Central American migrants traveling with a caravan to the U.S. make their way to Pijijiapan, Mexico, Thursday, Oct. 25, 2018. There are a relatively tiny number of Nicaraguans who decided to try their luck with the caravan of thousands of Central Americans, mostly Hondurans, currently making its way through southern Mexico. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

In Nicaragua, political violence spurs migration

October 25, 2018 - 4:09 pm

MEXICO CITY (AP) — There are a relatively tiny number of Nicaraguans who decided to try their luck with the caravan of thousands of Central Americans, mostly Hondurans, currently making its way through southern Mexico.

Nicaraguans represent a small minority of the many migrants who cross through Mexico each year toward the United States. However, this may change after a political crisis erupted in the country this year, with opposition protests demanding President Daniel Ortega's exit from office eliciting a deadly crackdown, giving many more reason to leave.

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America by land mass, but home to just 6.2 million inhabitants. Up until this year it was a beacon of relative stability in the region despite serious poverty, underdevelopment and high-level corruption. Ortega's strongman government kept in check the kind of gangland crime that has made life unbearable for millions in the Northern Triangle region comprising El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The most common destinations for Nicaraguans leaving the country are Costa Rica and the United States, and to a lesser extent Spain. Here are some of the reasons that Nicaraguans leave.

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POLITICAL PERSECUTION

Ortega's government responded with violent repression to the demonstrations. The Inter-American Commission of Human Rights estimates that at least 325 people died in clashes since April between civilians, security forces and armed, pro-government paramilitaries. Most of the killings are attributed to forces allied with Ortega.

Protest leaders have been arrested. Many from the student-led demonstrations complain of being hunted down, arbitrarily detained, beaten, kicked out of school or fired from their jobs in reprisal. Many have hidden in safe houses.

The political tensions triggered a rise in migration not seen since the 1980s, when the country was ravaged by civil war.

Costa Rica received 200 asylum petitions per day over the summer, according to the United Nations. Many who fear being nabbed by death squads have also fled to El Salvador, Honduras and Florida.

The instability has led to the loss of at least 200,000 jobs since April amid widespread financial losses, especially for the crucial tourism industry. The World Bank fears the social and economic situation in Nicaragua may deteriorate even further in the months to come.

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POVERTY AND UNDERDEVELOPMENT

Nicaragua is one of the least developed and poorest countries in Latin America. Access to basic services is an ongoing challenge, especially in rural areas. Half the country's children do not study past elementary school.

Per-capita income is $185 a month and a quarter of Nicaraguans live in poverty, according to the World Bank. Nicaraguans earn less than their counterparts in El Salvador and Guatemala.

Better-paying jobs in neighboring countries like Costa Rica and Panama have lured thousands of Nicaraguans over the years. Roughly 300,000 are permanent residents of Costa Rica. To a lesser extent, Nicaraguans hoping to escape poverty migrate to the U.S.

Thousands were granted Temporary Protected Status in 1999 to reside in the U.S. after Hurricane Mitch devastated much of Central America. U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has ordered that status for 5,300 Nicaraguans to end in January.

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