Nicaraguan opposition slams government’s no show at talks

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaraguan opposition leaders returned to the negotiating table Wednesday at a business center where talks on resolving the country’s political crisis stalled months ago, but there was nobody there to talk to.

In what was apparently a bit of theater designed to call attention to the political stalemate that’s over a year old — the government had given no signal that its delegates would respond to the unilateral call to restart talks — the Civic Alliance opposition group accused President Daniel Ortega’s administration of intransigence.

“The government has killed the negotiation,” said opposition politician José Pallais, who took part in the February-May negotiations after which more than 700 people the alliance considered political prisoners for their participation in anti-government protests were released.

Starting now, Pallais said, “the ability to re-establish (dialogue) depends on diplomatic efforts by the Organization of American States,” which in July gave both sides a period of 75 days. The Civic Alliance suspended the talks two months ago.

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There was no immediate comment from Ortega’s government.

In a statement released after waiting over an hour at the business center on the southern edge of the capital, Managua, the alliance said talks are urgently needed because “the political, social and economic crisis continues to deteriorate and the civic path is the one chosen by the Nicaraguan people.”

The crisis erupted in April 2018 with protests that quickly broadened to demand Ortega’s exit from office. Government opponents accused him of concentrating power and governing with an authoritarian bent.

The demonstrations were met with a crackdown by security forces and armed, pro-government militias. At least 325 people were killed, more than 2,000 wounded, hundreds jailed and thousands fled to exile, according to rights monitors.

The opposition wants Ortega, 73, to negotiate electoral reform and early elections. The president has ruled out leaving office early and in his most recent appearance at a political event said his Sandinista movement “is ready to win” elections in 2021.

The protests have all but died out — the government enacted a de facto ban on opposition demonstrations — and Ortega apparently feels no need to negotiate further. His government says it has released all prisoners covered under an agreement struck previously, though the alliance says 120 remain behind bars.

Authorities have repeatedly called the protests tantamount to an attempted coup and its participants “terrorists.”

“The regime has closed the door and there will be consequences. We hold the regime responsible for the pain of victims’ families, for the political prisoners and their families, for the exiled,” businessman and negotiator Juan Sebastián Chamorro tweeted.

Economist Mario Arana, another Civic Alliance negotiator, said Nicaragua’s economy fell 3.8% last year and is projected to contract at least 5% this year.

The government has made no public acknowledgment of the opposition call to restart talks.

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