La Purísima: A Nicaraguan Celebration

Alter by Nicaraguan community in New Orleans

This week, Nicaraguans celebrate La Purísima, a novena—or nine-day prayer—in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, the country’s patron saint. The actual celebrations resemble a cross between Christmas, Halloween, and Carnival.

Today, December 7, is known as La Gritería, or “the shouting,” which is as raucous as it sounds. “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” or “What causes so much joy?” people shout in the streets, with the refrain being “la Concepción de María” or “the Conception of Mary!” Between December 7th and 8th, firecrackers explode in the streets at all hours.

Alter to the Immaculate Conception in Managua

Traditions vary by city, but typically Nicaraguans construct an altar in their homes and host friends, family, and neighbors. Children go from altar to altar singing folk songs and asking, “¿Quién causa tanta alegría?” The homeowners repeat the refrain and hand out small gifts, usually food such as drinks and candy. The best treat of all—equivalent to receiving a king-size candy bar while trick-or-treating—is a nacatamal , a large tamale stuffed with an entire meal of pork, rice, potatoes, and more, that is wrapped and steamed in plantain leaves.

Leon celebrates with “La Gigantona,” a giant puppet that dances through the streets accompanied by drums and horns. Adapted from a Spanish tradition, La Gigantona pokes fun at the original Spanish colonizers. In Granada, locals place their altars on the street, instead of in their homes. La Purísima is also observed by the Nicaraguan diaspora, from Miami to Los Angeles, as a way to reconnect with their heritage.

At its heart, the celebration of La Purísima is about connecting with family, friends, and the wider community. It encourages immense generosity towards complete strangers in a way that has become difficult during the pandemic, but perseveres nonetheless.

Children in Managua stand in anticipation of treats

Due to the pandemic, carolers must gather by the gate instead of inside the home

 

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Sanctions and Sanctimony: The RENACER Act and the futility of US policy in Nicaragua

Two weeks ago, the US House of Representatives passed the RENACER Act by a large margin with the hope, one assumes, of putting pressure on the people of Nicaragua to rethink voting for Daniel Ortega. That election took place on November 15, and Ortega won anyway – though, predictably, with opposition figures decrying the numbers. 

The entire election process in Nicaragua has been under scrutiny by the United States, European Union and multilateral bodies for over a year now. As far as the United States goes, it has routinely called for “free and fair” elections, all while the US State Department puts the whole foot of the US government on the scale in an effort to tip the outcome of the same election. Meanwhile, the United States’ firm commitment to achieving a stable non-Sandinista electoral coalition in Nicaragua is now celebrating 30 years of failure*. In typical US style, it is marking the occasion not with reflection, but by doubling down on that failure with more sanctions.

To be clear, US hypocrisy is not a reason why anyone in Nicaragua should accept the violation of human rights. So, It is certainly worth pointing out that 15 candidates for next week’s national and local elections in Honduras have been murdered since October, while an opposition presidential candidate was just arrested for money laundering. Also worth noting that President Bukele in El Salvador has jailed many of his foes, is in the process of pushing through a new law to scrutinize non-governmental organizations, and is even engineering a path to re-election, despite a constitutional limit of one term. All these moves have been met with silence (Honduras) or muted critique (El Salvador) by US policy makers – certainly no talk of wide-spread sanction. Of course, for people in Nicaragua who are critical of Ortega and see opportunities to voice those criticisms narrowing, the fact that folk in Honduras and El Salvador may be worse off is not much consolation. 

Nevertheless, as evidenced by this divergent treatment, we know, everyone knows, that the United States government is not really promoting democracy in Nicaragua. I’m not sure the State Department actually knows what it is doing – but nothing it has done has helped opponents of Ortega one bit. The opposition is more fragmented today than it was before April of 2018, and that is at least in part the result of US ham-handed “civil society” engagement, conducted alongside a very public commitment to remove the FSLN from power – ostensibly through elections, but who knows what the next step will be now that the electoral route is closed. 

Publicly, at least, the next step is enhanced sanctions. On Tuesday, November 9, Biden signed the RENACER Act into law as an official response to the elections in Nicaragua (to which point it is important to note, the RENACER Act was introduced in March of 2021, and was thus NOT constructed as a response to the elections, but as an effort to sway them).

So, what is in the RENACER Act?

The RENACER Act:

Presents the “sense of the Congress” that Nicaragua’s status under the Central American Free Trade Agreement shall be reviewed by the Biden administration. Threatening the removal of Nicaragua from CAFTA has been discussed by a handful of members of Congress – this bill pushes the initiative further. 

Amends the NICA Act to require extensive reporting and oversight on the part of the Treasury for any loans given under the humanitarian exception written into the NICA Act’s mandate to oppose new loans from the World Bank and Interamerican Development Bank. This is a response to new lending in the wake of the hurricanes that struck NIcaragua last November;

Expands targeted sanctions, e.g. sanctions against individuals which can involve freezing assets held in the United States, blocking travel and/or even invalidating international contracts. This section largely reiterates what is in the NICA Act already, but it goes further in actually providing specific suggestions for sanctions (I quote directly from the act as it is instructive): 

“officials in the government of President Daniel Ortega;

“family members of President Daniel Ortega;

“members of the National Nicaraguan Police;

“members of the Nicaraguan Armed Forces;

“members of the Supreme Electoral Council of Nicaragua;

“party members and elected officials from the Sandinista National Liberation Front and their family members;

“individuals or entities affiliated with businesses engaged in corrupt financial transactions with officials in the government of President Daniel Ortega, his party, or his family; and

“individuals identified in the report required by section 8 as involved in significant acts of public corruption in Nicaragua” [referenced below]; 

 

Adds Nicaragua to a list of countries subject to sanctions over corruption;

Mandates a “classified” report on corruption involving Ortega, his family, and members of the government. (Why classified?);

Mandates another classified report on the activities of the Russian Federation in Nicaragua;

Mandates a report on Nicaragua’s purchases of military equipment and foriegn support for intelligence services.

And, another report on human rights violations in rural areas;

And yet, another report concerning restrictions on press freedom.

 

Sanctioning the families of Sandinista party members is particularly revealing. Sanctioning members of the Sandinista party, for simply being party members, and their families, has nothing at all to do with promoting democracy. Presumably people will have to also demonstrably engage in corruption to be sanctioned. But if that is the case, why identify categories of people based solely on political affiliation for investigation?  Are Constitutional Liberal Party legislative representatives immune to such sanction? It is hard to read this as anything other than an attempt to intimidate Sandinista party members.

Further, the RENACER Act extends multilateral sanctions by doubling down on the NICA Act’s proposed limits on the World Bank and IDB funding. Though William Robinson and others have tried to minimize this impact, the NICA Act did lead to a suspension of assistance from the World Bank, which did not extend any new lending to Nicaragua in 2019 and most of 2020. It also led to a serious reduction in lending from the Interamerican Development Bank, even during the worst months of the COVID-19 crisis last summer – with only one program funded in August of 2020. Lending was haltingly renewed following the hurricanes in November of 2020, but multilateral program funding in Nicaragua still lags behind other Central American governments. The RENACER Act won’t immediately change any of this. Nevertheless, the US government is determined to make new, if limited humanitarian spending harder to deliver.

The one feature of the RENACER Act that could have a huge impact is the threat to Nicaragua’s participation in CAFTA. Nicaragua has done better than other countries under CAFTA’s rules. The much feared impact on rural communities from agricultural dumping from the US was moderated by Nicaraguan government support to rural communities, which was extended through opening credit access, housing and infrastructure expansion.  Nicaragua now imports less food than it did in 2006. Meanwhile, the Sandinista government encouraged foreign investment in multiple sectors and expanded free trade zone operations. The result was that Nicaragua led Central America in economic growth for many years prior to 2018, but also became more dependent on the United States as a trade partner – more so since Venezuela’s economic collapse (thanks to US sanctions) has effectively closed off that market. 

 

It is not clear that the US has the legal standing to unilaterally expel Nicaragua from CAFTA. Certainly doing so will set up a fight in the shadowy trade dispute courts that govern the world’s economy, where investor rights supersede sovereign considerations. The mandated review is thus probably more of a bluff than a serious policy proposal. That said, threatening to expel Nicaragua could scare investors away, and given the fragility of the economy in recovery, that could do damage. Time will tell. 

 

In the end, while the “international left” debates what Nicaraguans should be doing, we remain focused on what US Americans should be doing about the very real democracy deficit in the United States – the one that leads the US government to act with impunity all around the globe as it seeks to pick winners and losers in elections from Haiti to the Ukraine – and, yes in Nicaragua. The US government does not always get the outcome it wants – but it never stops trying.   

 

*Just to note that while it is true that US pressure and financing did lead to the formation and eventual electoral victories of non-Sandinista coalitions in 1990, 1996 and 2001, all of those coalitions collapsed shortly after taking office. They governed little, but oversaw the deconstruction of most public institutions and the impoverishment of the majority of Nicaraguans. Seems that opposition to the FSLN is not really sufficient as a governing strategy. A lesson lost on US policy makers, as well as most of the opposition organizations they fund.

 

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Nicaragua: Updates on Homes for Hope

15 years ago, we launched “Homes of Home,” our campaign to provide affordable housing to impoverished Nicaraguans since reconstruction efforts following Hurricane Mitch. In 2015, we partnered with the Roncalli Association to make housing more accessible for middle to low-income families. 

Juan Omar Quant Lee in front his family’s new home in Ticuantepe, Managua

Over the last five years, 144 homes have been built under the Homes of Hope initiative in the communities of Sebaco, San Marcos, San Dionisio, and Terrabona, as well as in Managua. We construct high-quality homes that can resist future natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. The Roncalli Association also installs soil and storm drainage improvements to prevent flooding, clean drinking water, and electricity. 

There are two main components of this housing strategy: the Community Housing Program, and the Family Housing program. Quixote Center funds cover construction costs, families repay the loan at a concessional rate, and the money flows into a revolving loan fund that will cover the costs of future housing.

Ileana Amparo Mendoza, owner of a Zafiro model house

The Family Housing initiative provides loan guarantees for middle-income families through a special agreement with BANPRO. This serves those who are often excluded from the national financial system.

The Community Housing program works primarily with low-income families and involves families directly in the home-building process. Families within a housing cooperative contribute to the construction of homes under the supervision of Institute staff. This lowers the cost of construction and thus repayment rates. It also provides training for those participating.

Shirlen Ruiz Dávila’s Old Home vs New Home

Through the Community Housing Program, 75 low-income housing units have been built with Quixote Center funds. From these 75 households, 271 people have benefited directly (137 men and 134 women). This has also indirectly benefited at least 446 people, namely the 153 construction workers who were hired for an average of 3 months for each project.

To read more about Homes for Home and the families that have benefited, click HERE to visit our Story Map

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Nicaragua election explainer

Nicaragua election explainer

On Sunday, November 7, Nicaraguans will vote for the president and vice-president of the country, as well as for the National Assembly and for Nicaragua’s representatives to the Central American Parliament. There has been a great deal of controversy about these elections circulating in the US and European media. One result is that the United States Congress just passed a new sanctions bill against Nicaragua (the RENACER Act) on Wednesday, November 3 in response to some of this controversy. (See here for more detail). I’m not getting into the controversy in this post – just a simple explainer about who is running.

Who is running? How does it work?

Under the election reform law published in June of 2021 (see page 3876), the Nicaraguan president is elected by a simple plurality – the candidate with the highest number of valid votes becomes president. When Parties put forward their candidates for president and vice-president, they must conform to the principle of gender equity (one of the candidates must be a woman, one a man). As you can see, in this election cycle the presidential candidates are all men, and the vice-presidential candidates are women.

The parties and their candidates for president/vice president are:

Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC)

President; Walter Edén Espinoza Fernández.

Vice President; Mayra Consuelo Arguello Sandoval

Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN) (United Nicaragua Triumphs Alliance)

President: Jose Daniel Ortega Saavedra

Vice President: Rosario Maria Murillo Zambrana

Christian Path Party (CCN)

President: Guillermo Antonio Osorno Molina

Vice President: Violeta Janette Martinez Zapata

Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance Party (ALN)

President: Marcelo de Jesus Montiel Fernández

Vice President: Jennyfer del Carmen Espinoza Blen

Alliance for the Republic Party (APRE)

President: Gerson Gutierrez Gasparin

Vice President: Claudia Maria Romero Cuadra

Independent Liberal Party (PLI)

President: Mauricio Orue Vasquez

Vice President: Zobeyda del Socorro Rodríguez Díaz

The National Assembly Election

There are 92 seats in the National Assembly. Like the president, the assembly is elected to 5 year terms. The seats are divided as follows:

20 seats are National Representatives elected through a system of proportional representations. Seats are assigned based on the percentage of votes cast for the party, e,g, if a party gets 50% of the vote, they get 10 of these seats. Each party submits a list of candidates; every other candidate on the list must be a woman. The seats won are then assigned by going down the list from top to bottom – if a party wins 10 seats, then the first 10 candidates on their list are given the seats.

There are 70 seats that are assigned to department and regional representation. They are assigned as follows:

Department of Boaco (2). 

Department of Carazo (3). 

Department of Chinandega (6). 

Department of Chontales (3 ). 

Department of Estelí  (3).

Department of Granada (3 ).

Department of Jinotega (3 ).

Department of León (6).

Department of Madriz (2).

Department of Managua (19). 

Department of Masaya (4).

Department of Matagalpa (6).

Department of Nueva Segovia (2). 

Department of Río San Juan (1).

Department of Rivas (2).

Autonomous Region of the South Caribbean Coast (2). 

Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean Coast (3).

These seats are assigned in a proportional fashion as well, corresponding to the percentage of the vote each party or party alliance wins in the department or region. 

All of the parties with a presidential candidate have a slate of candidates for the National Assembly. Elections for the Autonomous Regions also include the party YATAMA.

The final two seats in the assembly are reserved for the presidential candidate that comes in second, and the outgoing president (or vice president – if the president is re-elected).  As Ortega and Murrillo are both running again (and likely to win), I am not clear how this seat will be handled. 

Elections for the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN)

Nicaragua’s representatives to the Central American Parliament are determined through a proportional representation system similar to the process for deciding the national level representatives for the National Assembly. 

There are 20 deputies elected to the Central American Parliament from each member country for 5 year terms.

The Central American Parliament is part of the System for the Integration of Central America, and is thus one of a number of institutions that have been built to enhance coordination among countries of Central America. The Parliament itself grew out of regional peace talks during the 1980s, and was launched in 1991.

The Process

Results for the elections will be presented by the Supreme Electoral Council beginning Sunday night. Voting will take place in 13,459 polling stations, with votes then tallied in 3,106 voting centers. Just under 4.5 million people have been registered to vote in the election. 

There will be an international presence during the election, including a delegation of people invited by the government to accompany the process, as well as official election monitors from the European Union.

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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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Contact Us

  • Quixote Center
    P.O. Box 1950
    Greenbelt, MD 20768
  • Office: 301-699-0042
    Email: info@quixote.org

Directions to office:

6305 Ivy Lane, Suite 255. Greenbelt, MD 20770

For public transportation: We are located near the Green Belt metro station (green line)