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Land disputes trigger old racial tensions on Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast

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The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua is home to roughly 15 percent of the country’s population, but represents 46 percent of its natural territory. Those natural resource are key to many of the Sandinista government’s long-term economic development projects, including logging operations, the construction of an inter-oceanic canal, a 253-megawatt hydroelectric dam, and a deepwater port on the southern Caribbean coast.

The government of President Daniel Ortega has not addressed the Caribbean confrontation, and in the Sandinistas’ vertically structured government, rarely do politicians speak out until President Ortega or his wife address an issue first.

“The state needs to pay attention to this situation,” says Francis.

The recent hostage situation prompted the non-indigenous Mestizos living on the Caribbean coast to take action. They created a series of roadblocks, cutting off land transportation to and from Bilwi. Police finally convinced the protesters to allow trucks through the roadblocks early Tuesday morning, in order to prevent food and gas shortages. Still, the community of Lapan refuses to release its hostages.

The combination of Mestizo encroachment and Sandinista megaprojects has many of the country’s indigenous doubting that the promise of autonomy institutionalized in the 1987 Law of Autonomy for the Atlantic Coast, will ever be fully realized. Though the law is considered an exemplary progressive piece of legislation – it set up autonomous regional government councils that grant land-use concessions – like many Nicaragua laws, its existence on paper doesn’t necessarily translate to reality. Critics claim autonomy has been corrupted by political parties that have bought allies, infiltrated the regional councils and divided the indigenous populations to prevent genuine self-governance.

For many, the long-stated promise of autonomy is something that should be pursued more aggressively, and has played a role in the Mestizo-Miskito tensions in Lapan.

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