Breaking News
More () »

Nicaraguan Presidential candidate among 222 political prisoners released to U.S.

For 20 long months, Juan Sebastian Chamorro sat in a prison cell thinking he had 12 more years to serve simply for opposing the man in power.

ATLANTA — Tension is high in Nicaragua right now.

This week, the government shut down its biggest business association, the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), and several Chambers of Commerce to crack down on people who oppose the country’s President Daniel Ortega.

Many of those business leaders are among the 222 political prisoners living in the United States after the Nicaraguan government suddenly released them and put them on a plane to the U.S.

One of the prisoners on that plane was a candidate running for president of Nicaragua, Juan Sebastian Chamorro. 11Alive reporter Christie Diez spoke to him one-on-one right after he got to the United States.

“I'm an economist. I ran in this pre-campaign in 2021 for the presidency of Nicaragua and that's the reason why I got captured by the police [on] June 8, 2021, at night in my house,” Chamorro said. “I decided to run along with our six colleagues, and all of us were captured.”

On June 8, 2021, Chamorro said dozens of police showed up at his house.

“They came in and I say, 'I'm here. I'm not showing any resistance. Don't do anything to my wife.' I saw her at the door, and that was the last time I saw her,” he said.

More than 200 others were also imprisoned, considered political enemies of the Daniel Ortega regime.

“They accused me of treason to the homeland, which is an invention. You know, the typical language that dictatorships love to use all the time,” Chamorro said.

For 20 long months, Chamorro sat in El Nuevo Chipote's prison cell, thinking he had 12 more years to serve simply for opposing the man in power.

“This is a high-security prison where I stay behind bars without communicating with my family for a year and a half,” Chamorro said. “I didn't know what happened to my family. I learned that my wife had run into exile. I obviously was devastated and separated.”

Suddenly, after one year and eight months, Chamorro said guards came in, pulled him from his cell in the middle of the night, ushered him onto a bus, and then to a plane.

It wasn’t until he saw people from the American embassy next to the plane that he knew where he was going.

“They did not tell us anything about where we were heading. We thought we were going to another jail,” Chamorro said. “We were deported basically to the United States.”

Bittersweet tears fell as he and 221 others hugged and cheered on the plane, stripped of their nationality but headed to freedom.

For legal matters, we don't have a country at this moment. From a spiritual and moral point of view, we will continue to be Nicaraguans. There is no way legislation can strip out of your nationality. This is a right that everybody in the world has. This tells you how the dictatorships throughout the world work,” Chamorro said.

The Biden Administration orchestrated the release under the humanitarian parole program announced in January.

Since the release of Chamorro and 221 others, the Nicaraguan government has moved to strip the nationality from another 94 citizens it calls traitors, a move the U.S. State Department calls “a step backward for the Nicaraguan people.”

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said while “we welcome the release of 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners by the Government of Nicaragua, the cancellation of their Nicaraguan citizenship in absentia is an especially egregious act.”

The Nicaraguan presidency runs in Chamorro’s blood. His aunt, Violeta Barrios Torres de Chamorro, served as president from 1990-1997 and served as Central America’s first female president.

“There have been several dictatorships in Nicaragua. This is not the first dictatorship. My family itself has suffered exile, jail, and assassinations. But always, always the final result has been liberty and democracy,” Chamorro said. “In 1990, Violeta Chamorro won a democratic election against Daniel Ortega, the very same man who put me in jail. So that first dictatorship of Ortega ended, and the second one will end as well.”

Chamorro is hopeful that one day, under different leadership, he can return home.

"It was a beautiful expression of generosity by the American people. I'm reunited with my wife and my daughter because of what America did," Chamorro said.

Before You Leave, Check This Out