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 Kriol or Afro-Caribbeans (43,000) and the Garífuna (2,500).

It is only in recent years that initiatives have been taken to establish regulations for improved regional autonomy, such as the 1993 Languages Law; the 2003 General Health Law, which promotes respect for community health models; Law 445 on the System of Communal Ownership of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua and the Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz Rivers, which came into force at the start of 2003 and which also clarifies the communities’ and titled territories’ right to self-government; and the 2006 General Education Law, which recognises a Regional Autonomous Education System (SEAR).

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) came to power in Nicaragua in 1979, subsequently having to face up to 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) in 1987, on the basis of a New Political Constitution and the Autonomy Law (Law 28). Three years later, the FSLN lost the first national democratic elections in Nicaragua to the National Opposition Union (UNO), headed by the liberal Violeta de Chamorro, and a land policy was put in place that promoted the settlement on and individual titling in indigenous territories, also commencing the establishment of protected areas over these territories without any consultation. Daniel Ortega, the historic leader of the FSLN, returned to power following the 2007 elections.

Yearly update

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

Download the 2011 yearbook article on indigenous peoples in Nicaragua to read more about major developments and events during 2010