Originally published by Intercontinental Cry:

In the second installment of Intercontinental Cry’s investigative series on the Miskitu (Miskito) of Nicaragua, Courtney Parker takes readers on a photo-journey ‘Behind the Miskitu Curtain’, introducing the hidden faces and everyday struggles of a simmering, lesser-known conflict zone in present day Muskitia.

A young Miskitu boy poses for a picture on the porch of a local elder’s home in the Muskitia community of Wisconsin. Wisconsin is one of many traditional Miskitu settlements active on ‘the frontier’ of Nicaragua’s northern Atlantic region. This particular settlement is about a five hour drive from the closest airport in Bilwi – provided one has access to a four wheel drive vehicle.

Contrasting the congenial moment on the porch, the outside of the house is covered in bullet holes perpetrated by armed attackers known as ‘colonos’ (settlers). Miskitu communities on the frontier are living in constant fear of these recurring attacks on their villages, and are growing desperate watching their family and friends die or be ‘disappeared’, while many others feel forced to flee the region entirely. The illegal settler attacks are part of a strategic and organized attempt to violently seize control of resource rich, traditional Miskitu territory.

A popular consensus among some Miskitus is that the Ortega government is tempting the settlers with lucrative loans, enabling them to illegally purchase the land for raising cattle. Beyond all spiraling suspicion and blame, the stark reality remains: the Miskitu are currently victims of an ongoing, large-scale land grab of Nicaragua’s most resource rich, biodiverse – and disappearing – rainforest. The ongoing criminal activity is sure to be a harbinger of devastating, unfolding, environmental impacts to boot.

For his part, Daniel Ortega claims it is corrupt Miskitus who are illegally selling off the land by not properly consulting their communities. This claim is echoed among some Miskitus, though on what grounds, it is unclear. Counter claims have been made, decrying such talk as the product of a slander campaign financed by government interests. All such claims are representative of a basic mood of reeling distrust manifest throughout all the territories right now. The violence and trauma of the conflict has completely torn the sociocultural fabric of the Miskitu community. And no one seems to know quite where or how to begin repairing it. For his part, YATAMA leader, Brooklyn Rivera cited at a meeting in February (at the YATAMA headquarters in Bilwi) that his goal is to unite the Miskitu People to regain the land and to fight for freedom for Muskitia (Miskitu traditional territory).

Ortega’s comments betray a more fundamental truth that ultimately works in the Miskitu’s favor, he is now on public record confirming that any land titles in question – and by extension all attempts at violent land seizures – are, in fact, illegal. Contrary to defending any notion of imminent domain, his comments confirm the colonos – despite whatever titles they may or may not hold – do not actually have a legal right to the territory. Whatever is playing out ‘backstage’, Ortega is not co-signing on the colonos’ land claims in public discourse, literally or metaphorically.

Stripped of all bias, this revelation intrinsically valorizes Miskitu land claims land rights; and, ostensibly offers hope the neo-Sandinista government is not wholly complicit in current activities – and might therefore, be receptive to outside pressure and calls to protect vulnerable Miskitu communities – and the unique biocultural heritage of the region – from those who seek to strip them of their rightful territory, and basic human rights.

See the rest of the images at IntercontinentalCry.org

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