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Disinfecting Buildings in Times of Coronavirus: a Political Exile’s Job in the USA

With no medical insurance, Nicaraguan Idania Molina and her children attempt to survive amid the difficulties imposed on them by the pandemic

Elmer Rivas

13 de abril 2020


Working for a cleaning company that disinfects buildings isn’t the most gratifying job in these times of Coronavirus. But Idania Molina has to bring some income home. She has to do two daily shifts in the city of Houston, Texas, in the country with the greatest number of infections in the world, with a current total of over 580,000 cases.

For a week now, a small home nebulizer accompanies her during her nights. Molina, who was forced to seek exile in the United States due to political persecution from the Ortega-Murillo regime, has had symptoms similar to those of the Coronavirus. She admits to being afraid. One day, when she could no longer stand the fever and the respiratory fatigue, she called 911. She posted on “Facebook Live” at the moment of being assisted into the ambulance.

Her greatest worry was for her children: Axel 16, and Michell, 13. “My intention (with the video) was to say that if something happened to me, my children would be left to weather the storm all by themselves,” she relates.

Molina hadn’t felt so much anguish since July 8, 2018, when she was witness to the brutal “Operation Clean-up”, carried out by the paramilitary and police in the Carazo department of Nicaragua. Beginning that day, her life became “a journey” that led her to take refuge in the United States, without ever suspecting that she would also end up becoming a prisoner of a world pandemic.

Molina and her sons entered the United States on January 4, 2019. She had joined the first large migrant caravan that left the northern triangle of Central America on January 4, 2019. Her family has asked for political asylum, meaning that they have no social security number, a condition that, in times of Covid-19, puts them in a position of extreme vulnerability.

Although the US Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar has assured that Coronavirus patients without health insurance will receive medical attention, fears continue rising among the unprotected population in the face of the pandemic’s advance. “No patient will be asked for their immigration status. I invite all those who have symptoms to take action, because it’s the only way to slow the virus,” added the health authority.

For Molina, the tension that the pandemic causes is double: “For raising our voice and protesting in a civic manner in Nicaragua, we’ve had to come and face hardships in another country,” she states regretfully.

Alias: “the skinny one”

Molina has a degree in Language and Literature. Before the April rebellion, she was a preschool teacher at the “God’s Angels” preschool in Carazo. In fact, she founded the school, using her life savings to do so. But when enrollment surpassed 60 children, “the FSLN political secretary began to pressure to make it a public center,” she affirmed.

Weeks later, the Carazo department became a bastion of resistance, with the self-organized citizens raising roadblocks to protest against the state repression. From that time on, Molina became known by her alias: “the skinny one”.  She joined the marches “from the first days”, she says. Many nights she spent awake, guarding with her son the roadblock set up in the La Libertad neighborhood, and “sometimes at the San Jose barricade in the city of Jinotepe.”

Mother and son became victims of political persecution, especially the 14-year-old youth, who saw how another youth named Josue Mojica was killed at a barricade.  Molina’s son himself received a bullet wound to the leg.

One of the reasons that propelled this family to go into exile was that Carolina Urbina, judge of the District Criminal Hearings Court in the nearby city of Diriamba, issued an arrest warrant for the youth. They accused him of “terrorism, promoting a Coup d’etat, torture against the state, vandalism and drug trafficking. After going into hiding in Nicaragua, mother and son joined the caravan of Central American migrants. It was a long and arduous journey that took months. [Yet, by the standards of those in later caravans, left to weather inconceivable conditions in Mexico and Guatemala with no real chance of asylum, they were lucky.]

 “It seemed like a bad dream to have left the country from one day to another, with nothing. I felt like I had lost everything, I couldn’t believe it, it broke my heart to leave,” Molina describes. Even though the family did manage to establish themselves in the United States, the arrival of Covid-19 made things even harder for them.

Six months ago, Molina’s son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. The scars from the repression are still affecting him, and he has to inject insulin four times a day. A year after their arrival in the US, the help they were receiving from some religious groups ended, and Molina had to go out to work at 4 in the morning, returning at 11 at night, in order to pay all their food, rent and medical expenses.

As a migrant, I have to do this,” she states. She received a work permit, but her hearing before the Federal Court that will eventually approve or deny her asylum request is still pending.

The day she was hospitalized, she left her sons alone in the apartment. Her worst fear was the thought of leaving them “forever”. In the emergency room, she was diagnosed with symptoms indicative of Covid-19 and was sent home to rest in total isolation. “I spent three days under the same roof as my sons, without seeing them.”

Molina says the fear of leaving her children alone in a country like the United States is her “Achilles’ heel”. “When I get sick, I can only think about their being left by themselves in this country, with no one,” she worries.

The solidarity of the community of Nicaraguans in Texas helped her take the Coronavirus test which costs 140 dollars. The test was negative. Her diagnosis: “pulmonary infection”. Now she has three reasons to stay at home: her illness, that of her son, and her high-risk job. But even though she shouldn’t leave home, she does so, because the family’s needs allow her no truce.

“I take preventive measures in my work,” she assures. In her backpack, she carries ambroxol, acetaminophen, and antibiotics to help with the fatigue and the cough that tires her still more. The nebulizer makes her feel better, but she needs more rest. Four hours of sleep a night aren’t enough. And although Covid-19 is a global pandemic, suffering it in a foreign country in an unfavorable position makes a difference, according to her.

Despite the Coronavirus and everything else, Molina says she doesn’t regret participating in the protests against the Ortega-Murillo regime.


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Elmer Rivas

Elmer Rivas

Periodista y productor general de los programas Esta Semana, Esta Noche y Confidencial Radio, dirigidos por Carlos F. Chamorro. Exiliado en Costa Rica desde junio de 2021.