Nicaragua’s Indigenous Peoples: Front Line Collateral Damage of a Third World War?
Capitalism is easy to critique. It stomps around in boots; war is good business; humans are commodities. 21st century socialism, however, has escaped a duly critical gaze from many in the human rights community. At this juncture, when nations around the world are renegotiating their paradigms of populism; it’s time we took a cold, hard look at what has happened in the populist-socialist movements of Latin America.
Case in point: the American left has nurtured a debilitating blind spot when it comes to present day Nicaragua. One mention of the increasingly authoritarian (and neoliberal) state, and the proud, self-identifying ‘left of left’ stand at attention and compulsively recite a once powerful narrative about CIA-backed Contras and their war against the poor campesino revolutionaries.
Since the CIA has recently been exposed as but one nexus of power in an increasingly multi-polar world, it is timely to acknowledge the root entities pulling the strings behind the Contra War were Oliver North and the Reagan administration. North was exposed by the bastion of liberal media known as the Washington Post (now accused by some critics of being an arm of the CIA, ironically.) Yet, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) managed to help North ultimately escape all charges. Yes, you read that correctly.
Essentially, the narrative of Nicaragua is much more complex than your average dorm-room /armchair socialist would like to think – as is the entire socialist, anti-imperialist movement of South America.
Marxists have always had a complicated relationship with Indigenous Peoples. While Indigenous rights are routinely co-opted as a political talking point, the rights of Indigenous Peoples are among the first concessions to be thrown under the wheels of ‘the inevitable revolution’ in motion. Nowhere is this more evident than in the petro-fueled Bolivarian Revolution of South America where states like Venezuala, Ecuador and Nicaragua have repeatedly resorted to authoritarian violence against Indigenous Peoples. Such concessions can be traced to their narcissistic, cult of personality leaders who spent too much time campaigning, and too little time paying attention to political and social infrastructure in a manner sufficient to actually reform the neoliberal extractivist economy.
The militantly anti-imperialist states of Latin America’s so-called pink tide (i.e. ‘communism light’) have also been quick to sacrifice their sovereign vision to an ostensibly lesser-evil paradigm of imperialism under China, and increasingly, again, Russia.
Moskitia, Nicaragua is one of the few strongholds of Indigenous political leadership in the world. A fierce warrior culture that has always intimidated the Sandinista, the autonomous nation has never been officially conquered. The Russia-backed Sandinista failed to fully nationalize Miskito territory during the revolution. In more recent years, they have resorted to underhanded tactics to appropriate their legal and ancestral land once again.
This microcosmic war playing out now in Moskitia, to the casual gaze, may seem like a relatively minor cultural and resource rights clash (in the cosmic scheme of things) between Mestizo farmers and Indigenous Peoples in one of South America's most impoverished nations. However, in this case the forest is more than the sum of the trees; and, there are much larger geopolitical forces at play.
The Indigenous Miskito hold a significant amount of territory on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. If war breaks out between North America and Russia, China or Iran, this will once again be a strategically lucrative region. During the era of the Contra War, the Miskito had somewhat of an alliance of convenience born of necessity with the U.S. Famous Native American activist Russell Means fought the Sandinista alongside them, and even advocated for the U.S. government to support them. Indigenous Miskito relations with the ruling party of the FSLN are once again at a crucial low point while global tensions are at a relative peak. This reveals a core motivation of the Sandinista in their latest series of aggressive, if convoluted, encroachments. President Ortega and the FSLN have recently reenergized ties to Russia in the process of an ongoing remilitarization within the nation itself. Russia’s imperialist presence in Nicaragua includes the launch of a new drug war; and most recently, the installation of a mass surveillance center capable of monitoring activity across North America.
Russia has also been providing security for construction of the now infamous Nicaraguan Transoceanic Canal. The economic viability of this project has always been punctuated by a looming question mark. Financially backed by a Chinese billionaire, Iran has tried to get a stake in the game as well. The canal would destroy Nicaragua’s already fragile ecosystem, displace thousands, and further undermine democracy and human rights in general. An estimated 52% of the 278 kilometer canal route will cut directly through Indigenous Rama and Kriol territory; yet, the Ortega government has criminally bypassed the communities’ right to prior and informed consent under international law.
As much as President Daniel Ortega is trying to sell the Nicaragua canal to his increasingly fragile constituency as a windfall of economic development, it can’t be reduced to economics – especially after the recent expansion of the Panama Canal. It’s about politics, the politics of war. The same politics of war driving the slow burning invasion of the Miskito coast.
As Jimmy Carter explained to the United States (and English speaking world) in 1977, a treaty was signed regarding the Panama Canal that guaranteed its permanent neutrality. Panama and the United States jointly vowed the route would remain “open and secure to ships of all nations.” The Nicaraguan Transoceanic Canal plans reportedly (and conspicuously) lack such a neutrality clause. In the event of an international conflict, the Nicaragua Canal is poised to emerge as a military stronghold for China and Russia (and possibly even Iran).
Whether or not we are truly now headed for a third world war, it is certain that forces are aligning and strategizing to at least prepare for a hypothetical one. And in Nicaragua, Indigenous Peoples are on the front line of collateral damage.