Dear Friends of Nica Family Support,
It was great to see so many folks on the Zoom event "Human Rights Crisis in Nicaragua: How Can We Help?” with Margaret Randall on March 14th. Margaret spoke eloquently both about the current human rights situation in Nicaragua and the political history of Nicaragua to this point, and she responded to a lot of questions and comments. If you weren't able to join live, you can see the recording here. (You can also hear more about her recently updated and re-issued book of interviews with Nicaraguan writers, Risking a Somersault in the Air, on this podcast.)
Before getting into news about, among other things, the release of 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners deported to the U.S. in February and how they're doing now, we want to alert you to an urgent need.
At Nica Family Support, our priority is to continue to support the families of 31 political prisoners who are still in Nicaragua. There are currently 39 political prisoners but only 31 need our monthly support: Three have direct support from a sponsor, one does not ask for support, two are still anonymous, and three are priests–including Monsignor Álvarez– whose family members have support from the Catholic Church. Most of these prisoners were not offered the possibility of deportation to the U.S. The Nicaraguan government has not clearly explained why.
We –and the released prisoners– feel strongly that it's important not to forget those still imprisoned in Nicaragua, to support their families, and to keep fighting for their liberation.
While the amount needed in Nicaragua will now be less than it was, we need to replenish the "common pot" because disbursements were double in December, then the regular amount in January and February (disbursements were made before the release). In March, after the release, funds were still given to some 60 families in Nicaragua who are caring for the minor-age children of recently released prisoners as they deal with the process of family reunification.
Families have been receiving 2,000 córdobas per month, roughly $55. But as the prices of food and basic goods have continued to skyrocket, we know that with $55, families cannot afford to cover the cost of food, medicine and transportation to visit their prisoners. Starting in April, we would like to support the 31 families with C$3,000/month (about $85). For that the "common pot" will need to raise $2,635/month, although arbitrary detentions continue, so the number will rise.
We urgently need to raise more funds for these families. Please give what you can:
· PayPal at Nica Family Support. (They charge 4.5%.)
· If you want a tax-deduction for a contribution of $500 or more, write to us and we'll let you know how to do that.
See below for more ways to support the families of Nicaraguan prisoners of conscience. Thank you!
So What's the Deal with the Release of the Prisoners?
The sudden and unexpected release on February 9 of 222 Nicaraguan political prisoners to the United States was the result of a request by the Nicaraguan regime to the U.S. government to take the prisoners. According to both Ortega and the State Department, there was no quid pro quo nor negotiation. The only thing the State Department asked for in return for providing the plane and reception of the released prisoners was that the people who were going to get on the plane to the U.S. were doing so voluntarily and that the Nicaraguan government give them passports for their travel.
In the middle of the night, the prisoners were taken from their cells in various Nicaraguan prisons (or from the homes of those under house arrest). They were asked to sign a paper saying they were leaving voluntarily, they were loaded into the plane in the early morning without any belongings, and flown out.
While they were en route to the U.S. the Nicaraguan government announced that the National Assembly had changed the constitution and was stripping these "traitors to the homeland" of their nationality and legal identity in Nicaragua, and that they were now "stateless". The released prisoners only found out about this once they landed in the U.S. Later, Daniel Ortega confirmed that this operation had been a unilateral request to the U.S. by Rosario Murillo in order to "get rid of the traitors". Ortega declared it a victory, a clean-up of the country. Of course, it wasn't a victory, it was a sign of desperation.
Why Did They Do This?
No one really knows. The release of political prisoners has, for more than four years, been the major demand of the Nicaraguan opposition and of UN and human rights organizations as the first and necessary step for any further dialogue to happen. One would have thought that Ortega-Murillo would have wanted to reap some benefits in terms of recouping some international legitimacy as a result of the release of the prisoners. But they didn't get anything in return. Rather, various countries, starting with Spain, denounced the stripping of nationality and immediately offered citizenship to the now stateless ex-prisoners. A slew of other countries followed: Chile, Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, and most recently Brazil, which had up to now not positioned itself with regards to the situation in Nicaragua.
Regime Doubles Down
At the same time, the regime decided to double-down even further, reverting any possible international goodwill into further disdain. The day after the release, Matagalpa Bishop Ronaldo Álvarez, who decided not to be released to the U.S., was sentenced to more than 26 years of prison and sent to a maximum security cell, becoming a symbolic martyr and furthering the deterioration of public opinion of the regime among Catholics and the general public. Then the regime stripped another 94 Nicaraguan citizens, almost all of them already in exile, of their nationality, their legal identity, their pensions and all their assets, leaving many of them without the income they had been using to survive outside the country.
And as a pre-Valentine's Day gift, Ortega began to refer to Murillo as "co-president" and said he would reform the Constitution to reflect this promotion and create this new figure of co-presidency. Here's an article with more info.
The Current Situation of the Released Prisoners
The released prisoners were able to stay 5 days in a hotel near Washington, where they received clothing and emergency medical assistance for those who needed it, food for these days, a cell phone and $300 each for their expenses. They were then dispersed to various states. About half of them were able to go to the homes of family or friends in the U.S. The Nicaragua diaspora and organizations supporting migrants helped organize hospitality for another 109 ex-prisoners, often with Nicaraguan families who agreed to host one or more ex-prisoners for 3 months. While there is no official list of where everyone is, it seems that about 67 are in Florida (mostly Miami), 22 in California, 36 in Maryland/Washington DC, 14 in Virginia, and the rest are scattered.
Their first challenge was to figure out how to get low cost or free polio and measles vaccines and a tuberculosis test required by the U.S. government within a month, to be able to apply for the 2-year "parole" and work permit. Many of them have been able to do so.
The challenge of family reunification
One of the main challenges facing the ex-prisoners is family reunification. The regime has made it risky to even request or renew a passport, and there's no guarantee that if family members travel to visit their ex-prisoner loved one that they will be able to get back into Nicaragua. Some 60 ex-prisoners have minor-age children still in the care of their family members in Nicaragua. In addition to the passport challenges, because the ex-prisoners have been erased from the Civil Registry and so no longer "exist", they cannot sign parental travel authorizations which is a requirement for minors to be able to legally leave the country.
Building a new life in a new place
It has now been a month and half since they have been released, and things are still very precarious. It is unclear what will happen in terms of housing when the 3 months are up for those being hosted. Getting work to support oneself will be a major challenge, especially for those who don't speak English, don't know how to read and write, etc. At least 40 of them are beyond retirement age (and the Nicaraguan government has taken away their pensions, as well as frozen bank accounts and other assets). Nany are not psychologically or physically ready to work.
The ex-prisoners also need to decide if they want to stay in the U.S. or accept any of the offers from other countries, like Spain, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico or Brazil to relocate and/or accept citizenship, which may affect their ability to get asylum or more permanent residence in the U.S. The whole thing is very complicated! They have a long road ahead.
The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) has been contracted to address the various kinds of needs, including immigration status, health care, etc. They are also working on organizing special online English courses, literacy classes, vocational training, and other services.
All of this takes time, and after the initial euphoria of being released, many are struggling with feeling disoriented, isolated, and vulnerable, with multiple emotional traumas and physical impacts from the mistreatment they received in prison. CVT is working to coordinate the provision of mental health services as well.
If you'd like to support ex-prisoners in the U.S. (most of them have no source of funds and they have expenses), you can make donations to CVT. They have a casework system set up and they are monitoring and assessing the needs of the ex-prisoners. They have a specific fund called Support The 222 with mechanisms in place to assure safe and equitable disbursement of funds.
Meanwhile… Crimes Against Humanity Continue
Taken from the New York Times: Nicaragua’s ‘Nazis’: Stunned Investigators Cite Hitler’s Germany:
Nicaragua’s president, his wife and top members of the government committed human rights abuses — including torture and murder — so serious they amounted to crimes against humanity, a United Nations investigative team concluded, providing evidence for any efforts to try them overseas.
In a news conference, the head of the investigation called for international sanctions against the government and compared Nicaragua’s track record on human rights to the Nazis, saying the current government’s tactics to hold power beginning in 2018 were like those seen during the Nuremberg trials.
While many will bristle at the comparison with the Nazis, the lead UN investigator was not talking about the holocaust and racist genocide, he was talking about the measures taken to maintain political control:
“The weaponizing of the justice system against political opponents in the way that is done in Nicaragua is exactly what the Nazi regime did,” Jan-Michael Simon, who led the team of U.N.-appointed criminal justice experts, said in an interview.
“People massively stripped of their nationality and being expelled out of the country: This is exactly what the Nazis did too,” he added.
From The Dispatch, the weekly English-language Nicaraguan news round-up published by Confidencial (we highly recommend subscribing!):
In an interview with CONFIDENCIAL, Angela Buitrago, one of the UN experts investigating Nicaragua, explained that the team identified a particular phenomenon in Nicaragua, where “the dismantling of democracy has been organized and carried out in a detailed and gradual manner.”
Buitrago details that this deconstruction of democracy has taken years, in which the government has made constitutional modifications, and has instrumentalized the justice system and other platforms in order to maintain power and control.
The Pope Speaks Out
After more than a year of silence by the Pope on the human rights abuses in Nicaragua, including the persecution of the Church, imprisonment of a bishop and several priests, forced exile of others, prohibition of processions and more, the Pope finally spoke out, and Ortega then promptly cut diplomatic ties. From the Confidencial article Ortega severs diplomatic relations with the Vatican:
In his recent interview with the Argentine media Infobae, Pope Francis was asked about the latest attacks and replied: “with great respect, I have no choice but to think about an imbalance in the person who leads (Daniel Ortega).”
Francis further noted that the situation in Nicaragua “is something that is outside of what we are experiencing, it is as if it were bringing back the (Russian) communist dictatorship of 1917 or the Hitlerian (Nazi) dictatorship of 1935.”
“They are a type of shameless dictatorships. Or, to use a distinction from Argentina, guarangas (uncivil)” he said.
It is unclear what the political ramifications will be, but as Easter Week nears, the part of the population that is Catholic is not very happy with the regime, as all their Stations of the Cross processions have been prohibited. These kinds of action are further eroding support for the regime.
Nica Family Support is Now a Colorado Non-Profit Organization –
Tax Exempt Status Next!
Nica Family Support is now officially a non-profit organization registered in the state of Colorado. We plan to become a tax exempt organization soon. That requires dealing with some bureaucracy, but we’ll get there. Stay tuned!
More Ways to Support the Families of Political Prisoners:
· See above for ways to donate.
· Buy Art
Artists Bill Horne and Claire Kujundzic are collaborating with Nica Family Support by providing profits for art dedicated to our work. 60% of sales for this art goes to Nica Family Support. Click here to see and order a silk screened print of a Nicaraguan license plate from 1979.
· Sponsor a House Concert!
Nica Family Support uses house concerts to raise money. We'll help you sponsor one in your home or a home in your area. You find a musician or other entertainer who is willing to donate a performance and fill the house with your friends and family. They come for free. Well, they come for just the price of a pitch to donate to Nica Family Support!
It's a lot of fun, a relaxed way to ask for support for families who need it desperately. We'll guide you through figuring out the venue (inside or outside), finding an artist, deicing on the sound system. It's not hard.
· Help with Social Media
We are on Facebook and we have a website. We are trying to get up and going on Instagram. We have a newsletter. Help with any of these activities would be welcome. Contact Tori Baker at email@example.com details. Or, use Messenger on Facebook.
Nica Family Support Contact Info (all new!)
phone number 303-762-1758
website www.nicafamilysupport.org (Check us out!)
Thank you to everyone who continues to support the struggle for social justice, human rights, freedom and democracy in Nicaragua.