Venezuelans Migrants “Extorted” by Nicaraguan Immigration

From August 4 – 7, a total of 296 Venezuelans arrived at Nicaragua’s South Caribbean port city of Bluefields, according to local media. Photo from social media

The immigrants were charged US $150 for fake safe passage authorization. Those who protested they didn’t have it were put in a dark room and strip-searched to find their money.

By Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – A group of 118 Venezuelan migrants were “robbed” in Nicaragua by functionaries of the Immigration office there, who demanded US $150 for a “safe conduct” pass that was never issued. Some of the Venezuelans were also locked in a room and strip-searched, in order to find and take the sum demanded. A member of this group denounced the incident to Confidencial.

The group had traveled by sea from Colombia’s San Andres Island to Nicaragua’s Corn Island in the Autonomous South Caribbean Region. From there, the Venezuelan migrants boarded a ferry for the coastal city of Bluefields, on Nicaragua’s mainland. They arrived on August 4, with the aim of crossing Nicaragua enroute to the United States.

Venezuelan Luis Alfredo Gonzalez, who spoke with Confidencial, is one of the migrants traveling with that group. He arrived at Corn Island around 2 am and stayed in the Sweet Dreams Hotel, located next to the dock. Hours later, he boarded the ferry to Bluefields.

“Some drug traffickers, who also serve as coyotes and help you get across by sea, were the ones who got us across and took us to that hotel. They apparently have ties there because everything was arranged. We slept a little in that place, then several hours later, we got on the ferry to Bluefields,” Luis Gonzalez detailed. On the ferryboat, the migrants were approached by functionaries who said they worked for [Nicaraguan] Immigration. They asked for passports and noted the names on a list.

“We arrived in Bluefields sometime in the afternoon. Another group of Immigration officials was already waiting for us there. They took us to a fire station, not to Immigration, and they held us there for a number of hours,” Gonzalez recalled.

“The authorities in Nicaragua robbed us”

The Venezuelan migrant asserts that when they arrived at the Bluefields Fire Department station, the authorities took their passports. The Immigration functionaries then told them they had to pay US $150 dollars for a certificate of safe conduct, which would supposedly allow them to cross Nicaraguan territory without problems.

“There were some who had money and paid it. But others, like myself, didn’t have a lot of money. We couldn’t afford to pay, because that would leave us with nothing to continue our trip towards the US. When we said we didn’t have that amount, they asked us how much we were carrying. In my case, I offered them 20 dollars and they took it. Afterwards, though, they put us in a dark room and stripped us one by one, to find the money and take their $150,” Gonzalez stated.

He considers the functionaries’ actions “corrupt and illegal”. It was “a robbery – they made us turn over that money, they stole it. The most outrageous part is that after taking our money they didn’t even give us any safe conduct letter. They told us that if we were stopped later on, we only needed to say that we went through here, and the Police would then know that we’d paid.

“I had US $170 for the trip, and from my heart I gave them $20, calculating that I’d have something left over for the trip. But when they strip-searched me, they found the other $150 that I had for continuing, so they returned my 20 and took the $150,” Luis Alfredo Gonzalez told us.

Gonzalez was traveling with another 14 Venezuelans who, like him, had been traveling for eight days when this occurred. He stressed that ever since they left Venezuela – fleeing from that country’s sociopolitical and economic crisis – they’d been “transported by coyotes, people who also traffic in drugs, yet they didn’t steal from us. But in Nicaragua, the authorities robbed us, the ones who should supposedly be watching out for civilians.”

Those complaining of the robbery were threatened with jail

Gonzalez assures that after the “hold-up”, the migrants insisted they be given “a paper stamped by Immigration.” The authorities’ response was to “threaten jail.”

“We complained, and told them that every country gives out a certificate stamped by Immigration as a guarantee of safe passage. But they didn’t give us anything. There was a long delay; they were acting very mysteriously. Then, another of the corrupt, one of the police who was with them and supported the robbery, wanted to throw me in jail because I was complaining,” he indicated.

Luis Alfredo Gonzalez added that several in the group also begged to be allowed to keep their money, arguing that, “they had to eat, pay for transportation. They [the immigration functionaries] didn’t care about that; they only wanted to get our money. They’re corrupt – leaving Venezuela takes so much sacrifice, it’s outrageous that the functionaries themselves in a country should rob you.”

On August 5, around one in the morning, the Nicaraguan Immigration employees allowed the group to leave the Bluefields fire station. Gonzalez states they were “abandoned to our luck, on a dark street, where they could have finished stealing the little that was left us, or our cellphones. They didn’t care if we were left abandoned. We had to walk from the fire station to the Bluefields bus terminal, in order to continue our trip.”

The group left Nicaragua via unmarked border crossings, for fear that the border officials would demand the safe passage certificate that the office in Bluefields had never given them. 

“We had to ask our families to send us some more money, in order to continue our trip. We left by an unmarked crossing, because we were afraid we’d be stopped again, without that paper. They took so much money, and we couldn’t even cross the country legally, because they didn’t even give us a paper,” Gonzalez denounced.

From August 4 – 7, a total of 296 Venezuelans arrived at Nicaragua’s South Caribbean port city of Bluefields, according to local media.  Photo from social media

A new group of Venezuelans already arrived in Bluefields

On August 7, while Luis Gonzalez was already crossing Honduras, a new group of Venezuelans arrived in Bluefields, on Nicaragua’s South Caribbean coast. By that time, Gonzalez had received a free and valid safe passage document from the Honduran Immigration office, good for five days.

According to local media, the new migrant group numbered 185: 178 Venezuelans, 3 Colombians, 3 Peruvians and one Rumanian. Like Gonzalez’ group, they came by sea via San Andres Island and Corn Island.

This new group was once again intercepted by functionaries of Nicaragua’s Office of Immigration and Foreign Affairs in Bluefields. Like the 118 Venezuelans who came through on August 4, this group had their passports taken and were loaded into small buses and transported to the Fire Station. There, they’d supposedly “be given medical attention and have their migration status defined.”

Persons living near the Bluefields fire station told Confidencial that from August 7 – 8, the zone was guarded by a large police contingent. By August 9, “there was no longer a police presence, because the group was taken out at one am, just like the others who came on August 4.”

In the last two years, the emigration of Venezuelans towards the US border has once again increased. The US Customs and Border Patrol Agency reported that between October 2021 and June 2022, they registered 112,212 “encounters or detentions” of Venezuelan migrants.

In 2021, the number of encounters with Venezuelan migrants totaled 50,499, while in 2020 – in the context of the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic – the Agency only documented 4,520.

Nicaragua is now the preferred travel route for Venezuelan and Cuban migrants, who use the national territory as a trampoline towards their “American dream”.

After November 2021, when the regime of Daniel Ortega decreed that no visa would be required for Cubans entering Nicaragua, the presence of these arrivals became more evident. Videos went viral on the social networks, with dozens of Cubans yelling: “We’re off to Nicaragua!”

The groups of Venezuelans who have been crossing Nicaragua towards the US border suffered a tragedy on July 27. At least 13 Venezuelan immigrants perished in a bus accident near Esteli, a city in northern Nicaragua.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times