Indigenous peoples in Nicaragua

The seven indigenous peoples of Nicaragua live in two main regions: firstly, the Pacific Coast and Centre North of the country (or simply the Pacific), which is home to the Chorotega (221,000), the Cacaopera or Matagalpa (97,500), the Ocanxiu or Sutiaba (49,000) and the Nahoa or Náhuatl (20,000); and, secondly, the Caribbean (or Atlantic) Coast, inhabited by the Miskitu (150,000), the Sumu-Mayangna (27,000) and the Rama (2,000).

Other peoples enjoying collective rights in accordance with the Political Constitution of Nicaragua (1987) are the black populations of African descent, known as “ethnic communities” in national legislation. These include the Creole or Afro-Caribbeans (43,000) and the Garífuna (2,500).


Among the most important regulations are Law 445 on the Communal Property System of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast and of the Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz Rivers which, from 2003 on, also stipulates the right to self-government in the titled communities and territories. The 2006 General Education Law also recognises a Regional Autonomous Education System (SEAR).

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) came to power in Nicaragua in 1979, subsequently having to face an armed insurgency supported by the United States. Indigenous peoples from the Caribbean Coast, primarily the Miskitu, took part in this insurgency. In order to put an end to indigenous resistance, the FSLN created the Autonomous Regions of the North and South Atlantic (RAAN/RAAS), on the basis of a New Political Constitution and the Autonomy Law (Law 28). Having lost democratically-held elections in 1990, Daniel Ortega, of the FSLN, returned to power in 2007. Ortega is now in his third term of office (2011-2016), and has now managed to amend the Constitution to enable perpetual re-election.

In 2007, Nicaragua voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and, in 2010, ratified ILO Convention 169.

Yearly update

Download the 2015 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Nicaragua to learn about major developments and events during 2014.

Read the 2012 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Nicaragua to learn about major developments and events during 2011 (internal link)