Indigenous World 2020: Nicaragua
There are seven Indigenous Peoples in Nicaragua: the Chorotega (221,000), Cacaopera or Matagalpa (97,500), Ocanxiu or Sutiaba (49,000) and Nahoa or Náhuatl (20,000) who live in the centre and north of the Pacific region, and the Mískitu (150,000), Sumu or Mayangna (27,000) and Rama (2,000) who inhabit the Caribbean (or Atlantic) Coast. Afrodescendant peoples also enjoy collective rights in accordance with the Political Constitution of Nicaragua (1987). They are known as “ethnic communities” in national legislation. These include the Creole or Kriol (43,000) and Garífuna (2,500).
The Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) came to power in Nicaragua in 1979, and subsequently had to face up to the armed forces of the “Contras”, financed by the United States. Peasant farmers from the Pacific and Indigenous Peoples from the Caribbean Coast participated in the Contras. In 1987, following an amicable settlement of the conflict through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), and with the aim of bringing the Indigenous resistance to an end, the FSLN created the Autonomous Regions of the North (RACCN) and South (RACCS) Caribbean Coast, based on a Statute of Autonomy (Law No. 28). The Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IA Court) ruling in the case of the Mayangna (Sumo) community v. Nicaragua in 2001, meant that Law No. 445 was passed on the System of Communal Property of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Autonomous Regions of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast and the Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz rivers, recognising the communities’ right to self-government and creating a process for the titling of their territories. The state began the titling process for 23 Indigenous and Afrodescendant territories in the RACCN and RACCS in 2005, culminating in the provision of property titles. In 2007, Nicaragua voted in favour of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and, in 2010, it ratified ILO Convention 169. The Alliance of Indigenous and Afrodescendant Peoples of Nicaragua (APIAN) was formed in 2015.
The year 2019 was characterised in Nicaragua by the continuing imposition of parallel governments, the use of state violence against human rights defenders and the armed invasion of Indigenous territories.
State-created parallel governments
The Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples of the Autonomous Regions of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast comprise 304 communities inhabiting 23 territories all of which were titled from 2005 onwards under the system of communal property. These now cover an area of 37,841 km2, or 31.16% of the national territory. These peoples have their own mechanisms for internal governance and natural resource management, known as Indigenous and Afrodescendant communal and territorial governments. There are also a further three levels of government: the national or central government; the municipal government and the regional government (regional councils and governments), all elected and with their own autonomy. These four levels of government have been recognised by the Political Constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua and Law No. 28 since 1987, and have been implemented by Law No. 445 since 2003.
The Nicaraguan state, however, has been undermining the self-determination and autonomy of the Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples of Nicaragua and their governments by creating communal and territorial governments “parallel” to those legitimately elected by the people according to their own customs. The state is instead imposing governments made up of public officials and/or members of the FSLN party structure.
These party political structures have changed name over time, primarily because they have fallen into disrepute. They used to be known as the “Sandinista Youth”, the Citizen Power Councils or Boards,1 the Sandinista Leadership Committees and Family Boards,2,3 but, particularly since 18 April 2018,4 they have been known popularly as “Sandinista mobs”, roving gangs or parastatal bodies. The members of these structures enjoy perks, privileges and even impunity from the state.
These parallel governments are organised geographically with the aim of ensuring social control, monitoring and intimidation of community leaders or anyone opposed to the government and/or FSLN. They also exert direct influence over the election of regional, municipal and national officials. They are furthermore suspected of having systematically participated in electoral fraud to the benefit of the FSLN, as was repeatedly denounced from 2014 onwards by the Indigenous YATAMA party (Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Aslatakanka/Children of Mother Earth) during the Caribbean Coast elections.5
In the case of the Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples, the aim of creating parallel governments is to destroy the legitimately constituted traditional governments, and this in the following ways: the Regional Councils (responsible for issuing certifications) refuse to recognise the status of the traditional authorities;6 the provision of state budgetary allocations is illegally made conditional upon obedience to the authority of the Regional Councils;7 coercion and threats are made against the legitimately elected leaders and authorities and their families; and their activities of territorial defence are criminalised.
This imposition of parallel governments over the traditional authorities facilitates the grabbing of Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples’ lands and natural resources and promotes the national-level party political and government agenda, to the detriment of these peoples’ rights to self-determination and autonomy.8
The parallel governments are also used to endorse and approve all kinds of extractive projects. For this, the state either intimidates and co-opts some traditional leaders or the parallel governments simply sign the legal documents with little or no consultation of those affected. The state is thus trying to bypass the international standards on consultation required to obtain the free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) of the Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples.
The following are just a few examples of the imposition of these parallel governments, the limitations this places on these peoples’ right to self-determination and its adverse consequences.
The Autonomous Regional Council of the South Caribbean Coast imposes a parallel government on Rama and Kriol peoples
Princess Dyann Barberena Beckford, a Kriol, was elected president of the Rama and Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K) on 9 December The Autonomous Regional Council of the South Caribbean Coast (CRACCS) refused to endorse Princess Dyann’s territorial government,9 however, and instead extended the mandate of the previous GTR-K president for six months, despite not having the legal power to do so given that such elections are the sole responsibility of the GTR-K Assembly.10 Moreover, further exceeding its powers, the CRACCS Governing Board subsequently organised and ran an assembly to elect new authorities for the GTR-K on 30 June 2019, in which three of those “elected” were not present for the “election”. Princess Dyann has lodged an appeal through the Nicaraguan courts but no decision has yet been forthcoming.11
The case of the Kamla defender and leader
The Mískitu community of Kamla reported an attack by armed youths linked to the FSLN during the year. Kamla’s members had been peacefully protesting the imposition of communal authorities by the Regional Council, which was preventing them from holding new elections. Five people were injured in the attack, including their leader, Marcela Foster, who suffered a broken arm and lost her sight in one eye.12 The Indigenous YATAMA party has repeatedly accused the coordinator of the Regional Autonomous Government of the North Caribbean Coast of being the leader of these armed groups in the RACCN.13
APIAN warns the World Bank
The Alliance of Indigenous and Afrodescendant Peoples of Nicaragua (APIAN) reported last year that the state had submitted a number of “agreements” reached between the regional governments and the different communal and territorial governments to the World Bank. Such agreements have the effect of robbing these peoples of their natural resources as they “transfer ownership of carbon emissions reductions” to the Regional Councils, thus cancelling the peoples’ rights to their natural resources and handing these over entirely to the Nicaraguan government.14 APIAN urged the World Bank to conduct an exhaustive investigation and consult the true representatives of the Indigenous Peoples with regard to the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) of the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF). Meanwhile, other civil society organisations were calling for some US$ 55 million of funds to be withheld from the state for fear that the money would be used to repress the popular resistance of the Nicaraguan people, ongoing since April 2018.15
Nicaragua’s Grand Interoceanic Canal concession terminated
Law No. 840, and its Framework Concession Agreement,16 granting the concession for Nicaragua’s Grand Interoceanic Canal (GCIN), includes a clause that automatically terminated the concession,17 on 16 June 2019, for lack of funding18 “without the need for a party to take any action, on the first date that each Concession (of the Sub Projects) has expired”. However, the state subsequently created a “Minister Chair of the Board of the Grand Interoceanic Canal of Nicaragua Authority”19 and continued granting funds.20
It has also been reported that threats, deceit and co-optation of some members of the GTR-K have been used to get an agreement signed with the Grand Interoceanic Canal of Nicaragua Authority for the lease in perpetuity of 263 km2 of land on which communities are living. With the granting of the GCIN concession, the process for titling the traditional lands of the Indigenous, Creole and Black Community of Bluefields (CNCIB) was aborted. The state created a parallel government and issued a title for only 7% of the claim, ignoring the remaining 93%. The title was issued by the President of the Republic, Daniel Ortega, himself, to the CNCIB parallel government. These peoples have thus turned to the IACHR, where the case is currently at the merits stage (Case No. 13,615).
Indigenous defenders persecuted and threatened
Threats and persecution of defenders21 continues, as well as of journalists22 who report on the situation of Indigenous Peoples,23 and some of them have had to go into exile.24 YATAMA has thus denounced the fact that a number of its most important leaders have been murdered in recent years,25 while the lawyer Mark Rivas26 was chased and arrested by motor cyclists linked to the FSLN in September 2019.27 On 3 January 2020 he turned up dead with a bullet to the head, and the fear is that – as in previous cases – the circumstances of his death will never be clarified.28
The IACHR has granted a new period for the Nicaraguan state to comply with the judgment requiring it to investigate the murder of Francisco García Valle, husband of the lawyer María Luisa Acosta, murdered in revenge for her work as a defender of the Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.29 Another part of the judgment in the case of Acosta et al v. Nicaragua also requires protective mechanisms and investigation protocols to be established in cases of threats or danger to human rights defenders, something which the state has refused to produce or implement.
“Mískitu resistance: a struggle for territory and life”
Mayangna and Mískitu communities continue to be threatened, attacked and displaced by settlers and paramilitaries close to the FLSN.30 Heavily armed non-indigenous groups attack and burn their houses,31 kill their livestock and occupy farmland that is essential for these people’s survival. The government continues to do little, thus creating a climate of impunity.
Moreover, on 8 May 2019, the Justice and Human Rights Centre of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN) and the Justice and International Law Centre (CEJIL) raised the serious situation of violence being suffered by defenders of these peoples in a thematic hearing before the IACHR32 and, in August 2019, submitted a report entitled: “Mískitu resistance: a struggle for territory and life” to raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis being suffered by the 12 communities of the Mískitu people, a crisis that has left dozens murdered, kidnapped, and physically or sexually assaulted.33
Notes and references
- Armando Chaguaceda, “El Poder Ciudadano en Nicaragua: formato institucional de una nueva hegemonía”. Mexico City, Cubaencuentro Internacional, 10 February 2012. Last accessed 8 January https:// www.cubaencuentro.com/internacional/articulos/el-poder-ciudadano-en- nicaragua-formato-institucional-de-una-nueva-hegemonia-273816
- Roberto Stuart. Almendárez Consejos del Poder Ciudadano y Gestión Publica en Nicaragua. Ciencias Sociales Centroamericanas. EDISA 2009. Last accessed 9 January 2020. http://www.oas.org/juridico/spanish/mesicic3_nic_ consejos.pdf
- Moreno, José Antonio. “Los gabinetes de la familia”. La Prensa, 24 April Last accessed 8 January 2019. https://www.laprensa.com.ni/2015/04/24/ opinion/1820571-los-gabinetes-de-la-familia-3
- “Estructuras represivas que deberán ser investigadas”. Revista Envío, 446, May 2019. Last accessed 9 January 2020. https://www.envio.org.ni/ articulo/5625
- Malestar y disturbios en Bilwi. Esta semana han ocurrido disturbios políticos en Bilwi, o Puerto Cabezas, capital de la Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte (RAAN). La Prensa, 9 May 2014. Last accessed 8 January 2019. https://www. laprensa.com.ni/2014/05/09/opinion/193694-malestar-y-disturbios-en-bilwi; Conflicto entre indígenas y “colonos” se agrava con intervención de fuerzas de choque FSLN, Policía y Ejército. Rabia y dolor en Waspam. Confidencial. Wilfredo Miranda Aburto. 17 September 2015, available at: https://confidencial. com.ni/rivera-los-indigenas-ponemos-los-muertos/ Marchas de Yatama y FSLN se convierten en batalla campal. Violencia en Puerto Cabezas tras elecciones. Brooklyn Rivera: “El Consejo Supremo Electoral quiere anular, reducir a YATAMA”. Confidencial. Wilfredo Miranda Aburto, 8 November 2016. Last accessed 8 January 2019. https://confidencial.com.ni/violencia-en- puerto-cabezas-tras-elecciones/
- Law No. 445, Art.
- Law No. 445, Art. 34.
- Shiffman, “Indígenas de Jinotega denuncian que el FSLN quiere arrebatarles su propiedad”. Artículo 66, 27 May 2019. Last accessed 15 January 2019. https://www.articulo66.com/2019/05/27/indigenas-de-jinotega- denuncian-que-el-fsln-quiere-arrebatarles-su-propiedad/
- VIDEO: TL Caribe al día. “Gobierno interviene en asuntos comunales”. 30 June Last accessed 10 January 2020. https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=PpA8ELxfOKI&fbclid=IwAR2uectFdIpJUI5xjQyxwCCZHJnKs 54DzmmbGPo2gOC6b5zKEj2hItislM
- All the above in violation of the provisions of Art. 15 of Law No. 28, which establishes that the Communal Authority is an Administrative Body of the Autonomous Region with its own Further, Art. 26 of the Implementing Regulations for Law No. 28 establishes that the election, removal and term in office of the Communal Authorities shall be as established in Articles 4 to 7 of Law No. 445, the law regulating the legal and administrative powers of the Indigenous and Afrodescendant communal and territorial authorities in their internal elections.
- Barberena B., Princess “El Consejo Regional de la Costa Caribe Sur Usurpa Competencia a Afrodescendientes e Indígenas”. GTR-K. 11 July 2019. Last accessed 18 January 2019. https://www.facebook.com/calpinicaragua/photos/comunicado-de-prensa-el-consejo-regional-de-la-costa-caribe-sur-usurpa- competenc/3059015070783142/
- VIDEO: Canal 10. “Enfrenamientos en Kamla del Caribe” 27 June Last accessed 18 January 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BA7kxoGv4FY&feature=share; Cruz, Ana. “Concejal de Yatama denuncia intento de asesinato”. El Nuevo Diario, 3 July 2019. Last accessed 15 January 2019. https://www.elnuevodiario.com.ni/nacionales/495541- yatama-costa-caribe-violencia-derechos-humanos/ Persistent shutting down of democratic spaces. MESENI continues to receive statements and documentation on worsening repression… against members of Indigenous and Afrodescendant peoples of the Northern Caribbean. On 26 June, the IACHR received information on an attack against defender Marcela Foster, a member of the Kamla community, Twi Yahbra territory, and a further two community members by government supporters. The IACHR observes that some difficulties such as the lack of geographic access and, occasionally, the lack of financial resources, puts these groups in a particularly vulnerable situation in terms of reporting the continuing violence, threats and arbitrary detentions in different departments, as well as obtaining adequate legal defence. Last accessed 18 January 2019. https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/prensa/ comunicados/2019/172.asp;
- Statement by Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Aslatakanka YATAMA. 01 June 2019. Last accessed 15 January 2019. https://www.facebook. com/586643351823407/posts/racc-pronunciamiento-de-yapti-tasba- masraka-nanih-aslatakanka-yatamajunio-01-201/611649122656163/
- “APIAN advierte al Banco Mundial sobre el REDD/FCPF en Nicaragua” CALPI. 16 December 2019. Last accessed 15 January 2019. https://www. facebook.com/calpinicaragua/photos/a.612501958767811/3533447366673 241/?type=3&theater APIAN. “Nicaraguan Alliance of Indigenous and Afrodescendant Peoples statement of concern about World Bank REDD deal”. REED Monitor. 12 January 2020. Last accessed 18 January 2019. https://redd-monitor. org/2020/01/12/nicaraguan-alliance-of-indigenous-and-afro-descendant- peoples-statement-of-concern-about-world-bank-redd-deal/ López B., Lidia. “Dictadura de Nicaragua da por hecho que echó mano de 55 millones de dólares de los fondos verdes del Banco Mundial”. La Prensa, 14 November 2019. Last accessed 10 January 2020. https://www.laprensa.com.ni/2019/11/14/ nacionales/2610668-dictadura-de-nicaragua-fondos-verdes-del-banco- mundial
- López, Julio. “Organizaciones piden al Banco Mundial suspender proyecto de captura de carbono”. Onda Local. 9 October Last accessed 10 January 2020. https://ondalocal.com.ni/noticias/778-banco-mundial-suspenda- proyecto-captura-carbono/
- Law 840, Special Law on the Development of Nicaraguan Infrastructure and Transport Relevant to the Canal, Free Trade Zones and Associated Infrastructure. Annex A: Framework Agreement on the Concession and Implementation in Relation to the Nicaragua Canal and Development Projects (AMC). Last accessed 19 January 2019. http://legislacion.asamblea.gob.ni/Normaweb.nsf/ b92aaea87dac762406257265005d21f7/914d10ad15d09a2f06257b9e004c8 2e8?OpenDocument
- FCA clause 15.7 Automatic
- FCA clause 15.2 Impossibility of Obtaining Financial Closure of Sub-Project.
- Law No. 999, 1 para 2. Last accessed 17 January
- 2019. http://legislacion.asamblea.gob.ni/Normaweb.nsf/ ($All)/616CF25E630279D40625836A0062762C?OpenDocument
- Silva, Diego. “Ortega despilfarra raquítico presupuesto en la Comisión del Gran Canal”. Despacho 505, 22 October Last accessed 19 January 2019. https://www.despacho505.com/ortega-despilfarra-raquitico-presupuesto-en- la-comision-del-gran-canal/
- Navas, “Nicaragua ratifica acuerdo que obliga a proteger a defensores medioambientales pero dictadura criminaliza y persigue a ambientalistas”. La Prensa, 12 December 2012. Last accessed 19 January 2020. https://www.laprensa.com.ni/2019/12/12/politica/2620401-nicaragua-ratifica-acuerdo-que- obliga-a-proteger-a-defensores-medioambientales-cuando-dictadura-crim
- Lara, Rafael. “Periodista David Quintana se refugia en casa de seguridad”. El Nuevo Diario, 25 March Last accessed 17 January 2020. https:// www.elnuevodiario.com.ni/nacionales/488504-david-quintana-periodista-refugiado-nicaragua/; Radio Corporación. “Asedio policial contra el periodista David Quintana”. 25 March 2019. Last accessed 17 January 2020. https://radio- corporacion.com/blog/archivos/38952/asedio-periodista-david-quintana/
- Navarro, Álvaro. “Policía orteguista capturó, por mandato de dos JS, al líder miskito José Coleman”. Artículo 66, 20 September Last accessed 14 January 2020. https://www.articulo66.com/2019/09/20/policia-orteguista- capturo-por-mandato-de-dos-js-al-lider-miskito-jose-coleman/?fbclid=IwAR2 FCtFLekK8Ey4D1jegNj52-Clevw4SGAPVzISKtdKU06tfljYeMnKQJx0
- Lacayo, Ileana. “La historia de Marlon Gamboa, periodista miskito exiliado en Costa Rica” Confidencial, 9 January 2020. Last accessed January https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ptJLqm7d_uo
- YATAMA Press and Communication Department. “Pronunciamiento Indígena. Bilwi, RACCN”, 4 January Last accessed 17 January 2020. https://www.facebook.com/photo. php?fbid=10157974217514859&set=a.93353904858&type=3&theater
- VIDEO: Líder indígena Mark Rivas reclama sobre invasiones de tierras, gobiernos paralelos y préstamos del Banco Mundial al Gobierno de Nicaragua en detrimento de los derechos de los pueblos indígenas. #ENVIVO Comunidades indígenas del Caribe denuncian represión oficial y eliminación de los gobiernos territoriales. Last accessed 17 January 2020. https://www.facebook.com/Articulo66/videos/490041111578480/? xts = 68.ARA cPxFbgmmHuZ6-3AieMgUPpofYUoEfQc3trHNf2bug4oJCY11drjd4p AXCvoyOmSCyU8voKK7maBluSZ-0lH8QGnMB0SljwTNXpD8HkO2kyFJU1MERb zurC9MxMa68dPp-ikoHlVwaoq_6L-v5 FT0SZ4h3B9knMwtixdcDYocmbQifnKhlC 1mPGrekKDRJQ2RvZ1VKezFi5AosPnKHGhLwaFTqiJTQx566hau
- 100% Noticias, 20 September ”Policía sandinista libera a líder miskito después de varias horas retenido” La policía detuvo al líder social por más de tres horas, lo trasladaron a una estación policial, lo uniformaron y le tomaron infinidad de fotos https://100noticias.com.ni/nacionales/96006-policia- sandinista-libera-a-lider-miskito-despues-/?fbclid=IwAR3a0RlhnPTwVFdSCp6 VqLWMunPDnXoRqR
- VIDEO: Noticias 10. “Familiares de dirigente de Yatama que apareció muerto en su casa desmienten suicidio” 9 January 2020. Last accessed 17 January 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ftc_laJ6F8&feature=share&fbcli d=IwAR1iz4iqyTxXd-5v6zrnrqnuDrTM7IR9M23eDhABaoYAe7Fdui0n3RFKeZQ; Infobae. “Hallaron muerto al líder indígena nicaragüense Mark Rivas”, 5 January 2020. Last accessed 17 January 2020. https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2020/01/05/hallaron-muerto-al-lider-indigena-nicaraguense- mark-rivas/
- Corte IDH supervisa el cumplimiento de la Sentencia del Caso Acosta y otros Vs. Nicaragua. 20 de enero de 2020. Last accessed el 16 de enero de 2020. https://www.cejil.org/es/corte-idh-supervisa-cumplimiento-sentencia- del-caso-acosta-y-otros-vs-nicaragua
- Gómez, María. “Paramilitares y grupos armados se enfrentaron a balazos por tierras indígenas de Prinzapolka”. Artículo 66, 4 October 2019. Last accessed 17 January 2020. https://www.articulo66.com/2019/10/04/paramilitares-y-grupos-armados-se-enfrentaron-a-balazos-por-tierras-indigenas-de- prinzapolka/ Huerta, Juan R. “Pueblos indígenas del Caribe con hambre, olvidados y con los mismos problemas de hace 500 años”. Nuevas Miradas, entrevista a Ray Hooker, 9 September 2019. Last accessed 16 January 2020. https://nuevasmiradas.com.ni/2019/09/09/pueblos-indigenas-del-caribe-con- hambre-olvidados-y-con-los-mismos-problemas-de-hace-500-anos/?fbclid=I wAR0EM2b65iNHnhbqtSPjlvK8DMGAqjV3ZWA6KMRx9aOVqmJPg2-iOfH-WTs
- La Prensa. “Se registra un ataque armado en la comunidad Masmalaya, en Prinzapolka”. 2 October 2019. Last accessed 16 January 2020.https://www. laprensa.com.ni/2019/10/02/departamentales/2596532-se-registra-un- ataque-armado-en-la-comunidad-masmalaya-en-prinzapolka
- “Pueblos indígenas del Caribe de Nicaragua enfrentan contexto de grave violencia, denuncian defensoras”. 8 May 2019. Last accessed 17 January 2020. https://www.cejil.org/es/pueblos-indigenas-del-caribe-nicaragua-enfrentan- contexto-grave-violencia-denuncian-defensoras-0
- “Resistencia miskitu: una lucha por el territorio y la vida” 2019. Last accessed 17 January 2020. https://cejil.org/es/informe-resistencia- miskitu-una-lucha-territorio-y-vida Last accessed 17 January 2020. Infobae.
- Especialistas advierten que hay comunidades indígenas en “riesgo de extinción” en Nicaragua. 14 August 2019. Last accessed 17 January 2020. https://www.infobae.com/america/america-latina/2019/08/14/especialistas- advierten-que-hay-comunidades-indigenas-en-riesgo-de-extincion-en- nicaragua/?fbclid=IwAR0vOXcM-8tc2WJ2cQbcHnN85i1gynw
- VIDEO: Confidencial. “Lottie Cuningham: La crisis de los miskitos, entre la violencia y la hambruna”. 15 August 2019. Last accessed 17 January 2020. https://www. youtube.com/watch?v=zNubmmhBcn0&feature=share
This article is part of the 34th edition of the The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. Find The Indigenous World 2020 in full here