When Milton González realized thousands of his fellow Nicaraguans were being forced to flee their country and take refuge in neighboring Costa Rica in 2018, he felt an urge to help.
The refugees’ struggles hit home. González, 49, faced a similar experience in the 1980s when the Sandinista regime pushed him to relocate to the United States at only 14 years old. He’s been in exile in Miami for more than 30 years.
“I suffered a lot because of the tyranny of a dictator, and I do not want them to go through the same thing,” said González, who is selling artwork created by the Nicaraguans who’ve left their country. “I will do everything I can so that their exile is temporary, and they can return home as soon as possible. I do not want Nicaragua to lose this generation like it lost mine.”
About 40,000 Nicaraguans have moved to Costa Rica since a political crisis broke out in Nicaragua last April when the government tried to change the country’s Social Security program. Widespread protests erupted, and the government used violence against the protesters. Now the opposition is demanding President Daniel Ortega step down and the country hold democratic elections.
Nicaraguans have baptized those who crossed the border into Costa Rica as “the entrenched.” The majority of “the entrenched” are former university students.
González, who lives in Miami, said he tries to assist them as best he can.
The activist is selling paintings in Florida created by some of the refugees in Costa Rica. The profits are being used to pay for rent in the safe houses Nicaraguans are using for shelter, as well as to buy food, medicine and other basic needs.
A group of the entrenched sent González 12 oil paintings in early April. The paintings illustrate what has happened and continues to happen in Nicaragua, and include portraits that most Nicaraguans recognize.
One of them portrays Teyler Lorío Navarrete, a 14-month-old baby who was shot in the head in the streets of Managua in June 2018. His family has said the infant was killed by a sniper from the Ortega regime.
Other paintings show scenes of confrontations between paramilitaries and protesters. In one of the paintings, students are taking cover behind a barricade of blocks with the names of Nicaraguan universities and municipalities on them.
Although the paintings are all signed by the pseudonym “Centauro” or centaur, González said that several refugees work on the paintings collectively.
Six paintings have been sold so far. The six left are on sale for $140 each — more than triple what artists would make if they were to sell the artwork in Central America, according to González.
As soon as he sells one, González said he sends the money to the refugees. When he sent the first funds, the artists couldn’t believe it.
“They were ecstatic,” he said.
Sophia Lacayo, another Nicaraguan activist in Miami, said the art sale not only helps the refugees, but also raises awareness about what is happening in Nicaragua.
“It’s a way for Nicaraguans who aren’t well-off abroad but who understand the pain of the refugees to contribute to the cause little by little,” said the 40-year-old woman. “It’s a way to make the refugees’ stay a little more dignified and provide them with moral support.”