Nicaraguan Congressman Brooklyn Rivera, president of the National Assembly’s Commission on Indigenous and Afro-Descendant Affairs, warns that tensions between indigenous tribes and mestizo “colonists” has reached the boiling point following the recent assassination of Mayangna leader Charley Taylor.
Taylor, a member of the Mayangna’s Sauni As territory, tucked deep in the forest of the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, was killed April 24 while trying to defend his land from a group of mestizo invaders who had cleared a swath of 35 acres of precious hardwoods. Taylor’s death, which was denounced to the deaf ears of government last week in Managua, has reportedly triggered the mobilization of an indigenous army of 100 volunteers who are arming themselves to oust the interlopers by force.
Rivera and other sources close to the Mayangna nation warn that members of the indigenous group are arming themselves with rifles, machetes, spears and other homemade weapons in preparation for battle.
“This is a critical moment,” Rivera told The Nicaragua Dispatch this afternoon. “The colonists are promoting violence and the indigenous people are mobilizing groups to defend their land. There could be more bloodshed and more death.”
The situation in Nicaragua’s “mining triangle” and the Mayangna community of Musuwas is particularly tense, according to Rivera. The Nicaragua Dispatch tried unsuccessfully to reach the leaders of the Mayangna rebellion, who apparently are already out of cell-phone range in the mountains of Bosawás.
Sources close to the Mayangna leaders say the group felt forced to take justice into their own hands because the government is not enforcing laws that guarantee their communal property rights. And after failing to meet with President Daniel Ortega last February, the Mayangnas are apparently done asking nicely.
Rivera, whose YATAMA indigenous party is an ally of the ruling Sandinista Front, blames government institutions of being “inert,” despite President Ortega’s effort to create a special commission to deal with the problem last month.
“The president emitted a decree to create a mixed commission to defend Mother Nature in the indigenous territories, but that commission has never met so there is no political will on the behalf of government institutions,” Rivera charged. “The commission has become an accomplice to the colonists who are invading indigenous territories.”
Rivera defends Ortega’s decree, even though no indigenous groups were given representation on the commission. The problem, the YATAMA leader says, is that the various institutions charged with forming the commission “don’t work.”
As a result of government inefficiency, indigenous leaders are becoming even more desperate to defend their land by any means possible, Rivera says. The lawmaker says 19 of 21 indigenous territories are currently “contaminated” with mestizo colonists, who invade the land, clear the trees, sell the hardwood, plant grass and then illegally flip the pastures to cattle farmers. More than 50% of the 21,000 square kilometers of Bosawás forest has been partially deforested, including 12% of the forest’s nucleus, according to Rivera.
“These groups are pretending to be poor campesinos who need the land to plant food, but they are really land traffickers who are backed by some very powerful economic interests,” Rivera charged.
Still, the Mayangna’s interest in the matter is even more powerful than money, Rivera says.
“At the core, this struggle is about the survival of the indigenous people and their cultures,” Rivera said. “If the colonists continue to destroy the natural habitat, then the indigenous communities will also disappear because the colonists are destroying the flora and fauna and the rivers—all that the indigenous communities depend on to survive.”
Indigenous communities mobilize to demand their rights. (Photo: Adrián Morínigo)