What’s it like to be a Nicaraguan migrant in Costa Rica today? Contrary to the social media posts and comments that they come here to ‘pillage’, the sad reality is that most live on a few colones a day and without a roof over their head unless they are able to find work, a task that is becoming more and difficult by the day.
Bryan Castillo, writing for the daily La Teja, a Nacion publication, took to La Merced park on Sunday, the same park that a day earlier became violent when a group of some 400 Costa Ricans descended on the public park in the center of San Jose, demanding the departure of Nicaraguans living in the country, according to them for the damage that this population has done in our territory.
Authorities immediately closed off the park on Saturday.
On Sunday, the park, for many years, dubbed “Nica park”, a source of culture and a meeting place for many Nicaraguans living in Costa Rica, remained closed and under police guard, fearing more violence. It was reopened this Monday morning.
Castillo writes he met up with Armando, a ‘pinolero’ (a colloquial term for a Nicaraguan) who preferred not to reveal his full name for fear of reprisals from Ticos (Costa Ricans) and the government of President Daniel Ortega.
Armando, 42 years old, says he arrived in Costa Rica on July 18, fleeing violence in his country. Like Armando, there are about 25,000 of his compatriots who arrived in Costa Rica since April, requesting refuge.
Armando says he is from the department of Carazo, about 95 kilometers from the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, a tourist town on the Pacific coast. Behind he left two daughters whom he did not communicate with much, but now must, to assure them, given the news of the violence, that he is Ok.
Armando and many of his fellow Nicaraguans are not a menace to Costa Rican society. They are here to work if they can find work. To earn enough to help out the family back home, to get them here, if possible, away from the repression of Daniel Ortega.
But that all changed on Saturday.
Armando, with only a few colones in his pocket and no place to live, is, like many other Nicaraguans, who came to Costa Rica seeking peace but in the last day has found a similar scenario to the one he saw every day in Nicaragua.
“We have to walk together, as you can see, we are five (two men and three women) because we are afraid of being attacked, we have been here for more than a month and we do not have where to sleep. All Nicaraguans at this moment are together, you will see us with other people and not alone because we do not want to be beaten,” he said.
“We have lived things that thank God you (the Costa Ricans) have not lived, we have lived wars, we have suffered from hunger and humiliations (stops and cries). We feel bad because we have to flee our country and we arrived here with the hope of working but some people do not want us,” he said.
“I offer an apology to all Costa Ricans for the Nicaraguans who have hurt here but we are not all like that, most of us are honest people who only want to feed our families.”
Surviving on ¢300 colones daily
Another reason for grouping is financial. Armando said that every day they survive on ¢300 colones, that is, with their contribution and that of the other 4 people with whom they walk, they put together ¢1,500.
“At this moment I have ¢50 colones (US 50 cents) but among us we can buy ‘galletas’ (cookies, soda crackers). After what happened (the aggressions of Saturday) other Nicaraguans who are better-off, give us something to eat, have also given us food in a shelter (in the Obras de Sor María Romero, 300 meters from KFC Paseo Colón) but we only eat once or twice a day that’s why we buy the cookies,” he said.
Carlos, who arrived last week, on Thursday, August 16, says he is living the same situation.
From Puerto Corinto, in Chinandego, the 44-year-old fled his country afraid because according to him, the Nicaraguan army was looking for him to kill him.
He was a ‘cruzrojista’ (red cross worker) and, according to his account, they mounted a persecution against him and fellow cruzrojistas after they attended a young man who was demonstrating against the government.
“Ortega took my family away from me, I have three daughters, twenty, eighteen and eight years old and a thirteen-year-old boy. Since I’m here I do not communicate directly with them (he does through neighbors) because I’m afraid that the police will check their phones and realize they talk to me, if that happens they can kill them and I do not want that to happen to them,” he commented.
He also survives with ‘three tejas’ a day, although sometimes he has more. For him, that is not the worst since the most complicated thing has been not having a place to sleep or take care of bodily needs.
“When I feel like going to the bathroom I go to a ‘cantina’ (small bar). I explain what I’m going through and they let me use it. I do not like to bother people with things like that but I have to do it because the body can not take it anymore,” he added.
Both Armando and Carlos said that sometimes they sleep in a shelter called El Pastor, which is 200 meters south of the Ministry of Health park and 300 meters east. A few blocks from La Merced park.
They mention that they only have 50 spots a night. The entrance is at 8 pm. and the departure at 5 am.
“It’s the only night in which we do not get cold in the wind or the rain, if we do not get a spot then we sleep on the sidewalk of the hospital (San Juan de Dios) or on the roof of the gas station (which is in front of the north side of La Merced park),” said Carlos.
According to the 2011 census, approximately 290,000 Nicaraguans live in the country, the majority of whom work in construction and domestic work.
During the embarrassing spectacle of this Saturday, the Fuerza Publica (police) arrested 44 people. By means of a tweet, the Office of the Prosecutor announced that it released 41 and that the remaining 3 were being held by the Fiscalia pending the resolution of their judicial situation.