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Local governments are working to protect Indigenous communities from land usurpation.
Nicaragua's Revista Tortilla con Sal spoke with Lejan Mora, president of Wangki Twi / Tasba Raya Indigenous Territorial Government, in the Municipality of Waspam, Rio Coco, the people is defending itself against the usurpation of its lands. TeleSUR shares the full interview.
-Can you explain to us a little about the origin of the problem of the so-called land invasions.
In our country, in the area where the Miskito peoples live, they are divided; the region is divided into territories, into different territories. Precisely here in this municipality, which is Waspam Rio Coco, which borders Honduras, in this municipality there are seven indigenous territorial governments. One of which is the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya Territory, where we are right now. This is the office of the Territorial Government of Wangki Twi.
At the moment, I am the president. I carry out the functions of territorial president and we are here today, and I would like to, I'd like to explain the current situation that has been developing and the situation in the past as well. The whys and wherefores that at this stage people are projecting images that are not the reality.
Images that are not the reality under the actual situation. The problem right now... here in Wangki Twi, there are around four, yes four communities that are under precautionary measures. Why the need for precautionary measures? Because supposedly...
-From the Inter-American Court?
Yes, indeed. There's a procedure to be done every three months in Costa Rica thanks to the measures put in place by the Inter-American Court. This is because of the problem of the invasion of indigenous lands that have been going on for several years now. And because of the sale of indigenous community lands by the community leaders themselves. In fact, no, not the community, but an organization, an indigenous people's organization, whose leaders are there and they have been there for almost thirty years now.
-Would that be Yatama?
Those leaders were the ones who started selling land. We have documents showing they were the vendors. Who were the buyers? People from the Pacific, who don't have land. So they began selling, they began doing business, and that is where the problem of land invasion arose. Now, there are invasions of communal lands, so the people of the community are also left without land, and they are waiting for someone to do something.
So we, as territorial government, right now we are working hard in coordination with all the institutions here in the municipality, at a regional level also with the regional government, and also with the central government because various laws that support us, that back us up.
The Law 445 talks about.... where it talks about the right of the indigenous peoples to administer and so forth. And so, based on the law that protects us, we are acting to keep to a minimum the situation that has taken place. And so far we feel that we have, we've stopped the invasion that was taking place... we have stopped it... because by applying that law, we can get people imprisoned via a judicial process. We get them imprisoned and they end up with three-year prison terms.
And that is how we are trying to calm the situation. And later on we seek to reach a peaceful solution, without confrontations or anything else. Territorial rights here in Nicaragua is something new for us. For indigenous peoples it is something new. But what the current government has done for us is a very good thing. Because before, we did not have this right. Now with the new law that is Law 445 where we are protected, that law supports us. It protects us. And the authorities set to work to make the territorial divisions until there came a time... the work had to go through various phases and right now we are in the last phase which is remediation.
So that is when we get to the problem where the land dealings have taken place. Then there comes when they get paralyzed, they get frozen. And right now we are in that stage of remediation. Just three weeks ago we had a meeting with the regional government, with all the territorial presidents on the matter that soon... we are going to work on the remediation issue. What's meant by the remediation issue? Some are trying to manipulate people so that they get involved in confrontations with those who are invading land. They think that remediation is something that has to involve confrontation with those invading the land.
- That's what they call....
That's what they seek... and we are not on that path.
-And they call that self-remediation?
That's it. That's what they call it. That's what they call it, self-remediation. But we as a territorial government are working along other routes, along legal routes. And we are coordinating to define boundaries, because the concrete trig points are already there, the territorial trig points, each territory already has its trig points, its coordinates. The technology is advanced enough for us to see from here where they are located. And we are already planning to start work on clearing the boundary limits and with that we will know where we are, to where we will know where each community is in which zone, the boundary limits for each territory and so on.
So we are, as I have said, we're in the last phase of the remediation, which is clearing the boundaries, the inter-territorial limits and so on. So we are at that stage right now. I remember very well indeed that in 2015 there were clashes between Miskitos and those who were invading the land. But that came about thanks to the same situation that has been... occurring. The political opposition is insisting on self-remediation. So the people in the communities rise, get involved in confrontations, and then they persist, and that's how, I think there have been four or three deaths, something like that.
Gracias al Gobierno Sandinista Niños y niñas de la comunidad Francia Sirpi, Municipio de Waspam, asisten a clases de manera gratuita, donde también se les garantiza alimentación saludable y todos los materiales escolares. #DanielPresidente2021pic.twitter.com/6EgHMM4vgp
— Gobierno Regional Autonomo Costa Caribe Norte (@GobiernoCosta)
February 8, 2021
Thanks to the Government, children from the Francia Sirpi community, Waspam Municipality, attend classes free of charge. They are also guaranteed healthy food and all school materials."
- There is a famous photo of a girl...
Indeed. It's the case of a girl where a 13-year-old boy was handling his father's handgun inside the house. The gun went off, and the bullet pierced through here and came out here. What did they do when that accident happened? The creators of fake news took charge of spreading the word through the media, through Facebook, claiming that a lot of men appeared, 200 men and attacked the community. And we showed that was completely untrue. We went to the house and to the community.
We interviewed people. We even visited the site where it happened. Everything was false. But that information spread internationally as if it was something real, which is untrue. Today even we could go... if we go to the community, we can talk also to the mother of the girl about what happened and she can tell us the truth. So these are situations they are manipulating. We have to work hard practically every day to prove the truth about all the false information that they are reporting. And we seek to show the truth because we don't go around lying to people.
- And, in your opinion, do you think this problem is getting better, is being resolved, even if only gradually?
Lejan: Yes, indeed. What I've seen during this year 2020, after 11 months now... in these 11 months, we have seen that the situation is improving. And people in the community also feel a little more secure, not like before, because since we began going through the judicial process with the people we sometimes get hold of, then they see that there is pressure via the legal route.
So those people doing the invasions there, they are also withdrawing, practically retreating from the land. And the people, on seeing that, we note they feel safer more or less... safer than they were.... And right now we are working along those lines. This year is already ending, finishing. And next year, if we continue along the same line, we think we may feel that the situation, the tension that exists, will decrease more and more until we reach a definitive solution. There are two more points.
We, as a territory, on June 10 this year, we called a meeting in the Tea Keamp community. We were representatives of institutions, for example, mainly from the local court. There were two... the municipal judge and then the public defender as well. There were two from here. And the police accompanied us and others. To the Tea Keamp community, we invited other communities that are part of the territory, the ones closest, for them also see the meeting's importance. We invited community leaders. We even invited other territory leaders, that is Amasau, the other territory that is adjacent. So we invited them there, and we sat down to talk and the people invading also, I would say that there were about 28 people who came from there.
But from that time until... since 2015, that happened in 2015 in September. From that time until now, the situation... although there are rumors, although rumors spread scaring people in the area so that a false report results and then gets taken to the Inter-American Court. These are the things that have been happening, but for now there's a situation of calm, there are no confrontations or anything. But I remember very well that last year, in February in the community of Santa Clara, there was a domestic accident inside a house.
Settlers, yes. We invited them and we sat there under a tree. We made a presentation of the real situation there because they know very well they are on land that does not belong to them; we presented this to them. And we have shown them what and how might be the most appropriate way forward. It is a negotiated way, not through confrontations or anything like that. We talked and agreed that... because there are people who have been on that land for several years. And that land where they are located, they got it because another territory sold it. One territory agreed to the sale, but it is a piece of land that belongs to a different territory.
So it is a bit of a complicated situation. So we talked with them, and precisely this coming Wednesday we have planned to prepare the ground for to another type of approach, namely leasing. We as the territory of Wangki Twi have not yet taken that approach, but seeing the situation and to ease it a little, we take that step. To what end? To a point we regard as workable for creating a calmer and more durable situation, so that there are no conflicts.
We are in that situation. So that's one thing. And the other thing is... when the war ended in the nineteen nineties, there were much ex-combatants coming from the war who needed land to work. So, there, next to Tasba Raya, further down where it borders with another territory, the government granted a large piece of the land to each ex-combatant, 50 blocks. A very large area. So they were given it 30 years ago.
- In total, would that be about 14,000 hectares?
Yes, more or less, yes forest land, virgin land. So they have not worked it, but the leaders... those who were involved, they were in charge of everything... and right now at this point we see they are negotiating to sell the land to those settlers, to sell off the land. So, it's a situation coming about that is not good for Wangki Twi's territories because....
- So it is a historical problem?
It is a historical problem, yes; it is problematic.... But it's a matter of things happening within the same, in fact the same ethnicity. So that is the current situation, and we too as a territory are very protective of the law that we have. Those ex-combatants got that land, but being from a different territory, they were from another territory. But these are matters that maybe later on we will see how to understand the owners of that territory, the land that they have been given.
Because they are people who do not belong to the territory in question. They are from a different territory. According to the norms of each territory... for example, at least our bye-law in Wangki Twi rules that if they come, even if they are Miskito but from another territory, if they come to live here, we consider them as outsiders. What does that mean? They are not legitimate members of the territory. The same way a foreigner may go to another country. Someone goes to another country and they feel exactly that, a foreigner.
Then that kind of outsider is also considered, viewed in that way. The authentic Indigenous-born people are regarded as the legitimate owners of the territory. So the problem we have with the ex-combatants' land... is that most of them are from different territories. So they are things that...
- But they are Miskitos...?
They are Miskitos, yes. They are matters that between us maybe we can understand how we can resolve things. But right now they are selling it, they have it up for sale. For us that would be another problem besides the one we already have. We do not want to end up with another territory with... for example, with legal precautionary measures. But we can see that someone is pushing them to do so in order to create more land subject to precautionary measures.
- Would it be fair to say that the same people who set out to procure the precautionary measures are among the group of people who created the problem in the first place? Would that be fair to say?
That is how it works. Now people who understand the matter know where the problem comes from. We understand it. But people at the community level they don't know. That is why the people concerned choose people from the communities, manipulate them, and turn things on their head. For example, the sale of land. I have seen the video that Lottie* released. She says every drop of blood, no, every pound of meat that sold to the United States is a drop of blood of the Miskitos, which is totally false.
El Gobierno de Reconciliación y Unidad Nacional realiza la apertura del año escolar 2021 del Centro Tecnológico Onofre Martínez en el Municipio de Waspam.
— Gobierno Regional Autonomo Costa Caribe Norte (@GobiernoCosta)
February 8, 2021
"The Government opens the 2021 school year at the Onofre Martinez Technological Center, in the Waspam Municipality."
- "Conflict beef"
It is totally false. For her, I don't know what her aim is in spreading so many lies. Because it's something that's not... it has nothing to do with anything, anything real, nothing at all. These are things that are not right. I mean, a lie of such magnitude.
- Compañero, could you explain a little about, for example, this historical problem of the Yatama ex-combatants development pole? I understand that it's located very close to some communities of your territorial government. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Yes. That is in Tasba Raya zone. The northern zone... Tasba Raya has two zones. The north zone and south zone. So, if you go into the northern zone, you enter through the first community which is Miguel Bikan, which is in the plain. And then you continue 10 kilometers further down, and then you enter the community of Capri. From Capri, two-and-a-half kilometers away is another community called Polo Lakia Sirpe. Yes, I mean there's people, a town is there. And then further down to the southwest is Polo La Quietara. That's where the ex-combatants' land is that was granted to them, where it is located. That's where they are. So, the whole area that includes... if you go further down, you will find the southern area of Tasba Raya, and the last community there is called Wisconsin. So you almost abuts onto the communal land of Wisconsin. that's where it is.
So all that strip, all that strip, is covered by the Polo La Quietara zone. So that's where, as I told you before, that's where the owners of the land are trying to sell, that's where they are trying to sell their land. Some, not all, some. They want to do a transaction, put it for sale, or whatever. So that's where the problem is occurring.
- So the remediation process, with the right remediation process, you hope to solve that historical problem as well?
We hope so. That is the hope we have, yes. After the completion of the boundaries inter-territorial limits, because up to now, as we can see... while the trig points have been set, the boundary setting has yet to be done. So the problem is there. And that is why we want to start from there.
-Can you explain what boundary setting means?
Lejan: Ok, perfectly. For example, one country with another country divides, splits. For example Spain with France. It has its territorial borders. Exactly the same. The territory of Wangki Twi borders with another territory, Li Aubra, which is a little above the Río Coco. So, the territory of Wangki Twi runs, everything is referred to the border from the Río Coco inwards, it borders with the Li Aubra territory. So the trig points, when they made the territorial division, the territorial divisions, they set the trig points.
- The trig points are the reference points?
Landmarks. Coordination points that they have set out. Yes, inter-territorial. So the trig points are there. So, right now what is needed we are in the last phase of remediation, is just that. To do the remediation clearing the path from one trig point to another so that it is visible and so that everyone knows where they are located. That is what I mean. When I say boundary limit, that is what I mean.
* Lottie Cunningham of the Legal Center for Human Rights in the Northern Caribbean Region (CEJUDHCAN)
Today is the birthday of Augusto Sandino, a hero of Latin America's struggle against US imperialism.
His legacy lives on in the Sandinista government in Nicaragua, which is today a target of US sanctions and attacks. pic.twitter.com/SmkuSTxlVr