On New Year’s Eve, the government of Nicaragua released 91 political prisoners in response to heavy sanctions placed on the authoritarian government by the United States and the E.U. These political prisoners had been incarcerated for being involved in protests against Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his regime. Although the release of these protestors has been welcomed by the general public, there is still a heavy dissatisfaction against the Nicaraguan government and its hold on power. As the protests continue on into their third year there are still 65 protesters arbitrarily detained behind bars.
There has been hesitation by the international community to fully appraise the liberation of these political prisoners. This hesitation comes from a few factors such as The New York Times reporting that “their sudden release came after the United States government strengthened sanctions against the government of President Ortega.” In accordance with these findings, Violetta Granera, leader of the opposition party Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanco, has declared that “political prisoners are not money who can be exchanged for an eventual negotiation.”
Furthermore, not all prisoners have been released and while the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has proclaimed that “[the release is] a positive step in the restoration of all freedoms of those detained for involvement in the protests.” The E.U. has emphasised that “All [political prisoners] must be free and have their human rights respected.”
The release of these political prisoners is a great win in the fight for political freedoms in Nicaragua, regardless of whether their release has only been attributed to the U.S. and E.U. sanctions placed on the Central American country. This should be seen as a victory for peaceful intervention by the international community in the protection of human rights. It is a successful instance whereby the U.S. and the E.U. have used their economies to pressure the Nicaraguan government into releasing these protesters as opposed to using military intervention. Moving forward, the U.S. and E.U. should continue to use this form of approach to force autocratic governments to uphold the human rights afforded to all.
Among those released were protesters who had been known as ‘Aguadores’ (Water Carries). They were unfairly imprisoned for supplying water to a group of mothers who had gone on a hunger strike inside of a locked Church. There were many more who were unfairly incarcerated and while it is positive to see their release, it is quite alarming that they were arrested in the first place.
The current protests in Nicaragua have been ongoing since April 2018 in response to the crushing of a small demonstration against a then newly introduced pension reform. Following on from this suppression, many Nicaraguans took to the streets to protest a larger dissatisfaction with their government. Violence has occurred from both sides, with protesters being labelled as ‘terrorists’ by the government, while the Nicaraguan security forces and paramilitary groups have been accused of “state repression.” Currently, there are no signs indicating that the violence will end as the death toll sits at around 325 confirmed deaths with thousands more being injured.
Unfortunately there are no signs currently being displayed which will see the end of these protests. So far as the military continues to back the Ortega government they will likely continue to hold onto political power in the Central American country. However, the protesters will not stand for the unopposed rule of President Ortega and have an unrelenting determination to see the end of his repressive rule.