Carlos Valle, ex concejal opositor de la Alcaldía de Managua.

Protests and deportations mark 2023 in Nicaragua. At the beginning of 2024, the nation faces the detention of 119 political prisoners, including religious leaders, causing international concern.

By Emma Amador


Faced with the gradual advance over the course of 11 years of the dismantling of democracy and public freedoms by the ruling Sandinista Front, the people who appeared to be distracted took to the streets in protest against the reforms to Social Security that would affect pensioners and contributors.

The totalitarian and dictatorial behavior of the ruling leadership of the Sandinista National Liberation Front party, represented by the presidential couple Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo in the positions of president and vice president, reacts abruptly using force to dismantle any hint of protest .

University students and civil society unite in rejection of the reforms, repression, arrests, kidnappings and homicides against protesters.

Elsa and Carlos Valle: Trajectories marked by repression in Nicaragua

Elsa Valle, an 18-year-old student, is one of the thousands of young people who are fighting for their rights. She is the daughter of former guerrilla Carlos Valle and joined students at the Polytechnic University of Nicaragua, UPOLI, later confiscated by the government.

Elsa was captured by the National Police on July 11, 2018, her father Carlos Valle, former Sandinista guerrilla, former soldier of the Sandinista Popular Army, graduated in Political Sciences in Cuba, experienced firsthand the deficiencies and shortages suffered by the Cuban people, which led him to withdraw from the FSLN.

Carlos Valle was seen in Nicaragua in the most critical months of the protests, demanding Elsa’s freedom, along with dozens of relatives of detainees, defying police repression; He marches in the streets wearing a banner around his neck with the photograph of his daughter.

Between amnesty and persecution

Due to a health situation, Elsa is released from prison and sent home, but her father is captured and remains 11 months in El Chipote prison, a newly built penitentiary center, known in the country for its maximum security conditions, being released under an amnesty agreement in 2019, Law No.996, – Nicaragua Amnesty Law – despite that law, the regime permanently monitors and harasses it.

Carlos valle
Carlos Valle and his daughter Elsa Valle.

Carlos decides to keep a low profile, without participating in protests or actions that imply opposing the government; However, his strategy does not work for him because on November 4, 2022, when his family makes the decision to leave the country, he is once again captured by the regime.

On February 9, 2023, through an agreement between the United States government and the FSLN Government, 222 people were deported, including Carlos Valle. When these political prisoners boarded a plane that would take them on their journey of no return, they were given a Nicaraguan passport, an essential document for their entry into the host country.

Hours after their deportation to Washington, they are declared exiled by the Nicaraguan parliament.

This was Operation Nica Welcome

The plane took off after midnight, almost empty. Sitting in a virtually deserted cabin, 10 U.S. Civil Service and Foreign Service officers chatted, listened to music and tried to calm their nerves.

One returned to an empty seat to pray. Two days before, most had no idea what was about to happen. Lance Hegerle, then deputy director of Central American Affairs at the State Department, had approached inviting colleagues to a mission with the smallest details: Spanish speakers, air travel, diplomatic passport, twenty-four hours.

Just before takeoff from a naval base in Norfolk, Virginia, late on February 8, 2023, the team learned its mission in full. It sounded more like Hollywood than HST. They would leave Norfolk Naval Station on a USAID-funded plane, land in Managua, fill the plane with some 200 political prisoners taken hours earlier from their cells, and fly them to the United States, all in a matter of hours.

The mission was not secret, but lives were at stake. Loose lips could sink the trip, condemning political prisoners to remain imprisoned under the regime of Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo. Many political prisoners had spent years behind bars.

Logistics, agreements, and the path to freedom

The plan to free them emerged in a matter of days, after long months of covert diplomacy. It came to fruition on January 29, when Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Denis Moncada posed an unexpected question to then-ambassador Kevin Sullivan, who had headed the U.S. Embassy in Managua since 2018: Would the United States accept all the political prisoners in Nicaragua?

A flurry of activity followed. Ambassador Sullivan boarded a plane bound for Washington to mobilize the interagency response, entrusting chargé d’affaires Carla Fleharty and a small embassy team with the task of reaching an agreement with the regime on logistics, timelines and ensuring that only prisoners who freely consented would leave for the United States.

Negotiations with the regime were difficult until the last minute, when the ambassador overcame a major disagreement that had threatened to derail the entire operation. Once that phone call was over, Operation Single Welcome was underway.

As the plane flew from Norfolk to Nicaragua, an embassy team met in Managua. Chargé d’Affaires Fleharty, Acting Deputy Chief of Mission Ryan Reid; the Information Officer, Gaby Canavati; Acting Consular Chief, Katie Jonas; Acting Regional Security Officer Will LaChance and Defense Attaché Lt. Col. Dennis Rhoan climbed into an SUV, carrying a large plastic box filled with more than 220 passports.

The ongoing wave of exiles in Nicaragua

After the exile of Carlos Valle and the 221 political prisoners, 94 more Nicaraguans were declared stateless, including human rights defenders, writers, journalists, university rectors, politicians, priests and nuns.

Carlos Valle
Carlos Valle, with his family in the United States.

The wave of expulsions does not stop despite the fact that Nicaragua is a member of the United Nations Organization -UN, an entity that through its structure and dynamics in favor of the well-being of societies, through various conventions has determined that the States They must establish nationality safeguards in their laws to prevent statelessness.

The charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights approved on December 10, 1948 in article 15 states that: “Every individual has the right to have a nationality and no one may be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality or the right to change it.” of nationality”, it is obviously understood that at the will of the individual, not forced as has been the case of the more than 300 Nicaraguans who in 2023 were exiled by Ortega.

For this year 2024 things cannot be better for the Nicaraguan people, this country closed the year 2023 with 119 political prisoners including 2 bishops and 13 priests.


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