As a result of more than two hundred years of British colonialism, the first Autonomous
Government was granted to the indigenous people of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua in
1860. In 1894, the Atlantic Coast was incorporated into the national state. Nonetheless,
the people depended on the North American companies for work. Over one hundred years
later, the Autonomous Government resurged within the revolutionary government of 1979. On
September 2, 1987 a constitutional decree brought into existence the Autonomous
Governments for the indigenous communities and towns on the Atlantic Coast. The law
created two Regions: The North Atlantic Autonomous Region and the South Atlantic
Autonomous Region. In 1990, forty-eight representatives from the different indigenous
communities and towns of the southern region were elected by popular votes as the
Autonomous Government took office.
In a sequential pattern, a second and third election was held again in 1994 and 1998
under the auspices of the national political parties. During the campaigns, the elected
representatives reiterated promises to organize the Autonomous Governments and to promote
economic development plans for the region-"the sword in the stone." Since the
majority of these representatives are active members in the national political parties,*
they must follow the agenda and programs of these parties which are still debating the
integration of the Atlantic Coast (the old agroexportation conception of 1893) while the
statutes of the Autonomous Governments proclaim, among others rights, that the Autonomous
Regions are endowed with the following statutory rights:
1. To actively take part in the planning and execution of social and economic
programs of national interest within their region, in order to ascertain that the interest
of the Eastern Nicaraguan communities are not jeopardize.
2. To administer all health, educational, cultural, communal supply, transportation,
services, programs, etc. in coordination with the corresponding Ministry of the National
3. To promote economic, social and cultural projects of their own initiative.
4. To promote the rational use, enjoyment and benefits of the waters, forestry,
communal lands, and the protection of the environment.
5. To encourage the exchange of traditional culture between the Caribbean countries
and Eastern Nicaragua, in accordance with applicable national rules and regulations.
The autonomous laws were proclaimed especially for the people of the Atlantic Coast.
After four years (1994 -1998) of the liberal party's control of the Autonomous
Governments, hardly any attempts were made to implement the laws or to demarcate the
communal lands. Nonetheless, it was published in Managua's Daily Tribune that the liberals
during the 1998 campaigns pledged to amend the autonomous laws without consulting the
people if elected to office. Consequently, it is inconceivable to think that the political
parties can submit any viable programs for the development of the region, much less for
Indeed, some would respond with a nonchalant attitude that the political parties from
the Pacific Coast "
were good for our parents, so they are good for us,"
yet none of our parents has ever lead any of these parties.
Now, it is up to us to take advantage of the rebirth of the autonomous process and
organize according to our history and traditions. With our own political organizations,
political platforms, band and banner, we can defend our rights (read the Statutes of
Autonomy). Henceforth, we can meet the traditions of our brothers and sisters of the
Pacific Coast who are guided by their political programs; and in so doing, together we can
consolidate national unity.
7 ibid: Statutes of autonomy.page 31, Title I, Chapter II
The southern region is populated with Ladinos (83,000), Creoles (27,000), Miskitus
(12,000), Sumus (3,000), Garifonas (2,000) and Ramas (900) . Creoles and Ladinos are not a
race or an ethnic group; instead, they are miscegenation of races. In Pearl Lagoon, Big
and Little Corn Islands there are also indigenous people who are denominated Creoles. The
other ethnic groups of the nation are distinct, and are considered indigenous.
Because of the historical facts, two different socioeconomic formations emerged on the
soil of Nicaragua. The Creoles and Indigenous People are from one social formation. The
Ladinos and peasants are from the other social formation.
The Creoles are miscegenation of American Indians, Africans Indians, and Europeans.
They live in the city of Bluefields and in the indigenous communities of Pearl Lagoon, Big
and Little Corn Islands. These towns developed as a result of the exploitation of the
natural resources by American Companies. Accordingly, a working and middle-class social
sectors emerged with skills as teachers, accountants, mechanics, stevedores, and artisan
fishing; nevertheless, they are without jobs. On the other hand, the Creoles with skills
in the indigenous communities support themselves with fisheries and subsistence
agriculture. They sell their residual goods to the local markets.
The Indigenous peoples comprise the Misquitus, Ramas, Sumus, and Garifonas . They live
on the countryside and near riverbanks of their communal lands, and they engage themselves
in fisheries and subsistence agriculture for domestic consumption only. The Ladinos are
miscegenation of American Indians and Europeans. Similar to the Creoles, many live in the
bigger towns in which they emerged as the working and middle-class social sectors. The
Ladinos spearhead the different national political parties and constitute an overwhelming
majority of administrative workers in the governmental institutions. They own most all the
important stores and commercial businesses i.e. the local markets. As peasants, they live
in small family units in the woodland areas-many dwell on communal lands where the soil is
rich and fertile. The woodland extends from La Cruz de Rio Grande, passing Bluefields on
the west, to Punta Gorda River. The peasants are engaged mostly in agricultural
activities, and they raise cattle to sell in the markets.
8 Indigenous Movement Seven Tender Leaves: Survey among the
Indigenous Communities. 1997, Bluefields. 9 In the year 1870 the Garifonas migrated to
Pearl Lagoon from Honduras. (Holmes, 1978:418)
TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATION
Because of the streams that cover the entire southern region, most communi-cation is
via barges, dories, and motorboats. The two principal wharves: the Allen Siu on the Rama
River and El Bluff-the passageway of Bluefields Lagoon into the Caribbean Sea. Bluefields,
the Indigenous Communities, and the Islands have smaller wharves that attract calculable
amount of passengers.
The principal roadway networks are mostly dirt roads found primarily in Bluefields,
Corn Island and Kukra Hill. There is also a dirt road that links Bluefields to Managua,
the capital city, by the way of Nueva Guinea; however, the condition of this roadway is
unfit for travel. Instead, the most popular route to the capital is to travel up the river
on boats to catch a bus in the city of El Rama.
It is costly to travel by airplane to any part of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region
or Managua, for example, a round trip ticket cost at least one hundred dollars. In
addition, upon arriving in Managua we are treated with indifference. Public transportation
to and from the indigenous communities is strictly aquatic. The main airports of the
region are located in Bluefields and Big Corn Island. There are several minor airstrips
often covered by vegetation.
Agriculture: The indigenous people are small producers who till the soil from the
rise of the morning star to midday for domestic consumption (family). On the contrary, the
peasants (emigrants from the Pacific Coast and the interior of the country-are the
middle-size producers who save part of their production for sale. The indigenous people
and the peasants on the countryside produce rice, beans, corn, banana, plantain, cosco,
dasheen, etc. on a rotating traditional "cut and burn" technology. The communal
modes of production-the traditional technology-cause land erosion and do not generate
surpluses. The developments of the communal modes of production are very slow and retard
the region's economy.
Fishing: Fisheries-the primary industries of the region-employ more than 60% of
the work force. In 1997 the exportation of seafood grossed approximately 32 million
dollars. Artisan fishermen, who received a very low price for their products, produced
greater than 50% of the seafood. For example, when the international rate for lobster was
ten dollars per pound, the artisan fishermen had to accept two dollars for their products
if they had received credit from the local companies sponsored by the government. Yet, it
is a fact that financial aid has been appropriated especially for the development of
fisheries among the indigenous people; however, the money is being allocated to other
Year after year, pirates from Colombia, Panama, and Honduras illegally penetrate our
fishing grounds in the Caribbean Sea. And because they are better equipped than the
national producers, they haul away more than 70% of our sea products. Other fishermen with
permits from the government, fish at a distance of three miles off the coast-the distance
especially preserved by law for the indigenous people to exploit. The region's artisan
fishermen cannot compete with the invasion of the foreign fleet. As a result, they are
unable to grow and expand economically because they lack financial support from the
Cattle: Raising cattle was fundamental to the development of the Oriental
Hemisphere. In 1950, cattle raising became an important economic activity on the Pacific
Coast. At present, the peasants raise more than 95% of the cattle industry in Nicaragua.
The credits they receive from the government explain why.
To administrate the Autonomous Regions and their internal boundaries the laws
encourage: "the free flow of intraregional and interregional commerce and to
assist in the accomplishment of a unified national commerce system
it will reject
any kind of discriminatory practice." Despite the laws and the proven facts
that our communal lands are good for cattle raising; the indigenous people-an overwhelming
99% not being members of the political parties-could never receive credit from the
national banks to raise cattle. Nonetheless, we shall insist on getting credit from the
national banks to raise cattle on our communal lands.
Coconut: Coconut oil has been used to cook for many years. In the 1960's, a
highway was built from Managua to El Rama to connect the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts.
Since then, coconut oil has been gradually substituted for cottonseed oil arriving from
the Pacific Coast. In Corn Island, "copra"-a derivative of coconut-is processed
to make oil. Coconut oil, as well as the large quantities of nuts collected, is not
locally consumed. It is transported to the Pacific Coast to produce soap. There are 3,500
hectares* of coconuts planted in the region with 850 hectares in Cocal and greater than
900 hectares in the Corn Islands. There are other large plantations of coconuts in the
indigenous communities of Tasbapauni, Rama Key, Sandy Bay Sirpi, and Pearl Lagoon;
however, these plantations are in dismal conditions and require heavy investments to clean
and replant better "breeds" of coconuts, accord-ing to the feasibility of the
10 Ministry of Economy mid for Development: Nicaragua, 1997 ,
11 Ibid: Ministry of Social Security: Cattle. Page 1. 12 Ibid: Statutes of
Autonomy. pag. Title I, Chapter 2, section 8 and page. v Consideration.
Religions: Moravian, Catholic, Evangelist, Anglican, Baptist, Verbo, Pentecostal,
and Adventist are among the religions in the southern region. A strong natural belief in
God is also present throughout the region. "And when the people of Israel
looked upon the brazen Serpent on the rod of God in Moses' hand and were healed,"
it was not because they believe in the serpent or herb, but in the name of God.
Language and Dialects: The official language of the country is Spanish; however,
English is frankly spoken by the indigenous people and their descendants at home and on
the streets of Atlantic Coast because of the English colonization (1633 - 1860) and the
North American companies (1860 - 1979). The indigenous people speak the following
dialects: Miskitu, Ulwa Sumu and Tuahka Sumu. A few speak the Ramas and Garifonas
Education: The education on the Atlantic Coast is taught in Spanish. Although
the autonomous statutes urge bilingual education for the advancement of national unity,
the process is not being implemented. At present, there are 186 educational centers with
approximately 55,300 students. More than 50% of the educational centers are in Bluefields,
and they offer technical training as electricians, mechanics, construction workers,
teachers, accountants, etc. Since 1990, two universities have been established in the
South Atlantic Autonomous Region: BICU (Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University)
and URACAN (University of the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast of
In the past, when the Creoles or Indigenous people graduated from high school, they
work for the North American companies or migrated to the United States in search for jobs
mainly because of two reasons. First, in the words of St. Jean De Crevecoeur: "Ubi panis ibi patria:" "Where bread is, there is a
fatherland," by reason of the historical similarities between British
Colonialism and the North American Companies. Second, the mestizos who are historically
bonded with the national state control the jobs in the region.
Besides the need of bilingual education, there remain crucial problems for Bluefields'
high school graduates. They stroll around the streets, neighborhoods and parks in search
of jobs. Others travel to Miami with job letters to work on ships around the world in
order to support their families. Meanwhile, teaching and learning is basically oral among
the peasants and inhabitants of the indigenous communities. Those who attend school and
graduate usually remain in the same community or relocate to Bluefields. Few students
attend the universities while many, after a short time, leave the classrooms to work the
land and provide for their families.
13 Ibid: Ministry of Social Security: Education. Pag.1 ,
M. Julia MIDINRA- I.R.H.O. April 16, 1989.
Potable Water and Sewage: Potable water supply and sewage are grave problems in the
region. For instance, Bluefields does not have a sewage system capable of eliminating
waste matter. The public water supply covers less than 23% of the city's demand. The
people in the towns and countryside depend on the rain for water supply. The drinking
water comes from the rainwater collected by uncovered tanks and wells which attract
mosquito larvae. This archaic method of collecting drinking water is a contributing factor
to the high degree of contaminated water and sicknesses.
Health: A Public hospital and several private clinics are based in the city of
Bluefields. Malaria tuberculosis, sexual transmitted diseases, cankerous sores and
diarrhea are common diseases . A high rate of sickness occurs because of the swamps, wells
adjacent to the toilets, and tanks which house mosquitoes. Medical examinations are
costly, and with an unemployment rate greater than 70%, prescriptions are only an
illusion: no jobs, no money, thus any medical treatment. On the countryside, every
settlement has a (10 X 20 meters) clinic with hardly any medi-cine or conditions for
surgery. The people used herbs in the same traditional manner of their ancestors to
extricate medicinal properties. Bush doctors are sought for expert advice and attention
for medical problems. On the countryside and in the city, the people used herbs to cure
ailments under the supervision of bush doctors, such as Mama Jones (+), Dr. Lewis (+),
Calvin Eustice Garth ( Cubali) (+), Isidro Senon Cardenas (balin) (+) , John Sambola (+),
Leandro Sambola (+). Obispo Estrada (+), Raimundo, Steven Sambola (+), Macky Thinkcam,
Florentino Rigby or the prophet (+), Edna Price, Walter Garth or Brother Captain, Albert
Jeff Feliciano, Jeronimo Palmerston (Batee), and the unknown.
14 Ibid: Ministry of Social Security: Public Water Supply. Pag,
1, 15 Ibid: Ministry of Social Security: Health. Pag.2
Housing: After Hurricane Joan's (1988) decimation the southern the region, the
housing problem became worst. There are approximately 21,685 houses in the region of which
10,256 are in Bluefields. Around 40% of these houses are in livable condition whereas 45%
are in an advanced state of deterioration. House construction among the peasants and
indigenous people are mostly constructed from lumber, sani barks, and papta leaves. The
houses are overcrowded and in very dilapidated conditions, and few houses are made from
cement. The majority of our people are without jobs; therefore, they cannot afford to buy
Energy: The electrical power system is not sufficient to meet the demands in the
region. Lighting conditions are crucial in Bluefields. The government's supply of
electricity does not meet the demands of the city; nonetheless, the backup power system
was sent to El Rama. In times of distress, while one side of town is lighted, the other
side is unlighted. To speak the truth, we cannot remember when Bluefields ever had a good
power system: " We are growing old with this dark problem." Darken
towns are privy to crimes and unsafe streets.
Among the peasants and the people of the indigenous communities, a few have small
generators usually in need of repairs. During the night, the people light their homes with
kerosene lamps or a "putash." Since there are problems with the light, our
most precious sources of light are from the moon, stars, and two faithful insects the
"blinki" and the "moon shine."
Conclusion: The South Atlantic Autonomous Region is very rich in natural
resources. It has one of the biggest fishing grounds in the Caribbean Sea. The war,
however, decimated the enclave economy. The region depends on the communal and peasantry
modes of production that cannot feed its 128,000 inhabitants. The Autonomous
Government-being Cinderella-is strongly controlled by the national political parties;
hence, there is no government support for the region or its people. The parties do not
view the Autonomous Government as the only instrument to obtain national unity;
consequently, the South Autonomous Atlantic Region is one of the least develop regions in
16 Ibid: Ministry of Social Security: Housing. pag, l , 17
Ibid: Ministry of Social Security: Energy and Telecommunications, Pag.2