Pro-Moskitia Foundation of Nicaragua
We promote self-development activities that positively affect the conditions of life and the natural environment while reducing the extreme poverty of the communities of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua
Hurricane damage near Bilwi, November 2020
Hurricane relief, Bilwi, November 2020
The Current Situation May 2022
Support for Miskitu Indigenous Migrants from Nicaragua in the United States
Before beginning, I greet all of you in the name or Our Lord Jesus Christ, and wish that all of His / your committed work on behalf of people in need may have success.
This letter comes to you from F. Melesio Peter Espinoza, Miskitu from Nicaragua, Catholic priest, anthropologist, and president of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation, 501(c)3, based in Austin, Texas. I have been living in the United States since 2004, and carrying out my ministry of serving the Latino community in the Diocese of Austin. I am now living at the Dolores Parish as a resident missionary. Since 2008 when I helped set up the Pro-Moskitia Foundation, I have been coordinating small social, educational, and disaster relief projects through the foundation with Miskitu communities in Nicaragua, as well as with Miskitus in Port Arthur, Texas, and Costa Rica and Panama. My direct ties with my Miskitu people allow me to write this document as a witness in order to support Miskitus who have recently migrated to the United States.
As the president of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation, I am respectfully requesting for help from you and your Catholic charity organization in Austin to provide economic and legal assistance for hundreds of Miskitu migrants who recently have been presenting themselves at the United States border to request asylum in the United States, and are either in detention centers or who have been released to different states to continue the legal processes required to obtain asylum. All of this started about a year ago. Miskitu individuals and families with children have been migrating out of Nicaragua due to the racial and socio-economic inequalities under which Miskitus have lived historically, to which in more recent years has been added a series of devastating hurricanes as well as the increasingly oppressive regime of the Nicaraguan government under Daniel Ortega, which I will discuss in more detail below.
Since April 2021, according to Miskitu sources, about 4,000 to 5,000 Miskitus have entered the United States, not counting those who are still trapped along the road attempting to reach the U.S. border, as well as several thousand more who have migrated to Costa Rica, Panama, and other places. On May 14, 2022, two Miskitu women, who have been living in the Buen Pastor shelter in Tapachula on the border between Mexico and Guatemala for the last month waiting for an opportunity to obtain a humanitarian visa from the Mexican government, reported that hundreds of Miskitus with children who do not have money to pay for a coyote are waiting at the border for this visa in order to continue their journey. This humanitarian initiative, implemented by President López Obrador, in order to protect Central American migrants who are fleeing their countries due to violence and poverty, grants a temporary visa for one year that includes the possibility of moving and working anywhere within Mexico. However, the majority of the Miskitu migrants would rather not stay in Mexico.
Travelling through Mexico is a nightmare for Miskitus and other Central American migrants. Their human rights are violated by the Mexican authorities. Coyotes charge high prices for their services and do not always follow through on their obligations. At times they abandon migrants part way through the journey, putting them at risk for being kidnapped, raped or assaulted by criminal groups in Mexico. For example, last year one Miskitu was kidnapped by the Zetas, his rescue took a month and a half, and his family had to sell almost everything they owned in order to pay for the rescue. Thanks be to God that they did manage to get him released. But this is the reality that many Miskitu migrants are living through.
Miskitus who manage to get to the U.S.-Mexico border cross the border and voluntarily turn themselves over to U.S. migration border officials. After that, either they are detained at the border and later transferred to a detention center from which they may be released on bail and allowed to pursue their asylum cases or they are released into the United States from the border under the condition that they present themselves in court for asylum hearings. Migrants in both of these situations need legal assistance to defend their cases.
Up until now family members have been trying to help with these costs, but many do not have enough funds to pay for lawyers, especially since some already have spent their savings helping their relatives pay for the trip from Nicaragua through Central America and Mexico.
I have received phone calls from family members in Florida, Texas, and even in Nicaragua, telling me that their family members are being held in detention centers in Houston, Louisiana, and Georgia. In addition to the financial and legal problems that these Miskitus are facing, many only speak their maternal language, Miskitu. Only some also speak Spanish, and very few speak English. Many come from rural areas and are not used to living in large cities. To pursue their asylum cases, they will need lawyers who typically charge high fees for their services.
It is common for many migrants to rely on their social networks. Miskitus also have migrated with the help of their family members or friends who live here, and these family members or friends receive them and support them. However, many of them are manual laborers, who migrated during the 1980s fleeing the persecution of the left-leaning Sandinista government. It is becoming difficult for them to also help with the costs of bail and lawyers here.
For centuries Miskitus depended on their land as an ancestral inheritance. When the Sandinista Revolution triumphed in 1979, Miskitus as well as other ethnic and afro-descendant groups claimed their rights within this new revolutionary government, but many of the new government's leaders had not been liberated from the racism based on the traditional Central American sense of mestizo superiority. They regarded Indians as being second class. Faced with that Miskitus took a leadership role and confronted the situation, but the government did not change their position, and responded with persecution, imprisonment and torture, obliging Miskitus to organize themselves as indigenous guerrillas and fight against the Sandinista government for almost ten years. With their blood Miskitus obliged the government to recognize the Caribbean Coast as an autonomous region in the Constitution in 1987.
However, as a consequence of that struggle, thousands of Miskitus were forced to migrate internationally. More than 20,000 to 30,000 Miskitus migrated to Costa Rica and the United States, in particular. In 2004-2005, I interviewed three pastors of the Moravian churches in Port Arthur, Texas and Miami, Florida, and they agreed that there were at least 6,000 to 7,000 Miskitus in the United States, and of those, approximately 45% had obtained legal status under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) which was passed by Congress during the Reagan administration, and others managed to regularized their status under NACARA (for Central Americans). However, many were undocumented and it was difficult for them. After changes in the laws against undocumented immigrants and the attacks on the twin towers in New York in 2001, as well as increases in the costs of coyotes and the increased risks that crossing the borders in the south and north represented, in the mid 2000s, Miskitu migration to the United States decreased, and it decreased even more under the Trump administration.
After 1990 Nicaragua entered into a new political and economic phase. The Sandinista government lost power, nevertheless the indigenous and afro-descendant groups on the Caribbean coast continued in live in the same impoverished circumstances. The autonomous region had not offered any benefits to the population. Autonomy remained an abstract concept on paper; it was not really implemented by governments on the right or left. The government's traditional idea of forcing Miskitus and other indigenous people to assimilate continued and the most effective method has been carried out through land invasions by mestizo settlers supported by the government, cattle ranchers, and entrepreneurs exploiting the lumber and gold, the resources of the Caribbean Coast. For the past 30 years, these land invasions have been taking place, and from 2015 on, they increased even more, and the invaders began kidnapping and assassinating adult women and men, leaving many children as orphans. Miskitus are living in an environment where people are carrying weapons of war, causing psychological torture to the population in general, which is supported by the government of Ortega. Added to this are natural disasters, such as Hurricane Felix in 2007, and Eta and Iota in 2020, which have left people without homes and living in misery. They have a government that does offer options to get out of poverty or solutions for the land invasions, thus many are feeling desperate and insecure.
All of this has obliged my fellow Miskitus to seek a place that can help guarantee their physical, mental, and economic security. Many have migrated to neighboring countries, especially Costa Rica and Panama, but those countries as well as the rest of Latin America were all affected by the pandemic. During the pandemic Nicaragua entered into a crisis. The current president, Daniel Ortega, started to imprison anyone who opposes him. There are more than 177 political prisoners in jail. In addition, the government implemented a new law whereby any citizen who protests against the government is under the threat of being imprisoned. This has provoked a generalized fear in the population. Young people are now seeking to migrate in order to guarantee their lives.
Fr. Melesio Peter Espinoza
President, Pro-Moskitia Foundation
La Fundación Pro-Moskitia de Nicaragua (PMF) es una organización sin fines de lucro con sede en Austin, Texas, EE. UU. Promovemos actividades de desarrollo que respeten el derecho de los pueblos indígenas a una vida digna a través de proyectos que promuevan la educación, la cultura, la autosostenibilidad y los derechos humanos.
En septiembre de 2007, se formó un comité llamado Amigos y Hermanos de Nicaragua (AHN) en Austin, Texas. El comité estaba formado por feligreses de la parroquia de San José. El propósito del comité era brindar ayuda durante la emergencia causada por el huracán Félix, que azotó la parte norte de la Moskitia nicaragüense el 4 de septiembre de 2007. El comité fue organizado bajo la iniciativa del p. Melesio Peter Espinoza, originario de la región afectada y residente de la parroquia San José. Contó con el apoyo del párroco monseñor Tom Frank, miembros de la comunidad nicaragüense en Austin y varios amigos en todo el país. Los fondos iniciales recaudados se utilizaron para financiar la reconstrucción de viviendas en Santa Marta, una comunidad del municipio de Puerto Cabezas; crear un programa de microcréditos que beneficiara a las mujeres de Puerto Cabezas; y establecer un programa de becas para estudiantes de primaria, secundaria y preparatoria.
Nicaragua es el segundo país más pobre de América Latina después de Haití. Debido a una larga historia de discriminación racial, la pobreza es aún más evidente entre los residentes de la costa de Moskitia. Seis grupos étnicos viven en esta región multicultural: Sumus, Mayagnas, Ramas, Miskitus, criollos y mestizos. Las comunidades indígenas de la Moskitia nicaragüense han sufrido un proceso de paulatino empobrecimiento que comenzó con la explotación intensiva de sus recursos naturales, la continua invasión de sus territorios por intereses externos y la negación de sus derechos. La situación se vio agravada por el conflicto armado de diez años (1980-1989) entre las comunidades indígenas y el gobierno sandinista de Nicaragua.
Estas circunstancias motivaron al comité Amigos y Hermanos de Nicaragua con sede en Austin a formar una organización con mayor cobertura y capacidad para responder a las necesidades de la región. En abril de 2008, los miembros del comité crearon la Fundación Pro-Moskitia de Nicaragua (PMF); una organización sin fines de lucro dedicada a continuar y expandir el trabajo iniciado por AHN y comenzó a perseguir el estado 501 (c). La Fundación consulta con líderes comunitarios y autoridades locales en el desarrollo e implementación de propuestas y requiere su participación directa en el desarrollo e implementación de nuestros proyectos. Contamos con un comité de apoyo integrado por miembros de la comunidad así como por autoridades territoriales, municipales y regionales.