From Fri Jan 3 16:52:52 2003
Date: Thu, 2 Jan 2003 12:21:21 -0600 (CST)
From: Nicaragua Network <>
Subject: Nicaragua Network Hotline
Article: 149220
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Milestone Victory for Indigenous Peoples

Nicaragua Network Hotline, 2 January 2003

The surprise approval by the National Assembly of a Demarcation Law Regarding the Properties of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Bocay, Coco and Indio Maiz Rivers, was hailed by the communities themselves as well as by human rights and environmental groups as a major victory in the long struggle to reclaim the rights of the peoples of Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast. A jubilant Victor Campos, Deputy Director of the Humboldt Center, said, This formal recognition of the rights which indigenous peoples and communities have to their ancestral lands validates their long struggle, just as it accepts their right to use and to profit from the resources of those lands. Although the indigenous have always been the owners of those territories as far as history is concerned, their ownership was not fully recognized under the law. This gave a foothold to 'colonizers' and other invaders to take advantage of the advance of the agricultural frontier to grab land. The new law sets that to rights, enabling the original peoples free determination of the use of their territories and the management of all natural resources found on their land.

The law means that some 40% of Nicaragua's total land area is now officially recognized as owned by the roughly 350, mostly small, indigenous communities that are scattered throughout its length and breadth. According to Cisar Paiz, representing the Demarcation Commission, although this is a major step forward, we must still await the allotment of the resources necessary to implement the new law. The process will be expensive. However, now that the state has formally recognized ownership, something which it had hitherto refused to do, this can only strengthen a climate of legality and give potential investors confidence. Beyond that again, it also means that the communities now have the legal tools to fight those who are attempting to take their land, for example in the Pearl Cays, Alamikamba and part of the Rio Miaz. That's about 200,000 acres of land in conflict right there. This will be an enormous help in winning those cases.

Paiz further emphasized that, we know that behind many of the worst conflicts there are powerful business interests, seeking to exploit the lands inappropriately. It is important now to get organized and seek support to enable the law to be properly implemented.

In other indigenous news, the Subtiava people, who for centuries formed an independent community before being grafted onto the western city of Lesn in 1902, held a week of activities to begin a series of civic protests aimed at regaining their traditional rights. They claim that, as so often, the treaty of union, which came into effect under the Zelaya government, has never been properly honored by his or any other government, whether local or national. According to the terms of the act of annexation, the Lesn municipal government pledged itself to guarantee social investments in the Subtiava community, in accordance with the increased income the union would provide. The well-known poet and writer, Enrique de la Concepcisn Fonseca, speaking for the Special Indigenous Commission which coordinated the week of action, said, ?One administration after the next has blocked any initiatives, probably unaware of the special right and privilege that we have as members of Subtiava. We?re going to go on protesting, but we?ll also focus on informing and enlightening our own people, stressing the importance of maintaining our identity. He explained that his people were fighting back against ?transculturation? firstly by attempting to rescue their own language.

The week saw conferences concerning indigenous customs pre-dating 1610, when inhabitants of Lesn first arrived in Subtiava, together with dances and other expressions of traditional culture. The commission said the cultural inheritance of Subtiava, which includes ruined indigenous temples and other special sites, has in effect been left to the mercy of wind and sun due to perennial municipal neglect. ?We certainly are interested in the tourist potential of these places,? explained commission-member Uriel Sanchez, ?but first we must reclaim the spaces we have lost in terms of authority before we can do anything.? Sutiava currently has some 62,000 inhabitants, but only about one third of these are pure indigenous.