Nicaragua's government announced its agenda Saturday for talks on resolving a nearly year-old political standoff, but did not give any ground on a key opposition demand — early elections.
A Foreign Ministry statement spelled out several points including the strengthening of electoral institutions; justice and reparations; a review and release of some imprisoned protesters; and negotiations about the suspension of international sanctions.
It said the government is "committed to the strengthening of democracy and respect for the constitutional order of Nicaragua," but pointedly noted that the date for the next general election is "established" for 2021.
Opponents of President Daniel Ortega demanded he leave office and allow an early, fair vote, during widespread protests last year that prompted a government crackdown. At least 325 people died in the unrest, according to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
On the 770 people the opposition considers political prisoners, the government said it would consider freeing both those awaiting judgment and others already convicted. But it added that it would "review their case files, a situation that does not imply impunity."
Talks between Ortega representatives and the opposition group Civic Alliance resumed Feb. 27, and a so-called roadmap for the negotiations was agreed upon last week.
The opposition has also called for the restoration of freedom of expression guarantees after a crackdown on independent media and a de facto ban on anti-government protests.
The government statement came a day after Roman Catholic bishops said they were declining to participate in the negotiations as observers.
The Civic Alliance said following the church's announcement that it would reflect and "reconsider" whether to continue negotiating with the government.
Jose Pallais, a member of the opposition delegation, said it would continue to assess the situation over the weekend and called on the government to make "overwhelming gestures to give legitimacy and recognition to the process of negotiation."
"The government came out and published its agenda because the bishops' refusal to participate in the dialogue puts at risk its strategy of buying time, and it wants to avoid having the Civic Alliance walk away from the negotiation," said Monica Baltodano, a former commander in Ortega's Sandinista movement who switched to the opposition 20 years ago.
Also Saturday, the Organization of American States said it had designated a special envoy to Nicaragua who, "at the request of the government," will meet on Monday with delegates to the talks to discuss possible OAS participation.