“Many Invaders of Nicaragua’s Indigenous Lands are Army Veterans”

Lottie Cunningham, Director of CEJUDHCAN, talks about violence in Miskito communities

Lottie Cuningham, a human rights defender, attorney and founder of the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. Photo: Elmer Reyes / Confidencial

“The Army has said they have no high-level order to protect the communities,” she denounces

By Confidencial

HAVANA TIMES – Lottie Cunningham, Director of the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN), is one of the people who know well the situation of the Miskito communities and their problems in the Northern Caribbean of Nicaragua. This past week she traveled to Costa Rica to present a report with the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL), which reveals that the national crisis has made the problems of these remote communities even more invisible under the yoke of the invasion of their land, violence and famine.

Cunningham spoke with Confidencial and the “Esta Semana” program and denounced that most of the land invaders, are armed veterans.

“There are more than 50 indigenous communities that are at high risk and are affected by this massive incursion of land invaders,” warned Cunningham, who also talks about how the current socio-political landscape of Nicaragua is seen in indigenous communities.

This research shows that the political crisis that the country is experiencing in the last 15 months is making the particular Caribbean crisis invisible. What is happening in these communities?

This study demands more visibility of the indigenous resistance of the Miskito people due to the humanitarian crisis that has been occurring in the communities for the same health risks in their territories. Since the sociopolitical crisis until now we have had an increased land invasions. Many of the “settlers” are veterans and they are armed. They have been advancing on the territories of the communities.

Which are the territories or communities most affected, because we are talking about a huge area?

There are more than 50 indigenous communities that are at high risk and are affected by this massive invasion. However, the inter-American system through the Commission and the Court has granted 12 of them precautionary measures, because their situation is serious and urgent. Violence has been increasing in the communities of the territory Wangki Twi Tasba Raya, which are four: Francia Sirpi, Tasba Raya, Wiscounsin and Esperanza Rio Wawa. We also have San Jeronimo, Santa Fe, Rio Coco, Cocal and Paiwas. Also the indigenous community of Wiwinak.

When you say that there has been a massive invasion of armed people and acts of violence have developed, is there displacement of families?

Of course, the occupation of plots by invaders have been advancing. Before, they were in the reserves that the indigenous communities had, but now they are in their own plots where they work and produce food. This has caused a food crisis.

What does the Nicaraguan State do? What does the Army do? What does the autonomous regional government do in this situation?

The Nicaraguan State has not even implemented the measures granted by the inter-American system. Much less has it implemented the last phase of rehabilitation. Law 445 establishes the mechanism to stop the invasion. The National Police continues that to happen with impunity. And the Army has said they have no superior order to protect the communities. So that, communities remain with their lives and territory unprotected.

In what are these invasions focused? Expansion of livestock or is there also incidence of commercial logging organized by companies?

These invasions are accompanied by mining extraction interests, especially in the territory of Wangky Lui Aura. Forest clearance continues and that has affected the most important water resources for the communities because they consume water there. But, on top of that, there have been an extension for livestock.

We are talking about a situation of which very little is known in the country. There has been no information at local and national level, much less from the State. Has there been displacement of families from these communities to other places?

Yes, there has been displacement. This has not been made visible by the government’s closure of spaces, particularly of independent media.

Where are these families? How many families have moved?

Currently we have more than 3,000 people who have been displaced. Some have gone to the communities of greater population that are neighboring to them, and in the most important cities of the region. But we also know that there is displacement of a fairly large population to Honduras, and some to Panama and Costa Rica.

The organization you lead is monitoring this situation. Are the churches and other civil society organizations in the area paying attention to this crisis?

It is completely isolated. About 15 days ago we began a study to analyze the census of how many families in these 12 communities are being displaced, not only as individuals but also as a family from their plots. Because this has impacted the diet. However, we are the only organization that tries to make the situation visible.

How does that food crisis happen? The reports mention certain assessments of malnutrition rates? How do people feed themselves?

I will share with you a testimony of the women with whom we have met systematically, and they said that there is no kind of food. All they have is “pilipita,” which is a small banana that is naturally produced. That is what they have been giving in the last four months particularly to their children. And the children have rejected it. They have looked for ways to put lemon on the banana to change the flavor. However, children reject it, but with the hunger they have after they play a moment, they proceed to eat. Likewise, they don’t have basic things like soap and other stuff, so they wash their clothes without soap.

Where are these sectors most affected by the humanitarian crisis you have indicated?

The people displaced from their plots are the ones who comment, but we also have refugee people we monitor in the city of Waspan, Puerto Cabezas. Their situation is extremely serious, because they had been fleeing violence but found other types of violence outside the territories.

In the Civic Alliance there are some representatives of the Caribbean Coast. Is there a self-organized, blue and white movement…? Or is everything undermined by what has been the hegemony of the Sandinista Front?

On the Caribbean Coast there are different manifestations of social movements, indigenous movements, and the truth of things is that we aspire for a change that is democracy. However, for us a synonym of democracy is self-determination. In that struggle we are seeking that self-determination and the territory be respected. Within these indigenous movements, we are discussing these changes in Nicaragua, but for a change in the new Nicaragua that takes into account cultural diversity. We feel that the State of Nicaragua has historically discriminated against us in a type of institutionalized racism in the belief that it is a homogenous country.

The regional elections that took place last year, what did they leave to the communities of the Caribbean Coast?

There has been a high rate of abstention, because for them there has always been fraud in the elections. What is hoped for in the communities is that future elections local or regional groupings of the communities can take part [possible under what is called “popular subscription”], and not only a competition of national political parties, which do not defend us as indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples.

At national level an electoral reform is being demanded to go to a free and transparent election. Is there any expectation on the Caribbean Coast?

The regional party has been making some reform proposals. They are still in the process to extend consultations and have some results from the communities. However, the State of Nicaragua has not complied with Yatama’s sentence, in which the Court ordered the State to reform the electoral law taking into account the process of “popular subscription” in accordance to our customs.




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