Nicaragua: Ortega Blocks Passports & Renewals for Critics

Both at home & in exile

The Nicaraguan embassy in San Jose Costa Rica. File photo:

The Ortega regime has extended its repressive tactics to routine requests for passport renewals, instructing consulates to remit certain requests to Managua.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – In an attempt to make their repression felt across borders, Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo are hindering the passport process for opposition figures both inside and outside the country.  Their new procedures could potentially affect thousands of exiles who need to renew this vital document.

Inside the country, those targeted by the dictatorship have encountered endless delays in processing their passport requests. Meanwhile, outside the country, they’ve reportedly ordered the consulates that normally resolve passport requests to remit all cases involving exiles to Managua. A similar repressive strategy has been employed in past years by the Maduro government in Venezuela.

These developments were brought to light by prominent opposition leader Monica Baltodano, her husband Julio Lopez Campos and their son Umanzor Lopez-Baltodano. All three have denounced to La Prensa the hindrances imposed by the Ortega regime when they attempted to renew their passports at the Nicaraguan Consulate in Costa Rica.

The Lopez-Baltodano family fled Nicaragua for Costa Rica in August, 2021, during the wave of persecution and imprisonment the Ortega-Murillo regime unleashed against members of the opposition before the November 2021 elections. In 2018, previous to their exile, the family had been granted precautionary measures by the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights.

Umanzor’s passport expired in December of 2021. He began the passport renewal process at the end of October, 2021, but received no response. For the first three months of 2022, he made several visits to the Nicaraguan Consulate in Costa Rica to inquire. In February, one of the employees commented that she didn’t know what was going on, and that they’d received no information about his document.

Finally, in March of this year, a consulate employee told him that “in your particular case” the request must be made directly in Managua.

“This is one more in the great web of repressive measures the Nicaraguan government is imposing against people who hold different political positions,” Umanzor declared.

Baltodano and Lopez, whose documents are set to expire in May of this year, also filed their requests for renewal, with the same result. However, in contrast to their son, they were informed just two days after filing their request that they must do so in Managua.

“They know we’re in the process of requesting political asylum. Denying a passport to a citizen is a brutal violation of their human rights. A passport is the mechanism through which a citizen can exercise their right to travel (…) Without that document, we’re effectively prisoners in Costa Rica,” Monica Baltodano pointed out.

Reporters at La Prensa have also been informed of a member of the Catholic Church hierarchy who also attempted to renew his passport but was told he must go to Managua to make the request. This seems to indicate a pattern that may also be extended to other consulates.

Procedure violates national and international laws

According to Article 72 of Nicaragua’s General Law of Migration and Foreign Affairs, passports are valid for ten years and can be renewed outside the country as long as there’s a Nicaraguan delegation there. “The General Directorate of Migration and Foreign Affairs can delegate the issuing of passports to the regional delegations and diplomatic representatives outside the country, as demanded by the Nicaraguan population.”

Reality, however, appears to be working differently. Nelson Zeas, a farm leader who was active in the Anti-Canal Movement, has also taken refuge in Costa Rica due to the Ortega regime’s persecution. On September 6, 2021 he filed a request with the Nicaraguan Consulate in Costa Rica to renew his passport, which had expired in January of that year.

First, the Consulate clerks told him it would be ready in 40 days, but when that period elapsed, a game of “kick the can” began with the supposed dates. At the beginning of this year, Zeas was able to see a list of Nicaraguans whose cases were to be handled only in Managua. According to Zeas, there were 60 names on that list, along with his.

“It’s a Machiavellian game. They want you to fall for their trick and go to Managua. I’d be arrested there and sent to the El Chipote jail. The regime is murderous – they didn’t only kill people via the paramilitary during the [2018] roadblocks and protests and beyond, but they’re also using the diplomatic and legal channels to deny you your documents, Zeas asserted.

Like Baltodano, Nelson Zeas affirms there are a lot of cases where the regime is remitting exiles’ document requests to Managua. The rural leader says he knows of a young Nicaraguan in the United States who had the same thing happen. “There are a lot of people who haven’t renewed their passports, or have had them taken away, but who don’t denounce this for fear of suffering more repression, or who believe that if they don’t say anything, maybe they’ll get their passports,” Monica Baltodano stated.

Measure violates the Nicaraguan Constitution

Human rights defender Haydee Castillo, along with Vilma Nuñez, head of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, both agree that the regime’s actions violate the right to freedom of movement established in Article 31 of the Nicaraguan Constitution. The Article reads: “Nicaraguans have the right to circulate and make their home in any part of the national territory, and to freely enter and leave the country.” Both Castillo and Nuñez believe that the regime’s current actions are aimed at “annihilating the web of resistance” maintained by those in exile, as well as those still in the country, through a strategy of “in-country jail.”

“The regime is using passports as a mechanism to squash the opposition, to repress (…) to impose fear and violate the human right to freedom of movement and freedom in general,” Castillo declared.

Within the country there are also many cases of citizens who seek to renew their passports but encounter unexplained delays. One reporter, who asked to remain anonymous, said she’d been waiting for five months.

In order to leave the country, citizens must present a passport or other valid travel document with at least six months of validity remaining. In accordance with the law, the journalist filed her request for renewal at one of the Nicaraguan Migration Service’s branch offices in November 2021. Since her passport is set to expire this coming May 4th, she wanted to allow the agency ample time to process her request.  As is often the case in the Nicaraguan state institutions, the authorities kept postponing the journalist’s appointments, until finally, at the end of January, “They told me that the department office couldn’t do anything, and that I should present myself for an interview at the Central Migration Office [in Managua], because my case was ‘under investigation’. I asked what kind of investigation, because I’ve never had any kind of legal or other problems, but they just told me they didn’t know anything,” the source shared.  The journalist has now gone to Managua several times, with no result. “You go and go, and they don’t even give an explanation. I’m not going to give up, though – it’s my right,” she concluded.

Last November, La Prensa reported that the Ortega regime had ordered authorities to broaden the list of people who migration agents should keep from leaving Nicaragua. That list includes even those in their own political circles, plus journalists, religious leaders, and business owners.

“The regime’s current policy is that even the Ortega allies, State employees, those in trusted roles, should have their passports taken away. It’s part of the dictatorship’s panic over the implosion in their ranks. This government policy of utilizing the passport to end all actions against the regime, has now gone beyond the opposition, and on to their own ranks,” Haydee Castillo said.

“Silence only aids the regime”

The current situation in Nicaragua resembles policies implemented by Nicolas Maduro a few years ago in Venezuela. At that time, Venezuela’s “Administrative Service for Identification, Migration and Foreign Affairs began to delay and hinder passport request. In response, opposition leader Juan Guaido managed to forge an agreement with the United States, through which that country agreed to recognize the validity of Venezuelan passports for five years beyond the printed expiration date. Ten other countries, among them Costa Rica, then adopted this same measure.

Monica Baltodano notes that a similar measure could be implemented in the case of Nicaragua as well. However, in order to do so, the population must denounce these violations of their human rights and make visible the restrictions being imposed on them by the Ortega regime.

“Countries that have condemned the regime could adopt a policy to accept the passports of those seeking asylum beyond the printed expiration date; or that those whose passports have been denied receive accelerated processing for their asylum claims. Denying a passport is in itself evidence that you’re a victim of political persecution,” Baltodano declared, adding that her own appointment for receiving refugee status has been scheduled for 2025.

“One of the regime’s objectives is for no one to denounce their violations, but instead keep silent. The moment will come when these people discover that their silence aids the regime, protects it from being denounced for all these atrocities. The only way to denounce these outrages is to overcome self-censorship; refuse to let the dictatorship shut us up. We shouldn’t silence ourselves, because if we do, then they’d achieved their aim of terrorizing,” Baltodano concluded.

Along the same lines, Haydee Castillo advocates that such a measure be taken up by the Organization of American States and the United Nations, to protect the lives of Nicaraguans outside the country.

“We have the challenge of asking the OAS member states and the UN to protect the Nicaraguans who are forced to leave. This includes the possibility that (…) our passports expire while we’re in another country and no consulate will renew it,” said Castillo.

“We urge the destination countries for Nicaraguans who are forced into exile to allow for their entrance, mobilization, and permanence, although they hold expired passports, and that they help them legalize their situation.  We should recall that the international Human Rights framework says that no country should expel a person who has arrived to protect their life,” emphasized Haydee Castillo.

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