Political Oppression in Nicaragua and Migrants from Central America

COVID-19 Reports on Latin America and the Caribbean: No. 57

It is hard to believe that while people in the USA and other developed nations are relaxing their health regulations rapidly, Latin America is still paying a deadly toll of over one million deaths for the actions or lack thereof from their respective governments. In Central and South America the daily death toll “gradually increased (‘slow-burn’) and, in many countries, only peaked in the fall of 2020 or the first half of 2021.” One example that has emerged and is both interestingly sad and unprecedented is what is happening to Nicaragua. Ortega denied the severity of Covid since the beginning and never closed the country to travel except when the airlines and neighboring countries stopped all travel to and from Nicaragua on their own. Countries like Nicaragua seem headed towards continued contagion and that “[i]t is likely that the pandemic in Latin America will only end when herd immunity has been reached.” Unfortunately, they also add, “In most countries in Latin America, it is likely that too few people have been vaccinated to reach herd immunity” as of June 2021.

In the meantime, more than 1 million people have died from COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean as the virus continues to spread faster there than in any other region, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The number of deaths has doubled in just five months. The official data on the spread of Covid in Nicaragua has been silenced because the government of Daniel Ortega has instituted a de facto police state all over the country. As mentioned above, dozens of opposition leaders and presidential candidates have been violently captured and put in prison. Arrested under manufactured charges and laws, Ortega told his employees to enact in the National Assembly back in 2020. These laws conflict directly with the constitution and take away individual rights and in particular, freedom of expression. In a self-serving session, the Ortega loyalist assembly made it a crime to “applaud” the sanctions that the United States has imposed on various members of his government and the Ortega family. The political and economic situation increased poverty and reduced commerce and activities, and even many close Ortega loyalists have been infected and died from Covid 19.

The new laws impose and require strict reporting over anyone receiving funds from abroad as a “Foreign Agent” that has forced multiple nonprofit organizations to shut down, unable to comply with the government’s absurd requirements. Ortega’s grip on all the institutions is evident. He is arresting prominent members of society such as his ex-ally and Banker from Banpro and the ex-president of the Private Industry Superior Council (COSEP) and many prominent female opposition figures including Cristiana Chamorro. The Organization of American States (OEA) overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning Ortega and urging him to release the political prisoners. Mexico and Argentina abstained but followed with condemnation.

Early this month, I received an invitation from our Monitoring COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean leader, Marcelo Rodriguez, to attend a Wilson Center presentation regarding the current situation in Nicaragua. I was very impressed to find out that it was hosting none other than the most famous journalist in the country and a public figure by any means, Carlos Fernando Chamorro. I listened intently as the prestigious panelists spoke up against the tyranny of Daniel Ortega and the worsening crisis in the region. I knew that Carlos Fernando’s sister and presidential candidate Cristiana Chamorro, had been detained under “house arrest” days before and that Carlos Fernando’s media station was shut down by Ortega’s government for the second time, his equipment stolen, and two of his journalists imprisoned. The message is clear that if anyone opposes Ortega, their lives and liberty are in danger and that brave journalists and leaders are facing his horrifying paramilitary groups, kangaroo courts, torture chambers and prison catacombs.

I was surprised to see Carlos Fernando participating in the discussion when he and his family are being actively persecuted. However, I understood and respected his commitment to speak out as a professional journalist despite the personal cost. His older brother Pedro Joaquin Chamorro was just arrested under irrational treason charges. The Nicaragua government’s repression has resulted in over 100,000 Nicaraguans seeking exile. Last year, Hurricanes Eta and Iota, Category 4 hurricanes that made landfall in November 2020 within a two-week span, ripping through Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala worsened the inequities in the region and highlighted the systematic governmental failures contributing to the severe immigration crisis in our hemisphere.

The Wilson Center event prompted me to search for additional information by attending the “Challenges & Opportunities in Central America’s Northern Triangle Region” summit where the subject came back as I timidly proposed a question about Nicaraguan migrants in the chat box. I was followed by none other than Bianca Jagger, famous human rights activist and Mick Jagger’s ex-wife, who followed my question with her expressed approval and gratitude for the presentation by the presidents of the Northern Triangle. I felt the solidarity from these famous individuals like Bianca and Carlos Fernando in the struggle to help the people in any way possible, even if it is only by denouncing government ineffectiveness and declining informal economies. 

The focus of the summit was the migrants from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua and the famous caravans towards the US border that vice-president Harris is trying to dissuade. She recently proclaimed to the migrants in Guatemala, I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border: Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border. However, it is obvious that vice-President Harris does not understand these desperate migrants that are fleeing death, prison or starvation due to climate change. According to a report by the organizations Action Against Hunger, about 8 million people now suffer from food insecurity due to the effects of climate change throughout the Dry Corridor which is a 1,000-mile-long geographic zone that runs through the Mexican state of Chiapas and stretches across Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. 

Vice-President Harris, like most Americans, don’t know that the choice to migrate is already made for most caravans when their freedoms are taken away and/or when they cannot make enough to feed their families. Even in the middle of a pandemic, social class is the determinant factor for your survival. In Central America, poverty and hunger are seen as normal human conditions, but it is extreme suffering that forces many to leave all they have ever known, because the unknown must be better than what they are going through.

By Ulysses Jaen

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