and their kids for months. Many weren’t permitted to have books or writing supplies; one was decreased to studying the label on a tube of toothpaste, members of the family mentioned. The prisoners had little entry to solar or recent air. Some misplaced weight and have become gaunt.

One prisoner, Hugo Torres, 73, died in captivity.

A number of of the prisoners had deliberate to run towards Ortega in 2021 elections. However they had been detained earlier than the balloting, and Ortega cruised to a fourth consecutive time period.

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Nicaragua’s Judicial Council confirmed Thursday that the 222 prisoners had been deported, saying they’d been declared “traitors to the nation” and could be completely disadvantaged of their political rights, akin to holding public workplace. The Nationwide Meeting later handed a measure stripping them of their nationality, in response to native media studies.

The freed prisoners included a few of Nicaragua’s best-known opposition politicians, in response to members of the family and activists. Amongst them had been Cristiana Chamorro, the daughter of former president Violeta Chamorro. Cristiana Chamorro had been beneath home arrest. Her cousin, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, was additionally launched, as was one other former presidential candidate, Félix Maradiaga.

College students who helped lead nationwide anti-government protests in 2018 had been additionally on the flight to Washington. “Our mates have been freed,” exulted the Nicaraguan College Alliance in a tweet. It mentioned they included pupil leaders Lesther Alemán, Max Jerez, Mildred Rayo and Miguel Flores.

Michael Healy, 61, a U.S.-Nicaraguan twin citizen and the previous head of Nicaragua’s high enterprise council, was additionally freed. He was jailed in October 2021 on allegations of cash laundering and terrorism, fees that his family and friends referred to as spurious.

A senior Biden administration official mentioned the entire prisoners who had been launched and left Nicaragua consented to journey and that the U.S. authorities made medical and authorized help obtainable. The official added that every one who entered america was screened and vetted, together with by the FBI, and could be screened once more by U.S. Customs and Border Safety upon arrival “as is customary for these looking for humanitarian parole.”

The official mentioned america has lengthy referred to as for the discharge of the political prisoners “as a primary step towards the restoration of democracy and an improved human rights local weather in Nicaragua.”

“The choice of the Nicaraguan authorities is a optimistic and welcome one,” the official mentioned. “We stay steadfast in encouraging extra steps by the federal government of Nicaragua to revive civil liberties and democracy for the Nicaraguan folks.”

Ortega was a significant determine within the Sandinista revolution that triumphed in 1979, and he was one of many early leaders of the Marxist authorities that changed dictator Anastasio Somoza. He went on to steer Nicaragua’s authorities however misplaced a presidential election in 1990. After returning to energy in 2007, he steadily tightened his grip over Nicaragua’s judiciary, legislature and electoral equipment.

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Since crushing a nationwide anti-government rebellion in 2018, he has led a wave of repression. Almost all of his political opponents had been jailed, as had been leaders of the enterprise neighborhood, human rights activists and even Catholic monks. The federal government has shut down impartial media shops and round 3,000 nongovernmental organizations.

Just lately, the federal government even began jailing members of the family of its perceived opponents. In September, police tried to arrest Álvarez, who had been aiding the households of political prisoners. However he had already fled. So safety forces detained his spouse, daughter and son-in-law, although they weren’t concerned in political exercise, Álvarez mentioned. Final month, they had been sentenced to lengthy jail phrases.

Gabriela Rodriguez in Mexico Metropolis and Yasmeen Abutaleb in Washington contributed to this report.

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