Washington, Mar 9 (EFE).- Exiled by force and injured, but wanting to keep fighting, some of the 222 political prisoners expelled by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega within the past month are seeking ways to continue to oppose his regime – from long distance – and are trying to develop a common voice calling for a free Nicaragua.
Having arrived in the United States a month ago now, former Nicaraguan presidential aspirant Felix Maradiaga told EFE in a virtual chat how these “bittersweet” weeks have been since Ortega released him and his countrymen, stripped them of their Nicaraguan citizenship and put them on a plane to Dulles International Airport on the outskirts of Washington DC.
During these weeks, they have been able to enjoy “the taste of freedom” and to “reconnect with life,” but it’s been a time during which they’ve understood the significance of being expelled from their homeland and have seen, from 3,000 miles away how things are getting worse and worse in Nicaragua.
After spending several days in a hotel, the 222 people were distributed among the homes of relatives and Nicaraguans living in a number of different states.
“The majority have survived thanks to the solidarity of Nicaraguans who, at their own times, went through a very bitter situation and are here after different exile waves,” said Maradiaga, who considers himself to be among the most fortunate because he had a home in the US to come to.
When he spoke with EFE from Florida, he was waiting for the arrival of his wife, activist Berta Valle, and his daughter, whom he had not seen since he entered prison in Nicaragua 20 months ago.
“I’m a lucky person because I’ve spent periods of my life outside Nicaragua and I have a professional and support network, but the great majority of the people who were on that flight had never left their country and didn’t intend to, and many are people who are very involved with the democratic struggle but are from the rural communities,” he said.
In addition, while the majority of the released political prisoners are focusing on healing their wounds and trying to figure out what to do in their unexpected new lives, Maradiaga said that he clearly sees that his duty is to continue the long-distance fight.
But the question is how to do that from a country that has only provided the group with two-year humanitarian residency permits, given that they have no passports and no homeland any longer and came from a country where the opposition has been eliminated.
“We know that it’s a very complex situation, that it’s not going to be easy,” Maradiaga said, convinced that his role now is to fight so that “the international community pays more attention to the difficult situation in Nicaragua.”
“We Nicaraguans have gone into the streets to protest, we’ve suffered the murders of many of the people who participated in the protests. We’ve organized electorally when we could do so, we’ve rejected elections when we had to. We’ve done everything we could do from inside and at this time we’re in a phase of internationalization,” he said.
Over the past few weeks, some of the freed Nicaraguans have met with US congresspeople and their staffers to make various requests and are scheduled to appear before a House of Representatives subcommittee on March 22.
In that hearing, they will make several requests, including that the US broaden the protections it has provided to them and allow them to apply for political asylum.
They will also push for the release of the political prisoners who are still imprisoned in Nicaragua and try to facilitate the family reunification of prisoners since “Ortega is doing everything possible to keep them from coming to the US, such as not providing them with passports.”
In addition, Maradiaga said that “We’re working with some European governments so that, in spite of the fact that we’re stateless, they’ll allow us to travel to explain what’s happening in Nicaragua and mobilize people for some diplomatic action.”
In Maradiaga’s opinion, there are many things that the international community can do to isolate the Ortega regime, first and foremost concerning “the wallet,” that is the economic interests of Ortega and his inner circle.
“There’s money that continues to be dispersed in various parts of the world” and also “there hasn’t been enough pressure” placed on “the companies created in Nicaragua with Venezuelan oil money.”
In addition, they must intensify the sanctions against “low-level and mid-level officials,” who “have escaped the sanctions (imposed so far) because they’re not known,” and also against the “attorneys who file false lawsuits, prosecutors, judges and police officers who participated in arbitrary arrests.”
And more time must be given to the United Nations Group of Human Rights Experts on Nicaragua to “identify more individual responsibilities” for what is happening in the Central American country, Maradiaga said, expressing outrage at the fact that there are still “international agencies that are supporting Ortega like the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.”
One of the main challenges for the opposition in exile is finding a common voice because among the 222, Maradiaga noted, there are students, peasants, intellectuals, former political candidates, the leaders of women’s movements, human rights defenders and more.