Portrait de Christina Ketter

Nicaragua: Indigenous People Vow To Preserve Their Lands

The original names of the hills, trees, rivers, animals and Bosawas basins are preserved in the Mayangna language. This is proof that these [lands] have been inhabited and cared for by our ancestors,” said Esteban López, vice president of one of the seven indigenous governments that administrate semi-autonomous areas in northern Nicaragua.

With an area of more than 20,000 square kilometers (7,700 square miles), Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, on the border with Honduras, covers 15 percent of Nicaraguan territory. While the area is not well known, it is one of the largest protected areas in the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, and was designated by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture, or UNESCO, as a biosphere reserve in 1997.

But as settlers move in, the protected forests have shrunk 20 percent in the reserve’s core zone, and have lost 60 percent of its buffer zone, said Eduard Müller, vice chairman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Commission on Protected Areas for Mexico, Central America and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean.

Settlers invade

According to their leaders, there are 25,000 Mayangna living in the region, and even though it is the region’s smallest indigenous group, 80 percent of their lands are in the reserve’s core zone. But the Mayangnas are not alone. Community members have recently denounced indiscriminate logging and trafficking of timber, land purchases in the buffer zone and leases on pasture to Honduran livestock companies in the Autonomous North Atlantic Region, or RAAN, where Bosawas is located.

Most recently, they have reported that drug traffickers are using the area to land flights.

“The main problem we indigenous are facing is the violence with which the mestizo settlers are acting,” said López. “Every year, they chop down extensive areas of the reserve, which affects our proposal of caring and managing the forest with our ancestral practices. Also, they are armed and involved in drug-trafficking.” The area had been exclusively Mayangna until the 19th century, and later arrived the Miskitu, Nicaragua’s largest indigenous group, which numbers more than 100,000 people, according to the state National Development Information Institute.

Responding to the reports that the forest was being chopped down, in 2008 the government created the Indigenous Territorial Governments through a decree that sought to “reverse the historic exclusion” that Miskitu and Mayangas have been living under in the area of 48 Miskitu Indian Tasbaika Kum, Mayangna Sauni Bu and Kipla Sait Tasbaika communities, with more than 30,000 people. The indigenous governments said the settlers living both inside the reserve and in the buffer zone must reforest the area and they demanded better training for the mostly Mayangna coast guards, who were trying to protect the area.

Indigenous leaders complained that the vision of the government and of environmental groups is merely ecological, and do not include the indigenous cosmovision.

“All of the Mayangna in the Bosawas are defending the land, but from our cosmovision,” said Murphy Almendares, a Mayangna researcher. “Many people say they support us, through various systems, like the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry, and nongovernmental organizations, but they do so just for a living. And some of them take positions that run counter to our interests.”

Ancestral practices at risk

The Mayangnas have been attacked for a long time by the Miskitu who, according to some historians, were trying to wrest control of the lands away from the Mayangas. López alleges that the Miskitu and mestizo both hunt endangered species, changing the environment. The Mayangnas leaders complain that the Miskitu, even though they do not inhabit the reserve’s core zone, are the majority in the boards of the Indigenous Territorial Governments.

They are now relying on Law 445, which establishes the property regime for the indigenous peoples and ethnic communities of the autonomous regions of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast and the Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz rivers. The law “guarantees the full recognition of the rights of use, management and handling of traditional lands and natural resources, so as to turn the administrative system of indigenous peoples into a political and administrative basic unit, distinguishing it from the rest of the country.”

“The Mayangnas of Nicaragua have been here a long time but we have been marginalized by the central government,” said López. “Based on the Law 445, the Universal Declaration of Indigenous Rights and our ancestral rights, the authorities must understand that we are taking care of our water, our forests, our animals, for us, for the country and for Central America.”

He said Bosawas needs reforestation plans to reverse the destruction of their native forests and more dialogue with indigenous groups from other countries that have gone through the same thing.

Published by www.indigenouspeoplesissues.com

Latinamerica Press
Carmen Herrera


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