Migration from Nicaragua 

There has been a notable increase in migration from Nicaragua toward the United States in recent months. According to an Associated Press review of Customs and Border Statistics, the number of Nicaraguans who have been picked up by Border Patrol during the current fiscal year is 33,000, with 7,325 encounters just in June and 13,000 arriving in July [Note: Updated figures with graphs at end of post]. This represents a significant increase over recent migration from Nicaragua. Indeed, for most of the period since the Sandinistas returned to power in 2006, annual encounters of Border Patrol with Nicaraguans hovered around 1,000.

The only reason for the increase in migration from Nicaragua explored in AP and Reuters investigations is the claim that people are fleeing political persecution. This has become the latest media narrative on Nicaragua – i.e., a political crackdown is leading to an exodus from Nicaragua. Like many other narratives over the last three years, this is not really true, or, at least it is far from the whole story. It is true that there has been a spate of arrests of political opposition figures since June. One can argue about the validity of these arrests, but they’ve clearly happened and have been widely condemned outside the country. There has also been an increase in people leaving Nicaragua, represented by an increase in people arriving at the US/Mexico border. The fact that both things are happening does not mean one is causing the other, as anyone who survived a freshman statistics class can tell you – correlation is not causation.

The increase in people seeking asylum from Nicaragua is undeniable. Since the political crisis erupted in April of 2018, the number of Nicaraguans seeking asylum around the world has risen dramatically. In 2015, for example, the number of people from Nicaragua seeking asylum across the globe was 1,232; in 2017 it was 2,722. In 2018, however, the number jumped to 32,000 and then peaked in 2019 at 67,000. The number of asylum seekers has actually fallen since. The majority of these claims have occurred in Costa Rica, with significant numbers of people also seeking asylum in Spain, Mexico, Panama, and the United States. While there was an increase in border crossings in the United States during the 2018-2019 crisis, it was far below the current bump – and the situation was far more volatile then.  

As high as these numbers have been by Nicaragua’s recent standards, when compared to other countries in Central America the figures are low. The chart below shows UN data for different categories of forced migration, internal and external, in Central America for 2020. Not only is Nicaragua well below all of its northern regional neighbors concerning the number of people seeking asylum, and/or claiming refugee status, there is basically no internal displacement, and few “other” categories of concern in Nicaragua. Compare this to Honduras, for example, where internal displacement approaches 250,000 people on top of the 180,000 combined asylum and refugee claims. 

Honduras is, of course, not a standard of good governance for anyone I know. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that the United States continues to tiptoe around abuse in Honduras, as well as Guatemala, (with its own new restrictive NGO law) and El Salvador (where President Bukele has been locking up opposition political figures as well). 

It is also instructive to compare the number of asylum claims vs the total number of people migrating. Doing so makes clear that asylum is not the main reason people are leaving Nicaragua – not even during the worst of the political conflict. The case of Costa Rica is somewhat unusual but still instructive. The tens of thousands of asylum claims from Nicaraguans in Costa Rica need to be viewed alongside the annual 800,000+ border crossings between Nicaragua and Costa Rica that were the norm before COVID-19 as Nicaraguans routinely sought temporary work in Costa Rica. Indeed, the majority of asylum claims in 2018 were from people already living in Costa Rica at the time of the crisis who did not want to return. They were not all people fleeing the turmoil, though clearly many did not want to be pushed into it.

Within the United States, the notable increase in Border Patrol encounters of Nicaraguans reported on by the AP and Reuters (up to 33,000 so far this fiscal year) is also dwarfed by encounters from Honduras (242,000),  Guatemala (218,000) and El Salvador (73,000). In all three cases, the numbers this year represent a dramatic increase over already high numbers from previous years. Encounters with people from Honduras are up 600% over the same time period last year, for example. In total, 1.2 million people have been encountered by Border Patrol during the current fiscal year, which doesn’t end until September 30. It is already the highest total in nearly 20 years. 

So, what we are witnessing at the US border is an increase in migration across the board from Central America, as well as Haiti, Cuba, Venezuela, countries of Africa and South Asia – not just Nicaragua – and within this increase, encounters with Nicaraguans remain well below those of countries in northern Central America, much as they have for nearly two decades now. Political conflict is part of the explanation for migration from all of Central America, including Nicaragua. But it is pretty clearly far from the whole story.

So what else is going on?

From a regional perspective, there are a number of rather obvious push factors leading to an increase in migration over the last 6-12 months. So obvious, in fact, that one must wonder how they escape the investigative framework of journalists trying to isolate Nicaragua. Firstly, COVID-19 has led to a squeeze on domestic markets, disrupted international trade, and wrecked tourism, which had become a significant generator of employment for Nicaragua in particular. Secondly, there is widespread environmental devastation that is affecting nearly every corner of the globe. In Central America, this has translated into recurrent droughts, and more recently, the widespread destruction of crops by hurricanes Eta and Iota in November last year.  Less an issue in Nicaragua, but devastating in Guatemala has been the explosion of parasites that have destroyed coffee harvests – an infestation largely blamed on shifting climate patterns. 

All of these trends place added stress on people who see their livelihoods threatened or destroyed. In Nicaragua over the last two years, the government has also been under further pressure as the result of US sanctions, which have taken a bite out of multilateral financing for social programs. Even during the worst of COVID-19, the health sector in Nicaragua received nothing from the World Bank, while the Inter-American Development Bank provided only limited support. Nicaragua’s rightly celebrated gains in reducing poverty, extending free healthcare and education, investing in affordable housing and so on, are under threat as a result of all of this.  

For Nicaraguans out of work, Costa Rica has historically been a place they can go for seasonal employment in agriculture and in the service sector. This is no longer the case. Costa Rica has been hit hard by COVID-19, especially in areas like tourism. There are now more Nicaraguans returning from Costa Rica than traveling there, and overall border crossings are way down. From 800,000+ crossings, split between coming and going, in 2018 and 2019, in 2020 the number of crossings was just over 270,000, with 143,000 Nicaraguans returning, versus 130,000 going to Costa Rica. The numbers for this year are not complete, but show a similar trend.

Far from a mass exodus to escape persecution, the people who are leaving Nicaragua today are mostly escaping a context of increased impoverishment, made worse by US sanctions, COVID-19 and natural disasters. All of this, coupled with an effective shutting down of temporary work opportunities in Costa Rica, means more people are heading north. It is, thus, a huge oversimplification to identify the source of migration as people fleeing a “crackdown” while ignoring these other factors. And compared to the rest of the region, Nicaragua is still doing better.

What the simplistic narrative does do is feed into the idea that the solution to migration from Nicaragua is a change in government. The reality is quite the opposite: If we want to see an actual surge of migration from Nicaragua, increasing sanctions or employing other interventions to force a change in government is the way to do it. People throughout the region are fleeing economic collapse and political instability – far fewer from Nicaragua, where the government has done demonstrably better at providing a safety net.  So, if migration is the concern, squeezing Nicaragua further makes no sense. As it is, journalists from the US should at least be asking what the impact of US policy has on these trends, and other regional dynamics. Singling out Nicaragua in this way makes no sense.  

UPDATED Numbers, Tables showing trends for the year

Note all countries have seen a dramatic increase in FY 2021 over FY 2020. Also note that from every country there is a significant bump in February/March. This is just to make the point that the increase in migration from Nicaragua is part of a regional trend – and not a unique increase in migration.

Over all year to date

 

By month, by country

Nicaragua

Honduras

Guatemala

El Salvador

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Quixote Center delegation and other immigration updates

Temporary Protected Status Update

The biggest news we have shared in recent weeks is the redesignation of Haiti to receive Temporary Protected Status. This happened on May 22, and impacts people from Haiti who were in the United States on or before May 21. People who qualify for TPS are allowed to stay and work in the United States until it is decided that it is safe for them to return to Haiti. The program is reviewed every 18 months. 

Of course, as with all policy, getting agreement to do something is only half the battle. Getting it done correctly and quickly requires a certain amount of vigilance as well. The Quixote Center joined in with 130 organizations on this letter to the administration asking for TPS to be handled quickly and as inclusively as possible. Please feel free to share among your networks. 

Meanwhile, the campaign to get TPS extended to Central America continues. Nicaragua was one of several countries for whom the Trump administration sought to cancel its TPS designation. The administration was ultimately successful in the case that impacted Nicaragua’s TPS designation (there were several court challenges to Trump’s effort to cancel TPS). So, at the moment, Nicaraguans that have been approved for TPS are still able to stay and work in the United States, but absent a renewal, or redesignation, their protected status will end in October of 2021.

Alianza Americas is leading a coalition effort to get a new TPS designation for countries in Central America impacted by hurricanes Eta and Iota, which hit the region within two weeks of each other in November, as well as ongoing violence. The call is for redesignation for Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador, and designation for Guatemala (which has not received TPS before). 

There is a week of action under way. You can check Alianza Americas and Presente.org’s toolkit for social media posts and other ideas, and to sign their petition here. 

The Biden Administration formally ends the “Remain in Mexico” program

Of the many things the Trump administration did to gut the United States’ asylum system, one of the better known, and often brutal, tactics was the Orwellian named “Migrant Protection Protocol.” Under the provisions of this program people seeking asylum at the U.S./Mexico border were made to wait on the Mexico side of the border for a hearing with U.S. immigration judges. People were forced to wait for months, and ultimately years once hearings were suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions last March. MPP ultimately directly impacted over 71,000 people.

People waiting in Mexico were frequently victims of cartel violence and kidnappings. Human Rights First documented 1,500+ cases of people enrolled in MPP who were attacked while in Mexico.

When the Biden administration came into office, they immediately halted new enrollments into MPP. At the time, new enrollments were fairly limited because most asylum seekers were (and still are) removed under a different program, the public health order currently keeping the border locked down to asylum seekers: Title 42. The January suspension did signal the beginning of Biden’s DHS clearing MPP cases – or, allowing those still waiting in Mexico a chance to register and enter the U.S. to await asylum hearings here.

On June 1, 2021, DHS Secretary Mayorkas announced the formal closure of the Migrant Protection Protocol, ending one (of many) of Trump’s border debacles. 

With MPP formally closed, it seems that Biden should now begin the process of winding down Title 42 expulsions. 

Detentions going up, and up

With the end of the Migrant Protection Protocol, and a lower percentage of people being expelled under Title 42 (though still huge numbers overall), the number of people in detention is going up rapidly. While Biden entered office with a commitment to minimize the use of detention, the U.S. immigration system is sadly designed as an inherently punitive system, and detention has been its centerpiece since the early 1980s. So more people are being admitted, but many of them are being placed in detention while being processed.

Because of Title 42 expulsions, and a modest slowdown in internal enforcement operations in the spring of last year, the number of people held in immigrant detention facilities fell to an all time low by the end of January in 2021 – less than 13,000 for the first time in over 20 years.

As of May 28, 2021 that number is up to 23,107  As outlined by TRAC, the increase is almost entirely the result of people being redirected to ICE detention by Border Patrol. 

The Quixote Center and Franciscan Network on Migration: “Delegation and Witness at Mexico’s southern border”

September 19 to 25, 2021
Tenosique, Salto de Agua, and Palenque in Mexico and
El Ceibo,
Guatemala (dependent on border restrictions)

Join the Quixote Center and the Franciscan Network on Migration on a delegation to southern Mexico to examine the impact of U.S. policy on Mexico’s immigration enforcement on its southern border. The Franciscan Network on Migration connects the work of migrant shelters run by Franciscans in Central America and Mexico. The Quixote Center is a member of the network, and also works with community groups in Nicaragua and Haiti.

The focus of the delegation: Under pressure from the United States, Mexico has cracked down on migration along its southern border with Guatemala: The result is an expansion of security forces patrolling in border states, changes to visa rules, increased us of detention, and since March 2021, the closure of the border with Guatemala to all but “essential” travel. These pressures have come from both Trump and the Biden administration, and have been further complicated by COVID-19 travel restrictions. 

Join us, as we visit the border to see first hand the impact of these policies, and to meet with immigration rights advocates providing shelter and other relief to migrants crossing into Mexico in this new environment.

The delegation will begin in Tenosique, Tabasco. We will spend a couple of days with people at migrant shelter, La72. We will also meet with UN refugee offices in the area, and if travel restrictions have been lifted, we will visit shelters just across the border in Ceibo, Guatemala. We will also visit shelters in Salto de Agua and Palenque, both in Chiapas. 

How to get involved

The cost of the trip is $995 and includes meals, hotel, all in-country transportation, and translation. The cost of international travel is not included. Delegates must arrive at the airport in Mexico City on Sunday, September 19th. From there we will travel together to Villahermosa, Tabasco (the cost of the connecting domestic flight from Mexico City to Villahermosa is included in the delegation fee). 

You can apply to participate on the delegation here. A deposit of $250 is required by July 1, with balance due August 15.

We require that everyone participating on this delegation provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination.  

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Paul Oquist Presente

On December 12, 2015 the Paris Agreement was adopted by 196 parties at the 21st Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The agreement went into force on November 4, 2016. Among the handful of countries that opposed the agreement was Nicaragua – because it was too weak. The core of the treaty is built around “nationally determined contributions,” or voluntary emission reductions decided by individual countries. The failure to adopt binding requirements led Nicaragua to refuse to sign the accord – the person who made the case for rejecting it was Paul Oquist.

Oquist’s argument rested on two ideas. The first was that the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) that were being put forth in December 2015 were not sufficient to keep average global temperatures in the range of 1.5 to 2 degrees celsius that was being debated. As Estafanias Jiminez summarizes the argument,

Nicaragua calculated that the INDCs submitted for December, 2015 will generate 55 gigatons of CO2 by 2030, which implies a global temperature increase of 3 °C. Oquist highlighted that the current form of the [Paris Accord] will lead the world to a 3 °C increase in temperature and this would mean, in most developing countries, a dangerous increase of 4 °C. His government does not believe the INDCs will be better in 5 years. He explained that the low ambition of 1.5 °C wanted by developing countries and 2 °C wanted by developed countries is leading to less execution of the commitments. Nicaragua wants another mechanism based on historical responsibilities. 

The second problem for Oquist was that the countries most responsible for emitting greenhouse gases were getting off too easy. In an interview, Oquist explained:

The 10 largest emitters are responsible for 72 percent of the emissions. The 100 smallest are responsible for 3 percent of the emissions. If you’re the CEO of a company and you have an overrun that you reckon is in the range of 2.7 to 3.5, let’s say billions of something, and you want to bring it down to the 1.5 to 2 range that’s acceptable: are you going to work on the hundred cases that have 3 percent or on the 10 cases that have 72 percent? It’s a no-brainer. The only way you can get that reduction is out of the big emitters.

The Paris Agreement was thus a “path to failure” according to Oquist, and so Nicaragua did not sign (initially). Ortega later changed course, and Nicaragua agreed to be a part of the process in 2017 “out of solidarity” with other developing countries. At the table, Nicaragua continues to press for stricter emissions standards, and equity in the assignment of responsibility and funding for adaptation. Following 2017, Oquist remained an important influence over the process as a co-chair of the board of the multilateral Green Climate Fund. The fund oversees distributions to impoverished countries seeking to make adaptations to meet emission reductions.

Nicaragua is way ahead of most other countries. Over the last 13 years the government has adopted a series of reforms, and made a determined effort to direct investment to renewable forms of energy. Nicargua is now approaching the goal of having 90% of its energy come from renewable sources. So, Oquist’s hesitations had nothing to do with commitment on the part of the country he was representing. He was addressing the system of global inequality.

Paul Oquist died on April 12, 2021. He will be sorely missed for his wisdom and tenacity, as well his generosity and kindness.

Some remembrances of Paul Oquist:

Letter to Paul Oquist from Saul Arana, reprinted Alliance for Global Justice

“Tribute to Dr Paul Oquist, tireless advocate for social, economic & climate justice” Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign

Isabelle Gerretsen, “Climate watchers pay tribute to Nicaraguan envoy Paul Oquist, who died on Monday,” Climate Home News

“Paul Oquist ha partido”, Nicaragua Sandino

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From the Archive: Bill and Maureen Testify before Congress (1987)

Over the weekend, I stumbled across a C-Span clip of Maureen Fiedler and Bill Callahan testifying before Congress about the U.S. embargo against Nicaragua and humanitarian aid shipments.

You can watch (or skim) the entire hearing on C-Span here.  A clip of Bill and Maureen’s testimony is can be viewed by clicking on the image below.

A little bit of context: In 1985 the United States launched an embargo against Nicaragua as part of its broader effort to destroy the Sandinista revolution. The Quixote Center began humanitarian aid shipments to Nicaragua in 1983 (following the CIA bombing of the Nicaraguan port at Corinto) and continued to ship to Nicaragua despite the embargo. For this, the Quixote Center was investigated by U.S. Customs in 1986. Though hassled, the shipments were never halted, as they met the humanitarian exceptions written into the embargo order. 

It was also in 1985 that Congress agreed to fund the Contras, after years of denying this request. The FY1986 appropriation was $30 million and contained some restrictions on CIA and Department of Defense support for the opposition in Nicaragua. In 1987 appropriations expanded to $100 million, and though some funds were designated for “humanitarian aid” to the Contras, military assistance was approved. 

The response from the Quixote Center was to launch the “Quest for Peace.” The Quest for Peace was a campaign to track the amount of humanitarian aid delivered to the people of Nicaragua. The goal was to outspend the U.S. government, or more to the point, to demonstrate that grassroots support for the people of Nicaragua within the United States was greater than the U.S. government’s determination to destroy the Sandinista government. Hence the closing of Bill’s testimony, “We are building a policy of peace and friendship between the people of Nicaragua and the United States.”

At the time this testimony was taking place, the campaign was at its peak. Bill, who tracked assistance from the Quixote Center and other grassroots organizations as the coordinator of the “National Tally” was just back from one of his many trips to Nicaragua when he testified. That year, Bill was able to document $100 million in humanitarian assistance raised for the people of Nicaragua, matching funds appropriated by Congress for the Contras in FY1987.

While all of this seems ancient history, the United States government is once again leveling sanctions against Nicaragua in an effort to remove a Sandinista government. Though the scale of the current U.S. effort is small compared to the 1980s, and the contexts are quite different, it is nevertheless useful to remind ourselves of the sense of entitlement the United States government feels in shaping political outcomes in Central America – an entitlement it has exercised for decades with deadly results. At the Quixote Center we continue to oppose all sanctions and other forms of U.S. intervention in Nicaragua. It is the one consistent feature of our work for last 38 years. 

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Update on Hurricane Iota

Hurricane Iota makes landfall Image:NASA

On Monday, November 16, Hurricane Iota struck Nicaragua about 15 miles from where Hurricane Eta made landfall 13 days prior.   

As with Eta, the government mobilized the army and police forces to evacuate people from the coast prior to Iota – tens of thousands of people. This no doubt saved many lives. However, wind and rain took its toll, as rivers overflowed and hillsides collapsed.  Four people died in a mudslide in the Los Roques sector of the municipality of El Tuma-La Dalia. Another six people died in flooding in Carazo and Wiwili. Alliance for Global Justice’s NicaNotes has more detail here.  In total, the government reports 21 deaths from Hurricane Iota.

Among the clear immediate and longer term effects of the storms is food insecurity. Crop loss in areas around the country is enormous. For example, the Humboldt Center estimates

  • In the municipalities of Bilwi, Prinzapolka and the Mining Triangle, there were average losses of 90% in the crops of rice, beans, musaceae (bananas and plantains) and tubers, among others. 
  • In the departments of Matagalpa, Madriz, Nueva Segovia and Estelí: Major losses are reported for beans, rice, vegetables, citrus fruits, tobacco and coffee. In the production of basic grains, losses are estimated between 60% and 90%; a 20% loss in coffee production. 
  • In the municipality of San Juan del Sur in Rivas, the estimate is that 100% of corn, beans and rice crops were lost due to floods and strong gusts of winds. 

Preliminary estimates from Nicaragua’s government are that “the total cost of damages from Hurricanes Eta and Iota could amount to USD $400 million, approximately 3% to 4% of  national GDP. Assessments from Hurricane Eta alone indicated USD $178m worth of damage  to homes, public services, infrastructure, businesses, agriculture, fishing and more, and Iota had a greater radius and intensity. Treasury Minister, Iván Acosta, said that the  government’s priority now is protecting the lives and wellbeing of the citizens, but a full  evaluation will be carried out as soon as possible.”  

Current Responses 

Over the coming months we will be focused on providing support for emergency response and longer-term reconstruction assistance. We will also be asking people to speak out on areas of U.S. policy that can have an impact in Nicaragua and other countries in Central America. This is what we are focused on now: 

Funding: The Quixote Center will be coordinating emergency response with our long time partner, the Institute of John XXIII. Over the next few weeks our focus is on the purchase of food and hygiene kits and delivery of these items to the coast. 

FOOD PACKAGE CONTENT – US $ 34.00

  • Rice 5 KG
  • Beans 5 KG
  • Oil 2 Ltr.
  • Sugar 2.5 KG
  • Oats 4 Bag of 1 Lbr.
  • Maseca 2 Bags of 1 Lbr.
  • Maggi Soup 4 Bags
  • Spaghetti 4 Bags

PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT – US $ 20.00

  • Face masks
  • Liquid soap
  • Mosquito repellent
  • Gloves

Advocacy: The U.S. government must immediately halt all deportations to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The only country where there has been a halt in deportations is Honduras, and only because the airport in San Pedro Sula is literally under water.  

Representative Nydia Valezquez (D-NY) has introduced legislation to extend Temporary Protected Status to Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. The Hurricane Eta Relief Act of 2020 would suspend most deportations to these three countries – though clearly this faces an uphill battle with the current Senate and President. You can call the Congressional switchboard and ask your member of the House to support this legislation: 202- 224-3121. 

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Another Hurricane will hit Central America this weekend

Less than two weeks after Hurricane Eta struck Central America, leading to deaths from Panama to Guatemala, another Hurricane is expected to hit Central America, coming ashore just north of where Eta struck along the Nicaraguan coast.

A week after Eta, areas are still under water

Eta left extraordinary damage in its wake, especially along Honduras’ northern coast and inland, where rivers crested, entirely cutting off communities from assistance. In Guatemala, mudslides have killed scores off people.  In Guatemala and Honduras, the governments did little to prepare for the storm, and have been ineffectual in delivering emergency supplies to people in need. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees writes:

Honduras has been hit hardest by extensive rains and overflowing rivers, with an estimated 1.3 million people affected, 58 dead and 88,000 evacuated. Among these are 103 people who had been previously displaced by violence and persecution.

In Guatemala, over 640,000 people have been affected, including 46 dead and 96 missing nationwide. Some are buried under landslides or remain inaccessible to first responders. At least two families of asylum seekers have had to be evacuated from their homes due to flooding. UNHCR is coordinating the delivery of aid with authorities and partners and has made refugee housing units and essential supplies available, in response to the government-led appeal for support.

Video of damage in Honduras

Mulukukú, Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast

Nicaragua’s government managed to evacuate thousands of people prior to Eta’s landing. There were only two confirmed deaths in Nicaragua – both miners killed in a mudslide. Over the last week the government has delivered over 30,000 sheets of metal for roofing and other supplies to to begin reconstruction efforts. Nicaragua was better prepared than other countries in the region, as it had developed a national response network in the post-Mitch era. However, like everything else these days with Nicaragua, unless you are there, it is impossible to decipher the impact of government efforts from the media as every story of success has a counter-narrative these days. That said, like the rest of Central America, this hurricane hit at a time when economic growth has slowed due to the coronavirus outbreak and government resources are strained as a result. In Nicaragua, the struggle is further exacerbated by U.S. government sanctions aimed at pressuring the Sandinistas out of power.


Tropical Depression 31 heading toward Nicaragua and Honduras

As of now, another tropical system is heading toward Nicaragua, and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane. It is currently estimated to come to shore along the northern Nicaragua coast on Monday morning, and cut across Honduras, with impacts felt in Guatemala, El Salvador, Southern Mexico and Belize.

It goes without saying this is about the worst thing that can happen right now. We hope that conditions have changed enough to limit the strength of the storm. For example, this system is moving faster, and is not expected to reach the devastating Category 4 that Eta did. We will update as more is known.

Update: Friday 11:00 p.m.

The tropical depression has become Tropical Storm Iota. The latest from the National Hurricane Center now shows it potentially becoming a “major” hurricane by Monday morning – winds in excess of 110 MPH.

Update #2: Saturday 10:00 PM

Iota has slowed down, and is strengthening. The path has also shifted south some, currently on target to hit Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast very close to where Eta did. Honduras will get hit hard again on this path.

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Hurricane Eta strikes Nicaragua

Nicaragua was struck with a category 4 hurricane on Tuesday this week. Hurricane Eta formed and quickly strengthened in the Caribbean last week and into the weekend. It came to shore as a very strong, slow moving storm near Bilwi on the northern Atlantic coast, and cut across the northern part of the country, swelling rivers and dropping rain all around. 

As of Wednesday there were two reported deaths, both gold miners who perished in a mudslide west of Bilwi. Nan McCurdy with the Nicaragua Network reported on Wednesday, that “The torrential downpours on November 4 have caused the flooding of some neighborhoods in Jinotega, San José de Bocay and Wiwilí where 27 people were evacuated by the army.  The strong currents of the Wamblán River dragged down the suspension bridge.” Further flooding and mudslides are always possible as the rain continues to fall, but it does seem as though Nicaragua has seen the worst effects, and has come through okay. That said, there has been significant damage to homes along the Atlantic coast and interior flooding with the result that some folks will be displaced for a time.

National emergency response systems put in place since Hurricane Mitch struck in 1998 were mobilized before the storm. On Tuesday, Erika Takeo with the Friends of the ATC wrote about precautions being taken: “Within the framework of prevention and mitigation of damages, more than 80 tons of food and basic elements were sent to the shelters (about 20 thousand people have been evacuated) that have been installed in safe areas of the city of Bilwi. Also, more than 1,500 troops of the Nicaraguan Army rescue unit were mobilized to the areas with red alert, and a provisional hospital with medical equipment from the Ministry of Health has been installed to attend to emergencies.” 

We spoke with folk at Institute of John XXIII on Wednesday. As the rain was still falling, it was too early to know the full impact of the storm and, therefore, what emergency, or longer term responses might be needed. We will continue to be in touch. For now, we proceed mostly with relief that the people of Nicaragua seem to have come through the storm as well as could be expected. 

Honduras and Guatemala have been more severely impacted. In Honduras at least 13 people have died in flooding, and many more in Guatemala, as 25 people were killed in a single mudslide near San Cristobal Verapaz.

Flooding in San Pedro Sula

We will have more information on impacts in Honduras and Guatemala early next week. At this point any funds we raise for Honduras and Guatemala will go to the Franciscan Network on Migration, which coordinates the work of shelters in Central America and Mexico.

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Nicaragua in times of coronavirus: Amazement and suspicion

 Below we share a reflection on COVID-19 in Nicaragua. The country has seen very few confirmed cases compared to other countries in the region. While opposition figures have simply said the government is lying about the numbers, this hardly explains the difference – which goes far beyond anything the government could actually hide if it wanted to. So understanding what is happening in Nicaragua is very important. 

Magda Lanuza has been an activist and friend of the Quixote Center for many years. She regularly works in Nicaragua, but is currently in El Salvador where she penned this reflection earlier this week. The oriignal in Spanish can be read here.

by Magda Lanuza in San Salvador, El Salvador, April 18, 2020

What’s going on in Nicaragua? For some, it is interesting, scandalous and impossible that the country only has 9 reported cases as of April 18, when there are already countries in the region that outpace it, such as 640 in Costa Rica. In what follows, I will explain nine differences that make what is happening in this country distinct from what is happening in the Central American region. This is not the time to take advantage of the situation and discredit political rivals, to make apocalyptic messages, or to announce miraculous remedies or recipes for cleansing and magical eating. One should keep a level head as they read this story, which will be written for centuries to come.

  1. Massive vaccination campaigns: The country has focused on preventive health for the past 40 years. In the 1980s, the tuberculosis vaccine – BCG – became widespread. Then in the last 10 years influenza vaccinations have become widespread, giving priority to the elderly. Meanwhile, in Honduras and Guatemala, the health system is semi-privatized and no longer supports the needs of the general populace. Prevention is better than medicine, and in health it pays double!
  2. Public health system: In the last 12 years, 17 new hospitals have been built, for a total of 73 public hospitals available to 6.5 million inhabitants. In addition, there are 143 Health Centers equipped for patient observation and treatment, and 1,333 health posts. All of our health systems suffer from limitations, but in Nicaragua, public investment in public health is not negligible!
  3. Organized and informed communities: No other country in the Central American region has the information network and training with Health Brigade members that exists in Nicaragua. There are 5,806 community health centers. From these sites, communication with health authorities is received and distributed, reaching the farthest corners of the country. “ATTENTION, if you came to our Municipality you must isolate yourself for 14 days!” So say the posters that these brigades deliver and carry in recent months.
  4. There are no deportations from the United States: Despite having the airports closed and making constant requests to stop deportations, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, have not stopped receiving chartered flights every day. These brothers and sisters arrive in precarious health conditions from the center of the pandemic (more than 700,000 cases and 37,309 deaths). The Guatemalan Minister of Health stated that between 50% and 75% have arrived positive. Nicaragua today does not have this problem either!
  5. Isolation since April 2018: Since the attempted coup in April 2018, the nascent tourist industry collapsed. We can still find on the web pages of northern embassies warning their citizens not to travel to this country. There are no flights from Iberia, British Airways, Lufthansa, Alitalia, KLM, or Air France, such as one finds in Costa Rica and Guatemala. Managua International Airport already had very few flights before COVID-19!
  6. 6. Strict controls for passengers and travelers: The Nicaraguan Army has dedicated itself to controlling the blind spots on both borders. Those who arrived via the airport are checked, and they are sent to social isolation and follow-up in their own homes. El Salvador, when it still had no cases, forced hundreds of people to remain in confinement centers in a single location. This measure of 30 and up to 45 days of compulsory confinement has been questioned because it is not recommended by the WHO / PAHO. The overcrowding in these centers may have contributed to the increase in imported cases (190 today). The strategies devised in each case will yield its own results!
  7. Tourism industry almost null: Guatemala has nearly 2.5 million tourists to year, while Nicaragua had only reached 1.7 million in 2017. In Costa Rica, tourism totaled 6.3% of GDP, while in Nicaragua, it barely reached 5% prior to April 2018. The Nicaraguan tourist industry went from receiving $840.5 million for tourism in 2017 to $544.4 million in 2018, according to official data. The virus likes to travel and they call the cases “imported”!
  8. Extensive territory versus population density. Nicaragua is the largest country by area in the region with 130,700 sq km and has the smallest population in the entire region with only 20 inhabitants per sq km. With almost 43% living in rural areas, compared to El Salvador which has 326 inhabitants per sq km, and Costa Rica with only 25% of its population in rural areas. The space is enviable and healthy!
  9. Closure of airports and borders of neighboring countries: Guatemala closed off flights on March 17. Costa Rica closed its borders (no flights) on March 19. Honduras closed its borders on March 16 (no flights) and El Salvador closed off flights on March 18. Meanwhile, COPA Airlines and AVIANCA, almost the only airlines that arrive in Managua, have suspended all their flights since mid-March. Nicaragua has already been quarantined since mid-March!

Finally, I would like to offer one more difference for those who are believers. God has protected and will continue to bless the suffering and dignified people of Nicaragua. 

And so, the headlines that have come out in large international media outlets such as El País, BBC, RTVE, The Guardian and CNN, are not valid but cynical. Then they have been copied by media in the region, such as La Tribuna in Honduras on April 12, with photographs from marches in 2018. 

Times of pandemic bring out the best and the worst in us. For some, their basest interests, fake news, racism, and hatred emerge and instill fear in the population. Others show their solidarity and dedication to the most helpless. Those are the Saints of these days, as Pope Francis said in his homily from Rome on Easter Sunday.

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ICE detentions are way down this month. That is not all good news.

Busses taking people to deportation flights in Brownsville, TX

According to ICE detention statistics, on March 21 ICE was holding just over 38,000 people. On March 28 the number was down to 35,671; by April 4 the number was 33,863. Which means over the last two weeks the number of people in ICE detentions has fallen by 4,200, or just over 11%. As we, and many other people have been advocating releases, this seems like good news.

However, is ICE actually releasing people on a large scale? It does not seem to be the case. The Global Detention Project estimated that only 200 people had been released in recent weeks by ICE under pressure from advocates for humanitarian parole. Rather, it seems that the decline is the result of a drop in book-ins to ICE facilities, coupled with ICE continuing to deport people at a significant pace. 

The first point to make is that fewer people are being booked into ICE facilities. Those transferred from Customs and Border Patrol to ICE hit its lowest level this year during March. This decline is the result of fewer people trying to get into the United States, and, more to the point, the fact the U.S. is simply sending those people who make it back across the border to Mexico without processing them. This policy was established under an emergency order issued by Trump – and if it lasts long enough to go to court, will almost certainly be overturned. But for now, CBP is holding fewer people, and thus transferring fewer people for longer term detention in ICE facilities. Book-ins from CBP were 9,218 for March, nearly 2,000 less than in February, and the lowest monthly total this fiscal year.

The number of people booked into ICE facilities as the result of internal enforcement operations (CBP detentions are generally the result of enforcement actions at, or near the border) also declined in March, though was still over 10,000. In mid-March, Mark Albence announced that ICE would be reducing its enforcement operations to focus exclusively on removals of people with criminal convictions. Reportedly, Albence was raked over the coals within the White House for this announcement, as it  had not been approved in advance. So we’ll see how long it lasts. The decline in book-ins in March was not great however, and through the first 3 days of April, 886 people were detained as the result of internal removal operations. This represents too few days to make much of a guess at April numbers, but if this early daily average were to hold, the total book ins would be near 9,000 people – lower than recent months to be sure, but still a lot of people. For March the total was 10,100 – lower than February or January, but higher than November or December. An important trend here is that internal removal operations are now higher than CBP transfers as the source for ICE detention for the first time in well over a year, if not longer.

So, one reason the overall numbers are down is a significant decline in those transferred into ICE’s massive detention network. However, this doesn’t explain how people are getting out. If the Global Detention Project’s estimates are correct, and relatively few people are getting released as a result of humanitarian parole (+/- 200), then there must be another source for the 11% fall in detentions over the last two weeks. 

The main source of the decline in detention numbers seems to be deportations. Of the 33,800 people in ICE detention right now, 12,000 are slated for expedited removal. So, many of these people may be gone by the end of April – offsetting any increase from ongoing enforcement actions.

Of great concern is the related fact that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has continued regular deportation flights with only a brief pause to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, and in the last week has also flown people into Haiti, Colombia and Nicaragua. And, of course, ICE has been deporting the largest group of people back across the border into Mexico, as it regularly does. 

Deportation flights have become the source of growing criticism of ICE and the Trump administration’s immigration policies in the time of coronavirus. COVID-19 is now present throughout ICEs facilities, and will only grow in the coming weeks. ICE’s lack of preparation and discernible care for the people in its custody during this pandemic has been documented over and over-  most recently, by Amnesty International in a scathing report released earlier this week. And yet ICE continues to move people around within its detention network, and is still deporting people to countries, almost all of whom have otherwise closed their borders and shuttered international airports. All of these countries are now forced to spend precious resources managing arrivals from the United States – which is now the location of nearly one-third of the globe’s confirmed cases. 

So, ICE practices have become a significant source in the transnational spreading of coronavirus in the Americas. There have been 3 confirmed cases of people deported to Guatemala with COVID-19, and many other people arriving with flu-like symptoms to other countries. The attorney for a Hatian man due to be deported this week noted that his client had been in two different facilities in one week – both of which had confirmed cases of COVID-19 among either staff or people being detained. He was pulled off the deportation flight at the last minute, but none of the other 61 people on the flight to Haiti were tested for COVID-19. 

I would love to celebrate the decline in the number of people being held detention by ICE. And, all things considered, it is certainly better news than an increase in those numbers. But underlying the decline are disturbing practices; practices that in the context of a global pandemic rise to a level of indifference and irresponsibility that is shocking even for this administration’s already low bar on ethical behavior.

ICE must halt deportations AND release people from detention…NOW. 

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In Memoriam Ernesto Cardenal

Ernesto Cardenal in León (Nicaragua) 1979. PEDRO VALTIERRA / CUARTOSCURO

The famed Nicaraguan poet, priest and revolutionary Ernesto Cardenal died on March 1, 2020 at the age of 95. Over the years, many of the Quixote Center staff and our partners had met him. Even though he was a public figure, he was also known to be a man of the people, approachable and warm. 

His poetry expressed the complexities of his relationship to his Nicaraguan homeland, the natural world, and the United States. His life showed much of the same complexity. After graduating from the UNAM in Mexico, he continued his studies at Columbia University and returned to the United States to study under Thomas Merton in his Trappist community. From Cardenal’s early collection, Gethsemani, KY, we find a poem, which I have translated below, that gives a glimpse into how he understood the contemplative life in relationship to the realities of consumer society:

In the night lit up by words:

PEPSI-COLA

PALMOLIVE CHRYSLER COLGATE CHESTERFIELD

that flicker on and off on and off,

the red green blue lights of hotels and of bars

and of movie theaters, the Trappists go up to the choir loft 

and light the fluorescent lamps

and open their great psalters and antiphonaries

among millions of radios and televisions.

They are the lamps of the prudent virgins awaiting

their husband in the US night! 

From Kentucky, he moved to Antioquía, Colombia for seminary studies before settling on the island of Mancarrón, the Solentiname island in Lake Nicaragua, where he founded a radical intentional community that welcomed locals and international figures alike to reflect upon the nature of the Gospels as understood in lived experience. He developed a political and social consciousness quite at odds with that of the Catholic hierarchy and increasingly aligned with Sandinista leaders during the insurrection. As Cardenal described the development of the community’s collective conscience through the 1960s and 1970s:

These commentaries on the Gospel were radicalizing us, me and others in the community. Little by little, we found ourselves identifying with the movement in Nicaragua until a moment arrived in which we were practically assimilated to it. Some of the youths already wanted to leave the community to become guerrillas. It took a lot of effort for me to hold them back and a message sent to us by the legendary guerrilla Comandante Marcos was a great aid. He said that we had to maintain the community in Solentiname because it had social, political, military, tactical, and strategic importance for the revolution.

The consequences of that tactical and strategic importance were great. Several members of the community – Cardenal not included – participated in the failed uprising of October 13, 1977, with the goal to take control of a military base in nearby San Carlos. The reprisal was swift, with an aerial bombardment that decimated the island community of Solentiname and scattered the population. 

Even as Cardenal won many awards for his poetry, he was ostracized within the Church – particularly the Vatican – for his support of the Sandinista Revolution and his role as Nicaragua’s Minister of Culture from 1979-1987. He was famously rebuked by John Paul II on his 1983 visit to Nicaragua, who, wagging his finger at Cardenal, scolded him for his role in the government. His priestly ministries were suspended by Rome from 1984 until 2019, when Pope Francis lifted that suspension.  

Due to a combination of budgetary problems during the Contra War and what might be described as artistic differences with Rosario Murillo, Cardenal’s Ministry of Culture was closed in 1987. While he expressed a lifelong commitment to the Revolution, Cardenal left the Sandinista party in 1994 and publicly criticized its leaders. 

Although he was openly critical of the Sandinista party, his stature is such that the President and Vice President decreed three days of national mourning. As might have been anticipated in the current polarized environment, there have been media reports that the funeral services on March 4 were disrupted by Sandinista “turbas” [mobs]. But this claim is backed up with only a few brief videos supplemented with the claim that reporters were robbed

According to his wishes, Cardenal will be cremated and the ashes deposited in the Solentiname archipelago that was so dear to him. His archives, however, are stored at the University of Texas at Austin. 

In early 2018, Cardenal released a poem titled “Así en la tierra como en el cielo” [“On earth as it is in heaven”], reflecting on faith, mortality and the natural world. To capture the scale of his legacy I end this reflection with my translations of a few passages from this much longer poem:

Billions of galaxies with billions of stars

(there are more than one thousand million galaxies)

our galaxy of trillions of stars

barely one among millions of galaxies

a star gas

and a galaxy gas

I open the window and gaze 

at the stars from which we come

it seems that the universe had a purpose

in which we find ourselves

the universe conscious of itself:

stardust 

that can in the night

gaze at the stars

…………………………………………………………………………………..

We are lavish because of the Sun

always bathing in light and food

light that is food

because plants eat light 

a chemical reaction called photosynthesis

chlorophyll: light from the Sun and water from the Earth

by which plants are green

the variety of shapes and sizes of leaves

one over another fighting for the Sun

and the light made sandwich and made wine

“I am the light,” said Jesus

light and food

the universe is not only for man

and the Good News is for all of creation

the whole world with cries of childbirth

its mystery that surrounds us all

and is almost entirely empty space

…………………………………………………………………………………..

God/Love is not an unmoved mover

but rather change and evolution

the future that calls us

and the resurrection our future

all together in the center of the cosmos

there are many rooms there said Jesus

the Only planet in the solar system 

with lights in the night

And we are God’s dream

God dreams of us

wants us in a different world

without the sins of inequality

the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer

where no one rules over anyone

…………………………………………………………………………………..

The stars are not above

They are atoms like us

born of stardust

and from this same dust are they

Millions of conscious stars

their sacrifices shining all night long

the explosion of supernovas

teaching us how to die

 

~Rest In Peace, Ernesto

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