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Tags: LT | Nicaragua | Political Crisis

Nicaragua Talks Enter 2nd Day behind Closed Doors, No Ortega

Nicaragua Talks Enter 2nd Day behind Closed Doors, No Ortega

Thursday, 28 February 2019 03:39 PM

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaraguan government and opposition representatives began a second day of negotiations Thursday on resolving the country's political standoff, amid an atmosphere of rumor, secrecy and an early lack of consensus on key points.

The discussions were held behind closed doors at a business institute south of the capital, Managua, and President Daniel Ortega has not been attending, instead sending various lieutenants to negotiate with an opposition delegation comprising members of the business, political and academic worlds.

It's a sharp contrast to a previous, failed attempt at dialogue last year, when the sessions were broadcast live and Ortega was forced to endure an awkward moment when a student leader admonished him to "give in" and leave office.

After an eight-hour session Wednesday, the Vatican's ambassador to Nicaragua, who is acting as an observer, read a brief statement to journalists saying that nine of 12 elements of a "roadmap" for negotiations had been approved. But he did not say what they were or what sticking points remained.

An opposition figure with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed to The Associated Press that one was the Ortega camp's opposition to demands for participation by international guarantors, such as from the Organization of American States, the European Union or the United Nations.

The opposition has also sought a more active role for the Roman Catholic Church, as was the case in last summer's talks. The opposition figure, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to disrupt the negotiations, said the government was rejecting demands that Matagalpa Bishop Rolando Alvarez take part.

A university group that's part of the opposition Civic Alliance said in a statement Thursday that the previous day's discussions centered on "logistics," but issues of mediators, guarantors and observers were still pending.

"We are working on the roadmap. There have been advances, but more remains," a businessperson who is part of the opposition negotiating team told AP, also speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid harming the process. "It will be public when we finish. We hope it is soon."

But concrete information on the discussions has been elusive.

The Civic Alliance said in a statement that it remains committed to demanding the release of those it considers political prisoners; the restoration of freedom of expression rights following a crackdown on independent media outlets, journalists and anti-government protests; and electoral reform.

Ortega has resisted calls for moving up elections currently scheduled for 2021, and government officials have repeatedly characterized protesters seeking his exit as coup-mongers and terrorists.

At least 325 people were killed in last year's unrest and crackdown by security forces and armed, pro-Ortega civilian militias, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Hundreds more were jailed, and thousands went into hiding or exile.

Government officials said 100 people jailed in connection with the protests were granted conditional release Wednesday before the talks began.

The secrecy surrounding the talks bothered some.

"Transparency and communication to the people, with the support of what few independent media exist, are key to the development of this attempt to find a negotiated exit" from the crisis," said Violeta Granera, head of the opposition group Broad Front for Democracy.

"In Nicaragua political negotiations have a bad reputation for being secret and behind the back of the interests of the country," Granera continued. "That cannot be repeated. ... I think at the end of the first day of dialogue mistakes were made in that sense, and let's hope the Civic Alliance fixes them."

Neither side has confirmed a time frame for striking a deal.

Political analyst Oscar Rene Vargas speculated that Ortega could seek to delay progress and try to deal directly with Washington with the goal of getting sanctions imposed by that country in December lifted.

There had been talk that the government delegation would include people known to be astute negotiators, such as presidential economic adviser Bayardo Arce, but instead the team headed by Foreign Minister Denis Moncada includes three lawmakers, a judiciary official and a student leader.

"The message of Daniel Ortega is, 'I am going to talk with the owner of the circus, not with the clowns,'" Vargas said. "That's why he named six buffoons as his representatives."

The analyst said another reason why Ortega might want to buy time is to see how a different and more acute political crisis plays out in Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro is under pressure from opposition leaders, protesters and dozens of foreign governments.

The South American nation has been a key ally of Ortega for years, since 2007 sending Nicaragua large shipments of oil on preferential terms — though that has waned more recently due to Venezuela's economic collapse.

Resumption of talks in Nicaragua was cautiously welcomed abroad.

OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro expressed willingness to accompany the dialogue and demanded "the release of all political prisoners" as a precondition.

On Wednesday he met with Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, who said sanctions on Nicaragua have not been ruled out.

"We are on the side of the Nicaraguan people. The European Parliament and (the OAS) will closely monitor the situation, for the repression of the press and civil society to cease," Tajani tweeted. "If there are not concrete results, the sanctions will arrive."

© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Nicaraguan government and opposition representatives began a second day of negotiations Thursday on resolving the country's political standoff, amid an atmosphere of rumor, secrecy and an early lack of consensus on key points.The discussions were held behind closed doors at...
LT,Nicaragua,Political Crisis
Thursday, 28 February 2019 03:39 PM
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