Central America's largest forest under siege by colonists

Jeremy Hance
May 06, 2013

In the last four years, invading land speculators and peasants have destroyed 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres) of rainforest in Nicaragua's Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, according to the Mayangna and Miskito indigenous peoples who call this forest home. Although Nicaragua recognized the land rights of the indigenous people in 2007, the tribes say the government has not done near-enough to keep illegal settlers out despite recent eviction efforts. The largest remaining forest in Central America, Bosawás Biosphere Reserve covers around 7 percent of Nicaragua's land area and is home to several imperiled species including Baird's tapir (Tapirus bairdii) and Geoffroy's spider monkey (Ateles geoffroyi), both listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List.

The indigenous tribes say that 11,500 colonists have entered the reserve, including land speculators, former contra militia members, and landless peasants. Forests are being cut and burned largely to produce beef and dairy on new pasturelands.

Taymond Robins, a technical adviser to the Mayangna nation told Reuters that the invasions were turning parts of the reserve into "a sort of Wild West."

Underscoring this, late last month a Mayangna community leader was shot dead when an indigenous scouting party found illegal settlers clearing forest. This weekend, two illegal loggers were found dead; officials believed they were executed by the timber mafia for failing to meet their logging agreement.

Such conflicts are exacerbated by the fact that the colonists are invading land willingly set aside by the indigenous groups for conservation purposes.

"Even we the Mayangna don't touch these forests, that's where the animals we hunt reproduce. If they destroy that, they will destroy our people," the president of Nacio Mayangna, Arisio Genaro, told the BBC.

The government has attempted to evict illegal settlers in the region twice: first in 2001 and again in 2010. However, the colonists have simply returned to the reserve after forced, and sometimes, violent evictions. Peasants have called for land reform, but the land in question is already held by indigenous groups.

Yesterday, government officials, the military, and the police agreed that a new attempt at eviction was required, as reported by the El Nuevo Diario. In addition, they noted they would proceed with legal action against anyone involved in land deals in Bosawás Biosphere Reserve.

Bosawás Biosphere Reserve covers around 1.8 million hectares (4.4 million acres) on the border of Nicaragua and Honduras. It is believed to be home to some of the largest populations of jaguars, giant anteaters, pumas, Harpy eagles, and tapirs in Central America. Researchers estimate that the park is home to some 150,000 insect species and 600 species of birds.

Cattle in Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. Photo courtesy of: Independent Mayangna Nation of Nicaragua.
Cattle in Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. Photo courtesy of: Independent Mayangna Nation of Nicaragua.

Deforestation in Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. Photo courtesy of: Independent Mayangna Nation of Nicaragua.
Deforestation in Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. Photo courtesy of: Independent Mayangna Nation of Nicaragua.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (May 06, 2013).

Central America's largest forest under siege by colonists.