Updated Feb 9, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Nicaragua releases over 200 political prisoners and sends them to the U.S.

Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua's president, arrives for the inauguration of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's president, not pictured, in Caracas, Venezuela, on Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019.

Daniel Ortega arrives for the inauguration of Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, on Jan. 10, 2019. Photo: Carlos Becerra/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Nicaragua has freed more than 200 inmates considered to be political prisoners and sent them to the U.S., a senior Biden administration official said Thursday.

Why it matters: Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega has for years cracked down on political dissent, which has included the arrest and detention of opposition leaders.

Driving the news: "The Government of Nicaragua decided unilaterally to release 222 individuals whom they had imprisoned," the official said.

  • "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."
  • A U.S. State Department spokesperson said that the U.S. "facilitated the transportation" of the released individuals.
  • Once in the U.S., the individuals "will be paroled for humanitarian reasons into the country for a period of two years," the spokesperson said.  
  • "We remain steadfast in encouraging additional steps by the Government of Nicaragua to restore civil liberties and democracy for the Nicaraguan people," the spokesperson said.

The big picture: There were 245 "political prisoners" in Nicaragua as of Jan. 31, according to the Mechanism for the Recognition of Political Prisoners in Nicaragua, a human rights collective.

  • The details of who was released — and who remained detained — as well as the motivation behind the release were not immediately known Thursday.
  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the people released from custody include "political and business leaders, journalists, civil society representatives, and students."

What they're saying: "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," Blinken said.

  • "Today's development is the product of concerted American diplomacy, and we will continue to support the Nicaraguan people," he added.

Go deeper ... More Nicaraguans facing political upheaval at home flee to U.S.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional background and a statement from Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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