"They are going into exile, but toward freedom."
With these words, the writer and former vice president of Nicaragua, Sergio Ramírez, described the situation of the 222 opponents who were imprisoned in that country and whom the authorities decided to release to be sent this Thursday to the United States.
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The measure was well received by human rights organizations, which celebrated the release without sparing criticism of Managua.
"These people were imprisoned for defending #DDHH and raising their voices against a ruthless regime. That today they can be with their families is a hug to the heart," Amnesty International's director for the Americas, Erika Guevara Rosas, wrote on her Twitter account. .
In the United States, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in a statement that this decision "marks a constructive step to address human rights abuses in the country and opens the door to greater dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua on issues of interest".
Nicaragua has been experiencing a deep political crisis since 2018, when there was a great wave of protests against the government of Daniel Ortega that was harshly repressed by the authorities. As a result, at least 320 people lost their lives, there were hundreds of detainees and tens of thousands of exiles.
After a few unsuccessful attempts at dialogue, the situation worsened at the end of 2021 when Ortega was re-elected for a fourth consecutive term in elections considered fraudulent by a large part of the international community and which were preceded, among other things, by the arrest of dozens of opposition leaders, including seven presidential candidates.
Many of these, like those they detained in the 2018 protests, were accused by Ortega of trying to organize a coup against him.
With the decision executed this Thursday, the number of imprisoned opponents in Nicaragua, whose number was estimated at 235 by the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners in Nicaragua, is significantly reduced.
BBC Mundo gives you four keys to understanding the release of the Nicaraguan opponents.
1. Who are the freed opponents?
The list of opponents released in Nicaragua and sent to the United States includes people from many fields, not only politics, but who had taken a critical stance towards the Ortega government.
Among them are businessmen, student leaders, human rights defenders, Sandinista dissidents, academics and leaders of the peasant sector, among others.
In this list, the presence of the journalist Christian Chamorrodaughter of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro and journalist Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, legendary editor of the newspaper La Prensa who was assassinated during the Somoza regime.
Cristiana was emerging in 2021 -when she was arrested- as the candidate with the most options to defeat Ortega in the elections.
Among the names also appear the other six presidential candidates who had been arrested: Arturo Cruz (political), Felix Maradiaga (academic), Juan Sebastian Chamorro (politician and economist), Miguel Mora (journalist and businessman), Medardo Mairena (peasant leader) and Noel Vidaurre (political).
was also released Dora Maria Tellez, a historic guerrilla from the Sandinista Front who participated in the assault on the National Palace in 1978; and Lesther Germana student leader who gained global notoriety after confronting Ortega during the failed 2018 talks.
2. What other measures are involved
The released opponents were subjected to a series of accessory punishments that, at least according to the legal framework imposed by the ruling party, would leave them out of the institutional political game in Nicaragua.
This Thursday morning, magistrate Octavio Rothschuh, president of Chamber One of the Court of Appeals of Managua, made public a sentence that made possible the "immediate deportation" of the 222 opponents who were imprisoned and announced that they were left "perpetually disqualified from exercising public office"as well as to exercise positions of popular election.
Rothschuh added that the "citizen rights" of these people were suspended in perpetuity.
The magistrate indicated that these people had been sentenced for "committing acts that undermine the independence, sovereignty and self-determination of the people; for inciting violence, terrorism and economic destabilization" and added that they had been declared as "traitors to the homeland".
This last element is crucial, since shortly after the deportation of the opponents, the Nicaraguan National Assembly, controlled by the ruling party, approved a constitutional reform that strips those who are classified as "traitors of the homeland" of their nationality.
Thus, the freed opponents would not only be politically disabled but also exiled from their homeland.
3. What is Daniel Ortega looking for?
The measure taken by the authorities of Nicaragua It was made public by surprise and was not preceded by previous announcements that would allow anticipating the intentions behind this decision.
Institutions such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have denounced that in Nicaragua there has been a concentration of power in the hands of the Executive and a weakening of the rule of law.
Faced with this situation, many critics and independent analysts assure that the rest of the powers respond to the will of Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
BBC Mundo sent an email to Murillo to request an interview and information about what happened this Thursday, but no favorable response was obtained.
However, on an official Nicaraguan television channel, Murillo said this Thursday that the "sovereign decision" was made by "the supreme interest of our homeland."
Benjamin Gedan, director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank, said the move had been unexpected.
"Daniel Ortega's regime is not very transparent and he surprised us with this gesture. It is possible that more than anything he wanted to exile his most capable opponents from the country. It had already weakened civil society and independent journalism," Gedan said in response to a BBC Mundo query.
"Perhaps he was also seeking a remedy for the economic damage and diplomatic isolation caused by US sanctions," he added.
This last hypothesis seems to be shared by the Nicaraguan writer Gioconda Belli.
"I think they may be realizing that they cannot live in that isolation in which they have gotten themselvesthat international pressure for the release of political prisoners was already affecting their relations with Latin America," Belli said Thursday in an interview with BBC Mundo.
The writer highlighted that at the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac), held in January, several of the presidents who attended expressed their request to Nicaragua to release imprisoned opponents.
4. What role does the United States play?
The United States government received the Ortega government's decision as favorable news.
"We think this is a welcome, positive and constructive step on the part of the Nicaraguan government"Ned Price, spokesman for the US State Department, said Thursday during a press conference.
The official clarified that it was a decision made by the Ortega government and in exchange for which Washington offered nothing.
"This was a unilateral decision made by the Nicaraguan government, it was they who decided to offer these people the opportunity to travel to the United States and we agreed to receive them," he said.
"For a long time we have made calls for the release of the people imprisoned in Nicaragua for exercising their fundamental freedoms, a first step towards the restoration of democracy and towards a better climate for human rights in Nicaragua", he added.
The US official assured that although Washington wishes to maintain a better relationship with the Nicaraguan government, the sanctions will remain in place.
He pointed out that these releases are not a "panacea" for the "many" concerns that Washington has about the situation in the Central American country.
"One of those remains even today, after the release of 222 people: the detention of people for nothing more than exercising rights that should be universal. There are still political prisoners in Nicaragua and we will continue, both publicly and privately, to encourage the Nicaraguan government to put itself in a position where it can carry out the aspirations of the Nicaraguan people to have greater levels of democracy, so that their human rights are respected, for a future of prosperity and opportunity," he added.
Regarding the situation of the freed opponents, Price pointed out that the United States is proud to receive them.
He explained that US officials made sure that everyone who traveled to that country did so voluntarily and that steps have been taken to welcome them in the short term.
In addition, he said that they are working with non-governmental organizations and with the Nicaraguan diaspora in the United States to provide them with longer-term support.
For now, the newly arrived opponents will stay in hotels paid for by the US government and will receive a humanitarian permit to stay in the country for the next two years.