Nicaragua: “They’re making solidarity a crime”

Civil society organizations which work with migrants reject the Ortega Govenment’s military action against and persecution of those people who help migrants.

By Danae Vilchez  (Confidencial)

Among the African and Haitian migrants there are also children  who have made the long journey. Photo: Ruben Lucia.
Among the African and Haitian migrants there are also children who have made the long journey. Photo: Ruben Lucia.

HAVANA TIMES — Communities located in Rivas, at the southwestern tip of Nicaragua, are facing uncertainty and fear due to the government’s militarization policy and lockdown on borders, as a response to the arrival of thousands of African and Haitian migrants who are trying to cross the country on their way to the US.

The same fate was faced by several thousand Cubans in recent months.

At a press conference held in Managua on Wednesday, civil society organizations who work with migrants pointed out that residents in San Juan del Sur, Cardenas, Rivas and Nandaime feel frightened by the out of proportion military presence and the silent arrival of people who are entering this country illegally.

“The Army is deployed along the whole highway and that means that the local population is restricted in its movement. There is also a lot of insecurity, because there are a lot of human traffickers within the area. The migrants’ human rights are being violated, houses are looted, women are being raped by traffickers, people are being blackmailed, harrassed, are starving and the local population is afraid and angry because they think that if they help them, they can be arrested,” explains Sheyla Reyes, a representative from the civil society network for migration.

The recent case of teacher Nilamar Aleman, charged with human trafficking after she helped a Congolese woman and her 15-month-old daughter, has sparked a debate in the country. In the Rivas area, it’s estimated that thousands of migrants enter Nicaraguan territory, guided by human traffickers or “coyotes”. A large number of pregnant women and children make up these migrant groups. Against this backdrop, many locals want to help these foreigners with humanitarian acts, comments Reyes, but they feel paralyzed, with their hands tied behind their backs, because they could face the same fate as schoolteacher Aleman.

Meanwhile, Martha Cranshaw, the director of NicasMigrante, assures us that it’s necessary that the local population and the government establish concrete lines between what defines a human trafficker, who is committing an illicit crime, and a citizen who shows solidarity. Moreover, she says that criminalizing migrants also needs to stop.

“They want to kill our hearts, by creating an atmosphere of military operations, checks, searches and raids. Right now, what we have to do is differentiate between a trafficker and a migrant. We have to be instransigent when it comes to dealing with traffickers, however, a migrant is a person just like our own migrants who leave to go to the US, Spain and Costa Rica. What we have to demand from the Nicaraguan Government is that its migration policy doesn’t criminalize migrants,” stated the Human Rights activist.

Among the complaints made, these entities are also suggesting that there’s also been persecution of black people even though they are Nicaraguan citizens. According to reports from coastal communities who live in San Juan del Sur, these people are harrassed by the Police and the Army who confuse them with being migrants.

The group of NGOs which specializes in migration has met this week in order to create a plan of action to increase awareness, which they will implement throughout the entire month of September so as to inform and influence communities in Rivas who are most affected by this issue, at this current time.

In Penas Blancas, the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, over 1500 migrants are currently stranded. In early August, ten corpses were found washed up on the shores of the Lake of Nicaragua, near the mouth of the Sapoa River. Five of those bodies were recognized unofficially by a Haitian citizen, Irlande Bien-Aime, who claims that the bodies belong to her relatives: Romane Fatjam Domani, aged 26 years old; Derisma Olgins Fatjam, Skeezy Civil, Claudy Djoudjou Joseph and Viergeline Valery. The identity of the other five bodies still remains unknown.

In spite of the tragedy, there is still a lot of misinformation among the Nicaraguan people which is encouraged by a landscape of governmental secrecy and censorship, the human rights activists expressed. In Cranshaw’s opinion, the Nicaraguan government’s actions should be more focused on creating a regional dialogue so as to resolve this crisis, taking advantage of the fact that the country currently holds the pro tempore presidency of the Central American Integration System (SICA).

“We have to do something; we can’t just let these people suffer, even when they’re dying. Both the government and ourselves, as Nicaraguan citizens, have to act, but it has to be a majority decision of Nicaraguans, because one good action doesn’t resolve the problem, we have to be able to create a process that reflects on the problem,” stated Cranshaw.

According to Jorge Estrada, a member of the civil society network for migration, it’s essential to remember that the Nicaraguan Government has signed the convention for migrant workers and their families, and other Human Rights legal declarations.

“Nicaragua must comply with and respect these agreements. It’s important that the government listens to its citizens and that they realize that the Nicaraguan people are ready and willing to help. Solidarity isn’t a crime but solidarity is being criminalized,” explained Estrada.