GENERALITIES:

THE SOUTH ATLANTIC AUTONOMOUS REGION

TERRITORIAL BOUNDARIES AND POPULATION

The South Atlantic Autonomous Region is geographically bounded to the north by the North Atlantic Autonomous Region; south by the San Juan River; east by the Caribbean Sea; and west by the Department of Chontales. (See map.) The area of the region exceeds 17,000 Km2 and is approximately 14% of the national territory. The region is organized into seven municipalities.

Municipalities Area (Km2) Population
Bluefields                5,452.0 57,256
Tortuguero   2,471.0 14,752
La Cruz de Rio Grande   3,382.0 21,143
Cuenca de Rio Grande   1,978.0 3,702
Pearl Lagoon   4,018.7 11,534
Kukra Hill      341.0 14,055
The Corn Island        12.0   5,815
Total 17,654.7 128,257

NATURAL RESOURCES

Rivers:The rainfall and the flow of the springs and brooks running off the hills and valleys nourish the rivers. The most important rivers that flow into the Caribbean Sea, the origin of the waters, are the Rio Grande de Matagalpa (450 Km.), Kurinwas (216 Km.), Punta Gorda (120 Km.), Escondido (88 Km.), and Wawashan (80 Km.). A majority of the inhabitants are settled around the riverbanks and are totally dependent on the rivers for transportation and communication.

Lagoons:The lagoons are natural dams that serve as protective barriers against the ero-sion of the flowing waters. The Pearl Lagoon (515.18 Km2) is one of the most important lagoons due to its rich marine resources. The Kurinwas, Wawashan, Patch and Nari rivers feed it. There are also other smaller lagoons such as Bluefields (50 Km2), Top Lock (30.40 Km2), Sunny (29 Km2), and Big Lagoon (12.26 Km2). Within the boundaries of the rivers and lagoons, the people fish and hunt for crocodiles, alligators, turtles, and many other marine species.

Islands and Keys:There are two main islands in the southern region, Big and Little Corn Islands, which are inhabited by indigenous people. The keys differ only by inhabitants. The most important keys inhabited by people are the King's Key, Kakabila and Rama Key. The Pearl Keys, Iguana, Man on War, French, and Pigeon Keys are inhabited by wild life.

The islands and keys are important to the indigenous inhabitants' economy-artisan fishing- on account of the many marine species that contribute to the economic tides of the communities. The statutes of the constitutional Autonomous Government proclaim that "all communal lands are inalienable, they can not be donated, sold, garnished nor encumbered, and they are imprescriptible." Nevertheless, there exist serious problems with our islands and keys: people who do not belong to the indigenous communities squat the land.

Moreover, in April 1997 it was published in the weekly newspaper Sunrise of Bluefields that Peter Tsokos purchased Lime Key, Water Key, Grape key, Vincent Key, Baboon Key and Wild Cane Key-keys that belong to the indigenous communities of Tasbapauni, Pearl Lagoon and Bluefields-from the Taylor (descendants of the Misquitu Chief), Kirkland, Hooker, and Jackson families. Neither the central or autonomous government, under the rule of the national political parties, enforces the laws or defends the peoples' rights. We, the indigenous people, shall take the case to the Supreme Court of Justice.                                                                                                                            

 2 The National Assembly of the Republic of Nicaragua, Statutes of the Autonomous Region of Eastern Nicaragua. Annex No 5, page. sec 36,1, 1987.

Main Land:The main lands of the region are naturally separated according to sea level. The areas of lower and intermediate grounds are subjected to a constant hydrologic cycle-salt spray-from the Caribbean Sea. The lowland areas are good for forestry and include the indigenous communities of Punta Gorda, Monkey Point, El Bluff, Set Net, Tasbapauni, Sandy Bay Sirpi, and Rio Grande Bar. The intermediate areas include the indigenous communities of Sandy Bay Sirpi, Karawala, Kara, Walpa, Marshall Point, Orinoco, Brown Bank, La Fe, Kakabila, Raitipura, Pearl Lagoon, Haulover, Kukra, Bluefields, Rama Key, Monkey Point and Punta Gorda. These communities are good to raise cattle and to cultivate pineapple, rice, and various types of vegetation common to the rainforest environment.

The hilly areas are less humid and are mostly occupied by peasants-many inhabit the communal lands. These areas have rich soil of both medium and fine texture and are excellent for cultivating a variety of crops (See map). However, immoderate precipitation limits agricultural ecology to raise and cultivate the following crops:

Perennial-crops: coffee, cocoa, citrus fruits, African palm, coconut, rubber, etc. Semi.perennial crops: varieties of grasses, pineapples, plantains, bananas, etc.                              

Annual-crops: rice, beans, cassava, coco, yam, yampe, dasheen, etc.                             

The National Assembly (House of Representatives) of the Republic of Nicaragua in the fifth consideration, based upon which the Autonomous Government was proclaimed, declares that the Autonomy Process "will guarantee the right of ownership by the communities of communal land ... the task of establishing and administering these municipalities is delegated to the Regional Council Members in accordance with established tradition." Nevertheless, the main problem between the indigenous people, the peasants, and the government is the use of the land.

The indigenous people are being pushed off their lands near the lagoons, rivers and sea by the migratory flow of peasants from the Pacific Coast since 1893. The peasants are advancing with cattle farms in the sight of the national and autonomous governments, yet nothing is being done for the demarcation of our communal lands. We, the indigenous people, demand respect for our communal properties, as given to the private properties, which are protected by the statutes of the constitution. We are all Nicaraguan; nonetheless, the peasants are usurping the lands of the indigenous communities.

3 lbid: Statutes of Autonomy. pag XXX, Chapter 5 and pag. Chapter 2, section 7.


Presently, there are consultations with the international free zones to exploit the region for tourism and to establish big enterprises especially on communal lands. The indigenous people, the rightful owners of the lands, are not consulted on these matters. We consider these maneuvers as criminal acts against the existing laws. However, this does not mean that in order to bring about development in our communities, we do not see the need for international investments. As far as we are concerned, there are procedures already established by the constitution that must be followed if the best results are to be expected.

On the other hand, Bluefields does not have a Community Board to oversee the laws governing its communal properties. The lands are being given away and ''shared-up'' as national lands by political bureaucrats of the Alcaldia (Mayor's office). A congressional decree signed on May 24, 1934 declared that "the government of Nicaragua donated 40,000 (forty thousand) hectares of national land to the indigenous Creole community of Bluefields." Why don't the people of Bluefields have communal lands? By the rights granted to the indigenous people through the statute mentioned above, the political incumbent(s) of the Alcaldia cannot distribute the communal lands as deemed. What will we, the indigenous people, bequeath to our children? Wake up Bluefields ... Wake up! We are entitled to communal properties by law.

Forest: The southern region is densely populated with timber and has an enchantment similar to the fairy tale, Sleepy Hollow. More than 65% of the soil is good for forestry, and at most 740,000 hectares* are productive land. Thousands of hectares have been burned for cattle raising. The woods, hills, and valleys are abundant with natural resources, such as timber, natural herbs, insects, reptiles, birds, and other wild animals. These resources are crucial to build houses, clinics, schools, manufacture furniture, and stimulate trade-exportation and importation of goods and services.

Timber: mahogany, cortes, coyote, areno,rosewood,school, cedar, mojo, etc. Fruits:mangos, oranges, mamey, papayas, pineapples, plums, bananas, etc.Birds:pigeons, parrots, hawks, ravens, vultures, sicla, whistling-pili, etc.    Herbs:dandelion, john charles, vervain, hyssop, catnip, cow-foot, woodworm, etc.Wild Animals: deer, tigers, black panthers, wild pigs, armadillos, opossums, etc. Snakes: babaspols, tamigaffes, red and black corals, plapantayas, etc.Reptiles:iguanas, crocodiles, alligators, etc.

4 The Managua Gazette, N.D. Thursday 26, 1933. Year XXXVl, N 20, pp 153 & 151. The Republic of Nicaragua. *Lopez Mario: State of art forestry in Nicaragua. Managua April 1997.


The Autonomous Laws state as a right of the people, "… the rational (controlled) extraction of natural resources, such as precious metal, stones, forestry, fishery and any other natural resources of the Autonomous regions, it is here hereby acknowledged that the proprietary right on communal properties is vested unto its inhabitants, and as such, the benefits of its exploitation, shall be just and shall insure proportionally to the benefit of its communities pursuant to agreements between the Regional and National Government."

In 1988, Hurricane Joan destroyed more than 250 thousand hectares of timber, displaced the wild life, and decimated the fishing grounds; consequently, it affected the productivity and living conditions of the inhabitants. Despite this fact and the extant laws, year after year, our natural resources are indiscriminately exploited and sold to the international markets without any revenue for the people of the region. It is like living in the world of Saint Exupery's Little Prince, "…and the Serpent wrapped around the little Prince's ankle like a golden bracelet: I shall answer to the question said the Serpent, and they remained silent."

 

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