Costa Rican Foreign Minister on the Nicaragua Refugee Crisis

Foreign Minister: as long as the Nicaragua crisis is not normalized, “migration will continue”

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Manuel Ventura.

Services are overwhelmed, but the Presidency does not decree a humanitarian emergency. They investigate death of a Nicaraguan: “There is no impunity here.”


By Carlos F. Chamorro (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – The Costa Rican government estimates that at the end of this year the Nicaraguan migratory wave could increase, as a result of the political crisis caused by the dictatorship, and reach as many as 100,000 asylum seekers, since the crisis began in April of last year. As long as “the situation in Nicaragua is not normalized, the number of Nicaraguans in this country will continue to increase,” said Foreign Minister Manuel Ventura.

However, Costa Rica does not contemplate decreeing a humanitarian emergency to request more international help in a situation that, it recognizes, has overwhelmed the capacity its services can attend. “That is a decision that the Presidency has not wanted to take because it has a series of implications both at the national and international levels,” Ventura explained in a television interview on the “Esta Semana” (This Week) program. “It is trying to handle things differently,” he said.

Since the April crisis broke out in Nicaragua, more than 65,000 Nicaraguans have requested refuge in Costa Rica to protect themselves from the repression of the Ortega dictatorship. However, a year later, most refugees face a precarious economic and social situation and demand urgent attention from the authorities. How does the Costa Rican government respond?

This week we signed a very important agreement with the OAS for the sum of US $650,000 earmarked for Nicaraguan migrants. To help them in one way or another. We also have in the pipeline about twelve 12 more projects with the international community to provide assistance. We are aware that many people come here, pass immigration, are given their card and cannot work until a few months later. Meanwhile, what do they do? They have been fortunate that many have relatives here, but many others do not. It is a difficult situation to eat three times a day under these circumstances.

What is the scope of this social and humanitarian problem? How many people in Nicaragua have requested refuge since April of last year?

Approximately just over 60,000. They were expected to reach 100,000 at the end of this year. I have not corroborated these figures lately, but it is a very delicate problem. And, thanks to the Nicaraguan community, many of those people in exile have received food twice a day, and a roof and walls to sleep.

How many of those people have been able to obtain the temporary card? How many have a working permit?

It is a relatively low proportion, because we have a limited immigration procedure. There are not many people that work there (immigration), and our procedures are bureaucratic. I cannot give an exact figure, but I do know that it is a low proportion.

Foreign Minister, but as to services, are the Costa Rican authorities overwhelmed by this flow that continues to increase?

Definitely. As long as the situation in Nicaragua does not stabilize and normalize, the number of Nicaraguans in this country will continue to increase.

How does Costa Rica face this situation? You mentioned this OAS project. It will undoubtedly relieve hundreds of families, but this is a very small injection of resources compared to the demand the need. UNHCR, for example, is requesting a budget of more than five million dollars.

And we are requesting high figures from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and some other NGOs precisely because it is a difficult thing to handle. Although in this country children have free education, as well as hospital care, but, well, that’s not everything. Work is needed. The food is provided here by a group called SOS Nicaragua. They served 1,500 meals a day.

Why not decree an emergency?

When you talk to the organizations that are most involved in this emergency assistance such as SOS Nicaragua, “Senderos”  and others, they all ask the Government of Costa Rica, why a humanitarian emergency is not declared to call for greater international cooperation and be able to face this situation?

That is a decision that the Presidency did not want to take because it has a series of implications both at the national and international levels. It is trying to handle things differently. It is a sensitive issue internally. Costa Rican society and authorities have been completely open to cooperate in whatever they can with Nicaraguan migration, and they have had the doors open. Declaring this an emergency has slightly more serious internal political consequences.

Is there awareness on the seriousness of the Nicaraguan migration problem while Latin America, the United States, is looking at the migration of the Northern Triangle?

During my visit to Washington, I spoke with officials from the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. For these institutions, what exists mainly is the problem of Venezuela. That has made Nicaragua’s problem invisible. But we are trying to make it clear so that they were aware. They included us in some aid projects that were destined only for Venezuelan migrants in Colombia, for example, which are huge figures. But the number of Nicaraguans in Costa Rica is proportionally higher than those in those countries.

You said that this flow could reach 100,000 this year. In Nicaragua there are projections that the economy will decrease again between -6 and -8%. There will be more unemployment, more poverty, while maintaining a total closure of the political space and the negotiations of Ortega with the Civic Alliance. Are you prepared for an increase in migration?

Look, to say that we are ready, like ready waiting for people with everything they need, no. You know the limitations of our countries, but we are willing to give all the help in this case.

“The policemen are being investigated”

Last Monday there was an incident in the border area in Costa Rican territory, in which Nicaraguan families denounced that armed members of the Costa Rican Public Forces mortally wounded Henry Ruiz Lopez, who died. The Nicaraguan government accuses Costa Rica and demands that those responsible be investigated and prosecuted.

As you know, here every death is investigated. First, it is done by the Judicial Investigation Department, the morgue in case it is necessary, and then a process is opened. All police officers who were involved in this problem have their weapons removed and are being investigated, while what happened is investigated.

What happened? This was two kilometers from the border of Nicaragua, in Costa Rican territory.

The Costa Rican government rejects the accusations of the Nicaraguan government over an alleged excessive use of force during the incident recorded on the night of August 12 in Costa Rican territory, in which a Nicaraguan died and five others were arrested. It is not accepted that they initiate a new political campaign against Costa Rica, as has happened in the recent past as a means to distract from the internal problems of that country. Costa Rica categorically rejects any suggestion that it is a murder or a violent capture.

The policemen, are they being investigated?

That is done in any case in Costa Rica. Not only in this case because it was close to the border or Nicaraguans are involved. Here there is no impunity in which they can kill people, and then go quietly to their house. They are tried and if they are guilty, they are sanctioned.

The Ortega dictatorship before international justice

The human rights violations that have occurred in Nicaragua are documented by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the UN, the GIEI. Costa Rica has had a tradition of leadership in human rights. How do you see the crisis in Nicaragua?

Serious. Very serious, because we would like to have a neighboring country with full respect for democracy, human rights, hopefully without an armed force and with universal education and health. The fact that we do not have such neighbors brings us problems of a very diverse nature. The main one, at this moment, is migrants.

You were a judge for many years in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that is based in Costa Rica. Do the families of the victims have any hope, since today they cannot even file a complaint because there is no access to the Prosecutor’s Office, to justice? Do they have hope of achieving justice in international courts outside Nicaragua?

At this time, the only path they have open is the complaint through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission submits these cases to the Court, which can sanction the State for violation of its international responsibility, as well as impose sanctions on the State involved and compensation to the victims. However, this is not easy. It takes time. It requires the collaboration of the State involved, and in many of these cases that have occurred in Latin America this judgement, this justice and compensation has come afterwards. I can talk about Chile, Argentina, Peru, there are many cases.

The OAS and the Medellin resolution on Nicaragua

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) insists on the need for a “complete list” of the political prisoners in Nicaragua. Photo: OAS

Your government supported the resolution approved by the OAS at the assembly of foreign ministers in Medellin (en junio 2019), which mandates that political dialogue be reestablished in Nicaragua, and the creation of a high level diplomatic commission so that in 75 days it will promote a political solution with the Government, and that the IACHR return to Nicaragua. However, until today that commission has not even been formed by the OAS. Why?

That is a difficult question to answer. As Foreign Minister I have been in daily contact with our ambassador to the OAS, Mrs. Monserrat Solano, precisely following up on the formation of the commission. It has not been easy. Many governments are reluctant to join such commissions. So, I hope that by the end of next week this commission will be established and be able to comply with this task that the OAS General Assembly mandated.

Does the OAS and the nations that supported this resolution have the political will to advance this process? Supposedly, they are last minute diplomatic efforts in a country that is collapsing due to this human rights crisis and lack of democracy…

What is more serious is not only the will of these countries but the will of the government of Nicaragua to receive this Commission, to give it the prerogatives it has. And above all, allow the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to return to Nicaragua.

One thought on “Costa Rican Foreign Minister on the Nicaragua Refugee Crisis

  • Forced migration is common now. I don’t think it will stop any time soon due to the political crises affecting so many nations now. Lots of pain and suffering seem to be in the cards now. Take Care !

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