Fifty-three international NGOs have been closed in the last ten months. Those who benefited from their projects and humanitarian programs were left in limbo following the sudden closures.
HAVANA TIMES – In the Nicaraguan coffee fields, far from the large cities, the children and teens stopped working in order to study. Their education was possible, in large measure, thanks to the support of the Seeds for Progress Foundation. Since 2013, the Foundation has promoted quality education in the schools of these communities, whose sustenance revolves around coffee production. However, on June 10th, the Foundation’s legal operating permission was canceled by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, as part of a crusade against non-profit organizations. The closures now include 53 foreign-based NGOs, including Seeds for Progress.
The Nicaraguan Interior Ministry (Mingob) has formally announced the cancellation of these organizations in periodic decrees issued between August 2021 and June 2022. The majority of them worked in areas of social development, education, health, democracy and human rights. Their arbitrary closures have left countless beneficiaries in limbo.
The work of Seeds for Progress in the coffee-raising zones of Jinotega, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia, and Madriz facilitated the education of children in the countryside, so they could develop their skills and prevent child labor.
At the moment they received word they had lost the government’s position to operate, Seeds for Progress managed five programs for prevention of child labor during the coffee harvest. According to their website “in 2020 alone, their programs benefited 5,879 students and 340 teachers in 29 schools in Nicaragua and Guatemala (…) through the implementation of 5 specific educational programs.”
Other international organizations among the 53 canceled include:
- Oxfam Intermon Foundation, Helping Hands – the Warren William Pagel M.D. Foundation
- International Republican Institute
- National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
- Oxfam IBIS, based in Denmark
- Diakonia from Sweden
- Spanish-run Medicos del Mundo [“Doctors of the World”]
- Netherlands Development Organization (SNV). This organization had anticipated the government closure and transferred their aid funds to other countries in the region.
- Fabretto Children’s Foundation Inc.
- Global Communities
- Belgium’s Fund for Development
- Catholic Agency for International Development
- Christian Aid
- Project Chacocente
- Fyera Foundation
- Hope Road Nicaragua Inc.
- The Nature Conservancy
- Foundation Semg Solidaria
One of the oldest in Nicaragua
Medico Internacional e.v. was “one of the oldest international NGOs in Nicaragua”, commented epidemiologist Leonel Arguello who was well acquainted with the work of this organization that originated in Germany. “It began to function during the eighties, when there were few international NGOs [in Nicaragua] and it played a vital role in supporting the Health Ministry and in helping in the construction of the San Carlos Hospital in the southern department of Rio San Juan.”
Despite this long record, the legal status of this NGO in Nicaragua was cancelled by the Interior Ministry (Mingob) on May 24, 2022, alleging that its functions hindered “[government] control and vigilance” and for not reporting its financial records, the identity and origin of donors, nor registering its personnel as “foreign agents”. These same allegations have been leveled at virtually all the 669 closed non-profits, although the majority repeatedly report unsuccessful attempts to turn in or correct their documentation. The process is unilateral, with no chance for the organization to appeal or even express its point of view.
In the case of Medico Internacional, the government decree states that the organization was registered as a non-profit in 2002, but the NGO website indicates it provided active healthcare support between 1978 and 1988. During the 80s, “they were helping in Rio San Juan for a long time,” Dr. Arguello recalled. “Later, during the nineties, they continued supporting other NGOs. They offered help formulating projects and they always maintained their support for Nicaragua.” Among the later projects of Medico Internacional in Nicaragua, several stand out: training therapists to aid healing trauma and grief; the systematization of processes of psych-social training; assistance with COVID-19 through training and equipment for healthcare personnel; support for the population affected by the 2020 hurricanes Eta and Iota.
Some cancelled organizations supported government programs
The Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos [“Our Little Brothers”] Association is another NGO that was cancelled on June 13, after 28 years offering protection and holistic development to children and adolescents in the departments of Granada, Rivas and Carazo.
The Interior Ministry accused them of not registering as a “foreign agent” and of “hindering the work of supervision”, despite the fact that in the past several years the Association worked directly with government agencies in integrating at-risk children into the state-run “Programa Amor”.
“For 28 years, Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos in Nicaragua has attended over 1,000 children and teens, offering a holistic education with Christian and Catholic principles to the students who attend our schools: preschool, primary school, secondary school, vocational workshops and educational programs for youth and adults” states the organization’s website.
Netherlands Development Organization
The Netherlands Development Organization (SNV) ceased operations in Nicaragua as of December 31, 2021, and moved on to: “other geographical regions of the world, where there’s limited capacity to access basic services.”
“The decision to end all activities in Nicaragua was made taking into consideration that local capacities had already been created, and that the impact [of our programs] is less than in other geographies,” was the explanation the organization posted in a statement on December 14.
The SNV was present in Nicaragua since the mid-80s, although they’ve been registered with Mingob only since 2010. Its work “has generated a positive impact for thousands of Nicaraguan families through numerous programs and initiatives that include agriculture, renewable energy, water and sanitation,” the NGO indicated.
Repression also pushed organizations out
The Spanish organization Medicos del Mundo [Doctors of the World] closed its programs in Febrero 2019, following failed negotiations with the regime in the context of the socio-political crisis engulfing Nicaragua since 2018.
Given the human rights violations in the country, “Medicos del Mundo” communicated to the authorities their desire to continue strengthening the work of civil society organizations, but also their decision to temporarily suspend support to the state entities,” a statement from the organization expressed.
“With the institutional supports suspended, given the impossibility of maintaining our presence in Nicaragua only as accompaniment for the organizations of civil society, we arrived at the difficult decision to leave the country,” the statement added.
The organization expressed their concern that their departure could be viewed as “abandoning” people. However, they asserted that they had to prioritize “making sure our ethics, values and principles are in alignment, as well as safeguarding the independence we have as an organization to work with the partners and allies we consider pertinent, without government impositions.”