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A year ago, I was stripped of my Nicaraguan nationality

Amidst uncertainty and attacks, you have to find meaning in life, to be able to move forward. And meaning is built through the decisions we make

Nicaraguan nationality Wilfredo Miranda
Wilfredo Miranda, pictured in Mexico City.Hector Guerrero

A year ago, I was in Miami interviewing some priests. A week earlier, they had been exiled from Nicaragua by the dictatorship of President Daniel Ortega and Vice-President Rosario Murillo (who are also husband and wife). The religious figures were among the 222 political prisoners who were taken from the jails at dawn and put on a plane — chartered by the Biden administration — bound for Dulles Airport, in Virginia. At that moment, the whole operation seemed to me like it was worthy of a movie: unusual, crazy, absurd...

While I was in the middle of my interview with the priests, a colleague and friend, María Lily Delgado, startled me with some news. She yelled: “They’re removing more nationalities.”

As if it hadn’t been enough to banish the political prisoners, in another act of endless political revenge, the regime stripped them of their Nicaraguan nationality, declaring them to be “traitors to the country.” Their assets were confiscated and they were deemed fugitives from justice. That is, they suffered a civic death.

This same repressive cocktail was applied to 94 more Nicaraguans on February 15, 2023. The majority of the newly-denaturalized were political opponents, activists, religious people and journalists, who had already been exiled since 2018. The retaliation was clear, with the cancellation of our rights as citizens. This was yet another attack for not keeping quiet and denouncing the abuses of the regime.

I apologized to the priests for the interruption, closed my notebook, turned off the recorder and started watching the broadcast on María Lily’s phone. A pro-Ortega judge read the names of those stripped of their citizenship. At that moment — with the adrenaline rush that reporters feel with breaking news — I didn’t think I was going to be named. But there I was on the list: number 78.

I’m deeply aware of the anger I felt when I heard the judge pronounce my name. An uncontrollable rage that — when I left the priests — made me turn to the keyboard, to protest with the only tool I have: the written word.

At the time, I didn’t realize the consequences of having my citizenship stripped from me. Later, I realized that, if I was no longer considered to be Nicaraguan, my passport would no longer be valid. Would I be stranded in Miami?

I began asking diplomatic and immigration sources about what to do if my passport was deactivated. Nobody could answer me with certainty. The thing about denaturalization, they agreed, is that it wasn’t only shocking and highly unusual, it was a kind of punishment taken from the Middle Ages. There were no explanations for this situation.

I managed to travel and, little by little, I began to understand what being stateless was all about. In Nicaragua, they looked for me in the civil registry of my town: I no longer existed. My birth certificate was exterminated. It has happened to several denaturalized people. Their children suddenly (and legally) stopped having parents, because — according to the regime — they no longer exist.

My bank accounts were frozen and — above all — the most complicated thing for me was the uneasiness in my chest. The dictators hit me where it hurts most, in my essence as a person who is proud to be Nicaraguan. I felt defeated during those days, just like I felt when I had to go into exile for the second time.

Since then, I’ve dealt with that uneasiness. It’s been diminishing as the months have passed, because if I’ve learned anything in all this time away from my Nicaragua, it’s to be more resistant and more stubborn every day, so as not to give up. I cling to what Ghandi said, in a trial against him for sedition: “A good person will resist an evil system with his whole soul. Disobedience of the laws of an evil state is therefore a duty.”

Journalism is a means of being disobedient to the regime. I believe in that. But I would be lying if I told you it was easy. Exile and banishment are costly, beyond legal and logistical issues. It was a huge windfall that Spain made us citizens almost expeditiously — a very generous gesture and an act of political goodwill from a country that our national poet, Rubén Darío, taught us to call “our motherland.” However, the emotional setbacks have continued to pile up.

Maintaining the determination to continue practicing a kind of journalism that monitors and denounces a regime — a regime that has been accused of committing crimes against humanity — turns you into a bit of a downer. Friendships become more strained, or continue clandestinely, as a way of marking distance from you. People want to protect themselves from a repression that appears to have no limits.

When someone visits, they don’t even post a photo with me, for “protection.” My family takes the same precautions. There’s a special gravity that surrounds the loss of family members, because you’re even more alone in exile and banishment. It hurts to lose that connection with the people you love, but — far from reproaching them — I’m convinced that it’s what should be done. It’s logical.

On the other hand, there are those who were once essential to resisting the regime while in exile, but they eventually got fed up with this story that never seems to end. They’ve abandoned us — they’ve moved into other fields, where the daily effort of wanting to rescue Nicaragua is no longer the norm. They want to escape from exile.

Over the last year, I’ve questioned myself a lot. This turmoil seems inevitable to me, although I know that this exile isn’t my fault. For example, why do I continue doing journalism? Seriously, why continue doing journalism, when they take almost everything away from you? They take away your country, your family, your friends and even the possibility of being able to bury your grandparents. They freeze your bank accounts, declare you a fugitive from justice, defame you, attack you, persecute your parents... Why?

I haven’t found a thoughtful or very profound answer. But what I have found is something similar to a cliché, which still has a bit of truth to it: I have a commitment as a citizen of Nicaragua, but above all, a commitment to the craft of journalism. In that sense, every day, I try to reinvent myself in exile. I’ve formed another big and beautiful family with other exiled men and women in Costa Rica, where I now live. We continue to believe that it’s worth enduring our decisions. The feeling of common hope is badly battered, but it remains unscathed and always offers the promise of returning to a free Nicaragua.

A couple of months ago, a friend — now part of my family in exile — lent me a book by Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, titled How to Stand Up to a Dictator (2022). I was struck by the question that Ressa poses in the introduction: “What are you willing to sacrifice for your future?” I believe that all of us exiles have already sacrificed the things that I’ve written about here. But we’ll also continue to sacrifice, because we’re facing a dictatorship that doesn’t cease in its desire to break our dignity. That’s why it always finds devious ways to attack us and try to silence us.

I say this because the last tactic of the Ortega-Murillo regime is to target the relatives of the banished and the exiled. First, they started with arrests. Then, a couple of weeks ago, they began to confiscate the properties of those who are related to denaturalized Nicarguans declared to be “traitors to the country.” It’s a legal aberration and plunder that has no shame, affecting those who haven’t even been charged with a crime.

There’s a strong climate of self-censorship in Nicaragua. Terror reigns both within the country and beyond its borders. Exiles face the dilemma of either continuing to denounce the regime, or remaining silent, so as not to get their families in trouble. This is a decision that each person must make according to their own circumstances. Worrying about the well-being of your family isn’t an unfounded fear: it must be taken seriously, because it’s confirmed that the Ortega-Murillo regime has decided not to respect anything. They cross all the red lines that — at least for the sake of decorum — shouldn’t be crossed.

The presidential couple have given themselves license to be abject and heartless. They demonstrated this during the 2018 protests against their government, when they ordered their security forces to shoot down and kill 355 souls. Ortega and Murillo cannot — nor will they be able to, in the scope of history — avoid their crimes, nor will they evade how they have illegally confiscated properties — something that is strictly prohibited by the Constitution of Nicaragua, in article 44. All the violence they exert carries a central element of arbitrariness and revenge. It’s time to resist this with strong conviction.

Amidst this uncertainty — and in the face of attacks — one has to find meaning in life, so as to be able to remain calm and move forward. And the meaning of life — as Maria Ressa writes in her book — “isn’t something you stumble across nor what someone gives you. You build it through every choice you make, through the commitments you nurture, the people you love, and the values you live by.” In my case, it’s important to continue fighting. As I said before, I do so with the only tool I have: the written word.

It’s a constant, dichotomous battle. Some days, your commitment feels worn out. On other days, you feel rejuvenated. Several fronts open up for us on an emotional, economic and professional level that we must challenge and resolve. As Joaquín Sabina sings, it’s bitter like the wine of exile. But it’s also hopeful when we’re comforted by the collective embrace that we, the exiled, give each other. We survive clinging to that plank that floats in the sea of totalitarianism, so as not to sink, so as not to drown. We keep going for Nicaragua and all Nicaraguans. And we do so with that slim hope that doesn’t abandon us, in the face of such a soulless reality.

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