Nicaragua’s Closed Doors

Anthropologist Irma Alicia Velasquez Nimatuj. // Photo: Courtesy of Plaza Publica.

Guatemalan anthropologist Irma Velasquez Nimatuj narrates the denial of her entry to Nicaragua, her illegal detention and expulsion.

By Irma Alicia Velasquez Nimatuj* (Confidencial)

HAVANA TIMES – If there is a Central American country that teaches us its permanent capacity to resist in the face of bloody dynasties turned into fierce family dictatorships, it is Nicaragua.  However, the so inspiring resistance that it was forging through the 20th century with blood, conscience and example has slowly faded away before the tragic reality that it is living today, the largest nation in Central America.

The “Nicaraguita” of Carlos Mejia Godoy, today is shielded amid a spiral of terror and violence that strikes all her children and forces them to leave their homes, to take refuge in nearby or faraway places, carrying with them the pain of family separation and the bitter pill of exile, which never goes away, which never subsides. Today that reality is also impacting the rest of its neighboring countries.

That beautiful nation that showed my generation, when we were still children —in black and white recordings— that utopias, with the strength of youth and the full consciousness that each epoch brings with it, can indeed materialize; is the one that today, in an absurd reversal of the wheel of history, is the one that wants to quash its own offspring, its own flowers, the one that wants to wipe out every seed it has procreated and that wants to prevent them from germinating.

That is why it goes after anyone who dares to raise or identify with any flag that demands basic rights that are merely first-generation rights. Let no one dare, thus, ask for more, because the punishment cannot even be imagined because it will be drawn or invented from the most deranged madness caused by the fear of losing control of the weak reins of power.

They disfigured Sandino’s legacy

In that nation, what in the past was a collective struggle for transformation evolved into a family-run struggle to control and accumulate power. From there has emerged an almost dynastic enterprise that has ended up disfiguring Sandino’s legacy. This is a process that is hard to understand, but it is there, showing us the miseries that dictatorships of any ideological tendency drag along with them. There is no dignity anymore, brotherhood is not sought, sisterhood is not claimed, only surveillance and terror remain.

In that setting, where the abyss is just a step away, without intending to, it was my turn to face the jaws of authoritarianism.

In May of this year, I decided that the pandemic has taken too much from me and that I would go to Managua to embrace the latest member of our extended family that I had not been able to meet. My wish was to welcome him. In May I bought my ticket, filled out all the required immigration forms and until the day of my flight I never received any notification from the Nicaraguan government on my planned 4-day visit to that country.

So, I confidently left on July 24, however, upon arriving at the Cesar Augusto Sandino International Airport, the same airline in which I was traveling on asked me to identify myself and upon doing so I was immediately handed over to a government agent dressed in civilian clothes. The agent asked me for my identification documents and without any reason or justification retained them. He immediately led me to another area of the airport, where he and another person took me for a search of my luggage and myself.

Later, I was placed in an area where I was controlled by the officer in charge of my detention. From the first instant that they turned me aside I knew that my life was in danger. If my entry was not registered through the immigration system, who could attest that I was detained? The government of that country could argue that I never entered and simply disappear me and I could end up in one of those prisons where invaluable lives are being extinguished. Because of that, I asked, what was the reason for my detention? Had I violated any regulations? Or why I was prevented from entering?

All I got was silence and more silence, and a refusal to answer. The only thing that the officer in charge finally told me was that “you should never have traveled to this country.” If indeed I should never have traveled, why wasn’t I informed during the two months that transpired between the purchase of the ticket and the day of my flight? Why did they wait until I arrived at the airport to detain me in front of the other passengers?

Partly the answer is that, on the one hand, they wanted to publicly humiliate me as if I were a criminal who could be arrested for my work related to human rights and the rights of women and indigenous people, which I have maintained inside and outside my country. And, on the other hand, they wanted to make me feel that power is in their hands, that in front of them my voice is not a voice, my voice does not exist and by implication neither does my life.

I was never interrogated, never questioned by the plainclothes agent, what he indicated to me was that they knew everything about me, they had all my information, they did not need to know anything else, and my totally arbitrary and illegal detention was planned and personal. It was me who they were looking for, that became clear to me.

Immigration offices in Managua. Photo/Archive.

Hours went by while I was in a limbo, in which I did not know what would happen to me. The silence of the agent guarding me and the permanent calm with which he acted did not indicate to me if I would stay or if I would be expelled from the country. That state of uncertainty is equal to a state of psychological torture, it is subtle torture, cruel and slow, because I didn’t know if I could get out of there or if being placed in detention would be my path.

Time became infinite and that infinity was only broken by the calm voice of the agent, who approached me and told me that I will be sent back to Panama [with my connection to Guatemala]. At that moment I asked to use the restroom and with the utmost serenity he led me, standing at the door in a position of authoritarian vigilance. Why this extreme control? I was not going to escape. Where could I go? I had no way to run, I had no documents, I had nothing with me, it was absurd to think that I could run in a place full of security cameras or in a place where not even my entrance had been registered. However, it was one more way of showing me that I was in their power, in their territory and at a total disadvantage.

On my way back I had no access to my documents, I never saw them. The airline oversaw safeguarding them and they were only given to me when I arrived in Guatemala by two agents from my country who were waiting for me outside the plane. Here it was also evident the complicity of the airline with both governments, the Nicaraguan and the Guatemalan. Did the airline have the right to retain my documents? When I demanded the delivery of my documents, I was told that the airline would give them to me, but this never happened, where are the rights that we travelers have?

My father taught me that, in the midst of pain we should be able to feel the beauty, the beauty of gestures, the beauty in hope and in life itself, even if we are moving through a path of thorns. And the beautiful thing that I was able to feel was love, the spontaneous and deep affection and solidarity I received from many people, relatives, friends, colleagues, professors, students, peasant brothers, companions, companions of struggle or dreams sent me from different points of the four corners of mother earth. I felt the energy of people whom I didn’t know but who raised their voices to make me feel accompanied, to tell me that I was not alone.

I wish to thank from this space all those who mobilized in multiple ways, through the radio, the press, or social networks in the face of the uncertainty of my situation. To the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to the ambassadors, to the civil society organizations of Guatemala and other countries, to my colleagues in the universities where I have had the privilege of teaching. To the press of my country, to elPeriodico, the media where I have published since 2003, to the international media that used their space to denounce this outrage.

Infinite gratitude to the Human Rights Ombudsman of Guatemala, Jordan Rodas Andrade, the Center for Justice and International Law CEJIL/Mesoamerica, the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala for seeking to guarantee my life, coordinate and protect my return. It is clear to me that the voice was raised not only for me, but instead, above all, it was raised for the thousands of women and men of that beloved nation, called Nicaragua, that we love so much and that cannot be heard. It was raised for the men and women who are denied entry to that country trying to break all the bridges of brotherhood, of communication or of mutual understanding.

What I have experienced in my own skin only reaffirms my commitment to fight against any dictatorship. As one of my dear teachers would say, these dictatorships that we are facing now, regardless of their ideology, “are nefarious and their crimes are becoming more sophisticated every day,” so much so that “the number of the circles of hell described by Dante in his Divine Comedy would have to be increased” in order to be able to portray them.

*First published in elPeriodico of Guatemala.

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times