Nicaragua frees over 200 political prisoners, puts them on plane to US

The regime of Daniel Ortega made the decision suddenly without notifying relatives. It has declared them ‘stateless’ and ‘traitors to the homeland.’ EL PAÍS has confirmed they were on a flight to Washington DC

A Nicaraguan citizen protesting in the Plaza de la Constitución in Guatemala City, in 2021.
A Nicaraguan citizen protesting in the Plaza de la Constitución in Guatemala City, in 2021.Moises Castillo (AP)

Surprisingly and without notifying their relatives, the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo released 222 of the 245 political prisoners in Nicaragua early this Thursday and immediately put them on a plane bound for Washington. The information has been confirmed to EL PAÍS by a source with ties to the Joe Biden administration.

“The Government of Nicaragua decided unilaterally to release 222 individuals whom they had imprisoned. Some of these individuals have spent years in prison, for exercising their fundamental freedoms, in awful conditions and with no access to due process. They are already on their way to Washington,” said the same source.

According to this senior official, all individuals entering the US were screened and vetted by various agencies, including the FBI, and were screened again by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) upon arrival, as is standard for those seeking humanitarian parole.

“The decision of the Nicaraguan government is a positive and welcome one. We remain steadfast in encouraging additional steps by the government of Nicaragua to restore civil liberties and democracy for the Nicaraguan people,” the official added.

The justice system of the Ortega-Murillo regime issued a statement about “the immediate deportation” of these 222 prisoners for “undermining the independence, sovereignty and self-determination of the people, incitement to violence, terrorism and economic destabilization.”

Almost immediately, the National Assembly met to reform Article 21 of the Political Constitution, which regulates Nicaraguan nationality, declaring the newly released prisoners stateless and “traitors to the homeland.”

Jailed students

Some of the banished individuals include students who had been incarcerated. “Lesther Alemán and more than 200 political prisoners have been released. However, they were exiled by the Ortega regime to the United States. We will continue fighting for him and for everyone else to recover their Nicaraguan citizenship and all their rights,” the relatives of the university leader reported through their Twitter account. “Our friends have been released. They were exiled by the Sandinista dictatorship to the United States. We will continue fighting for them to recover their citizenship and all their rights,” the Nicaragua University Alliance (AUN) confirmed.

Anonymous prison sources have also confirmed that since Wednesday night there have been “movements” within the different Nicaraguan prisons. “If the list of political prisoners is 245, there would be very few left inside the prisons,” they said. For now there is no certainty about who has been released, that is, whether it includes all the prisoners who were in the feared El Chipote jail, in the penitentiary system or those who were under house arrest.

This decision by the Ortega government comes two days after the Sandinista justice system barred at least 14 people, including four Catholic priests and political prisoners, from ever holding public office or running in popular elections. The government has not confirmed the prisoner release and exile to their relatives.

The Managua airport’s records show the departure of a charter flight at 6.30am bound for Washington. The plane is operated by the company Omni Air International with flight number OAE379. The aircraft, a Boeing 767-300, has seating for 375 passengers. The flight to DC takes approximately three hours. This newspaper was unable to confirm whether political prisoners were aboard.

“I want to give glory and honor to God for the miracle of freedom. I want to confirm that I am in touch with the US State Department. This morning via a phone call they confirmed to me that the release of political prisoners has been achieved and that they have been sent on a private flight to Washington. They will be arriving in the late morning or afternoon at Dulles airport. I hope all our relatives will be there. It is a new moment for the future of our country, and we hope that we will be able to have a Nicaragua for all”, said Berta Valle, wife of presidential candidate Félix Maradiaga.

The news has also surprised the Nicaraguan community in the United States with ties to the released political prisoners. Joy gave way to the uncertainty of finding out information about their relatives’ arrival at Dulles International Airport, which serves the city of Washington DC and the DMV area, which encompasses the District of Columbia, Virginia and Maryland, where many of them live.

“For now, we don’t know what the next steps will be,” explained Mariandrea Chamorro, daughter of one of the prisoners on the plane, Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, in a telephone conversation. Some relatives were looking for a way to arrive urgently from Houston or Florida, as Berta Valle told EL PAÍS in a telephone call.

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