In a video conference with representatives of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) March 18, indigenous leaders from Nicaragua's eastern rainforest protested an illegal "invasion" of their titled territories by armed campesino colonists, who seize lands, clear trees and terrorize their communities. The four-way computer link brought together IACHR representatives in Costa Rica and Washington DC, Nicaraguan government officials in Managua, and Miskito and Mayangna indigenous leaders in the rainforest town of Bilwi, North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. The Miskito and Mayangna leaders said 13 indigenous residents were killed by settlers last year, with eight wounded and hundreds forcibly displaced. One of the worst attacks was in January 2020, when colonists burned 16 houses in the community of Alal, and killed six inhabitants. As recently as this March 4, an attack on the Mayangna community of Kimak Was left one resident wounded and another missing.
Some 150 are dead, with remote indigenous and campesino communities left stricken and without aid, a week after Hurricane Eta tore through Central America. Eta made landfall south of Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua, as a Category 4 storm on Nov. 3. Two güiriseros, or artisanal gold-miners, were among the first killed, as a landslide inundated the mining camp of Tigre Norte in Bonanza municipality of Nicargua's North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Far worse was to follow in Guatemala, where officials have called off the search for dozens believed to have been buried when a mountainside collapsed, engulfing the hamlet of Queja. Ovidio Choc, mayor of San Cristobal Verapaz municipality, said the site of Queja will probably be declared a cemetery. Elsewhere in Guatemala's Maya Highlands, villagers have had to mobilize their own rescue and recovery efforts, effectively abandoned by the government.
Over 30 opposition figures were detained by the National Police in nationwide sweeps across Nicaragua on Sept. 26. Most were released after questioning, but some are still being held. The majority of the detained were members of a newly formed opposition body, the National Coalition, which brings together three political parties and several dissident organizations. Among those detained were 17 indigenous Rama and Kriol (Afro-Nicaraguan) activists from the Caribbean coastal department of Río San Juan. Included in this group were prominent Kriol environmentalist Princess Barberena and Jaime McCrea Williams, president of the Territorial Government of Rama & Kriol. In Managua, police surrounded the offices of the Maria Elena Cuadra Movement, which advocates for the rights of working women, and interrogated the group's representative Sandra Ramos when she arrived on the scene.
Six members of the Mayagna indigenous people are dead and another 10 missing following an attack by gunmen on the community of Alal, within the UN-recognized Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua's eastern rainforest. Sebastián Lino, a member of the autonomous Mayagna Territorial Government of Sauni As, said that some 80 men armed with rifles and shotguns entered the community Jan. 29, firing indiscriminately on residents and setting homes on fire. Lino described the assailants as colonos, or peasant colonists who have been invading the reserve in growing numbers, illegally clearing forest and settling on indigenous lands. "The situation has gotten serious," he said, demanding government action.
Nicaragua’s Congress on June 8 approved an amnesty law that will offer protection to police and others involved in crimes against anti-government protesters over the past year. According to rights groups, more than 700 people were arrested in demonstrations that erupted in April 2018 when President Daniel Ortega tried to cut social security benefits. More than 300 mostly opposition protesters died in clashes with security forces, while more than 60,000 Nicaraguans have gone into exile due to political strife over the last 14 months. The new law was approved by 70 votes from Ortega's Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) in the 92-member chamber. It also allows for the release of detainees arrested during the protests, despite the fact that Ortega labelled them "terrorists." The new law has faced harsh criticism from human rights groups and the UN.
Bolivian President Evo Morales launched his campaign for a fourth term with a massive rally May 18 in the Chapare region where he began his career as a peasant leader a generation ago. But the country's political opposition charges that Morales is defying a 2016 referendum, in which voters rejected a fourth consecutive term. The referendum results were later overturned by the Plurinational Constitutional Court—sparking a wave of protest. (Al Jazeera, Reuters, May 18) The campaign begins amid controversy surrounding accusations that opposition lawmakers have sent a letter to US President Donald Trump jointly calling for his "intervention" against Morales' re-election.
A group of UN human rights experts, including the special rapporteurs on freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and extrajudicial exections, issued a statement Aug. 9 urging the government of Nicaragua to "stop the repression" following 100 days of unrest in which at least 317 people have been killed and 1,830 injured. "Reports indicate that there has been an increase in targeted repression, criminalization and alleged arbitrary detention, which is creating an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among different communities and among civil society representatives in the country," the statement said. "We are appalled that many human rights defenders, journalists and other opposition voices are being criminalized and accused of unfounded and overly punitive charges such as 'terrorism'."
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern for a law approved in Nicaragua July 16, ostensibly aimed at money-laundering, arms-trafficking and terrorism. The statement warned that the definition of "terrorism" under the law is dangerously "vague," and that it could be used to suppress opposition. Speaking in Geneva, OHCHR representative Rupert Colville said the law was passed by a National Assembly "almost completely controlled" by the ruling Sandinista party. The law defines as "terrorism" any damage to public or private property, or the killing or injury of anyone not directly participating in a "situation of armed conflict," punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Additionally, anyone found guilty of directly or indirectly financing or aiding so-called "terrorist operations" can also face up to 20 years in prison. The law was introduced in April, just as Nicaragua's political crisis was breaking out. On July 5, High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated that the "violence and repression seen in Nicaragua since the protests began in April are the product of a systematic erosion of human rights over the past years..." (InSight Crime, July 25; Noticiias ONU, July 17; OHCHR, July 5)