Nicaragua Surprises US By Sending 222 Detainees

Biden welcomes arrivals, saying, 'I'm glad they're out'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 10, 2023 4:40 PM CST
Nicaragua Flies 222 Detainees to US in a Surprise Move
Former Nicaragua presidential candidate Felix Maradiaga hugs his daughter Alejandra after arriving Thursday from Nicaragua at Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Va.   (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

In the middle of the night, political leaders, priests, students, and activists languishing in Nicaragua's most notorious prisons were awoken, given back the clothes they had been arrested in and told to dress. Hours later, 222 of them, widely considered political prisoners, landed at a Washington-area airport, deported from their own country, the AP reports. The US government said the massive release was both a "unilateral decision" by the government of President Daniel Ortega and the result of concerted diplomatic efforts. President Biden said Thursday that the US believes all political prisoners should be released.

"And whether this is a token of their demonstration that they're ready to begin to change the human rights policies or not remains to be seen," Biden said in an interview with Telemundo Noticias. "But the fact that they were released, we're happy to receive them and I'm glad they're out." One of the detainees is a US citizen. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was a positive step by Nicaragua in "addressing human rights abuses in the country." It was a surprise move after months of intransigence by Ortega, including show trials and the sentencing of five Catholic priests earlier this week, all of whom were apparently on Thursday's flight.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said those who arrived in Washington came voluntarily and would receive humanitarian parole allowing them to stay in the country for two years. Outside a hotel in Northern Virginia where the Nicaraguans were staying, Juan Sebastian Chamorro, an opposition and pre-candidate to challenge Ortega for the presidency in 2018, said the prisoners were put on buses and driven through the capital. They weren't told where they were being taken. "Personally, I thought we were going to Modelo," the notorious prison near the airport, he said. (More Nicaragua stories.)

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