March 18, 1998
Felipe Stuart, editor



URACCAN UPDATE is published as a courtesy to URACCAN by its editor, Felipe Stuart Courneyeur. 

Opinions expressed in signed articles are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect those of  URACCAN or UU.  URACCAN'S positions and opinions, when articulated, will be found in editorials or informal statements attributed to the institution. 

Most information presented in UU is taken from original Spanish-language material -- university documents and reports, articles from the Nicaraguan press, and signed contributions from academics, researchers, and students.  All translations to English, unless otherwise credited, are by the editor.


Section I:


     Autonomy: What it Is and Isn't: Dr. Ray  Hooker

       Changing Nicaragua is Changing Ourselves: Dr. Myrna Cunningham Kain

An interview with Cesar Paez

       Director of OAS Interamerican Indigenous Institute gives Inaugural  Lectures in Bilwi and Siuna

 Spotlight on Miguel Gonzalez Perez'  book

Section  II:

        Are they pushing for separation?

         Managua's dailies forgot to publish it!

          by Edgard Solorzano

         by Edgard Solorzano

         by Sergio Ramirez

         Tanya Chung and Heidi Mehta


 Section  I


This jam-packed issue is about autonomy - how it is being perceived and
questioned in Nicaragua and in the autonomous Caribbean Coast regions in the aftermath of the just concluded regional council elections.

It might be titled:  Autonmomy: It Ain't What You Think it Is, but that would imply narrowing the range of whom we think our readers are down to anelite crowd of  people in Pacific Nicaragua who see separatist demons behind any expression of the right of national minorities in the country to self-government and self-determination.

A somewhat heated controversy has arisen over claims by Managua media and central government figures that the Council of Elders of the Atlantic Coast are plotting a course towards independence for "their Miskotia".

Despite the extensive length of textual material involved, we have chosen to offer readers of URACCAN UPDATE a representative sampling of opinion and information appearing in the Nicaraguan media about this issue.  The edition comes to you in two Sections.

It includes information about the work of URACCAN's Institute for the Study and Promotion of Autonomy; and material from Miguel Gonzalez Perez book: GOBIERNOS PLURIETNICOS which is the most thoroughgoing study of the autonomy process since the Constitutional guarantee of 1987.

As a compass to help guide readers through all this material, we offer an excerpt from Dr. Ray Hooker's opening address to last year's Third
International Symposium on Autonomy held in Managua.  He outlines there his perspective on what autonomy is and what it is not.  His is one view among many, of course; but it is an outlook that received widespread support in that Symposium and in subsequent events such as the FORO DEMCRATICO held in Bilwi in January this year.

Dr. Hooker's remarks broadly reflect the point of view of those political
forces who argue for backing up the present Autonomy Statute with enabling legislation that would allow the Regional Councils to put teeth into the concept of autonomous government and regional control of resources.

Complementing Hooker's remarks is a segment of Dr. Myrna Cunningham Kain's closing address to the Third International Symposium "Changing Nicaragua is Changing Ourselves".



Autonomy is not a movement for independence; it is not a separatist
endeavor.  We Costenos are committed to consolidating the National Unity of Nicaragua through strengthening indigenous peoples and ethnic communities of the Nicaraguan Caribbean area, just as we are committed to Central Americanreunification and Latin American unity.

But it should also be understood that Nicaragua is a Caribbean nation; and that our Caribbean heritage is just as precious to us as the common cultural ties that unite us with other Central and Latin American nations.  Since 1894 Nicaragua has tried to build a wall to deny us contact with our Caribbean brothers and sisters.  The Berlin Wall was knocked down in 1989.  The days of walls have ended.  Like it or not, we are now in the globalization process.

Now we must become builders of bridges that unite Central and Latin America.  We must become bridges of understanding to unite the great Caribbean family.Fear of separatism and fear of cultural extermination are deeply entrenched in the collective conscience of the Pacific and Atlantic Coast peoples.  But we cannot allow our lives to be run by fear.When fear takes over the Goddess of Justice and Wisdom is enslaved.  We of the Atlantic and the Pacific must commit ourselves to attain the necessary levels of mutual confidence and understanding so that hand-in-hand we may successfully build a better Nicaragua; not just for ourselves, but also for our children and for their children.

Autonomy is not integration.  Why is integration not Autonomy?  Because all processes of integrating peoples have meant that one people and one culture is devoured by the other; that one people and one culture is forcibly assimilated by the other.  One culture assassinates the other. Cain and Abel's Biblical story repeats itself.  Assassination becomes a legitimate means to establish differences between peoples.  It is often glorified in peoples' songs and legends. Autonomy must definitely not become a melting pot.

So then, what is Autonomy?

Autonomy is a process for building a new national identity nourished by cultural diversity.  Autonomy is a tool that the peoples of the Pacific and the Atlantic must use to build a better Nicaragua, a united Nicaragua, a Nicaragua in which the principle of democracy is the fundamental guide forpolitical, economic, and social conduct.  Autonomy is the instrument thatall the peoples of this land of lakes, volcanoes, and tropical humid forests must use to build the strongand creative multiethnic identity stipulated in the Constitution, both the old and the reformed of 1995.

Autonomy is a cohesive process that builds unity in diversity.  I re-iterate: Autonomy is a transformation process that infuses cultural diversity with increased capacity to nourish and continuously strengthen national unity. Autonomy is a process of national liberation, of national reconciliation.The divine sparks trapped in each alienated Costeno, in each demeaned Nicaraguan, must be re-animated and redeemed through a successful autonomous process.  Our moral imperative is to build a better Atlantic Coast, to build a better Nicaragua.

Autonomy is the instrument that enables endangered cultures of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua to overcome the destructive forces that threaten to convert our culture into museum pieces.  Autonomy is an instrument for cultural survival and national cohesion.A nation divided...

We can do much better. Autonomy is also a process of cultural, racial, and genetic reconciliation. For many years we have undervalued our Indigenous and African heritage while overvaluing the European contribution to what we are. We have lived this falsity for many centuries, damaging our self-esteem;  converting it into a destructive, pathological process instead of a creative and constructive one.  In place of a strong, creative, and united Nicaragua, we have built a nation divided by confrontation and intolerance.  We can do much better.  We must do better. Either that, or we will be swallowed in a globalization process.



We've lived through ten very complex years, filled with challenges, stories, sacrifices: ten years through which we have wanted to influence there structuring of the Nicaraguan state, reach out to change Nicaraguan society as a whole, and above all, change ourselves, beginning throughout all these ten years to be autonomous.

In these ten years we've tasted the advantages of autonomy; we've tasted peace, a return to our communities, repatriation, stagnation, rebuilding of our communities; we've taught the rest of the Nicaraguan nation that it was possible to resolve the conflicts of the last decade.

Peace was born on the Coast; dialogue was born on the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.We've tasted in the lapse of these ten years what pride in our identity means, what it means to win self-esteem, pride in being Miskitus, Mayagnas,Mestizos, Ramas, Garifunas, Costenos. Over these then yeas as well we have lived though a slow insertion into the national democratic process, we've high participation in the elections for our regional authorities in 19909 and 1994 despite the enormous distances involved in obtaining a ballot and get to the ballot box.

Autonomy and democracy

We're learning how to be democratic; we've out and also enjoyed the model of multiethnic fellowship and coexistence established by autonomy.  It's possible to live together; it's possible for Miskitu and Mayagna to like one another; for Mestizos and Blacks to respect each other; for Garifuna and Rama to accept each other.We began in these ten years also to establish our first autonomous institutions, governments and regional councils.  They may be weak, but they're our governments, our councils.

Finally after 500 years, our own institutions, committing errors, yes, but our errors. Also, we've built, or begun to build, our own government organisms, own universities, our own women's movements that take up the theme from the perspective of gender, of multiethnicity, and of interculturalism.

Also we've shared victories with brothers and sisters in the rest of the country.  The strengthening of the juridical framework of autonomy in the constitutional reforms resulted from support received from National Assembly deputies who are not from the Atlantic Coast.  Nevertheless the became aware and began to recognize that to deepen democracy in this country it's necessary to strengthen the autonomous regime.We live in Nicaragua.  Hence the problems confronting the Nicaraguan people as a whole, and the problems confronting the Nicaraguan state, are also our problems: poverty, unemployment, administrative corruption.  Many of these problems that were pointed out in the work of the commissions aren't just problems of autonomy; they are problems of the rest of Nicaragua too.  And if Nicaragua does not get its act together it will be difficult for us from the Coast to become the solution for all the national problems.

True Interlocutors

Also during these ten years we've managed to have some relation with the municipalities and communities.  The process of demarcation and delimitation of municipal boundaries couldn't be completed in time for the '94 elections; nevertheless, the regional councils were able to charge batteries and define municipal boundaries.  Thanks to that, we were able to hold municipal elections in 1995.

Also it's been possible to use autonomous law to resolve problems of setting boundaries between Miskitu and Mayagna peoples; and in other cases drawn to attention throughout the Symposium.

Gaining respect and credibility with Nicaraguan and international NGOs, down to work.  All the work of territorial demarcation, intercultural bilingual education, health, productive activities must be organized through concrete things happening in the communities.We didn't come here to invent priorities or tasks.  All we have done just to transmit what is being said everyday in the communities.  It was very well noted that the basic task of our regional authorities is to learn conflict management, learn to negotiate with States, with the power of State; and we,ourselves have to learn how to negotiate with other expressions of civil society in the rest of the country, learn how to negotiate with political parties.

Relations with parties

We've talked a lot about the presence of political parties on the CaribbeanCoast.  We've said that we don't like national political parties, but at thesame time admit that they are on the Coast because we belong to these national political parties.  That means that we have to negotiate with them and tell them that if they are really committed to autonomy they have to elect good candidates, have to seek out and put up people committed to autonomy, and not say, as one candidate said to me in the last elections: Doctora, what you want is down the road, what we look for is political loyalty, not capability; in many cases political loyalty goes hand-in-hand with illiteracy.

What we have to do is negotiate with each political party and tell them that we will not accept that they impose candidates who won't work; and we won't accept them if they don't nominate women and youth to winnable positions.Everything that's been said here must be taken up inside the parties in which we are active.

We have to develop a propositive capacity, we have to learn how to build consensus.  We have to remember how the assemblies function in the communities.  Assemblies can last two days, three days - but as long as all the members of the community don't reach agreement we can't talk about consensus; we can't talk about agreements.

Dr.Myrna Cunningham Kain is President and Rector of URACCAN. The above remarks are a part of her closing address to last year's Third International Symposium on Autonomy, held in Managua.  The translation. by Felipe Stuart Courneyeur,  was taken from A Spanish-languageversion published in the February 1998 (No 6) issue of APORTES PARA ELDEBATE published by ALAI [Agencia Latinamericana de Informacion, Inc.],based in Quito, Ecuador.Issue No 6 is a special issue: "Autonomia Indigena: Diversidad de Culturas,Igualdad de Derechos" [Indigenous Autonomy: Diversity of Cultures, Equality of Rights].

This publication is largely devoted to the issue of indigenous autonomy and carries extensive coverage of the Third International Symposium held in Managua last year. Contents, in addition to Dr. Cunningham's talk, include: Autoderminacion, autonomia y liberalismo, by Hector Diaz-Polanco; Nicaragua: Autonomia a prueba, Eduardo Tamayo G.; Declaracion final del Simposio International: Autonomia en la CostaAtlantica: "Que escuchen nuestra palabra cargada de razon."; Autonomia y el Mexico del futuro, Eduardo Tamaya G.; Ecuador: Nuevos avances en la propuesta del pais plurinacional, Ariruma Kowii; Guatemala: ?Autonomia para la mayoria de la poblacion? Entrevista a Augusto Willemsem, ex-subprocurador de derechos humanos de Guatemala.

Eduardo Tamayo G.ALAI can be contacted on the internet through:
Email:  info@alai..ecuanex.net.ec
Web Page: http://www.ecuanex.apc.org/alai/


Interview with Cesar Paez

By Felipe Stuart Courneyeur

Cesar Paez and I first met 13 years ago in (what was then called) Puerto Cabezas, capital of Special Region I of Nicaragua.  The Contra-war was still raging and, on the Caribbean Coast, a war within a war. A war in which Indigenous Miskitu and Mayagna peoples found themselves on both sides of a complicated divide.

Paez, who is Miskitu, was then with the Sandinista Ministry of the Interior, assistant to Jose Gonzalez Picado.In that capacity he participated in the first peace talks with Indigenous groups engaged in armed resistance against the Central government.  Paez keenly remembers those talks and those involved from all sides, a seminal turning point in a nascent peace process that led eventually to a change in the Nicaraguan Constitution and Autonomy for the Caribbean Coast.

After his work with the Ministry of the Interior, Paez went on to elected analternate deputy in the Nicaraguan National Assembly [1990], representing the FSLN from the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). He is also afounder of URACCAN,  now working as General Director of URACCAN's Institute for the Study and Promotion of Autonomy (IEPA), an autonomous agency dedicated "to accompanying and advancing the pluriethnic autonomy process on our Caribbean Coast".

"IEPA," Paez related to me in this interview, "began its work in earnest last September after a period of efforts to develop project ideas and obtain support and funding for the initiative.  The agency set out to equip itself with personnel and resources to monitor systematically the regional, municipal, and communal autonomy processes in all their dynamic, interactive dimensions.  We do this within an academic framework based on research and analysis."

Among IEPA's key activities, Paez noted:

  • workshops on Indigenous and autonomous rights
  • creating and systematizing a data base on autonomy
  • ongoing monitoring of autonomy processes at the communal, municipal, and regional      levels
  • training:  a) a Diploma Course in Indigenous Rights in Bilwi and Siuna; and b) an adaptation of that course to a forthcoming one on Autonomous Rights, oriented to Mestizos.
  • promoting human rights, democracy, and  peace
  • promoting Indigenous rights on a Central American level
  • Special courses on Autonomy [pasantias] for Indigenous leaders.

IEPA works with all sectors of Costena society and also carries out international work on a regional and hemispheric scale.Two important upcoming international events are now high up on Paez's list of priorities.

First, the Central American Seminar on Territorial Rights and Legalization of Indigenous Lands. Convoked under the theme of CENTROAMERICA: TERRITORIO INDIGENA - YAPTI TASBA [CENTRAL AMERICA:INDIGENOUS TERRITORY -MOTHER EARTH], the workshop will take place atURACCAN's Kambla-Bilwi Campus, April 30 - May 5, this year.  It is being supported by the Centro Skoki and by Native Lands of the USA.

A second Mesoamerican gathering is being planned for Quezaltenango,
Guatemala on "Local government, the peace process, and Indigenous rights.  The event is expected to take place in July this year and has the support of KEPA.

Cesar mentioned a couple of previous events sponsored by IEPA, one reported in a recent issue of URACCAN UPDATE - the Foro Democratico which issued a Declaration stressing the urgency of enacting  enabling legislation to allow for genuine realization of autonomy.  Last December another gathering also took place at Kambla, on Indigenous  land claims and demarcation.  That assembly  issued a statement outlining proposals to resolve this issue in full respect for Indigenous rights.

"Our aim is not to do politics..."

"Right ahead of us," Paez remarked, "is the challenge of making a global
analysis of the just concluded elections in the RAAN and the RAAS.  This work is by nature academic, based on  participatory research and analysis within a social science perspective.  Our aim is not to do politics, but to try to understand what the election process and results can tell us about trends and problems.  We want to publish the results of this study prior to the government transition in April."

Paez can count on the collaboration of eight other IEPA staff members based on URACCAN's three campuses - Bilwi, Bluefields, and Siuna.  It's main documentation center is in Bilwi, but work and priorities are distributed throughout the three campuses.  Bilwi focuses on issues of Indigenous rights; Bluefields on AfroCaribbean culture and Creole rights; the Las Minas (Siuna) campus IEPA office centers its work on environment, natural resources, and agroforestry issues in the framework of autonomy.

Each campus has a local IEPA coordinator: Jimmy Enrique in Bluefields; Benalicia Lucas in Bilwi; and Isidoro Octavo Rocha in Las Minas (the mining triangle).

Staff members are all graduates in the social sciences and include Miskitus, Mayagnas, and Mestizos.  They work with a broader network of some 40 volunteers who are professionals in different research disciplines.

IEPA is an autonomous, self-supporting agency affiliated with URACCAN.  Its activities are financed through projects and support from national and international agencies.

Cesar expects that the Institute will be able to launch a Journal in the coming months to publicize the results of its research and studies.  IEPA will soon announce a contest to choose a name for the Journal.

Throughout the interview I kept thinking of Cesar -- then and now.  The same man, a bit older - now 41, married with a family and a degree in Sociology. He's studying for his Masters Degree from Ecuador's Polytechnic University and now he's steering this new flagship of autonomy on our Caribbean Coast.  There's a picture of the 1985 peace negotiators (including Cesar) mounted on Kambla Vice-Rector's office wall alongside a window looking out to a monument to the war and the struggle for the peace that finally came afterwards.  I've my own photo of those talks given to me by another participant at the time - it sits under desk-glass in my office, a reminder of how far we have come.  Cesar is a
walking, talking, active advocate for that journey which is still in progress.
IEPA, a vehicle whose time has come: on the road to a firm, sturdy autonomy, the coming of age of a free, pluriethnic-multilingual Costeno society.



Director of OAS Interamerican Indigenous Institute gives Inaugural Lectures in Bilwi and Siuna

Dr. Jose de Val,  Director of OAS Interamerican Indigenous Institute, visited URACCAN 's three campuses from March 8 to 11.   He gave Inaugural Lectures on the Bilwi and Siuna campuses to launch this school semester, taking up the theme "The Indegenous Perspective in the Latin American Context".

Dr. de Val, an etthnologist, expressed genuine satisfaction with his visit. He departed,  as URACCAN President Dr. Cunningham quipped "URACCAN's ambassador abroad".


Spotlight on


Un estudio sobre el Estado Nacional y el proceso de Autonomia Regional en la Costa Atlantica-Caribe.


Jose Miguel Gonzalez Perez
Universidad de las Regiones Autonomas de la Costa Caribe Nicaraguense-URACCAN
Editorial Plaza y Valdes S.A. de C.V.

ISBN: 968-856-484-2

Editado en Mexico por Plaza y Valdes Editores, una coedicion con URACCAN.

Nearly a year ago URACCAN published a pathbreaking study of the Caribbean Coast autonomy process Gobiernos Plurietnicos: La Constitucion de Regiones Autonomas en Nicaragua [Multiethnic Governments: The Constitution of Autonomous Regions in Nicaragua], by Jose Miguel Gonzalez P., vice-rector of the Bluefields campus.

The initial run is now sold out and it's hard to come by copies of this nicely designed paperback.  Author Miguel Gonzalez hopes to be able to find funding to issue a second edition with updated information.

The book is available only in Spanish.  For our unilingual English-language
readers URACCAN UPDATE carries in this issue translations of Dra. Myrna Cunningham Kain's  Prologue and the author's Preface, as well as a brief sketch about the author from the cover leaf of his book.


REGIONAL autonomy is not just a political project contributing to the
development of all the economic factors; it has an existential and profound meaning that signifies attaining greater levels of appropriation by all sectors of the Coast, of our development as human beings -- that is the region's integral development.

That explains why the struggle for autonomy has been undertaken in different ways, in some cases very painful, but always with much enthusiasm and above all with great hope and illusions.  This struggle does not only imply a sense of territory, but also profound cultural aspects ranging from education and economic development through to the intimate spiritual development of each man and woman of  various ethnic groups.

It's gratifying that young Costenos are generating theoretical aspects of autonomy.  To the extent that knowledge and theoretical development are generated on the Coast, knowledge and appropriation of concepts related to autonomy and what must be done for autonomy will develop within Costeno youth.

This book is a first effort by a Costeno youth who took to the university
teaching path and his professorship at URACCAN in order to promote expansion of though about autonomy.  Miguel Gonzalez Perez might have applied himself to something else, perhaps more remunerative in material terms; but he decided to stay there, occupying a space to help in a direct way the youth, leaders of the future. He did this so that the youth might appropriate the accumulated and systematized experience and work in a more effective way to deepen the autonomy.

"...  autonomous thinking is not recent..."

This book is an important overall panorama: in terms of its documentation and development of themes this work has become the most important document at this time for studying how autonomy came about.  The first part situates readers and puts into their hands a historical interpretation of events that were laying the basis for forming today's autonomous thinking.  It becomes totally clear that this autonomous thinking is not recent; its roots go back to the first contact Indigenous people had with Europeans, developing through the same spirit forged by the arrival of the first Africans, now called Creoles, up to the migrations of people from the Pacific and the mid region. Those recent migrants initially distrusted the autonomy but have been, more or less at a quickening pace, integrating themselves decidedly within the process of struggle for autonomy.

The second part of the book is an analysis of the formation of the nation state in Nicaragua and the practice of integrationism, basically an attempt at control of a territory, reincorporated and occupied by forces and elements foreign to the ethnic peoples of the Caribbean Coast.  These elements regarded the Coast as an immense deposit of resources to be exploited.  Those undertaking this exploitation always considered local people as unskilled and therefor without the right to enjoy the fruits of the land on which they are the originals; of the land where they have decided to live.

The book's third part analyses the enclave economy in its different forms - from concessions to foreign companies to conflict over Indigenous communal lands.  It also looks at the participation of religious groups that rooted themselves on the Coast and became important factors in social development.

A  fundamental difference of framework among Costenos: Ethnicism or multiethnicism?

The forth, fifth, and sixth parts are an encounter with the Sandinista revolution and an analysis of the war that deals with different armed and unarmed groups with different positions on autonomy.  The fundamental difference among Costenos is between those who conceive ethnicism as the main reason for autonomy and those who see the necessity to put forward this autonomy in a multiethnic framework to assure the participation of all groups in the process.

To the degree that discussion progressed, such differences were being settled through undertaking basic tasks.  This section goes on to an analysis of the process and results of the first elections of the Regional Councils and connections and support that different groups have at the national level.

The seventh and eighth parts offer an analysis of the functioning of autonomy with a government that does not accept autonomous development as its project, but rather views it with mistrust.  We have the participation of old leaders in agreements with new authorities, a state of apparent cooling of autonomy, and a lack of interest and understanding about the region among the upper echelons in Managua.  But this same situation calls for a new approach to struggle and involving Costeno youth in the process.

The conclusion offers an important reflection about the development of the thought and praxis of autonomy throughout history from a time when it was but a dream until the actual situation in which it is a constitutional precept and there are national-level laws assuring its existence.

This exhaustive study points to the importance of thinking about the road taken and to take up the march, never really been detained, towards true autonomy. The young university students in URACCAN have the opportunity to take this reflection process forward.  They are the main trustees of the entire accumulated experienced.

President and Rector  - URACCAN


DIACHRONIC study of the process of the Nicaraguan state's  formation is useful for the purposes of this research because national conformation, exactly put, dissolved on the Atlantic-Caribbean Coast.  Historically the Nicaraguan State came head on with the most persistent threats to its juridical and institutional constitution.  In the framework of that understanding, the analysis of the processes stemming from colonialism, indirect intervention and military intervention are relevant to bring out this dilemma of the conformation of the Nicaraguan national State.  The Atlantic Coast has always been -- and still is for the Nicaraguan State -- question of national security.

A broad study of the internal-external political dimension of these factors
makes the political tasks of the national liberation movement of the 70s appear more clear; likewise, too, its background in both liberal and conservative political factions.  Only a study of the specific weight of the
non-consolidation of the Nicaraguan nation, stemming from tribulations of the state formation, leads us to a clearer image of the great challenges facing the consolidation of the autonomous regime on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua from 1990 on.

But what implications does this insistent emphasis on the State have?  First, centralism as a constant factor of State policy, even during the 1979-1990 revolutionary process.  Second, a careful reading of the nature of the Nicaraguan State shows that one of its historically forged raisons d'etre -- not without profound political consequences -- is precisely the relative but persistent expansion of its institutionality within the territorial ambit of the Coast region.  That's the root of the problematic nature the new governors of Nicaragua have perceived the transcendence of regional autonomy.  Both aspects are the historical premise of our historical-theoretical formulation of this research.

The theoretical linkage of the historical formulations arises precisely through the negation of those differentiated identities found in autochtonous (and original) peoples and other ethnic communities inhabiting that region.  The national conformation of Nicaragua is at once the idea of placing the State ahead of its own socio-political dimension. The necessity of affirming its sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction subsumes - in itself - the existence of those groups not tied to the idea of nation nor to that of he State in formation. (1)  A general review of Hispanic national formations, and of the Nicaraguan national formation in particular, gives an account of this exclusive bi-faceted process: the political-juridical and at the same time, the socio-cultural.

Does the region constitute a category for study?  It would seem to, but we need to put a finger on it.  The territorial confluence of those ethnic indigenous communities and other ethic communities found in Costeno territory also came about through a historical process not without its dynamic transformations -- from external colonization, extractive activities of the foreign enclave, state modernization and integrationist programs, etc.  These phenomena not only have reconfigured collective identities (Devalle, 1989:13) but also inter-ethnic relations, the logic of communal organization, and indigenous communities' relationship to the land.

We now have in the region areas of ethnic settlement with corresponding zones of socio-economic influence: Miskitus in the north, Mestizos and Sumus-Mayagnas in the agricultural frontier zone, Creoles in urban zones, Ramas and Garifunas in communities of the Coastal literal.  Nevertheless, there is a historically consolidated area of geographic demarcation between those broad socio-ethnic configurations and the rest of Nicaraguan society with its Mestizo majority.

The mid region of the country is the relative border between the mono-ethnic majority of Pacific Nicaragua and the pluriethnic Nicaragua of the Coast.  Those limits have been legally sanctioned by the political organization of the State since the beginning of the century and basically the same lines gave origin to the Autonomous Regions. (2)

What we would call the "regional ambit" has three facets: the historic-economic, the social-cultural, and that which stems directly from an analysis of the institutionality of the State.  This book takes a look at each one of those aspects in order to analyze its importance for the definition of the Coast region; and likewise the regions  political-administrative derivation as an autonomous territorial area.

The regional dimension of autonomy

What then is the regional dimension of autonomy?  It's two histories combined into one national process - the political history of the State (of the nation-state formation) and regional history (regional formation, ethnic
composition), both taken to be diachronic, but at the same time analyzed
synchronically beginning with the eighties with a study of its initial formation process and its final outcome in regional autonomy.

There lies the internal dilemma of our research: to understand regional autonomy and its possibilities for development not only by summarizing its
regional-national political historical actuality, but also problematic factors
in the internal functioning of the autonomous regime. In other words, history's accents, the commas of paradigmatic political stage, and finally,  the i-dots of the recent socio-political process.  This research intends to outline some premises about those relevant aspects.

And regional autonomy?  We get to that after attempting to deal with an adequate theoretical-historical introduction to its basic elements.  For us regional political autonomy will recognize the territorial areas of particular ethnic groups, forged in that historic dimension, giving them space within the State in which to exercise a series of historic rights.  This implies that territorial demands -- in our case essential -- overflow the municipal-communitary ambit, but neither suppress it nor underrate its importance.

It will be seen how highlighting the regional dimension in shaping autonomy, combined with Central government reticence to promote it after 1990, created a problem for the internal functioning in the political-territorial structure. Lack of definition in organization and coordination of national institutions operating in the regional ambit, lack of functional precision of regional political entities, and lastly, the isolation of Indigenous communities.  In the short and mid term the interaction of these factors and negative byproducts of this complex situation profoundly threaten the territorial-political and institution ambit of the autonomous region.

Not a gift from the State

The combination and integration of forms of local self-government (Indigenous community and municipal) with a system of regional government is not, per se, the sole node of the functioning of Costeno autonomy; it is, rather, its definition in front of the National State.  There lies the pertinence of its diachronic-synchronic study and of a reflection on both elements.  As we will see, the State did not grant those above-mentioned rights.  They are the outcome of political mobilization, in our case, armed, by regional ethnic groups (Iturralde, 1991:29-33) and the formulation of concrete demands for some self-government system or other.  In that sense regional autonomy comes out of negotiation between the National State and ethnic configurations located on determined territories.

The recognition of integral rights of socio-cultural groups of the region is
juridically based on the formulation of a Statute on Autonomy for the Atlantic Coast Regions.  The guide questions that this book seeks to respond to are: What are the intimate links between autonomy and the nature of state and government? How does autonomy transform the nature of the State in the strict sense?  What are the limits to the functioning of the autonomous regime?

The book outlines partial responses to those questions.  Partial -  because they stem from a case study whose development we must constantly evaluate and because they are suggestions to enrich our approach to the ethnic-national question in current Latin American conditions.  They are contributions towards the eventual installation of autonomous regimes and pluriethnic governments.



(1) "Cicunstancias precisas han condicionando los modos en que se construyeron las diferencias etnicas en el "tercer mundo": la expansion y consolidacion colonial, los residuos idelogicos y practicos coloniales en las nuevas politicas de los Estados independientes, el desarrollo de mecanismos de dominacion neocolonial y una concepcion estatista de nacion"; C. Devalle, Susana B., (1989), "Introduccion. Etnicidad: discursos, metaforas, realidades", en: C. Devalle Susana, comp., La diversidad prohibida, Mexico, El Colegio de Mexico, pp. 11-20.

[Essential circumstances have conditioned the way in which different ethnic groups were built up in the "third world": colonial expansion and consolidation, ideological residue and colonial practices en the new policies of independent States, and the development of mechanisms of neocolonial domination and a statist conception of the nation".]

(2) "...las fronteras culturales pueden convertirse en politicas, o bien pueden establecerse fronteras culturales al interior de un mismo territorio
politico...", Andres Fabregas Puig y Carlos Roman Garcia (1994), A fin del milenio: el rostro de la frontera sur, Gobierno del Estado de Chiapas-Instituto Chiapaneco de Cultura, Mexico, p. 13.

["...cultural borders can be converted into policies, or rather can establish cultural borders within the same political territory..."]


Jose Miguel Gonzalez Perez was born in Bluefields, Nicaragua in 1967.  He did his studies in Anthropology at the Escuela Nacional de Antropologia e Historia de Mexico (ENAH).  He was a scholarship researcher with the Direccion General de Asuntos del Personal Academico de la Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (DGAPA-UNAM) in the agrarian field of the Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales. He collaborated as a researcher with Doctors Elena Lazos and Luisa Pare in the Tuxtlas Region south of Veracruz.

Since 1996 he has taught social anthropology and rural-urban  sociology in URACCAN.  He coordinated field research on the general functioning of the autonomous government and its institutions.  He is also a professor of "History of the Americas and Autonomous Regimes" at the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University based in Bluefields.  In 1996 he collaborated in regional research with the Atlantic Coast Research and Documentation Center (CIDCA), with the Center for Human, Citizenship, and Autonomous Rights (CEDEHCA), and with the Development and Human Progress Association (ADEPHCA).  This research program has enabled him to prepare specific diagnoses of the conditions of marginalization, poverty, and cultural systems of Indigenous and ethnic people and communities of the Caribbean Coast.

Miguel Gonzalez is also author of a 1997 study AUTONOMIA REGIONAL HACIA 2000 [Regional Autonomy Towards 2000], prepared for IPADE, the Instate for the Development of Democracy.  The study analyses the Caribbean Coast autonomy process from 1990 to 1997. IPADE published it in August last year in support of its civic education campaign to promote citizen participation in the March 1998 Regional Autonomous Council elections.

That exhaustive 63-page study is completed with an annoted bibliography and an additional 50 pages of supporting documents, resolutions, statistical tables, and graphic material.

IPADE's email address is ipade@nicarao.org.ni
Fax: 505 275 5172
Voice telephone: 505 276 1774/ or 1775.

Miguel Gonzalez can receive mail at autonomy@ibw.com.ni


Section  II


For Land, Nature, Life and the Future

The 336 representatives of the Mayagna, Miskito, Rama indigenous peoples, ethnic communities, 10 representatives of the Honduran Moskitia,and over 1,200 leaders, visitors and observers that met in the city of Bilwi from the 20th to 26th of February in the "Juan Amos Comenius" Moravian Institute,

Taking into consideration that: Indigenous territory is the heritage of the peoples that live within it and therefore is an inalienable right and guarantees the preservation of ourcultures and identities. This territory has been recognized by international agreements that hold up this ancestral right of ownership, under a system of communal coexistence with other cultures, respect for nature, the necessary use of its natural resources and historic heritage for our future generations.

The Constitution of the Republic establishes in its Fundamental Principle sthat "The State recognized the existence of Indigenous peoples who shall enjoy the rights, responsibilities, and guarantees provided by the Constitution, and, in particular, those of maintaining and developing their identity, culture, their own forms of social organization and administration of local affairs; likewise, to maintain communal forms of property on their lands and possession, use, and enjoyment of the same, in full conformity with the Law." [Article 5,Constitution]

It is noted in Article 180 of the Constitution that "The communities of the Atlantic coast have the right to live and develop themselves under forms of social organization that correspond to their historical and cultural traditions."  It goes on: "The State guarantees these communities enjoyment of their natural resources, effectiveness in their forms of communal property and free election of their authorities and legislative representatives."  [unofficial translation,not taken from official authorized English-language text].

Historically we have been forced to defend our communal territory, and though it has never had frontiers, we have been forced define these borders in the face of division and separation of our families due to the disintegration and repartition of states with artificial frontiers that have diminished and divided our natural resources.

In the last ten years we have made numerous efforts to peacefully legalize the status of our ancestral lands. The results have not been fruitful and, in the best of scenarios, the agreements that we have reached are not held up. Now we face the imminent risk that the Nicaraguan  government will usurp our lands.

After many complaints, the National Commission for the Demarcation of Indigenous Territories of the Atlantic was formed by way of  Decree 16-96;but Decree 4-97 was reformed without any consultation. This National Commission continues to be mainly comprised of representatives of central government institutions with only a minority of indigenous representatives. This lack of representation does not comply with the agreements of the National Dialogue in which, for the first time in the history of our supposed integration, the President of the Republic committed himself to change the make-up of this commission in order to achieve parity between the government officials and indigenous representatives.

This National Commission has been inoperative, indefinitely delaying the important task of demarcation which we have struggled for so long. Indiscriminate granting of concessions of our natural resources is leading to over-exploitation mainly because the state does not exercise any control over these concessions. Furthermore, the norms and regulations of concessions are never complied with, creating venality and corruption in the process.

The large-scale industrial fishing companies must respect our traditional artisan fishing practices which have been our principal means of survival. We responsible community members and leaders must necessarily take control of our natural resources in order to conserve them and use them for our own necessities. That's the way to safeguard our culture and existence.

This right to control our own property has its base in the historic Supreme Court decision which suspended the concessions granted by both the central and regional governments.The Regional Councils have been dysfunctional; they have not responded to numerous demands of the indigenous population. This has created a lack ofl eadership in our territory, leading to mismanagement and abuse of our natural resources to disrespect for our organizations and traditions, and to deteriorating living conditions.

We consider that the beginning of the next century must be marked by a new relationship between our communities and the State, which must start with ad efinitive solution to the issue of territory. We seek peace, happiness, love, and sharing of our beliefs and possessions with those who respect us in accordance with our ancestral custom of coexistence with other cultures, peoples, and nations.

We are aware of the many problems and dramatic social and economic situation that we face. Furthermore, we realize that these problems cannot be overcome until we first resolve the issue of ownership and legalization of our territory; of the administration of its resources; and the issue of a legal framework to regulate and control those attributes.

The Council of Elders is our preeminent traditional organization; they merit all due respect, for that is not only our customary law, but the Council is also legally recognized in national legislation.The General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities is the highest traditional authority which determines the destiny of our peoples and communities which have inhabited our lands since the days of our ancestors long ago.


In light of these considerations, this General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities, making use of the faculties conferred by Indigenous and ethnic communities, Decrees the following:

1. All the varied kinds of resources within the historical boundaries of our territories are heritage of Indigenous peoples and ethnic communities. These should be conserved, protected for the use of our people.

2. The Executive Government of the General Assembly is hereby formed withthe full powers and faculties as granted by this Assembly.

3. As an organizational mechanism, the Executive Government is empowered to incorporate members of other organizations with similar goals as an instrument for consultation and support. Specialists brought together to form commissions on particular issues may also be included in that entity.

4. A system of administrative and financial control will be set up to manage the funds of this government. It will present the General Assembly properly audited reports to guarantee proper management of resources.

5. Each community shall, in accordance with the norms established for natural resources control (forests), will provide up to 250 cubic meters of timber to assure the financing and functioning of work commissions; and the functioning of this structure of executive government.

6. Invest the Executive Government with ample powers to administer, control, and make use of our territory's natural resources, in the framework of striking an harmonious balance between the different entities involved inthe management of these resources.

7. Any leader guilty of acts of administrative corruption will be penalized with five years imprisonment and life-long suspension from the Indigenous movement.

8. The Indigenous organization, Yatabiska, is dysfunctional and is hereby invalidated due to its disrespect for Indigenous peoples and ethnic communities. Former president, the Reverend Mateo Collins, must account for its financial situation and for internationally-funded projects before theCouncil of Elders.

9. Individuals who falsely represent Indigenous peoples are hereby totally and categorically disavowed. Only the General Assembly has the maximum authority to grant such powers of representation.

10. This General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities creates the following commissions:

A. The Indigenous Territories Demarcation Commission whose key mandate shall be demarcate the territory.

B. The Natural Resources Commission which will regulate possession, protection, conservation, use, enjoyment, and management of natural resources in all their forms.

C. The Legal Commission's  mission is to define a new legal framework on which to base our self-determination as a nation; and to work for the defense of our rights on the international level.

D. The Social Commission will call immediate attention to problems in the areas of health, education, culture, labor, prisoner rights, widows, and orphans that require urgent responses.

E. The Emergency Human Rights Commission shall take charge of coordinating with the communities the creation of communitarian commissions and territorial units for the administration of resources.

The tasks of the commissions are:

Clarification of historic maps and boundaries, declaring that the territory as a whole shall be the object of indigenous demarcation. Request arbitration to guarantee a fair legalization of territory and resolution of disputes regarding contradictions with other forms of property. Contract consulting services for the short-term elaboration of a methodology for auto-demarcation in which communities have direct participation in defining, planning, executing, and evaluating this process.

Natural Resources:
A plan for 100% utilization of revenues generated from fishing, logging, andmining activities will be elaborated. This plan requires organization of thecommunities in order to administer funds transferred from companies involved.Resource-exploitation and processing activities destructive of oureco-systems and natural habitat will be halted.

Sea, Lake, and River Resources:
Clear and harmoniously defined limits between traditional and industrial fishing activities; establish agreements necessary for enforcement of such limits. Industrial fishing will be prohibited in rivers and lakes. Develop a strategy to halt piracy in our national waters will be developed in collaboration with government authorities, community leaders, businesses,and international organizations.Set guarantees for the stability of companies currently operating on ourAtlantic Coast, within the framework of  safeguarding rational exploitation and preventing over-exploitation.

Requests will be made to international specialized marine biology organizations to study and assess our coastal waters' capacity to support marine life extraction. These organizations would also help determine the appropriate periods for bans and restrictions on capture of endangered species. This should be carried out in conjunction with state authorities, community leaders, businesses, and corresponding international organizations.

At the same time, incentives should be offered to those who comply with such norms. Advantage should be taken of fishing-bans time to improve the fishing fleet. The Legal Commission of the General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples andEthnic Communities will proceed to elaborate the bills necessary for the ratification of these measures.This proposal will also be presented for discussion with international organizations with the aim of coordinating implementation of these measures.

Immediate agreements will be made to protect and halt deforestation of mangroves; and to promote their reforestation.Those means of extraction which continue to destroy marine life and endangered species will be prohibited.

Forest and Scrub Resources:
Companies will be forced to comply with their forest management plans under community supervision. An initial proposal will be formulated for the management of forest resources based on an inventory and current diagnostic of their condition. All agreements for the exploration and exploitation of our resources will be granted only with the approval and participation of our communities. All natural resource concessions which affect and harm the flora and fauna will be suspended, especially those which destroy our natural medicine sources.

A proposal to carry out an inventory of medicinal plants will be formulated with the goal of protecting these resources.

Mines and Hydrocarbons:
The legal status of concessions for the exploration and exploitation ofmining and hydrocarbon resources will be reviewed in coordination with the affected communities. These activities should be carried out in conjunction with the communities in order to avoid that the exploration activities areused to stimulate speculation on the international market.

Mining and hydrocarbon concessions that harm the environment and our ecosystems will be suspended. Auditing mechanisms will be put in place to monitor exploration and exploitation concessions, the scope and destination of earnings obtained from these by central and regional governments. Companies with natural resource concessions, government institutions, and international organizations must make available studies they have carried out regarding the capacities and potential of our territory.

Establish norms guaranteeing a fair return to self-employed miners, based on new relations between them and mining companies. Exploration studies and techniques used in such concessions must be approved by affected communities in order to prevent damage to the ecology and to human beings.

Legal and Judicial Aspects
Immediate protection for the members of the Executive Government of General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities will be requested from international human rights organizations.A first draft of our constitution will be presented to the next General Assembly. This constitution will guide the future of our peoples and ethnic communities inspired by Indigenous philosophical principles based on values of coexistence in harmony with nature, communal ownership of property, and the struggle to preserve our culture.

Social Issues
Immediate attention to control the cholera epidemic in  affected Indigenous communities. Measures are also required to prevent its spread to other communities .Immediate alternatives must be sought for relocating Indigenous communities still situated on the Bambana River banks. Systematic and immediate response to work-related demands arising in different government entities.

Help organize a meeting of maritime workers, both scuba-divers and sailors, to deal with their most urgent demands and resolve pending problems. Assistance must be given to scuba divers suffering from Bend's disease and other diving-related problems.

Promote our culture through publication of Indigenous communities' traditional tales and legends;  and through developing different schools of dance and auchtononous folklore, aiming to make them know nationally andinternationally.

Immediate assistance must be provided to widows and orphans; and especially those who have been affected by the drought and are lacking food.

Review the prison system in our territory and bring about transfer of prisoners from other zones who originate in our territory.

Community Commissions shall be formed in each community.  An elder shall be chosen to coordinate it, and others to take responsibility for natural resources, demarcation, juridical affairs, and social issues. Territorial units will be formed in order to help network communities with natural, social, or production-based affinity.These territorial units shall be convoked to coordinate joint activities relating to the aforementioned themes: natural resources, demarcation, and juridical and social affairs. A Indigenous human rights defense plan shall be presented, rooting itself in respect for Human Rights in general - the Right to live in a healthy ecological environment that guarantees our ability to make use of ournatural resources.

Here follows a list of those elected to Commissions

The IX General Assembly of Indigenous People and Ethnic Communities also confirms as general consultants of the Executive Government and the Council of Elders as: Dr. Oscar Hodgson Arguello,Carlos Molina Marcia, and Ernesto Scott Lackwood.

Proclaimed in the city of Bilwi, February 26, 1998.

Signed by 386 delegates from that number of communities

Casa del Consejo de Ancianos, Contiguo al Hotel Rivera, Bilwi, Puerto CabezasEn Managua: IMSCO, detras del Parque Carmen Phone: 505 266 0718/ 222 6972   Telefax: 268 2868

Email:   almuk@puebloindio.orgimsco@sdnic.org.ni

Internet Web Page:         http://www.puebloindio.org.moskitia

Translated by  Felipe Stuart Courneyeur

Witness for Peace-Nicaragua have made information available about the General Assembly of Indigenous People and Ethnic Communities of the Miskitu nation on their web page.

You can open the WFP web page at: http://www.igc.apc.org/wfp/news.html
email at:    wfpnica@ibw.com.ni



by Edgard Solorzano
translated by Felipe Stuart Courneyeur

E.S. To what extent is the Council of Elders promoting separatism in theAtlantic region?

O.H.A I want to be categorical: neither the Council of Elders nor the Indigenous General Assembly forward separatism or independence.  What is up for consideration is an administrative mechanism, a system prevailing on theCoast assuring self-determination for Indigenous people.

E.S. What elements are they proposing?

O.H.A What is put forward in the Document of the Indigenous Communities is that the communities have the right to create their own administrative structures.

E.S. Does that mean not recognizing the Regional Councils that are also part of the spirit of the Constitution?

O.H.A What is happening is that the regional councils were created with aparty-based conception, dysfunctional because  the absence of massive participation in voting signals that the system is not functioning.On the other hand, Dr. Aleman's government is clear about this situation and in his election campaign proposed the creation of a new Autonomy Law.  Thatis to say, there is expressed recognition that what actually exists is not functioning.  Of course, the Regional Council doesn't do the job of a traditional mechanism of administration.

E.S. The General [Indigenous] Assembly proposed creating an Executive Government, something that  appears to amount to non-recognition of the regional councils...

O.H.A It would be better put to say they discussed executive mechanisms with those we expect to coordinate with the new regional councils.  This leads usto define a new structure to function on the Coast.

E.S. You are talking about traditional mechanisms but you then also refer to coordination with the councils.  How do those two factors combine?

O.H.A I must say that in no moment does it mean not recognizing the regional councils.  What is out there is that the people, in by voting, are saying that the councils are not functioning.

E.S. What is the Document referring to when it speaks of creating a new juridical framework, of presenting a draft constitution that will determine their destiny?  I understands that this proposal doesn't square with the Constitution.

O.H.A  The government is currently trying to legislate an "Indigenous Communities Law", a kind of World Bank prerequisite to obtain financing forthe central government.  What we are asking ourselves is what kind of mechanism the government is using to define this kind of law.  We are not aware of it.I n the second place, indigenous communities have historically been defined under the Reincorporating Decree that signaled a series of situations that don't fit into the actual system.

E.S. For example?

O.H.A The Decree in the Convention de la Mosquito recognizes in Article Two that all the wealth and taxes should remain in the Miskotia, regulated by the Central government.  In saying this we are taking into consideration that all taxes raised on the coast must stay on the Coast.  But it's now 104 years since, and all tax revenues have been flowing to the Pacific in clear violation of the Law reincorporating the Coast [into Nicaragua]. A second aspect is that we have put forward to the Auditor General of theRepublic that it carry out a profound investigation of resources - of both mining exploration and exploitation that the government is managing under cover of discretionality.  This violates the constitutional principle that communities should manage their local affairs.

E.S. Do you believe that it will be this regime that brings about functional integration according to Nicaragua's commitment?

O.H.A  We have to discuss the depth of the problem of two regions with different cultures and histories, and also different administrative mechanism.

E.S. The Constitution clearly states that the Nicaraguan people are multiethnic.  Where's the contradiction you are talking about?

O.H.A  There are to aspects to consider here.  First, all polls show that institutionality is questioned in Nicaragua. Yes, we consider ourselves to be a Single State and hence we are not talking about a separation.  Yes, weare talking about how in Nicaragua there can be two different administrations that are managed under global principles. I argue that because the legal instrument through which the Atlantic Coast was incorporated points out in one of its principles that we would be relieved of our poverty and that the bad management of funds before reincorporation was a problem of the government previous to 1894.  Now, if this is the instrument through which 22 communities subscribed to this document, what will happen now if those communities make an evaluation and note that Nicaragua gets a zero on all those commitments?

E.S.  What is it that they are asking for, clearly put?

O.H.A It's important to define that Constitutional Law recognizes that in western civilization nations exist that are constituted by various States. This is not at all new.

E.S.  Do you think that's possible in Nicaragua without violating the Constitution?

O.H.A  I think so.  It's possible that Nicaragua be constituted by two States under one nation.

E.S.  That's where a certain kind of separatism is felt and to that should be added the call of the Council of Elders for abstention.

O.H.A  At no point does the General Assembly Document call for abstentionism.  Yes, there are communities who are fed up with the electoral system.  What the document pointed out is that the actual system does not resolve our problems.  Secondly, that the political parties only come to campaign during elections and afterwards disappear.  This is what the communities are flagging.  But to go from that to say that there is a call for abstentionism is an invention made by those self-same yellow magazines.

E.S. The Document makes that call between-the-lines when it makes reference...

O.H.A  What is being discussed right now with the Council of Elders is that really we have a dysfunctional system.  Why doesn't it function?  Precisely because there's no autonomy because we don't dispose of the management of economic resources.  Secondly, tax revenues go to Managua.  Hence, we ask ourselves what is the autonomy concept? For the political parties it's a matter of fortifying the system, as they said in the elections.  But for the communities the issue is that their natural resources are being handed away in concessions by the central government.  Furthermore, all tax revenues from those concessions are being managed under the criterion of discretionality.  That's to say, they aren't even respecting the Budget Law. We ask ourselves why are there timber concessions on the Atlantic Coast whereby a mahogany tree sells in foreign markets at six or seven thousand dollars and what benefit comes to the national as a whole or in particular to Indigenous communities?  That's why they're shocked when the Council ofElders raise issues such as resource management.

E.S.  What's their conception of the Autonomy Law as they put it?

O.H.A The Autonomy Law conceives property as an abstract element for use,possession, and enjoyment.  But it doesn't define who is the owner.  The government's interest is to create national lands given that in the Pacific all lands have now been privatized.  The central government defines itself as a facilitating instrument for recognizing different kinds of property as the motor-force of wealth.  Then why do they want to make themselves owners of Indigenous communities? A second aspect is that when they argue that the Law does not regulate this situation, what Autonomy are we talking about?  Nor does it stipulate that resources on Indigenous community lands belong to those communities. As well, the Constitution recognizes the traditional form of government of the communities in a historic manner.  But what history are we talking about? That of 1894 when a King existed here.  Then we can't talk about an Autonomy Law that is not clear on this matter of the fundamental principles why tax revenues must stay in theregion. All these elements are what the Council of Elders and its General Assembly have begun to argue.  Logically, this has caused a lot of commotion in the communications media.  We are not talking about separation, but of concrete problems in the framework of a State that can be multinational without dividing up the country.

E.S. Are they proposing to create a new Autonomy Law or to strengthen theexisting law?

O.H.A  There are two points here: There is a Regional Council legally established by the Autonomy Law and the same Constitution.  But the Constitution also establishes that Indigenous peoples must have their own local administrative systems in accord with traditional and historical forms.  Based on that Constitutional precept,  the Council of Elders has created an executive structure.

E.S.   What do expect to come from all this?

O.H.A  What force will be the greatest when the communities grant the right to watch over natural resources to this executive government of the General Assembly and say that the Regional Councils don't have that faculty to administer land and resources.  This is the dilemma.  The idea is to step up efforts.  To present concrete ideas about natural resource management not yet established in the Autonomy Law.  Secondly, about territorial definition in which the communities establish their historical boundaries. Thirdly, that there should be an administration that responds in a traditional manner.  And, fourth, there must be mutual respect between the Pacific and Atlantic zones and a different vision of national identify from what exists up till now.

E.S.  How could that dilemma be resolved?

O.H.A  We can ask for a plebiscite, which is in the Constitutional framework- in which people respond as to whether or not they are really in agreement with the Regional Council for which they did not vote; or are they in favor of a structure closer to the community level?  But I insist, we are not talking about separation nor independence.

E.S.  You are proposing a second phase of the National Dialogue.  What proposals do you have?

O.H.A  It's proposed to take up, first, the search for a national identity; second, the quest for a strategic plan that integrates with mutual respect arange of different cultures in a strategic development plan; thirdly, education and health for the Atlantic Coast. Experts on this theme have said that national identity and a strategic development plan cannot be taken up without first defining the Atlantic Coast, because the Coast defines national and regional identity  from a concept of historical different peoples and cultures.  Second, that a development plan can't be put together on the Pacific without taking the Atlantic Coast and its natural resources into account.


Separatist movement incubating in the Atlantic Coast


In the last issue [of EL SEMINARIO] Dr. Roberto Arguello Hurtado, former president of the Supreme Court of Justice warned about the possibility of aseparatist movement seeking the independence of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.  Just afterwards, the Council of Elders of that region argued in a public declaration the necessity of forming their own government, reliving 104 years later, a proposed separation of the Caribbean [region] that would deprive Nicaragua of 60 thousand square kilometers of its territory.

by Edgardo Solorzano
translation by Felipe Stuart Courneyeur

The Supreme Electoral Council estimates that there were 180,032 potential voters for the Atlantic Coast regional elections.  Of that, only 176,610 registered themselves on the voter lists and in the end only 86,000 people voted.  That's to say that abstentionism got a little more than fifty per cent, now a cause for concern among politicians, government, and State institutions.

That's a concern that's taking on greater force recently since the Council of Elders of the Atlantic Coast, an institution in existence for more than a century, launched a public Declaration from its Ninth General Assembly of Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities.  It put forward, among other points, the necessity of forming an Executive Government, to have its own juridical framework laying the basis for its self-determination as a nation, as well as guaranteeing the permanence of its rights at the international level.The polemic arising from the regional elections seems the be surrounded by the smell of separatism, or independence from the Pacific.

Nicaragua expands over 130 square kilometers.  The Atlantic Coast has anextension of 60,036 square kilometers.  Hence, the country is at risk of being reduced to an area of 69,964 square kilometers. Historically the Atlantic Coast has been a region isolated from the Pacific and marked by great conflict between potential colonizers who fought to divide the natural wealth and to get a monopoly on the interoceanic canal.

Colonial imprint
Both Spanish and English left footprints of their presence in this region made up of diverse cultures, traditions, different ethnic groups, and adiversity of languages.

After the Spanish colonization, the English took their turn at pillaging the Coast; that's how it was when they decided to create the Miskitu Reserve through the Zeledon-Wyke Treaty, also called the Managua Treaty.  This resulted from a Pact in 1850 between representatives of the United States and England, better know as the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty.

The Miskitu Reserve established an autonomous government, but under English tutelage. According to historians, this took the form of a not to well-defined rectangle running north-south along the Coast from Bluefields to apart of Brackamn, now Puerto Cabezas [Bilwi - Translator]. With the Treaty the English implanted a new form of political organization, their own Constitution, whose main representative was the Miskitu King. They also set up a General Council and an Executive Council.

The king symbolized the cupola of the political order, representing the interests of his people to foreigners; he was the judge and the chief military authority.  His position was legitimized by the English and the coronation took place either in Jamaica or Belize. According to historian Flor de Oro Solorzano, "the Reserve signified the sunset of the Miskitu ethnic group's control and domination of the Caribbean Coast".

"Those indomitable warriors, capable of terrorizing the Spanish colonizers and neighboring tribes over an area of some 80,000 square kilometers," says Solorzano, "were reduced to a population of 7,500 souls inhabiting a 30,000 square kilometer area."

"This government regime," write sociologists Lioba Rossbach and VolkerWunderich, "maintained itself for thirty years.  But its greatest weakness lay in the ambiguous situation of autonomy for the Reserve with respect to the formal Nicaraguan sovereignty. Hence they lived in constant fear of being invaded from the Pacific."

The invasion came in 1894 when the government of General Jose Santos Zelaya put an end to the autonomy of the Reserve and incorporated it into the national state as a Province (Departamento).After a series of conflicts between ethnic communities and the Nicaraguanarmy the Miskitu Convention decided, on the 20th of November, 1894, to recognize the Constitution of Nicaragua, its laws and its government through the Reincorporation Decree.

In its essential substantial parts the Convention established that General Zelaya's government  committed itself to come through on a series of concessions, such as: exemption from military service; village self-government; recognition of the Regional Chief of the communities; as well, reinvesting profits earned in the region back into the region.  But nowhere was there any disposition to favor Miskito political autonomy.

From 1894 until now the reincorporation of the Atlantic Coast into the Pacific has not been really carried out, and thus the region has been kept isolated and exploited by the central government.

Autonomy Now?
Recognizing that premise, the Sandinista government abolished the Somoza Constitution of April 213, 1974 and promulgated a new Constitution on January 9, 1987.  The new Constitution recognized for the first time in history, in Article 8 of Section II that "The people of Nicaragua are by nature multiethnic..."  Chapter VI stipulates the rights of Atlantic Coast communities.  Chapter IX of the Political Administrative Division, it is established for the first time that the State will organize itself in the Atlantic Coast on the basis of an Autonomous Regime Law.

The reformed 1995 Constitution maintains this same spirit and strengthens attributes of the Regional Councils. In September 1987 the National Assembly promulgated Law 28 on the Autonomy Statute of the Atlantic Coast regions, setting up two regions: the North Atlantic and the South Atlantic.  Likewise, it establishes in Article 44 of Section VI that the "Present Stature will be backed up with enabling legislation (reglementado) and will be widely disseminated across thecountry".

But enabling legislation seemed not to be on the legislators' agenda.  The same Autonomy Law has been adead letter since the beginning.  Neither the government of Daniel Ortega, nor Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, nor the actual government presided over by Dr. Arnoldo Aleman came through on this. And the Atlantic Coast stays marginalized despite the fact that it represents almost half the national territory with great mineral, timber, and fish wealth - in 1997 bringing in almost 100 million dollars US dollars.

Enabling Legislation
Rayfield Hogdson, Coordinator of the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS) emphatically argues that "autonomy must be given a real change to develop the Atlantic Coast."Autonomy, says Hogdson, is a major alternative despite its weak juridical framework.  In that way, the RAAS Coordinator pushed aside the Council of Elder proposals and at the same time criticized those who argue that the Regional Councils are dysfunctional.

"I think the word dysfunctional is toostrong," he said.  " What the Council of Elders tried to do is set up their own government forgetting that the country is made up of the Nicaraguan family". But despite that, he also said that one problem is the "lack of sufficiently strong respect by the central government for the electors."  This government, he said, is too obstinate and thinks that autonomy can only be permitted if the central government leads it.  For Hogdson the problem is lack of economic funds to promote a regional government as well as the failure of government after government to pass enabling legislation to concretize the Autonomy Law.

According to Hodgson, if the Atlantic separates Nicaragua will be the loser. "But I believe that the Pacific has to work more harmoniously with the Atlantic; if not the possibility of  separation gets bigger day by day."  He pointed out, by way of example, that more than 50% of the population [of the Coast] did not vote and that taking into consideration those who voted for local or regional options, it means a 75% no to the politics of Managua. "The pressure and poverty that these people suffer is very grave and that's the danger, as I see it", he concluded.

For his part, the Liberal National Assembly Deputy Leonel Panting said that he "is not in agreement with a group of Costenos who are taking advantage of this percentage of abstention in order to undermine sovereignty."Analyzing the abstention rate in the just past elections, the legislator cited various factors such as economic problems, the Supreme Electoral Council which failed to turn over a good number of voter identification cards in the RAAN, the problem of missing names on the voters' list, and, as well, the limited economic budget in the region over the last eight years.

"All those factors," he said, "are adding up, but I don't want to say that abstention is a rejection of Nicaragua, nor of the government nor the autonomy process we are living through."

Nicaragua will lose
Regarding separatism that could come about sooner or later, he said that "two or four Costenos are giving exaggerated advice to the Council of Elders leading them to extreme political positions and they are going to get us into trouble."

Panting said that "I don't believe we will see either in the short or the long run parties that come out for independence for the region."  Logically, he said, this will be in tandem with the attitude of the government in doing something about demands to counter unemployment, to bring about healthy investment and attention to basic services.The deputy urged that the response be complying with the Constitution and bringing in enabling legislation for the Autonomy.  All Nicaragua will lose with separatism, he said.

David Bradford, Director of the Center for Atlantic Coast Research and Documentation (CIDCA) said that abstentionism is relative; he considers that, among elements already mentioned above, the involvement of Pacific parties in regional elections was another factor."But whatever the judgment regarding this theme," he said, "one has toconsider that this is just the third election for autonomous councils in the country's history.  Impatience is part of the problematic of the inhabitants of the Atlantic Coast."



The most recent elections on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua hardly drew any international attention and, what's worth, hardly caught the attention of the voters themselves.  The rate of abstention reached almost half the registered voters.  There is nothing all that strange in such demonstrated idleness; it has to do with a history of eternal frustrations of the population of this vast territory, inhabited by distinct ethnic groups; with the poor communication between a people whose resources are super-exploited, who are exposed to international drug trafficking, and who are isolated from the rest of Nicaragua. So isolated, that on this side we say the Atlantic Coas treferring to what in truth is the Caribbean Coast.  The open Atlantic begins very far from there. It's a different Nicaragua and unfortunately far away.

These elections took place to choose the members of the Autonomous Councils on which the governments of the two administrative regions theoretically rest.  Atlantico Norte and Atlantico Sur were created through the Autonomy Law in times of the revolution.  Faced with the grave conflict created at that time because the revolution understood little or nothing about the peoples of the Nicaraguan Caribbean, a lack of comprehension that led even to war, autonomy was the best solution. Today it is considered to be exemplary as a solution to similar ethnic conflicts in other countries of the continent.

But it was a solution that never worked.  The elected council never had real power in their hands, power that the law gives them.  The political will of governments in Managua has been the same from the last century on.

"TheCoast", as it is dryly called, is administered as a colonial territory. Now, as a great novelty, President Aleman announces that he will govern from the Coast various days a month, instead of assuring compliance with the law and that the autonomous councils assume their functions. Neither  centralism nor  independence,  but autonomy

In the wake of these failed elections, so poorly convoked, talk has begun about parallel governments among representatives of all the ethnic groups (Miskitu, Sum [Mayagna-translator], Rama, Creole, Black).  Even others are talking about independence.  Neither centralism that tries to govern from faraway Managua; nor visits by royal judges to territories that have never been well known; nor parallel governments represent a real solution, not to speak of those isolated independence proclamations.  The autonomous regime is the solution, as established by law, and it should be carried out adequately.

The Liberal Party of Dr. Aleman won those elections, those based on only half the voters; won with a campaign in which the government blew money in propaganda and dumped resources on the Caribbean that had always been lacking - from medicines to construction materials.  Capricious election-time donations that don't resolve the basic problems of these abandoned, misunderstood, and always far away regions.

Lack of communication and abandonment, lack of highways, isolation of ethnic communities, inordinate and often illegal exploitation of mining, forest,and fishing resources, added to chronic poverty and lack of social services turn the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast into a territory coveted by drug cartels moving drugs from Colombia to Mexico and the United States.  This is the real defiance to Nicaraguan sovereignty.  And we can't stand up to it without interlinked policies, beginning with respect for the autonomous regime.

Translated by Felipe Stuart Courneyeur



In early March, two new Canadian teacher-interns arrived in Nicaragua to assist with the work of the York-URACCAN Linkage Project. Tanya Chung and Heidi Mehta were contracted to work with URACCAN teachers helping to upgrade their computer and internet skills.  They are part of a CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) program for recent Canadian university graduates.

"Interns" contracted by this program work for a six month period abroad in their specialties to acquire practical experience before returning home to the Canadian job market. The two new arrivals join Roseanne Gasparelli, Tim Hansall, and Nadya Weber, Canadian ESL teachers already working as part of the Linkage Project.

Ms.Chung is assigned to work in Bluefields and Ms Mehta in Bilwi and Waspam. Prior to initiating their teaching, they are spending a couple of weeks at a Spanish-language school in Esteli.

Welcome Tanya and Heidi.