Nicaragua’s Indigenous People Tell OAS of Killings, Land Takeover

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Nicaragua’s Indigenous groups complained Thursday to the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights about land takeovers and killings that have hit the Miskito and Mayangna communities on the country’s Caribbean coast.

The commission, which is part of the Organization of American States, held the hearing by internet link due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Indigenous activists and rights groups said there were 13 killings, eight people wounded and the forced displacement of one community in 2020 linked to land takeovers by non-Indigenous settlers.

The activists said the government of President Daniel Ortega has not done enough to address the problems on the jungle-clad coast, something his administration denied.

Activists told the commission that many of the “settlers” moving into lands taken from them were ex-soldiers linked to timber and illegal logging interests. Residents of some communities have been forced to leave because of the continued violence.

“The displacement of communities under siege to larger towns like Puerto Cabezas, Waspam or Honduras has created a very serious situation, because they do not have access to food or health services,” said Lottie Cunningham, who leads the Center for Human Rights and Justice of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.

“They live in terrible conditions,” she added.

Part of the land takeovers have occurred in the Bosawas nature reserve, which has been hit by illegal mining and logging despite its status as a protected area.

“The settlers have violently stolen our land and the authorities have allowed that,” said Juan Carlos Ocampo, an activist with the Prilaka Community Foundation.

He said residents temporarily left the hamlet of Sangni Laya after settlers chopped down coconut trees and destroyed crops, leading to what he called “a food crisis” for the inhabitants.

One of the worst attacks came in January 2020, when settlers burned 16 houses in the Indigenous community of Alal and killed at least four inhabitants. As recently as March 4, an attack on the Mayangna community of Kimak Was left one person wounded and another missing.

Nicaragua’s attorney general, Wendy Morales, cited a list of laws that she said have benefitted indigenous groups. She denied the government had tolerated human rights violations and said investigations had been opened into 18 complaints of land takeovers.