30 Jul

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

English Online International Newspapers

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As Daniel Ortega’s violent crackdown intensifies, the tide of refugees escaping to Costa Rica has become a wave

Nicaraguan migrants fleeing unrest at home wait to request refuge in Costa Rica.

Nicaraguan migrants fleeing unrest at home wait to request refuge in Costa Rica. Photograph: Juan Carlos Ulate/Reuters

Tears filled Ricardo Pineda’s bloodshot eyes as he relived the solitude and paranoia of his 13-day march to safety.

Five hours earlier, after almost a fortnight on the run, he had slipped over Nicaragua’s southern border, flagged down a taxi and taken his phone off flight mode for the first time since fleeing Managua.

Now the sleep-deprived doctor was sitting in a safe house on the outskirts of Costa Rica’s capital contemplating the sudden unraveling of his country and the start of a new and uncertain life in exile.

“It’s terrifying because you know they are tracking you … every footstep, every little noise, every branch, every tree – you think it’s the army and they’re going to grab you … you’re a fugitive,” said Pineda, 54, who bolted after receiving death threats for treating the victims of Daniel Ortega’s crackdown on protesters and denouncing those killings.

While people fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have sought safety by heading north towards the US, Nicaraguans have long headed south. For more than a century Nicaraguans, among them many of Ortega’s fellow Sandinistas, have looked to Costa Rica for sanctuary from crisis, repression and war. A display at San José’s National Museum pays tribute to the nicaragüense economic migrants who came “looking for a more promising future for their families”.

But the thousands of asylum seekers now crossing the border each month say they seek survival, not service. “If I go back they’ll kill me,” said Fraol Espinosa, a 31-year-old protester from León who claimed paramilitaries had torched his house in retribution for his role erecting barricades during the anti-Ortega insurrection.

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