WASHINGTON, D.C. (LifeSiteNews) — Nicaragua dictator Daniel Ortega deported 222 political prisoners, including recently jailed priests and seminarians, to the United States.
The deportees were released from prison by Ortega and arrived on Thursday, February 9, in Washington, D.C. U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken welcomed the freed prisoners in an official statement:
The United States welcomes 222 individuals who had been imprisoned by the government of Nicaragua for exercising their fundamental freedoms and have endured lengthy unjust detentions. The release of these individuals, one of whom is a U.S. citizen, by the Government of Nicaragua marks a constructive step towards addressing human rights abuses in the country and opens the door to further dialogue between the United States and Nicaragua regarding issues of concern. Today’s development is the product of concerted American diplomacy, and we will continue to support the Nicaraguan people.
The individuals released from Nicaraguan custody include political and business leaders, journalists, civil society representatives, and students. Upon the release of these individuals from Nicaragua, the United States facilitated their safe transport to Dulles International Airport. The individuals arrived today, and the United States is providing medical and legal support to ease their arrival.
John Feeley, a former U.S. ambassador and executive director of the Center for Media Integrity of the Americas, lauded the release of the political prisoners by Nicaragua’s communist government as “a significant diplomatic victory for the U.S. government in support of human rights in Nicaragua.”
“The fact that there were no leaks and work has been going on for over a week to coordinate today’s flight is a testament to disciplined, powerful diplomacy,” Feeley detailed, thanking those who assisted in the operation. “Ambassador Kevin Sullivan and the State Department team supporting his embassy in Managua deserve an enormous amount of credit.”
Among those released were seven priests and laymen sentenced to 10 years in prison for alleged “conspiracy to undermine national security and sovereignty” and “spreading fake news.”
Conspicuously not among those deported to the U.S. was Bishop Rolando Álvarez of Matagalpa, who has been under house arrest in Managua since Aug. 19, 2022. The bishop faces trial on Feb. 15 for charges of “conspiracy” and “spreading fake news,” which could result in a 15-year prison sentence.
In an address on Thursday, Ortega said that when the bishop was taken to the airport, he refused to leave the country before speaking with all of his priests and fellow bishops, and that the U.S. would not allow anyone to be forced to leave.
Feeley praised the courage of Bishop Álvarez, saying, “Bishop Álvarez’s decision to stay behind recalls the courageous legacy of Salvadoran Archbishop [Oscar] Romero — a man of titanic faith who chooses to stay with his flock despite the very real threat of death. The man who most wanted ‘this meddlesome priest’ on that plane was Daniel Ortega, but God kept him in Nicaragua.”
The release of the prisoners and their deportation to the U.S. seems to be a response to a heightened awareness of the systematic persecution of the Catholic Church detailed before Congress in a hearing led by Rep. Chris Smith, who called for immediate action by both the U.S. government and the Vatican, denouncing the silence and inaction of both.
At the time, Smith declared, “The egregious war being waged by the Ortega regime against religious freedom — especially against the Catholic Church and an extraordinarily brave Catholic leader, Bishop Álvarez — deserves greater recognition, not only from the Biden Administration but also and especially the Vatican … The Vatican and the Biden Administration must raise their voices and take concrete action to hold Ortega to account for his horrific crimes against the people of Nicaragua.”
It appears Smith’s efforts on behalf of the Catholics and citizens of Nicaragua who have fallen prey to the ire of Ortega’s communist regime have begun to bear fruit.
US congressman urges Pope, Biden to condemn Nicaragua’s persecution of Catholics
European Parliament condemns repression of Catholic Church in Nicaragua, calls for release of bishop