Nicaragua Frees Political Prisoners After International Pressure


Prison guards came at 2 a.m. to wake Scannierth Merlo Lacayo, saying it was time to change cells.

But then he saw other political prisoners being moved about and spiffed up. “They were giving everyone new pants, shirts, cutting their hair,” he said.

Then Mr. Merlo saw representatives of the Roman Catholic Church and the Red Cross and realized that the moment he had been awaiting for 14 months had finally arrived: He and dozens of other political prisoners in Nicaragua were being freed after months of international clamor.

Their sudden release on Monday came after the United States government strengthened sanctions against the authoritarian government of Daniel Ortega, tightening a financial noose around a regime that has been condemned around the world for its crackdown on dissent.

“I had been sentenced to five years for supposedly stealing a Sandinista Party member’s I.D. card, but the real reason was because I was against the government — and I am going to continue to be against the government,” Mr. Merlo said in a telephone interview shortly after his release.

A group of people who took them water were arrested and charged with trafficking weapons. Known as the “aguadores,” they were also released Monday.

Brenda Gutiérrez, who runs a support group for the families, said 65 of Nicaragua’s 148 political prisoners had been released by late morning. Many of them had been accused of crimes such as arms trafficking, drug trafficking and robbery after participating in a large-scale uprising last year.

Hundreds of people died in the months of protests, including 22 police officers. The government unleashed broad police actions to topple road blocks and take back universities. More than 500 people were jailed.

Opposition activists in the country rarely dare to protest publicly.

“This is a great day for Nicaragua, because it proves what we had been saying all along: There are political prisoners in Nicaragua,” said Martha Alvarado, whose 30-year-old son, Melkissedex A. López Ferrey, was also released from prison. “We never lost faith, and we are not giving up until everyone is free.”

Alfonso Flores Bermúdez contributed reporting from Managua, Nicaragua.



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