Lodi News-Sentinel

Nicaragua frees 222 political prisoners, sends them to U.S.

- Kate Linthicum, Tracy Wilkinson and Leila Miller

MEXICO CITY — The authoritar­ian government of Nicaragua freed 222 political prisoners Thursday in a deal negotiated with the United States, according to Biden administra­tion officials familiar with the agreement.

The former prisoners, some of whom have spent years in jail, were expected to land at Washington’s Dulles Internatio­nal Airport late Thursday morning, the officials said.

It was a stunning turn of events for Nicaragua, a small Central American nation that has been targeted with severe economic sanctions by the United States and for the last 16 years has been ruled by Daniel Ortega, a former leftist Sandinista revolution­ary who helped overthrow the country’s right-wing dictatorsh­ip in the 1970s.

Ortega first served as president in the 1980s during a bloody civil war that pitted Sandinista fighters against U.S.-backed Contra rebels. He was voted out in the 1990 presidenti­al election but returned to power in 2007. By rigging elections, he has remained president ever since, becoming the longest-serving leader in Latin America.

After violently suppressin­g pro-democracy protests in 2018, Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, tightened their grip on power, imprisonin­g hundreds of journalist­s, political candidates and business and religious leaders. Those jailed in recent years include many of Ortega’s former leftist comrades, including Dora María Téllez, a onetime Sandinista commander who publicly accused Ortega of betraying their dreams of a socialist utopia and coming to resemble the dictator they helped overthrow.

Many were jailed at Managua’s infamous El Chipote prison, where, according to some prisoners who were released, torture was common and food was scant.

The U.S. officials said that while they negotiated the deal with top Nicaraguan officials — and provided transporta­tion for the prisoners to Washington — the United States offered nothing concrete in return for their release.

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