US calls for ‘dialogue’ in rare direct contact with Nicaragua govt

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Top US diplomat Antony Blinken on Friday spoke with his Nicaraguan counterpart in a rare high-level exchange, a day after the Central American nation released 222 detained regime critics and exiled them to the United States.

Ties between the countries have sharply deteriorated in recent years with Washington imposing a slew of sanctions over leftist President Daniel Ortega’s crackdown on Nicaragua’s political opposition.

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The 222 prisoners were previously detained in a wave of repression that followed 2018 anti-government protests demanding Ortega cede power.

Secretary of State Blinken and Foreign Minister Denis Moncada discussed the prisoners as well as “the importance of constructive dialogue,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

After weeks of behind-the-scenes talks with Washington, Ortega’s government allowed the detainees to board a chartered flight to Washington.

Price previously said everyone in the group had consented to travel to the United States, except two who chose to stay in Nicaragua.

US officials said they would allow the former prisoners to stay for at least two years and would provide medical and legal support.

A court official in Nicaragua’s capital Managua had said the prisoners were “deported” and called them “traitors to the homeland.”

Nicaragua’s legislature has moved to strip the dissidents of their citizenship, which must be voted on this year to become law.

Spain has offered them citizenship.

The United States on Thursday welcomed the release of the dissidents but said the move was made unilaterally without any promises from Ortega.

Ortega has denied the mass release was the result of negotiations with the United States.

Catholic bishop Rolando Alvarez, one of the detainees who refused to travel to Washington, was sentenced to 26 years in prison on Friday, stripped of his citizenship and fined.

Defeated in 1990 elections, Ortega returned to power in 2007, and has since engaged in increasingly authoritarian practices, quashing presidential term limits and seizing control of all branches of the state.

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Spain offers citizenship to freed Nicaragua dissidents

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