Three months after making a stand against the Sandinista government amid the messy aftermath of last November’s electoral debacle in Nueva Guinea, former opposition Mayor Denis Obando claims the political heat has become too intense in Nicaragua, forcing him and his family to flee the country to Miami to seek asylum in the United States.
Obando, his wife, and their youngest son arrived in Miami two weeks ago to escape an alleged assassination plot in Nicaragua. The former mayor says various “collaborators” working within the government warned him of a pending plan to “eliminate” him for his recusancy.
During the height of Obando’s brief post-electoral rebellion, when the popular incumbent had hundreds of his supporters on the streets of Nueva Guinea ready to defend their votes and hold the line against the Sandinistas’ power grab, a political envoy for the ruling party allegedly approached Obando and quietly offered him protection, employment and security if he would end his protest, admit defeat and swear to an oath of omerta. Obando says he refused the offer, and that’s when the Sandinistas began to turn the screws even tighter.
Since December, Obando says his house has been monitor constantly by Sandinista watchmen and he has received threatening cellphone messages. He says the alleged conspiracy against him was “confirmed” by a drunken Sandinista official who ran his mouth in a local bar several weeks ago and warned Obando that the plot against him was scheduled to be executed “six to eight weeks after the transition to power of the new mayors,” meaning late February or early March.
“We had to get a jump on them, so we left the country,” Obando told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a phone interview from Miami.
Obando says he is now staying with a friend in Miami and meeting with a lawyer to document the alleged political persecution and build his case for asylum. He says he and his lawyer and preparing to present the paperwork to U.S. authorities next week.
From opposition leader to exile
Obando’s rebellion started shortly after the Nov. 4 municipal election in the rural agricultural department of Nueva Guinea—a poll he claims to have won by some 2,000 votes. Obando and his supporters from the Liberal Constitutional Party (PLC) collected all the official vote tallies from the polls, insisting the paper trail provided irrefutable evidence of their victory.
However, the Sandinista-controlled Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) refused Obando’s request for a revision or recount, and awarded victory to the Sandinista challenger. Obando refused to admit defeat, prompting the National Police to move in and crack skulls; 54 of Obando’s supporters were arrested and dozens more were injured during the police occupation of their town.
In an interview with The Nicaragua Dispatch last November, Obando said he thinks the 2012 municipal elections mark the end of Nicaragua’s electoral democracy and “the beginning of new regime” that will strengthen its hold on the country by spreading fear.
Though Obando made headline news for trying to hold the line against Sandinista encroachment, he said he realized the regime would someday make him pay for his defiance.
“I know that at some point, I alone will have to pay the cost for all this,” he told The Nicaragua Dispatch last November. “There is solidarity now, but there will come a moment when I am left alone to face the totalitarian system. This fire will be extinguished; my flame won’t last long.”
Now Obando thinks the only way he can keep his flame from being snuffed out altogether is to start over with a new life in the United States.
Applying for asylum
Obando won’t be the first Nicaraguan to apply for asylum in the United States in recent years. According to statistics provided by U.S. Homeland Security, a total of 200 Nicaraguans were granted asylum in the United States during first five years of the second Sandinista government (2007-2011). The 2012 statistics are not yet available.
Still, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the exodus that occurred during the revolutionary Sandinista government in the 1980s, when more than 125,000 Nicaraguans sought asylum in the United States, according to U.S. Immigration statistics.
Asylum is legal protection offered to people who are fleeing persecution for reasons of politics, race, religion, nationality or other social affiliation. Individuals seeking asylum can do so “affirmatively,” meaning they apply proactively within a year of entering the country, or “defensively,” which is done to prevent deportation. Obando, who entered the U.S. on a tourist visa, will be applying “affirmatively.”
These days, there are far fewer Nicaraguans seeking asylum than Hondurans, Salvadorans or Guatemalans. Over the past five years (2007-2011), there were 533 Hondurans who were granted asylum in the United States, compared to 1,934 Salvadorans and 2,677 Guatemalans, according to Homeland Security.
The southern half of Central America, however, is a much different story. In the past five years, no Costa Ricans or Panamanians have been granted asylum in the United States.