Alan Reyes Picado participated in marches by university students against President Daniel Ortega. He refused to loan trucks from his trucking company to the government of Nicaragua.
Today he assures that he paid the price: he says it was threatened with death, kidnapped and dumped almost naked in a garbage dump.
Thereafter decided to run away of his country. He left alone and came to the United States in February hoping to find peace.
“I was afraid and decided to seek help in this country. I cannot return,” he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from his new home in San Francisco, California.
Alan, 20, is one of the thousands of Nicaraguan opponents of the Ortega government who are fleeing from their country and arrive in the United States seeking asylum at a time when the international community has denounced new human rights violations and arbitrary detentions.
The departure of Nicaraguans has also translated into a new situation thousands of kilometers to the north of the country: arrivals at the US border skyrocketed.
The Border Patrol encountered Nicaraguans 534 times in January 2021, but in June the number rose to 7,425, according to data from that institution.
A mural with the image of the President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, and his wife and first lady, Rosario Murillo. Photo: AP
And so far in fiscal year 2021, which began last October, the agency had contact with Nicaraguans more than 19,300 times on the southern US border, a record in recent years which far exceeded the 13,000 times in fiscal 2019, the previous highest figure.
In 2018 Nicaragua experienced a social rebellion. For several months there were protests, which were suffocated by the Ortega government with violence. In the end, 328 deaths were reported, according to figures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
Arrests of opponents
The same commission and groups such as Human Rights Watch have now denounced that the arrests and repression of opponents have returned in the months leading up to the general elections scheduled for November 7, in which Ortega aspires to achieve his fourth consecutive term.
According to the IACHR, more than twenty people were recently detained, including opponents who include candidates for the presidency such as Cristina Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, Juan Sebastián Chamorro, Miguel Mora, Medardo Mairena, and Noel Vidaurre.
There are also student leaders and peasant organizations. Almost all have been accused of treason.
Daniel Ortega seeks his reelection in November and attacks opposition candidates. Photo: AFP
The Ortega government did not respond to several requests for comment from the AP.
Hundreds of thousands of migrants from other countries, such as Ecuador and Venezuela, are also arriving at the US border this year, as the new Democratic administration of President Joe Biden eased some restrictions imposed by the previous Republican government of Donald Trump.
In June, more than one in four people located by the Border Patrol came from countries other than Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras or El Salvador.
In the migration offices of Nicaragua, a country with a population of 6.5 million, the Migration offices in Managua remain full of people processing passports, as happened during the 2018 crisis.
The Archdiocese of Managua echoed the exodus.
“With sadness we note once again the migration of Nicaraguans, the vast majority of them young, due to political persecution,” he said in a recent statement.
Persecutions and repression
Alan, the 20-year-old, participated with his brother in the 2018 protests. His family owned a transportation company and about six trucks. Several times government officials approached the church in Tipitapa, west of Managua, where they had them parked to ask them. According to Alan, they wanted to use them to mobilize supporters of the ruling party.
His family refused. And the persecutions began, he assured.
“They were looking for us in the house, we did not live quietly“recalled the young man, who came walking and was detained in a migrant center for two months before being released. In Nicaragua he left his partner, his eight-month-old baby and his mother.
Anita Wells, a Nicaraguan activist in Virginia who is dedicated to helping compatriots in her country, on their way to the United States, or newcomers, says she is “overwhelmed” with work.
The protests against Daniel Ortega in 2018 were harshly repressed. Photo: EFE
“We have lots of people, boys in detention centers. Some are injured, some are political exes, and yet they are not always allowed to enter (the United States),” Wells said.
The woman is one of the founders of Abuelas Unidas por Nicaragua, a group that collects and sends money to Nicaraguans in need.
She is also one of the founders of the Nicaraguan American Human Rights Alliance (NAHRA), an organization that helps asylum seekers and is now trying to prevent the expulsion of Nicaraguans who arrive at the border.
Fired by opponent
Like Alan, José Olivera fled Nicaragua and left his entire family in his country, including two children and his wife.
Sales executive for an electrical appliance company in Jalapa, a city in northern Nicaragua, crossed the U.S. border after he was fired for refusing to accept an identification card that the government gives to his supporters.
Clashes between police officers and protesters against the Ortega government in front of a university, in April 2018. Photo: AFP
They had been warned by both the owner of the company, who was a supporter of Ortega, and government officials who came to his house to offer him the card.
Through papers signed by the ruling party – the Sandinista National Liberation Front – that appeared under the door of his house, they had also told him that if he refused to receive her, they would kill him and his family.
“I never agreed to be sympathetic to them,” said 38-year-old Jose. “Honestly, I’m scared. They would have killed me,” he said in an interview in a humble apartment he occupies near downtown Miami.
Walk three days on the train tracks
His flight north began by bus to cross to Honduras and then to Guatemala. After walked three days on the train tracks with blistered feet, until he reached Mexico, where he was kidnapped by drug traffickers.
After paying a $ 6,500 ransom collected by his relatives, he was released three days later. He crossed the Rio Grande River, which separates the United States from Mexico, and turned himself in to the Border Patrol in June saying he wanted to seek asylum.
After being detained for two days, he was released with an electronic shackle on his right ankle, which allows the authorities to know where he is while his asylum claim is being resolved.
But not all Nicaraguans who come to the United States cross the border.
The number that legally enters also increased: they were 3,692 in January and rose to 7,375 in June, according to the Border Patrol.
According to immigration lawyers and activists, many of those who come with visas decide later whether to stay and apply for asylum, or to return to their country in a few months, before their permission to stay in the United States expires.
Asylum seekers appear to have more luck in US immigration courts than other Latin American migrants.
The asylum approval rate for Nicaraguans in the 12-month period ending September 30, 2020 was 36%, compared to 26% for all nationalities. For Salvadorans it was 17%, for Guatemalans 13%, for Mexicans 12% and for Hondurans 11%, according to statistics from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse of Syracuse University, a body that records official migration data.
Alan hopes to be one of these lucky ones. The brother with whom he participated in the 2018 protests now has asylum in the United States.
Live in fear
In Nicaragua, Alan decided to live alone so as not to put his family at risk and he moved in with an aunt who gave him a job in her furniture store. But even then he didn’t prevent them from finding him.
A group of hooded paramilitaries with black hats kidnapped him in December 2020 and took him to a police station, he recalled. He was detained for three days, until they handcuffed him, threw gas in his eyes and threw him half naked into a garbage dump in the middle of the field.
Walking for more than two hours and with the help of a neighbor who brought him to a road, he was able to get home.
It was the trigger for his flight.
“Now I feel calm because I know that I will have a safe life,” he said. “I miss my family, but I know that one day they will be here with me.”
Source: The Associated Press