Nicaragua’s Future Leaders Are in Ortega’s Prisons, Activist Says

For Maradiaga, the departure of Ortega through free elections is feasible, and will depend on the decision the president makes about whether he wants to govern ashes or accept the bridge of opportunity offered by the international community


GENEVA – The future leaders of Nicaragua are currently in Daniel Ortega’s prisons, making the release of political prisoners the first step toward building a valid alternative to the Sandinista regime, said Felix Maradiaga at the 2019 Geneva Summit.

Felix Maradiaga at UN opening of 2019 Geneva Summit

Maradiaga, human rights defender and social entrepreneur, currently recognized as one of the main opposition voices to the Ortega regime, left Nicaragua after a judge ordered his arrest on charges of financing “terrorist activities,” which is how Nicaraguan authorities refer to the sometimes violent anti-government protests that began last April.

In Geneva, Maradiaga has been one of the speakers at the Summit for Human Rights and Democracy organized each year by a select group of NGOs that work for this cause and that seek to expose the most emblematic cases of persecution against activists from different parts of the world, are in freedom or in captivity.


Ortega, in his eagerness to quell the protests and drown the dissidence, has imprisoned several of its most prominent leaders, denounces the human rights defender, who in an interview with Efe Maradiaga explains that for this reason the opposition has a tacit agreement to postpone the discussion about who will represent it in case of elections.

“There are many names, but the consensus we have is not to initiate an open discussion about it until the political prisoners are freed because many of the most hopeful faces and voices are in jail,” he says.

The government has offered the maximum concession that will release prisoners of conscience within 90 days, which the opposition as a whole considers an excessive deadline.

For Maradiaga, “the departure of Ortega through free elections is feasible,” and will depend on the decision the president makes about “whether he wants to govern ashes or accept the bridge of opportunity offered by the international community,” Maradiaga said.

The analyst believes that in this dilemma Ortega is not alone because its collapse will also imply that of his political party, his relatives and his family, who have important assets they wish to preserve.

The democratic way out, however, is to build a credible political option in a context in which “half of Nicaraguans would not know who to vote for” if the elections were tomorrow.

“In the best estimates he (Ortega) has a 22% support and it is in his hands to avoid that the collapse is long and painful, I am forced to be very cold in the analysis and to recognize that no one individually (in the opposition) has that support,” Maradiaga says.

The regime was in charge of dismantling the political parties, but it has not been able to silence the demonstrators, despite the violent repression, the 325 deaths documented by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (more than 500 according to local NGOs), the 642 detainees in the prisons and another 150 people under house arrest.

Maradiaga, who held a senior post in the Nicaraguan Defense Ministry under a previous government, says he has no doubt that Ortega is betting on an amnesty. “It would be irresponsible not to admit that this is what he has in mind, but our role is not to think in the short term and any formula that includes some kind of impunity would not be sustainable and it would lead the country to a new cycle of violence,” Maradiaga said.

Maradiaga’s reflections and denunciations have been heard in multiple forums, from the Security Council of the UN in New York to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, assuming the risks involved in being one of the most visible figures of the opposition in the exterior.

His wife and daughter share his exile, but the rest of his family is in Nicaragua and is vulnerable to reprisals, which has already suffered attacks on their property.

To watch the video in the original Spanish, click here.

Though Maradiaga’s wife and daughter accompanied him into exile, the rest of his family still lives in Nicaragua and remain vulnerable to reprisals, such as they have already occurred.

The threats do not intimidate him and is not only determined to continue in the fight, but to return to Nicaragua “at the least expected moment, but sooner than many people imagine” .

“I will return, one way or another, and I will not wait for Ortega to leave,” he insists.

Read here the EFE article on leading Nicaraguan dissident Felix Maradiaga, in original Spanish

Quotes of Felix Maradiaga, Nicaraguan opposition leader, and human rights activist, at the 11th Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy

On human rights abuses in Nicaragua:

“It was the case of the child Conrado Alvaro, who was shot in the neck as he carried water to students protesting in Managua on April 20. While he shouted ‘It pains me to breathe,’ his companions tried to save his life, but the Ortega regime had already ordered that the wounded of the protests were not to be treated in public hospitals.”

“Franco Valdivia—another university student, singer and father of a girl – was killed with a high-precision shot in his eye. In one of Franco’s songs, he tells us ‘I want death to return to me what life has taken from me…’”

“In little more than ten months, more than 82,000 Nicaraguans have been exiled, more than 2,000 political prisoners have passed through the prisons, of which more than 650 are still under arbitrary arrest. They still remain in jail…”

Call for help from the international community:

“I come before you, with a great weight in my heart for the sacred respect to that bloodshed, in order to ask you: Do not leave us alone. Help us in our determination to build peace with freedom. That peace is only possible with the right to memory, truth and justice.”

On authoritarianism:

“A lesson learned from the Nicaraguan odyssey is that the apparent stability that many authoritarian regimes claim to assure is a single illusion when there is an absence of freedoms.”

“Peace without freedom, is the peace of the grave.”

“Since April 2018, very few people around the world doubt that Nicaragua is a dictatorship.”

“I come here with a conviction and hope that the world will continue to support the struggle of my people to build a free and open society.”

“I strongly believe that civil resistance and nonviolence are the only direct ways available in today’s world to consolidate democracy.”