Government cancels sales of communal lands

Taken from the Nicaragua Network Hotline, 25th August 2009.

The Public Property Register of the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) of Nicaragua, answering an order from the Attorney General’s office, last week annulled the titles issued in violation of the Law on Communal Property of Indigenous and Ethnic Communities (Law 445). According to that law, the land cannot be taxed, seized or sold but is to be used by the indigenous peoples in accord with their traditional uses of communal property. The sale of indigenous lands by leaders of the Caribbean Coast group YATAMA was reported the previous week in the Nicaraguan media. Government attorneys are investigating further the irregularities that were reported, including the sale to a timber company of over 12,000 hectares of land belonging to the community of Awas Tingni.

Attorney General Hernan Estrada also made a formal accusation in the Supreme Court against David Rodriguez Gaitán, Property Registrar in Bilwi, for acts of corruption. He accused Rodriguez of registering sale of communal property with full knowledge that it was illegal. Estrada also asked the Court not to recognize any transaction involving communal lands by foreign or national speculators.

However, some 400 ex-contra fighters, members of Yatama, blocked the two main roads leading to Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas) in protest over the government’s action saying that they would allow no traffic to pass and would burn any government vehicle that approached the roadblocks. At the roadblock located at Maniwatla, 120 men are led by Commander Cienfuegos and Perro Bravo and Tigre Suelto. Three hundred men, armed with firearms and machetes at the junction of the roads that link Bilwi with Waspam and Rosita, are led by Commanders León and Culumuco. The leaders read a communiqué in which they stated that, “The ex-combatants reject the attitude of the Attorney General and his delegate in the region who are trying to annul the registration of our ownership rights which represent the only way we can protect our rights as we confront the prejudicial refusal of the State to title indigenous land.” La Prensa reports that the leader of the protest is René Garcia Beker, former mayor of Prinzapolka and president of four collectives of former combatants of YATAMA.

Modesto Frank Wilson, who opposes the sale of indigenous lands, said that in recent months there has been an increase in the sale of communal land because of offers from rich timber companies which have tempted ambitious leaders of groups of former combatants. He said that the community of Awas Tingni could have lost almost 70% of its 73,000 hectares of communal land. Meanwhile, in Bilwi, the population is suffering because its links to the capital and other cities which provide it with goods have been cut. Men, women and children who were expecting to take public transportation from Bilwi to their villages are sleeping on the roadside waiting for the blockades to come down.