Nicaraguan Political Prisoners Freed, Deported

Against the Current, No. 223, March/April 2023

Dianne Feeley and David Finkel

Dora María Téllez, legendary FSLN guerilla and Minister of Health in the first Sandinista government. Expelled and deported from Nicaragua on February 9.

ON FEBRUARY 9 the unexpected happened! The Ortega-Murillo regime released 222 political prisoners, stripped them of their Nicaraguan citizenship and put them on a plane bound for Washington, D.C. They had no idea where they were going.

Bishop Rolando Álvarez, who had been under house arrest, refused to board the plane. Tried the following day, he was sentenced to 26 years in prison for being a “traitor to the homeland.” He, the first Nicaraguan bishop to be imprisoned in history, and nearly 100 Nicaraguans living in the country were also stripped of their citizenship.

 The political prisoners are a diverse group of Nicaraguans, representing former FSLN political leaders, human rights defenders, students, journalists and even businessmen. Held under harsh conditions, the prisoners represented a range of political voices who opposed the repressive regime. The majority were sentenced for crimes of “treason,” “conspiracy to undermine national integrity” and “spreading fake news” at trials where evidence was fabricated. At least one historic FSLN militant, Hugo Torres, died in prison a year ago.

The New York Times speculated that the regime’s decision to release the prisoners and force them into exile will restart relations with Washington. However, according to The Dispatch, the weekly English-language newsletter published by Confidencial, Daniel Ortega, in an hour-long speech, offered a different explanation. Maintaining that he and Rosario Murillo, his vice president and wife, hatched the plan, they have no expectation that Washington will lift any sanctions. Still, it is clear that arrangements were choreographed with the Biden administration, which provided the plane.

Rounding up all oppositionists after the 2018 mass demonstrations demanding an end to the authoritarian regime, the government has succeeded in terrorizing the population while also causing many to leave the country, both for political and economic reasons. Over 1400 civil society organizations have been forced to close. Many of the internationalists who supported the FSLN in the 1980s publicized these cases and raised money for the needs of the prisoners as well as for their families.

One of the prisoners about whom solidarity supporters were most concerned was Dora María Téllez, who had been confined for more than 600 days to a cell so dark she could barely see the palms of her hand. The former guerrilla leader and historian was wearing sunglasses when she emerged from the plane. Despite the physical consequences of a 21-day hunger strike she was in good spirits. When Confidencial director Carlos F. Chamorro asked for details of her arrest — when a deployment of police raided her home and kicked in the doors — she quipped, “I don’t know who they thought they were going to capture. Maybe Chapo Guzmán?”

She remarked that “Ortega lost his battle against the political prisoners.” She intends to take some time to heal but sees her job as “standing up for Nicaragua, in the recovery of our freedoms and our rights.”

March-April 2023, ATC 223

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