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Fugitive Foreigners find Safe Haven in Ortega’s Nicaragua

Critics say the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega has made a business of granting Nicaraguan citizenship, which does not discriminate political ideologies.

That Nicaragua is a country where extradition of nationals is not allowed is what is attracting foreign fugitives from their country’s justice, notes a specialist in international relations. Additionally, according to this same source, this benefit granted by Nicaragua’s Constitution has become a business for Daniel Ortega’s dictatorship.

Article 43 of Nicaragua’s Constitution establishes that “Nicaraguans may not be subject to extradition from the national territory”. So, entire families of former foreign presidents accused of corruption have conveniently requested to become naturalized Nicaraguans.

This same source, who asked not to reveal their identity for fear of reprisals, said that it is not a coincidence that “many nationalized foreigners have pending court cases in their countries of origin. Since in Nicaragua there is no extradition, they feel safe in this country.” He adds that he has no doubt that they offer something in exchange for nationality. “There is a whole illegal and corrupt arrangement in the inner circle of the government. It can be the payment of money, property, illicit transactions, as measures to obtain nationality.”

There is nothing wrong with a country nationalizing foreigners if they meet all the requirements, but in Nicaragua you have to pay a fee if you are a persecuted foreigner.

Another former Honduran official in Nicaragua

On Sunday, September 3, it was learned that the former Honduran attorney general, Oscar Fernando Chinchilla, joined the list of foreigners who have taken refuge in Nicaragua after being accused of corruption in their countries.

Ebal Diaz Lupian and Ricardo Cardona López were nationalized in 2022. Both are former high officials of the administration of former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez who had been extradited to the United States for drug trafficking crimes.

Honduran media reported that Diaz and Cardona left with more than 4 million lempiras in their bank accounts, the equivalent of US$162,338.26.

Even more well-known are the cases of the former presidents of El Salvador. Mauricio Funes, accused of illicit enrichment during his administration, was naturalized Nicaraguan along with his wife and two children in 2019. And former President Salvador Sánchez Ceren and 11 of his family members were nationalized in 2021, including his wife, children, sons-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Sanchez is also accused of committing acts of corruption during his administration and there is a warrant out for his arrest.

Former President Funes in particular, and one of his sons, are now advisers to the Presidency of Nicaragua, with enormous salaries; another pattern of benefits that the Ortega regime grants to foreigners.

Business has no ideology

However, what our international relations specialist finds particularly interesting is that the Ortega-Murillo regime does not discriminate against the ideology of its “guests”, as is the case of Honduras. Nicaragua accepts former officials persecuted by the current government of Xiomara Castro, even though Ortega is Honduras’ ally, giving credence to the idea that this is a business.

The source believes that there is an agreement with these governments to offer them asylum in the future in case the same thing happens to them when they leave power.

“Ideology is totally put aside. For example, previous Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez attended Ortega’s inauguration, and so did a delegation from current President Xiomara Castro’s Libre Party. There is a delicate balance of support for the previous officials of Juan Orlando, and for Xiomara Castro because there is no verbal confrontation between Ortega and Castro. Ideologically they are equal. They are supposedly leftist, but that doesn’t come into play as money talks in these dealings,” our specialist observes.

Nicaragua, “a refuge for criminals”

Political science analyst Carmen Chamorro said that the entry of the former Honduran prosecutor is not surprising, because there are already countless cases of corruption that the Ortega dictatorship has protected. She even said, “we can expect more nationalizations of characters like this, in a context of growing authoritarianism in the Central American region, where most rulers have abstained from criticizing Ortega.”

Chamorro confirmed that “Nicaragua has become an escape paradise for criminals, and corrupt politicians persecuted by justice.”

“Not only are they granted entry, but they obtain Nicaraguan citizenship very easily. Unfortunately, this unequal treatment only benefits those close to the regime who seek refuge from persecution, as many foreign citizens who are in the country legally struggle to renew their residency and are denied year after year. Additionally, many of these ‘refugees’ of the regime benefit from residences in the most privileged areas of the country and enjoy protection and freedom to do what they want in Nicaragua,” Chamorro said.

She also pointed to the case of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s nephew, Mohamed Lashtar, who is Nicaragua’s ambassador to numerous countries, Ortega’s advisor, and representative to international organizations.

She continues, “This is nothing new. Ortega has maintained close relations with dictators and even terrorist leaders since the 1980s and has strengthened those relations by accepting those fleeing power, in Nicaragua.”

Another example that Chamorro brought up is that of Alessio Casimirri from Italy, who for several years the European Parliament has requested extradition for the crimes he has pending in his country.

“There are countless other cases. And it is unlikely that the regime grants such benefits out of ‘solidarity’. We know for a fact that some allies have provided financial resources, military and tactical training and even international support to the dictatorship to help it stay in power.”

Chamorro expressed how, “at the international level this is perceived as a security threat, especially for countries like the United States that have expressed it as a concern, for example, in the Panama Papers. Likewise, they note investigations into collaborations with terrorist organizations and involvement in attacks that threaten the security of their country.”

The banished and denationalized Nicaraguan opponent of the Ortega-Murillo regime, Hector Mairena, also points out the contrast of nationalizing “corrupt foreigners,” while taking away the nationality of Nicaraguans who oppose the dictatorship. It’s as if the State of Nicaragua is Ortega’s personal farm.