Keys for Understanding the Conflict

This article, Keys for Understanding the Conflict in the North Caribbean, was posted September 29, 2015 in response to incidents of armed conflict caused by land invasions of village lands by settlers from the Pacific Coast of Nicaraguan who were backed by the Sandinista government.

Keys for understanding the conflict in the North Caribbean by José Adán Silva, translated by Philip Mullins

The original content of this article appeared at the following website.

The conflict, which has claimed 30 lives since 2008, 15 of those in 2015 so far, has existed more than 25 years in its modern phase without being resolved. The conflict has existed since the Mosquito Coast was annexed to Nicaragua more than 155 years ago.

The Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, also called the Costa Caribe, is the historic homeland of three indigenous peoples and two groups of Afro-descendants: Miskito, Mayagna, Ramas, Garifuna and Creole. For centuries, all these ethnic groups lived under different forms of social organization and under different norms of use and possession of their lands in the same territory where today violent battles between Indians and mestizos are taking place. According to the Natives, the mestizos are trying to colonize Native ancestral lands in order to exploit its resources. That is why the mestizos from the interior of Nicaragua, who have settled on indigenous lands, are called "settlers".

What is the geographical focus of the conflict?

The municipality of Waspam, located on the border with Honduras, is a neglected area of ​ great poverty. In the Extreme Poverty Map of Nicaragua, prepared by the Government of Nicaragua in 2005, Waspam ranked second in poverty, among the 152 municipalities that then existed. 80% of its population lives in extreme poverty.

Current figures on the level of poverty are unknown, but according to Mayor Alex Fernandez of Waspam, 70% of the population still lives in poverty or extreme poverty. This municipality is one of the largest in Nicaragua with an area of ​​8,133 square kilometers. It accounts for 25.29% of the extent of RACCN (Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean Coast) and has a population of 70,949 inhabitants, 92.3% of who live in rural areas and 7.70% in the town center of Waspam.

The municipality is located approximately 145 kilometers from the city of Puerto Cabezas, the capitol of the RACCN, and is 632 kilometers from Managua.

Why is Waspam the geographical focus of the conflict?

Romel Constantine Washington, now severely wounded by Army of Nicaragua and National Police troops, explained to the press in early September 2015, that the community of the Rio Coco Arriba, near Waspam, decided to arm themselves with rifles and to organize themselves into several groups, in order to expel the settlers had moved from the center of Nicaragua to territories near the Coco River. The settlers have colonized a distance of over 100 kilometers from the Mining Triangle area (Rosita, Siuna and Bonanza) towards the northern border of Nicaragua. "So, rather than expel them, we are organizing a defense to stop their advance, because if they continue, they will keep going until they come to Honduras. This is an invasion that is sweeping away our communities and our forests and rivers," Constantine said.

The term "invasion" was used by the President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, on the night of September 9, 2015 during a ceremony of the 36th anniversary of the National Police, when, referring to the crisis in the Caribbean, he said, "It's a real invasion that is happening there. "

Who are the settlers?

According to the Deputy to the National Assembly and President of the Commission of Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendants and Autonomous Regimes in the National Assembly of Nicaragua, Brooklyn Rivera Bryan, 100% of the colonists are mestizos from the Pacific coastal region and central and northern Nicaragua. Among them are found demobilized soldiers from both the Resistance and the Army of Nicaragua, businessmen and traders of wood, major livestock traders and, to a lesser extent, artisanal miners, small farmers and drug traffickers.

Why are there weapons of war and constant shootings?

Retired Army of Nicaragua Major Roberto Samcam says that the area of ​​Las Minas and Waspam was a major theater of war between 1970 and 1980, during the wars against the Somoza dictatorship and then against the Sandinista dictatorship of the decade of 1980. According Samcam, the Natives of the area took up arms and have over ten years of military experience fighting against the Sandinistas. Similarly, former members of the Resistance and the Army also have knowledge of weapons and military strategies "and it may be that many weapons now being used are remnants of war, because many weapons were hidden away at the end of the 1990 war. "

In addition, says Samcam, organized crime groups from Colombia, with bases in Honduras and Nicaragua, have imported new weapons like the AR15, M16 and UZI that now are in the hands of both indigenous people and settlers. Some fighters have modern media communication technology such as satellite phones, infrared (night goggles), GPS equipment, long-range radio communicators and ammunition and military uniforms.

Why has Yatama assumed the defense of indigenous armed groups?

According to an extensive analysis of the magazine Envío of the Central American University (UCA), in Issue 321, Indian claims and the subsequent armed reaction comes from the late 1970s, when agricultural cooperatives in the Rio Coco emerged. "The agricultural cooperatives were the precursors of the first indigenous organizations, the Alliance for Progress of the Miskitu and Sumu Peoples (ALPROMISU) and, in the Sumu-Mayangna communities, Limón project, later known as the SUKAWALA organization," says the document.

According to the magazine, with the triumph of the Sandinista revolution, ALPROMISU, then transformed into the Miskito, Sumu, Rama Sandinista Aslatakanka (MISURASATA) at the historic V General Assembly of November 1979. This organization led the indigenous mobilization for the recognition of territorial, cultural and social rights. "These organizations were violently suppressed (by the Sandinistas) and gave way to a war led by MISURASATA in south and by a northern fraction that took the name MISURA".

What was the Red Christmas?

The most neglected history of this story of conflict between the State and indigenous Nicaragua is the case known as "Red Christmas", which occurred between December 1981 and January 1982.

Osorno Coleman, a Miskito military excommander, told reporters that this was an operation of forced displacement by the Sandinista army against the indigenous community, to remove sources of logistical assistance to the Contras based in Honduras. "It was a slaughter. (The Sandinista army) bombed communities and shot people fleeing to the Coco River and Honduras. They burned villages and killed all the cattle. That happened right there in Waspam. The military invaders have now returned, according to Coleman, a leading Miskito opponent of the government of Daniel Ortega.

Why the Indians demand compliance with Law 445?

Law 445 or "Law of Communal Property Regime of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua and of the Rivers Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maiz", was published in La Gaceta (the official journal of the National Assembly) No.16, January 23, 2003.

Its legal basis is "to ensure indigenous peoples and ethnic communities full recognition of the rights of communal and territorial ownership, use, administration and management of traditional lands and natural resources, through demarcation, titling and the clearing up the titles".

The law's main objective is "to achieve legal security of land and recognition of ancestral and historical rights of ethnic communities and indigenous peoples settled in the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua and the Coco, Bocay, Indio and Maiz Rivers and to regulate the system of communal land ownership of indigenous and ethnic communities of the Caribbean Coast and the basins of the Coco, Bocay, Indio and Maiz Rivers".

This is a longstanding commitment of the State of Nicaragua to the indigenous communities that dates back more than a century. "The State of Nicaragua has an unavoidable commitment to respond to the demand for titling of lands and territories of indigenous peoples and ethnic communities of ancient Mosquitia of Nicaragua. This right was written into the international treaties concluded between England and Nicaragua, such as the Treaty of Managua of 1860 and the Treaty of Harrison-Altamirano of 1905. The right to the land is recognized in the Constitution of Nicaragua of 1987 and the Statute of Autonomy of the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast ".

Who are the Indians of involved in the conflict?

The total population of the two autonomous regions (of Atlantic Coastal Nicaragua) is 473,109 people. 72.54% of the population is mestizo, 18.04% is Miskito, 6.22% is Creole or black, 2.45% is Mayangna, 0.43% is Garifuna and 0.32 % is Rama, according to official data from the National Institute for Development Information (INIDE). That is, the Miskito population represents 87,052 people.

The Miskito ethnic community is currently leading the protest against the settlers. The Miskitos are based in some 250 communities along the Coco River or Wanki, in the municipality of Waspam; in the coastal areas of both (the Northern and Southern) regions and in the valley of the municipality of Puerto Cabezas. According to the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples, CADPI, the Miskitos are a population that exhibits much intra-regional mobility. However, they show a great sense of rootedness and of belonging to their original communities, to which they return despite long periods of temporary jobs away from their home communities.

What's in the disputed territory?

While Waspam is one of the poorest regions in the country, the geographical area where indigenous communities live is rich in forests and natural resources, which has attracted the interest of Canadian companies for exploration and exploitation of gold.

According to the mayor of Waspam, Alex Fernandez, the area is harassed by Honduran settlers, possibly linked to drug trafficking. This, added to the lack of state officials, makes the area a hot spot for organized crime to establish a drug trafficking corridor. Fernandez gave the example that between 28 and 30 police officers are assigned to the municipality, the largest in Nicaragua with more than 75,000 inhabitants and an area of ​​8,133 square kilometers with a river as a border.

This puts the communities at constant risk of food insecurity. He described the treatment of Waspam as "abysmal" compared to the attention paid to border department of Rio San Juan (on the Southern border with Costa Rica).

How does this law benefit the Indians?

Law 445 provides that, "Communal Land is the geographic area in possession of an indigenous or ethnic community, whether in actual legal title or not. It comprises the lands inhabited by the community and by lands that constitute the traditional cultural and economic sites of social activities, sacred sites, forested areas for reproduction and multiplication of flora and fauna, shipbuilding and subsistence activities, including hunting, fishing and agriculture. Communal lands cannot be taxed and are unalienable, inalienable and imprescriptible".

Does this law benefit settlers in indigenous territories?

Yes. Law 445 qualifies the settlers as "third parties". A third party can be mestizo or not. What makes a third party is his claim to individual ownership of communal property. Law 445 defines a third party as "natural or legal persons other than the communities who claim property rights in a common land or an indigenous territory."

Article 36 of Law 445 restricted the rights of third parties on indigenous territories: "The third party that holds land title to indigenous lands and has occupied and owned the land protected by this title, has the full right to continue possessing it. In case the third party intends to dispose of the property, it must be sold (or the improvements must be sold) to the community. "

So where is the conflict if the law provides benefits to settlers and Indians?

Gonzalo Carrión, legal director of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, told reporters that the crisis stems from the lack of interest of the Government and the State in clean up (title to) indigenous properties, lack of logistical capacity to title and demarcate indigenous territories, lack of will and expertise (on the part of the Government) to curb counterfeiting of documents for the sale of communal lands and their "suspected protection of groups and powerful companies who are responsible for promoting land invasions and then buying wood from forests and territories and devoting the land to the business of farming, because behind these business, there are powerful people. "

According to Carrión, the process of land titling and demarcation lacks standards of transparency and disclosure that allows scrutiny of the project, which contributes to the climate of mistrust in indigenous people as to what the State and the Government is doing.

How much have the settlers advanced into indigenous territories?

Alisio Genaro, a Mayagna leader, told reporters in 2013, that in 1987 the core area of ​​the current Biosphere Reserve Bosawas had an extension of 170,210 million hectares of virgin forests and an estimated population of less than 7,000 Indians.

In 1997, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) declared it a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, the reserve had more than two million hectares of forest and rainforests, in the buffer zone and the core zone.

In 2010, with a population of about 25,000 people in the area, mostly settlers (colonos), the forest was reduced to 832,237 hectares, according to figures from Mr. Genaro. An estimated 5,000 mestizo peasant settlers in the area in 1990 had soared to more than 40,000 in 2013. "They're burning everything to sow crops. They cut the forests to put in cow pastures. They devastate large trees to sell the wood, shoot the animals and dry up rivers to use as roads, "Mr. Genaro complained to reporters.

Who is responsible for this conflict?

The government of Nicaragua is responsible for this conflict. Law 445, Article 41, created the National Commission for Demarcation and Titling (CONADETI), composed of the two presidents of the autonomous regional councils who preside in rotation; the Director of the Office of Rural Titling; two representatives Bocay Basin; a delegate of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry; the Director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER); a representative of each of the ethnic groups in the autonomous regions; a representative of the Commission of Ethnic Affairs and deputies of the National Assembly who originate in the autonomous regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. The commission must involve the mayors of municipalities within the area of ​​demarcation and titling.

Currently, a representative of the government of Nicaragua in this committee is the Attorney General of the Republic, Hernán Estrada, whom the press called for a formal interview two weeks ago. There has been no reply to the request for information.

How much progress has been made in the titling and demarcation of indigenous territories?

According to the President Daniel Ortega, his government began implementing Law 445 in 2008 and has prepared titles to 35,000 square kilometers.

"And, beginning in 2008, what was the first thing we did? We are going to give titles to all communities. We have started and have already reached over 35,000 square kilometers, an entire country! A much larger land area than that of El Salvador ... 35,000 square kilometers titled! ", Ortega said last September 9th.

A 2014 study by the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples (CADPI) entitled, "Demarcation and Titling of Indigenous Territories: vindication of ancestral claims", states that as of 2014 the State has prepared land titles to 21 of the 22 territories of Native people and persons of African descent, which are composed of 289 communities covering an area of ​​36,439.97 square kilometers where 190,963 people live.

"The area titled represents 28% of the national territory and 52% of the territory of the Caribbean coast and the special region of Alto Wangki, Wihta and Bukawas (Alto Coco, Bocay and Raití). Of the 21 titles, 15 have been registered and delivered. "

"Land titles to the Tasba Pri matrix located in the RAAN and two complementary areas in Special Zone of Alto Wangki, Wihta and Bukawas (Alto Coco, Bocay and Raití) in indigenous Miskito Indian territories of Tasbaika Kum Mayangna and Sauni Bu are pending. This process is occurring in the middle of a fast, aggressive and massive advance of colonization of indigenous territories by mestizo settlers that puts the legal security of indigenous collective property at risk."

"The fifth stage of the process of legalization of indigenous territories, sanitation (cleaning-up the titles), constitutes a highly complex national problem, marked by conflicts between cultures, breach of indigenous land rights, legal uncertainty of collective property," says the study said.

Did the Government know of the approaching conflict in 2015 Waspam area?

For National Assembly Deputy Brooklyn Rivera Bryan, the government did know because he and other indigenous leaders have denounced it since 2008 when the Government began the process of demarcation. Proof of such knowledge about the conflict lies in the support document used by the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit to allocate 13.7 million cordobas budget in 2015 CONADETI.

Under the subtitle of "expected advances for 2015", the Ministry states the objectives to be resolved in this 2015 course: "Approve diagnoses of the three areas and an equal number of territories and the diagnosis of the Bluefields Black Creole Government territory, to be approved by communal and territorial assemblies. Resolve intercommunal and inter-territorial conflicts, demarcated and staked out, communal territorial titles delivered and cleaned up in 8 territories of the 22 stakeholders in the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast and the Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz rivers. Ensure legal certainty of the lands and territories of the communities of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua who are beneficiaries of Law No.445, Law Communal Property Regime of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua and Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz rivers and thus stop the advance of the agricultural frontier and encroachment of settlers on indigenous and Black land. Define the legal status of each of the non-indigenous families settled on indigenous land and overcome the conflict between indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent with third parties in the eight territories already titled. " your text here...