Nicaragua has voted to strip its opponents of citizenship

MEXICO CITY — Last week, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega transported 222 political leaders, priests, students, activists and other dissidents to the United States, whose release has long been demanded by the international community.

Soon after, Ortega’s government voted to strip the former prisoners of Nicaraguan citizenship. Analysts, legal experts and human rights groups call this a political ploy, but also a violation of international law, which they say is unprecedented in scale and impact, at least in the Western Hemisphere.

A look at what happened:



The expulsion comes amid a broader effort by the Ortega government to end political dissent since anti-government street protests in 2018, which were met with a violent response by Nicaraguan security forces.

Ortega has called his jailed opponents “traitors” and says they were behind the protests, which he says were a foreign-funded plot to topple him. Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans fled the government’s crackdown.

Imprisoning opponents of the government has also become a sensitive issue at the international level, especially in connection with the administration of US President Joe Biden, which has used their detention to justify sanctions against the Central American nation.

The release of the prisoners was in part a tactic to “minimize the public costs of his repression,” especially in the eyes of the international community, said Ivan Briscoe of the International Crisis Group, a nonprofit research group focused on conflict resolution. world.

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“He would prefer to go back to a permanent, low-level authoritarian government where there is no, perhaps no more visible form of abuse, but constant political control,” Briscoe said.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington on Monday that the release of the prisoners was considered a “constructive step” and that Biden’s officials said it would open the door to dialogue between the two countries.

But Ortega’s congress, which simultaneously voted to revoke the citizenship of deported prisoners, is drawing criticism.

“It was by no means a panacea for many of our concerns about the Nicaraguan regime, including the repression and repression it continues to exercise against its own people,” Price said.

Although Nicaragua’s congress still needs to hold a second vote to approve the constitutional amendment that would formally strip the deportees of their citizenship, it was approved unanimously in the first vote. Because of Ortega’s solid power, any other outcome is highly unlikely.

“I think the message is very clear: there will be no opposition on my land,” Briscoe said.



According to Peter J. Spiro, a professor of international law at Temple University, and others, stripping citizenship in this context violates a 1961 treaty adopted by United Nations countries, including Nicaragua, that lays down clear rules to prevent statelessness.

The treaty states that governments “shall not deprive any person or group of persons of their nationality on racial, ethnic, religious or political grounds.”

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Spiro noted that there are circumstances in which governments can revoke citizenship, such as terminating citizenship if someone acquires citizenship in another country when the First Nation prohibits dual citizenship. But according to him, the removal of citizenship is not allowed if it is used as a political weapon.

“This is exile, and exile is contrary to modern notions of human rights,” he said.

Spain offered its citizenship to the 222 exiles, while the United States granted the Nicaraguans two years of temporary protection.

But many ex-prisoners in the United States are undergoing legal and mental changes, says Jennie Lincoln, an academic associated with exiles.

“They are psychologically stateless,” Lincoln said. “They are in shock after spending a day in jail and hours later on a plane to the United States. Imagine the psychological impact of that and then being stripped of your citizenship.”



Analysts and legal experts say Ortega’s move is unprecedented in the Western Hemisphere, both in terms of its size and scope.

Previous cases of states in the region seeking to strip political actors of their citizenship have always been limited.

In Chile in the 1970s, the Pinochet dictatorship stripped Orlando Letelier of his citizenship as he lived in exile, where he faced political oppression in the South American nation.

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Spiro, of Temple University, said Ortega’s action bears some resemblance to what happened in Bahrain in the Middle East.

Over the years, the Bahraini government has stripped hundreds of human rights and political activists, journalists and religious scholars of their nationality, rendering them stateless. According to Human Rights Watch, in 2018 a court stripped 115 people of their citizenship in a mass trial accused of terrorism.

“But Ortega’s move is more visible,” Spiro said.



Experts are particularly concerned about Roman Catholic Bishop Rolando Álvarez, a vocal critic of Ortega, who refused to board the plane to the United States with the other prisoners.

He told those close to him that getting on the plane would be like admitting to a crime he never committed.

Shortly thereafter, Álvarez was sentenced to 26 years in prison – notoriously poor conditions – and stripped of his citizenship in Nicaragua, a move that State Department officials strongly condemned.

This put him in a more extreme legal position than his American counterparts

So far, no one has been able to contact Álvarez, nor has he been able to confirm himself where he is or if he is safe, said a person close to Álvarez, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals.

“From a legal point of view, his future looks absolutely bleak and he knows it,” the man said.