Times Standard (Eureka)

Nicaragua frees 222 opponents

- By Gabriela Selser and Aamer Madhani

Some 222 inmates considered by many to be political prisoners of the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega flew to Washington on Thursday, a senior Biden administra­tion official confirmed.

The government of Nicaragua decided “unilateral­ly” to release 222 individual­s whom they had imprisoned, said the official, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity. The official noted that some of those released had spent years in prison, under terrible conditions for apparently exercising fundamenta­l rights.

Ortega has maintained that his imprisoned opponents and others were behind 2018 street protests that 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.

The U.S. official said the United States facilitate­d the transporta­tion of the freed individual­s to the United States, where they will be paroled for humanitari­an reasons into the country for a period of two years. The plane landed at Washington’s Dulles Internatio­nal Airport shortly before midday.

The official said the U.S. government considered the mass release a positive step by Nicaragua. The official said all of those who left Nicaragua did so voluntaril­y and are to receive medical and legal assistance upon arrival in the U.S.

A Nicaraguan judge read a statement saying that the 222 prisoners had been “deported.”

Octavio Rothschuh, a magistrate on the Managua Appeals court, said the deportatio­n was carried out under an order issued Wednesday that declared the prisoners “traitors to the country.” He said they were deported for actions that undermined Nicaragua’s independen­ce and sovereignt­y.

Later Thursday, Nicaragua’s Congress unanimousl­y approved a constituti­onal change allowing “traitors” to be stripped of their nationalit­y. It will require a second vote in the next legislativ­e session later this year.

Arturo McFields, Nicaragua’s former ambassador to the Organizati­on of American States, celebrated the release, which he said the U.S. State Department had confirmed to him.

“It is a massive freeing” of prisoners seldom seen, McFields said. He credited the prisoners’ families for never letting up the pressure.

Family members of some of those released also confirmed that the prisoners were flying to Washington.

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