Nicaraguan opposition leader Felix Maradiaga is greeted by a supporter in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S., Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Maradiaga was among 222 political prisoners from the government of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega who arrived in Washington from Nicaragua after his apparently negotiated release. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega sent 222 political leaders, priests, students, activists and other dissidents to the United States last week, a release the international community has long called for.

Shortly thereafter, the Ortega government voted to strip the prisoners on purpose of their Nicaraguan citizenship. Analysts, legal experts and human rights groups have described it as a violation of international law unprecedented, at least in the Western Hemisphere, in terms of scale and impact.

Here is an overview of what happened:


The expulsion was part of a broader campaign by the Ortega government to crush political dissent that began in 2018, when anti-government street protests were violently suppressed by Nicaraguan security forces.

Ortega called imprisoned opponents “traitors” and blamed them for the protests, which he sees as an internationally funded plot to overthrow him. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled government repression.

Arrests of opponents have become a source of international friction, particularly with the government of US President Joe Biden, which has invoked the arrests to justify sanctions against the Central American nation.

The prisoners’ release was actually a strategy to “minimize the public cost of their repression,” especially in the eyes of the international community, said Ivan Briscoe of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit research group focused on conflict resolution around. the world.

“He would rather return to a stable, low-key authoritarian government where perhaps not the most visible forms of abuse occur, but continued political scrutiny,” he said.

El vocero del Departamento de Estado de Estados Unidos Ned Price dijo el lunes a la prensa en Washington that la liberation de los presos is considered “a paso constructivo” and that miembros del gobierno de Biden han dicho que abriría una puerta al diálogo entre los dos the countries.

However, the fact that Ortega’s parliament simultaneously voted to strip deported prisoners of their citizenship has drawn criticism.

“It’s certainly not a panacea for the many concerns we have about the Nicaraguan regime, including the repression and oppression it continues to exert on its own people,” Price said.

Although the Nicaraguan congress has yet to hold the second vote to approve the constitutional change that would formally remove the nationality of those expelled, the measure was approved unanimously in the first vote. Ortega’s firm control over the camera makes any other outcome highly unlikely.

“I think the message is very clear: in my territory, there will be no opposition,” Briscoe said.



Peter J. Spiro, professor of international law at Temple University, and others argue that removing citizenship in this context violates a treaty adopted in 1961 at the United Nations by several countries, including Nicaragua, that sets clear standards to prevent statelessness. .

The treaty states that governments cannot “deprive a person or group of persons of their nationality for racial, ethnic, religious or political reasons”.

Spiro noted that there are certain circumstances in which governments can take citizenship away, such as taking it away from a person who acquires another citizenship when the first country prohibits dual citizenship. However, it is not allowed to use it as a political weapon.

“It’s banishment, and banishment is the antithesis of the modern concept of human rights,” he said.

Spain offered citizenship to the 222 exiles, while the United States granted them temporary protection for two years.

But many former prisoners in the United States have been left in legal and mental limbo, said Jennie Lincoln, an academic in contact with many exiles.

“Psychologically, they are stateless,” Lincoln said. “They are in shock, going from a day in jail, and a few hours later on a plane to the United States. Imagine the psychological impact of that, and then being stripped of your citizenship.”



Ortega’s decision is unprecedented in the Western Hemisphere for its volume and scope, according to analysts and legal experts.

Previous decisions taken in the region to denationalize political figures have always had limited scope.

In the 1970s, the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile stripped the nationality of Orlando Letelier, who lived in exile while leading opposition to political repression in the South American country.

Spiro, of Temple University, said Ortega’s decision is reminiscent of what was done in Bahrain, in the Middle East.

In recent years, the government of Bahrain has stripped the nationality of hundreds of political and human rights activists, journalists and religious scholars. In 2018, a court stripped 115 people of their nationality in a mass terrorism trial, according to Human Rights Watch.

However, Spiro pointed out, “Ortega’s decision is more notorious.”



Experts are particularly concerned about Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez, an outspoken critic of Ortega who refused to board the plane to the United States with the other prisoners.

He told those close to him that if he got on the plane, it would be like admitting a crime he didn’t commit.

Shortly after, Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison – in a country known for its poor prison conditions – and stripped of his citizenship inside Nicaragua, which State Department officials harshly criticized. .

This left the bishop in an even more uncertain local situation than his peers in the United States.

So far no one has been able to contact Álvarez or confirm where he is or if he is in a safe place, said a person close to Álvarez who asked not to be identified by fear of reprisals.

The legal outlook is bleak, he said, and Álvarez is aware of that.

Former Nicaraguan presidential candidate Felix Maradiaga meets his wife, Berta Valle, and daughter, Alejandra, and walks together after Maradiaga's arrival from Nicaragua at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia on Thursday, 9 February 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Former Nicaraguan presidential candidate Felix Maradiaga meets his wife, Berta Valle, and daughter, Alejandra, and walks together after Maradiaga’s arrival from Nicaragua at Washington Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia on Thursday, 9 February 2023. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

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