…in the United States as they wait in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
HAVANA TIMES – Journalist Marisol Balladares Blanco and her daughter Gloria Elena Escorcia Balladares are the most recent targets of persecution, and a clear example of collateral damage of the push against freedom of expression and freedom of the press that afflict journalists in Nicaragua.
Balladares and her daughter left everything in their home country, due to the persecution they endured from the Ortega-Murillo Government. Marisol maintains she was forced to flee because number one for her is “to protect her and her daughter’s lives,” her daughter being her companion on this quest for freedom.
Marisol, a native of Bluefields, a city on the Caribbean Coast, worked for Radio Corporación for 15 years, and was a journalist for the magazine Conexión Caribe, a publication focusing on local reporting and investigations, and is published in two languages: Miskito, her native language, and Spanish.
One story and beginning of persecution
One of the investigations conducted by Conexión Caribe was about the expropriation of land suffered by the people of the Caribbean region after the arrival of the so-called “colonists,” basically, former military and paramilitary groups sent by Daniel Ortega to exploit the rich natural resources. According to the investigation, since their arrival, considerable deforestation has occurred, and the native population have had to abandon their properties and emigrate to large cities in order to escape the violence perpetuated by the “colonists.”
In recent months Balladares experienced an attempted kidnapping, and in Bluefields her capture was ordered for tarnishing the image of Daniel Ortega’s Government. The threats reached a climax on March 28 when a paramilitary pulled out a knife in an attempt to attack her as she was leaving the radio’s premises.
Balladares recalls that in the last three months in Nicaragua, she and her daughter were forced to sleep away from their house due to the sieges, threats, and attempted murder. Another episode of harassment occurred on July 12 when she sent her daughter to the bank to take out money. On her way out, three officers stopped her, confiscated the money, and, according to the complaint, sexually molested her. Her daughter was held for two hours, and after it was proven that the money had not come from a suspicious source, they returned it to her, but said she’d be on their watch list.
The nightmare begins
On June 14, 2021, at 9:00 PM, after weeks of tension, Marisol and her daughter decided to leave Nicaragua by way of a non-official route, given that she was prohibited from leaving the country. Her voyage, accompanied by her daughter Gloria Elena, began via Honduras and Guatemala. They entered Mexico on Thursday, June 29, through the state of Veracruz in a small boat, continued to Monterrey and then crossed over into Reynosa. Finally on July 22 at 12:00 noon, they crossed the Colorado River, arriving in the United States. At 4:55 AM they turned themselves in to US Immigration agents.
From the beginning, Balladares explained to the immigration officials that she was a journalist who was a victim of political persecution in Nicaragua. Her goal was to apply for asylum in the United States to escape the relentless pursuit and harassment she experienced in her country. After a few hours, she recalls, they were sent to a holding facility known as “the freezer”: a center for people who arrived in the United States illegally.
“There were about 100 people. We were in dirty clothes and worn-out shoes.” They spent three nights in this facility, with low temperatures, and barely covered with thin blankets. Balladares even suffered hypothermia one of the nights. She assures that they did not provide them with masks so she covered her nose and mouth with toilet paper in order to protect herself from the possibility of contracting COVID-19.
After three days, their hands and feet were put in shackles, and they were put on a bus. Four times Balladares asked the security officers when she should present the evidence about the persecution she suffered as a journalist in Nicaragua, but she never got an answer. The border authorities took them to El Paso, Texas, where they stayed for four days, after which they were transported to the border wall with Juárez, Mexico, where they were told they had to leave as they could not stay in the United States.
During the seven days they were held, they were never given the opportunity to present their case to the proper authorities.
Trying to look ahead with some optimism
Marisol and Gloria Elena are currently in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, with the help of an organization that is analyzing the best procedure for entering the United States and applying for political asylum. She admits that she is very worried about her and her daughter’s situation.
Returning to Nicaragua is not an option. Adding to the situation is that she has heart problems, skin problems and hypertension, for which she needs medicine. Fortunately, her 21-year-old daughter, also a journalist, and a first division soccer player, has excellent health and is one of Marisol’s sources of support.
For now, Marisol and her daughter are in a safe place as they wait for the US government authorities to grant her an opportunity to present her case and demonstrate the severity of the attacks against journalists, and against the freedom of expression in Nicaragua, and establish that she has no other option but to flee her country in the pursuit of freedom and safety.