Nova Scotia

Canadian woman urges Ottawa to return husband from Bolivia

Megan Radford has temporarily moved in with her parents in Nova Scotia as she copes with being apart from her husband in Bolivia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. She's appealing to the government to return him to Canada.

Megan Radford says Canada needs to finish its job and bring everyone home, but Ottawa has other plans

Megan Radford was working as a journalist with World Vision when she met Hugo Barrientos Cardozo, a translator. They married in 2016. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

A Canadian woman whose husband is stuck in Bolivia due to the COVID-19 travel shutdown is appealing to Ottawa to bring her husband back to her.

However, Ottawa is not planning any additional repatriation flights.

In February, Hugo Rolando Barrientos Cardozo, who is a Canadian permanent resident, left the home he shares with Megan Radford in Orleans, Ont., to tie up loose ends in Bolivia.

The plan was for her to join him in April, so they could fly back together and bring both of his dogs with them. After four years of marriage, they would finally be settled as a couple and ready to start a family.

But on March 16, days after the pandemic was declared, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians to return home while flights were available. The next day, Bolivia announced all flights in and out of the country would be suspended in four days.

Radford says the couple recently moved into a new home near Ottawa where they are hoping to start a family. (Destiny Dawn Photography)

In an instant, Barrientos Cardozo was stranded a continent away.

"I can't sugar-coat it, it's the worst. It's really, really hard," Radford said from her parents' home in Brookside, N.S., earlier this week.

The couple is solid, she said, but "it's just whether or not our mental health is going to be able to stay strong through it."

Radford spoke for her husband, who declined an interview.

It's been a long haul for the couple and other Canadians who remain separated from loved ones.

In a statement from Global Affairs Canada on Aug. 6, a spokesperson said the final few remaining flights had concluded, and there are no plans for repatriation flights after July.

In the last few months, Ottawa returned nearly 57,000 Canadians on about 700 flights from 109 countries.

In May, Rob Oliphant, the parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs, said the job was nearly 90 per cent done, but completing the "last part of the marathon is always the toughest."

'Their job isn't finished yet'

Radford has called Global Affairs' emergency helpline, and asked her member of Parliament, Marie-France Lalonde, for help to bring her husband home.

The air travel lockdown by Bolivia has created significant challenges to return Barrientos Cardozo, Lalonde said in a written statement.

Global Affairs would not comment directly on this case, but said it is aware of Canadian citizens and permanent residents in Bolivia who want to come home, but cannot because there are no flights.

There are nearly 6,700 Canadians registered in Bolivia, though the department said registration is not an indication of a wish to stay or leave.

Radford has temporarily moved back home with her parents. The couple stays connected through daily video calls. (Elizabeth Chiu/CBC)

"I think their job isn't finished yet," Radford said. "There's so many of us still waiting and saying, 'Well, what about us?'"

The situation is urgent because Bolivia, which is ruled by an interim government and is one of Latin America's poorest countries, is suffering under the added strain of COVID-19.

It's so desperate that the country has imposed a strict curfew.

"They're having to gather bodies off of the street because people don't know where to put their dead, or they kind of just die in the streets because they can't get into the hospitals," Radford said.

Dalhousie University law professor Wayne MacKay said the argument to repatriate someone is made stronger the more they are at risk.

"As much as ideally every single citizen would be looked after, the reality of money and practical considerations does require some prioritizing," he said. "The more it's established that he's in some risky situation, the more likely the government will act, and should act."

The anxiety grows for the couple with each passing month. In October, Barrientos Cardozo's passport will expire, adding another complication. Bolivian government offices closed in March.

Painful wait

Waiting for him alone at home for months has been a strain. In June, she moved back in with her parents and siblings because of it.

After facing the challenges of Canada's immigration system to get her husband permanent residency status, this uncertainty is worse, she said.

The couple, who are Christians, are relying on their faith to get through this separation. But while they're both healthy, that could change in a heartbeat with COVID-19.

"Rolo and I have been apart most of our relationship, but this is different. There's a life-threatening disease involved," she said. "Sometimes it's hard to even sleep because I'm wondering if he gets sick, what's going to happen."

Three days after CBC News made inquiries about repatriating Canadians in Bolivia, Global Affairs Canada said in an email on Aug. 7 there was a Canadian embassy-arranged flight from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to Lima on April 16. 

Radford said she was not informed about that flight, and had she known, her husband would have been on it.

CBC made multiple requests for an interview with Global Affairs, but was declined.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

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