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What lies ahead for Ortega’s political prisoners?

The political prisoners will be at the center of public debate in the coming months, along with the resulting sanctions

The political prisoners will be at the center of public debate about Nicaragua in the coming months

Uriel Pineda

10 de enero 2022

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During 2021, part of the Ortega-Murillo regime’s strategy for maintaining power was to imprison the opposition’s presidential hopefuls, along with other prominent figures from the opposing side. Put simply, we could say their strategy served them well: they survived the election. Today, though, it’s an unsustainable strategy, given the legal and political consequences it’s incurring.

One year ago, public interest was centered on the electoral process, while the demands for justice for the Ortega-Murillo regime’s grave human rights violations was relegated to second place. There was practically no discussion of the fate of the hundred or so political prisoners that the regime still held. Beginning in May, the detentions of the aspiring presidential candidates recalled the fact that there were more political prisoners. From that time on, the topic rose to new prominence on the national and international public agenda.


The regime is now on the eve of inaugurating a new, illegitimate, mandate. Unfortunately, the reaction of the international community with respect to the electoral farce hasn’t served as a determinant strong enough to put the regime in a vulnerable position and produce its fall, although it’s definitely contributed to their isolation. Hence, the public agenda isn’t dominated by the consequences of the sanctions from the international community; instead, its attention is centered on the political prisoners.

In the last few days, information has come out about the chronic ailments of octogenarian political prisoner Edgar Parrales. In addition, there are denunciations of the isolation inflicted on Ana Margarita Vijil; Felix Maradiaga’s weight loss; the health situation of attorney Maria Oviedo; the uncertainty over the whereabouts of Hugo Torres; the leg cramps being suffered by student leader Lesther Aleman; and lawyer Roger Reyes’ loss of cognitive and memory functions, among many others. These have captured the interest of national and international news.

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This brings us back to the legal consequences of holding political prisoners. This policy encompasses: the impossibility of investigating accusations of torture (denial of the right of access to justice); the existence of a government policy of persecution and imprisonment of opponents in violation of International Law (Crimes against Humanity); the presumption of forced disappearance; and the disregard of provisional measures dictated by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In other words, the work in the international legal arena with respect to the political prisoners will be at the center of public interest in the coming months, as well as the resulting sanctions from international Human Rights entities.

There are political consequences as well. Repression in Nicaragua has acquired faces – it’s no longer an abstract order with indistinct effects. Instead, the regime’s cruelty and viciousness are on clear display. Seen that way, freeing the political prisoners at this moment would be a rational decision for the regime for four reasons: it would serve to lower international pressure, limiting it to the issue of illegitimacy; it would postpone and possibly avoid legal sanctions from the international Human Rights bodies; it would get the topic of the political prisoners off the public agenda; and the measure could result in the exodus of the current political prisoners, or their public restraint, which in the context of a police state would be convenient for the regime.

Nonetheless, on innumerable occasions the regime has proven itself to be neither sensible nor rational. Given that, the most probable scenario is that the detentions will be extended, hoping that in the near future they could be utilized as bargaining chips in the face of international pressure. In the short run, there seems to be no better alternative than to document and denounce the abuses and human rights violations that the political prisoners are suffering. In the regime’s logic, they’re more useful locked up, although that fact continues attracting the media spotlight and smooths the path to finding them internationally responsible for human rights violations.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times

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Uriel Pineda

Uriel Pineda

Abogado nicaragüense, máster y consultor independiente en Derechos Humanos, radicado en México.

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