NicaNotes: The Journey North

By John Perry

John Perry is based in Masaya, Nicaragua, and writes for the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, London Review of Books, FAIR and other outlets.

Migrants from several countries prepare to cross the Rio Grande into Texas. Until two years ago, few Nicaraguans migrated north. But then the numbers making the journey suddenly increased with people following a dream of supposedly well-paid jobs in the US. For many it has not worked out. (Photo: Radio La Primerisima)

In the photo his mother shows me, Alejandro is with a group of friends: seven Nicaraguan men and women, one with a 14-year-old daughter. There’s no apprehension in the faces, yet none have ever left their country, and all are about to start the hazardous 4,000-kilometre journey to the Mexico-US border.

Before he left, Alejandro had a good job. He worked from home as a programmer, he speaks good English and his boss didn’t want him to leave. But he saved his salary and borrowed money to pay a coyote $6,300 to get him to Texas. The others in the group have all done the same. The day after the photo is taken, they begin the easy part of the journey, crossing El Salvador and Guatemala by bus to reach the border with Mexico. At that point they depend on the coyote and his accomplices to get them into Mexico and complete the remaining three-quarters of the route north.

Once on Mexican soil, they wait two days in a safe house while relatives pay the first instalment of the coyote’s fee. Then they spend a week in different cars, one driver handing them on to another until eventually they come to a house which is just a few kilometres from the Rio Grande. By now the relatives have paid a second instalment, and a third will be needed before they can cross. They spend two more days waiting.

The coyote is part of a group of coyotes and the group now tells the migrants that the women must cross the river separately from the men. But after the women leave the next day, an argument breaks out among the coyotes. It seems the money they have been paid is now insufficient. The five men are told they must find another $7,000 between them. Now taken hostage by those who supposedly were helping them, they face unspecified threats if money doesn’t arrive within seven days. Relatives, contacted by phone, scramble to raise the ransom. It proves difficult as they already have debts. The final payment is made just as the deadline is reached: the relative making it arrives at the shop where she can transfer the cash only to find that it is closing for the night. After listening to her tearful story, the staff reopen it and the money is sent.

At the house in Mexico, the men are told they will leave the next morning. Crossing the Rio Grande is dangerous and most of them can’t swim. More migrants arrive, until eventually there are around 20 of different nationalities, who are roped together to pass through the waist-high rapids. Once they’ve crossed, the coyotes hand them over to US border guards, as if by arrangement, and return to Mexico. The new arrivals are taken to an immigration office where they are given food and clothes and those being allowed into the country can make asylum claims. All of the Nicaraguans can stay, and each is given a phone on which they have to report to the authorities while they await court hearings on their cases. They are now free to leave.

Alejandro has been promised work in New York: he has enough money left for a ticket, but when he arrives there the job has gone. He passes three months in a friend’s flat before finding work, for which he must travel back to Texas. It’s in a factory farm, it pays $100 a day and it’s ‘the worst job he’s ever done’. Later, still working illegally, he gets construction work. When he eventually attends his court hearing, back in New York, he’s told his case will be adjourned – until 2034.

Almost a year has passed since Alejandro left. He’s barely surviving: any spare money is sent home for his two daughters and to pay his debts. His clothes are falling apart and he’s eating poorly. He’s applied to work legally and awaits the outcome. He badly wants to return to Nicaragua, but he needs to work, at least for two more years, to pay what he owes and buy his ticket home. Several of his friends are struggling and have the same regrets.

Until two years ago, few Nicaraguans migrated north. But then numbers making the journey suddenly increased. According to the White House, they were ‘fleeing political persecution and communism’, but none of the migrants or their families I have spoken to have ever mentioned this as a motive. The real reasons are the dream of supposedly well-paid jobs and, until recently, the promise of favourable treatment at the border. This year numbers have fallen sharply because border practices have changed and deportations have begun. Instead, Nicaraguans (along with would-be migrants from Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela) can apply for what’s called ‘humanitarian parole’. So far, some 21,000 Nicaraguans have flown north under this system with permits to work for two years, encouraged by Facebook ads and promotional videos by the US embassy aimed at people with skills and qualifications.

The debilitating effect this has on Nicaragua adds to that of the US sanctions which apply to all the ‘parole’ countries. A friend of mine runs a non-profit health clinic serving a poor barrio. Three of her best workers left for the US a few months ago, disrupting the clinic’s operation and forcing new staff to be recruited and trained. Migration replenishes an aging US workforce while damaging the economies of countries whose governments Washington dislikes. It’s a pernicious brain-drain.


By Nan McCurdy

Firm Support for Palestinian Cause
In his speech during the Emergency Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly held Nov. 1, Nicaragua’s UN Ambassador Jaime Hermida reiterated Nicaragua’s support for the immediate implementation of a ceasefire in Gaza and respect for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. He said, “Nicaragua considers it reprehensible that the UN Security Council … has not been able to adopt a simple humanitarian resolution that urgently demanded a ceasefire along with access and provision of humanitarian assistance. From this world forum we condemn the inhuman situation to which the Palestinian people are being subjected in Gaza and the occupation and illegal blockade that have turned this territory into a large open-air prison.” He went on to say, “The General Assembly has the imperative responsibility to demand respect and protection for the Palestinian population, without double standards and under equal conditions as human beings. For Nicaragua, supporting the just cause of the Palestinian people is a matter of principle and solidarity between brothers and sisters. Palestine is not alone; the people of the world stand with them.” (Nicaragua News, 2 November 2023)

Nicaraguan Exports Growth Second in Central America
The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) this week published its annual report titled “2023 International Trade Outlook: Structural changes and trends in global and regional trade.” The report states that Nicaragua’s exports totaled US$5.3 billion between January and August 2023, and it projects that exports will grow 11% this year making it the country with the second highest growth in Central America, surpassed only by Costa Rica. (Nicaragua News, 7 November 2023)

Granada Joins Global Creative Cities Network
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has named Granada as a Creative City of Design, within a prestigious worldwide network of 350 cities designated by this organization. “This recognition is granted because of its efforts to promote design, innovation, and creativity in all sectors, offering the world a city committed to the preservation and promotion of its colonial and Indigenous roots as the basis for sustainable urban development with cultural identity.” Founded in 1524, Granada is the oldest European city on the American mainland. [Editor’s note: Leon was founded in the same year but was moved from the foot of the Momotombo Volcano to its present site in 1609.]  (JP+Centroamérica, Nicaragua News,1 November 2023)

Chinese Buses: Modernization of Transportation 
On November 6, the 250 buses that arrived from the People’s Republic of China were transferred to Managua. This is the second fleet of Chinese buses for Nicaragua, making a total of five hundred buses. It is part of the agreements and memorandums of understanding signed between both nations. This second fleet of 250 units will be delivered to the different member cooperatives of the Urban Transportation Collective in the capital to improve and modernize the public transportation system. (, 6 November, 2023)

Nicaragua Continues Fetal Surgeries 
Nicaragua’s 192nd fetal surgery, performed by specialists from the Bertha Calderón Hospital in Managua, was a total success. Doctors removed a lung tumor from a baby in the mother’s womb. The first fetal surgery in the womb was carried out on March 9, 2021, by a group of specialists, led by Dr. Néstor Pavón, Nicaragua’s first fetal surgeon. (La Primerisima, 31 October 2023)

Greater Access to Technical Training
The National Technological Institute (INATEC) reported that US$328,767 has been invested to rehabilitate and equip the Ulises Santiago Gogo Technical Center in Puerto Cabezas, North Caribbean Autonomous Region, ensuring greater access to free and quality technical training for 500 students in four specializations and five complementary trade courses. (Nicaragua News, 2 November 2023)

Technology Center Opens in Muy Muy
In Muy Muy, Department of Matagalpa, the Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) inaugurated an Agricultural Technology Development Center named after Bernardino Díaz Ochoa. This center will work on innovation in silvopastoral systems, studies of feeding alternatives for the nutrition of large and small livestock, and genetic improvement of cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. Technical advice and training will also be provided to livestock producers in Matagalpa. (La Primerisima, 5 November 2023)

Two New Women’s Police Stations
Vice President Rosario Murillo announced the inauguration of two new Women’s Police Stations: numbers 266 in Dipilto and 267 in the municipality of Morrito in honor of the founder and head of the Sandinista Popular Revolution, Commander Carlos Fonseca Amador. (Informe Pastran, 6 November, 2023)

Vietnam Delegation Arrives to Strengthen Relations
A high-level delegation from the Communist Party of Vietnam arrived in Managua on Oct. 31 with the aim of strengthening historic bilateral relations with Nicaragua and the Sandinista National Liberation Front. (La Primerisima, 31 October 2023)

Japan Reaffirms Support on Disaster Risk Reduction Issues
The representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA-Japan) in Nicaragua, Tomoyuki Odani, reiterated Japan’s intention to continue collaborating with Nicaragua on protection and disaster risk reduction issues, which are important to safeguard the lives of families. On October 31, in the offices of the National System for Disaster Prevention, Mitigation and Attention (SINAPRED), Nicaragua and Japan signed the “Disaster Risk Reduction Investment Promotion Project to Establish Safe and Resilient Municipalities.” Doctor Guillermo González, Minister-Director of SINAPRED, said that this project will contribute to the sustainable management of the coasts, considering the balance between development, protection and conservation. Likewise, it will allow specialists from the institutions involved to be trained in topics such as coastal management and comprehensive risk reduction management. (La Primerisima, 1 November 2023)

Officials Meet with Delegates from China Media Group
Nicaraguan representatives expressed their gratitude to the delegation of the China Media Group as well as the government and people of China for their recent solidarity cooperation, including the supply of anti-virus vaccines, health materials and equipment, wheat and fertilizers, and the New Victories Housing Program, among others. The officials thanked the China Media Group for its work to communicate the truth and bring our peoples closer through exchange and cooperation with the Communication and Citizenship Council of the Government of Nicaragua. (La Primerisima, 2 November 2023)

Tributes to Carlos Fonseca 
Foreign Minister Denis Moncada and members of the Sandinista Youth placed flowers at the mausoleum of Carlos Fonseca Amador on the 47th anniversary of his assassination in combat by the Somoza National Guard in the mountains of Zinica. “It is another date of affection, of remembrance of the founder and Commander in Chief of the Sandinista National Liberation Front; of the comrade who inspires us all like Sandino and who contributed in a decisive way to the liberation of Nicaragua and the triumph of the Popular Sandinista Revolution; to the successes and advances that we have today in our government of Reconciliation and Unity,” he said.  As Comandante Tomás Borge used to say, “Carlos Fonseca is one of the dead who never dies,” said the diplomat. See photos: (La Primerisima, 7 November 2023)

General Avilés meets with Russian Defense Minister
The Minister of Defense of Russia, Serguei Shoigu, discussed future projects in the military and military-technical spheres with the Commander-in-Chief of the Nicaraguan Army, Julio Aviles Castillo. The talks were held on Nov. 7 at the National Defense Management Center of the Russian Federation, “in a friendly atmosphere and confirmed the mutual willingness to further increase comprehensive cooperation,” the Russian Defense Ministry reported. (La Primerisima, 7 Noviembre 2023)