Over the course of the last year, President Danny Ortega has demonstrated time and again his indifference for the grievances of students, activists and other political opponents in Nicaragua. Yet in the last few days Ortega seems to have had a change of heart, though it would be foolish to not maintain a healthy level of skepticism.
Representatives of President Daniel Ortega and the opposition sat down face-to-face in a restart of long-stalled talks on resolving Nicaragua’s political crisis Wednesday, shortly after authorities released dozens of people arrested in last year’s crackdown on anti-government protests.
The meeting at a business institute south of the capital, Managua, was held behind closed doors and journalists were not allowed access.
The first day had been expected to be used to set the agenda and format for talks, and at its end the sides released a statement saying they agreed to nine of the 12 points on a preliminary road map and would meet again Thursday. The statement read by Apostolic Nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag did not provide details about what the points were.
Ortega did not take part in the talks but was represented by his foreign minister, a magistrate, several lawmakers and a student leader. The opposition delegation included several prominent business leaders, a noted academic, a politician and a university student. Sommertag , the Vatican’s ambassador to Nicaragua, and Managua’s cardinal were present as observers.
Last year’s protests demanding Ortega leave office and allow early elections prompted a deadly crackdown by security forces and armed, pro-government civilian groups. At least 325 people were killed, 2,000 wounded, hundreds imprisoned and more than 50,000 fled into exile.
One of the opposition’s primary demands has been the release of the estimated 770-plus people considered political prisoners jailed for participating in demonstrations.
Hours before talks began Wednesday, several vans carrying people in inmates’ uniforms left the Modelo prison in the capital escorted by heavily armed police in trucks.
Some inside waved small blue-and-white Nicaraguan flags, a frequent gesture in last year’s protests. Government supporters prefer the red-and-black banners of Ortega’s Sandinista party.
“Long live a free Nicaragua!” Alex Vanegas, 61, exclaimed through the window of one of the vehicles. “While the country may be small, one dreams of it being great.”
Families and lawyers of several prisoners said the released inmates had turned up at their homes.
The government announced that 100 prisoners had been let out on conditional release. The Committee of Relatives of Political Prisoners had earlier put the number at about 60, mostly the elderly or people with health problems.