In search of a more stable ceiling or horizon: the two faces of Nicaraguan exile in the United States | International

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Yubrank Suazo still has trouble sleeping. Fifteen days have passed since the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo decided to exile him, along with 221 other political prisoners, to the United States on a charter flight that landed in the State of Virginia. The arrival at “freedom” – as these ex-detainees call what happened – was first “incredible”. Many emotions to process that, when mixed with the trauma of the torture they suffered during the confinement, prevented them from falling asleep. As the weeks go by, the social leader from the city of Masaya sleeps more, but there is an anguish that does not let go: how to rebuild his life in this country that he does not speak his language? How long will he be able to stay at the house of his Miami friends who welcomed him?

"It has been traumatic, truly traumatic," Suazo told EL PAÍS on Sunday, February 19, outside the Santa Agata Church, in Miami, where he attended with other exiled prisoners to listen to the homily of the exiled bishop Silvio Báez, who also he was stripped of his nationality by the regime. “President Joe Biden, his government and the Nicaraguan community in this country have accompanied us upon our arrival, but now we have to have a clear mind to make decisions. However, first we have to heal this duel and that will allow me to have clarity to have a new life plan. I am starting from scratch again and I want to be the best I can be emotionally,” continues Suazo, whose voice breaks when he thinks of his hometown, one of the bastions of the 2018 social protests in Nicaragua.

Yubrank Suazo leaves the hotel in Virginia where he arrived the day he was banished.michael andres

The young man has twice been a political prisoner of the Ortega-Murillo family. This last confinement led him to exile and a similar situation of reinvention that he experienced in 2018, when Sandinista paramilitaries burned down his family's house in Masaya. It was a hard experience but now rebuilding his life in the United States is more “hard”.

“I have been imprisoned twice and I had to live in isolation in punishment cells, but the most painful and traumatic thing has been leaving my home, my parents, my family, my friends, my environment…”, he affirms. His environment was linked to the culture of Masaya, the "capital of Nicaraguan folklore", where his family made manila hammocks. In July 2019, upon being released for the first time, he decided to use the manila that he had known so well since he was a child to make women's bags to sell.

"Now can I do the same thing in the United States?" he wonders. It's something he doesn't know. For now his priority in exile is to find a place that is not sheltered, but for rent, something relatively personal… “The priority of all political prisoners, I think, is the same as mine: to get stability, a home. Many of us do not have a house, a fixed address, to register it in the Parole immigration process, ”explains Suazo, referring to the Biden government's humanitarian program that shelters them, which requires a physical address.

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The 222 exiled political prisoners have been scattered throughout the United States. According to the Department of State, Florida, specifically Miami, has been the state in which the most inmates have settled: 67, followed by California with 22, Maryland with 36 and Virginia with 14. The rest are scattered in other cities.

Those who do not have relatives who receive them —nor friends, as in the case of Suazo, an intermediate political leader— have been placed by NGOs in foster families. Many for a limited time, like Gabriel Eliseo Sequeira García, who along with other cellmates at La Modelo prison will live for three months in a small loaned apartment in California, until they are issued a work permit to work and pay rent.

Gabriel Eliseo Sequeira, detained in La Modelo since 2020, on February 11 in Washington.
Gabriel Eliseo Sequeira, detained in La Modelo since 2020, on February 11 in Washington.michael andres

In Miami, a handful of exiled Catholic religious, including priests, seminarians and deacons, settle in an apartment that a Nicaraguan family arranged. The house has the basics and they sleep on mattresses, receive donations from the diaspora and hope to have a clearer course for their destinies in the coming months. Those who are in the most trouble are citizens and opponents without visible leadership, people who were the base in the streets during the protests; humbler people who do not have relatives in the United States. In fact, the plane of exile was their first flight in their lives, the first time they left Nicaragua.

kinder outlook

The most recognized political leaders do not have it easy, but it is a somewhat kinder panorama in logistical terms. Some have relatives rooted in the United States for decades who have welcomed them immediately. Others, such as businessmen, can assume an income more easily... or those who speak English can adapt more quickly to the United States.

The 222 political prisoners are a very diverse group, with people from different social and economic backgrounds, so it is not possible to generalize the situation of all of them. For example, Félix Maradiaga and Juan Sebastián Chamorro had a home in exile: a couple of years ago their wives, Berta Valle and Victoria Cárdenas, had to seek asylum in the United States because they were accused of "treason." They had time to demand the release of their husbands and to settle into exile. A roof and stability means being able to have time to continue activism in favor of "the liberation of Nicaragua" in exile or flat out working tirelessly to live.

"I'm going to tell you something," Denis García Jirón, originally from Managua and a veterinarian by profession, tells EL PAÍS. “He who loves his family does not want this. And I believe that all of us political prisoners without distinction have suffered; regardless of whether we have a home here or not, we don't want this. We all leave behind father, children, wives, uncles, and brothers who love and love us. Everyone with the possibilities of him will look for life here. It is what touches us”.

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