Updated: Feb 23
With a corrupt government, human rights abuses, and attacks on free media, Nicaragua has been the center of political turmoil for over a decade. Since becoming president in 2007, Sandinista party leader Daniel Ortega has removed checks on his power and is running his government with an iron fist. The effects of this are being felt in Iowa City, where IVLP alumni Horacio Borgen has come to build his new life after being suddenly forced to leave his country.
Horacio, who has been working in politics since he was 16 years old, already had a bad history with the Sandinista political party, who he says stole his father’s ranch in the 1980s. It was a no-brainer for him to join in on protesting President Ortega in 2018’s mass demonstrations.
“I started when there were only 50 people in the streets protesting, but then it got bigger and bigger. And we [had] a demonstration that I guess it had, like, half a million participants that were rooting against Ortega and rooting against all the murders that happened during the first days of the protests. During this crisis, I believe the total number of murders have been over 500, because that's on the official report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (OAS). And most of them [were] students,” said Horacio.
On October 25th, 2021, three years after the protests, a speaker of the Nicaraguan government falsely accused Horacio of supplying roadblocks during the demonstrations. These roadblocks supposedly contained weapons that were used to kill Sandinistas and police officers, making this a very serious accusation. Horacio’s life changed in a matter of hours.
“I took whatever I can fill in one suitcase, and I just got out of the country. I feared for my life,” said Horacio. “I went to Costa Rica, because unfortunately, in Nicaragua, we don't have a direct flight to the US in the same day or during the same week. I would have had to wait 7 days to fly direct to Miami.”
From Costa Rica, Horacio flew to Miami, Florida, to stay at his aunt’s house. However, due to costly living expenses, Horacio found it difficult to imagine starting his new life in Miami. Instead, he got in touch with CIVIC member Alisa Meggitt, whom he kept in contact with since participating in a CIVIC program in 2018. With Alisa’s assistance, Horacio arrived in Iowa City in December 2021.
“The first time that I came here, I fell in love with the city. I have to be honest, I like how the city is. And obviously, the most important thing, the people from Iowa are so kind, so nice, so willing to help,” said Horacio. “And I have to say, this was my best decision to have chosen Iowa City as a city to start our new life as a family.”
Since Horacio’s leave, more drastic action has been taken by the Nicaraguan government. In the past few weeks, the Nicaraguan government has been convicting President Ortega’s political opponents, as well as taking over universities whose students were active in the 2018 protests. Furthermore, in December 2021, Nicaragua defied their long-standing alliance with Taiwan to partner with China, leaving Taiwan with only 14 diplomatic partners. This came as a surprise to many, as Nicaragua accepted a $100 million loan from Taiwan in 2019. Nicaragua is by no means the first Latin American country to switch their allegiance, however; El Salvador, Panama, Argentina, and the Dominican Republic have also began supporting China in recent years, and pressure is on Honduras to do the same. For now, however, the situation is still developing.
After months of waiting, Horacio’s wife and son were finally able to join him in Iowa City in January. According to Horacio, this transition has been especially challenging for them.
“My wife had to leave her mother, my mother-in-law, and that is one of the hardest [things] that we’ve had to do, because she used to live with us, we used to hang out with her a lot. [For] my son, he had to leave his friends, his school. Also, he had to leave his dog. And… that seems to be something immaterial, but, you know, a dog becomes part of the family.”
Horacio and his family are currently staying in the US under tourist visas while they file for political asylum. Until he and his wife get work permits, however, they are not permitted to work while they wait.
“It's really difficult to only receive when you… get used to not [receiving] anything in your life. And the most difficult part is not being able to be productive,” said Horacio.
Although working is not an option, Horacio and his family have been giving back to the community through volunteering at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. There, he has met many people who have supported him and helped him build a network.
Horacio would like to sincerely thank Alisa Meggitt and family, Father Joseph Sia, Emily Sinnwell, and Laura Westemeyer and family for helping him out during his time in Iowa.
“I think most of the immigrants that come to the US are hard workers. I wish I could work, no matter where,” said Horacio. “And I know, not everybody is well-educated or well-prepared. But it's important to realize that we are not leaving our countries because we just want to leave our countries. In my case, it is this or my life. We left family, customs, and roots in our countries, and that is not easy to do.”