Ortega Regime No-Show at Hearing on Indigenous Land Abuse
The case dates from the Ortega regime’s project to construct an inter-oceanic canal, during which the government failed to consult with the indigenous and Afro-descendent communities regarding the land concessions awarded for canal construction.
HAVANA TIMES – The Ortega-Murillo regime was glaringly absent from the public hearing held on February 2nd at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.), regarding the case brought by the Rama and Kriol people from the Monkey Point community of Nicaragua’s Atlantic coat and the Black, Creole and Indigenous people of Bluefields. The Afro-descendent and indigenous peoples accuse the Nicaraguan government of awarding concessions of their land without their free and informed consent during the plans for construction of an inter-oceanic canal.
The case was brought before the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights in 2014, and has been working its way upwards through the Inter-American system. It involves the presumed international responsibility of the Nicaraguan State for having violated the property and political rights of nine indigenous Rama and Kriol communities, and of Bluefields’ Black, Creole, and Indigenous community. The Nicaraguan government is further accused of violating the plaintiffs’ right to equal protection under the law, judicial guarantees and protections, and their right to a healthy environment.
According to the plaintiffs,even though “52% of the route planned for the inter-oceanic canal” would pass through territories belonging to the indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants, the Ortega-Murillo regime did not consult them before approving – in July 2012 – Law 800, the Legal Framework Law for the Great Inter-Oceanic Canal of Nicaragua and for the Creation of the Authority over the Great Inter-Oceanic Canal of Nicaragua. One year later, the government awarded the concession for construction and administration of the project to Chinese investor Wang Jing for a period of 100 years.
In fact, the Chinese investor subsequently went bankrupt, and the project never really got underway. However, the law remains on the books.
“The authorities of the Territorial Rama-Kriol Government denounced in their moment that the Nicaraguan State had coopted the president of that regional organization and had him sign a supposed accord with the Canal Authority, illegally awarding them a “perpetual lease on 263 square kilometers (101.5 square miles) in the heart of their ancestral territory,” explained attorney Maria Luisa Acosta from the Center for Legal Assistance to Indigenous Peoples (Calpi), who represents the victims in this case.
The Black, Creole and Indigenous Community of Bluefields denounced the fact that the Nicaraguan State had imposed a parallel government to the one legally constituted by the community, then aborted the process of awarding titles to their traditional territory. They then dismissed Dolene Miller, the community’s representative to the National Commission for Land Demarcation and Titles (Conadeti), and awarded the parallel government only 7% of the land they had reclaimed, leaving 93% of the traditional lands out of indigenous hands.
Miller told the Court that the Nicaraguan State’s arbitrary action stripping him of his position caused an “enormous effect” to his community, because from that moment on, they were left “disconnected” from the process of territorial demarcation. On top of that, the situation concluded with the “curtailment” of their indigenous territories.
In addition, Dolene Miller noted: “on several occasions, I was the victim of persecution. My house was surrounded by the Police. On many occasions, we’ve had to confront different political sectors. We’ve been forbidden to enter some of the public buildings in Bluefields, my city, by order of the political sectors, and, honestly, we don’t feel safe.”
The Ortega courts ignored the indigenous peoples’ grievances
Between 2013 and 2020, the indigenous and Afro-descendant authorities of the Territorial Rama and Kriol Government and of the Black, Creole, Indigenous Community of Bluefields presented 19 appeals to the Nicaraguan Supreme Court on the grounds of unconstitutionality, but the Court didn’t accept any of them. Given the lack of any response from the Nicaraguan legal system, in 2022, the case passed upward to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
“The central issue in the case regards the Nicaraguan State’s failure to comply with their international obligations to the indigenous people’s self-determination, by imposing parallel governments or authorities over those legitimately elected by these communities, as well as failing to act in good faith with respect to the consultation and elaboration of the Accord, and failing to recognize the Rama and Krio territory that had been deeded to them since 2009, thus compromising the protection and conservation of the Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve,” stated the Calpi press declaration.
Rupert Allen Clair, a leader of the Kriol People in Monkey Point, declared before the Court that he was silenced by the Nicaraguan Government for opposing the way that they planned to carry out the canal project.
First, “the canal authorities spoke of holding a public consultation period as the law mandates,” Allen Clair recalled. “I attended this, and when I presented them with the position we [the communal authorities] held, they looked through it and said: ‘Okay, we’ll work with this.’ Then, they extracted what they wanted from those lines, and constructed a different proposal. To my great surprise, they took out the most important thing we had, which was the inclusion of an international advisor and observer. They didn’t want us to have any advisor, but said that we could work with one from Bluefields that they were going to assign,” Allen Clair stated.
For their part, the Nicaraguan government never responded to the requirements set up by the inter-American tribunal, and, as happened on other occasions this last year, they didn’t appear at the February 2nd hearing.
In November 2022, the I/A Court declared Nicaragua in “permanent contempt,” and referred the situation to the OAS General Assembly.
Canal Law still on the books
Although the megaproject for an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua didn’t get off the ground in the first six years, as had been foreseen, the laws regarding it – Laws 800 and 840, “Special Law for the Development of Nicaraguan Infrastructure and Transportation Regarding the Canal, Associated Free Trade Zones and Infrastructures, continue on the books, with no guarantees for the owners of the properties located along the originally planned canal route.
The indigenous communities that opposed the megaproject are living in “a tortuous atmosphere,” expert Pau Perez Sale declared. Its members are victims, among other things, of the destruction of their habitat plus general suffering, arbitrary firings, informal employment, and actions that cause fear, anxiety, police surveillance, and feelings of guilt due to the stigmatization and its effects on their families.
It’s “a set of contextual elements, conditions and practices that are intended to break the will of the victims or their communities,” noted Perez Sale. “These can seem like separate actions, but what we’re saying here is that there’s a common strategy behind these apparently disconnected actions; there’s an intention, there’s an objective and a common strategy. Said strategy aims at: “breaking the resistance to the canal project,” he added.
In September 2022, Ortega used the occasion of his speech commemorating Nicaragua’s independence from Spain to assure that the construction of the inter-oceanic canal “at some moment will be a reality in Nicaragua.” Ortega stated: “There’s a canal running through Panama that’s been widened, but the demand from international [shipping] traffic is so great that the canal through Nicaragua is necessary.”
This year marks 10 years since the canal project was officially announced in 2013. However, there’s been no advance in its construction. In journalistic investigations, experts have criticized the project, calling it “a failure” and pointed out that the government hasn’t applied the clause in the “Canal Framework Law” stipulating that if the sub-projects aren’t built in a period of six years from the date the work was officially begun, the Government could cancel the entire project.
Reparation measures proposed
In the view of Dolene Miller, one form of reparation to the Monkey Point Rama and Kriol Community and to the Bluefields Black, Creole, and Indigenous Groups would be “the repeal” of Laws 800 and 840, thus eliminating the land title the Ortega regime gave to an illegitimate Territorial Government. They could then restore him to his former position as representative of the Creole community in Conadeti.
Becky McCray, who represents the Rama peoples, told the Court that the approval of the canal project, as well as the lack of restructuring of the indigenous territories is changing the way of life of the ancestral communities. “That omission on the part of the Government is causing us to lose part of our culture,” she emphasized.
“We’ve come from far away in search of justice, because in Nicaragua we have none. It’s been a constant struggle. Hence, I ask this honorable court to demand that the Nicaraguan State immediately carry out a process of reordering, and to demand the repeal of Law 840, since it was never consulted with the affected people. We also ask for the revocation of the Consent Agreement where they’ve usurped a land area of 263 square kilometers,” McCray underlined.