Nuevo Culture

Nicaragua Grants Political Asylum to Former Panamanian President Facing Jail Time

Nicaragua has granted political asylum to former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli. The troubling decision comes directly from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Nicaragua, which requested the Panamanian government grant him safe passage to the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. Martinelli is currently in the Nicaraguan embassy in Panama.

But Martinelli, the former President of Panama and, until a few days ago, Presidential candidate, is unlikely to find it easy to get from the Nicaraguan embassy to Managua. Last July, the politician was sentenced to ten years and six months in prison and ordered to pay a fine of more than $19.2 million after he was found guilty of money laundering. A few days ago, Panama’s top court rejected his final appeal.

Martinelli has another trial pending tied to kickbacks he allegedly received from Brazilian company Odebretch. That trial is set for July 2024. 

The narrative the former President is trying to sell is one of a victim of political persecution. The diplomatic note that Nicaragua’s government sent to Panama said that Martinelli requested asylum because he “considered himself persecuted for political reasons and thinks that his life, physical integrity, and safety are at imminent risk.”

But reality seems to be at odds with this angle. Martinelli was tried in a court of law, given the possibility to defend himself and appeal multiple times. When his last appeal failed, he was given the possibility of surrendering instead of being arrested right away. Instead, he took refuge in the Nicaraguan embassy. His supporters have even brought him his dog.

For Ortega, who has recently clashed with the international community over his handling of Miss Universe herself – and the Nicaraguan Miss Universe Director – the latest decision seems like another step towards being obvious about the authoritarianism Nicaragua has been living in for decades. The question is, of course, if he’s willing to give so-called “political asylum” to convicted former Presidents, what’s next?