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