Sergio arrived in limbo seven days ago, to a piece of territory between Nicaragua and Costa Rica where he is stranded in the open with about 500 Nicaraguans who cannot return to their country: the Government of Daniel Ortega imposed as an entry requirement to present a A negative result of covid-19, but none of these migrants have undergone the test, much less have the 150 US dollars that the Sandinista administration charges to test for the new coronavirus since mid-July.
Sergio, who does not reveal his last names for fear of retaliation in Nicaragua, is in limbo because, being a foreigner in Costa Rica, he would have to pay about $ 140 in a private laboratory for a test. But money is what you don’t have. The pandemic left him without a job as a container stevedore in San José, and he thought that when he returned home he would have no problems. However, the migrant encountered an abrupt turnaround in the plans of the Sandinista Executive.
After months of denialism, the Ortega government intends to take advantage of the pandemic that it minimized so much with the late tightening of border restrictions and the imposition of this charge. The Ministry of Health (Minsa) asks 150 dollars for the test also from international visitors who intend to enter Nicaragua and Nicaraguans who wish to travel to other countries that require a test to enter.
“The big problem for the Government is that tax revenues have fallen, as it has happened to everyone, despite the fact that they wanted the economy to continue as nothing was wrong with the pandemic,” he tells EL PAÍS the former Minister of Health Dora María Téllez. “Exports and imports have also fallen, so they have found a means of collection in the Ministry of Health. The Government commissioned the purchase of 100,000 tests for coronavirus, and by charging $ 150 for each one, it is $ 150 million. It’s a great deal, ”says the former Sandinista guerrilla.
On July 15, almost in parallel with the announcement of the collection of the 150 dollars, the Ortega government ordered the purchase of 100,000 laboratory tests of C-reactive protein (PCR) to detect covid-19. These PCR tests were added to the 26,000 rapid tests donated in April by the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) and another 5,000 units donated by Russia. However, the Ortega government has kept secret how many tests they have carried out since the first positive case of coronavirus was registered in March.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has asked Managua for greater transparency, since the Sandinista health authorities have not carried out a massive sampling to determine the real advance of the virus in the country. Although the Ministry officially admits 3,672 infections and 116 deaths, a independent count of the Citizen Observatory of Covid-19, a multidisciplinary panel of experts that has already been taken into account by the WHO itself, numbers the accumulated positive cases at 8,755 and 2,847 deaths.
Added to this environment of opacity in the management of the epidemic is this charge, which is especially difficult to pay for Nicaraguan migrants who return to the country due to the economic crisis caused by Covid-19 in the region. The humanitarian situation at the Peñas Blancas border is critical, because the nearly 500 people waiting are huddled in a narrow space between the border posts of both countries. According to Sergio, there is only one bathroom for everyone and food is scarce. The migrants closed the passage of heavy cargo transport as a measure of protest, but Ortega’s response was the dispatch of riot police forces and the reinforcement of the military in the area.
“The economic situation is screwed up, but there are already desperate people here who are lending the money to enter Nicaragua. They don’t want to sleep on the floor anymore ”, describes Sergio from Peñas Blancas. “The other problem is that if you go back to Costa Rica to take the test, because the Costa Rican border guards allow it, we don’t know if Nicaragua will accept that result. Some have been rejected by the evidence they bring. It’s like they force us to pay them ”, the man denounces.
The guideline published by the Ortega government does not say anything about the obligation that the test must be carried out by the Minsa, as Sergio denounces. But it does establish that the result that is presented at the Nicaraguan borders corresponds to a period no longer than 72 hours. While in Managua, various medical associations issued a statement urging the Sandinista administration to send a medical brigade to carry out free covid-19 tests to waiting citizens, the solution for stranded migrants may come from the neighboring country. The Arias Foundation for Peace and Human Progress and the Costa Rican Government began this Friday to test Nicaraguans for coronavirus so that they can be admitted.
Leonel Argüello, one of the main epidemiologists in Nicaragua, recalled that the Nicaraguan health system has universal and free coverage, according to the Constitution. “The PCR tests to demonstrate or not the coronavirus are preventive and should not be charged, because the first interested in knowing if the person carries the virus or not is the Government itself and the Ministry of Health to control the epidemic”, says the specialist.
In addition, the cap on the Peñas Blancas border has revealed the urgent collection of a government that is dealing with a severe economic crisis caused by the pandemic and the socio-political crisis that Nicaragua has dragged on since 2018, when the social protests against Ortega exploded. “Indeed there is a tax collection effort that has been intensifying in the different institutions of the State,” José Adán Aguerri, president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (Cosep), told EL PAÍS when he recalled that, in addition to the coronavirus test, the The government also announced this week that citizens will have to pay for yellow fever.
Aguerri was alarmed by the nosedive that the Nicaraguan economy is taking, and said that this type of “charges disguised as tariffs” do not pay anything to a context in which international organizations project an economic decrease of up to -8.3%. “In the rest of Central America, the expectations are that when the health crisis of covid-19 passes, the economies will recover. But Nicaragua is a country that accumulated two tsunamis: that of the coronavirus and the socio-political crisis that we are dragging. We have been in free fall for three years. This year will be the worst of the three. We are going to see more unemployment ”, Aguerri warned.
Information about the coronavirus
– Here you can follow the last hour on the evolution of the pandemic
– The coronavirus map: this is how cases grow day by day and country by country
– Questions and answers about the coronavirus
– Guide to action against the disease
– In case of symptoms, these are the telephones that have been enabled in each country in Latin America.