In recent weeks the public has been surprised by the return of well known opposition figures: Félix Maradiaga, whose NGO IEEPP was shut down and accused by the government of directing a terrorist network; Aníbal Toruño, whose Radio Darío was burned down in León , received death threats to the extent that the OAS recommended the government provide him protective measures; Jaime Arellano, a talk show host who left the country last December when the government shut down the TV station 100% Noticias where he frequently appeared; and now Lester Alemán, the student who directly challenged Ortega at the beginning of the 1st dialogue. Even Ortega´s stepdaughter, Zoilamérica is returning. This is surprising because the human rights situation has not improved, yet these public figures are returning at great personal risk to themselves. This article, written by an editor of La Prensa in an on-line magazine Infobae, provides the reasoning.
Famous Nicaraguan Exiles return to the country to “fight” against Daniel Ortega
By Fabián Medina Sánchez in Infobae, October 13, 2019
Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo, the stepdaughter who accused the President of rape, and well-known journalists whose media were confiscated by the government, are beginning to “pave the way” for a larger group who are returning as a sign of resistance and a “political act”.
Jaime Arellano and Aníbal Toruño returned to Nicaragua at noon this past August 29th through the Managua airport. A battery of journalists and sympathizers were waiting for them. Both had gone into exile nine months earlier to save themselves from the repression that the regime of Daniel Ortega unleashed against his opponents. Arellano was accused of “inciting hate” through the television program that he led, and Toruño was pursued by paramilitaries who on April 20, 2018 burned down the radio station that he owned.
Both were the first figures from exile who decided to return to Nicaragua. Others have arrived after them. Félix Maradiaga, an opposition figure who many see as an “electable presidential candidate”, and who the regime involved in multiple accusations, returned in mid-September. This past Monday Lester Alemán himself returned, the young man who during the first session of the dialogue confronted Daniel Ortega and then fled the country, stating that the regime had placed a price on his head.
These are, nevertheless, the figures best known in the media. Silently and anonymously at least between 200 and 250 Nicaraguans are returning each month, according to information from Costa Rican Migration. This figure is deduced from the Nicaraguans who “suspend the request for refugee status because they are returning to Nicaragua, “said Allan Rodríguez Vargas, leader of the Refugee Unit of the General Office of Migration and Immigration of Costa Rica, to the website of Nicaraguan journalists in exile, Despacho 505.
It is a timorous return. A trial return. According to the IACHR, some 70,000 Nicaraguans went into exile, forced by the violence and the crisis that is experienced in Nicaragua. Some 55,000 sought refuge in the neighboring country of Costa Rica.
Ortega´s government, on its part, announced this past April, in the heat of the negotiations with the opposing Civic Alliance, a “Voluntary, Assisted and Safe Return Program” with which it intended that thousands of exiles would return to the country, who had left during a year as a consequence of the repression and violence. The Civic Alliance described it as a “deceitful and sterile” program, because it invited those being persecuted to return to a country where human rights continued to be violated.
“Here is another sign of the commitment of the Government for National Unity and Reconciliation to promote the encounter of families and move forward with hope, with faith, with trust in God, to advance toward the restoration of everything good that we are,” said the Vice President, Rosario Murillo, during the announcement of the program. So far, the government has not reported any results.
On the contrary, the Permanent Commission on Human Rights (CPDH) said it was receiving “some five denouncements a day” from exiles who return and are harassed in their homes and in other cases, arrested again under the accusation of common crimes.
This is the case of Ulises Rivas Pérez. He returned to accompany his father who suffers from terminal cancer, and was arrested this past September 1st accused of theft of a hat and minor injuries to three people. Diómedes Reyes, another exile who returned after the announcement of the governmental program, was arrested on May 27th accused of illegal possession of weapons.
For the sociologist, Oscar René Vargas, also an expatriate, the exiles are not returning to Nicaragua because of the guarantees that the regime has announced, but because they are not doing well outside the country. “The great majority of the exiles in Costa Rica are from humble origins and low economic resources, and the government of Costa Rica does not have the capacity to respond to all of them”, he says.
The lack of attention, he says, “creates a lot of pressure so that some exiles on their own initiative have made the decision to return to Nicaragua. They prefer to return, in spite of the repression, to living in conditions of extreme poverty or destitution.”
Paving the way
“We are functioning as guinea pigs”, says the talk show host Jaime Arellano, who stated that he came to “continue the fight from within” and likened his return to “paving the way” for others who are thinking about their return.
“When the amnesty was given (June 2019), the accusations against me were shelved. A large group (of exiles) of us talked about returning, but many hesitated, so with Aníbal Toruño we decided to come first, to pave the way”, he says. “Two days after being in Nicaragua we escaped being killed in León. Two motorcycles followed me the entire time. They did not harass me, nor have they stopped me, nor did they do anything, but they are there.”
From his experience he recommends that each exile assess their own return. “Here nothing is normal. I recommend that if the exile has some job there, it is better to stay, because here not only is there insecurity but few jobs.”
Nevertheless, there is movement in the Nicaraguan exiles, and there is talk even of massive returns in light of an electoral end to the crisis.
The journalist Carlos Fernando Chamorro announced to Infobae his decision to return soon to Nicaragua, in spite of the fact that the installation where he did his television program and the magazine Confidencial continue to be confiscated.
Zoilamérica: “Coexist with my aggressors”
Another person who announced her return is Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo, the stepdaughter of Daniel Ortega, who accused him of sexual abuse and rape in 1998. Zoilamérica has been living in Costa Rica since 2013 where she went fleeing the repression that she suffered on the part of the government and her family as a consequence of her denouncement.
“I am part of a large group of Nicaraguans who are preparing to return”, says Zoilamérica. We are many people preparing concrete actions to come back even stronger. Our return is already beginning,” she states.
“The seriousness of the situation in Nicaragua has made me reflect on new forms of struggle. I was one of those people who thought that we were going to return one day, and this government would not be there. But the current context is even more complicated. I will be returning to Nicaragua to coexist with my aggressors. To a country where not only is there a dictatorship, but in addition paramilitaries have been established and armed institutions who use organized crime to stop the civic resistance,” she explained.
She says that her return depends “on the majority decision of groups and organizations that will accompany us in the process. Together we are thinking of establishing some conditions of security and participation,” and the possibility of her “involvement as a professional in an educational institution.”
“Returning under the conditions of a repressive State is part of the risk that we all are taking to contribute to Nicaragua in this decisive stage,” she says. “Returning is a political act and is a reflective and coordinated action.”
The sociologist Oscar René Vargas also is thinking about his own return. “Before the end of 2019 in am thinking about my return. I cannot accept that the regime would block me from fully living in my country”, he says.
In his criteria, “the return of media figures aims at giving support to the electoral strategy, without taking in account the repression”, in contrast he thinks that the return of what he calls “non media figures, of humble origins”, does not have any strategy.
“The return of two or four people does not have any decisive influence for the reactivation of the social movement, I am inclined to think that their return is part of the strategy of an ongoing negotiation for the elections of November 2021. It would be a different situation if some two to five thousand exiles would come looking for how to enter through the Peñas Blancas border. That act would be with the strategy of looking to reactivate the social movement”, he says.
“Obviously the return will imply risks of all types, but you have to accept them”, Vargas points out. “The strength of the Ortega-Murillo regime is rooted in the fear of many people. The way to conquer the fear is presenting to the population a strategy for fighting: The population is willing to fight, a leadership is needed that they would want to accompany. This is the challenge in the coming months.”