‘Nicaragua will end up alone’ as migrants flee

Managua (AFP) – Jose Galeano is about to embark on the biggest and scariest journey of his life. He took out a secured loan on his house and paid smugglers to help him begin an odyssey he hopes to complete in the United States.

After working as a farmhand, gardener and laborer, the 35-year-old former vet graduate joins thousands of Nicaraguans fleeing Latin America’s second-poorest country.

There is “little work, wages are low, there are no opportunities,” Galeano lamented the day he left home.

Nicaraguan emigration has skyrocketed in the past year due to crippling living costs, lack of work and a crackdown on dissent.

Galeano plans to walk to the United States with a brother and two cousins.

“We hope to get there and work,” he told AFP from his humble home in Managua, where he left behind a daughter, his mother and his grandmother.

Moises Espinoza kisses his grandmother before leaving Nicaragua with the aim of joining the United States alongside his cousin Jose Galeano STRAFP

“We took a loan, secured by the land, the house, and with that, we’re leaving… I’ve never made such a long trip and I’m scared.”

Many migrants have lost their homes after being unable to repay similar loans.

Galeano’s dream is to return home with enough money to open a bakery in Managua.

Tears flowed as friends and family gathered in a somber atmosphere at his home to watch him go.

“Only us old people are left”

According to local media, citing the families of the victims, at least 40 Nicaraguan migrants have died of asphyxiation, drowning and road accidents in 2022.

Jose Galeano's mother Alba Sanchez and one of his grandchildren wave goodbye to him as he leaves Managua
Jose Galeano’s mother Alba Sanchez and one of his grandchildren wave goodbye to him as he leaves Managua STRAFP

Hundreds of people, including children, gather at various locations in Managua with nothing but backpacks, waiting to catch buses offering tourist “excursions” in Guatemala.

It’s the first leg of a journey that will see them pay between $2,000 and $5,000 to a “coyote,” or smuggler, to take them from Guatemala to the United States.

At some point, they will have to cross the Bravo River, by swimming or on a raft.

At least 60 people from the Galeano area have embarked on this journey this year.

“They keep leaving. It’s just us old people. Nicaragua will end up alone,” moaned Roger Sanchez, a 60-year-old farmer.

Three of her four children have emigrated to the United States and the fourth plans to follow them.

Some 57% of Nicaraguans are ready to migrate, especially to the United States, according to a poll conducted by the Costa Rican society Cid Gallup in September and October and published by the online newspaper Confidencial.

The top three reasons cited were lack of employment, high cost of living and government corruption.

sleep in the streets

The desire to leave has seen people from all over Nicaragua converge on migration offices in Managua to apply for passports.

Jose Galeano had to take out a secured loan against his house to be able to afford the trip to the United States
Jose Galeano had to take out a secured loan against his house to be able to afford the trip to the United States STRAFP

Many sleep outside in the street on mattresses or pieces of cardboard.

The number of emigrants is not officially recorded. but the migration office said on its website that it had issued more than 20,000 passports, including 2,000 to children, between September 17 and October 7.

President Daniel Ortega, in power since 2007, insisted last week that US sanctions imposed on the country were responsible for the mass exodus.

In addition to the president himself, the United States has sanctioned more than 30 family members, allies and businesses linked to the government.

Washington imposed sanctions following a brutal 2018 crackdown on anti-government protesters.

“Keep imposing sanctions and more immigrants will come to the United States, no matter how hard you want to close the doors to them,” Ortega said.

US statistics show border guards turned away 164,000 undocumented Nicaraguans in 2022, three times more than the previous year.

Nearly a quarter of Nicaraguans live in poverty, according to official figures. Central America’s smallest economy has been stuck in a political and economic crisis since 2018, as Ortega comes under fire for his growing authoritarianism.

Manuel Orozco, of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank, says politics is largely responsible for migration.

“The persecution in Nicaragua is so brutal that people would rather risk leaving than staying and exposing themselves to further repression,” he said.

Authorities imprisoned more than 200 opposition figures and outlawed some 2,000 civil organizations.

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