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Zoilamerica Ortega Murillo: “They Want to Make Us Feel Without a Country”

The testimony of five victims of the repression carried out by the Nicaraguan Immigration Office: their abrupt departure from Nicaragua

Octavio Enríquez

6 de junio 2022


Zoilamerica Ortega Murillo, who denounced her stepfather Daniel Ortega for sexual abuse in 1998, has been reborn on several occasions. The last time was when she went into exile nine years ago.  Since then, she has faced a number of obstacles, including serious emotional impact that has even affected her son Giordano. The activist Ana Quirós, one of the first victims of state repression in 2018, has had to live with the absence of a country arrived in at a very young age and the impossibility of attending the funerals of loved ones in Nicaragua, something that is very painful for her.

Quirós recalls as if it were today the caravan of nine vehicles that took her to Costa Rican border to exile her. On the trip down to the border, she was surrounded by armed men — as if she were a dangerous drug trafficker. She also had to start over.

“Geraldine”, a Spaniard with close ties to the country, lives with the disappointment of what the Sandinista revolution became. She came to Nicaragua moved to participate in a change, but 40 years later the dream has turned into a nightmare.

The three are victims of the Nicaraguan Immigration Office policies. They vehemently deplore the arbitrary way that the Ortega Murillo has treated them and others, while those close to the ruling party are treated well, regardless of whether they are fugitives from justice.

Zoilamérica: “Since coming to Costa Rica I haven’t left the country”

Since before I left Nicaragua, in 2011 and 2012 I was already having problems with my passport. I was traveling for work reasons in Central America, and in all the airports I got stopped because they said that my passport was not being accepted by the regional immigration system. In some cases they told me that they could not register my passport digitally (that is, it had been deleted from the system) and that it could only be entered manually. I traveled with a lot of fear, and I had to get used to that reality.

The night I left Nicaragua with my son Giordano was no exception. We delayed the bus, because my passport appeared as deactivated. The officer made several inquiries, but since it was after 7 pm, he told me that he could not find his bosses and so he decided to enter the data manually. My passport definitely had some coding that made it hard for me to get around.

This was always very difficult for me. Because I was always in fear of being detained at an airport or border, and dealing with legal problems without even understanding the causes. Today, almost ten years later, this is a common practice of persecution against opponents.

Later in 2015, already two years into exile, both my son’s and my passports expired. We went to the Nicaraguan Consulate, initially they received us, but later they told us that we could not complete any paperwork at the embassy. Everything had to be done in Managua.  It was a way to make me come back to catch me, something they tried several times. In my case, considering problems finding a job in Costa Rica, due to the persecution that the regime has carried out against possible employers here, I had found some opportunities doing consultation abroad. So not having a passport meant greater personal, political and professional isolation.

This all took a high emotional toll on my son, who needed to visit his father and his brothers. Giordano only got to see them three times in five years. Their enormous love for each other has created a very strong bond, but he is aware of the situation, and of being persecuted and victimized. When we finally got refugee status two years later, we were given travel documents. But since I came to Costa Rica I still haven’t left the country.

Another issue is what has happened with my educational credentials.  I was unable to get access to the documents to validate my degree. They denied the validation for quite a while, and just when it seemed like it was going to go through, it was denied again. I am continuing this process for several reasons. My ability to enter the workforce has been seriously affected by not having my academic documents approved. Sometimes I have required the support of other colleagues to be able to apply for jobs, and generally I have had to work areas with lower pay because I do not have adequate academic documents.

I also have had problems with the legal documents for my house in Managua. I had people interested in making some upgrades, and I tried to update the necessary documents from both the mayor’s offices and sewer utility, but I was denied access to these documents. Finally, my house was attacked by so-called “vandals” and destroyed so that I could not receive any financial benefit from the house while I am in exile. The house is currently in ruins.

The most important decision was to recognize that, as a refugee, I had international protection. That these acts of outrage, humiliation, of making us feel like people without a country, like second-class citizens, made no sense, because Costa Rica had received us, and, in the midst of many limitations, we were here. I would never have to accept blackmail from Rosario Murillo again.

Likewise, recognizing that having saved our lives, and above all having taken my children out of the extended cycle of violence to which Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo wanted to expose them, was already an important victory –- and an achievement I should focus on. And that all the other problems would be secondary, given the reality of having saved my life and those of my children. That the cost of being trapped in Costa Rica without being able to travel is less than losing one’s life.

Second, I decided to accept that I had to start over. I didn’t have to pretend to come here to continue my life, as director of an NGO or working in social research, or in mid or high-level positions. That here I had to come to do what I had to do, have new experiences find myself professionally.

From my point of view, I made a very successful conversion. I started working at whatever came my way, regardless of whether it was poorly paid. I enjoyed the opportunity to learn new things. In Costa Rica I had to train empirically in another professional area and today I am grateful for that. But I also had to decide to be humble and learn from those Costa Ricans who generously taught me new tools. I was privileged to have colleagues who shared their knowledge with me and opened opportunities for me even without realizing it. I have so much gratitude in my heart.

Thirdly, it was quite a process to accept that the day I return to Nicaragua I will have nothing. I learned to write off my property. I tried to see it as an opportunity to think that the day I return to the Nicaragua they are destroying, we will have to rebuild, I will also have to rebuild my life there, starting from scratch.

Thank God my most important friends continue to have contact with me. Today everyone knows that when I return to Nicaragua they will have to host me in their homes. Some have already shown me the room where I can stay while I rebuild my house. I cannot complain because there is a group of people who have been unconditionally supporting me ever since I made my public complaint in 1998. However, something that hurts me is that I have not been able to accompany people who have died. I have not been able to be there when people I have considered my family have died.

zoilamerica ortega murillo

Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo

My house was attacked and destroyed so that I could not receive any financial benefit from the house (rent or lease), while I am in exile. It is currently in ruins. It is the only asset I have. And they took it upon themselves to destroy it, to prevent me from considering it an investment. The message is clear, my life, my home was destroyed in Nicaragua. But I always have hope.

I think that what is going on with the Immigration Office underscores the cruelty of the regime. They want us to be stuck in the countries that have offered us refuge. They want to build us a prison of exile. And they want to make us feel “homeless” because they know what that means to us. It is one more act of violence in which this kind of “moral damage” of humiliation intervenes, as we have said.

Ana Quiros, feminist: “They took me handcuffed, surrounded by armed men, as if I were a drug trafficker”

From one day to the next, my life changed. I had lived in Nicaragua for 40 years. I arrived when I was very young, and decided to stay to learn, work and contribute.

Most of my stuff–my own clothes–stayed in Nicaragua. I crossed the border, after being violently detained and taken to El Chipote (the infamous police jail), where I stayed for several hours.   Then they took me to Peñas Blancas, handcuffed, in a minibus, accompanied by other vehicles, surrounded by people armed as if I were a drug dealer. Even at the border, they escorted me from the territorial line to the Immigration point where the Costa Rican officials are.

They handed me over with a document that said they were delivering me over safe and sound. All this was like a whirlwind of emotions, because, on the one hand, there had been the possibility that I would be left in jail, an idea which I did not like in the least. The expulsion ended up being the lesser evil.

Ana Quiros was one of the victims of state repression in 2018. Photo: Jorge Torres / EFE-Confidencial

The following days brought a new blow. I received the news that they were canceling the legal status of our organization: The Center for Health Information and Advice (CISAS), which had been in existence for 35 years at the time. It was as if the ground had given way under me. I felt a great emptiness.

There were many decisions to be made: where I was going to live, how and what I was going to do. I have some roots and friends in Costa Rica, but I never imagined having to start from scratch, thinking about what we would do like the thousands of Nicaraguans who are forced to leave with one hand facing forward and the other left behind.

In El Chipote they read me a resolution from the Nicaraguan Immigration Office, where they took away my Nicaraguan nationality, without any basis. They treated me violently and rudely, and told me that I was not there to ask questions. They just told me to get out. They took me out at gunpoint.

They handcuffed me, and put me in one of those covered trucks, part of a caravan of at least nine vehicles with armed people. The truck, initially headed towards the airport, turned around and headed to El Chipote.

They did not interrogate me, nor did they beat me. I was convalescing from an operation on my hand due to the blows I received on April 18, I still had the stitches. After hours of detention, they read me the resolution expelling me for five years. I signed it and indicated that I had asked for a copy and that they had refused to give me one. They scolded me and said that I just had to sign. On the way to the border, they verbally assaulted me, and took photos that they sent off.

My main assets were linked to my work: CISAS. All of that was expropriated. It was a result of 35 years of work. They continue to occupy it. They supposedly opened a clinic, however, it has no real function. For me, leaving Nicaragua was a painful transition. A difficult element to process has been the death of colleagues with whom I shared a lot. I couldn’t even attend their funerals.

Geraldine, Spanish Nicaraguan: “I feel disappointed in the course of this revolution”

We are daughters of exiles because of the Franco dictatorship or internal migration. We come from rural families who went to seek a better life in the city.

Many of us who went to Nicaragua in solidarity with the revolution came from a history of dictatorship and with a desire to contribute to social transformation. It was like a chosen migration — that is, we went with desire, enthusiasm and experience to put heart, soul and life into this dream of transforming these social injustices. This is how the years went by, we went to the war zones, we faced complex situations, we bet on this transformation and we stayed.

A young woman walks in front of a mural alluding to the Sandinista revolution in Managua in 2019. Photo: Jorge Torres / EFE

Many of us made this choice in life, of our profession, experiences, and lives to continue sharing all that with Nicaragua and its people. We built a series connections, of lives, and of course when they took away the documentation that made us feel like citizens for all those years, that makes you reconnect with unjust exiles which we carry with us from our past.

It creates a lot of disappointment. I am disappointed in the course of this revolution that filled many countries with hope and that has turned into darkness. I feel luckier than exiles or migrants who have no social base in their host country. I have a guaranteed home, affection, work, friends, the other part of the family; I can practice solidarity with those who do not enjoy these conditions, it makes the song “my house is open to all, there is a plate on my table” a reality.

It generates a lot of insecurity due to arbitrariness. If we talk about material goods, they may be there or not, but these other goods, which belong to emotions, hurt me. Not being able to be close to so many children, grandchildren… not being able to see them grow up! (cries).

Alondra, Spanish, exiled: “I have not committed any crime”

The day my residency ID was withdrawn was hard. At first I didn’t understand why it hurt so much. Then I understood. It is a way to make a person disappear. You don’t exist socially, you can’t carry out any transaction at a bank, I had to quit my job. It’s a way to silence you. That hurt me deeply.

Then I understood. It is the strategy that the Ortega-Murillo regime is using: disappear, bury, imprison, silence, kill, everything that does not fit into their scheme whether it is people, organizations, initiatives or ideas.

The decision changed my life. In addition to removing the identity card, they forced us to present ourselves at Immigration. This is what is usually applied when someone commits a crime and they want to control their movements. I have not committed any crime. I feel like a person who has contributed to the development of Nicaragua.

zoilamerica ortega murillo

Area for foreigners at the central Immigration Office in Managua. Photo: the government

LF, Nicaraguan now based in Europe: “It is difficult to be undocumented”

It changed my life. You don’t know until it happens. What are you going to do to survive, you have a career, skills, and then it seems like you don’t know anything at all. That takes a toll: asking for asylum, and then being told that your application is rejected. It is difficult to be undocumented, the economic situation is more difficult, how to survive when you don’t even have documents allowing you to work.

The most difficult decision I had to make was to leave with my son. I am a single mother, and I had to leave my family, my communities and networks. Being in another country and feeling that they are far away.  And little by little the older ones are dying (cries). It seems like an aberration: how the State can be limiting and deciding who can leave and enter Nicaragua.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by Havana Times




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Octavio Enríquez

Octavio Enríquez

Periodista nicaragüense, exiliado. Comenzó su carrera en el año 2000, cuando todavía era estudiante. Por sus destacadas investigaciones periodísticas ha ganado el Premio Ortega y Gasset, el Premio Internacional de Periodismo Rey de España, el Premio a la Excelencia de la Sociedad Interamericana de Prensa, y el Premio Latinoamericano de Periodismo de Investigación del Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS).