Almost every day a police car stops in front of Diana, a Dutch woman who has lived in Nicaragua for years. Heavily armed officers stand in front of her house for hours. “They wave large weapons and film everything. Even when I water the plants, they film me”, the Dutchman sighs.
Diana isn’t alone. At the beginning of this year, dozens of people from different countries suddenly had problems with their papers. They had to sign a form promising not to get involved in politics.
The Dutch entrepreneur Dennis * does not want us to use his real name. He also receives regular visits from security forces. “They stand right in front of my cause and don’t say or ask anything. They’re just standing there a little intimidated.”
Yet another Dutchman in Nicaragua sighs that she does not feel free. “I’m tired of it,” says Louise *, who also doesn’t want to be quoted under her real name. “I don’t publish anything on social media. Everyone here practices self-censorship.”
This is how it goes with Diana almost every day:
President Ortega fought with the leftist Sandinistas against a right-wing dictatorship in the 1980s. But since the former guerrilla fighter himself came to power, Nicaragua has slipped further and further into an authoritarian regime.
The popular uprising of 2018, in which hundreds of people were killed, accelerated this. There will be elections in Nicaragua in November, and the president and his wife don’t seem to be going to lose them.
“They are doing everything they can to eliminate the opposition,” said Louise. Diana and Dennis also suspect that the pressure on the foreigners has to do with this.
Diana consciously chooses to release her photos and videos, even though that could make her known to the authorities. “I think it’s just important that things like this get publicized. And so I’ve overcome my fear, so I’m now actively publishing, and have also reported to all human rights organizations.”
Why are they targeting her? “They think I was involved in the uprising and that I gave money to the opposition,” said Diana. “But I wasn’t in Nicaragua at all at the time. And they scrutinized my finances, without finding anything. It’s just not true,” she insists.
“Officially I have not been accused of anything,” says Dennis. “But I hear through the media that a lot of people who are against the government are joining me. That’s why they think I’m from the opposition.”
Diana and Dennis also do charity, which is a sensitive issue. The regime takes it as criticism. “They told me at the migration service that I can continue with fundraising campaigns. But then I have to hand the money over to the regime.”
“When I organized a fundraising campaign for hurricane victims, my wall was smudged,” says Dennis. “It was written that the victims did not need foreign aid, that I was a terrorist.”
In January a new law came into effect, which aims to get foreign organizations under control. NGOs that are in one way or another have links with foreign countries must register. The controversial law is colloquially referred to as the ‘Putin Law’, because similar rules had already been introduced in Russia.
“It is now easier for them to deal with NGOs that are not welcome,” explains Louise from the Netherlands. She works for a European aid organization and has lived almost continuously in Nicaragua since the 1990s.
“They ask for different papers every time. For example, that you suddenly have to show the financial administration of 2016.” Organizations that are a burden to the regime make work very difficult.
Diana had to report to the migration service at the beginning of January. “My residence permit was still valid for four years, but it has been shortened to April. And now I have to report again every two weeks.” Dennis even has no papers at all. “I think they just keep it in hand, so they can expel me at any time,” says Dennis.
The Dutch who tell their story are considering leaving Nicaragua. “But if I do,” says Diana. “Then they confiscate all my belongings here.” She is afraid she will not be able to bring her dogs.
“I have a Nicaraguan daughter,” says Dennis. “When I leave, I don’t know if I can just come back. I’ll leave her and my whole social life.”
Louise is especially concerned about her partner. “I want to go to the Netherlands, but my husband is a Nicaraguan, he can’t just come with me.”