By Harini Raghupathy
The indigenous communities in Nicaragua are facing problems acquiring land from settlers, resulting in violence along Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. The Nicaraguan Constitution had previously recognised the rights and common property holdings of the indigenous community. After the Inter-American Court of Human Rights landmark ruling in 2001 which sought to protect the Awas Tingi community, the government of Nicaragua passed a new law called the Communal Law or Law 445. This law formally recognised the rights of indigenous and ethnic communities to their ancestral territories.
For the last two years, there has been a rise in violent attacks against the indigenous community. The Miskitos, the largest indigenous group on the Caribbean coast with a population of up to 300,000, blame the attacks on “settlers”. They claim that these ‘settlers’ originally from different parts of the country are occupying their ancestral territories. The hostilities continue especially since the Nicaraguan law enforcement has not yet actively intervened in the matter. The government has also ignored calls from the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights asking for swift action to be taken for the protection of the Miskitos.
The government has not only failed to take active steps in controlling the violence, it has also not initiated any investigations into the crimes. According to Lottie Cunningham who is a human rights lawyer and founder of Cejudhcan, an NGO protecting the rights of the indigenous community, the government had told the court that it did not receive any complaints regarding the land conflict. The continued violence has created a situation where the Miskitos are forced to flee their communities to relatively safer zones in urban areas. The sudden influx of people has increased pressure on the resources of these areas making it impossible to provide for all.
The Miskitos practice subsistence farming in the tropical areas along Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. The settlers, on the other hand, engage in large-scale cattle farming. It is believed that the Nicaraguan government failed to take any action against the settlers because the export of beef from the farms of the settlers contribute substantially to Nicaragua’s GDP. However, the establishment of large-scale ranches by these settlers have resulted in the destruction of the rainforests. The resultant damage to the forests is irreversible and has severely impacted the ecology.
The interference of the Nicaraguan government is of utmost important at this stage. Those internally displaced due to the violence are in urgent need of humanitarian aid and other essential services. The government at present should not only address the problem of growing hostilities against the indigenous community but should also take steps to safeguard the tropical rainforests of Nicaragua.