Times-Call (Longmont)

Nicaragua frees 222 opponents of Ortega, sends them to U.S.

- By Gabriela Selser and Aamer Madhani

MEXICO CITY >> Some 222 inmates considered by many to be political prisoners of the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega flew to Washington on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Blinken said the prisoners had been jailed “for exercising their fundamenta­l freedoms and have endured lengthy unjust detentions.”

“The release of these individual­s, one of whom is a U.S. citizen, by the government of Nicaragua marks a constructi­ve step towards addressing human rights abuses in the country and opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua regarding issues of concern,” Blinken said.

He said that among those on the plane were political and business leaders, journalist­s, civil society representa­tives and students. Blinken credited “concerted American diplomacy.”

Ortega has maintained that his imprisoned opponents and others were behind 2018 street protests he claims were a plot to overthrow him. Tens of thousands have fled into exile since Nicaraguan security forces violently put down those antigovern­ment protests in.

The Nicaraguan opposition’s latest count on “political prisoners” held had been 245. It was not immediatel­y clear who was not released.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Nicaragua had identified 224 prisoners to be sent on the plane, but two of them declined. They were not identified. Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez was on a list of 39 prisoners who were not on the plane compiled by the nongovernm­ental group Mechanism for Recognitio­n of Political Prisoners.

Price said those who arrived in Washington came voluntaril­y and would receive humanitari­an parole allowing them to stay in the country for two years. They were staying at hotels under responsibi­lity of U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security and the government would work with nongovernm­ental organizati­ons to help in their resettleme­nt.

“It was the Nicaraguan government that decided to offer the opportunit­y to these individual­s to travel the United States,” Price said. “When I say this is a product of American engagement, as you know, we have long called for the release of individual­s imprisoned in Nicaragua for exercising their fundamenta­l freedoms as a first step towards the restoratio­n of democracy and an improved human rights climate in Nicaragua.”

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