On August 27th, 2020, a plane coming from Madrid (Spain) landed at the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport, in the city of Managua, at 4:40 pm. Eleazar Blandón was in it. His body was returning after several weeks of coordination efforts to be able to repatriate the Nicaraguan citizen after his tragic death.
A year prior to that day, a flight had taken Eleazar on board. Spain was his final destination, and he was determined to “cross the pond” to look for work and send money to his family in Jinotega.
Having just arrived in Spain, he began to work in Almería as a bottled water distributor, but he was fired when the Coronavirus pandemic arrived, so he took a job as a “temporary worker” in the countryside, harvesting watermelons in the south of the country, in the city of Murcia. He worked strenuous hours under intense temperatures, without access to drinking water, and experiencing humiliation. One day he fainted. He had suffered a “heat stroke”, and was abandoned at the entrance of a health center hours later, where he was declared dead.
The story shocked Spain and Nicaragua, but especially his hometown. His loved ones prepared a farewell with great honors. The musical band to which he belonged organized a concert. Later, his coffin toured the streets of his city in the middle of the night, until it reached the cemetery.
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Nicaraguans in Spain followed the news of his burial in media outlets and on social networks. Some even felt fear, thinking “it could have been me”.
According to the National Institute of Statistics of Spain, 57,000 Nicaraguans live in that country. More than 40,000 of them are women. Nicaraguan immigration to Spain began to grow in 2007, becoming the third main destination of migrants after Costa Rica and the United States.
In the beginning, the main reason that led women – many from northern Nicaraguan cities – to migrate was the lack of jobs and opportunities. They saw domestic work and the care of the elderly and children as a source of employment to earn euros to send to their families. But after the Nicaraguan political crisis started in April 2018, more men began to arrive.
From July 2018 onwards, more than 25,000 Nicaraguans moved to Spain, escaping the political, economic, and social crisis and the political persecution of Daniel Ortega’s government. Almost 6,000 of them have requested asylum, according to the Office of Asylum and Refuge of the Ministry of the Interior of Spain. Nicaragua is the fourth country with the highest number of applications.
According to a census made in April this year by Asociación Nicaragüita, and which collected information of more than 3,000 Nicaraguan migrants, most of them work caring for the elderly, as babysitters, as domestic servants, in agriculture, construction, and cleaning.
Quoting a study made by Cáritas in Spain and the Migration Institute of the P. Comillas University, the newspaper El País informed that 75% of migrants in that country perform elementary and precarious jobs.
Usually, these citizens leave their country because of a lack of work, and a lack of rights. Abroad, although they manage to find employment, they also suffer because their rights are not respected. After Eleazar’s death, four Nicaraguans in Spain decided to share their testimonies about the exploitation they have experienced. These are their stories:
The work of domestic workers: “Slavery in the XXI century”
Frania Barboza moved to Barcelona 14 years ago to work as a live-in domestic worker for an elderly couple, but she resigned after her employer’s grandson tried to physically attack her. That was the trigger, but, in addition, she felt that she had no life of her own.
Residing in the house where she worked meant that she had to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She couldn’t go out unless it was to run errands. “When I went to buy bread, I would take the opportunity to send the money to Nicaragua or call my daughter. This is slavery in the mere 21st century, I used to say”.
With 600,000 female workers, Spain is the European country with the highest number of domestic workers, 42% of whom are migrants. More than a third are not registered with Social Security, that is, they work illicitly, as was the case with Frania when she first arrived because she did not have any documentation. She earned lower than the minimum wage, without any benefits or vacations, and worked without the proper twelve-hour break between shifts.
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After the attempted attack towards her, Frania opted to leave and had to sleep in a park for a couple of days. She continued looking for work, and these kinds of abuses were repeated on several occasions. Even today, as a Spanish citizen, her boss fired her from her last job without notifying her and without paying the benefits required by the law.
“We are the most vulnerable sector. We pay 200 euros for social security, but we do not have the right to welfare if we become unemployed ”, she explains. Welfare is an economic aid that the Government gives to unemployed people, but it does not include domestic workers. This exclusion has affected them, particularly within the current context of the pandemic, during which many domestic workers have been fired due to confinement, losing their income, and unable to count on the aid of the State.
Frania left San Miguelito, Río San Juan, prior to the 2007 presidential elections. She worked as a project supervisor with the Constitutionalist Liberal Party (PLC), which was governing at the time, but she feared she would lose her job with the change of government, so she resigned and emigrated to give her family a better life.
She knows that thousands of Nicaraguan women like her leave with that same desire, so she helps them find jobs when they first arrive in Spain and advises them not to allow abuses or violations of their rights, but out of necessity, many of them do. They agree to earn 700 euros when the minimum wage is 950.
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The precariousness of domestic employment in Spain has deep roots. According to Kary Jerez, president of the Association of Household Employees of Navarra, the State is in favor of the lack of regularization of the sector. “In Spain, we are very cheap. It is very cheap to hire migrants to care for older people. For 900 euros, a person becomes intern with that older person, while it would cost the family or that older person about 2,500 euros to pay for an (elderly) residence,” she explains. Additionally, there is a sexist background, she says, as domestic work is undervalued because it is historically a “women’s” job.
Frania considers that there is also a component of racism because many migrant domestic workers suffer rejection, insults, and mistreatment from their employers, who behave from a sense of superiority. “An acquaintance was referred to as “monkey” by her employer”, she recalls.
Frania continues to work as a domestic worker and caregiver, but demands that her rights be fulfilled. She belongs to unions and receives advice to report mistreatment if necessary. She has done it three times and has won. She has also taken baking courses and has just started a Nicaraguan baking business. She is already selling picos (a Nicaraguan pastry) and has the logo ready for her business, which she hopes to see grow.
Her plan is to return to Nicaragua one day, perhaps in about five years, once the country changes government and is recovered economically and politically. For now, she plans to save, so that she can return and start a business, she says.
From one to “a thousand ads”
Darwin Pérez, his wife Jeimy, and their seven-year-old daughter left Nicaragua in April 2018 amid the chaos of massive citizen protests against the government and the repressive response carried out by the National Police and armed Sandinista civilians.
Both he and Jeimy worked in their professions. He was in the commercial area of a company, and she was a sociologist, executing projects of civil society organizations in rural communities.
They disagreed with the government repression and were very afraid of what was coming for the country. “We did not want to be in a place with many insecurities, not only economic but also social,” explains Darwin.
They had always considered emigrating to give their daughter, now nine years old, better opportunities, and the events of 2018 encouraged them to make the decision. Today they live in Oropesa de Toledo, Darwin works in the social media area of a digital marketing company and Jeimy works as a caregiver for an elderly couple.
Both have contracts, are registered with Social Security, receive all their benefits and salaries according to the law, thanks to the fact that today they have work permits. The day the documents were handed to them they felt immense joy. “We felt like we had advanced five years and jumped any barrier,” says Jeimy. They had had a very bad time before.
As newcomers, without papers, it was mission impossible to look for jobs with medium or high qualifications. Being professionals didn’t do them much good. They turned to milanuncios.com, a website famous for finding all kinds of job options for migrants with or without documents.
It was through the website that they found a job at a riding school. Together with their daughter, they moved to the farm. They received the salary of one person for the work of both of them, and Darwin was subjected to long and dangerous hours. “We did maintenance on the farm, cleaning the patios or painting, and maintaining the bushes. I easily worked twelve hours or more. There were times when I would arrive at eight in the morning, and eleven pm would arrive, and I’d be there” Darwin recalls.
As time passed, he was subjected to heavier and more risky jobs. “Working in high places without any type of equipment, I had to use cutting tools without protection, drive a tractor without training. I spent many hours in the summer working in the sun, digging holes to plant ornamental plants ”, he describes.
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In this process, he suffered an injury that prevented him from moving his hands. “I had to hide it so as not to lose my job. I had whiplash caused by a pull from a horse, and then retraction of the tendons in my hands. I could hardly move my hands. Once I started working my hands would get warm and it was a bit bearable, but when I got to bed I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore ”. Being undocumented and lacking the money to go to a private doctor, Darwin had no choice but to self-medicate and endure the pain.
The day he decided to leave was when his employer compared his life to that of a pig. “They made me hold a wild boar that they had hunted. It was a 200-pound animal and I couldn’t hold it with my hands due to my injury. The guy got mad because I was tying it up for the kill and the animal fell off me. It was then that he told me, “Wow. If you died, we would have had to bury two pigs.” At that moment I thought we had to find a place to go. I was worth nothing to him, not as a worker nor as a human being”.
When Darwin read about Eleazar’s death he felt very bad. “I know what it’s like to work in the sun, what it’s like to work long hours. We understand that you have to do the work because it is the only option that there is, you don’t have another one. They take advantage of that ”.
“They treat us like we are not human”
“I was, as they say over there, a ‘toad’, ‘a faithful dog’”, says Ivonne Toledo, a Nicaraguan living in northern Spain. She worked at Channel 13 for six years, which is owned by the Ortega Murillo family, first as head of the floor and then as a show host.
She resigned in 2017. She disagreed with the media outlet’s policies, including that she had to attend political party activities and was forced to post messages on her social media networks. “When the young people started to rise up on April 18, that was the day I exploded and said ‘no more’.”
Toledo joined the demonstrations against the government repression and soon became the target of harassment on social media, particularly from Sandinista fanatics who expressed their anger about her “betrayal”.
The threats and the harassment grew, she was followed home by people on motorcycles who intimidated her after participating in protests, they published her address, telephone number, and personal information on social networks with instructions to harm her. She was depressed and lived in fear of being caught or killed, so she decided to leave the country.
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Toledo had to sleep in the open and endure the cold in order to request asylum on two occasions: first, in July 2018, when she arrived in Costa Rica and had to queue up with hundreds of Nicaraguans who gathered outside the Migration offices in San José. She spent a few weeks in the neighboring country, but getting a job was impossible, so on the recommendation of a friend she went to Europe. She arrived in Madrid, Spain, where she again had to wait her turn in the street for two days, enduring a cold of five degrees celsius, in order to make an appointment to request asylum.
Toledo says that she slept in subway stations, sometimes in the homes of acquaintances, and then survived thanks to the support of humanitarian organizations. She managed to obtain a work permit in September last year, but it was not easy to find a job.
She worked for a time as a “temp” picking blueberries. The high temperatures and long hours caused her to pass out on one occasion. “We would leave from seven in the morning and return at 11 at night. There was a moment when I felt like a tickle on my nose and it was because I had blood, and I got scared. I fainted, my pressure dropped and they had to grab me because I was freezing, freezing, terrible. I didn’t get any medical assistance at all, I rested for a while and kept cutting,” she recalls.
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After a while, Toledo was fired. They did not pay her for every day she worked. The employer told her he did not want to work with women, because “that’s what he had men for, fast men,” she says.
Then she worked as a waitress in a restaurant at night, where she was paid 30 euros for an eight-hour day, which is about 600 euros per month, 350 less than the base salary.
In the midst of the pandemic, it has been difficult to find work, but the young Nicaraguan is optimistic, despite her experience as a refugee in Spain. “I have been through a lot of hell, but I don’t feel sad. I feel victorious, I feel strong. Even though I don’t have a home now, even though I don’t have a job yet ”.
She would like to return to Nicaragua. “When the Ortega government is not there. As long as Daniel Ortega is governing, no, it scares me ”, she says emphatically.
The scheme of the “pirates”
Santos González also worked as a temporary worker. This Nicaraguan originally from Jalapa, Nueva Segovia, arrived in Spain in February 2019.
Before leaving, he was a deacon in a parish in Wiwilí and was a teacher of History, Philosophy and Religion. When the civic rebellion of April 2018 broke out and with it came the state repression that sought to crush it, they decided to carry out pilgrimages asking for peace and an end to violence in his community. The gesture was not to the liking of government supporters who threatened him. “I saw that the situation in Nicaragua was terrible and that I was not going to be silent either. The personal situation, plus the social and political situation, all that pressure contributed to my decision to leave ”, he details.
First, he spent time in Madrid, where his first job was delivering parcels on foot. He walked up to 40 kilometers a day through the streets of the capital, getting on and off the metro, to receive just 15 euros a day as payment.
A Honduran acquaintance told him that in the southeast of the country, in the Castilla-La Mancha area, there was work for migrants in the fields, but irregularly and undeclared. “In a town called Bolaños de Calatrava, in the province of Ciudad Real, I met many countrymen from Estelí, Condega, Nueva Segovia, Managua, even from my own city of Jalapa,” he says. There he learned to plant onions and melons “at an enormous rate, under incredible pressure.”
He met several Nicaraguans, including some students who joined the protests against the Ortega Murillo regime and went into exile as a result of government persecution. “Many of them have gotten used to being exploited. That is what has hurt me the most, seeing that degrading reality, “he adds.
For a seasonal worker, the day begins at four in the morning, when he has to get up to go and take a bus which is arranged by the intermediary, that is, the person in charge of recruiting and paying the day laborers. The journey to get to the field where they must harvest the crop sometimes takes an hour and a half or two. Work in the field is at least eight hours in a row, with very short breaks to drink water and eat what each person has with them. “Many times the right to drink water is denied or we go to drink water once we have already made a big advance in production and one is already totally dehydrated.”
Then they start the trip back, and once they get home, they only have time to prepare the next day’s meal, and, if anything, to call a loved one before going to bed so they can rest for a few hours. During the harvest season, this hustle is from Sunday to Sunday. You only live to work. Then comes the low season, in which you hardly work five days a week and suffer from a lack of income.
González describes what he calls the links in the exploitation of undocumented migrants who are employed as temporary workers. “There is a link that starts from the State itself, which turns a blind eye. The other link is the owner of the farm who hires a “self-employed person.” The owner of the farm hires him to raise melon production and pays him directly. Thus, the owner of the farm washes his hands. The self-employed person gets pawns, with or without documents, and gets a commission for each one. I have been told that they keep up to 25 euros just for bringing a day laborer. Each van carries nine people, let’s multiply 25 euros by nine people. How much are you earning per day? It is a chain of injustices, a chain of violation of people’s rights ”, he details.
González had the opportunity to study Philosophy in Seville thanks to a scholarship. He dreams of returning to contribute to the country once he comes out of the crisis and to work as a teacher. “I want to be part of the reconstruction of Nicaragua through the field of education,” he says.
The judicial case for the death of Eleazar Blandón has already passed the phase of confidentiality of judicial investigations, but the investigation process has to be concluded in order for the trial, which will seek to establish the responsibilities of his employers, to begin.
“The issue is not just focusing on the scapegoat, which is this person who improperly hired him, the one who appears everywhere and the one who has been in prison. There is a whole structure behind it that, which as we say in Spain, should really be put into the ring, ”explains Íñigo Galicia, a lawyer specializing in labor law and member of the team in charge of the Blandón case.
Meanwhile, in Jinotega, his wife Karen Altamirano wants to know what happened and why Eleazar died. “Why did that person leave him there, just lying there? Don’t let anyone else go through that inhuman situation, ”she exclaims.
“His death cannot be left up in the air, there must be a change, for those who are still working in that place. A simple first aid call and he would be alive. My son would have his father and I would have my husband. Who will make that up to me? Nobody, ever. No one is going to give him back to me, not with all the money in the world. Our dreams died there, with him”.
A structural problem
Spanish and Nicaraguan organizations and activists have organized to denounce and stop these abuses against migrants. But in Spain, domestic work and work in the fields is undervalued, especially when they are done by undocumented migrants.
In that country, “there is no legislation in favor of immigrants,” says Glenda García, a member of the Nicaraguan Association and a Nicaraguan migrant living in Bilbao. “The politicians know perfectly well that there are a lot of irregular immigrants, they know that they are reaping the harvest, they know that they are taking care of the elderly. They are doing a job that would otherwise be a state charge ”.
Eleazar’s death saddens her, but García is also concerned about what happens to the Nicaraguan seasonal workers who are still in the field. She considers that the tragedy that occurred has served to make the Nicaraguan community in Spain more aware of these situations. “Something will have to change here, between us first. It’s telling the Nicaraguan who is there not to let it happen again because if we wait for the politician, nothing will change. We have seen it”.
She knows that there is a fear of reporting among migrants who work in these conditions because they do not have papers, but she tells them that if it happens again, if a colleague faints or requires medical assistance, to call the emergency services. “Whatever happens, it is better to be safe than sorry the way we are sorry now. There is a campaign to help the living rather than to export him, not to export the dead”.
This article has been translated by Ana Maria Sampson, a Communication Science student at the University of Amsterdam and member of our staff*