San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

U.S. medical mission won't return after Sandinista leader ‘interference'

The director of a volunteer U.S. medical mission in Nicaragua said his volunteers will not return to Nicaragua after two leaders of the Sandinista party´s Councils of Citizen Power “interfered” with the mission´s ability to provide free healthcare to poor patients as retaliation for the mission´s refusal to give special treatment to those selected by the Sandinista leaders.

“We had a problem where the two employees that were involved brought 80 people to an eye clinic in Leon 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 leaders reportedly gave orders to other employees not to deliver water, food and transportation services to the volunteers.

In another incident, 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. A Leon 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 is, for whatever reason, simply not right,” Mikill said.

Mikill said customs officials and police made it more difficult than necessary for the volunteers to bring medical supplies into the country. Though the mission had a health ministry official escort them through customs and immigration process on its first two missions, on this visit the Health Ministry said it could no longer great the volunteers at the airport. At the airport, customs officials said the volunteers didn´t have the proper documents to bring medical supplies into the country but didn´t let the volunteers leave the airport to obtain the proper documentation.

Though Mikill said the mission had problems with a small “minority” of employees at the Oscar Danilo Rosales hospital in Leon, the Health Ministry and hospitals were generally cooperative.

Manuel Alvarado, the hospital employee who was one of the two CPC members that demanded special treatment for his select patients, told the wire agency EFE that the mission´s allegations were “calumny.”

“It´s part of the right´s campaign to disgrace the government” of Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, said Alvarado.

But Mikill said the mission´s decision to cancel further work in the country had nothing to do with politics, but with 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.”

Mikill said his organization will continue its mission in other countries.

“There´s plenty of other countries. I get requests continually for us to go to other places,” he said.

While the Ortega government says the CPCs help to strengthen “direct democracy” by giving a greater say to the poor, critics of the controversial groups say the groups have divided Nicaraguans and undermined existing institutions, and that there are no mechanisms in place to hold the groups accountable for their actions.

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