Ex-Nicaraguan Political Prisoner now marooned in Mexico

Looking for a sponsor in the US for his humanitarian parole request

Christian Melendez

Christian Melendez was jailed in 2018 for participating in anti-government protests. In December 2022, after suffering years of police surveillance, he made the decision to emigrate.

By La Prensa

HAVANA TIMES – Exile or jail. Those are the two options for many of the youth who were active in the 2018 student protests against the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega. Sooner or later, they’re forced to choose, hopefully before it’s too late for them. That was the case of Christian Melendez, originally from Chichigalpa, a city near Nicaragua’s Pacific coast.

Melendez was imprisoned in 2018 for participating in the student demonstrations. He was released in 2019 under the Ortega government’s controversial Amnesty Law, which freed some protesters while decreeing impunity for all those involved in the government’s violent repression of the 2018 protests. After his release, however, Melendez refused to refrain from the struggle for his ideals. This posture kept him in the radar of Ortega’s National Police.

Melendez learned to live under constant police watch in Chichigalpa, suffering frequent acts of aggression from the paramilitary for remaining active in his city’s protests. Over time, he realized no one wanted to go near him, and no one would employ him, because wherever he went, he was stalked by the police.

“They isolate you socially, they cut off your educational options, health care options, everything,” stated Melendez, now thirty years old. At the time of the protests, he was 26, and an aspiring attorney.

After deciding to emigrate, he was left stranded

Four years passed that way, until Christian became convinced that to continue living that way was intolerable. In December 2022, he joined the thousands of Nicaraguan migrants that were leaving the country and heading towards the United States. Midway in their journey, the gates of the US border abruptly slammed shut in the faces of this group of migrants, due to US President Joe Biden’s sudden approval of a program of humanitarian parole. The new program allows the legal entry of migrants only if they meet certain requirements, and blocks completely the possibility of irregular entry into the United States over the land border with Mexico.

Melendez, like others, now finds himself stranded in Mexico, while he looks for a sponsor, which is one of the chief requirements for the parole program. “I didn’t want to leave the country, and I believe I made the decision too late,” he laments.

The dissident recognizes that the parole plan is a good one, in order to avoid the dangerous and expensive journey overland. However, he also feels that it’s mainly open to “the haves”, meaning those who have families or close friends living in the United States who meet the economic and residency conditions to serve as sponsors. In his view, the program won’t benefit dissenters who are fleeing persecution in Nicaragua.

Manuel Orozco, who directs the Migration, Remittances, and Development Program at the InterAmerican Dialogue, a US based think tank, sees a similar tendency. As part of a former article, he told La Prensa reporters that the current immigration mechanism wouldn’t resolve the needs of those forced to emigrate. “Basically, (the program) benefits those who have family and resources in the United States. It’s not meeting the full scope of the demand from those who leave for political and economic reasons inherent to a dictatorship,” the expert noted.

Difficulty obtaining a sponsor

Melendez has no family in the United States and those people he’s asked to help him have said they must prioritize applying for their mother, their brother or someone close to them.

“Someone who’s established [in the US] is going to choose to bring over a relative, and that’s what they’re doing,” Melendez said.

Melendez undertook the journey alone, but like many, had been planning to send for his wife when he got settled in the United States. Now, he doesn’t even know if he’ll be able to complete his trip.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times