International legal expert Jared Genser, specialist in human rights, has closely followed the grave situation of Nicaragua, including the Ortega regime’s recent action against Monsignor Rolando Alvarez, Catholic Bishop of Matagalpa. Genser calls the priest’s lightning conviction and prison sentence of 26+ years “an aberration of justice in Nicaragua.”
According to Genser, the ruling from the court structure Ortega controls “completely destroyed his gesture of liberation. What it does is remind us of his weakness and who he really is.” Genser made these and other remarks during an interview broadcast on Wednesday, February 15, on the online television news program Esta Semana, transmitted via the Confidencial Nica channel on YouTube and Facebook Live.
Genser, who directs the law firm Perseus Stretegies in Washington DC, is also the defense attorney for former Nicaraguan presidential hopefuls Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro. The two former candidates were imprisoned in June 2021, during the run-up to Nicaragua’s 2021 presidential election. On February 9, 2023, they were abruptly released, banished from Nicaragua and loaded on a plane to the United States, together with another 220 political prisoners.
The news that hundreds of Nicaraguan political prisoners had been released, didn’t surprise Genser. Months before, he assured that dictatorships only release their prisoners when forced to do so. Ortega had already declared that the United States should take these political prisoners. Attorney Jared Genser now believes that the decision to let the prisoners go was the result of pressures that the United States exerted on the Nicaraguan rulers.
In November of last year, you told Confidencial that dictators only free their political prisoners when they have to. “What factors do you believe influenced this decision [on the part of Ortega]?
A variety of factors influenced the decision. In the first place, the international pressure that Daniel Ortega was feeling. For example, pressure generated by Berta Valle and Victoria Cardenas, with whom I was working, who had shared their personal stories in different parts of the world.
In addition, there was the international economic pressure on the Ortega government, via the sanctions imposed by the United States government, the European Union and some other countries. Also, the pressures the United States was generating on the granting of loans from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and other multilateral organizations.
These factors brought about a slight improvement in the jail conditions of the political prisoners around the end of last year. This demonstrates that the prisoner release didn’t occur because he wanted to liberate them, but in order to reduce the international pressure he was feeling at that moment.
Both Ortega and the United States have said it was a unilateral decision on the part of Nicaragua. Was there or wasn’t there a negotiation?
The best information I have at present, considering that all this happened very quickly in January of this year, when Ortega made the offer to free them. The only information I have are the statements from the White House and the State Department that there was no negotiation.
However, it could have been predicted, considering the speech [Ortega] made in January 2022, when he expressly mentioned that the political prisoners weren’t Nicaraguans and should leave for the United States and be received there. According to my sources, I understand that no concessions were made.
What’s your opinion of the legal route the regime used to remove the political prisoners from the country? First they banished them, and then they took away their nationality.
It’s an obvious violation of international law, given that you can’t take away a person’s nationality, much less without any justification. There are some cases in which a person who applies for a nationality offers false information. In those cases, you could make a different assessment.
But that’s not what happened with the political prisoners. They’re people born in Nicaragua, Nicaraguan citizens, and their nationality can’t be taken away in such a manner. That goes contrary to the international human rights standards contemplated in the American Convention on Human Rights, and the International Pact on Civil and Political Rights. These are human rights – the right to a nationality, to freedom of movement – that are being violated by these actions.
What’s the legal and political status of your defense clients Felix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastian Chamorro, for example, and of the rest of the political prisoners?
At this moment, they’re grouped under a program that the United States government calls Humanitarian Parole. It’s a program for emergencies, under which they’re admitted to the United States and are made applicable. This gives them the possibility of applying for asylum, which is a process that’s going to take time. Possibly, further down the line they could apply for residency.
Nonetheless, and repeating that this process takes time, the important thing is that they aren’t facing the risk of having to return to Nicaragua, and they’re safe in the United States.
On the other hand, the government of Spain made the generous gesture of offering to grant Spanish nationality to these political prisoners. Now, it will depend on each one of them whether or not they decide to accept this generous offer. That would change their need to stay and support themselves in the United States. I know prisoners who wouldn’t accept this nationality, for the simple reason that they continue considering themselves Nicaraguans, because that’s what they are. So, for that reason, they’re not going to assume another nationality, independently of any decisions the regime may have made.
What’s your take on the case of Monsignor Alvarez, who refused to get on the airplane and was later transferred to the La Modelo prison and then sentenced to 26 years in prison?
The situation of Monsignor Alvarez is an aberration of justice. It’s a tragedy, it’s a violation of international law. This shows us how much Ortega fears Monsignor Alvarez, a Catholic bishop. Because of that fear, he decides to sentence him to 26 years in prison just 24 hours after [Alvarez] decided not to get on the airplane to be released with the other political prisoners. This action [against Alvarez] has taken away from him any credit for his gesture of liberation and destroyed it completely. What he’s doing is to recall for us his weakness, and who he really is.