Honduras’ top immigration official says the two dozen Nicaraguans seeking political asylum in his country don’t appear to have a strong enough case to be granted state protection and could be sent home in the coming months.
Retired Honduran Military General Venancio Cervantes, head of Honduras’ Immigration Department, says the Honduran government has granted the Nicaraguan group a 90-day provisional visa to remain in the country while authorities investigate their story. The group claims they are victims of political persecution from Nicaraguan soldiers hunting for rearmed contras and campesino sympathizers supporting the rebels.
But Gen. Cervantes, the former second-in-command of Honduras’ Armed Forces, says he has no information of rearmed rebel groups operating in Nicaragua. As a result, the asylum-seekers’ story doesn’t appear hold water, he says.
“There are no conditions for (political asylum),” Cervantes told The Nicaragua Dispatch in a phone interview from Tegucigalpa. “They say there are rearmed groups, but there aren’t any…thank God.”
Still, Cervantes says Honduran immigration authorities are working with human rights workers to investigate the Nicaraguans’ claims to determine what exactly is happening.
“They were given 90 days so they can remain here for the time being. And we are going to finish the investigation to see what is happening, because they could be facing some other situation,” Cervantes said. “But what we have at the moment isn’t sufficient to give them political asylum.”
Cervantes says that eight of the original 32 Nicaraguan asylum-seekers have already left Honduras to return home on their own because “they were tricked” into thinking they could find asylum or work in the neighboring country.
“The economy is affecting everyone in all parts of the region,” the former general said. “The situation is not easy.”
The version of the story in Nicaragua is much different, however.
Roberto Petray, national coordinator of the Nicaraguan Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (ANPDH), says the eight Nicaraguan men who left the group to return home are rearmed contras themselves. The men reportedly helped shepherd the rest of the group—20 adults and three children—into Honduras, and then returned to arms in Nicaragua, he says.
Petray, who traveled to Honduras to meet with the asylum-seekers last week, says the group fled their homes to escape persecution from the army’s cat-and-mouse chase of small rearmed rebel groups operating in the northern mountains of Nicaragua.
“After the rearmed groups pass through their villages, the army or police come through looking for them and interrogate and threaten people,” Petray told The Nicaragua Dispatch today in a phone interview.
Petray says another wave of 100-plus Nicaraguan asylum-seekers is expected to cross the border into Honduras next week during Semana Santa.
The current group of Nicaraguans has been put under the care of the Honduran Red Cross, while the three minors have been put under the charge of the state’s child welfare authority.
Nicaraguan authorities have repeatedly denied the existence of rearmed rebel groups operating in the country. The Army says the so-called rearmed rebels are really just bands of delinquents and cattle thieves who are trying to disguise their criminal behavior under the false banner of a political movement.