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“They Say We Don’t Have Rights”: Miskitu Peoples Under Siege as Indigenous Landmarks Burn

by November 10, 2017
 

During the night of Monday, Nov. 6, supporters of Nicaragua's Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) set fire to the sacred indigenous space serving as the headquarters of YATAMA (Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Aslatakanka). Inside the compound was the Miskitu language radio station, Yapta Tasba, which went up in flames. The unrest caused the party’s Miskitu leader and national deputy, Brooklyn Rivera, to flee for safety. He remains in hiding with other senior YATAMA leadership, who have continued to have their lives threatened for protesting what they denounce as another fraudulent election.

Nicaragua’s municipal elections were held Nov. 5. Since the elections, seven people have been confirmed dead, over thirty have been injured and dozens more have been arrested and jailed. Among them are numerous supporters of YATAMA, who held a march following an announcement by the FSLN that YATAMA will be losing its mayoralty in the three municipalities where they are most popular. YATAMA members claim that the FSLN announced its victory while polling results were still being counted, and that YATAMA had won the election in Puerto Cabezas-Bilwi, even after their supporters were turned away from polling stations. Opposition parties to the FSLN have alleged more than one hundred and eighty anomalies, and it has been reported that arrest warrants have been placed for YATAMA’s leadership.

In the town of Bilwi, with a majority indigenous Miskitu population, this was a chance for its political platform YATAMA, to gain more influence in their autonomous ancestral home. However, as our sources in Bilwi attest, the country’s Sandinista party used the election to secure an iron grip on resistance in the region. YATAMA’s leader Brooklyn Rivera immediately refused the results released Sunday night, and called for a March to be held the following day.

Events in the city of Bilwi this past week have left many in shock. Our sources confirm that dozens of YATAMA supporters have been jailed, their houses have been burned, and threats to the lives of indigenous leadership has caused even the children of many families to go into hiding.

A number of angry, rioting youth were hurt and even killed by the FSLN army who showed up with machine guns, in a region where no one else has, was carrying, or using such unnecessary force

Indigenous rights activists allege that riot police and paramilitary forces turned a blind eye as Sandinista youth armed themselves and attacked Miskitu property and landmarks. YATAMA supporters fought violence with violence, using rocks and mortars in attempts to take back their quickly militarizing city. Protesters broke windows in Sandinista owned businesses and threw bricks at paramilitary forces.

No one involved in the protest could have expected the harsh response from a small group of Sandinista supporters.

The site of YATAMA’s headquarters, which had been used as the primary outlet for culture building and resistance to the Sandinista government, now lay in ruin. The Miskitu language radio station within the compound was the primary means of accessing news for rural communities.

Rampant destruction across Bilwi (also known as Puerto Cabezas) included the YATAMA Indigenous party headquarters and both of their radio stations, leaving the Sandinista radio station as the only operating, on-air station in a region which relies on community radio as a prime source of information

To further insult the indigenous resistance movement, armed Sandinista supporters destroyed the very symbol of Miskitu solidarity: a statue of a Miskitu soldier that has served as the central meeting point for protests and celebration of indigenous rights for the past three decades.

The city of Bilwi remains on lockdown, as Sandinista propagandists blame the destruction of sacred Miskitu space on the Miskitu themselves. The local Sandinista radio station referred to YATAMA and its supporters as “terrorists,” and suggested that the “stupid Indians” had burnt down their own symbols of resistance.

This is a developing story, and we will be sure to stay connected with our sources on the ground as tensions continue.

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A publication of the Center for World Indigenous Studies (cwis.org).

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