Nicaragua: Impunity the Norm for Crimes against Indigenous

Nicaragua’s Mayangna people, during a meeting with a government inter-agency commission in January 2023, where they demanded the restoration of security in their territories. Courtesy photo

The regime has detained 26 land invaders this year. However, there’s no information whether any of them have been tried and sentenced.

By Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – Between January and July of 2023, the Ortega-Murillo regime arrested 26 illegal land colonists who had invaded indigenous territories of Nicaragua’s Autonomous North Caribbean Region. However, authorities have issued no word regarding how many of these land-grabbers have been tried, and how many released. Meanwhile, the crimes committed in the country’s indigenous lands continue to go unpunished.

The first group of 24 settlers (22 men and two women) was detained by residents of the Musawas indigenous community, whose lands lie in the center of the Bosawas Biological Reserve, in the North Caribbean region of Nicaragua. The community members handed these illegal settlers over to the national authorities on January 26. 2023. That same day, the Police reported that the accused invaders had been transferred to the Jorge Navarro prison, known as “La Modelo”.

“They said they were going to investigate them, but after that nothing’s been said – there’s no public information. Things happen here, then are left in the air. The Police don’t inform or update us on what happened to those 24 people who were detained red-handed invading land and threatening the indigenous peoples,” explained a lawyer specializing in the human rights of indigenous peoples.

A press release from the Attorney General’s Office indicated that a special hearing on constitutional guarantees was held on January 27. During the hearing, the judge established a 90-day investigation period. Therefore, this group of settlers should have been processed or released at the end of April 2023.

“Influential contacts work to free them”

Although the settlers arrested were never identified by name, the end of the 90-day investigation period coincided with some indigenous leaders’ denunciations of two political leaders who were “using their influence” to free colonists.” The indigenous people accused Ellida Galeano Cornejo, the Sandinista deputy to the Central American Parliament, and Brenda Taylor Frank, the general coordinator of the Indigenous Mayangna Sauna As Territorial Government, of spearheading these efforts.

In a letter shared by environmental activist Amaru Ruiz in the first days of May, it appears that the Sandinista deputy asked Oscar Aleman, Police Chief in the town of Bonanza, which has jurisdiction over the Mayangna territory, to free Jose Reyes Martinez, who was supposedly a member of the “Israel Galeano” Nicaraguan Resistance Association and of the Resistance Alliance Political Movement, which is linked to the FSLN. However, Jose Reyes Martinez has also been identified as one of the invaders of the indigenous lands.

The group known as Sauni As Forest Wardens denounced on their Facebook page that Taylor Frank and Valeriano Antolin of the Territorial Council, who both wield influence among the Sandinistas, negotiated the liberation of land squatter Juan Mejia, who was detained by the Bonanza Police for illegal usurpation of a property and for threatening the community leaders through his lawyer.

A community member from Alal, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid reprisals, stated that the national authorities “aren’t communicating anything” about the case of the detained colonists. He warned that despite the detention of this group, “they continue killing indigenous people” in the Bosawas territory.

Indigenous people accuse up to 120 settlers of attacks

A second group of detained colonists was presented by the Ortega regime authorities on July 22, 2023. These have been linked to a criminal band known as “Chabelo,” which the community members accuse of usurping their ancestral lands, burning down entire communities, raping women, and being responsible for the murder of some twenty indigenous people in the past three years.

Members of the “Chabelo” band being presented by the Police on July 22, 2023.

The two arrested members from this band are Rafael Mendoza, known as “Chabelo” and Darling Antonio Davia, alias “Barrel.” They were allegedly transferred to the Nicaraguan prison popularly known as “La Modelo.

Like the others, “it’s not known if [the two accused men] are being tried,” warned the specialist in indigenous peoples’ human rights. Further, the government authorities “say they’ve detained two people, while community residents speak of criminal bands of 60, 80, or even 120 armed men,” he commented.

According to the Police, Mendoza and Davila are responsible for a number of murders in the indigenous communities, among them a massacre that occurred on August 21, 2021 in Kiwakumbaih, which left 13 dead and two women raped. Another massacre took place in the Alal community in January 2020, in which six indigenous people died and 15 homes were burned to the ground.

They were also accused of killing five people in the Mayangna community of Wilu, in the zone of Bonanza, where they set fire to three homes and the Moravian Church; and of being the authors of seven murders committed between July 2020 and April 2022.

The expert lawyer warned that the fact that these people have been arrested and presented by the Police doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be tried, found guilty and sentenced for the crimes they’re alleged to have committed.

He recalled: “after the Alal massacre, there was a land squatter with the last name of Acosta [Lester Isaias Orozco Acosta] that the Police said was from the Chabelo band. They captured him with heavy arms, with marihuana, with who knows what else, and later they let him go.”

Situation of the four imprisoned tribal members

The human rights lawyer notes: “the authorities are inconsistent,” since “the people have always said it’s the Chabelo band that’s caused all that harm.” Nonetheless, they’ve given life sentences to four imprisoned members of the Mayangna indigenous group – Arguello Celso, Ignacio Celso, Donald Andres Bruno, and Dionisio Robin Sacarias – for supposedly committing the massacre in the Kiwakumbaih mine.

The Inter-American Commission for Human Rights have granted precautionary measures to the four Mayangna tribal members sentenced to life in prison, and the Inter-American Human Rights Court has awarded them provisional measures. In June 2023, the Court also demanded that the Nicaraguan government “proceed to immediately release them and adopt the necessary measures to effectively protect their lives,  physical integrity, health and freedom.”

“The only ones we really know are locked up in the La Modelo prison are the four Mayangna. Nothing is known about the others,” the attorney comments. “Such lack of information on the part of the government is dangerous and illegal,” he underlined.   

Read more from Nicaragua here on Havana Times