Nicaragua 'marathon' protester flees for exile in Costa Rica

Alex Vanegas holds on to the iron bars he had installed on the porch of his apartment to symbolize his home arrest in Managua, Nicaragua, Tuesday, March 5, 2019. Grasping the iron bars, Vanegas is taken back to the dark prison cells where he spent the previous four months talking to fellow inmates through holes in the walls that also let in rats, scorpions and cockroaches, arrested for protesting against the government of President Daniel Ortega. (AP Photo/Alfredo Zuniga)

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — A Nicaraguan man who became a prominent public face of opposition to President Daniel Ortega's government for his defiant protest runs through the capital has left the country for exile, his son said Wednesday.

Byron Vanegas, Alex Vanegas' son, confirmed to The Associated Press that his father, who came to be known as the "marathon man," has gone to neighboring Costa Rica.

"He decided to leave the country because he could no longer stand the (police) siege and harassment," Byron Vanegas said. He had been briefly detained repeatedly during the protests and in November was jailed for what turned out to be four months.

In a recent interview, Alex Vanegas, 62, told the AP that police patrols were watching his home constantly after he was conditionally released to house arrest in late February, along with about 100 others considered political prisoners, as talks resumed on Nicaragua's political standoff.

Those people are not supposed to leave their homes, much less the country, but Byron Vanegas said his father crossed into Costa Rica "somewhere along the border." He did not give further details.

"He always said that Ortega was not going to quiet him, that nobody was going to halt his struggle," Byron Vanegas said. "So now he will continue protesting and running for Nicaragua" from exile.

Tens of thousands of Nicaraguans have fled to Costa Rica and other countries after protests demanding Ortega's exit from office broke out last year and hundreds died in a crackdown by security forces.

Government officials have accused opposition demonstrators of being "coup plotters" and "terrorists." Rosario Murillo, Nicaragua's powerful vice president and first lady, once said that Alex Vanegas was "making a fool of himself" and suggested he was one of many "traitors."

Also Wednesday, the government and the Civic Alliance opposition coalition issued a statement saying they would resume talks Thursday. The negotiations had been suspended Friday after the Civic Alliance said it would not participate until Ortega made "overwhelming gestures" of goodwill, including the immediate and definitive release of about 770 people considered political prisoners.

The two sides said they held meetings earlier this week at which the coalition expressed openness to resuming dialogue if the government made an effective commitment to release people still in detention. They gave no details.

According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, at least 325 people were killed, more than 2,000 wounded and hundreds detained in last year's crackdown, which all but quashed the protests.

The government has since imposed a de facto ban on opposition demonstrations and shuttered some independent media outlets and NGOs. It has refused to concede early elections, a key opposition demand.