The director of a volunteer U.S. medical mission to Nicaragua said his volunteers will not be returning to Nicaragua after two leaders of the Sandinista Front’s controversial Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs) “interfered” with the mission’s ability to provide free healthcare to poor patients, in apparent retaliation for the mission’s refusal to give special treatment to Sandinistas.
“We had a problem where the two employees who were involved (with the CPCs) brought 80 people to an eye clinic in León and demanded that their people be seen ahead of everyone else,” said Frederick Mikill, co-founder and director of New Orleans Medical Mission Services.
It was the mission’s third trip to Nicaragua since 2006, but it was the first time that Mikill felt concerned for the safety of his 56 volunteers.
After the doctors refused to prioritize treatments of the 80 patients selected by the CPC leaders, who are also hospital employees, the CPC reportedly gave orders to other employees not to deliver water, food and transportation services to the volunteers.
In another incident of alleged CPC meddling, Mikill said a volunteer plastic surgeon had set up 40 surgeries for children with cleft lips at a hospital, but only seven of them showed up for their surgery.
The surgeon later found out that a León doctor had reportedly called the families of children with scheduled surgeries and told them their surgeries had been cancelled.
“For a doctor to prevent medical care for poor people or for any person for whatever reason is simply not right,” Mikill said.
In addition to their problems with the CPCs, Mikill said customs officials and police made it more difficult than necessary for the volunteers to bring medical supplies into the country.
Though previous medical missions had an official government escort to clear them through the customs and immigration procedures, on this visit the Health Ministry said it could no longer greet the volunteers at the airport.
Instead, customs officials told the volunteers they didn’t have the proper documents to bring medical supplies into the country.
Though Mikill said the mission had problems with a small “minority” of employees at the Oscar Danilo Rosales hospital in León, he also said the Health Ministry and hospitals were generally cooperative.
Manuel Alvarado, the hospital employee who was one of the two CPC members that allegedly demanded special treatment for Sandinista patients, told the wire agency EFE that the mission’s allegations were “calumny.”
“Its part of the right’s campaign to disgrace the government” of President Daniel Ortega, said Alvarado.
The U.S. Embassy, meanwhile, says it’s not the first time they’ve heard this complaint from humanitarian missions. The International Children’s Heart Foundation reported similar frustrations in dealing with customs and bureaucracy here, according to embassy spokeswoman Kristin Stewart.
“We’re concerned when any of these groups have operation difficulties,” she said, adding, “we do expect that the government of Nicaragua will provide adequate working conditions.”
Mikill said the mission’s decision to cancel future trips has nothing to do with politics, but rather a lack of cooperation.
“We have no problem with working in a country that has a different political agenda than we do, because we’re looking at the human side. We’re trying to help people. What we do look for is cooperation and support. By and large we had that from the Health Ministry, but unfortunately they could not control the situation,” Mikill told The Nica Times in a phone interview.
He said some people made it clear during the Oct. 12-18 mission in Nicaragua that they “do not want U.S. citizens there.”
“There’s plenty of other countries. I get requests continually for us to go to other places,” he said.