Dorothy Granada

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (WOMENSENEWS)–A 70-year-old American nurse who ran afoul of Nicaragua’s conservative government while treating destitute campesinos at a rural clinic has slipped into hiding while a court considers deporting her.

The case of Dorothy Granada, a self-effacing Californian, a hero to the people she serves and renowned internationally, has dominated the news in Nicaragua for weeks and spilled beyond its borders, with appeals on her behalf pouring in from U.S. senators, women’s advocacy groups and Amnesty International.

Granada has lived in this country for 11 years and founded the Women’s Clinic in Mulukuku, a mountain village in central Nicaragua that was often caught in the crossfire of the 1980s civil war between the leftist Sandinista government and U.S.-financed Contra rebels. She received two years ago the International Pfeffer Peace Prize for a lifetime of helping the poor.

Interior Minister Jose Marenco recently angrily dismissed Granada’s record of service. "She can be Mother Teresa of Calcutta and receive every award there is, but if she has come to Nicaragua to engage in politics, her residency permit must be revoked and she must be deported," Marenco said.

After ousting U.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza in 1979 and ruling for a decade, the Sandinistas were voted out of power in 1990 and conservatives took over. The Sandinistas are now making something of a comeback, winning recent local elections, even gaining the mayoralty of the capital, Managua.

Critics say President Arnoldo Aleman of the right-wing Liberal Party is still smarting from that setback and venting his fury upon relief organizations and activists like Granada whom he accuses of backing the Sandinistas. He has ordered audits of about 20 nongovernmental organizations and threatened to shut them down, just as he did to Granada’s clinic in early December.

Court Says Government Denied Fair Hearing to U.S. Nurse

Aleman’s government also revoked Granada’s residence permit and ordered her expelled, but a week later a court overturned that decision, saying the nurse had not been granted a hearing to defend herself. An appellate court is now considering the case and a verdict is expected soon.

Aleman has accused Granada’s clinic of performing abortions, which are common but illegal in Nicaragua, and of treating former Sandinista soldiers who have formed a paramilitary group. Aleman has also accused Granada of denying treatment to people who are not pro-Sandinista and of engaging in political activities–grounds for deportation.

Granada denies all the allegations. Speaking from an undisclosed location, she said in an interview Dec. 20 with Public Radio International that her clinic treats anybody, male or female, of any political persuasion, but it does have one preference: women.

"We live in a very poor community where women have babies every one to one-and-a-half years. Many of these women and their babies have died," she said, for lack of adequate health care and reproductive health services.

Granada said that since there are no doctors in Mulukuku, she gets by with the help of another nurse and six women from the local community in providing pre- and post-natal care for women and in delivering babies.

"We do the best we can under trying circumstances."

Asked why she thought the government was singling out her and her clinic, Granada said Aleman is trying to roll back the gains made by Nicaraguan women.

Nurse Says Government Wants Women Barefoot and Pregnant

"The women’s movement is perhaps the strongest movement in Nicaragua. It is quite militant. The government doesn’t like that," she said. "They want women to stay in the home and to stay pregnant."

National statistics indicate that Nicaragua probably has the highest pregnancy rate in Latin America, and teen mothers account for one-quarter of all births each year. About 27 percent of girls between 15 and 19 become mothers annually. The maternal mortality rate is 160 per 1,000 live births; the infant mortality rate is 43 per 1,000 live births–both statistics considered high for developing countries. In the United States, the maternal mortality rate is less than 0.1 per 1,000 reported live births and the infant mortality rate is 7.2 per 1,000 live births, which is considered high for a developed nation.

Reliable statistics on abortion are not available, but women’s advocates say abortions are very common, performed mainly by untrained people under unsanitary conditions.

The government has been trying to criminalize all abortions, even legal therapeutic procedures to protect the life or health of the mother. The government has harassed other women’s clinics and feminists, including Dr. Ana Maria Pizarro, director of the Si Mujer health center.

Supporters of Granada trace her troubles back to Nov. 14 when President Aleman visited Mulukuku to inaugurate a housing project. Exact details were sketchy but Aleman repeated his accusations that Granada’s clinic treated only Sandinistas. One of the Mulukuku women’s advocates loudly denied the charge as officials and diplomats looked on. Aleman was described as being visibly irritated.

On Dec. 8, Granada’s 70th birthday, he sent a dozen heavily armed police to the remote village to arrest her, but she had fled to Managua after she was alerted by a radio warning from her friends. She went into hiding and is said to be safe, but suffering from high blood pressure.

Village and Granada Bereft Without Clinic

Activists say that with the closure of Granada’s clinic, around 25,000 people in and around Mulukuku will go without medical care. They include 45 women being treated for cancer.

In Mulukuku itself, people are sad, worried and outspoken in their defense of Granada. Francisca Roida Rojas, a 79-year-old who is among the cancer patients, insisted that the nurse, known in Nicaragua as Dorotea, cares only about healing, not politics.

"I support the Liberal Party and Dorotea never asked me if I subscribed to any political party or religion," she said.

From her hideout, Granada sent Nicaraguan news organizations a letter in which she said that after all these years she now feels Nicaraguan and the idea of being deported breaks her heart.

"All my life I have tried to be a good Christian, following the path God set out for me," Granada said. "That’s why I came to Nicaragua, and this country won me over."

Eduardo Marenco is a reporter with La Prensa in Managua, Nicaragua.

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U.S. Nurse-Midwife Comes Out of Hiding in Nicaragua