NicaNotes: “We are building the Caribbean Coast of our dreams”

By Susan Lagos

Report back from the Friends of ATC Caribbean Coast delegation, June 2023

[Susan Lagos is a retired teacher from California and retired farmer from near Dario, Nicaragua, where she has lived for 19 years.]

Here the delegation meets with Caribbean Coast historian and Delegate of the Presidency Johnny Hodgson (front row in pale yellow shirt) at the regional council (legislature) building.

Recently I returned from a two-week delegation trip to the Southern Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCS) of Nicaragua with Friends of the ATC (Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo or Rural Workers’ Association) with 25 multi-cultural young first-time visitors from the US and England. I have lived in Nicaragua for 19 years, and like most Nicaraguans from the populated Pacific area, I have wanted to experience the Caribbean region, but previously access was very difficult to both the Northern and Southern Autonomous Regions, taking days, and even weeks during the rainy season, to arrive there.

First, the group spent three days at the ATC’s IALA (Instituto Agroecológico Latinoamericano or Latin American Institute of Agroecology) near Santo Tomas, Chontales, (famous for cattle raising, where they say the rivers are milk and the rocks are cheese). We were able to milk cows, make fresh cuajada cheese, learn how to make organic fertilizer, and how to propagate pitahaya (dragon fruit) by hand at night when the huge flowers are open. We learned with the young students from cooperatives around Nicaragua, Central America, and the Dominican Republic, who are earning two-year degrees in agroecology to improve production and entrepreneurship back home in their communities. They learn to eliminate harmful pesticides and replace them with earth-friendly methods. Women and youth develop value-added products that help their family economies beyond the basic beans, corn and squash, such as making chocolate from cacao, exporting pitahaya, augmenting their diet with tilapia in a fish pond, making wine from hibiscus tea flowers, etc. Nicaraguan small and medium-scale farmers produce about 90% of the food consumed in the country.

We headed east on the three-year-old concrete highway which now connects Nicaragua’s two coasts, with a travel time of eight hours from Managua to Bluefields, thus making it possible to easily travel to sell products, study, work, etc. Finally, international shipments can be easily sent by truck from Pacific ports to the east side of the country, instead of detouring through Honduras, Panama, or Costa Rica, saving about half the cost of transportation. Also, a Dutch company will soon be starting the construction of a deep-water port for international trade in Bluefields Bay.

The next day in Bluefields (named after a Dutch pirate named Blauvelt) we heard a fascinating summary of the history of the area from Johnny Hodgson, Caribbean Coast historian and delegate of the presidency for the region. The Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua was a British Protectorate in the 1600’s, with Mosquitia kings trading precious timber, turtle shells, and animal skins for metal and clothing. In 1783 with the Treaty of Paris, the British officially left the area to Spain. In 1894 it became part of Nicaragua, but it remained mostly under military control in order to control the resources, with no importance given to the people.

It wasn’t until 1987 with the Autonomy Law under the Sandinista government that there was a recognition of historical rights for a pluricultural Caribbean coast. Before, the Spanish language was imposed; but now other languages are official: creole English, Miskito, Mayangna, Ulwa, Garifuna, Rama, with a six-star autonomy flag. The old song “Brown skin girl, stay home and mind baby” became “Pretty black gal, let’s build a free country.” The construction of autonomy and interculturalism, within the context of national unity, is what Johnny Hodgson said is allowing Nicaragua to “build the Caribbean Coast of our dreams.” Hodgson concluded by assuring us that heaven is pluricultural, and that anyone with an ethnocentric attitude is in for a big surprise….

That afternoon we visited three museums about the Afro-descendant and Indigenous history of the area, depicting the Miskito kings who ruled in the mid-1600s during the British Protectorate, the Moravian churches that founded schools starting in mid-1800’s, and Carib Garifunas who were expelled by the English from the island of Saint Vincent arriving in coastal Honduras and then, in 1898, in Orinoco, Nicaragua. The next day we travelled by motorboat to Rama Cay, where the Rama people, originally from the Chibcha area of Colombia, have preserved their language and traditions on the island and surrounding areas.

One morning at breakfast in our hotel dining room, I was surprised to recognize Orlando Pineda, famous since the 1980’s for his many years of work with the National Literacy Campaign, first in the central Caribbean area, then along the Rio San Juan (where illiteracy was brought from 96% down to 4%). He then directed the “Yo Si Puedo” literacy program for adults, created in Cuba, mobilizing this method for the Miskito and Mayangna people in the North Caribbean, and is now bringing computers to the Rama communities. His book is titled “La montaña me enseñó a ser maestro” (The jungle taught me to be a teacher). I congratulated him for his life-long dedication.

We made a longer hour-and-a-half trip by fast motorboat north past the town of Pearl Lagoon to Orinoco, founded in 1898 by John Sambola and his family, from Honduras. Finally, I saw the connection between the cassava flat bread (bami or hereba) I had seen made near Angel Falls, Venezuela, near the Orinoco River, and the same cassava flat bread in the Garifuna area of coastal Honduras, and in the museum in Bluefields. The Caribs evidently moved from the Orinoco area in South America to Saint Vincent Island, where they intermarried with afrodescendants. When their brave hero Joseph Chatoyer (the Sandino of the Garifuna people) was killed in 1795 by the English who coveted St. Vincent islands, the Garifunas were forcibly removed to Baliceaux (one of the Saint Vincent islands) where half of the population starved, and then to Roatan Island and the Honduran coast. Later John Sambola founded Orinoco in 1898, on the shore of Nicaragua’s Pearl Lagoon, where they have preserved their language and customs, including the name of their town, their flat bread, and the punta dance.

We stayed at the Garifuna Hostel owned by Kensy Sambola and her Finnish husband Mateo. Since 2007 under the Sandinista government, each ethnic group on the Caribbean coast has its own autonomous government of its territory, allowing the inhabitants to follow their ancestral customs and language on communal lands, with the central government making multiple improvements to eradicate poverty. In Orinoco, school classes are in Garifuna, Creole and Spanish. We visited the newly installed solar panels that provide electricity instead of part-time diesel generators. Walking over to Marshall Point, we visited another community with a Moravian Church and a factory that makes gifiti (rum with medicinal herbs).

Here the delegation meets with secondary school students in the town of Orinoco, in front of mural dedicated to Joseph Chatoyer, hero of the Garifuna people.

Upon return to Bluefields, we were given a tour of the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University (BICU) where classes are in Spanish, but professors and students also speak one or more other languages, an amazing multicultural experience. Students from each culture (Rama, Creole, Ulwa, Miskito, Mayangna, and Garifuna) talked to us about their studies and experience there, with Professor Rodney Sambola as master of ceremonies. I was especially impressed because the original languages on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua – Chorotega, Nahuatl, and Matagalpa among others – have basically disappeared. A Matagalpa IALA student travelling with us told students that he felt sad comparing the loss of his native culture and language, seeing how well the Caribbean languages and culture have been preserved.

Some of us stayed on to spend the last two days on Corn Island, a tropical paradise where I enjoyed Mari’s rondón (traditional seafood soup made with coconut milk). Everyone left reluctantly after absorbing Nicaraguan hospitality, solidarity, and peace, observing how Nicaragua has been fighting poverty by guaranteeing free education, free health care, road access, electricity, water and 50% women in government.  Please come see with your own eyes, and don’t believe the lies in the US media by people who try to destroy the advances of Nicaragua, “the threat of a good example.”

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By Nan McCurdy

Literacy Crusade Museum Opens its Doors
The Museum of the Great National Literacy Crusade (CNA) was inaugurated on August 23 at the Heroes of Nicaragua History Institute of the Casimiro Sotelo National University. In this site is housed the history of the CNA embodied in documents, books, images, paintings, medals and other resources that are symbols of this great deed. The Rector of the Casimiro Sotelo University, Alejandro Genet Cruz, said that the reopening of the Museum and the reinstallation of the Institute of History make it a historic day for Nicaragua and for this University, since they are spaces that rescue the true history of the country, the struggle of the heroes and martyrs, their legacy and their dreams. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 23 August 2023)

Over 130,000 Homes Built Since 2007
From 2007 to date, the Sandinista government has built more than 130,000 homes, reported the co-director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Housing (INVUR), Gabriela Palacios. The official indicated that this year they plan to build more than 7,400 houses. Currently 3,000 houses have been completed, 2,600 are under construction and more than 1,900 houses are about to be started. (Radio La Primerisima, 23 August 2023)

Improving Fight Against Pediatric Cancer
The Ministry of Health inaugurated the project to rehabilitate and expand the hematology oncology unit at the La Mascota Children’s Hospital, benefitting pediatric cancer patients. The US$1.15 million-dollar project was financed through the General Budget with support from the Central America Medical Aid Association. (Nicaragua News, 23 August 2023)

South Caribbean Women Attended at Mega Health Fair
Specialized attention was received by 4,625 women during the mega health fair held August 26 at the Jacinto Hernández Primary Hospital in Nueva Guinea, South Caribbean. The patients had consultations with specialists according to their condition. They came from 350 communities and 76 neighborhoods of Muelle de los Bueyes, El Rama, El Coral and Nueva Guinea. The specialized care provided included 10,254 ultrasounds, 748 Pap smears and readings, 479 laboratory studies, 360 procedures for the diagnosis of pre-malignant lesions of the cervix and 26 surgeries. A meeting was also held with members of the Community Health Network to identify aspects to be strengthened in the implementation of the Family and Community Health Model. (Radio La Primerisima, 27 August 2023)

Aquatic Ambulance Serving North Caribbean Communities
The Ministry of Health delivered an aquatic ambulance to serve the families of the Indigenous communities of the Tawira and Prinzu Auhya Un Territories. The ambulance will provide better care for people who need to be transported from their community to the Bilwi Hospital in the event of an emergency situation. (Radio La Primerisima, 30 August 2023)

Strengthening Technical Capabilities
The National Technological Institute (INATEC) presented a report on the results of the 2023 Professional Training Plan. The report states that, between January and August, 24,484 students were trained in 167 trade courses, 11 technological courses, 17 tourist services programs and 58 empirical work certifications. Of the students trained this year, 74% are women and 26% are men. (Nicaragua News, 25 August 2023)

New Market for Nicaraguan Grass-Fed Beef
The Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Protection and Health Safety (IPSA) and the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China (GACC) signed the Inspection, Quarantine and Veterinary Sanitary Requirements Protocol for export of Nicaragua beef to China last Friday. IPSA Executive Director Ricardo Somarriba stated that “the signing of this important agreement will allow the beef sector to begin the necessary certification processes to export to China, and allows us to further diversify the markets for our meat, a high-quality product of worldwide recognition.” The signing of the protocol is part of the “Early Harvest Agreement” signed between Nicaragua and China in January 2022. (Nicaragua News, 28 August 2023)

CABEI Begins Indigenous Consultation on Bio-CLIMA Project
The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) and the Nicaraguan government are implementing a plan for consultation with the people from 23 Indigenous, Afro-descendant and ethnic territories on the Caribbean Coast. The consultation is linked to the Bio-CLIMA Project which is an action plan to reduce deforestation and strengthen climate resilience in the Bosawás and Río San Juan Biosphere Reserves. Free, prior, and informed consent is the most important instrument for guaranteeing respect for and protection of the rights of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast. The consultation plan is being carried out in coordination with the regional, territorial, and community governments in the project’s area of influence and is expected to involve more than 6,476 people living in 338 communities in the South Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCS), North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN), and the Alto Wangki and Bocay Special Regime Zone. The objective is to promote dialogue to ensure the participation of Indigenous groups and stakeholders in decision-making in order to protect their ethnic and cultural integrity. CABEI reaffirmed its commitment to the care, preservation and sustainability of the environment in the region and guarantees compliance with its Environmental and Social Policy and its Environmental and Social Strategy 2020-2024. (Radio La Primerisima, 28 August 2023)

New Acquisition of World Bank Shares Approved
The National Assembly approved a decree that authorizes the acquisition of 266 additional shares in the International Development Association (IAD) of the World Bank. Deputy Walmaro Gutiérrez, President of the National Assembly Committee on Economy and Budget, said that “The C$233,515 Córdoba investment to purchase the shares strengthens Nicaragua’s position as a full member of the Bank, guarantees the channeling of resources for social programs that benefit the population, and demonstrates that Nicaragua is a reliable partner that complies with international commitments acquired.” Between 2007 and 2023, the government and the World Bank have carried out 33 projects amounting to US$847 million for economic development, citizen security, education, healthcare, as well as response to natural disasters and healthcare emergencies. (Nicaragua News, 23 August 2023)

Nicaragua: BRICS Can Change Unjust Economic Model
The government of Nicaragua released a statement on August 24 that reiterated its recognition of the BRICS bloc of countries (Brazil, Russia, Iran, China, and South Africa) as “a powerful initiative and reality that will strengthen the multipolar world we need so much, and one that will change the unjust, colonialist and imperialist economic model.” The statement points out that the current model continues to seek to dominate the peoples of the world and subject countries to its hegemony. The statement denounces “the perversion of the so-called sanctions that are aggressions against the freedom and human rights of those who do not submit docilly to them.” The statement continues, “Nicaragua greets with joy the invitation made by the founding presidents of BRICS to their counterparts from Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Arab Emirates, Iran and Ethiopia to join this powerful group of emerging economies on behalf of their peoples and governments.” (Radio La Primerisima, 24 August 2023)

Jesuit Community Did Not Provide Financial Statements
Nicaragua’s government canceled the legal status of the Jesuit religious community in the country, and ordered all of its assets nationalized, the country’s Interior Ministry announced on August 23. The religious group failed to present required financial statements over the last three years and had not updated its board of directors in violation of transparency laws, according to the Ministry’s announcement in the government’s official Gazette. (Reuters, 23 August 2023)

Phytosanitary Alert Due to Giant Snail
The Nicaragua Institute of Agricultural Protection and Health Safety (IPSA), declared a Phytosanitary Alert due to the detection of the giant African snail (Achatina Fulica), an actionable pest in process of eradication in keeping with the International Standard for Phytosanitary Measures. The Resolution stated that “As of today, the initial point of detection in the municipality of Ticuantepe, Managua, is declared under quarantine, forming a phytosanitary containment ring.” IPSA General Director Ricardo Somarriba stated that “since last weekend, the species that was brought into the country illegally has been identified and eliminated, however monitoring continues to ensure it has not dispersed to nearby areas.” (Nicaragua News, 29 August 2023)

Free Quality Education at New University
The rector of the Casimiro Sotelo National University, Professor Alejandro Genet, said that the new university “represents a drastic change and an opportunity for thousands of students with scarce resources to attend this new university that can substantially contribute to the formation of quality professionals in our country.” He went on to say, “We have the support of the state to meet the expenses; this allowes us to convert a very profitable institution into an institution of public service. (Informe Pastran, 24 August 2023)