23,000 Nicaraguans Have Fled to Costa Rica. 50 Fugitives Are Hiding Here.

By Frances Robles

January 12, 2019

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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 three-bedroom 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 the president, Daniel Ortega, and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo.

Many Nicaraguans long viewed Mr. Ortega, in office since 2007, as increasingly dictatorial. But what finally drew masses of demonstrators to the streets were wildly unpopular social security cutbacks.

The police and pro-government mobs responded with deadly force, even against unarmed protesters, according to human-rights observers, shooting and killing people across the nation.

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