News Blog

Sep 29, 2015

Keys for understanding the conflict in the North Caribbean

Keys for understanding the conflict in the North Caribbean by José Adán Silva

The original content of this article can be found at the following website. http://www.laprensa.com.ni/2015/09/17/reportajes-especiales/1903452-claves-para-entender-el-conflicto-en-el-caribe-norte

The conflict, which has claimed 30 lives since 2008, 15 of those in 2015 so far, has existed more than 25 years in its modern phase without being resolved. The conflict has existed since the Mosquito Coast was annexed to Nicaragua more than 155 years ago.

The Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, also called the Costa Caribe, is the historic homeland of three indigenous peoples and two groups of Afro-descendants: Miskito, Mayagna, Ramas, Garifuna and Creole. For centuries, all these ethnic groups lived under different forms of social organization and under different norms of use and possession of their lands in the same territory where today violent battles between Indians and mestizos are taking place. According to the Natives, the mestizos are trying to colonize Native ancestral lands in order to exploit its resources. That is why the mestizos from the interior of Nicaragua, who have settled on indigenous lands, are called "settlers".

What is the geographical focus of the conflict?

The municipality of Waspam, located on the border with Honduras, is a neglected area of ​ great poverty. In the Extreme Poverty Map of Nicaragua, prepared by the Government of Nicaragua in 2005, Waspam ranked second in poverty, among the 152 municipalities that then existed. 80% of its population lives in extreme poverty.

Current figures on the level of poverty are unknown, but according to Mayor Alex Fernandez of Waspam, 70% of the population still lives in poverty or extreme poverty. This municipality is one of the largest in Nicaragua with an area of ​​8,133 square kilometers. It accounts for 25.29% of the extent of RACCN (Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean Coast) and has a population of 70,949 inhabitants, 92.3% of who live in rural areas and 7.70% in the town center of Waspam.

The municipality is located approximately 145 kilometers from the city of Puerto Cabezas, the capitol of the RACCN, and is 632 kilometers from Managua.

Why is Waspam the geographical focus of the conflict?

Romel Constantine Washington, now severely wounded by Army of Nicaragua and National Police troops, explained to the press in early September 2015, that the community of the Rio Coco Arriba, near Waspam, decided to arm themselves with rifles and to organize themselves into several groups, in order to expel the settlers had moved from the center of Nicaragua to territories near the Coco River. The settlers have colonized a distance of over 100 kilometers from the Mining Triangle area (Rosita, Siuna and Bonanza) towards the northern border of Nicaragua. "So, rather than expel them, we are organizing a defense to stop their advance, because if they continue, they will keep going until they come to Honduras. This is an invasion that is sweeping away our communities and our forests and rivers,” Constantine said.

The term "invasion" was used by the President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, on the night of September 9, 2015 during a ceremony of the 36th anniversary of the National Police, when, referring to the crisis in the Caribbean, he said, "It's a real invasion that is happening there. "

Who are the settlers?

According to the Deputy to the National Assembly and President of the Commission of Indigenous Peoples, Afro-descendants and Autonomous Regimes in the National Assembly of Nicaragua, Brooklyn Rivera Bryan, 100% of the colonists are mestizos from the Pacific coastal region and central and northern Nicaragua. Among them are found demobilized soldiers from both the Resistance and the Army of Nicaragua, businessmen and traders of wood, major livestock traders and, to a lesser extent, artisanal miners, small farmers and drug traffickers.

Why are there weapons of war and constant shootings?

Retired Army of Nicaragua Major Roberto Samcam says that the area of ​​Las Minas and Waspam was a major theater of war between 1970 and 1980, during the wars against the Somoza dictatorship and then against the Sandinista dictatorship of the decade of 1980. According Samcam, the Natives of the area took up arms and have over ten years of military experience fighting against the Sandinistas. Similarly former members of the Resistance and the Army also have knowledge of weapons and military strategies "and it may be that many weapons now being used are remnants of war, because many weapons were hidden away at the end of the 1990 war. "

In addition, says Samcam, organized crime groups from Colombia, with bases in Honduras and Nicaragua, have imported new weapons like the AR15, M16 and UZI that now are in the hands of both indigenous people and settlers. Some fighters have modern media communication technology such as satellite phones, infrared (night goggles), GPS equipment, long-range radio communicators and ammunition and military uniforms.

Why has Yatama assumed the defense of indigenous armed groups?

According to an extensive analysis of the magazine Envío of the Central American University (UCA), in Issue 321, Indian claims and the subsequent armed reaction comes from the late 1970s, when agricultural cooperatives in the Rio Coco emerged. "The agricultural cooperatives were the precursors of the first indigenous organizations: the Alliance for Progress of the Miskitu and Sumu Peoples (ALPROMISU) and, in the Sumu-Mayangna communities, Limón project, later known as the SUKAWALA organization," says the document.

According to the magazine, with the triumph of the Sandinista revolution, ALPROMISU, then transformed into the Miskito, Sumu, Rama Sandinista Aslatakanka (MISURASATA) at the historic V General Assembly of November 1979. This organization led the indigenous mobilization for the recognition of territorial, cultural and social rights. "These organizations were violently suppressed (by the Sandinistas) and gave way to a war led by MISURASATA in south and by a northern fraction that took the name MISURA". 

What was the Red Christmas?

The most neglected history of this story of conflict between the state and indigenous Nicaragua is the case known as "Red Christmas", which occurred between December 1981 and January 1982.

Osorno Coleman, a Miskito military excommander, told reporters that this was an operation of forced displacement by the Sandinista army against the indigenous community, to remove sources of logistical assistance to the Contras based in Honduras. "It was a slaughter. (The Sandinista army) bombed communities and shot people fleeing to the Coco River and Honduras. They burned villages and killed all the cattle. That happened right there in Waspam. The military invaders have now returned, "Coleman, a leading Miskito opponent of the government of Daniel Ortega, accused.

Why the Indians demand compliance with Law 445?

Law 445 or “Law of Communal Property Regime of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua and of the Rivers Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maiz”, was published in La Gaceta (the official journal of the National Assembly) No.16, January 23, 2003.

Its legal basis is "to ensure indigenous peoples and ethnic communities full recognition of the rights of communal and territorial ownership, use, administration and management of traditional lands and natural resources, through demarcation, titling and the clearing up the titles".

The law’s main objective is "to achieve legal security of land and recognition of ancestral and historical rights of ethnic communities and indigenous peoples settled in the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua and the Coco, Bocay, Indio and Maiz Rivers and to regulate the system of communal land ownership of indigenous and ethnic communities of the Caribbean Coast and the basins of the Coco, Bocay, Indio and Maiz Rivers”.

This is a longstanding commitment of the State of Nicaragua to the indigenous communities that dates back more than a century. "The State of Nicaragua has an unavoidable commitment to respond to the demand for titling of lands and territories of indigenous peoples and ethnic communities of ancient Mosquitia of Nicaragua. This right was written into the international treaties concluded between England and Nicaragua, such as the Treaty of Managua of 1860 and the Treaty of Harrison-Altamirano of 1905. The right to the land is recognized in the Constitution of Nicaragua of 1987 and the Statute of Autonomy of the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast ".

Who are the Indians of involved in the conflict?

The total population of the two autonomous regions (of Atlantic Coastal Nicaragua) is 473,109 people. 72.54% of the population is mestizo, 18.04% is Miskito, 6.22% is Creole or black, 2.45% is Mayangna, 0.43% is Garifuna and 0.32 % is Rama, according to official data from the National Institute for Development Information (INIDE). That is, the Miskito population represents 87,052 people.

The Miskito ethnic community is currently leading the protest against the settlers. The Miskitos are based in some 250 communities along the Coco River or Wanki, in the municipality of Waspam; in the coastal areas of both (the Northern and Southern) regions and in the valley of the municipality of Puerto Cabezas. According to the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples, CADPI, the Miskitos are a population that exhibits much intra-regional mobility. However, they show a great sense of rootedness and of belonging to their original communities, to which they return despite long periods of temporary jobs away from their home communities.

What's in the disputed territory?

While Waspam is one of the poorest regions in the country, the geographical area where indigenous communities live is rich in forests and natural resources, which has attracted the interest of Canadian companies for exploration and exploitation of gold.

According to the mayor of Waspam, Alex Fernandez, the area is harassed by Honduran settlers, possibly linked to drug trafficking. This, added to the lack of state officials, makes the area a hot spot for organized crime to establish a drug trafficking corridor. Fernandez gave the example that between 28 and 30 police officers are assigned to the municipality, the largest in Nicaragua with more than 75,000 inhabitants and an area of ​​8,133 square kilometers with a river as a border.

This puts the communities at constant risk of food insecurity. He described the treatment of Waspam as "abysmal" compared to the attention paid to border department of Rio San Juan (on the Southern border with Costa Rica).

How does this law benefit the Indians?

Law 445 provides that, "Communal Land is the geographic area in possession of an indigenous or ethnic community, whether in actual legal title or not. It comprises the lands inhabited by the community and by lands that constitute the traditional cultural and economic sites of social activities, sacred sites, forested areas for reproduction and multiplication of flora and fauna, shipbuilding and subsistence activities, including hunting, fishing and agriculture. Communal lands cannot be taxed and are unalienable, inalienable and imprescriptible”.

Does this law benefit settlers in indigenous territories?

Yes. Law 445 qualifies the settlers as "third parties". A third party can be mestizo or not. What makes a third party is his claim to individual ownership of communal property. Law 445 defines a third party as "natural or legal persons other than the communities who claim property rights in a common land or an indigenous territory."

Article 36 of Law 445 restricted the rights of third parties on indigenous territories: "The third party that holds land title to indigenous lands and has occupied and owned the land protected by this title, has the full right to continue possessing it. In case the third party intends to dispose of the property, it must be sold (or the improvements must be sold) to the community. "

So where is the conflict if the law provides benefits to settlers and Indians?

Gonzalo Carrión, legal director of the Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights, told reporters that the crisis stems from the lack of interest of the Government and the State in clean up (title to) indigenous properties, lack of logistical capacity to title and demarcate indigenous territories, lack of will and expertise (on the part of the Government) to curb counterfeiting of documents for the sale of communal lands and their "suspected protection of groups and powerful companies who are responsible for promoting land invasions and then buying wood from forests and territories and devoting the land to the business of farming, because behind these business, there are powerful people. "

According to Carrión, the process of land titling and demarcation lacks standards of transparency and disclosure that allows scrutiny of the project, which contributes to the climate of mistrust in indigenous people as to what the State and the Government is doing. 

How much have the settlers advanced into indigenous territories?

Alisio Genaro, a Mayagna leader, told reporters in 2013, that in 1987 the core area of ​​the current Biosphere Reserve Bosawas had an extension of 170,210 million hectares of virgin forests and an estimated population of less than 7,000 Indians.

In 1997, when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) declared it a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve, the reserve had more than two million hectares of forest and rainforests, in the buffer zone and the core zone.

In 2010, with a population of about 25,000 people in the area, mostly settlers (colonos), the forest was reduced to 832,237 hectares, according to figures from Mr. Genaro. An estimated 5,000 mestizo peasant settlers in the area in 1990 had soared to more than 40,000 in 2013. "They're burning everything to sow crops. They cut the forests to put in cow pastures. They devastate large trees to sell the wood, shoot the animals and dry up rivers to use as roads, "Mr. Genaro complained to reporters.

Who is responsible for this conflict?

The government of Nicaragua is responsible for this conflict. Law 445, Article 41, created the National Commission for Demarcation and Titling (CONADETI), composed of the two presidents of the autonomous regional councils who preside in rotation; the Director of the Office of Rural Titling; two representatives Bocay Basin; a delegate of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry; the Director of the Nicaraguan Institute of Territorial Studies (INETER); a representative of each of the ethnic groups in the autonomous regions; a representative of the Commission of Ethnic Affairs and deputies of the National Assembly who originate in the autonomous regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. The commission must involve the mayors of municipalities within the area of ​​demarcation and titling.

Currently, a representative of the government of Nicaragua in this committee is the Attorney General of the Republic, Hernán Estrada, whom the press called for a formal interview two weeks ago. There has been no reply to the request for information.

How much progress has been made in the titling and demarcation of indigenous territories?

According to the President Daniel Ortega, his government began implementing Law 445 in 2008 and has prepared titles to 35,000 square kilometers.

"And, beginning in 2008, what was the first thing we did? We are going to give titles to all communities. We have started and have already reached over 35,000 square kilometers, an entire country! A much larger land area than that of El Salvador ... 35,000 square kilometers titled! ", Ortega said last September 9th.

A 2014 study by the Center for Autonomy and Development of Indigenous Peoples (CADPI) entitled, "Demarcation and Titling of Indigenous Territories: vindication of ancestral claims", states that as of 2014 the State has prepared land titles to 21 of the 22 territories of Native people and persons of African descent, which are composed of 289 communities covering an area of ​​36,439.97 square kilometers where 190,963 people live.

"The area titled represents 28% of the national territory and 52% of the territory of the Caribbean coast and the special region of Alto Wangki, Wihta and Bukawas (Alto Coco, Bocay and Raití). Of the 21 titles, 15 have been registered and delivered. "

"Land titles to the Tasba Pri matrix located in the RAAN and two complementary areas in Special Zone of Alto Wangki, Wihta and Bukawas (Alto Coco, Bocay and Raití) in indigenous Miskito Indian territories of Tasbaika Kum Mayangna and Sauni Bu are pending. This process is occurring in the middle of a fast, aggressive and massive advance of colonization of indigenous territories by mestizo settlers that puts the legal security of indigenous collective property at risk.”

"The fifth stage of the process of legalization of indigenous territories, sanitation (cleaning-up the titles), constitutes a highly complex national problem, marked by conflicts between cultures, breach of indigenous land rights, legal uncertainty of collective property," says the study said.

Did the Government know of the approaching conflict in 2015 Waspam area?

For National Assembly Deputy Brooklyn Rivera Bryan, the government did know because he and other indigenous leaders have denounced it since 2008 when the Government began the process of demarcation. Proof of such knowledge about the conflict lies in the support document used by the Ministry of Finance and Public Credit to allocate 13.7 million cordobas budget in 2015 CONADETI.

Under the subtitle of "expected advances for 2015", the Ministry states the objectives to be resolved in this 2015 course: "Approve diagnoses of the three areas and an equal number of territories and the diagnosis of the Bluefields Black Creole Government territory, to be approved by communal and territorial assemblies. Resolve intercommunal and inter-territorial conflicts, demarcated and staked out, communal territorial titles delivered and cleaned up in 8 territories of the 22 stakeholders in the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast and the Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz rivers. Ensure legal certainty of the lands and territories of the communities of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua who are beneficiaries of Law No.445, Law Communal Property Regime of the Indigenous Peoples and Ethnic Communities of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua and Bocay, Coco, Indio and Maíz rivers and thus stop the advance of the agricultural frontier and encroachment of settlers on indigenous and Black land. Define the legal status of each of the non-indigenous families settled on indigenous land, and overcome the conflict between indigenous peoples and peoples of African descent with third parties in the 8 territories already titled. "

Jun 29, 2012

Trip to Nicaragua, April 2012

Four Directors of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation traveled to Puerto Cabezas (also called Bilwi), Nicaragua to participate in the 2nd Encuentro sponsored by the Bapawat Cooperative, the Pro-Moskitia Foundation and the Pastoral Council of Bilwi. The four directors were: Father Melesio Peter Espinoza, Casta Calderon-Haren, Dina Rivera Fagoth and Philip Mullins. A fifth Director, Amalia Dixon-Humphrey, was expected to attend as well but her departure from California was delayed and she was not in Bilwi during this time period.

 

On April 17, 2012 the group attended a meeting of Pastoral Council in the old San Ines Convent in Bilwi. In attendance were Father Melesio Peter, Bishop Kenneth Bushey Law, Rev. Brandan Macario, Lic. Jimmy Chang, Rev. Silvio Diaz, Rev. Hector Marley, Rev. Cora Antonio, Lic. Samuel Mercado, Rev. Amilcar Padilla, Rev. Jorge Fedrick, Prof. Barnabas Waldan, Deacon Adrian Pasquier, Father Roger Dixon Baker, Philip Mullins and others. This was the final planning meeting for the Encuentro in Krukira. Rev. Amil Padilla reported on preparations for the Encuentro. All those planning to attend were advised to bring mosquito lotion and their own plate, spoon and drinking glass. Ivone Nicolas Wilson, Vice-President of the Bapawat Cooperative, made most of the arrangements which included getting a supply of firewood, food and recruiting ladies to prepare the food. Participants will sleep with their hosts and eat at the kitchen of the Moravian church. Individuals from thirty communities have been invited to attend.

After the report on the preparations for the Encuentro the group discussed current conditions in the RAAN and what could be done to strengthen the role of the churches in addressing its problems. The speakers agreed that corruption among the political class was widespread and that even church pastors were being corrupted. (I should note that what is considered corruption in the RAAN is often normal business practice here in the United States). Several speakers noted that drug use and drug trafficking was on the increase. The drug trafficking was widely reported in the newspapers and had raised concern about what would happen in the future. The group noted that the Moskitia has amble natural resources that could be developed but they also asked the question,”What is economic development from the point of view of indigenous communities?” The discussion continued into the night.

 

The next day, April 18, 2012, the four Directors traveled to the site of the Encuentro in Krukira. Many of the participants arrived in the hamlet of Krukira Wednesday afternoon. The driver of the Krukira bus had agreed to transport participants from the public park in Bilwi to Krukira but final arrangements with him were never made and another bus had to be found at the last minute. Many of the communities that were invited received their invitations late and were unable to attend. Other participants arrived at the park at Bilwi but were unable to find transportation to Krukira and returned home. To complicate matters it rained all day Wednesday. As a result the session of the Encuentro that was planned for Wednesday night was canceled.

 

Friday, April 19, 2012 was the first day of the Encuentro. The Encuentro got under way in the Moravian church in Krukira at about eight o’clock with Rev. Jorge Fedrick as facilitator. Rev. Gonzalo Paiz, Superintendent of the Moravian Church, and Bishop Kenneth Bushey, President of the Pastoral Council, both welcomed the participants. Father Melesio Peter introduced the theme of the meeting. The theme of the meeting was globalization and its effect on indigenous communities of the RAAN. All discussions were in Miskitu or Spanish with Miskitu translation of all Spanish-language presentations. No attempt was made to translate from Miskitu into Spanish since everyone in attendance spoke or understood Miskitu except for Casta Calderon and Philip Mullins.

 

Bishop John Wilson of Miami, Florida spoke of the history of the Moskitia region. At about ten o’clock the electricity went out and a crew of technicians from the community and Henry Williams, who operated the projector, rigged temporary power using the church’s portable generator. Philip Mullins video recorded the proceedings. Both the projector and the video-recorder failed to perform properly. The audio recording failed completely for most of the Encuentro and the battery pack for the projector failed. Some presentations were delivered without the use of the projector and all presenters had to shout to be heard above the noise of the generator.

 

The agenda was rearranged and Philip Mullins spoke about the experience of an indigenous community in Canada with hydro-electric plants. When electrical power was restored Casta Calderon spoke on communal economics. She was followed by the Rev. Jorge Fedrick who spoke about climate change. The meeting continued until evening with about 65 participants in attendance. Discussions were animated and often involved multiple participants. After supper at the church kitchen most participants returned to the church to attend a prayer meeting that was addressed by Bishop John Wilson.

 

            April 20 was the second day of the Encuentro in Krukira. The meeting reconvened at about eight o’clock the next morning and Samuel Mercado, who was originally scheduled to speak on Thursday, spoke about land use. At about ten o’clock in the morning the lights came back on but went out again about night fall. Rev. Cora Antonio spoke about problems relating to migration from rural to urban areas. She was followed by Dr. Roberto Rodriguez who spoke about health issues. Hemsley Francis, who later joined the Bapawat cooperative, spoke about a process for continual improvement of life in rural communities based upon a Japanese model. Jimmy Chang concluded with a discussion about citizenship rights.

 

The decision was made to meet again in the village of Wespam for the third Encuentro. No date was set for the third Encuentro. In the afternoon the meeting concluded. Most participants returned after supper for a prayer meeting in the church led by Bishop John Wilson. Most participants left that night in a caravan of vehicles to Bilwi. Many participants had traveled great distances to attend the meeting and some did not return home until the middle of the week.

 

            On April 21, 2012 three of the Directors traveled to the village of Santa Marta for a meeting with teachers at the Santa Marta public school. All of the teachers were strongly supportive of the teacher in-service training program and were ready to begin the second phase of training. There was discussion about problems with the Sunday schedule. A new coordinator was nominated. The first session will begin in May 2012 for the February-June semester and continue during the August-January semester. The Pro-Moskitia Foundation will continue to fund this training.

 

            On the next day, Sunday, April 22, 2012 four Directors of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation were invited to attend the dedication of the new Miskitu-Spanish dictionary written by Bishop John Wilson. Dina Rivera, Casta Calderon, Father Melesio and Philip Mullins were in Bilwi and attended the service at the main Moravian church along with a host of local dignitaries including the Mayor of Bilwi and Magistrate Jimmy Chang. Some of the participants at the Encuentro in Krukira were present including Rev. Gonzalo Paiz, Rev. Cora Antonio, Rev. Jorge Fedrick, Rev. Silvio Diaz and Ivane Nicolas, the Vice-President of the Bapawat cooperative.

 

            On Sunday evening the Directors attended a scheduled General Meeting of the Bapawat Cooperative in the San Ines convent. Of the 70 members on the cooperative’s books, 16 attended the meeting. In addition representatives from five communities outside of Bilwi were present. Also present were Magistrate Jimmy Chang, Rev. Jorge Fedrick, Dr. Samuel Mercado, Dina Rivera, Casta Calderon, Philip Mullins and Deacon Javier and his wife from Wespam. Deacon Javier and his wife attended the Encuentro in Krukira and remained in Bilwi for personal reasons.

           

A new slate of officers of the cooperative was elected with Father Melesio continuing as President and Ivane Nicholas continuing as Vice-President. Dr. Roberto Rodriguez stepped down as Secretary and two new members joined as Secretary and Vocal. One of these men, Hemsly Francis, was a presenter at the Encuentro at Krukira. Pedro Liberato Aratola of the community of Belen, Rio Wawa also joined the cooperative. He also attended the Encuentro at Krukira.

The cooperative is undergoing a transition from a micro-lending cooperative for market women to a regional coordinating body with a very ambitious agenda. The consensus among the four Directors of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation who attended the meeting was to continue supporting the cooperative during this difficult period of transition. Discussion continued until about 8pm when the meeting broke up.

 

            Some of the officers of the Bapawat Cooperative met again on Monday at 8am at the San Ines convent. The focus of the discussion was on financial accountability. The funding for the teacher in-service training was discussed and finalized. Financial arrangements were made whereby Dr. Roberto and Father Roger Dixon will control the funds provided by the Pro-Moskitia Foundaton for the teacher in-service training. The Bapawat Cooperative will have no input into the teacher training but will act as a pass-through funding mechanism.

 

            Also on April 23, 2012 three of the Directors met with the Superintendent of Moravian Church in Nicaragua. At 1pm Father Melesio, Father Roger Dixon, Casta Calderon and Philip Mullins met with Rev. Gonzalo Paiz Sabino at his office. Rev. Gonzalo, who supported the Encuentro at Krukira, is completing a two-year term as Superintendent of the Moravian Church. Rev. Gonzalo prepared a requisition for ten copies of the new Miskitu-Spanish dictionary for use by the Pro-Moskitia Foundation. The group then proceeded to the Moravian bookstore to receive the ten books. A copy will be provided to the Miskitu community in Port Arthur.

 

            At 3pm the group returned to the San Ines convent to continue a discussion of a proposed school. Father Melesio explained that Catholic Bishop David Smith has limited funds to maintain the old San Ines convent building and is considering selling it. The Sisters who used to live in the building have moved to a new convent nearby. The basement of the old convent building is abandoned, the second floor offices are rented to two or three NGOs (including the Bapawat Cooperative) and the third floor is used to house volunteers engaged in service projects in the area.

           

The idea of using the old convent building for a school was discussed. The school would be a secondary school, perhaps an honors school or a technical school. Fathers Melesio, Father Roger, Casta Calderon, Philip and others toured the building. The building will have to be completely renovated if it is to be used as a school. Sister Katie Schilling, who lived and working in the building for twenty-five years, explained that a contractor from the town of Bluefields estimated that the cost to renovate the building would be about $100,000 USD. This estimate was made six years ago and costs have increased roughly 20% since then. After a survey of the building Philip Mullins confirmed that the estimate was probably accurate as the building needed a new roof and new plumbing and electrical service. Termites were evident everywhere.

 

            Professor Barnabas Waldan joined the discussion. He explained that there are two types of secondary schools in the RAAN: public schools and private schools. Most private schools are subsidized by the Ministry of Education (MINED) according to a formula that is negotiated with each school. Professor Waldan explained that there are thirty-three rural public secondary schools in the RAAN which offer classes to the 3rd grade of secondary school. He suggested a good model would be to have the rural communities nominate their best students to attend the 4th and 5th grade of secondary school at the new school. He explained that rural students often graduate from school having never seen a library. He volunteered to obtain some statistics about how many students graduate and how many would continue to the final two years of secondary school if the opportunity presented itself. He also agreed to work on the curriculum for the proposed school.

 

            Lic. Felton Lopez of the Ministry of Education (MINED) arrived to explain the certification process for schools. The first step is to make a proposal to the Ministry. MINED will inspect the building.  Requirements are simply and include potable water, a playground, desks for teachers, chairs for students, etc. The Ministry must accept the proposed curriculum and the school must pass periodic evaluations. He was very encouraging. He stated that he would help recruit teachers. MINED knows who the best teachers are and has the authority to assign them to a particular school as needed.

 

            Professor Barnabas Waldan explained the in-service teacher training project at Santa Marta. Mr. Lopez was very supportive of the training and will be invited to observe the training.

 

            The next day, April 24, 2012 Casta Calderon left to return to Managua, leaving Directors Father Melesio, Dina Rivera and Philip Mullins in Bilwi. Father Melesio and Philip Mullins visited with Sister Katie Schilling who is the Principal of the primary school next door to the old San Ines convent. She explained how MINED subsidizes private schools. At her school MINED pays 60% of the teacher’s salary and provides a salary for the Principal. MINED also supplies most of the required textbooks. The amount of the reimbursement from the Ministry is subject to negotiation. Schools select their own teachers but MINED has authority to reassign teachers as needed.

 

 

            That evening Father Melesio and Philip met with Hemsley Francis and Wilfred Davis German. These two young men, who are both new members and officers of the Bapawat Cooperative, met with Father Melesio and Philip Mullins to explain a process of rural development based upon a Japanese concept called “kaizen”. These men belong to a network of fifteen young people in Nicaragua who have trained in Japan and who work together toward improving life in rural areas of Central America and the Caribbean. Other members of their network live in Costa Rice, Guatemala, Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

           

Philip Mullins and the two men agree to work to support community activists by providing information and help and coordinating activities on an international level as necessary. The focus would be on providing information about Nicaraguan law, RAAN law, international law and transnational companies operating in the RAAN.

 

            The approach to rural development used by Redcam-Nicaragua (which is the name of the network in Nicaragua) appears to be similar to that being used by Pro-Moskitia and Bapawat Cooperative. The willingness of these two men to work with the Bapawat Cooperative is a positive sign and should be beneficial to the cooperative.

 

            Later that night Father Melesio, Dina Rivera and Philip Mullins met with three lawyers who have a history of working for worker’s and women’s rights. They work with AMEKA, an organization of women, and YATAMA, an indigenous political party. Father Melesio explained the history and purpose of the Pro-Moskitia Foundation and Bapawat Cooperative. The lawyers explained their work with indigenous communities which included translating documents into Miskitu and using promoters to form base groups in rural communities. They noted that most NGOs are reluctant to work in really isolated communities. The lawyers agreed to work with us but explained that we need to clarify our mission and what we want them to do.

 

            The next day, April 25, 2012, Father Melesio, his brother Willy, Father Roger Dixon, Philip Mullins and a contractor traveled to a building lot outside of Bilwi that is under consideration by the Pro-Moskitia Foundtion as the site of a school. The building site is located near the Bilwi airport. Currently the land is unimproved. The site consists of four manzanas, measuring 500 meters along the road and 200 meters deep. The lot is on a slight elevation and is mostly flat, well-drained land. The contractor will install corner posts to prevent trespassers from occupying the land.

 

            After visiting the building site, the group traveled to the community of Makim. The Moravian pastor of Makim attended the Encuentro at Krukira and helped purchase the beef used to feed the participants. He took the visitors to a promontory that overlooked a broad valley belonging to the community which, in his opinion, would be a good site for a school.

 

            The next day Philip Mullins was scheduled to leave for the United States. Ivane Nicolas Wilson, the Vice-President of the Bapawat Cooperative, met with Dina Rivera, Father Melesio and Philip Mullins at the Bilwi Airport to discuss the operation of the Bapawat Cooperative. Dina Rivera suggested that the goal of the Cooperative to operate as a multi-functional cooperative for the entire region may be too ambitious and that the cooperative may benefit by focusing on specific projects such as a micro-lending project or artisanal production of some product. Although the funds allocated to the micro-lending project are almost exhausted, Dina suggested that the idea still has merit and should not be abandoned. She and Philip agreed that success depends upon innovating and adapting to changing circumstances, making helpful mistakes and learning from them rather than changing course in the face of every failure. Ivane showed Dina and Philip a proposal written with Director Ruth Rouvier for a small project to recycle plastic bottles into saleable products. Philip agreed to look into whether or not similar projects elsewhere have been successful. Ivane is the de-facto leader of the cooperative and her search for a more traditional activity for the cooperative reflects the confusion among its members and leaders. Dina and Ivane agreed to discuss this further.

           

After this meeting with Dina Rivera, Father Melesio and Ivane Nicolas Wilson, Philip left for Managua. Directors Dina Rivera and Father Melesio remained in Bilwi for a few more days before returning the Miami, Florida and Austin, Texas respectively.

 

This description of events was written by Philip Mullins who was a participant at the Encuentro and the other meetings.      

 

 

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