The number of Haitians and Cubans migrating through Nicaragua to the United States has doubled between the beginning of June and the end of October of this year 2023, which has reached historic migratory statistics, according to the research An unprecedented migratory crisis: characterizing and analyzing its depth, by researchers Manuel Orozco and Patrick Springer, and published by the Inter-American Dialogue.
This has made Nicaragua one of the main countries in the region that serves as a “bridge” for the transit of migrants heading north, all under the authorization of the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
The regime has allowed hundreds of charter flights from the capitals of Haiti and Cuba, Port-au-Prince and Havana respectively, to the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua.
Between August and October 2023 alone, there were more than 260 charter flights from Port-au-Prince to Managua, carrying more than 30,000 Haitians. This represents almost 60% of Haitian migrant arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to the research.
It also accounts for 50 charter flights a month from Havana to Nicaragua in 2023, with an average of 5,700 passengers traveling. This figure equals 40% of the number of Cuban arrivals at the U.S.-Mexico borders.
From January through the end of October, it is estimated that more than 100,000 people have traveled to the United States using Nicaragua as a migratory bridge. This represents 4.5% of all irregular entries at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Migration as a foreign policy weapon
Not only have charter flights significantly increased in recent months, but they have happened with no regularization by Nicaraguan immigration authorities who have given free passage to Caribbean migrants.
It should be noted that charter flights are a type of flight that is not part of regular flights and are organized for a group of people who hire them. Air tickets from these two countries to Nicaragua vary between $3,000 and $5,000 per person, according to the researchers.
In a recent investigation by Orozco together with the Associated Press (AP) news agency, he pointed out that the large flow of Haitian and Cuban migrants is being used by the Ortega-Murillo regime to negotiate agreements with the United States in order to demand the removal of sanctions against them.
The last sanctions carried out by the US State Department were executed last September 29, in which the visas of 100 Ortega officials were restricted. Other sanctions have included the freezing of bank accounts of officials, economic sanctions restricting certain investments and trade relations with Nicaragua, among other measures that have hit the Ortega-Murillo economy.
Orozco also highlights that the authorization of charter flights to Managua has been at strategic moments. This is because the increase in the arrival of Haitians and Cubans to Nicaragua occurs in the midst of the largest migratory wave that the United States has faced in decades.
Between January 2021 and September 2021 alone, more than 7.5 million irregular migrants arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, according to Orozco and Springer’s research.
“The Ortega government knows they have few major policy tools at hand to confront the United States, so they have weaponized migration as a way to attack,” Orozco told AP. “This is definitely a concrete example of weaponizing mass migration as a foreign policy,” he added.
Lack of regularization may increase trafficking cases
The use of Haitian and Cuban migration is a violation of international norms on the orderly and regularized movement of people.
In addition, it violates the rights of Caribbean people who arrive in the country without any migrant protection policy. And it arises in the midst of airline deals that may increase cases of trafficking.
This situation is made worse by the lack of shelters for victims of trafficking in the country and the lack of effective measures to assist victims, prevent the crime and punish the aggressors.
According to the U.S. State Department’s 2023 report, the Ortega-Murillo regime took negligible steps to combat trafficking in the last year, an assessment that has been repeated every five years.
Nicaragua has no policies to protect migrants
Orozco and Springer point out that “municipalities in Central and South America are also feeling the effects of increased migration within their cities and often do not have the same resources at their disposal to address the crisis. A major problem they currently face is the lack of resources, specifically medical supplies.”
Despite the clear migration crisis faced especially by Haitians, Nicaragua continues to have no policy to address transit migration in the country, nor does it provide basic humanitarian services to those arriving, leaving many in the country under precarious conditions.
The investigation highlights that the Ortega-Murillo regime has not participated in inter-regional initiatives with other countries in the region to find solutions to increased migration.
In the migration summit held in Mexico on October 22, Nicaragua was the only Central American country that did not participate, despite the fact that the leaders requested cooperation and coordination among the States. The countries participating in the summit were Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Cuba and Haiti.
However, the study also points out that the agreements reached at the summit were insufficient, as they do not refer to protecting the rights of migrants and ignore the conditions that have led people to migrate, especially in the cases of Nicaragua, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.