"One of the major achievements of Autonomy is that it gave the minority the right to be represented at all levels."
Bluefields, RAAS, Nov. 22-Johnny Hodgson spent a few good hours with us as we try to obtain his views on the past elections and where the autonomy process is heading. John is very concern as you will read in his interview about equal representation in the regional council for all ethnic minority groups.
Pulse: Johnny thanks for granting us this opportunity. Can you evaluate the past elections for our people abroad?
Hodgson: Thank you very much. I believe we had a fair election. I also believe that the election was decided on September 11. What happened in the U. S. had a big influence on the elections here. Itís not how it happened, but itís the way they used it here. It wasnít just the Liberal party. Officials from the U. S. government used it openly. The Liberal party won the elections; they got most of the votes. We had a high turn out. Never in the history of Nicaragua we had more than ninety percent of the people voting. This time we had a turn out of more than 98% of the voters.
We had more than two million voters of which the PLC got one million one hundred thousand votes. The Sandinistas got nine hundred thousand. During the municipal elections we had one million voters, and in less than a year that number was duplicated. We had people who came home from abroad to vote. Most of the people who went out to vote said they were saying yes to Nicaragua and to stop the war from coming to Nicaragua.
You see my little girl; she is seven years old. Everyday she comes from school she tells me we have to vote for BolaŮos because if Daniel wins Bin Laden will come to Nicaragua and the U.S. will bomb us. So those who went out to vote believe they did what was right, and we have to respect the will of the people.
Pulse: What can you tell the people about the man they elected to represent them in the national congress?
Hodgson: I am convinced that we will never see him (Mr. Sacasa) again. No one in Bluefields, Pearl Lagoon or Corn Island knows who he is. We have never seen him before but our people still voted for him. Itís not the first time theyíve done this. In 1996 they voted for a man from Managua, and we never saw him again. And this time they voted for a man from Rivas.
This man does not even have a home in Bluefields. When he is in town, he lives at the South Atlantic Hotel. He has been to Bluefields only three times, but he was on the ticket and the people voted for him. For me itís very sad. There are only five seats reserved in the national congress for the coast people: three for the North and two for the South. So far, people from the Pacific have always occupied them.
Itís very sad to know that our people do not realize this when they go to vote. It does not matter what party ticket you are on. I just think that coast people should vote for coast people to represent them. I am sure that no one from the coast has ever heard of Sacasa. He is from Rivas and has never done anything here, study or work. But he was the candidate for the PLC, and he won. Even his assistant is from the Pacific. I was born and grew up in Bluefields and know almost everyone, and I donít know whom this man is. Do you know him?
Pulse: On one occasion you were on the radio explaining to the people the importance of the Autonomy process and the following day Rayfield Hodgson and Orel Chollotte went on the same radio station at exactly the same time you had your program. Orel asked Ray about the way you exposed Autonomy and how he (Ray) felt about it. Ray responded by saying that he would not touch anything you put your hands on because you have too many glass windows and just by throwing a stone can break it up into pieces, (whatever that means). The people here who know you said that it was an insult to them and try to convinced you to respond to Ray but it was impossible. Maybe you would like to take this opportunity to say something about it.
Hodgson: Well, I didnít hear it myself. The people told me about it. I work in Kukra Hill. I am not the kind of person who like to answer back to meaningless things like this because it does not make any sense. When I go to the radio to speak to the people, it should be a message, an educational one from which people will learn, not something to hurt others from our region. My messages are always to help educate people and to help them understand.
Pulse: Election for our regional council members will be held next year. What advise can you give to the people as to how to vote so they donít make the same mistakes as they did when they voted for a candidate from the Pacific over their own regional candidates? Weíve heard that the regional council members are also from the Pacific.
Hodgson: Right now the regional council is made up of forty-five members. Twenty-five Mestizos, eight Creoles, five Miskitos, three Garifunas, two Ramas, and two Sumos.
Many people believe it shouldnít be like this. I am one of them. The law states that all ethnic groups have the same right independently of their number or level of development. So we are proposing that there should make some changes to the electoral law since they are now bringing in all these other municipalities: Nueva Guinea, Rama, Mueye de los Bueyes, and el Ayote.
In the regional elections they are adding one hundred thousand new voters. We had forty thousand voters with all the communities combined. One hundred percent of the new voters are Mestizos and they will also vote in the regional elections. In order to prevent having a regional council made up of forty Mestizos and only one from each of the other ethnic groups, we believe that all ethnic groups should have seven representatives: seven Mestizos, seven Creoles, seven Ramas, seven Miskitos, seven Garifunas and seven Sumos for a total of 42. Each ethnic group will have equal amount of representatives. This way Creoles can vote for Creoles and the Miskitos for Miskitos. It sounds like a discriminatory thing, but everyone can understand what we are talking about. All ethnic groups will have an equal amount of representation in the regional council, this way we can make sure that the council is always in the hands of the coast people, independently of their party affiliation. The Autonomy law was made to protect the rights of the minority, but the fate of the minority is being decided by a large percent of Mestizos. Twenty-five percent of the members of the regional council are Mestizos. They can decide anything they want independently of what party they are from and that is considering that Rama, Mueye de los Bueyes, Nueva Guinea and Ayote are not yet included. These four municipalities have more people than Bluefields. Nueva Guinea alone has more than one hundred thousand people, and the whole municipality of Bluefields has only sixty thousand people, which include: Punta Gorda and Monkey Point. Just imagine how unbalance it would be with the Mestizos and the other ethnic groups. We are hoping that the other minority groups support the idea that the Black Association has presented to them; so all ethnic groups can have the same amount of representatives.
Pulse: Are you optimistic that this proposal can be approved before the coming election?
Hodgson: Well, where there is a will there is always a way. The country agree that they need to reform the electoral law so that the Mestizos from Rama, Nueva Guinea etc. can vote in the regional elections. We believe that the best reform that can be made is to make sure each ethnic group has equal representation. We are not asking that we as black people have more representation, no! We are asking for something fair and just for the benefit of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. We are not asking for something that would benefit this or that party. We are not only asking for the change, but we are also showing them how it can be done. This change is possible, but we need to lobby for it. But then again we may have a problem because twenty-five of the members are Mestizos, and you are telling them you want the Rama to have a bigger representation. They only have two, the Sumo only has two, and the Garifunas only have three. If we donít get it approve now, we may never get it approve because once Rama, and Nueva Guinea are included you can forget it. This is the time to try and get it approve. It may be a sad situation again, but we may find minority people voting against this proposal.
Pulse: Do you feel that the Autonomy process is going forward or backwards?
Hodgson: One of the major achievements of Autonomy is that it gave the minority the right to be represented at all levels. If it werenít for Autonomy, the ethnic minority groups would never dream of having any type of governmental power. Itís the Autonomy law that guarantees them representation, but the representation that they have due to the electoral law is very small. Itís not a fair representation.
The Autonomy law established that all ethnic groups have the same right independently of their numbers or levels of development. We want to put this principle into action. There have been other achievements in the council, but I believe the most important one is that the ethnic groups are recognized as people with value and rights. A few years ago people would look down on the Rama and also the Sumos disrespectfully. The Carib people used to be ashamed of being Carib. They hid their culture, language and almost lost it, but itís the Autonomy process that recognized and gave them the assurance of their identity. The Garifunas are no longer ashamed of who they are. They want to share their culture with you and learned back their language.
Pulse: Is it true that the PLC party won the majority of deputy seats in the National Congress, and if that is true how will it affect the Autonomous process?
Hodgson: The supreme electoral council has not yet given a figure on how many representatives each party will have. From what I can see, the PLC will have about forty-nine representatives. The Sandinistas may have forty-one and the conservative party may have one or two. What this means is that you and I will not have anyone to take our plight to. You may have two people there. One is Sacasa who nobody knows, not even the Liberal party knows him, but maybe the other guy that may get elected will be from the coast not a black man but a Mestizos because the Liberal party does not have any black people on their ticket, no Garifunas, no Miskitos and no Sumo.
We as black people know that the constitution of Nicaragua established that Nicaragua is a multi-ethnic country, and we need to see that multi-ethnicity reflected at every government level. In any other part of the world you turn on your TV, in the U. S. for instance, you look at CNN you may have a Caucasian giving the news but afterward you may see a black person or one of Asian decent. But look at the TV in Nicaragua or visit the national assembly, itís getting worst. I donít think you will have any minority in the national assembly.
We had William Schwartz who is a mixture of Creole, Miskito, and Mestizo. Everyone from the coast knows who he is. He worked in Managua at the national congress as our representative and every weekend he comes back to Bluefields to inform the community of what transpired during the week. Now that Schwartz is no longer there; we wonít know what is happening in Managua. Surely, Sacasa is not going to come and tell us. Black people donít have a voice anymore in the National assembly. The Liberals plainly tell the people that they donít want any black people on their ticket; yet our people vote for them. I donít know how to call it. I will not elaborate because everyone knows what he or she is doing when they vote. One thing for sure, no one will be there to talk for us.
The Liberal party is very racist. They could very well choose people from here as candidate for other positions. There are twenty candidates to the PARLACEN (Central American Parliament), and they donít have one black man for candidate, at least the Sandinistas has some. Itís the same; the Liberal party does not have one black man representing Nicaragua abroad. Look for instance, the Nicaraguan baseball team playing in China, not one black man is on the team except for Davis who went as pitching coach. Davis has led two different teams to win national champion two years consecutively, but he is from the coast so he has no possibility of becoming manager of any Nicaraguan national team. Not even one coast man on the team. Why? Coast man canít play baseball or is it something else? Not one coast man in any diplomatic mission abroad. Why? You think we are dumb? Not capable? I said no! We have capable people, but there is an open discrimination against the coast people. Even so, our people still vote for this party. I donít know why. They should know what they are doing when they vote. Many said they voted the way they did to keep the war away. So, I have to respect that. Many of us donít even see the discrimination against us.
Pulse: Is there a plan to educate the people on how to vote?
Hodgson: We have been educating our people, but it has not been that effective. During the campaign I was on the radio and I told everyone, listen friends, I am Sandinista, but I am not saying that you should vote for the Sandinistas. There are other parties that have other candidates from the coast. Vote for coast people to represent us in the national congress. But please donít vote for someone you donít know. If you care about Autonomy you will vote for someone from the coast to represent us. We wonít give up; we will continue forward. You see when youíve done your part; you can sleep peacefully. The little I did I did not insult anyone. I tried to educate the people and spoke my mind as to what I want to see as Black man from the coast. And that is seeing most coast people in the national congress, in the PARLACEN, and in the setting up of the government. I havenít seen much at all during the past years.
Pulse: What kind of courage can you give to the group that is planning the New Year celebration on January 1, 2002 with Owen Gray?
Hodgson: Itís a wonderful plan. I know they can put it through because they have done it before. I will not just be looking out for it, but I will be available to help with whatever is possible. I will be having visitors for Christmas from out, and I know they will be happy to know that we are having a big event here. I think itís a good time. There isnít much rain in January, and itís good to celebrate the New Year with happiness.
Pulse: What can you tell us about the flooding situation in the North? We understand that there are no efforts to help our brothers in the North.
Hodgson: We grew up in solidarity with our brothers from the North (Puerto Cabezas). They have been suffering with the flood. There is lack of leadership in doing anything for these people, and I think we should do our best to contribute to the people of Puerto Cabezas.
Pulse: What can you tell our Caribbean coast people who are planning to come home for the Christmas season and also those who are here at home?
Hodgson: We are all brothers and sisters. We are one coast people, and it hurt me so much when people from the Pacific comes to push fire and create confrontation among us. I donít like a dirty campaign. Some people even remain enemies after the elections are over. I have been preaching to my people not to fall into these political games. I believe the electoral campaign should be something that people learn from. After a campaign, you should know more than you did before. Christmas is near, so we should put aside all the confrontations we had during the campaign. I invite all coast people who can come for Christmas to come down. This Christmas is going to be great especially with the big celebration for New Year. I hope to see my brother Dave and rest of family. I already have plans for them. So who can come, come on down and relax a little and drink up some sorrel and ginger bear.
Pulse: Thank you very much.
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