The top US envoy calls for ‘dialogue’ in a rare conversation with Nicaragua’s foreign minister | News

Blinken called for dialogue in a rare high-level contact between the countries, a day after 222 prisoners were released.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his Nicaraguan counterpart, Foreign Minister Denis Moncada, in a rare high-level contact between the two countries.

Friday’s call came a day after Managua freed 222 political prisoners arrested in a crackdown amid anti-government protests that began in the Latin American country in 2018. Most of those prisoners were allowed to travel to the United States.

The move is seen as an attempt by President Daniel Ortega to start mending ties with the US. Relations have seriously deteriorated in recent years as regional and Western powers have increasingly condemned Ortega’s actions and Washington has imposed a series of sanctions.

In a brief statement released after Friday’s call, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken and Moncada discussed the prisoners and the “importance of constructive dialogue”.

Price previously said weeks of negotiations preceded the prisoner’s release, although Ortega denied extensive talks leading up to the release.

Washington said Ortega was not promised anything in exchange for the prisoner’s release.

U.S. officials said all those freed traveled to the U.S. except for two prisoners who chose to stay in Nicaragua.

One of those prisoners who decided to stay, Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez, was sentenced on Friday to 26 years in prison, stripped of his citizenship and fined.

US officials said they would allow the ex-prisoners to stay in the country for at least two years and would provide medical and legal support. Spain later said it would offer citizenship to those freed.

A court official in Nicaragua’s capital Managua, meanwhile, said the prisoners had been “deported” and called them “traitors to the country”.

Speaking during a news conference on Friday, opposition leader Juan Sebastian Chamorro, who was among those freed, said Ortega freed the prisoners after “political pressure” mounted.

“I think (Ortega) actually wanted to send the opposition out of the country into exile,” he said.

A former revolutionary, Ortega was president of Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990.

He returned to the presidency in 2007 and has been increasingly accused of rights abuses and attempts to consolidate power, including abolishing presidential term limits and taking control of all branches of government.

After mass arrests of opposition figures, Ortega easily won a fourth term in office in November 2021.

At the time, US President Joe Biden denounced the election as a “pantomime election”.

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