nicaragua’s indigenous people: another version of orientalism

Nicaragua gets scant attention in the mainstream media. And when it does, the portrayal of the country is usually negative. Two of the main culprits are Tim Rogers, who writes for the Nica Times, a Costa Rican published paper, who work is syndicated in US newspapers like the Miami Herald and the Christian Science Monitor, and Rory Carroll, who can regularly be read in the Guardian putting the boot into Nicaragua, Venezuela, and any other left wing country that he happens to land in.

Rogers latest contribution to international understanding was posted on the BBC today, Drugs Dilemma on Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast. The drugs problem on the Coast is real, and started when Colombia began using the Caribbean Coast as a staging point during the Contra War. Anyone with eyes can see the effect that drugs has had on the Coast, and the influx of money spent on lavish dwellings and lifestyles which are otherwise in short supply in the poorest region of Nicaragua.

Drugs, though, are only one story on the Coast. Rogers article quotes people and organisations the Campaign has met during our visits there over the past two decades, including the Council of Elders. Without being too harsh, you have to doubt the political judgment of an organisation which thinks it can achieve its separatist demands by petitioning Hillary Clinton and the Queen. The other main body representing the Miskitu people is the political party, YATAMA. Made up of men (and women) who fought in the Contra War, they have shared power in the region, have stood in a Coalition with the Sandinistas, but YATAMA members have also led protests against the Sandinista Government. YATAMA doesn’t get a mention in Rogers’ article.

One of the outstanding achievements of the current Government on the Coast is moving towards demarcating all communal land. The work, which has taken four years, have ensured the rights of indigenous people over land more than the size of Wales. Someone who has looked at issues on the Coast over the past decade is Luciano Baracco. His latest book, which he edits, National Integration and Contested Autonomy, examines the history of the region, bringing the story up to date. The chapters on the demarcation law are particularly valuable, describing the process, the outcome, and also some of the challenges that remain.

The prose might not be as flowery or as exciting as the Central American ‘orientalism’ practised by Rogers and Carroll, but it will give you a much better understanding. Better to invest your time in back issues of Envio!

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