Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Poor vs Poor in Nicaragua's Forests

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Poor vs Poor in Nicaragua's Forests

Article excerpt

THE PASSIONATE PROTECTION of Indigenous land is critical to preserving what is left of Nicaragua's forests. The government in Managua awards title for public lands not protected in nature reserves to citizens who "improve" it. Cutting down trees is considered an improvement.

Poor or landless farmers, also known as campesinos, cut the trees on unoccupied property, cultivate it for a year or two and then sell it to cattle ranchers before moving to the next available plot. In this way they have made their way across the country.

Now that the campesinos have reached traditional lands claimed by the Indigenous Miskito and Sumu peoples, battles are brewing.

One hundred Miskito men armed themselves with rifles and machetes in February. They burned down eight dwellings, injured five people and killed two campesinos near Layasiksa in the Northern Atlantic Autonomous Region. The campesinos, according to the Miskitos, had invaded traditional Native lands, cutting down precious mahogany and royal cedar trees. Having failed to convince the campesinos to vacate the land peacefully, and because the national government neglected to respond after two years of pleas for assistance, the men took the law into their own hands.

A Canadian-backed project headquartered in nearby Alamikamba may help the Miskitos and Sumus defend their land peacefully. Project participants hope to convince the Nicaraguan government that the sustainable forest management plans they will prepare should qualify as improvements to the land. …

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