MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, Feb 22 (IPS) – On February 9, Nicaragua’s dictator, Daniel Ortega, unexpectedly ordered the release of 222 political prisoners, including several former presidential candidates, opposition party leaders, journalists, priests, diplomats, businessmen and former government supporters labeled as enemies for have expressed mild public criticism.
Several members and leaders of civil society organizations (CSOs) and social movements were also released, including student activists and environmental, peasant and indigenous rights defenders. Some had been arrested on trumped-up charges of participating mass protests 2018 and was in prison for more than four years.
But the Ortega regime didn’t just let them go—it put them on a charter flight to the United States and, before their plane had even landed, permanently stripped them of their Nicaraguan nationality and their civil and political rights. The government made it clear that it did not recognize their innocence; it was just to convert their punishment.
The rise of a police state
Ever since he was re-elected ia obvious fraudulent choice in November 2021, Ortega has attempted to compensate for his lack of democratic legitimacy by establishing a police state. The regime effectively banned all civil society and independent media and closed more than 3,000 civil society organizations and 55 media outlets. It undermined the legal system to falsely accuse, convict and imprison hundreds of critics and intimidate everyone else into compliance.
Political prisoners have been treated with purposeful cruelty, as if they were hostages of the enemy – kept in isolation, either in the dark or under permanent bright lights, given inadequate food and denied medical care, subjected to constant interrogation, denied legal advice and only allowed. infrequent visits by family members, if at all. Psychological torture has been a constant, and many have also been subjected to physical torture.
The release of some prisoners has not signaled any improvement in conditions or a move towards democracy, as is clear from the treatment of a political prisoner, the Catholic bishop. Rolando Alvarezwho refused to board the plane to the United States.
In retaliation for his refusal to leave the country, his trial date was moved forward and held immediately, in the absence of any procedural guarantees. It predictably resulted in a 26-year prison sentence. Álvarez was immediately sent to prison, where he remains with dozens of others.
Deprived of citizenship
The constitutional amendment stripping the 222 freed political prisoners of their citizenship states that “traitors to the homeland shall lose the status of Nicaraguan citizens” – even though the constitution states that no citizen can be deprived of his nationality.
It was one illegal act on top of another illegal act. No one can be expelled from their own country: what the regime called an expulsion was an exile, something that violates both domestic law and international human rights norms.
On February 15, the regime doubled: it abated 94 more people of their nationality. Those recently declared stateless included prominent political dissidents, civil society activists, journalists and writers Gioconda Belli and Sergio Ramirez, both of whom had held government assignments in the 1980s. Most of the 94 were already living in exile. They were declared “fugitives from justice”.
By rendering 326 people stateless, the Nicaraguan dictatorship fueled immediate international solidarity. On February 10, the Spanish government is offered the 222 just released prisoners Spanish citizenship – an offer many are bound by accept. On February 17, more than 500 writers around the world gathered around Belli and Ramírez and condemned the closure of civil space in Nicaragua.
In Argentina is Round table discussion on human rights, democracy and society sent one open letter to President Alberto Fernández to request that he offer Argentine nationality to all Nicaraguans deprived of theirs.
But Argentina, along with most of Latin America, has looked the other way. Its silence suggests that democratic consensus across the region is more fragile and superficial than might be hoped, with willingness to condemn rights violations depending on the ideological leanings of those who carry them out.
Currently, all of the region’s major democracies—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Mexico—have governments that define themselves as left-wing. But only one of their presidents, Chile’s Gabriel Boric, has consistently done so criticized Nicaragua’s Authoritarian Turn. In response to recent developments he tweeted a personal message of solidarity with the victims, calling Ortega a dictator. The rest have either issued mild official statements or simply kept quiet.
The Nicaraguan government insisted that it was its own decision to release the prisoners. The fact that it was accompanied by further violations of the rights of released prisoners was meant as a show of power.
But the move looks like it was made in the expectation of getting something in return. The Nicaraguan government has long called for the lifting of US sanctions; at a time when one of its closest ideological allies, Russia, is unable to provide significant support, Nicaragua needs the United States more than ever. But the US government has always said that the release of political prisoners must be the first step towards negotiations.
Given this, the unilateral handing over of people it considers dangerous conspirators to the state it proclaims is its worst enemy does not seem like much of a show of force. And if it isn’t, it’s a valuable opportunity to make an impact. The international community must push for the restoration of civic spaces and the return of free, fair and competitive elections. The first step should be to support the hundreds who have been displaced from their own country, as future builders of democracy in Nicaragua.
Inés M. Pousadela is CIVICUS Senior Research Specialist, co-director and writer for CIVICUS lens and co-author of Report on the state of civil society.
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© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service