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Nicaragua reportedly frees 222 inmates, sends them to US

February 9, 2023

Former Nicaraguan envoy Arturo McFields said the 222 "political prisoners" were put on a plane to Washington. Neither the US nor Nicaragua have confirmed the release.

Nicaraguan protester spraypainting "freedom for political prisoners" in Spanish and a Nicaraguan flag on a green wall
Nicaragua has reportedly released 222 inmates associated with the country's oppositionImage: INTI OCON/AFP

Nicaragua has released around 222 prisoners and sent them to the United States, family members and a former diplomat said.

The inmates, considered by some to be political prisoners, were reportedly put on a plane to Washington.

In recent years, President Daniel Ortega's government has detained dozens of opponents, journalists and religious figures.

The Reuters news agency cited a senior US administration official as saying that Managua had unilaterally released the prisoners and that they left Nicaragua voluntarily and consented to travel to the US.

"Some of these individuals have spent years in prison, many of them for exercising their fundamental freedoms, in awful conditions and with no access to due process," the official said in a statement.

What do we know about the release?

Arturo McFields, former Nicaraguan ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), said the US State Department confirmed to him that 222 prisoners were put on a plane to Washington early on Thursday.

McFields called it a rare "massive freeing" of prisoners. He credited the prisoners' families for not letting up pressure on Managua.

Berta Valle, the wife of opposition leader Felix Maradiaga, said the State Department confirmed to her that 213 "political prisoners" had been freed and transferred to the international airport in Managua, after which they boarded a plane to Washington. She said the State Department told her that her husband was on the plane.

A Nicaraguan judge read a statement saying that the 222 prisoners had been "deported" as "traitors to the country."

Octavio Rothschuh, a magistrate on the Managua Appeals court, said the deportation was carried out under an order issued on Wednesday.

What is the political situation in Nicaragua?

Nicaragua's opposition accuses President Daniel Ortega of rigging elections and cracking down on dissent.

The Nicaraguan opposition's latest count on "political prisoners" was 245 before the mass release on Thursday.

The US announced sanctions on Nicaraguan officials last year over "fraudulent elections orchestrated by [Nicaragua's] regime." Also in 2022, Managua expelled the European Union's ambassador after the bloc urged Ortega to "restore democracy" in the country.

In 2021, while he was still serving as ambassador, McFields spoke out at an OAS meeting against what he called the "dictatorship" in Nicaragua and said that there were more than 177 political prisoners in the country.

US welcomes release

The United States welcomed the release as a "positive" step.

"The decision of the Nicaraguan Government is a positive and welcome one," a State Department spokesperson said.

"The United States facilitated the transportation of those individuals once released from Nicaraguan custody to the United States," she said.

She said that they would be allowed to stay in the US for an initial period of 2 years. One US citizen was among those freed, she added.

"We remain steadfast in encouraging additional steps by the government of Nicaragua to restore civil liberties and democracy for the Nicaraguan people."

sdi/jcg (AFP, EFE, Reuters, AP)