“The only one giving orders here is Daniel Ortega,” they repeated. Arbitrary detention and harassment is a daily reality for the Rama Kriol Territorial Government.
By Cindey Regidor (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Four hundred fires have taken place within the Indio Maiz Reserve in the last six months. Nothing has changed since the April 12, 2018 demonstrations. At that time, hundreds protested the government’s delayed response to a huge blaze devouring the protected rain forest. Two years later, however, the Ortega-Murillo regime continues to mistreat and harass the reserve’s indigenous residents. This has provoked new denunciations.
“A tiny few.” That’s how a Nicaraguan Army official scornfully characterized the members of the Rama Kriol Territorial Government (GTR-K). The indigenous representatives were detained on September 27, while conducting a tour to evaluate the state of the rain forest. They were then held for several hours in Nueva Quezada, a community in the municipality of El Castillo. The events took placein the department of Rio San Juan, in the far southeast of Nicaragua.
“Those of you going around in this business of the defense [of the reserve], we already know who you are. You’re just a few.” That’s what the military officials told them. Despite knowing who they were, the officials detained them, searched them and treated them like criminals.
GTR-K tour to defend the reserve and their lands
Becky McCray is the first woman from the indigenous Rama tribe to become a lawyer. She’s now the legal advisor for the GTR-K. McCray revealed to Confidencial the details of the harassment that the indigenous leaders and Afro-descendants suffered. The incident culminated in the arbitrary and illegal detention of the Territorial Government’s president, Teodoro McCrea Williams. Teodoro McCrea was then transferred to the police station at Boca de Sabalos. To the attorney, the occurrence sets a serious precedent.
The soldiers ignored and delegitimized the authority of the GTR-K, under the eyes of the zone’s population. Residents who saw the group being detained even thought they were a criminal band. “They were saying: ‘it’s great that they got the delinquents, the criminals, the land traffickers.’ We were humiliated before the population. An abuse of power has taken place,” declared Attorney McCray.
The Territorial Government are the only ones protecting Indio Maiz. Not only do they lack support from the army and the police, but the latter also ignore their authority. Further, they put obstacles in the way of their work, the lawyer denounced.
It was useless explaining to the Army
“I’m not here to listen to stupidities. Here, the Territorial Government doesn’t exist. In Nicaragua, the only government that exists, the only one giving orders, is Comandante Daniel Ortega. There is no other government.” That’s what an official at the Boca de Sabalos Police station told GTR-K president Teodoro McCrea. The indigenous authority received this response when he tried to explain who he was and why his detention was unjust.
The GTR-K lawyer explained that they were in the reserve carrying out their action plan for rainforest conservation. They were also defending their territory, for which they received land titles in December 2009. “Among our activities, we programmed tours of the reserve, especially of the central nucleus. We need to collect information on the invasion of the land by colonists within the Indio Maiz reserve. These are advancing towards our deeded ancestral territory.
The tour began on September 20. They managed to identify how many families are squatting within the zone, and what documents or authorization they have. These colonists have taken possession of communal lands and are carrying out activities in agriculture and cattle raising. The Territorial Government had previously informed authorities in the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources (Marena) of their plan. Regional authorities, including the FSLN political secretary and the local mayors’ offices, were also aware of the tour.
The Army’s version was completely different
The incident with the army occurred at the moment the team was exiting the reserve. The army officials took photos of them, blocked them from continuing their trip, and searched their belongings. They took away a map and a GPS device. Meanwhile, they treated the GTR-K authorities as criminal suspects. While this was happening, land colonists were entering and leaving the reserve with cattle, agricultural inputs and related equipment. All this took place within view of the impassive uniformed officials, McCray observed.
The attorney notes that the public delegitimization of the GTR-K created a bad precedent. The colonists will now discredit any demands of the GTR-K regarding the lands. “We feel extremely offended, because we had even spoken with over 150 colonist families within the reserve. These families were told that human settlements aren’t allowed within the reserve, given its category as a reserve. We also explained that they were communal lands under our administration, with legal titles from the Nicaraguan State.”
“The Army officials were not listening; we had to explain to them like a thousand times who we were. Telling them we were acting within the law, that it was our territory didn’t register. We explained this from a legal basis, with legal arguments. It was useless. These may seem very small matters, but to us they’re examples of discrimination. (..) There’s no respect for what’s in the Constitution. The government lies when they say they’ve restored the human right of the indigenous peoples and the Afro-descendent communities. If the state institutions themselves don’t respect us, it’s for a reason. They issue instructions to not recognize the territorial and communal governments,” McCray said.
The Nicaraguan Army offered a different version of the events in a press release. This stated that the group of indigenous leaders refused to present their identity cards, casting doubt on their identity.” The statement doesn’t speak of McCrea’s detention, but portrays it as a voluntary “transfer”.
Attorney McCray demands that the Army issue a clarification and a public apology She feels their actions created a bad image of the GTR-K in the zone.
The state of the Indio Maiz Reserve
Following their seven days touring Indio-Maiz, the GTR-K is now preparing a report on the state of the reserve.
McCray previewed some of their findings. The land colonists’ invasion, and the destruction of the rainforest is much greater than previously reported. “The northern and southern zones are now completely invaded. There are colonists that have cut paths to, or are working, plots measuring over fifty manzanas (123.55 acres). These are all within the reserve’s nucleus,” she detailed.
Some of these colonists were evicted from the Reserve in 2003. At that time, they received promises of relocation outside the zone, but that never occurred. Hence, they returned and resettled in the same zone they’d been expelled from. Some of them resettled in 2013, and others in 2017. Some even took over part of the Rama Kriol territory. Many declare that they have the support of Sandinista Mayor Rigoberto Obando from the nearby municipality of El Castillo.
What is the GTR-K
The traditional communal governments existed before the Autonomous Region officially became part of the Nicaraguan State. Communal Assemblies in each community, the tribe’s highest authority, chooses the communal governments.
McCray explained that the territorial governments were born with the passage of Law 445 in 2003. This is the “Law for the Regime of Communal Properties for the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Autonomous Regions of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast. Also, of the Rivers Bocay, Coco, Indio Maiz.” “This law establishes that if the communities wish to form a territorial bloc, they can do so. In our case, the six communities of the Rama people joined with the three of the Afro-descendent Kriol people. They decided to claim a single territorial bloc and have it titled the same way.”
How they elect their authorities
The GTR-K is comprised of 18 members, two members from each of the nine communities in the Rama-Kriol Territory. They have their own structure, with different technical areas of work. For example, there’s community justice, ecotourism and the economy, culture and sports, sanitation of communal lands.
This governing structure represents some 2,500 Rama citizens and 300 Kriols. The nine communities delegate the responsibility for naming their government authorities to 63 members. These then participate in a Territorial Assembly. There was a change in this government in June 2019, and Teodoro Jaime McCrea Williams was elected president. The other territorial government representatives detained on September 27 had also been elected at that 2019 Territorial Assembly.
The treatment the Army gave those representatives of the Rama-Krio Territorial Government was an affront to the entire population. “It was an outrage, a violation of our human rights. It demonstrated discrimination and ignorance about the communal and territorial governments, the indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples. Further, it failed to recognize the communal properties we administer through our own form of government,” attorney Becky McCray emphasized.