Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an unwavering champion of the repressed in Latin America, drafted a resolution that condemns the deadly government-fueled violence against the people of Nicaragua. It calls for sanctions against those linked to President Daniel Ortega’s government. Last week, the House of Representatives was smart enough to approve it. Sen. Marco Rubio presented a similar resolution in the Senate.
But Ros-Lehtinen pointed out another problem aggravated by the crisis in that country.
Last November, the Trump administration eliminated the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted to Nicaraguans in 1998, when Hurricane Mitch devastated the isthmus.
Nicaraguans living in South Florida and the rest of the United States with that special protection now have until January 2019 to apply for some type of legal residency. If it isn’t granted, they will have to return to Nicaragua.
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There are more than 5,000 immigrants who would be going back to a country shaken by violence and facing an uncertain future — with severely diminished economic growth and a government facing strong opposition and numerous accusations of repression.
“If we are going to say that the situation in Nicaragua is terrible, why then are we going to deport so many Nicaraguans when we are saying that the country is in political chaos?” asked Ros-Lehtinen. She’s right.
With almost 300 people killed, Nicaraguans have suffered the worst political crisis since the rebellion that overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979.
Back then, Ortega was one of the leaders of the Sandinista movement, the popular struggle that brought down the Somoza dynasty.
Today, ironically, many of Ortega’s opponents accuse him of emulating the dictator and inflicting the same kind of repression.
The stability that Nicaraguans enjoyed after Ortega returned to power and made a pact with private enterprise has disappeared.
The president swears that he has the crisis under control. He doesn’t. Protests continue, the malaise remains and no one can ensure that violent civil disturbances won’t break out at any moment.
Nicaragua’s economy experienced healthy growth before the protests began in April. But it came at the cost of freedoms. Opponents have paralyzed the country, barricading streets and highways.
The country has suffered a severe blow as many jobs have been lost and tourism, which had increased significantly, is now almost nil. Who wants to visit a country where there is political strife? In fact, many Nicaraguans are leaving their country, fleeing into Costa Rica.
“We believe it would be irresponsible for the United States to send these individuals back to Nicaragua to face violence, chaos and oppression,” a bipartisan group of lawmakers wrote in a letter to President Trump. We agree with them — Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart, Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Democrats Albio Sires, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Adam Schiff and Norma Torres all signed the letter.
We hope their message is heard in the White House — and taken seriously. TPS protection for Nicaraguans should stay in place for now.