Indigenous tribes across Nicaragua are facing the most aggressive encroachment of their land ever witnessed in modern times. Pushing back and championing their rights, is the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN). The centre’s inspiring work in successfully defending and empowering its people has seen it become a recipient of a 2018 Lush Spring Prize Established Projects Award.
Not only are the coastal region’s Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples reporting frequent attacks by settlers, but they are also losing access and control of their lands to government endorsed mega-projects. According to Lottie Cunningham Wren, an Indigenous Miskito attorney who founded CEJUDHCAN in 2003 as a not-for-profit, non-governmental organization to provide educational programs, legal support, and practical assistance, the centre has never been more important to the native communities. Lottie reveals that in the last three years settlers, known as ‘colonos’, are accused of carrying out armed attacks on at least 12 Indigenous communities, resulting in at least 34 Indigenous people being murdered, 44 physically injured, 22 abducted and four people reported as missing, plus homes and crops have been burnt to the ground, and maliciously started forest-fires have displaced entire communities.
What’s more, international corporations are said to be systematically wrecking ecological damage that is severely impacting the communities’ land and natural resources. In particular, government-backed projects include mining, monoculture farming, and the construction of hydroelectric dams and the environmentally controversial interoceanic canal, which plans to link the Atlantic with the Pacific by cutting a waterway through the country, are cited as the most detrimental of offenders.
“Massive deforestation, plus the destruction and contamination of the water resources, is compromising the integrity of the territories’ natural resources and the cultural survival of the Indigenous communities,” Lottie says. “These mega-project initiatives, often pushed by international investors, represent a new form of colonisation.”
Working to halt and reverse this damage, CEJUDHCAN has multiple initiatives up its sleeve. First of it all it has been training Miskito women - who felt unsafe farming at a distance from their homes - in bio-intensive agriculture so they can work safely in the smaller areas closer to the community. Secondly, the group has battled for the peoples’ land rights in national and international courts, but whilst Lottie reveals that 325 Indigenous and afro-descendant communities, belonging to 23 territories on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua have won their communal land title, she says there is still a great deal to be done.
“To gain full compliance with the laws that protect Indigenous rights, especially the territorial rights, Indigenous governance and management of their natural resources for the benefit of the communities and their residents, we have demanded the Nicaragua State complete the Saneamiento, which means clearing the land of third parties, both illegal settlers and unsanctioned companies, which is the final phase of the titling process. The Government has blocked the implementation of this final step, so thus our struggle continues.”
Now backed with £25,000 in funding from the Established Projects Award, Lottie says as well as using the money to address food and water security issues, plus advancing ecological conservation, it is earmarked for helping to complete this final phase of tilting, which will see the communities given the rights to its land and boundaries set.
To support and keep up to date with CEJUDHCAN’s progress, check out the centre’s website at http://cejudhcan.org/
The Lush Spring Prize, hosted by Lush and co-operative Ethical Consumer Research Association, offers a £200,000 prize fund and other support activities, to help projects around the world that are working towards environmental and social regeneration.
Regeneration illustration by David McMillan