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The struggle of Nicaraguan opposition journalists in exile

ASERRI: It´s just past 6 pm in a small apartment in the mountains south of Costa Rica´s capital San Jose, and presenters Leticia Gaitan and Hector Rosales are announcing the start of the news.

But they´re not reporting on Costa Rica. The two are in exile, working for Nicaragua Actual, which is broadcast from the apartment of one of its producers.

The journalists fled their homeland in December and January as authorities clamped down on independent media reporting on the wave of protests against President Daniel Ortega and his government.

Now, the home of producer Jazmin Garavito and her journalist husband Dino Andino, in the central Costa Rican town of Aserri, doubles as a television studio that transmits live on Facebook and YouTube.

“The Managua regime´s goal was to get rid of the journalists that were denouncing human rights abuses and reporting on the crisis,” reporter Gerall Chavez told AFP.

“They thought that we would shut up after being exiled, but we have no intention of giving them that satisfaction,” added the 28-year-old.

The presenters sit in front of a large plasma-screen television on a white wall. A giant Nicaraguan flag hangs next to it.

On the table in front of the pair is a laptop computer, while off-screen Garavito and Andino´s two children try to avoid making noise or passing in front of the camera.

Once the program begins, there´s no doubting their political bent: this is more opposition media than independent press.

“We´re doing journalism in exile with limited resources, but what´s important is continuing to denounce what´s happening in Nicaragua: there´s no freedom of expression, there´s no press freedom, the human rights abuses continue,” said Chavez.

Public support has been crucial to allowing Nicaragua Actual´s journalists to keep producing their program: the microphones they use and the webcams that allow them to transmit live have all been donated, as well as some money that the team members share for living costs.

Interviews conducted with people in Nicaragua are done via Skype, while field reporters in San Jose travel by bus and use their personal telephones to film.

For ´those with no voice´

Gaitan, 30, was working for the 100% Noticias television channel when police raided it on December 21. The channel´s director Miguel Mora and chief press officer Lucia Pineda were taken into custody, where they remain to this day.

Two days later, carrying only a backpack slung over her shoulder, Gaitan clandestinely crossed the border into Costa Rica.

“We don´t have a salary but the people acknowledge our work,” said Gaitan, who also works part-time for an organization that helps migrants.

“Every time a Nicaraguan tunes in to the news and tells us, ´Guys, we get our information from you,´ that fills us with satisfaction. This is for them and for Lucia and Don Miguel,” said Gaitan.

In October, before leaving Nicaragua, Rosales was so severely beaten that he needed reconstructive surgery on his tongue.

“Ortega thought he could shut me up, but I´m still the voice of those with no voice in Nicaragua; I´m still fighting and asking for the release of Lucia and Miguel,” said Rosales.

“We found out that we were on a list of journalists that were going to be arrested… and we had to leave the country,” he added.

Nicaragua´s crisis began on April 18, 2018 when a street protest, initially against a since-scrapped pension reform, expanded into a wider demonstration against the Ortega regime.

During the next four months a brutal government crackdown left at least 325 people dead, hundreds imprisoned and an estimated 62,000 in exile, according to human rights groups.

For independent media, it sounded the death knell: 100% Noticias was closed down, digital magazine Confidencial was raided and its director Carlos Fernando Chamorro went into exile in Costa Rica.

Daily newspapers La Prensa and Nuevo Diario have suffered from a government blockade on ink and paper that has stopped them from circulating at a national level, while opposition radio stations have suffered arson attacks.

Two meals a day, sometimes three

That´s what gave birth to online news platforms transmitting from exile.

Nicaragua Investiga broadcasts from Costa Rica on Facebook and YouTube, while the United States is home to Voces de Libertad, and Despacho 505 is produced in Spain.

“These are media that have emerged from the crisis. When we journalists go into exile, we have to denounce what is happening in our country,” said Gaitan.

While the news program is on air, Garavito cooks from the American-style kitchen just steps away.

“Here we have breakfast, lunch and if there´s still enough, dinner too. Everyone looks after each other and between us we pay for water, electricity and internet,” she says.

Her family had to flee Nicaragua after Andino quit his job as a presenter when his employers adopted a pro-government line before the crisis began.

Andino´s resignation unleashed a whirlwind of retribution against the family. They came under fire from security forces and pro-government mobs, receiving threats on social media.

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