The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

58 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL “They would step off the bus, and you could see them processing the plane, knowing that they’re leaving, but not knowing exactly what was going on.” Fleharty greeted each person as they stepped off the bus, explaining the operation. Reid moved throughout the crowd, speaking with his contacts. Several prisoners realized what was happening upon glimpsing Hegerle and former Deputy Chief of Mission Marta Youth (now principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration), former economics chief Bill Muntean (2015-2018), and other Embassy Managua veterans. “Marta, I love you!” hollered Michael Healy, a U.S. citizen among the prisoners, kidding that this was his second U.S. government rescue. Healy was in good spirits. He approached Muntean, who had grown a long beard during the pandemic, and asked, “Bill, what the hell happened to you?” “Mike, you’re the one who’s been in jail for the last year and a half!” Muntean replied. Hegerle’s familiar face—if not his waistline—was another welcome sight for some. “Estamos más flacos,” former Nicaraguan Deputy Minister of Government and Foreign Affairs José Bernard Pallais gestured to his companions, giving Hegerle a mischievous smile. “Y tú—tú estás más gordo [We all got skinnier, but you— you’re fatter]!” A former engineering student exited the bus and stopped. Reid watched him inhale deeply. “I haven’t been outside in three years,” the student said. “Look at my skin. Look how pale I am.” Gazing at the sky, he took another deep breath of fresh air. With no airline personnel, no airport employees, no paper or virtual tickets, the diplomats got to work. They flipped over the plastic crate that had held the passports and made a small table. Youth pulled out the small flashlight she always carries, a gift from her husband, to match passports to passengers. “I don’t think my husband ever envisioned that we’d be using the flashlight to read Nicaraguan passports in the dark,” Youth said. Some Nicaraguans were visibly overwhelmed in choosing indefinite prison or an unknown future in the United States. One woman grieved, realizing she’d never see her dying mother again. A man whose family had visited him the day before in prison was anguished to leave them behind. Others wondered how they’d support themselves. The Nica Team (from left): Katrina Reichwein (from State Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs’ Monitoring Working Group), Katie Jonas (acting consul general in Managua), Ryan Reid (political-economic chief in Managua), Mileydi Guilarte (USAID deputy assistant administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean), Carla Fleharty (chargé d’affaires), Bill Muntean (from State Department Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs), Marta Youth (former deputy chief of mission in Managua, now principal deputy assistant secretary in State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration), Tanner Gildea (from State’s Office of Management Strategy and Solutions), Lance Hegerle (from State Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs’ Office of Central American Relations), and Gaby Canavati (Embassy Managua PAS). MILEYDI GUILARTE