Are Nicaraguan Indians

Identity - Resistance - Autonomy


Misquito (Nicaragua)

The natives of the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua - the futile attempt to avoid colonization?

Ulrich Epperlein

1 Introduction.: above:.
A strange pact. Yatama is currently forming a government coalition with the FSLN in the northern autonomous region of the Atlantic coast RAAN (Region Autónoma del Atlántico Norte) of Nicaragua. And a Yatama member, the Misquito Bekker, is the governor. Yatama did not win a majority in the last election, but this coalition has a majority in the regional parliament. How does it come about that the former archenemies from the armed conflict of the eighties now work together in one government? (1)

The aim here is to outline the historical development of the Indian movement on the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast since the 1970s under the following aspects:
- Identity of the Misquitos and historical background of YATAMA
- Background of the resistance
- 2000 and 2002 elections

I try to include my own experience of working with various sectors on the Caribbean coast and to discuss the problem from the perspective of the indigenous people. (2)

2. Identity as a nation (3) .: above:.
Essentially, the history of the Indian peoples on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua over the centuries must be understood as a process of resistance. At the same time, however, the coastal peoples entered into various social and political alliances that form a complex network and on the basis of which they are constantly reformulating their own project. Due to the diverse experiences they gain new opportunities to understand and revise their historical - utopian and political - project. Hence, every people understands itself from its own foundations, and every Indian people is also the history of an ethnic group.

Over the centuries - in contrast to the sumo Mayangnas and Ramas - the misquitos have not only demonstrated an astonishing ability to assimilate into the respective economic, political and military conditions, but have also achieved considerable success, although not all critics do so evaluate.

An essential element for the uncertainty of the assessment of the conflict between Sandinista and Misquitos is that it is on the one hand a conflict between a revolutionary regime for the liberation of a people from a dictatorship and the dominance of the USA and on the other hand it is a conflict Indian aspirations for autonomy. However, the Nicaraguan liberation movement did not include any Indian aspects, despite all the revolutionary efforts and changes that it was able to (partially) implement.

Little is known about the existence of the Misquito people in pre-Columbian times. It seems that essential elements of their emergence as a people were formed in the encounter with the colonial powers on the Atlantic coast, i.e. in this sense as a response to European colonialism. The first contact with Europeans took place in 1631 via the Providencia Island Company, from which relatively intensive trade relations arose; mainly they exchanged food and other products of the country for metallic products that were used to make weapons.

The British did not allow the Misquitos to survive by chance or out of particularly benevolent motives; rather, their communities were important as bases of the British in the disputes in the region with the other colonial powers and in the expansion of their economic interests.

In contact with merchants, pirates and sailors, far-reaching and profound cultural changes resulted for the Misquitos. Their access to metallic products and thus to weapons and their manufacture contributed to the fact that the Misquitos experienced a regional increase in power. This not only helped them to defend themselves against the other European colonial nations, especially the Spaniards, but was also decisive for their preponderance over the other Indian peoples of the Ramas, Sumos and Payas. The Misquitos turned into a local power in the region.

In the course of their relations with the British, the Misquitos now appear not only in the "services" of the pirates and filibusters, with whom they apparently were in regular and frequent communication, but also as their agents, whose interests they represented. They developed similar colonial patterns of behavior by occupying territories of their neighboring peoples and using prisoners of war as slaves. It is therefore no longer a surprise that in 1687 they also adopted a monarchical model of government,
* on the one hand an adopted cultural element,
* On the other hand, an expression of the concentration of political power arising in the context of military actions,
* and thirdly, a means of establishing diplomatic relations with the British in Jamaica, and there to obtain support against their intimate enemies - the Spaniards.

It goes without saying that this monarchy - primarily a representative institution - served as a counterpart to the neighboring peoples: Thus they collected tributes in the name of the monarchy and more easily achieved diplomatic recognition as a British protectorate. In 1786 the British ceded their rule over the protectorate to Spain in a treaty. The Misquitos were thus left to the Spanish colonial power, which, however, could not break the resistance of the Misquitos due to a lack of funds and disorganization. They tried to conclude an agreement similar to the British with the Misquitos, but to no avail. The Spaniards were unable to rule the misquitos, and after Central America's independence from Spain, the coastal Indians resumed their previous ties with the British Crown, and in 1838 the Nicaraguan government recognized the renewed protectorate.

Consul General Patrick Walker carried out several economic reforms in 1844 and promoted policies of capitalist modernization that entailed the creation of export-oriented agricultural enterprises and the wage system. One also relied on communal structures of the Misquitos and Creoles (black slaves who had fled from the Caribbean islands, some of whom displaced the Misquitos and then dominated the social and cultural structures in certain places). In 1860 the British resigned as a colonial power and the Nicaraguan state occupied the Atlantic coast ("reintegración"). The Misquitos, who historically viewed the government in Managua as the successor to Spain, organized resistance against the troops they had sent. This anti-Hispanism has become part of the culture of the Misquitos, with which their ethnic identity (also) defines itself through a negative aspect.

At the same time, two decisive processes can be noted: During this period, North American influence began in this region, and the Misquitos increasingly lost supremacy to the Creoles. On the other hand, the Moravian Mission started its work at the invitation of the British. The British, who had previously armed the Misquitos "to the teeth", initiated pacification through evangelization and integration into the capitalist system and ultimately created reservations for a marginalized people in a mestizo nation. The aspirations for autonomy are the resistance to this policy of the reservations (adopted from the USA), which in the end should promote the elimination of the Indians and their culture out of economic interests. The mission certainly contributed to the geographical and demographic reduction of the Indians, but on the other hand it also made a significant contribution to the preservation of basic cultural characteristics of the (current) Indian identity, so that a large part of the indigenous people still identify with the Moravian Church today.

So different colonial influences shaped the identity of the Misquitos in culture, economy, social structures and their language. This also resulted in a view of their own history and that of Nicaragua, which differs significantly from that of the mestizos on the Pacific coast. And consequently these differences came to light in several historical moments, namely in their depth dimension in the course of conflicts.

Because of these historical influences, a consciousness arose among the Misquito as a people that is fundamentally different from the rest of the country. This connection explains their resistance to the Sandinista project, the Atlantic coast - although it is significant that the designation "Atlantic coast" reflects the view of Managua from the Pacific coast and does not include the view of the Misquitos themselves of being part of the Caribbean To integrate the revolution and to align it (namely against the background of the historical experience of re-integration with the 19th century!) With the national, ideological and cultural goals.

The resistance of the Misquitos to a government that was legitimized by a revolution - i.e. the liberation from oppression and political and economic reform with a socialist character - was interpreted as counterrevolution and the Misquitos, including the Brethren Church, suspected and disqualified as CIA agents.

We do not mean to rely here on an interpretation of the story that is not one of the misquitos themselves, as various authors attempted in the 1980s. For example, Gillian Brown speaks of a manipulation of the Misquito people by the US government, and Carlos M. Vilas puts the start of the uprising in the time of the Sandinista and as a result of the political and economic measures of the Sandinista. These interpretations can only be explained by the ignorance of the authors and the Sandinista government. Certainly the ethnic movements on the Atlantic coast have reached a (temporary) climax under the Sandinista, but it is obvious that this process is a continuation of a pre-Sandinista historical development and was only partially influenced by the Sandinista revolution. Not recognizing this is therefore more of a problem for the Sandinista and the intellectuals close to them, but not a problem for the Misquitos themselves.

Augusto Sandino in his "war against US imperialism" sought support for his actions on the Atlantic coast and to integrate them into his struggle, but he failed and also left a lasting bitter memory with the tragic murder of the Moravian missionary Karl Bregenzer. The forerunners of the Misquitos' uprising movement (and - as far as can be seen so far - in a reduced intensity of the Sumo Mayangnas and Ramas as well as Creoles) can be found in the two decades before the Sandinista revolution. Several elements played a crucial role. On the one hand, resistance developed - I would call it implicitly - against the economic policy of the Somoza dictatorship, on the other hand, autochthonous organizations for development in the region emerged, especially on the Rio Wangki / Coco. The best known was ALPROMISU, founded by the Iglesia Morava (with personal participation by several pastors among the founding members), which was supposed to help enforce the rights of the Misquitos.

General Somoza wanted on the one hand to accelerate the economy in the region of the Atlantic coast and use it for his interests, apparently using cooperative forms of organization of the Indians. On the other hand, Latin America experienced an awakening of the Indian peoples as part of an international movement of the indigenous peoples, and at their 2nd congress in 1971 in Barbados a misquito took part for the first time (the lawyer Dr. Armando Rojas). Suggestions for the independence of the ethnic minorities and for the resistance against imposed political and economic measures emerged. So the Misquito movement entered a broader political framework. So it was a - certainly not a coincidence - meeting when the Sandinista came with their takeover on the Caribbean coast and the ethnic movement in Nicaragua intensified in the face of a newfound sensitivity towards the indigenous movements. In addition, the revolutionary process of the Sandinista created and radicalized a new space for this movement.

Opinions were divided on the question of autonomy in particular - on the one hand with the politicians Steadman Fagoth, Brooklyn Rivera, Alfonso Smith, on the other hand Hazel Lau, Mirna Cunningham and others - all Misquitos who had studied in Managua and Leon in the 1970s and had opted for the Indian line away from the contemporary Hispanic tendency. They all initially supported the interests of the FSLN, but less out of a real socialist conviction, but rather to represent and realize their own interests in the anti-Somocist struggle. This criterion was probably only perceived by a few historians, and also misinterpreted ("opportunism").

This misjudgment and erroneous analysis of the peculiarities of the Misquito movement can be explained not least by its own ideological foundations. The FSLN assumed to be a democratic and national popular movement; it represented a concept of nation based on integration, unity and equality, in whose program the ethnic diversity of the peoples in Nicaraguan territory found no place. On the other hand, the FSLN followed the same socialist state doctrine as in all socialist countries that ignored or suppressed the ethnic minorities and their movements. Individual theoretical approaches were given the lie in the political reality by the centralistic structures. Ideological indifference and ignorance were then probably the background for the brutal action (which in some phases - e.g. in the mass resettlement of Wangki inland under the name Tasba Pri - met the offense of ethnocide) of the Sandinista government against the Indian resistance, which justified from the point of view of a modernist state model. The Sandinista realized late that the sensitivity to the drive for autonomy had changed internationally, also in sectors that welcomed the Sandinista revolution. It was significant that at the time the Misquitos were integrated, the Sandinista did not have a specific program for this ethnic sector.

The protagonists of the Indian movement, which had changed from the ALPROMISU development program to a pro-revolutionary organization MISURASATA, put their trust in the new government in order to be able to realize their demands. The first differences arose during the literacy campaign, which was initially to be carried out in Spanish for the Atlantic coast; Only after hard disputes could the Indians be literate in their own languages, which in itself is seen as a positive contribution by the government. After the radical faction had gained the upper hand in MISURASATA in May 1980 in favor of autonomy around Fagoth and Rivera, pressure was put on the government to implement territorial autonomy.

Another source of conflict was the desired standardization of economic policy, which could hardly be combined with the (partially) autonomous subsistence economy of the Indians, who also exported various products (tortuga, rice, beans, etc.). The radical positions of the Misquitos prevailed, demanding the autonomy of the Misquitos and subsequently accepting a break with the hard wing of the Sandinista. This polarization brought the Misquitos into increasingly extreme positions, which ultimately provoked them to accept North American support. For the Misquitos a logical step that can be explained from history - in no way incomprehensible, but from the point of view of the Sandinista a betrayal of the revolution and the nation. The Misquitos preferred the side that offered them opportunities for the realization of their own goals. In addition, both of them were "strangers", the North Americans as well as the Sandinista.

It should be added that not all Misquito leaders took this - as mentioned above - radical and separatist line, of which Fagoth was the protagonist. The Sandinista took this up, divided the movement and integrated some leaders like Hazel Lau and Mirna Cunningham into government policy to take advantage of these differences. With the polarization and radicalization of the conflict, further negotiations were impossible; some leaders, Fagoth at the head, were imprisoned, bloody incidents broke out, legal controversy turned into armed conflict, and the MISURASATA was transformed into MISURATA.

Consequently (?) The Misquitos were supported by the Ex-Guardia, the newly emerging Contra-movement and by North American weapons, on the other hand the Sandinista government by Cuba and the USSR. They had become part of the East-West conflict. Neither party could escape this "natural" logic. The traumatic climax was the evacuation, or as it was also called: the resettlement of all Misquito villages with around 60,000 inhabitants from the Rio Wangki inland between 1982 and 1984. As a result of this resettlement action, most of the Indians fled to Honduras, Costa Rica and other countries .The Misquitos could only understand this action as a cynical and inhumane measure that robbed them of the very essence of their existence - the land. To this day, it is difficult for them to talk about the burning houses, churches, plantations and social institutions, especially since church institutions such as schools, hospitals, Biblical institutes and churches were not excluded. When trying to talk to Indians about these historical events and their experiences, the ancients regularly ignore these topics.

From around 1984 on, the Sandinista gained insight that their policy of defeating the Misquitos by military means would be unsuccessful, especially since they felt that they had misunderstood the resistance movement. The conflict was separated from the tensions of the international conflict and a policy of negotiation, reconciliation and dialogue began. The decisive partner was again the Moravian Brethren Church, which at the beginning of the war had been suspected of collaboration with the Contras by the Sandinista and persecuted with blood. About fifty pastors had been arrested, some of them imprisoned for two years, others died or were tortured and still suffer as a result (pastors who are traditionally religious and community leaders still have a deep dislike of the Sandinista). The mediation and negotiations finally led to the acceptance of the original demands of the Misquitos, especially the desired autonomy. In this way, the refugees and exiles were able to slowly return towards the end of the 1980s. But the conflict left deep-seated and unresolved trauma in the communities and families, the (partial) destruction of the community structures and the loss of many cultural values.

In 1987 Parliament incorporated the autonomy project into the new constitution, albeit seen as a compromise and a useful instrument for the movement's future. Nicaragua now described itself as an indivisible and at the same time multi-ethnic nation, although this term can only be accepted as a compromise formula. The term "ethnicity" is fundamentally rejected because no right can be derived from it, but from the term "people" it is. The Misquitos fully acknowledge this progress made possible under a revolutionary regime that was able to learn and ready to correct outdated and a-contextual ideologies. The Misquito Indians are rightly proud of these successes, which they achieved with tragic losses (on both sides) and trauma.

3. 2002 election fraud (4) .: above:.
Against this historical background, the current political situation can now be understood a little better, such as the events in the local elections of the end of 2000 and the energetic protest of the Misquitos and then the election success of YATAMA in the regional elections with the subsequent coalition with the FSLN. On April 26, 2001, YATAMA at the Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (Inter-American Human Rights Commission) of the OEA charged the Nicaraguan government with violating the electoral law, political rights, equality before the law and legal protection after participating in local elections had been banned.

On June 16, 2003, this commission brought charges against Nicaragua to the Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (Inter-American Court of Human Rights) for not having respected the rights of YATAMA's candidates in the 2000 elections. Particular importance is attached to the fact that the rights of the indigenous people, an indigenous autochthonous party, have been violated and not respected. At the same time, the Indian residents of the mosquito were denied the right to elect their own representatives in favor of the foreign representatives. There is no known public response from the government until this article is published.

The two dominant parties, PLC and FSLN, and Nicaragua's two-party system have thus been severely rebuffed. Nicaragua's highest electoral tribunal, in which the two parties decide alone, is accused of openly abusing its power. In October 2000 the supporters of YATAMA and above all the residents of Bilwi protested against violations of their rights with demonstrations, occupations of public buildings and polling stations of the PLC and did not allow themselves to be let through the demonstration of force by the state that had militarized the city ( several thousand police and army forces occupied the city of 40,000 residents and tried to stifle the resistance). Through mediation, further violence was prevented, mainly by the state, but YATAMA did not take part in the elections. However, their call for an election boycott was a resounding success. The mayors in the Indian-dominated places were elected by less than 10% of the electorate. This advantage was used by the FSLN, which had partly shown solidarity during the demonstrations, but never actively sought to prevent electoral fraud beforehand, but instead capitalized on it.

The Misquitos' furious resistance to abuses by the central power and the ruling party had revived deep injuries in 2000 and confirmed the deep distrust of the Españoles. These use their power exclusively for their own - economic - interests, and the discourse of the one nation serves only to eliminate the original owners of the land and its resources. Therefore, the FSLN continues to be seen as an instrument for those intruders, since it is not an autochthonous movement like YATAMA, which could represent the idea of ​​independence, culture, independence and Indian identity.

That is why the claim to representation is met with suspicion even by Native American FSLN representatives, and is fundamentally rejected by mestizos. The various speeches on the occasion of the elections in 2001 and 2002 of the General Secretary of the FSLN, Daniel Ortega, with the request for forgiveness for the injustice that had taken place and the mistakes made in the eighties could not change anything, because:
* until today the victims of that time have not been compensated,
* to date, no reparation has been paid by the government for damage caused at the time,
* the crimes are still labeled as errors.

4th YATAMA - FSLN coalition governs the RAAN (5) .: above:.
On March 6, 2002 it was established that YATAMA was the third strongest force after the elections for the regional parliament - Consejo Regional -, mainly through clear votes in their traditional areas on the Wangki and in the area of ​​and around Bilwi. The conservative party PLC, the ruling party in Managua, had clearly lost and remains the strongest party only because of the two seats it is entitled to under Nicaraguan law through its two members in the national parliament. It is intended - and so it happens a little later, that the second largest faction, the FSLN, and YATAMA will form a coalition and divide the functions among themselves. In parliament itself, the FSLN will appoint the president, YATAMA appoint the governor. It is astonishing not only that the third largest faction of the Indian party will occupy the most important office, but that this alliance between the two archenemies from the conflict of the 1980s will come about. Since the events of the 2000 elections, YATAMA has partly regained its old influence, so that nothing goes without it in the crucial areas of the Misquitos. Only in the mining areas (Siuna, Rosita, Bonanza), where the mestizos now make up the majority of the population, and in the Mayangna areas (Musawas, Rosita), YATAMA is hardly represented, while the PLC is more strongly represented.

The experience of corruption under the PLC government also in the autonomous areas, the failure to keep extensive promises regarding improved infrastructure, the rejection of the speedy implementation of the autonomy laws and the brutal treatment during those municipal elections are viewed as a betrayal of the hopes of the Indians the cooperation with the Conservatives was terminated and a new one was entered into with the former enemy. This is a new attempt to realize at least some of the eternal hopes that have never been redeemed so far.
* Improvement of the infrastructure (transport, energy, water)
* Reaching an appropriate social level (education, health)
* Participation in the immense profits from the exploitation of natural resources
* Participation in political and economic decisions
* Realization of the - promised - autonomy.

It is a pragmatic decision, because otherwise the RAAN would be ungovernable or would continue to be managed by the corrupt PLC or simply manipulated by interested, mostly international companies (fishing, gold, timber). It is perhaps the misquitos' last chance to influence the decisions. And the FSLN is so weakened that it is also happy to enter this coalition in order to share in power. It also tries to take advantage of this, as it is much better organized than YATAMA, which has actually not yet built up any party structures, but continues to act in the manner of a popular movement. Great support for the FSLN is the University of URACCAN, built under Sandinista influence and also led by party members, while YATAMA has its support in the CIUM-BICU, the university founded by the Herrnhutern. Personal enmities, such as that between YATAMA leader Brooklin Rivera and Mirna Cunningham, FSLN, under the Sandinista government commissioner for the Caribbean region and URACCAN founder, are also excluded.

With the help of various projects, YATAMA is now trying not only to bring the region out of its isolation, but also to revive some of the traditional ideas of Indian identity: cultural aspects, self-administration, etc. , represented in the governor, even if the governor has little power due to the centralized structures.

(1) Glossary of names:
YATAMA: Yabti Tasba Masraka Nanih Asia Takanka. Movement of the Indians of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. A recognized party today.
FSLN: Frente Sandinista de la Liberación Nacional. Liberation Movement of Nicaragua. Party since 1979
RAAN: Autónoma del Atlántico Norte Region. Nicaraguan department with autonomous status
Wangki: border river to Honduras, in Spanish usage: Río Coco
Bilwi: originally from the Mayangna language, in Spanish usage: Puerto Cabezas

(2) The other ethnic groups of the Ramas, Mayangnas, Garifunas, blacks and mestizos cannot be discussed here. YATAMA is dominated by the Misquitos, although the original organizations ALPROMISU and MIRUSATA included all three Indian ethnic groups.

(3) This part is partly taken from my homepage. The references can also be found there.

(4) Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Organización de los Estados Americanos, Informe No. 125/01, Caso 12.388, YATAMA, Nicaragua, 3 de diciembre de 2001. El 26 de april de 2001, la Organización Yabti Tasba Masraka Nanih Asia Takanka, Yatama, el Centro NicaragÜense de Derechos Humanos, CENIDH, ... presentaron ante la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos (CIDH) una petición en contra de la República de Nicaragua por la presunta violación de los derechos consagrados en los artículos 8, 23, 24 and 25 en concordancia con el artículo 1 (1) de la Convención Americana sobre los Derechos Humanos. La denuncia se relaciona con presuntas irregularidades cometidas por el Consejo Supremo Electoral y los Tribunales de Justicia de Nicaragua en perjuicio de los derechos políticos de las víctimas.

(5) El Nuevo Diario March 7, 2002:
Los partidos YATAMA and FSLN se preparan para la celebración de su victoria en las elecciones de la Región Autónoma del Atlántico Norte. De acuerdo a datos preliminares los escaños están distribuidos así: In Puerto Cabezas el partido YATAMA ocupa 9 puestos, el FSLN tiene cinco y el Partido Liberal uno.
En la zona de Waspán, Río Coco el FSLN obtuvo tres concejales igual YATAMA, el PLC dos y PAMUC uno sin embargo en Siuna los liberales obtuvieron 8 concejales, el FSLN 4 y YATAMA ninguno, en resumen el Consejo Regional quedaría conformado del. 17 miemb PLC y sus dos diputados que por derecho quedan como concejales, FSLN 17, YATAMA 13 y PAMUC uno.
Lo nuevo de estas elecciones es que el PAMUC por primera vez entrará al parlamento costeño. Se espera que el partido YATAMA escuche propuestas de negociación del FSLN porque consideran al partido liberal traicionero de la Autonomía. Si se llega a un acuerdo el nuevo coordinador de la Región estaría en manos de YATAMA y la presidencia del consejo sería ocupada por el Frente Sandinista, burlando así las expectativas de la señora Alba Rivera, quien ha gobernado la zona desde 1998.

Ulrich Epperlein. From "pogrom / threatened peoples" (No. 220 - 4/2003).

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