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Daniel Ortega deports 222 political prisoners from Nicaragua

noDespotism in Icaragua The regime has long imprisoned and abused its opponents. So when 222 political prisoners were taken from their cells across the country and put on a flight to the US on February 9, it seemed cause for celebration. “We will be able to walk freely without worrying about them [the regime] are following us, persecuting us, or will kill us,” said one of the students, Ezequiel González, 23.

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Those on board ranged from students to politicians, showing just how comprehensive the authorities’ crackdown has become. President Daniel Ortega, a former Sandinista guerrilla, and his wife and vice-president Rosario Murillo will stop at nothing to stay in power. In 2018, they sent thugs to attack protesters, killing at least 350 people. In 2021, they are holding all seven main opposition candidates behind bars ahead of elections. Last year, the crackdown expanded to include the Roman Catholic Church. Pastors who spoke out against the regime were imprisoned.

However, María Lilly Delgado, a Nicaraguan journalist in exile in Miami, said the release was unlikely to signal a change of tack. Shortly after the plane took off, the Nicaraguan Congress stripped 222 former prisoners of their citizenship. Later in the day, Mr Ortega described them as “mercenaries” acting for the US. On February 10, a court sentenced Bishop Rolando Alvarez to 26 years in prison for refusing to board the plane.

Mr Ortega may hope the purge will silence those within his regime who are increasingly disturbed by the level of repression in the country. But that is unlikely to ease international pressure. The United States recently imposed sanctions on a wider range of Nicaraguans. It also excluded Nicaragua from a friendly tariff regime for sugar exports to the United States and made it illegal for Americans to work with Nicaragua’s gold industry.

The ruling couple may have rid the country of any political opposition. But once the released prisoners recovered from their ordeals, including starvation, they organized abroad. Félix Maradiaga (pictured), a former presidential candidate among the deportees, said his time in prison had made him acutely aware of the brutality of the regime. Few people forget this. As Mr. Gonzalez said: “Whatever it takes, this fight must go on.”

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