This is a shortened version of an article entitled ‘All is not well in Paradise’ which appeared in ENCA Newsletter 34 (August 2003).
By Annette Zacharias and Dieter Dubbert*
Bismuna is an indigenous Miskito village on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua with a population of about 1,500 people. … The village is on the shore of a lagoon which opens to the sea. In this sea float many kilos of cocaine, packets of 60, 80, 90 kilos of pure cocaine. Why did they come floating our way? Off the Atlantic coast is a group of islands known as the Miskito Cays, hundreds of islands of mangroves which form the ideal hiding place for drugs in transit from Colombia. They are also a good location to re-fuel; but the traffickers have to get rid of their cargo the moment they see a patrol boat.
We have scenes that you would normally associate only with low-grade B-movies: people with dark glasses, bracelets and Rolex watches sitting in boats with two 150 horsepower outboard motors, silent and waiting for their contact with a Kalashnikov by their side. …
In 1993 the first packets were found. Nobody knew anything of drugs, their effects, their potential harm, nor of their value. But almost immediately people heard of astronomical values for them and began to look for more. … we found it difficult to explain how dangerous drugs were. How could they have experience of drug addiction if they’d never suffered it before? And fast money talked more powerfully.
In 1994 we wrote to the governor of our department, Stedman Fagoth, and asked him to address this problem. We suggested that all the cocaine found by the people should be bought officially by the state at market prices and channelled into the pharmaceutical industry. The reply from the governor was … silence. Worse than that, Dieter received a death threat (from an unknown origin). Later we realised that the governor had indeed concerned himself in the business. …
One consequence of the fast money was that people stopped working on their fincas. Nobody wanted to sweat by sowing rice, yucca or plantains. And who’s going to criticise them for preferring to buy everything rather than sweat on their fincas? … Whole families, including even grandmas, lived on the beach looking for the ‘blessing’ of a packet. They sold the drugs, and today there is a well-established system of trafficking. But the worst problem for the community is that many people have taken to using the drugs. We could say that the generation of youths aged 14 – 23 are lost in the drug. But also adult males with their family responsibilities have fallen into addiction.
There is open trafficking, almost risk-free, that transfers many kilos beyond the community and brings back a derivative of cocaine known as ‘crack’ – or ‘stone’ as it is commonly called – a mix of cocaine with ash and soda. According to those already addicted, you only need one stone to become addicted. As a consequence, robberies and violence have arrived in the community. Women fear for their safety. Properties are no longer secure. At night we listen to the rantings of drunks who have left their women. Many people, mainly women, arrive at our house asking for money to buy food or medicines for their children. These children grow up with disastrous, drug-addicted role models, their fathers, brothers, cousins.
Throughout the whole Atlantic coast there isn’t one rehabilitation centre, and the word ‘therapy’ is unknown. The police struggle against the tide with ridiculous budgets incapable of meeting their needs. It’s a public secret that many of the police are involved in this lucrative business, and so its control never progresses. Above all, there is no political interest in protecting the coast and its population.
This situation is dramatic and desperate. But there are a few individuals who are fighting against this appalling form of development.
* Annette Zacharias and Dieter Dubbert lived in Bismuna from 1990 to 2003. They founded a NGO called ‘From Coast to Coast – Solidarity with the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua’ with bases in Kiel, Germany, and Bismuna, Nicaragua. Using donations from Germany, Italy and Nicaragua, it aimed to support the indigenous community through a range of social projects including the construction of a clinic, a sewing workshop, a cultural centre, a baseball stadium and houses for those in need. They also established a rehabilitation centre for youths with drug and/or family abandonment problems. In 2003 they changed location to Waspam in order to increase their work with street children.