Release of Nicaragua’s Political Prisoners: a Precondition for Dialogue

Pressured by external sanctions and economic collapse, Ortega ties his negotiations to the outcome of the crisis in Venezuela.

Pressured by external sanctions and economic collapse

20 de febrero 2019


Nicaraguan business leaders Roberto Zamora, Carlos Pellas, Ramiro Ortiz, Juan B. Sacasa and Jose Antonio Baltodano, all representatives of “big capital”, met with dictator Daniel Ortega on Saturday, February 16th.

Their reported objective was “opening the doors to resuming negotiations between the government and the Civic Alliance,” as well as bringing to the regime the “proposals of civil society and the international community for resolving the crisis and working on the democratic objectives.”

Carlos Tunnermann, educator and member of the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, declared that if the government issues a call for dialogue, the first condition that the Alliance will put on the table is that the over 750 political prisoners be freed, since this will guarantee the success of the conversations.

“There are six members of the Civic Alliance among the prisoners, both student and farm leaders. In order to reestablish a dialogue, the freedom of the political prisoners is necessary, as well as an end to repression, respect for the right to demonstrate, freedom of expression, and the return of the legal non-profit status to the organizations of civil society who had these torn away,” Tunnermann asserted.

Free all the prisoners

The Committee for the Liberation of Political Prisoners also demanded the liberation of all the political prisoners, and the restoration of freedom of expression, assembly and organization, as a guarantee of a fruitful dialogue.

“In the first place, we demand that before beginning any dialogue, they must release our family members who are in jail.  The government needs to demonstrate that it really wants to have a dialogue. There can’t be any dialogue here if we have political prisoners. That’s our condition, and at no time will we accept a dialogue or negotiation while our family members are in jail,” affirmed Tamara Zamora, mother of imprisoned student Amaya Coppens.

Zamora didn’t discount the recent contacts established by representatives of “big capital”. However, she affirmed that they continue to be skeptical of a regime that is trying and sentencing its citizens with no due process, and which, during the months of crisis, has morphed into one of the cruelest dictatorships in Latin America.

“Until they issue the order to free our family members, we’ll continue to have total distrust. It seems that they’re always looking for small escape valves, to maintain people calm while continuing to act. The witch hunt hasn’t ended, they’re still “hunting down” our kids. The government lies, and they haven’t assumed any commitments,” Zamora insisted.

Inter-American Commission for Human Rights: five principles

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) established five principles for the resumption of the national dialogue. The first is representation: that is, including the family members of the dead and the detained, the exiled, the students, the social and farm movements, and the new movements and collectives that arose after the crisis.

The second principle has to do with a balance of ecclesiastic, business and social representation in relation to the state institutions. Third is the liberation of all the political prisoners, as well as the return of property confiscated from the communications media; fourth and fifth involve the restoration of their legal status to the non-governmental organizations, and nullifying the National Police decrees forbidding demonstrations.

“Allowing public demonstrations, ceasing the disproportionate police occupation of public spaces, and in this way deactivating the atmosphere of repression and intimidation. Also, the previous commitment – that all agreements established in the dialogue will be effectively fulfilled by all sides, as confirmed by the presence of international witnesses – must be reassumed by all sides.” the IACHR counseled.

Monsignor Silvio Baez, assistant bishop of the Managua Archdiocese, advised Nicaraguans to appreciate the small steps that are being taken to renew the national dialogue. However, he pointed out that they should learn from history that agreements between the high echelons in Nicaragua have never worked.

“Negotiations conducted under the table, behind the people’s backs, have caused a lot of disillusionment and damage to our society. I believe that we all have to put ourselves to the task of moving forward and demanding a dialogue where the people are the principle subjects and participants, and where the objective is to return democracy to Nicaragua,” Baez noted.  He also concurred that the freedom of the political prisoners is a fundamental step in order to open the way to negotiation.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights tweeted that he welcomed the meeting called by the Nicaraguan government. He reaffirmed that an end to repression, the liberation of the detained and a commitment for justice for the victims must precede any participative dialogue that is based on their human rights obligations.

Ortega’s motives

Eliseo Nunez, attorney and former deputy for the opposition, feels that Ortega plans to use some of his “relative” advantages, such as the absence of citizen mobilizations brought about by the repression, and his control over his party structures, to put up a strong front before his opponents and negotiate agreements favorable to himself.

The effects of the US sanctions and the possible application of the OAS Democratic Charter to Nicaragua could be causing a change in the policies of Daniel Ortega’s government, which may now be looking to open the window of dialogue so as to put him at an advantage in this final stage of his dictatorship.

“Ortega’s going to try to obtain some agreements, like moving the elections up to a date that’s comfortable for him and not for the opposition, or achieving some kind of guarantee for his family. However, I don’t see him closing any negotiations until he knows what’s going to happen with Maduro. If Maduro falls in a resounding way, Ortega’s going to have some three or four agreements in the works, and he’s going to say: ‘OK, even though Maduro has fallen, we already have these agreements in progress. We just have to close them off and move forward.’ But while nothing happens, he’s going to manage the time,” Nunez believes.

In Nunez’ judgement, if Ortega doesn’t begin negotiations at this time, the massive impact of the economic crisis, the sanctions, the closing of companies and of spaces for his sympathizers, could cause the opposition to gain strength in the near future. The citizens could once again go out on the streets, and his “loyal followers” could abandon him, leading him to lose the control that he’s obtained during these last months through his policies of death and repression.

“If he doesn’t do anything today and another crisis explodes, he’ll be in a situation of total weakness. So, for that reason, he’s going to try to obtain enough agreements between now and then to have certain guarantees – all without signing a general accord, so that he’s not obligated to do anything he doesn’t want to.  In my view, that’s the scheme he’s laid out. If things end very badly for Maduro, then he’s going to say that he has preliminary agreements in place, and that they must be fulfilled,” said Nunez.

Tunnermann stated that Ortega’s turnaround has to do with the worsening of the economic crisis, a crisis that can’t be solved by fiscal or social security reforms, but only by resolving the political problem.

Eyes on Venezuela

“He probably wants to have this new channel of communications in place, because he’s waiting to see what’s going to happen in Venezuela. Maduro’s situation grows more critical every day. The sanctions on Maduro are reaching the regime here. The first one involving the Albanisa joint enterprise already took effect; that also affected Bancorp Bank. There are more sanctions that have been announced, if he doesn’t show some kind of opening,” the educator pointed out.

According to Tunnermann’s analysis, Ortega knows that the fiscal crisis, the drastic drop in the economy, and the increasing problems of the Social Security system can’t be resolved by the reforms that are being approved in the National Assembly. It’s for that reason that the current context has brought him to put aside his intransigent attitude and seek a negotiation.

“The Civic Alliance is prepared for whenever we’re called upon to do. It now depends on whether Ortega fulfills his promises to the gentlemen he met with, that he’s going to hold new meetings aimed at deciding whether or not to call for a resumption of the national dialogue. The Episcopal Conference would still be the mediator, but this time we’d demand that guarantors be established to oversee the fulfillment of the agreements. These guarantors could be the European Union and the OAS,” Tunnermann emphasized.

Ramon Jauregui, a Spanish deputy in the European Parliament, wrote on his Twitter feed that these first steps towards a possible resumption of the national dialogue are good news, and that the European Union is willing to enter in, if the dialogue participants ask them to.

“The government should offer a gesture of political will and of credibility by freeing the political prisoners,” European Deputy Jauregui wrote on his official account.

Kevin Sullivan, the US ambassador to Nicaragua, posted on his Twitter account: “The US Government welcomes this effort to reestablish negotiations between the Nicaraguan Government and civil society representatives”, adding: “The negotiations will require good faith efforts to achieve real solutions in real time for the Nicaraguan people.”

Tunnermann also emphasized that the topic of moving up the elections will remain on the agenda, even though during the initial conversations the government wouldn’t allow this petition. He added that the OAS has a program of electoral reforms ready, with a view towards early elections.

Civic Alliance and the Blue and White National Unity movement

The Civic Alliance issued a pronouncement in which it supported and backed “this effort”, and highlighted that it hopes it will lead to a solution to the problematic national sociopolitical situation, and to the reestablishment of an atmosphere of peace. In the same way, they urged all the nation’s forces to contribute their best efforts so that the negotiations, if they happen, can yield the desired fruits.

“As participants in the National Dialogue, we’re ready to join in this effort to find a way together out of the terrible political and economic crisis that Nicaragua is traversing.  During the last months, we’ve made preparations by working with a team of experts from different specialties,” the pronouncement stated.

The Blue and White National Unity, made up of a number of separate movements including the Civic Alliance, also expressed their support and backing for the conditions put forth by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the IACHR, as guarantees for the reestablishment of the dialogue table.

The Nicaraguan American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) also supported the initiative to reestablish the national dialogue, with the desire that it be inclusive, as they have repeated in previous communiques.

“AmCham reiterates that, in order to find a way out of the economic and social crisis, there must first be a political solution. As such, we welcome this encounter with hope.”


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Maynor Salazar

Periodista. Investiga temas de medio ambiente, corrupción y derechos humanos. Premio a la Excelencia Periodística Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, Premio de Innovación Periodística Connectas, y finalista del premio IPYS en el 2018.