RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
To Nicaragua now, where President Daniel Ortega has been under pressure to leave office after a government crackdown on opposition leaders. The situation has been in a stalemate for a year, but that could be changing now with Ortega agreeing to meet with opposition activists. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: This is the first time opponents in the government of Daniel Ortega have met since talks broke down last summer.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
KAHN: Yesterday, participants began the talks singing the Nicaraguan national anthem and listening to prayers from Managua's cardinal and a papal representative. Cameras were not allowed to continue broadcasting the talks. Ortega and his wife, the vice president, were not present.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
KAHN: Earlier in the day, authorities began releasing dozens of prisoners. Videos of vans leaving the Modelo prison outside Managua were posted to Twitter. Relatives outside the prison cheered while occupants of the vans could be seen waving Nicaraguan flags and raising their fists in the air. Protests broke out around the country last spring in opposition to Ortega's raising pension taxes. As protests grew, Ortega launched a deadly crackdown, leaving more than 300 dead and thousands injured. Demonstrations continued, and hundreds of opponents were rounded up and charged with inciting hate and terrorism.
Nicaragua's economy has crashed, with unemployment skyrocketing and foreign investment fleeing. International sanctions have been slapped on high-ranking government officials, including the first lady, who is also vice president. It's unclear how the restarted talks will progress. For now, opponents are demanding the release of all political prisoners. One of those, 61-year-old marathon runner Alex Vanegas agrees. He was seen being escorted into his house by prison officials yesterday after his release.
ALEX VANEGAS: (Speaking Spanish).
KAHN: Before being pushed inside his front gate, Vanegas could be heard shouting to a crowd outside the house, the next to be liberated will be Nicaragua. Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.