Alejandro Solalinde, human rights defender for Central American migrants, criticizes the role of Ortega’s government with the thousands of African, Cuban and Haitian migrants pleading for passage through Nicaragua.
By Carlos Salinas Maldonado (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Father Alejandro Solalinde was walking through the halls of the Central American University in Managua last week, stopping from time to time in response to the requests from students for “selfies” with him. “Father, allow me!” “Father, take a picture with me!” “May God take care of you, Father; thanks for the work you’re doing!” Solalinde has earned the affection of these young people for his Christian mission in defense of the rights of the Central American migrants, a labor he has devoted his life to, and for which he has received threats and has even been jailed.
He has helped hundreds of these migrants, who are living a nightmare while trying to fulfill their dream of reaching the United States. Solalinde has confronted the Mexican authorities to ask for justice in the face of the cruelties that the migrants suffer from the criminal bands as well as the Mexican security forces. For the same reason, he criticizes President Daniel Ortega’s decision to close his country’s borders to the thousands of Cubans, Haitians, and Africans seeking to go through Nicaragua on their way to the United States. Solalinde considers this a “betrayal” and a show of “ungratefulness” on the part of the Nicaraguan government.
In this interview he granted to Confidencial, the “migrants’ priest”, who was in the country to participate in the Central American Congress for Cultural Studies organized by the University’s Institute for Nicaraguan and Central American History also reflects on Donald Trump, the government of Mexican president Pena Nieto and the threats faced by the Central Americans who arrive in Mexico fleeing the poverty and violence that batters them in their own countries.
How did this project in support of the Central American migrants who arrive in Mexico arise?
It arose out of necessity. First, to offer them a safe space and also assistance. We realized that there were many harmful factors affecting them, and we decided to set up a shelter to offer holistic support, meaning a clinic with two doctors, two nurses, and three psychologists to support them physically and emotionally. We also have a computer area for those who want to communicate with their family members. All these services are free. And we try to offer them some accompaniment. Lately, we’ve had a lot of children and families, and that gives the shelter a different touch. We began this because the migrants were like sheep without a shepherd. No one attended to their needs.
How would you rate the role of the Mexican government in its treatment of the Central American migrants?
Uncertain. Dangerous. Mexico – the government of Mexico – through its National Immigration Institute, which I call the Criminal Immigration Institute, has become an enemy for the migrants. Right this moment we have a complaint filed by Elvis Garay, a Nicaraguan who was the victim of abuse in an immigration station. We’ve been dealing with this case for three or four years.
What happened to him?
Some cowardly police associated with the immigration agents beat him, tortured him and raped him. He was a young man who had married a Mexican woman and left Nicaragua with her. He entered the country normally, but then had an argument with his wife; she denounced him and he fell into a bad situation. Immigration did all that, and thought that upon deporting him he would forget. But no. He’s become a symbol, as the only one of all the thousands who have passed through who have stayed to demand that justice be done.
How is his case proceeding?
They applied the Istambul protocol [international guidelines for the documentation of torture and its consequences] and it was considered relevant. The corrupt authorities of Mexico offered him millions to be quiet. They offered to permanently legalize his papers, but he said that he didn’t want anything but justice. He’s the son of former Nicaraguan combatants, and he has a very large sense of dignity. Of course, I’m supporting him.
Do you believe justice can be done in his case?
Given that there’s such a high level of corruption and impunity, it’s possible that it won’t. But there are two hopes for this case. One: in 2018, this corrupt government that we have is going, and maybe a more honest one will come in. Or, two: that we will take the case to the international bodies. It’s very possible that we’ll go before the international bodies.
The Mexican investigator Jorge Castaneda stated in 2015 that Mexico does the United States’ dirty work in the area of immigration. Do you agree with this?
Of course. They’re still doing that. Now more than ever, this government of Pena Nieto and Luis Videgaray, the apprentice foreign minister, are total and unconditional supporters of Trump. And they continue doing this dirty work, even though we have very good laws regarding immigration, laws that defend human rights and journalists. Still they continue to do the opposite.
With the advent of Donald Trump to the government of the United States the requests from Central Americans for asylum in Mexico have increased.
One thing is the quantity requested, and another the quantity they give them. Yes, the number of concessions granted for asylum have increased, but it’s very small increase in comparison to the quantity being demanded. What are they waiting for? Basically, to stay in Mexico for a time until Donald Trump leaves. And honestly, I don’t believe he’ll last long.
What do you think of the United States’ president?
President Trump is a source of shame for the country. They elected him as a sick person. He’s an unbalanced person, a person who is socially ill. The man is a misogynist; he has xenophobia, racism, homophobia, all of those phobias. But in addition, he’s an addict. He’s addicted to money, he lives for that. He lives to have, and he’s forgotten how to be human and of God, although he may be religious. A person can be religious and can be an atheist, while a person who’s an atheist can be more obedient to God’s purposes than a person who attends many worship services. Donald Trump is suicidal, and he’s finishing off his life.
Can Trump’s anti-immigrant stance put the brakes on Central American migration to the United States?
No, of course not. I’m very clear that from January until now, 30% of the migratory flow that passes through Mexico has entered the United States. It’s a very large quantity. Don’t ask me how, but I do know this. I tell you this because all those who pass through talk to us and tell us how they got across. There are millions there now and they’re never going to be able to get them out.
You’ve done an important job by denouncing the bands that control human trafficking. Who’s behind this criminal business?
Who isn’t behind these bands?! We’re talking about organized crime and those that authorize it. We have some incredible examples of governors and corrupt high officials, thieves who have their fingers in every kind of trafficking. But above all here, we have people who are involved in drugtrafficking. I could define the Mexican government as a narco-State, but also a kleptocracy. They’re thieves- all of the high-level governors. Of five thieving governors, four are from the governing PRI [Partido Revolucionario Institucional – Institutional Revolutionary Party]. We’ve never had such a corrupt government.
Are there ties between these bands and the Mexican security forces?
Of course there are. In fact, they’re the same thing. If you’ve seen the news, they’ve just killed several federal police. They’re so infiltrated, that there’s no dividing line between the security forces and the violence. This isn’t new, it’s been going on since Felipe Calderon was in power.
How does the extortion that these bands practice against the migrants function?
First, they see an opportunity for money in the massive arrival of migrants. With extortion, human trafficking, organ trafficking, prostitution, selling people into human slavery. The children are sold too. Everything, living or dead, you could say. It’s all part of human trade. And then that terrible industry of cachuco – making money from the Central Americans – was discovered by the Zetas.
Do you think the government of Pena Nieto has any interest in going after these bands?
How is he going to combat them, when he’s part of this? The Criminal Immigration Institute is the first that turns the groups in, but really they’ve turned them over to the Zetas to be kidnapped. There’s been no investigation, because the Government is judge and jury. Until we get a new government, we’re not going to begin to take a count of the thousands and thousands of Central Americans who’ve disappeared. By my count, there are at least 10,000 disappeared migrants. But the Meso-American migrant movement counts more than 70,000 disappeared, all Central Americans.
How did these migrants disappear?
When they first began to pass through, if they couldn’t pay, they would beat them up and let them go. But later, no more. If they didn’t pay, they killed them. So, since there’s a lot that they killed, they didn’t know what to do. Enter the Zetas, who were a group of elite forces from the Mexican army, trained in the United States. They began to perfect the technique of how to make them disappear. This involved a hit man, a butcher and a cook. They cut them up until nothing was left, because more and more and more were coming. If the family members heard that they were torturing them and didn’t pay, they killed them.
Is there a way to end this torment the Central Americans are living through?
This is a global matter. We can talk about America, but also about Europe and Africa. This migratory movement isn’t a phenomenon, it’s an occurrence provoked by the capitalist system that now will have to confront what it has let loose. It’s brought on a migratory movement that can’t be stopped. So it falls to us to look ahead, towards the world we are going to build. Generations are going to pass before the world can assimilate what the migrants offer and the damage that capitalism brought, and can find a road to inculturation, not acculturation, or domination, or assimilation as the United States and Europe proposes.
Meanwhile, what can be done?
First, potentiate the possibilities in their places of origin. It gives me great pleasure to see that Nicaragua isn’t in the same condition as Honduras, Guatemala or El Salvador. It’s not, although it’s a developing country, because I believe that they offer better possibilities of remaining than other countries. In El Salvador, the violence doesn’t allow them to. Honduras has been the hardest hit: by the violence, and by the Arab and Italian oligarchies that are there. Honduras is a territory shaped by United States with capitalist military bases. The country’s authorities are merely administrators. They’re not even managers; they can’t even assure their permanence. In Guatemala, the violence has died down a little, but it still continues.
Nonetheless, the Nicaraguan government closed their borders to the Cuban, Haitian and African migrants who wanted to pass through the country en route to the United States.
Very badly done. The migrants aren’t to blame. Migration shouldn’t be seen as a political question, it’s made of very wounded people. I looked on this very poorly, I felt very sorry that Nicaragua should have had this attitude, to turn their backs on their own brothers and sisters.
Panama and Costa Rica negotiated plans of transit for the migrants, but the government of Nicaragua refused.
Nicaragua was an ingrate! Cuba helped Nicaragua a lot, and Nicaragua forgot them, it didn’t pay them back in the same coin, instead it turned its back on them. They betrayed doubly their own brothers and sisters. That’s the Nicaraguan revolution? How terrible that is – a bad sign!
You’ve received death threats, you’ve been jailed. Do you fear for your life?
I’m not afraid, because Jesus is my conviction. I take him very much into account, and every morning I read the New Testament. That’s my frame of reference and my only compass. It’s the only thing that I can obey – no one else. If the church wants or not to commit itself, that’s their decision, but I have my own conscience and I have to do this. And there’s no way that they can buy me off. The Mexican Interior Ministry wanted to buy me off. They offered me money. After I had talked to them for an hour about the rights of the migrants, they came out with an offer of money. I told them: excuse me, but I didn’t come to talk about money, I came to talk about human rights. Money doesn’t interest me.
Do the upper echelons of the Catholic Church support the work that you’re doing?
Of course not. There’s never been a pronouncement recognizing us. Instead, the person in charge of the pastoral dimension of the Mexican church – I told him one day: “Thank you for receiving these migrants in the shelter of …”. And he said: “Hey, why don’t you join the church?” I replied: “Excuse me, but I am the church”. “No, no no! You’re not the church.” In brief, there hasn’t been any recognition from the official hierarchy for the houses that we have.
Even though Pope Francis has maintained a position in the migrants’ favor?
On that point, I completely take my hat off to him. Pope Francis is a person of integrity, coherent, who sees the migrants as a priority. No Pope has understood so well the tragedy, the drama that the people migrating are living through. He has asked the bishops to do everything possible and impossible to support them. He himself has set the example. When I was in the Vatican he gave me very important support. “I know it’s not easy, but continue.” Those were the words he offered me.