NicaNotes: Nicaragua’s Indigenous Peoples: Neocolonial ties, autonomous reality

Conversations with Indigenous leaders, and people at the grass roots in Nicaragua’s Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region March 2021


By Stephen Sefton

[The interviews in their entirety can be read at: ]

Between November 11 and 16, 2020, between the passing of Hurricane Eta and the arrival of Hurricane Iota, the Tortilla con Sal media collective visited Nicaragua’s Autonomous Region of the Northern Caribbean Coast. There we interviewed representatives of different Indigenous and Afro-descendant territorial governments in Siuna, Bilwi, Waspam and community members of the Miskito communities of Wisconsin and Santa Clara. We also spoke with cattle farmers, residents and officials from the municipalities of Siuna and Prinzapolka about various aspects of the area’s social and economic development. The interviews confirm the success of Nicaragua’s Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples in their historic struggle to reclaim their ancestral rights.

The conversations also confirm that the Indigenous peoples of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast have achieved progressive restitution of their rights in large part due to the commitment to the reincorporation of the Caribbean Coast by the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) ever since their historic program of 1969. While in government in 1987, the FSLN passed Law 28 “Statute of Autonomy of the Regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua”. Later, while in opposition, the FSLN in 2005 managed to secure the passage of Law 445 “Law of Communal Property Regime of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua and of the Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz Rivers”.

To date on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast, 23 original peoples’ territories have been titled and delimited, covering 314 communities with a territorial extension of 37,859.32 km² in which lives a population of more than 200,000 people in more than 35,000 families. The area is equivalent to 31% of the national territory and more than 55% of the territory of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast. A significant body of laws, administrative norms and declarations attest to the reality of an innovative and ambitious process vindicating the rights of Nicaragua’s Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples.

The interviews collected here also explain how these legislative and administrative advances were achieved in various extremely adverse contexts. For example, in 1987 Nicaragua was in the seventh year of a war imposed by the U.S. government in which much of Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast was the scene of constant military conflict.

Then, after 1990, during the period of the neo-liberal governments, the process of defending and promoting the rights of Nicaragua’s native peoples was in effect deliberately undermined. So, when Daniel Ortega and the FSLN took office in January 2007, they inherited a process seriously sabotaged and damaged by the neoliberal policies of the previous sixteen years.

The interviews collected here demonstrate, too, the great scope of the process of restauration of the rights of Nicaragua’s original peoples since 2007, in all its social, political, economic and cultural complexity. For example, they clarify that the leaders of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant Territories are people elected by their communities not on the basis of political allegiances but on the basis of community criteria.

Their Territorial Governments and their Community Governments are two of the five levels of government working together in the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. The two levels of government of the Indigenous peoples collaborate intimately with the relevant instances of the National Government, with the Regional Governments and with the respective municipal authorities.

This system of government has enabled important changes on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast, for example, in terms of electrification and the development of health and water infrastructure and land communications with the Pacific Coast and also in terms of judicial practice, education and health care.

On the Northern Caribbean Coast, the new road to Bilwi, which includes the construction of a 240-meter long bridge over the Wawa River, will shorten the overland travel time to Managua from 24 to 12 hours. In 2021, the entire northern Caribbean coast will be connected to the national electric power system.

A new regional hospital and a new drinking water system are being built in Bilwi. Economic democratization promoted by the central government has promoted new commercial possibilities for the region’s agricultural, fishing and other producers.

In this context of infrastructure modernization and important social and economic advances, the political opposition desperately uses downright falsehoods exploiting the issue of property conflicts in order to attack the Sandinista government led by President Daniel Ortega.

The big lie promoted by the political opposition in relation to the phenomenon of property conflicts in the territories and communities of the native peoples is that the Sandinista government promotes the invasion by Mestizo families of Indigenous and Afro-descendant lands.

These interviews with Indigenous and Afro-descendant leaders completely disprove this gross lie. Instead, they explain the historical context in which Indigenous leaders associated with the Miskito Yatama political party have sold lands that were allocated to them under the government of Violeta Chamorro.

Subsequently, during the period in which Yatama and the ruling government Liberal party controlled the regional government and most of the region’s municipal authorities, various corrupt Indigenous leaders continued with the illegal sale of Indigenous lands to Mestizo families. The natural consequence of this process has been that the Mestizo families who bought those lands, in turn sold them on to other Mestizo families, thus making the problem progressively more complicated and difficult to solve.

The problem of property conflicts only became international news from 2012 onward because in that year the FSLN displaced Yatama in the municipal elections as the region’s main political force and then in 2014 managed to gain control of the regional government.

The following table indicates the development of the change of political control in the Northern Caribbean of Nicaragua at the municipal level through the results of municipal elections from 2008 to 2017.

In 2009 Yatama and the Constitutional Liberal Party controlled seven of the eight municipalities in the Northern Caribbean Region. In the 2012 municipal elections Yatama and the Independent Liberal Party won four municipalities between them and the FSLN also four. Then in 2014 Yatama lost the regional elections to the FSLN and in the 2017 municipal elections the FSLN won seven municipalities, leaving only the municipality of Mulukukú in the hands of the PLC. Yatama and the PLC still won a good number of municipal councilors, but without overall control of any municipality.

In response to this decline in the power and influence of Yatama and the Liberal parties in the region, an intense smear campaign has been mounted against the Sandinista government. The campaign is promoted by Yatama and its allies in Nicaragua’s non-governmental organizations associated with the national political opposition, such as the Movimiento Renovador Sandinista, financed from the United States and countries of the European Union.

Similarly, Yatama lost influence at the territorial government level partly because of the deep internal differences within the party and partly because many community members stopped giving the same level of support they had previously given to Yatama’s historic leader Brooklyn Rivera and the Indigenous leaders associated with him.

This reality of the unfolding political scene in the Caribbean Coast region of Nicaragua has been systematically suppressed, both by national opposition aligned media and intellectuals and, internationally, by foreign academics and intellectuals allied with Yatama and the MRS. However, the testimony of the Indigenous leaders in these interviews convincingly demonstrates the reality, completely disproving the lies that have been spread internationally.

In relation to the issue of bad faith on the part of non-governmental human rights organizations, it may well be worth noting the personal testimony from our visit to interview community members of the Miskito communities of Wisconsin and Santa Clara in the Tasba Raya area, southwest of Waspam. Since 2013, this area has been the scene of some of the most violent incidents of conflict between the Indigenous peoples and Mestizo settlers.

We arrived in Wisconsin around four o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday, November 14th, 2020. Despite the heavy rains from Hurricane Eta, the road had not deteriorated so badly as to prevent our journey. We went to Wisconsin and Santa Clara because we wanted to talk to people there about their version of local history and events in their community since 2012.

However, the people we were seeking in Wisconsin told us they did not want to be interviewed because they were being watched by community members collaborating with the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN) led by Lottie Cunningham Wren. One of the people we wanted to talk to told us, in the presence of three witnesses, that they were especially afraid to be interviewed because shortly before our visit, at a community assembly with CEJUDHCAN, Lottie Cunningham Wren had incited hatred against this person, saying that they deserved “to have their throat cut”.

Wisconsin is an impoverished community. However, the people observing our visit had the latest smart phones with which they filmed us. When we asked how it was possible for these very poor people to have such expensive cell phones, we were told that the phones were given out by Lottie Cunningham Wren and her colleagues to CEJUDHCAN collaborators in the community. In any case, we agreed with the community members at that time to record some brief interviews on the subject of local property conflicts and their possible resolution, which we did in a superficially friendly but somewhat tense atmosphere.

Indeed, without the presence of the territorial authorities who accompanied us, we believe it would not have been possible to record interviews in this community. Subsequently, after recording the interviews in Wisconsin, we went to the community of Santa Clara.

There, the community members spoke freely, without fear. They explained what had happened to them in previous years. They spoke of their anxieties and fears regarding the Mestizos and explained their hopes of being able to resolve the problem of property conflicts according to the law.

In both communities, Wisconsin and Santa Clara, the community members insisted that they wanted to avoid the kind of violent incidents of the past and called on the regional and central government authorities to provide the necessary support to expedite the last phase of the titling of their lands, which is called remediation [saneamiento]. This term is interpreted in different ways, but the Wisconsin and Santa Clara community members believe that this phase requires clearing a direct lane between the already established trig points [surveyor markers] in order to clearly define the limits of each territory on the ground.

Taken together, this series of interviews provides an extensive overview of the reality of the Northern Caribbean Coast region based on the concrete experiences of five of the region’s territorial leaders as well as local community members. An undeniable part of that experience has been the incitement to violence by political forces and allied organizations in opposition to the government.

The interviews make clear the mercenary role of foreign funded neocolonial clients like Lottie Cunningham Wren and CEJUDHCAN in that regard. But they also make clear how Liberal party activists and municipal officials have historically promoted the illegal invasion of Indigenous lands.

They also highlight the political aspect of organized crime activities in the region, for example the massacre of three police officers in June 2018 near Mulukukú. That massacre occurred in the context of a long-running campaign of systematic harassment in the Mining Triangle of Siuna, Rosita and Bonanza in which dozens of Sandinista militants have been killed in recent years.

It has been a campaign of violence promoted by people associated with the region’s Liberal parties very similar to what has happened in the South Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua. There, the activities of the socalled Anti-Canal Movement have been used to cover up organized crime activities aimed at displacing Sandinista families from the area on the municipal border between Nueva Guinea and Bluefields.

The interview series “Nicaragua 2018 – Uncensoring the Truth” extensively details the criminal activities promoted at the time by Anti Canal Movement leaders Francisca Ramirez and Medardo Mairena. Similarly, the interviews compiled here on the reality of Nicaragua’s Northern Caribbean Coast region reveal how opportunist local NGOs such as CEJUDHCAN distort the truth under the guise of promoting the rights of Indigenous peoples.

These interviews demonstrate once again that international human rights organizations by no means rigorously and seriously corroborate the denunciations they receive. On the contrary, they act in a morally obtuse, methodologically incompetent and politically biased way, in effect promoting the sinister anti-democratic and anti-humanitarian political agenda of the U.S. government and its allies.

In doing so, they harm and betray the human rights of the very populations they falsely claim they want to defend. Their bad faith has been demonstrated on multiple occasions in the case of Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela as well as other countries defending their autonomy and sovereignty against the North American and European imperialist powers.

When former UN Human Rights Rapporteur Alfredo de Zayas said in relation to Venezuela “I realized that the media narrative does not correspond to reality” he could just as well have been talking about Nicaragua. Taken together, the interviews compiled here offer yet more confirmation of the moral bankruptcy of the Western human rights industry and the international media that disseminate their reports with no serious effort to corroborate them, while suppressing other information, such as interviews like these, which contradict them.



By Nan McCurdy

Millions of Dollars to Finance Destabilization during Election Year
U.S. imperialism continues with its foreign war policy financing activities to try to destabilize Nicaragua. On March 12 Radio La Primerísima’s news analysis program “Revista Sin Fronteras” offered details of 22 projects that are financed by the US Government through the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

For these projects (posted on the NED website on February 23 of this year) US$1.57 million will be disbursed in five areas. US$335,000 will go to five projects aimed at young people; US$480,000 for eight propaganda projects distributed among the so-called “independent” journalists in charge of slander and falsehoods. US$363,000 for six “human rights” projects, US$248,000 aimed at women entrepreneurs linked to the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP). There is also US$65,000 for articles and reports to attempt to create a narrative in favor of reforms to the police, called “Reforms to the Nicaraguan Police System.” Youth, propaganda and human rights are the main areas funded to attempt destabilization. The NED no longer lists the names of the recipient organizations on the web site.

The NED was founded in 1983 at the initiative by the US Congress to finance projects that favor US interests in the world, under the mask of support for democracy. It was created to contribute to the so-called anti-communist struggle during the Cold War. Until then, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) carried out this type of financing. However, since the 1960s the CIA was involved in scandals that led Congress to limit its activities. Following congressional approval, the National Endowment for Democracy was created in November 1983 with initial annual funding of US$31.3 million.

During the 1980s, the NED carried out programs in Nicaragua complementary to U.S. support operations for the Contras. The NED financed, articulated and made decisions on the participation of the civilian arm of the Contras, for example, in the 1984 elections when they withdrew their chosen candidate Arturo Cruz Porras, who had been a member of the 1979 Revolutionary Government Junta along with Violeta Barrios [de Chamorro], Alfonso Robelo, Daniel Ortega and others. The US had Cruz drop out of that election as part of a strategy to say the elections would not be democratic.

The NED provided the funds to give a civilian face to the counterrevolution and created a body that included politicians such as Adolfo Calero and Alfredo Cesar. The NED also financed the National Opposition Union [a coalition of parties and people handpicked by the US to run together in the 1990 elections] in 1989 when it managed to group together several acronyms, incorporated COSEP, and decided that the candidate would be Violeta Barrios de Chamorro.

Currently, in this new stage of the Revolution, this US instrument seeks to destabilize the Sandinista government by financing extreme right-wing politicians.

The distribution of NED funds is mainly carried out through four US organizations:

► Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) created by the US Chamber of Commerce.

► The Free Trade Union Institute (FTUI) created by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

► The National Democratic Institute (NDI) associated with the Democratic Party.

► International Republican Institute (IRI) associated with the Republican Party.

Considering the new law that requires foreign agents to register with the government and show how money they receive from a foreign government will be used – how does NED get this money into the hands of the heads of media and NGO’s?

Sin Fronteras describes various ways: First – cash is sent in the diplomatic pouch to the US embassy in Managua and then hand dispersed to the foreign agents, many of whom are announced candidates for the presidency or the National Assembly. Another way is through the Fundación Arias in Costa Rica and Hagamos Democracia [now also with activity in Costa Rica]. Both triangulate or launder money destined to candidates, journalists and NGO’s. These funds are for the first quarter of 2021. (Radio La Primerisima, Sin Fronteras, 12 March 2021)

UNICEF Praises Hurricane Response
Jean Gough, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean for UNICEF, toured the North Caribbean Region of Nicaragua last week and noted the repairs that the government has been making to damaged infrastructure such as schools, housing, and potable water installations. She said, “The government and associated agencies have made tangible advances in responding to immediate needs and in rebuilding infrastructure.” Gough visited communities along the Coco River in the Municipalities of Waspam and Wawa Bar and also Karatá in the Municipality of Puerto Cabezas where 260 schools lost their roofs that were now being repaired, 300 wells and water tanks were being cleaned or installed, 476 community and school latrines were repaired or rebuilt. “I saw schools without roofs being repaired and contaminated wells being cleaned. Reconstruction efforts are clearly going forward,” Gough said. (Informe Pastran, 12 March 2021)

Nicaragua Number One in Women’s Political Participation
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, released a list of countries with the best gender balance in political participation, highlighting that Nicaragua ranks first worldwide in women heading government ministries and fourth in parliamentary positions. The UN Women and the Inter-Parliamentary Union “2021 Women in Politics” map shows that 58.8% of all Ministries in the Nicaragua Government are headed by women and 48.8% of all members of the National Assembly are female. (Nicaragua News, 11 March 2021)

First In-Womb Fetal Operation
On March 9 Nicaraguan doctors performed the first fetal surgery in the mother’s womb at the Bertha Calderón Hospital for women in Managua, the first operation of this type to be performed in Central America. The novelty of the surgery is that the spina bifida problem was corrected while the baby was in the mother’s womb at six and a half months of pregnancy. The surgery was directed by Dr. Néstor Pavón, the first fetal surgeon in the country, and Dr. Carolina Cantarero, pediatric neurosurgeon, together with anesthesiologists, technicians, and others. The family of Claudia Sandoval, 31 years old, mother of the baby, gave thanks for the operation that guarantees the healthy development of the baby. (Radio La Primerisima, 10 March 2021)

By March 24, 200,000 to Be Vaccinated
The Ministry of Health continues to apply the Sputnik V vaccine in three hospitals to immunize patients, said the Secretary General of MINSA, Dr. Carlos Saenz. Saenz said that they will finish the application of the 200,000 doses donated by the Russian Federation on March 24 and will continue with the 150,000 doses donated by India; then they will use the 135,000 vaccines delivered by the World Health Organization through the Covax Mechanism on March 16. (Radio La Primerisima, 10 March 2021)

More Highways on Caribbean Coast
The Nicaragua Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced that the first phase of the La Esperanza–Wapí-El Tortuguero highway will be inaugurated this week. The US$11.6 million project is benefitting 18,318 inhabitants in three municipalities with greater highway connectivity and reduced agricultural production costs. Financing for the project came from the General Budget. (Nicaragua News, 16 March 2021)

Guardians Can Check on Child Support
The website of the Ministry of Family, Adolescence and Childhood (MIFAN), has a new online service for consultation of child support balance. With this service, guardians will be able to know if their child support is available to withdraw the money at any bank branch or ATM. The MIFAN Minister, Johana Flores said that the modality is “to restore the rights of children and provide families with more services.” (Radio La Primerisima, 10 March 2021)

Moving Toward Self-Sufficiency in Rice
The System of Production, Consumption and Commerce reported on March 11 that the 2020-2021 rice harvest is at 88.4%, producing 5.3 million quintals, a 2% growth over the 2019-2020 agricultural cycle. (Nicaragua News, 16 March 2021)

Policeman Awarded Medal of Valor
President Daniel Ortega awarded the Medal of Valor and a promotion to a higher rank to police officer Wilfredo Cerda, who rescued a girl and a teenager when they were swept away by a current of water in a causeway on a day of an unusual rainfall. The incident occurred near the Iván Montenegro market of Managua. On the afternoon of March 10, Officer Cerda was moving through the area and when he saw that the children were being carried away by the currents, he jumped into the water to save them. The officer is part of the Department of investigation of the Traffic Department at the Ajax Delgado complex. Vice President Murillo said that the officer demonstrated the spirit of service to the community that symbolizes the police. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 11 March 2021)

Amazing Local Judicial Facilitator
Rafael Téllez Sequeira is 32 years old and was born without his upper limbs, but with an exceptional willingness to serve, for which he was recently elected by the inhabitants of “El Maniadero”, a district of the municipality of Tecolostote, in the department of Boaco as their judicial facilitator. “I was born by God’s will without my two arms, but that has not stopped me because I know how to read, write and make a living with my work, fishing.  I am very proud to have been chosen as your judicial facilitator, a task that I will perform with care and dedication,” said the new auxiliary of justice appointed in a community assembly and sworn in by Dr. Bemildo Guevara, Local Judge of San Lorenzo. “Life is not always easy, here the rice producers do not give me work because of my physical condition, but that has not prevented me from living from fishing. I do not have economic resources and I live from day to day, but I am happy and live in peace,” said Tellez. Téllez reflected that to be a judicial facilitator, “what is needed is willingness, disposition, desire to serve others and a desire to learn something new that will help personal growth.” Téllez said that he will work hard to learn about the Judicial Facilitators Service and perform mediations and counseling when people come to ask for his help. (Radio La Primerisima, 11 March 2021)

March 16 Weekly Covid-19 Report
During the week of March 9 to 15 there were 35 new registered cases of Covid-19; 37 registered people recuperated, and there was one death. Since March 2020 Nicaragua has had 5,251 registered cases, 5,030 people recuperated and 176 deaths. (Radio La Primerisima, 16 March 2021)