- Groups believed to be connected to cattle ranching, logging and illegal mining launched several attacks in Indigenous communities living in the largest protected area in Nicaragua.
- Settlers are pushing into the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve and the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region to pursue illegal mining, logging and cattle ranching.
- At least six Indigenous people were killed and several injured in the most recent attack, forcing numerous families to relocate, despite an existing international mandate on the Nicaraguan government to protect them.
A wave of violence against Indigenous people in Nicaragua this month has drawn international outcry over the government’s lack of action against land invaders committing human rights violations and destroying some of the country’s most important forests.
Groups believed to be connected to cattle ranching, logging and illegal mining launched several attacks in March against Mayangna and Miskitu Indigenous communities living in and around the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, the largest protected area in Nicaragua.
“The increasing number of settlers and land traffickers on (Mayangna) Sauni As territory hasn’t stopped,” the Indigenous territorial government said in a letter to officials. “The environmental destruction has been unstoppable, leading to disastrous consequences for human lives and the greater wellbeing of the communities.”
The 2-million-hectare (4.9-million-acre) Bosawás Biosphere Reserve borders the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region, an area created in the 1980s to give Indigenous groups self-governance. But their vast stretches of uninhabited forests have drawn settlers (known locally as colonos) looking to profit from the area’s natural resources. For years, Indigenous communities have been trying to fend off the settlers, who have resorted to shootings, kidnappings and intimidation to take over the land.
On March 11, armed settlers killed at least six Mayangna Sauni As men in the Wilu community while injuring one other, who was sent to the hospital, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which denounced the attacks. Several other members of the community are still missing.
“The Office calls on the State of Nicaragua, in accordance with its international obligations, to take the appropriate measures to protect the life, safety, and physical and mental integrity of all the people of the Wilu community,” the UN statement said.
Other residents were forced to relocate after the settlers — who numbered around 60 — burned down their houses, according to the Legal Assistance Center for Indigenous Peoples (CALPI), an NGO. The settlers left intact only the community’s church, pastor’s residence and school.
CALPI said the settlers waited until the men in the community had gone out to hunt and do agricultural work for the day, leaving mostly women and children to defend the area.
Previous reporting by Mongabay revealed that Bosawás has lost around 20% of its tree cover between 2011 and 2021 and that, last year, settlers continued to clear substantial amounts of the forest, according to Global Forest Watch satellite data. The deforestation has gone hand-in-hand with violence against Indigenous communities, who have filed claims with the government and international bodies claiming the settlers push them out so they can log and raise cattle.
The day before the March 11 attack, three members of the Musawás community were kidnapped by armed settlers near the Waspuk river, according to the UN. And on March 6, three Indigenous people were attacked near Sabakitang. One of the victims was shot in the chest and another lost four fingers.
The violence forced around 30 families to relocate, the UN said.
Last year, following a similar wave of violence, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights filed a request with the Nicaraguan government, formally asking it to protect the Wilu community from further harm. However, there has been no tangible action taken by officials. Various government agencies didn’t respond to a request for comment for this article.
“The state in most cases doesn’t make itself present to the communities,” a CALPI statement said. “And when it does, it denies that the attacks are carried out by colonos and instead blames Indigenous people.”
Banner image: Rainforest in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region. Photo courtesy of Zenia Nuñez/Flickr.
FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.