They hide in safe house with hearts in Nicaragua
The patio is cluttered with mattresses and suitcases, clothes spilling out of them. Sheets separate families from strangers, gentlemen from the ladies.
Women cook over an open fire fueled by freshly cut wood because the kitchen in this modest threebedroom ranch home in the Costa Rican countryside cannot possibly accommodate food preparations for 50 hungry fugitives.
This is a secret safe house for Nicaraguan protesters who are trying to avoid capture by the country’s authorities. It was not designed for crowd comfort.
Even though the ranch is across an international border, those living here take turns on nightly guard duty, concerned about agents from Nicaragua infiltrating their haven.
The woman who runs the refuge, who goes by the pseudonym “the Godmother,” looked around while a compatriot slammed a machete against a tree stump to cut more firewood.
“We consider our stay here to be temporary,” she said. “We are tired already. We want to go home.”
The Godmother’s real name is Lisseth Valdivia. She used to own three clothing stores in Matagalpa, a city north of Nicaragua’s capital, Managua. A 39-year-old mother of two, she liked working out at the gym. She rode a new scooter. She was earning a decent living.
Then her life, and the lives of tens of thousands of other Nicaraguans, were upended in April, when first the elderly, and then the young, took to the streets to demand the removal of President Daniel Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.
She fled and never looked back, leaving behind three shuttered businesses, a house, a car, the scooter – and, for his own safety, her 7-year-old son, put in the care of his father, who has sided with the government and sometimes sends Valdivia angry text messages about her allegiances.
In the Nicaraguan government’s version of this story, the protesters are terrorists and murderers. Those students who paralyzed commerce when they broke off bricks from the streets and used them to build roadblocks at intersections across the country were armed and aligned with well-financed rightwing coup-plotters, including the Catholic Church.