On January 4, “Rosa” received a notice from Nicaraguan Immigration. The office, a branch of the Interior Ministry, gave her a deadline to appear at the main immigration office in Managua. “Rosa” [real name withheld] had never received this kind of notice before.
“Rosa” is a native of one of the European countries. She’s one of several dozen foreign residents who’ve been called into the immigration office in the last three weeks. When they appear for their appointments, they’re intimidated and threatened with deportation. The functionaries there allege that they’ve been involved in “political activities” in the country.
Those affected include professionals, business owners and entrepreneurs. They’re Europeans, Latin Americans and US citizens. Many of them have family members in the country; some have children or grandchildren born in Nicaragua. There are also young couples.
Confidencial learned of the case of a foreigner whose neighbor is also from another country. In both cases, their family members were visited by immigration officials. These functionaries came to their homes to verify that they actually reside at the addresses on file. They also checked their documents, to make sure they were in order and up to date.
Marlin Sierra, of the Nicaraguan Human Rights Center (Cenidh) categorizes these actions as “totally aimed at intimidating.” “There’s no reason for them, especially since they’re being carried out selectively. If there were some general plan to update all the data on residents, then maybe these activities could be justified. But no. It’s a targeted threat. They’re demanding that they appear monthly to maintain their residency current.”
“This violates Article 58 of Law 761, the Immigration and Foreign Residency Law. The regulation establishes that permanent residency in the country is valid for five years,” Sierra recalled.
“In some cases, they’ve called the children, be they nationalized citizens or residents, to give a message to their parents. They’ve asked the children to remind them that they wouldn’t want to suffer a family separation. So, they shouldn’t use social media to express their opinions. In another case, after meeting once with a resident foreigner, they called him again. The second time, they threatened to deport him if his wife didn’t turn down the volume,” Sierra stated.
One person described the interrogation as “an act of terror”. During the questioning, this person alleged, they kept reminding him that he should be concerned about his children’s stability. “It resembled the fascist practices in Europe,” another foreign resident stated. “With that level of control, it’s as if you’re on parole, without having committed any crime.”
Threats against foreign residents
“Rosa” stated that the appointment notice didn’t surprise her at all. As a foreign resident in Nicaragua for over a decade, she knows it’s normal for immigration to call her in. She periodically must report on matters regarding her immigration status. The information they request includes the books she keeps for administering the business she maintains in the country.
“I thought it was a routine contact,” she said. It did catch her attention that the appointment fell on the first days of the year. She assumed they’d asked her to come in because they wanted to squeeze more money out of her. “We know that’s what they’re doing these days,” she explained.
“Rosa” arrived at the Central Office of Immigration at the indicated date and time. She was carrying all the documents they normally asked her to present, “without suspecting anything”. “When I arrived, they treated me horribly. They asked for my residency card, and I turned it in, thinking that it was just for identification. Then they told me: ‘sit there, stay in view, don’t move,” she recalled emotionally.
After a time, the head of Immigration approached her, accompanied by two other functionaries. “Follow us,” they ordered her.
“They haven’t returned my identity card yet,” she answered.
“Follow me. I have it here,” the man answered in a hostile tone of voice.
During the interview, they told her they had evidence against her. They had proof that she had involved herself in politics. That she paid the young people in her community to participate in the roadblocks [part of the 2018 protests]. She received this accusation with surprise and scornfully denied it.
When she asked them for this “evidence”, what they showed her were numerous copies of her comments on social media. These posts, they told her, could cause her to lose her residency. They had the right to throw her out of the country if they wanted.
“I told them that if they wanted to throw me out, then do it. Because it was my word against theirs, and I knew I wasn’t going to win.” That’s what “Rosa” recalled saying. Their response, however, was: “Not yet”, because “thanks to the foreigners, a lot of people have jobs in the country.”
It suits them to have the foreigners in Nicaragua
Two other European citizens told Confidencial about similar government actions. The proceedings are aimed at intimidating selected residents. Like “Rosa”, some of the foreigners threatened own companies that have created dozens of jobs.
“These foreigners own businesses that generate employment. If they’re expelled, they’ll return to their home countries in the developed world and will tell their stories. How will that leave Nicaragua? Such a decision not only weakens their rights, but also the right of Nicaraguans to employment.” That was the view of Pablo Cuevas, legal advisor for Nicaragua’s Permanent Human Rights Commission (CPDH). The human rights group is aware of the situation.
Mario Arana, president of the Nicaraguan-American Chamber of Commerce, offered further details about the foreigners residing legally in Nicaragua. The majority “are retired or own property or have invested here. There are also some executives of foreign companies or NGOs who live in Nicaragua.” They also have received threats.
In the case of residents that are retired or foreign investors, treating them this way “isn’t the best idea.” “It’s not the best thing for the business climate, because such intimidation violates their elemental rights. They should be facilitating the permanence of those who come to invest in private or socially motivated companies,” Arana recommended.
Other stories told to Confidencial coincided in their account of events. They spoke of a citation to appear in the Central Immigration Office in Managua. This was seen as an unusual step, because such meetings are more common in mid-year, rather than January.
Upon appearing at the government office, the foreign residents were asked to turn in their residency cards. These are normally issued for a five-year period. In exchange, they received a new document that expires in three months. This was seen as a reprisal against certain foreign residents, who also suffer harassment from the police and paramilitary.
One of the affected sources, who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of further reprisals summarized his story. “I spoke with a fellow citizen of my country, who also received no explanation. We want to find out what’s happening. It’s an election year, and they’re trying to get us to leave the country. We’re afraid that they want to confiscate our businesses,” he stated. The source warned that he knows of two other foreign residents (one from Europe and one from the Caribbean) that were threatened. Those two were afraid to make a public denunciation.
A double standard
The legal representative of one US citizen described the case of his client. When the person came to renew their residency, they were made to sign a document. The document was basically a signed commitment not to engage in politics. They also had to agree to appear monthly at the Immigration office of the department they live in. Every three months, they must report to the Managua Immigration Office. Meanwhile, they were given a residency card valid for only 6 months.
Another source, a resident from Europe, confirmed: “a number of foreigners have been called [to the immigration offices in Managua]. They’ve had their residency documents restricted to a more limited period.” The government alleges that they’ve participated in politics. However, no one’s been accused of anything more than posting an opinion on social media against the repression. Or a post in solidarity with Nicaraguans’ human rights.
Mario Arana stated: “as residents, they shouldn’t get involved in politics. Given the current circumstances in Nicaragua, I’d recommend prudence in their social media. However, these shouldn’t be subject to inspection. Being a foreigner doesn’t imply that you don’t have a right to express your opinion, even on social media.”
Pablo Cuevas of the CPDH recalled that no government official can emit a resolution against these citizens. “The principal of legitimate defense is universal. Further, there are international treaties regarding how foreign citizens living in a territory should be treated,” he stated.
Confidencial spoke with two European embassies. They reported that they planned to meet with their citizens in Nicaragua. At the same time, they reminded residents that the law prohibits foreigners from participating in the country’s political affairs.
“Rosa” discounts the idea that these attacks are for political involvement per se. “I know foreigners who don’t get involved with politics, but they did the same thing to them. On the other hand, I know an Irish businessman who sympathizes with the regime. He even posts neo-Nazi things, but he’s had no problem. It’s a double standard,” was her verdict.
“Do you want more proof? Someone from the Frente told me I should go talk to the people in the party. That I should help them economically, so that they stop keeping watch over me,” she stated. Her reply: “No, I can’t do that, because I can’t get involved in politics.”