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Interrogations and intimidation at the Peñas Blancas border post, in Nicaragua

Strict political control by immigration agents includes a list of people who are detained and interrogated when leaving and even entering the country

In recent weeks, Nicaraguans who have traveled from Nicaragua to Costa Rica or vice versa denounced that immigration authorities at the Nicaraguan border post of Peñas Blancas have momentarily detained, interrogated and intimidated them upon leaving the country.

The main victims have been journalists, social communicators and people who work at civil society organizations. In some cases they have observed that the agents have a list of names that they check to select the subjects of questioning which goes beyond the usual, and rather focuses on the work they do in Nicaragua, where they are going to in Costa Rica, for what reason and for how long.

Carlos Eddy Monterrey, a Nicaraguan citizen from Bluefields, traveled to Costa Rica on June 27 and said he was detained for two hours at the Nicaraguan border. “The agent pulled me out of the line after asking my name, and told me to come with him. Then he went into the offices and did not appear until two hours later, when he began to interrogate me, asking me where I was going to stay in Costa Rica, what relatives I had there and since when, what I was working on in Nicaragua”. 

Monterrey said that he answered that he was selling milkshakes of an international brand, but the agent insisted that he was a radio journalist, to which Monterrey replied that it was his former occupation and he was no longer dedicated to that profession. “He had investigated me well, because he insisted on that,” said Monterrey, who had previously collaborated with some local radio stations and had requested asylum in Costa Rica. 

Monterrey’s sons had to go into exile in the neighboring country after getting involved in the student protests in 2018 in Nicaragua, and their house in Bluefields was constantly besieged by police patrols since then, he assured.

The Nicaraguan Migration official also insisted that he give him the exact address of the place where he would be staying in Costa Rica. “There is a strict control at the border of who goes out,” Monterrey added. 

This has not been the only case. Journalist Julio Lopez of the radio program Onda Local tried to leave through the same immigration post on June 21, but found that his name appeared on the list with an asterisk next to it. Immigration officials told him that he had an immigration restriction, so he had to exile himself and leave through a “blind spot” at the border. 

López had been part of the long list of journalists summoned by the Attorney General’s Office in the case of alleged money laundering by the Violeta Barrios de Chamorro Foundation. Under this accusation, the Ortega Murillo regime placed Cristiana Chamorro, former president of the Foundation and presidential pre-candidate, under house arrest, and has intimidated independent journalists who were questioned as alleged witnesses in the case.

Other communicators, workers and former workers of the media who left through this border post, for different reasons, corroborated to CONFIDENCIAL that they have been subjected to questioning in some cases, and retentions of a couple of hours in others. 

This new “control” has caused delays in the trips offered by commercial buses, who take longer to reach their destination as they wait for passengers who must undergo this scrutiny. 

Costa Rican citizen rejected

At the immigration post, there is also a “political” control of those who try to enter Nicaragua from Costa Rica. Costa Rican citizen Verónica Gómez was travelling to Nicaragua to visit friends and relatives on March 5, but was expelled by Nicaraguan immigration police, she told CONFIDENCIAL. 

Gomez’s bond with Nicaragua was born in 2015, when she volunteered in the country and made close friends. In 2018, she was shocked by the brutal state repression that left more than 328 people killed, thousands injured and tens of thousands of people who left and sought refuge, mainly in her country Costa Rica. That is why she disseminated information about the Nicaraguan crisis on her social media accounts, and carried out activities in solidarity from Costa Rica. 

Gómez, who had entered the country in December 2019 without problems, had all her iigrration documents in order this time, including the previously completed form and the health requirements in the face of the pandemic: a covid-19 test with a negative result. Therefore, she did not expect any obstacles to enter Nicaragua, but she was met with an immigration officer with a list in hand. 

The agent asked her to identify herself and when she answered, the man found her name on the list and she was able to see that next to her name, there was an asterisk. 

Immediately, another police officer called her aside to question her. At first there were the regular questions, then the officer saw her Nicaraguan entry stamps and asked her why she traveled to the country so frequently. “Then he asked me if I knew what was going on in Nicaragua, if I knew where I was entering and if I knew who was in control, who was in charge,” she recalled. 

The officer then asked her if she used social networks, what her publications referred to, and why she was publishing about Nicaragua. 

“But what do you publish about Nicaragua?” the officer insisted. 

“About the human rights situation”, Gómez answered. 

They were 45 minutes of constant questions, while the policeman constantly checked his cell phone, then went into an office and did not return until half an hour later along with another officer, who seemed to be the boss, and took pictures of her and her passport pages. “You will not be able to get in,” he told her. She asked why, to which he replied: “you already know what happened”.

Five policemen took Gomez to the border line with Costa Rica. “A policewoman told me that I could not enter Nicaragua indefinitely,” she recalled. 

Gonzalo Carrión, of the Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Nunca Más considered that the actions of the Nicaraguan Migration authorities, in the case of Gómez, reflect “the paranoia of the State, which sees enemies everywhere and foreigners are no exception”, and how solidarity with the victims of the repression is reproached. 

Carrión recalled that foreigners who live in Nicaragua as residents have also been intimidated by the Ortega regie since the beginning of 2021, when they received pamphlets with grounds for revocation of residency. 

The human rights defender also has information on Nicaraguans, mostly journalists or former employees of media organizations, who have been interrogated in Peñas Blancas in recent weeks. He added that activists, human rights defenders and people involved in opposition political movements have left Nicaragua following the arrest of 26 opponents,  including six aspiring presidential candidates, but some choose to do so irregularly for fear of being arbitrarily detained by immigration officials.

This article was originally published in Spanish in Confidencial and translated by our staff

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