“Guillermo” [assumed name] recalls that on the last working day of 2022, his boss once again warned him: “Don’t even try it, because they won’t let you leave.” It wasn’t the first time that had been said to him. On two occasions, when he insisted he needed permission to visit his sister in the United States, the reply was always the same.
“Even though I hold only a middle-management position, it seems they’re afraid I could end up staying in the United States and denouncing them in some way. I don’t really know what I could say, that would cause them to keep me from going,” he added.
During his seven-plus years in the Health Ministry, Guillermo has found the level of paranoia coming from the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo “incredible.” This paranoia is directed against the majority of the State employees. “Since there have been so many resignations, and many have left the country, I suppose they’re afraid we’ll all leave, laying bare the general feeling of being fed up that predominates among the public employees,” he says.
Other colleagues of this worker, who’s just over 30, have also tried to ask permission to travel outside the country in order to visit friends, family members, or just for tourism. They’ve all had the same luck. “One female colleague was told she should send a letter explaining everything, but that it was a long process and that those above [higher authorities] would decide if she could travel,” Guillermo recalls. “But the response to her letter never came.”
Only certain people can leave Nicaragua
Guillermo has no logical explanation for who is allowed to leave the country and who isn’t. For the Christmas and New Year’s vacation, he thought they’d be free to leave with no problem, but the warning was the same. “You don’t leave with your suitcases, because we’ve heard of cases of people being stopped when they get to the airport, who then have their passports taken away, and are informed they can’t leave,” he explains.
“I also know of State workers who left for the US with no problem, but these tend to be the ones close to their bosses. We learn about it because they post photos on social media.”
Guillermo also knows that relatives of high-level functionaries from state institutions like the Supreme Court have been blocked from leaving Nicaragua, alongside the employees themselves. There’s never any explanation given, they’re simply told they can’t travel. Some have had their passports taken away.
“They don’t want us to go anywhere”
“Paula” [not real name] says it was hellish getting a passport. The first time she applied for one, she had to stand in a long line for hours in Managua. She asked for help from “a friend in the Party”, but the friend ignored her.
“No one wants to get burned, because, apparently, saying you want to travel is a sin within the government ranks,” she alleges. In the end, she didn’t have any problems getting her travel document, but her boss told her that in order to leave, she had to give the details of where she was going, for how long and the motive. “In a certain way, they persuaded me that leaving was a bad idea, because afterwards I could be looked upon badly at work,” she says.
Nonetheless, she knows of some workers at the Ministry of Education who are daughters or relatives of ministers, deputies, or magistrates. “These workers leave the country and no one says anything to them (…) Some of these people have even remained to live outside the country without having tendered their resignation,” she states.
“Clearly, there’s some selective permissions given, but the reality is that they don’t want us to go anywhere, because they fear we’ll become a new voice of denunciation at the international level,” Paula reflects.
Universities tighten travel permission
In August 2022, a memo was circulated in the National Council of Universities (CNU), informing those who worked in the country’s university system that if they wanted to travel outside the country, they should report their intentions “seven days in advance”, including the reasons for travel, the country they were going to, and the dates of leaving and returning to Nicaragua.
The document was signed by Jaime Lopez Lowry, the technical secretary of the CNU. It said they were interested in “tracking the migratory movements of the faculty, administrative employees, and the directors of that educational community, as well as the academic and scientific staff that the university receives when there are special events and/or for the realization of activities contemplated in the plans, programs and projects carried out in the university. We respectfully request that you inform us of your entrances and exits from the country at least seven days in advance.”
“This same thing occurs in many other public institution,” affirms “Leonela”, a worker in the Judicial Branch. She wanted to travel shortly before November 2021, but was told she couldn’t.
“All this year I’ve been insisting they give me permission to travel outside the country, because I like to take advantage of my vacations to visit new places, or to see relatives. However, I haven’t been able to,” she maintains.
The first excuse they gave her was that she couldn’t leave because “the presidential elections were coming up.” Later, the excuses were: “It’s because you’re close to such and such a high functionary.” In 2022, the argument given was that there were municipal elections. “And that’s how they’re treating me, just stalling,” she complains.
In the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute, there’s a clear order: “No one can leave on their own,” states “Roberto” who works in the southern part of Nicaragua. There are people here who’ve left over unmarked border crossings in order to get away,” because it’s not easy to resign without raising suspicion.”
“You can’t even go to Costa Rica where nearly all of us have relatives,” says the young man, who’s been working in the state institution for twelve years.
“Even if they don’t directly say so,” he affirms, “the reality is that we’re all kind of prisoners, confined to Nicaragua, by a regime that views everyone as enemies, even their allies and workers.”