The stripping of nationality by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo fell like a lightning on the 317 Nicaraguans affected, 222 released from prison on February 9, and another 94 on a list issued by the dictatorship on February 15.
Some continue to assimilate the situation, while others are taking the first steps to find out how to get out of the migratory limbo in which the regime’s repression has placed them. Their main demand is to speed up asylum or refuge processes in third countries and hoping that the governments that offered to grant them nationality create the mechanisms to put their political declarations into practice.
Environmentalist Amaru Ruiz is a refugee in Costa Rica. He went into exile at the end of 2018 due to threats of imprisonment by the Ortega regime, which also confiscated his assets de facto, before he along with 93 other Nicaraguans were expropriated by a judicial resolution and labeled them as “traitors to the homeland.” Ruiz has already requested his documentation in Costa Rica to ensure the continuation of his work as a human rights defender, while he studies the different scenarios before the sudden loss of his nationality.
Ruiz points out that both the countries and those affected were not prepared to act in the face of an event that transcends the history of Latin American dictatorships, whose authoritarian governments have turned political opponents into stateless persons, such as the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet in Chile. However, never in such a large group as is the case of Nicaragua: 317 people in less than fifteen days, including the bishop and still political prisoner, Rolando Alvarez.
Spain, Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Mexico offered their nationality to the “stateless” Nicaraguans. Ruiz is grateful for these public and political declarations of the governments, but also demands the establishment of operative mechanisms to manage these citizenships, whose requirements must consider the vulnerability in which those affected by the elimination of their records in Nicaragua find themselves.
“It is a process. It is not by decree that they are going to give you citizenship. You have to make a request, a whole presentation. The time periods are unknown, because each country is different. Perhaps some, not all, will have the same procedure,” he said.
In his case, he remains expectant of a pronouncement by Costa Rican authorities on the “stateless persons.” So far, the government of President Rodrigo Chaves, noted on February 21 that Nicaragua contravenes international law and the conventions on statelessness, with the “arbitrary withdrawal” of nationality. But he has not offered Costa Rican nationality, nor has he indicated what consequences there would be if a Nicaraguan refugee opts for another nationality, but wishes to continue residing in Costa Rica.
Living without a nationality
Economist Ligia Gomez, former manager of Economic Research of the Central Bank of Nicaragua and former political secretary there for the Sandinista Front, has been a political asylum seeker in the US for more than four years. Her migratory condition changed on February 15, when the regime took away her nationality in one swipe. Gomez, who denounced the abuses of the Ortega regime to a US congressional committee, assured that she will remain “stateless” until her asylum process progresses. Lawyers explained to her that if she accepts the nationality proposed by another country, she loses the possibility of obtaining international protection in the United States.
“The only solution that lawyers give is to remain stateless, waiting in an indefinite immigration limbo until the United States grants us a credible fear interview,” she told Confidencial. Gomez, when reflecting about the possibility of another nationality, thinks of the job uncertainty, since in the United States she has a work permit, and although she does not practice her profession, she works with civil society organizations, which allows her to support her family.
“In practice, according to what lawyers say, I will remain without the human right to have a nationality for a long time. I cannot move around, I cannot travel, I can’t do anything. I am practically locked in this migratory limbo,” Gomez pointed out.
Mildred Rayo, on the other hand, is one of the 222 people released and banished from her country on February 9, 2023. The only thing she knew when she arrived in the United States was that she entered with a humanitarian parole and that she would be able to process her work permit.
After fifteen days in the US, Rayo, who is a member of the Nicaraguan University Alliance (AUN), has a clearer picture of her situation. She decided to stay in the US and begin her asylum process. She has applied for a work permit and hopes to continue advancing in her status. One of the factors that influenced her decision was the territorial proximity of the US to her homeland.
The United States, which welcomed the 222 Nicaraguan exiles, assured that it will assist them in their efforts to normalize their immigration status. However, other exiles, such as Gomez, explain that the asylum request processes are time-consuming and can last years.
Retaliation for international defense of human rights
Uriel Pineda is a human rights specialist and was living in Mexico when the protests broke out in Nicaragua in 2018. Nonetheless, the Ortega regime included him in the list of 94 people declared “fugitives from justice” in retaliation for his international denunciation of the abuses of the regime against the citizenry.
Pineda believes that given the loss of his nationality his situation is one of “greater vulnerability” because he was in Mexico for professional reasons, and did not have international protection as a refugee, which is the situation of the majority of “stateless persons.”
“So far, I don’t know the status of my residency in Mexico,” says Pineda. One of his first actions was to ask the Mexican Foreign Ministry to repudiate the human rights-violating decision of the Ortega regime to strip him of his nationality. However, the institution has not commented on it.
Pineda also requested precautionary measures with extraterritorial effect from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). This implies, if they are approved, that the IACHR, in addition to requesting information from the Nicaraguan state about their cases, will ask other countries belonging to the Commission, to provide the group of “stateless persons” with the protection indicated by international law. This translates into generating facilities for political asylum, refuge or stateless status.
According to Pineda, the main effect of these extraterritorial measures is that all “stateless persons” can continue to carry out the work of defending human rights and not to immobilize them, as Ortega wanted. For his part, he is still assessing the best ways to normalize his residency in Mexico.