222 political prisoners released from Nicaragua arrive in U.S.

Former Nicaraguan pre-candidate Juan Sebastian Chamorro embraces his wife, Vicky Cardenas, (L) and daughter after arriving in the United States on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Juan Sebastian Chamorro/Twitter
1 of 3 | Former Nicaraguan pre-candidate Juan Sebastian Chamorro embraces his wife, Vicky Cardenas, (L) and daughter after arriving in the United States on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Juan Sebastian Chamorro/Twitter

Feb. 9 (UPI) -- The United States on Thursday received 222 newly released political prisoners who had been held in prison in Nicaragua.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the release of prisoners and cooperation between the United States and Nicaragua is a sign of progress.


"We welcome the 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners released by the Government of Nicaragua today," Blinken tweeted. "We will continue to support improved conditions for the Nicaraguan people."

Blinken said political and business leaders, journalists and students were among those who were released after enduring "lengthy, unjust detentions."

All 222 people touched down at Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Thursday. They will be provided medical and legal assistance by the U.S. government to "ease their travel," according to the State Department.

"The release of these individuals, one of whom is a U.S. citizen, by the Government of Nicaragua marks a constructive step towards addressing human rights abuses in the country and opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua regarding issues of concern," Blinken said in a statement.


Among those released was former Nicaraguan pre-candidate Juan Sebastian Chamorro, who was arrested by the regime of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega in June of 2021 ahead of that November's election.

Videos posted to Chamorro's official Twitter account show him embracing his daughter and wife, Vicky Cardenas, at the airport after a separation of more than 600 days.

The Nicaraguan University Alliance said student activists Lesther Aleman, Mildred Rayo, Max Jerez and Miguel Flores were also among those released.

"We are Nicaraguans!" Aleman wrote on Twitter following his release. "We will fight to recover all the rights of Nicaraguans."

During a press conference, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States received the Nicaraguans on humanitarian grounds who had been screened and vetted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and had left the Central American nation voluntarily.

"We welcome the opportunity to offer this humanitarian protection to these political prisoners," Price said. "The United States remains committed to a dialogue with the Government of Nicaragua on these and other matters, and we'll continue to support the Nicaraguan people."


Price added that they are working with partners to make sure the Nicaraguas have "a roof over their heads."

"We've arranged for hotels for them for some time. We're providing them with short-term assistance," he said.

The Washington Office on Latin America, a non-government organization better known as WOLA, said in a statement that some of those released Thursday had been subjected to serious human rights violations during their detention including torture, while expressing fear over their future, citing local reports that their citizenship will be revoked and that 38 others still remain political prisoners.

The U.N. human rights office as recently as September remarked on the deteriorating human rights situation in Nicaragua over the past few months, stating nearly 200 people had been arbitrarily detained, 50 of whom were arrested during the crackdown on protests against the widely discredited 2021 election of Ortega to a fifth term in office.

According to a report from the U.S. Congressional Research Service, the crackdowns that followed the election targeted Ortega's political opposition, journalists and government critics.

The United States has repeatedly imposed sanctions against the Ortega regime in response.

"We are relieved that 222 ppl reportedly detained arbitrarily in #Nicaragua have arrived safely in the USA," the United Nations human rights office tweeted Thursday night, calling it an important development while urging for reforms in the Central American nation.


"We call on the Nicaraguan govt to restore all their civil & polit. rights, incl. nationality, & to free all those held in arbitrary detention," its said.

The State Department warns against traveling to Nicaragua, citing its arbitrary enforcement of laws among its active travel advisories. The warning mentions increased wrongful detentions and the seizure of personal property.

The department also warns that Nicaraguan officials may not send notification when a U.S. citizen or other foreign national is arrested, making release difficult.

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