Indigenous leaders of the nine Mayangna territories inside the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in northern Nicaragua are calling on President Daniel Ortega to declare an environmental emergency in response to the alarming rate of deforestation and destruction caused by cattle farmers, land-traffickers and other pernicious knaves who are invading Central America’s largest tropical forest.
Mayangna leaders say thousands of unscrupulous land invaders from Matagalpa, Estelí, Boaco, Chontales and the mining triangle are encroaching on their protected reserve like a plague of locusts, destroying the forest at an alarming rate of 30,000 hectares (74,131 acres) a year. Since 2009, the Mayangna’s have documented the invasion of nearly 11,500 squatters who have reportedly devoured 150,000 hectares of forest (370,658 acres) in seven Mayangna territories.
If those damage claims are accurate, it means more than one-sixth of Central America’s largest tropical forest has been leveled in the past five years. The Nicaraguan Army’s “Ecological Battalion,” which was deployed to protect the country’s natural resources last year, is not doing nearly enough to curb the ecocide occurring in Bosawás, says Mayangna representative Jaymond Robins.
“If the government doesn’t act now, in 10 years there will be nothing left to protect,” Robins told The Nicaragua Dispatch.
Mayangna leaders are asking for an audience with President Daniel Ortega, who boasts of having indigenous blood and professes a profound love for Mother Nature. But so far, Ortega isn’t returning their calls.
Still, in a country with a top-down vertical power structure, indigenous leaders say the only way change will come is if the president gets involved personally in the matter. Indigenous leaders say regional Sandinista satraps that they’ve met with over the years have been entirely worthless, and some are even benefiting from the land invasions.
Even international human-rights activist Bianca Jagger is calling on President Ortega to meet with the Mayangna and take action against the violent siege on Nicaragua’s great forest.
“The Mayangna are the guardians of this lung of oxygen for Nicaragua, Central America and humanity, and we depend on these lungs to survive. This affects all of us,” Jagger said during a press conference held with indigenous leaders last week.
Jagger also lamented that the Mayangna—a community that populates nearly 6% of Nicaragua’s national territory—has no representation in the National Assembly. “That shouldn’t be permitted,” she said.
The Mayangna nation, as part of its efforts to defend its rights, is also demanding reforms to the autonomy law, which they claim has been twisted to benefit the political parties at the expense of indigenous nations.
“The Mayangna have been invisibilized,” says Gustavo Sebastian Lino, vice president of the Mayangna Sauni As territory. But the land invasions in Bosawás can’t be ignored any longer, he insists.
“If the government can declare a state of emergency after a hurricane or flooding, they should do the same now in Bosawás because the Mayangna feel flooded by land-invaders,” Lino said.
A matter of food security
Though the Mayangna have lived on their ancestral lands for thousands of years, the Nicaraguan government only started to issue communal land titles in 2007.
The land invaders—a cutthroat group of cattle farmers, land traffickers and gold prospectors whom the indigenous refer to collectively as “colonists”—are not respecting the indigenous land titles, says Robins.
“They see the forest as no-man’s land. But it’s not; it’s the biodiversity that provides us with food security,” Robins says. “Soon, we are going to have to start asking Sinapred (Nicaragua’s disaster-relief authority) for bags of food, because the advance of the agricultural frontier is destroying the forests and driving off the animals that we hunt for food.”
“The situation is precarious and the government is doing nothing about it,” Robins says. “The land invaders have us up against the wall (due to deforestation), and there is nowhere else for us to go.”