Nicaraguan Government Inactivity Fuels Land Conflict

The conflict between the indigenous people of the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast, the Miskito people, and the Mestizo settlers has intensified because the Nicaraguan government has failed to take action. Physical violence and death are now commonplace. According to The New York Times, many of the Miskito people have left their land to escape the danger. Initially, the Miskito people lived in harmony with the Mestizo settlers who used their indigenous land. As the rain forests became known for their potential wealth, the number of settlers became overwhelming and the Miskito people realized their land was at risk. They attempted to evict the settlers without success and the problem was further compounded because the government failed to act on complaints received. The Miskito people acknowledge that a few indigenous people have taken advantage of the Mestizo settlers and need to be investigated by the government, who ignores all complaints.

Mestizo settlers also feel unjustly treated. To them, the Common Land Law passed in 2003 removes their opportunity to gain a better quality of life as the rich rain forest land is not able to be sold. They know some indigenous representatives have seen an illegal opportunity for financial gain and have independently sold indigenous land to settlers under the guise of permits for land use. Difficulties arise when other communal land owners request legitimate permit payments and the settlers are required to hand over further monies. The Mestizo settlers are very aware that some indigenous representatives have very close links to the ruling party or government officials who could prejudice their complaint. Gilles Bataillon, a sociologist with expertise in the conflict in this area, supports this stance. In 2016, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered the Nicaraguan government to protect its indigenous people. The Nicaraguan government informed the court that it had received no complaints and named other organizations for insecurity in this region.

Violence between the Miskito people and the Mestizo settlers will not resolve the land issues. Further entrenchment of positions will ensure increased violence and only those profiteering from the disharmony gain. Legally the Miskito people own this land as they are the indigenous people of this area. By law, indigenous land cannot be sold, yet in practice, the Nicaraguan government has not enforced this law, which suggests there is little commitment to the indigenous people of this area. With that said, while government rhetoric supports the Miskito people, however, their actions do not. Success for all parties will only be achieved when dialogue begins and the government chooses to be actively involved. From this dialogue, an understanding of the others viewpoint can be gained and a resolution for past grievances found. Government officials will need to put aside political gain and from the discussions develop a more user-friendly process, which is less complex and more readily understood by all Nicaraguans. The law can then be enforced in a neutral and transparent way. Miskito people and Mestizo settlers can then work cooperatively together on the land belonging to the indigenous people of this area.

The spokesperson for the Centre for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, Lottie Cunningham, has explained the tension between the Miskito people and the Mestizo settlers is not new and goes back about forty years. It started when the government attempted to remove the Miskito people from an area they called home and the Miskito people refused by fighting back, thus leading to the 1987 compromise. President Ortega gave the indigenous people independence over their own land. Unfortunately, the Nicaraguan government was held to account by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights for not following indigenous land rights. The government had allowed logging on Miskito land without first seeking approval from the indigenous people. Logging was stopped and the Nicaraguan government was ordered to make indigenous land boundaries clear and to register indigenous land. Passing the Common Land Law in 2003 was an outcome of this order and set in law the rights of the Miskito people to it. This gave them food security and communal land rights. Titles for single community or groups of communities started in 2008 and are still continuing.

Showing leadership and taking positive affirmative action to stop further suffering is a must for the Nicaraguan government. Using its power wisely to uphold the law for indigenous land rights will set an example for the rest of the world.

Louisa Slack

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