More than 260 charter flights, believed to be carrying migrants from Haiti, have landed in Nicaragua in recent months, according to flight tracking data and regional specialists, who adding to a historic avalanche of people immigrating in hopes of reaching the United States.
The influx of migrants has left governments in the United States and many Latin American countries scrambling to find solutions, and experts say it is also being used as leverage by governments like Nicaragua to gain concessions. from the United States in the face of restrictive restrictions. .punishments.
“The Ortega government knows that it has some important political tools to confront the United States, … “This is definitely a concrete example of the weaponization of migration as a foreign policy.”
Nicaragua has long been used as a migratory springboard for people fleeing troubled Caribbean countries such as Cuba and Haiti, as well as countries as far away as Mauritania in Africa, as it is one of the few countries without Requesting an entry visa.
These types of flights from Cuba have gained strength at the end of last year, amid a historic exodus from the island. Orozco said that in August, the Nicaraguan government allowed charter airlines to operate flights.
The flights are not on official air routes, but flight tracking data reviewed by Orozco and The Associated Press show that 268 of the charter flights have left Haiti for Nicaragua since the beginning of August.
Charter planes have brought up to 31,000 passengers from Haiti, which will represent about 60% of Haitians arriving at the border of the United States, according to Orozco data. During the same period, about 172 flights brought 17,000 people from Cuba to Nicaragua.
The AP spoke to three Haitian migrants who took charter flights and who said they spent thousands of dollars to leave the poorest country in the hemisphere in hopes of reaching the United States. According to Orozco, most tickets are between $3,000 and $5,000 per seat.
The situation reached a critical point over the weekend, when local media reported that in 48 hours 27 charter flights from Haiti landed in Nicaragua. The increase in the number of flights comes at a strategic time for the Ortega government, said Enrique Martínez, spokesman for the dissident group Platform of Unity for Democracy.
With Venezuelans making up a large portion of those arriving at the U.S. border, the Biden administration recently negotiated an easing of sanctions against the Venezuelan government — which has exacerbated the country’s economic crisis — in exchange for promises to enforce the democratic election.
Ortega may be hoping for the same outcome, Martínez said.
The government of the United States and European countries in recent years have intensified sanctions against members of Ortega’s family and government because he has become more repressive. Under his administration, hundreds of thousands of Nicaraguans were forced to flee the country and he closed thousands of non-governmental groups and universities to suppress dissent.
“Ortega will use the immigration issue to say to the United States: well, I’m under control,” Martínez said. “And if you want to stop that, obviously you’re going to have to negotiate.”
The Ortega government did not respond to an email request for comment on the charter flights and accusations that they were used as leverage. Haitian aviation authorities did not respond to a request for more information.
Stéphanie Armand, a spokesperson for Sunrise Airways – which according to data made at least 15 flights last week – said that the company does not sell tickets to Nicaragua, but is contracted by “third parties” to trips can be made. He did not want to give more details about who the third parties were.
When asked if the airline’s services are used by human traffickers to make the migration to the United States, Armand said that the company checks the documents of the passengers before boarding.
“As an airline and air operator, we have no information about the intentions of the passengers we carry,” Armand wrote. “If passengers meet the requirements to enter the country and are admitted, it is up to the authorities, not the airlines, to track their status.”
Sky High Aviation Services, Air Century and Euroatlantic Airways, which also operate some of the charter flights, did not respond to AP requests for comment.
A previous AP investigation revealed the existence of a charter flight industry that transports most Haitians around the American continent. Migrant aid groups in other parts of Latin America accused the airlines of being at the “end of a chain of powerful businesses that profit from this circuit of Haitian migration.”
After boarding the expensive flight to Nicaragua, the migrants described to the AP leaving Managua airport and seeing hordes of smugglers waiting for the migrants with photos and their names. From there, they were taken north.
The wave of flights occurred in a context where the United States and other continental countries were overwhelmed by the number of people who crossed their territories and reached the border between Mexico and the United States.
US authorities say they made more than 2 million migrant apprehensions at their southern border in the 12 months of the fiscal year that ended Sept.
The Biden administration announced in January a plan in which it hopes to curb illegal immigration, considering accepting 30,000 people per month from Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela, and giving them permission to work in the United States, as long as they come legally. .have eligible sponsors and have passed a background check. This “humanitarian permit” was accompanied by the warning that the United States would reject any citizen of the countries who entered illegally.
In Tapachula, Mexico, near the border with Guatemala, tensions have risen with the number of migrants passing through the city.
Saying they were frustrated by long lines and poor conditions, a group of migrants, mostly Haitians, broke into a Mexican government asylum office on Monday and seven people were injured.
Outside the asylum office were nearly 3,000 migrants, including Nilda Jean, a 28-year-old Haitian farmer.
Jean said she paid $3,000 for her flight to Nicaragua and made many sacrifices only to find herself sleeping on the streets surrounding asylum offices in hopes of reaching the United States.
Mexico’s efforts to stop migrants from the south have often provoked these manifestations of discontent, as in Tapachula job opportunities are scarce and housing is limited. Migrants, already in debt from their travels, are eager to find work to start paying them off.
The Biden administration has urged Central American countries and Mexico to help contain immigration levels. Although some countries in the region have at least talked about testing, Nicaragua, which is no friend of the United States, has not done so.
Martínez, of the Nicaraguan dissident group, said the Ortega government sees migration as a “business” that injects money into the country. Although the Ortega government has done little to facilitate migrants’ travel, airlines pay taxes to the government, and migrants and traffickers pay for hotels, food, and transportation.
“What he did was take advantage,” Martínez said. “What this does is make the path more difficult for countries looking for a solution.”