Excerpts from President Daniel Ortega’s speech on February 9
(Translation to English by Stephen Sefton, editing by Nan McCurdy)
In a positive step aimed at contributing to peace, stability and national reconciliation, the Nicaraguan government decided on 9 February to release 222 individuals who were convicted of serious crimes. They actively participated in the US-funded 2018 violent coup attempt to oust the democratically elected government as well as in other destabilization attempts since then. Most had served about 13 months of terms that averaged eight years.
The government’s action has been completely distorted by the corporate media and the US continues to take aim at the country through media disinformation and a mix of illegal sanctions and threats. The 222 were given a choice about going to the US – two decided not to go, and four were not accepted by the US. The US says it is giving them two years of humanitarian parole. Spain has offered them citizenship.
Below is the greater part of President Daniel Ortega’s speech just hours after the US picked up the 222 from Dulles Airport. As you will see, Ortega lays out how this all came about and what happened.
Good afternoon, beloved Nicaraguan brothers, beloved Nicaraguan sisters, beloved families of this blessed and always free Nicaragua.
Here is compañera Rosario Murillo, co-President of the Republic, in truth that’s right, she is co-President of the Republic! We will have to make some reforms to the Constitution… we will have to make some Reforms so that the principle of co-Presidency is established…
On this day, beloved Nicaraguan brothers and sisters, beloved families, an event occurred that I would call surprising, because you have to remember that already on several occasions, in different public events I had been saying that all these people who were in prison, who were detained for attacking sovereignty, acting against peace, against the Nicaraguan people, since they were all agents of foreign powers… that they should be sent abroad. I asked, “Why don’t they take them in?” On another occasion we challenged the US government that has vilified us so much, accusing us of having “political prisoners.”
But after the Congress of the United States was stormed by US citizens of the Republican Party, who were not armed as the terrorists were armed here in April 2018, murdering, burning, destroying. They were not armed; we all saw the scenes when they entered the Congress; the police did not put up much resistance to stop them from entering. And there were two dead, there was a brawl between them and there were two killed. But there were thousands who entered the Congress, and there were two killed, but of course, a lot of destruction.
Then came the persecution and those people were accused of attacking the security and democracy of the great US Nation. And the arrests began. And there in the United States right now, today, when there is not a single terrorist left in prison here in Nicaragua, there in the United States there are more than 1,200 of those who assaulted Congress who are classified as terrorists, are indicted and some of them have already been sentenced to 20, 30 years in prison.
When the Ambassador of the United States was about to go to the US in recent days Rosario suggested to me, why don’t we tell the Ambassador to take all these terrorists away now? Go ahead tell him, I said to her, maybe they’ll listen to you. It really was far from my mind, because it wasn’t about negotiating anything; this should be made very clear!
Already the traitor Sergio Ramirez is making his analysis and saying that we made a mistake, that we should have released a few at a time. [H]e talks about a negotiation. For example, if we had negotiated with them, along the lines of, I’m going to give you 20 now and you give me so-and-so, or I give you another 20 and now you offer me… that is, talking like a mercenary, which he has been, a mercenary. No! This is a matter of principle for us.
We know what their essence is, what the thinking is of all these people, who after all are victims of imperialist policy; they are victims of those who use them, finance them, give them weapons…. How many such stories do we not have! And they send them to work on how to destroy the peace, the stability of a country, as Nicaragua had been enjoying them up until 2018.
And it was an operation where there was funding, on that we have documentation from the embassies, European embassies, European ambassadors, with their signature and handwriting, there in those documents, where they are shown to be conspiring; from the US embassy itself, from then-ambassador Laura Dogu. We have that evidence.
Well, Rosario called the Ambassador [Kevin Sullivan] and asked him. I didn’t expect a positive response, I didn’t really think there would be a positive response, given what they may have imagined: “What are they going to ask us? Are they going to ask us to lift the sanctions on them?” No, we are not asking for the sanctions to be lifted! We are not asking for anything in return! This is a matter of honor, of dignity, of patriotism, that they take their mercenaries, that they take them back, as they took back their mercenaries after the invasion in Cuba. There were more than 1,000 mercenaries captured there, and Fidel sent them back.
Well, the ambassador’s response was that, since he was traveling to the United States, he was going to consult with his superiors. Well, a reply, that I said still didn’t confirm anything for us, but a reasonable answer: “I’m going to consult.”
Then the matter took off with dizzying speed, when they asked how many we might be going to release… All of them! And they asked us in particular about one person, whether this included Alvarez too, the Bishop [Rolando] Alvarez? Him too! We do not want a trace of the Empire’s mercenaries to remain here in our country.
Then they asked us to send a list and that meant a race by our compañeras and compañeros in the Judiciary, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Interior Ministry; indeed, it was an intense job. We had just hours, because already at that moment they replied that they were willing to take them all on a single flight. And they already gave us a date, which was the 9th, that the plane would arrive. That is, today, the plane was to arrive here in Managua, but in order not to create expectations we decided on silence, since we could not start discussing this event as if it had already happened, because, if then it did not take place, we would look ridiculous.
So, they complied and, naturally, we complied and it must be recognized that this matter was taken seriously by them, as we too took it very seriously. And when they asked us what we hope to get out of it? Nothing! Let them all be taken away, that’s all. I mean, it wasn’t about negotiating. There has been no negotiation here! This should be made clear. Because the country’s sovereignty, the nation’s dignity, is not up for negotiation, it is simply not negotiable!
And we prepared the lists; here I have the original list that was sent to them. In this original list there were in total, from all over the country, 228. That is the list we had of all these people who had participated in acts against sovereignty, against peace, against the Nicaraguan people… 228. I mean to say, we excluded no one.
In this original list … here are the signatures of the judges who signed it: The Tribunal of Appeal’s First Criminal Court, this was signed by the Court yesterday, February 8th at 5.45pm. And this list was sent to them, and everything was in motion because it had already been announced that the plane was on its way. And in this list, here he is, at number 92, Rolando José Álvarez Lagos, ID number 001-271166-0061F.… He wasn’t excluded from the list; there he is.
Well, they received this list and then they communicated back to us, all this in a hurry, because at the time we were making plans with the police to transfer all the prisoners who were in different places, from the prisons of San Carlos; there were coup plotters there, in Chinandega, in León, in all the country’s departments; in some there were more, in others there were fewer.… In the Tipitapa Prison that is known as the Model Prison, and in the Judicial Auxiliary Facility, that’s where most of them were.
And it was an operation that had to be carried out with great discipline, with a lot of organization, to avoid any accidents, because the prisoners that were being brought did not know where they were going. They may have speculated, and those from the departments may have wondered whether they were being brought to the Model Prison, while those in the Model Prison may have thought they were being taken who knows where. That is to say, they were being transferred to gather them at points from where they could then be transferred to the Air Force base where the plane for them would be parked; and of course there was direct coordination with the Army, with General [Julio] Avilés, who with his compañeros was also ensuring the necessary conditions.
And the first response they gave us to … the original list with 228 names, they reply to us, that from the list they do not accept four of the prisoners who are there for their crimes: One named Eliseo de Jesús Castro Baltodano; another named Walner Antonio Ruiz Rivera; another named José Manuel Urbina Lara, quite well-known; and another named Jaime Enrique Navarrete Blandón.
The US said they couldn’t take them, they didn’t give us reasons and we weren’t going to ask them for reasons, but what they told us was that, since they were already processing the list, while we started from the principle that the list we had given them was the one of the people they were going to take, and they thought that we were going to argue.. But if they don’t want them, then they don’t want them! You see, how badly you get paid by the ones who used you! How badly you are recompensed by the ones who said they cared about you and funded you! They didn’t want them, neither Eliseo, nor Walner, nor José Manuel Urbina Lara, nor Jaime Enrique Navarrete.
So then, when the process was already under way, already there on the Air Force runway where the plane was, they entered it one by one, a really extraordinary operation, carried out with great coordination.… And the people themselves were also very orderly, they made no fuss, they didn’t make a scene, everyone entered, climbing the steps to the plane, well, maybe they were surprised, but of course they were not going to stop getting on to the plane.
So they go up the steps of the plane and there were two who refused to go: One of them, Fanor Alejandro Ramos, who from what we can tell we understand why. This 50-year-old Fanor Alejandro Ramos is in the Tipitapa Prison sentenced to 8 years for storing drugs – 369 kilos of cocaine and at the time of his arrest he was found to have a Glock pistol. He was there in 2018 accompanying the coup promoters; he was held under of the Third Criminal District Court and has served 3 years and 1 month in prison. So why didn’t he accept? No doubt he was afraid that once in the United States and with his record they would open proceedings against him, investigate him, find connections with drug activity in the United States and he would end up with life imprisonment, or in the electric chair, or even with the death penalty. So he preferred not to get on the plane.
The other one who refused to get on the plane, as he himself stated, was Álvarez. But before looking at that there was another person the Embassy did not accept … Eliseo de Jesús Castro Baltodano, and let’s explain a little why maybe they did not want to take him. He was a member of a criminal gang called “Crosti,” that made bombs and home-made weapons; and they continued to do so in 2019, after 2018 they continued those terrorist activities. Of course, in 2006, you see, long before April 2018, on February 6, 2006. Eliseo Castro had been deported from the United States after having served a sentence of eight years and three months for assaults on women…. Eight years! Why would anyone want him back! He didn’t want to go back either and, for their part, the Embassy didn’t want him because they knew his record.
Now let’s talk about this individual, Alvarez. Well, when he is standing in line, he had already arrived at the steps up to the plane … and then he started to say that he would not leave, that he needed to talk to the bishops first, meet with the bishops, and he demanded a meeting with the bishops. Something absurd! If there has been a decision of the Nicaraguan State…How many priests, how many bishops, how many cardinals have been tried and are being tried and imprisoned in the World? In the United States, in Canada, in Europe, there are terrible scandals because of all the crimes committed by priests, bishops, cardinals, yes, and there is an internecine war where they even attack the Pope, some of them insult him.… But it doesn’t occur to anyone in the United States to say, “Wait, I want to talk to the bishops because they want to throw me in prison.” And they do put them in prison; they try them; then they convict them, and there are cases like that everywhere.
I do not know what this gentleman was thinking, that faced with a decision of the Nicaraguan State he comes along and says that he refuses to comply with a resolution of a court of justice of the Nicaraguan State, ordering him to leave the country. He says that he refuses to comply and wants a meeting with the bishops. Furthermore, since several priests were already on the plane … and they are now in the United States, he says that in order for him to leave, all those priests should be called back, because he needed to talk to them, and they should get off the plane so they can talk to him and also the bishops should arrive to talk to him.
In sum, we could not, because the other side did not allow for that. In the agreement the US authorities did not allow us to forcibly put anyone on the plane who did not want to leave for the United States, so we could not make him get on by force. If it were a deportation, there would have been no problem, because what would the Nicaraguan State do to him? Quite simply, if he doesn’t want to get on the plane, he gets put on the plane, gets handcuffed and goes where he is sent. But since the US side explained they could not accept anyone who did not want to go, and since this gentleman did not want to go, then, back as you were!
He had been treated in an incredible way, like no prisoner in the history of this country. I was imprisoned for seven years and one month and I have never known the story of a prisoner who had been treated in the way this man was treated.
Well, now he is in the Model Prison, of course, since he is an ordinary man, “the habit doesn’t make the monk.” What we have here is the arrogant behavior of someone who already considers himself the head of the Church in Nicaragua, a leader of the Church in Latin America, and maybe he even thinks about his chances of occupying the position of His Holiness the Pope. Indeed, he’s crazy, out of his mind!
But in any case, that will have to be worked out now, to begin with, the judicial authorities who are of course well informed of this man’s case, and the medical authorities who will have to take care of him, because now that he has arrived at the Model prison, he has behaved like a man possessed; that is to say, he hasn’t the courage, nor can he have the courage of Christ, who endured scourging and crucifixion… No, he can’t even accept being put in a prison where there are hundreds of other prisoners!
I know those cells well, I lived in those cells for more than 7 years, I know them well and it’s nothing fatal, prison is prison, and that’s that.
Ah, but since he was under house arrest, special meals were made for him every day, the doctors came twice a day, the nuns came to cook for him, and it was a mansion! It’s not that he lived in a small public housing project; it’s not that he lived in a regular house like the one Cardinal [Leopoldo] Brenes lives in there in Altagracia; no, that’s a humble house. His was a mansion, he lived in a mansion, and his whole family lives there, each one has their own mansion; so he’s irritated now because he’s … in jail.
Such is the case of this man who simply refused to comply, that is, he is enraged and refusing to obey the decision of the Nicaraguan State, because he could willingly go to Miami, go to join [Auxiliary Bishop] Silvio Baez there, and rant away along with Baez and company; but since it is the Nicaraguan state that ordered his deportation then he is … overcome with rage, fury, and well, it was he who decided, and now there he is in prison.
Furthermore, eleven prisoners who were in the Judicial Auxiliary Facility, eleven in total, all of them religious, priests, eleven: Benito Enrique Martínez Gamboa, a priest, made no fuss and got on the plane, and now he is in the United States; Raúl Antonio Vega González, a deacon, also got on the plane; Sadiel Antonio Eugarrios Cano, a priest, also got on the plane; Ramiro Reynaldo Tijerino Chávez, also got on the plane, a priest; Oscar Danilo Benavidez Dávila, a priest , also got on the plane; Sergio José Cárdenas Flores, a lay religious, also got on the plane; José Luis Díaz Cruz, a priest, also got on the plane; Melkin Antonio Centeno Sequeira, a seminarian, also got on the plane; Darvin Esteyling Leiva Mendoza, another seminarian, also got on the plane; Manuel Antonio Obando Cortedano, a lay religious, also got on the plane; and Wilberto Artola Mejía, a layman, also got on the plane.
That is, eleven people, including priests, religious and lay community members, all of them got on the plane, left on the plane. Who are the only priests who are detained in the country? Well, one – Álvarez, who did not want to comply with what the law commands…
Then there are two priests who are detained, one, from Boaco, accused of raping a 13-year-old girl; he is from Boaco, the girl’s family accused him. They accused him in that case and he has nothing to do with politics; it is simply a common crime, and he is in the Jorge Navarro Penitentiary in Tipitapa. The other priest under arrest is from Nandaime for the crime of grievous bodily harm and psychological violence. I think you may all remember this case of the [priest] who appeared with a machete. That was something publicly known; it’s nothing political. He just went out with the machete assaulting, fighting with a woman; for that he is under arrest.
They are the only ones who are detained; these two, for common crimes and the other for terrorism, the Bishop, for being a terrorist.
In this way we want to make very clear the events leading to 222 of those people who were called “political prisoners” being sent to the United States. They have already been received at the airport, an airport there in the United States. They are already being taken care of and they are very happy. I saw some film on Colombian television; they took some footage of them there.
In fact, this is nothing more than a message for peace, for stability, so that the Nicaraguan people can be sure that everything we do is to ensure peace.
And from the United States government, as I was telling you, we have asked for absolutely nothing, nothing! This is not a barter; this is not a case of “I give you this and you give me that”…. No! This is a matter of principle, of dignity, and what it does is confirm that those people are returning to the country that used them, its rulers, not the US people; their rulers used them to sow terror, death, and destruction, here in Nicaragua.
That is what is very clear, you see, and that is the lesson we Nicaraguans have to learn, and thank God, of course we thank God. Because I really did not believe, though I heard that Rosario was in touch and that they were saying this, saying that, we just have to remove this one, that everything was ready. But I said: “As long as we don’t see the plane here, as long as the plane isn’t here we can’t think that it’s all over….”
And thank God the miracle happened, because this people, the people of Cacique Diriangén, the people of Andrés Castro and José Dolores Estrada, the people of Benjamín Zeledón, the people of General Sandino, the people of Carlos Fonseca, the people of Tomás Borge, the people of Father Miguel d’Escoto who would be turning 90 now, this people of so many Heroes and Martyrs, it has been possible to cultivate and continue to make this people flourish despite the fact that there have been attacks, attacks looking for how to sweep away the dignity, the heroism of Nicaragua’s people. This people, thank God, has the strength to undertake the greatest battles, face the greatest challenges, and achieve peace, like the peace we managed to reconquer after April 2018, this peace that we are enjoying now. And now that the coup plotters have gone, the mercenaries, well, we can breathe with more peace here in Nicaragua…. Thank God! And long live Nicaragua, Blessed and always free!
By Nan McCurdy
This is an Emergency!
Alliance for Global Justice and its fiscally-sponsored projects like the Nicaragua Solidarity Fund are under attack by right-wing media. They have convinced the company that handles our credit card donations to block AfGJ and its projects from use of a critical fundraising tool – online donations. As of this writing AfGJ cannot accept credit card donations – and neither can the 140 organizations that rely on the AfGJ to provide them with fiscal sponsorship.
We have to resort to old-fashioned techniques, and we need your solidarity:
- Paper checks, mailed to AfGJ, 225 E. 26th St., Tucson, AZ 85713. In this case you would write Nicaragua Solidarity Fund in the memo line.
- A phone tree that can be used to mobilize supporters when attacks occur. We are looking for supporters such as you to join that phone tree. Please send us your name and phone number, and let us know that you’d like to participate. (Please send to [email protected].)
- Spread the word! Use whatever platforms you have at your disposal – including word of mouth.
222 Convicts Deported to the United States with the State Department
At a press conference on Feb. 9 in the Judicial Complex of Managua, the deportation, in collaboration with the US Department of State, of 222 prisoners convicted of treason and other crimes was announced. “In accordance [with the] Law for the Defense of the Rights of the People, Independence, Sovereignty and Self-Determination … the immediate and effective deportation of 222 persons is ordered.” The announcement went on to say that “the persons have already been deported from the country, for which the respective official letters have been sent,” [A plane sent by the US State Department flew them out early on Feb. 9th to Dulles Airport outside Washington, DC]. “The deportees were declared traitors and punished for different serious crimes and disqualified perpetually from exercising public functions in the service of the state, or positions of popular election, as their citizenship rights are perpetually suspended.” [Editor’s note: The new law under which Nicaraguans can lose their citizenship because of treasonous acts is very similar to US Code 1481 under which a citizen can lose their US citizenship by “(7) committing any act of treason against, or attempting by force to overthrow, or bearing arms against, the United States, … by engaging in a conspiracy to overthrow, put down, or to destroy by force the Government of the United States, or to levy war against them, if and when he is convicted thereof by a court martial or by a court of competent jurisdiction.] (TN8.tv, 9 Feb. 2023)
Nicaraguans March to Celebrate Government’s Decision
The Nicaraguan people in at least 30 cities marched and gathered to support the decision of the justice system to perpetually suspend the nationality of 222 people convicted of treason, who were deported to the US. “The sovereignty of a people is not discussed, it is defended with weapons in hand and it is defended with the vindication of the social rights of the people,” stated Carlos Espinoza, from the Worker’s Central. In Managua, thousands of people walked for hours, chanting slogans like “Sovereignty is not up for discussion.” When they reached their destination on Bolivar Avenue near the Chavez circle the atmosphere was festive with a music group performing revolutionary music. “This afternoon we are celebrating that all those traitors are gone; we do not want them here.” said María Luisa Pérez. Luis Martínez pointed out that he supports this revolutionary process saying, “It has brought love, peace and progress for the benefit of the poorest and neediest people.” There were similar marches and activities in Masaya, Bilwi, Bluefields, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Rosita, Bonanza, Siuna, Jinotepe, Prinzapolka, Mulukukú, Paiwas, Boaco, to name a few. See photos: HERE and HERE (TN8tv, 11 Feb. 2023)
New Port Complex in Puerto Sandino
The National Port Authority (EPN) inaugurated the new port complex in Puerto Sandino, León Department, on Feb. 10. EPN President Virgilio Silva stated that “The US$64 million project seeks to improve services for importers and exporters through modernization of equipment and technological innovation, offering companies greater fluidity and quality of service.” (Nicaragua News, 14 Feb. 2023)
New Solar Panel Systems in Two Communities
The National Electricity Transmission Company inaugurated a 305-solar panel system in Las Barandas community of Siuna, North Caribbean Autonomous Region benefiting 1,571 inhabitants. The US$653,000 project was funded by the general budget. A 348-solar panel electrical system for three communities of El Castillo municipality, Río San Juan Department, benefiting 1,831 inhabitants was also inaugurated. The US$777,658 funding was provided by the General Budget with support from the Export and Import Bank of South Korea. Both projects are part of the Supply and Installation of Solar Panels in Rural Areas Project of the National Program for Sustainable Electrification and Renewable Energy that the Government is implementing. (Nicaragua News, 9 Feb. and 14 Feb. 2023)
Nicaragua Second-Safest Country in the Americas
A study published Feb. 8 by the US magazine Insight Crime entitled “2022 Homicide Roundup” on Latin America and the Caribbean reports that, with a homicide rate of 6.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, Nicaragua continues to be the country in Central America with the lowest rate and with the second lowest rate in Latin America, surpassed only by Chile. (Nicaragua News, 13 Feb. 2023)
Strengthening Food Sovereignty through Family Gardens
The Ministry of Family Economy published a report on advances of the Healthy Garden Program which states that 107,836 plants, including fruit, vegetables, roots, tubers, and medicinals were delivered to 2,799 small producers in 2022 to establish 1,958 family gardens in the 153 municipalities of the country. The Healthy Garden Program is part of the Creative Economy Model being implemented to strengthen food security. (Nicaragua News, 13 Feb. 2022)
165th Fire Station in San Francisco del Norte
The inhabitants of San Francisco del Norte, Department of Chinandega, now feel safer thanks to the construction of a new fire station. The station has 11 employees who will be able to attend to emergencies such as gas leaks, short circuits, pre-hospital care, animal rescue, forest and home fires. Daniel Vado, director of the Fire Fighters’ Academy, said, “The Fire Station is part of the strategy to grow in infrastructure and personnel. It is an important part of the vision of the government to make Nicaragua safer, to protect life, material goods and serve the people 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.” This is the 165th station built and equipped in the country. See photos: https://www.tn8.tv/departamentos/la-estacion-de-bomberos-no-165-esta-en-san-francisco-del-norte-chinandega/ (TN8tv, 14 Feb. 2023)
Nicaragua Expels Italian Priest Wanted by INTERPOL for Sex Crimes
On February 14, the Ministry of the Interior of Nicaragua (MIGOB) reported that INTERPOL Italy requested the flight itinerary of the Italian priest Cosimo Damiano Muratori, who is wanted in Italy for the crime of sexual violence. He was sentenced to four years and six months in prison in the city of Perugia, Italy, in November 2019. In 2014, he was assigned to Nicaragua by his order, despite his crimes. (Canal4.com.ni, 14 Feb. 2023)