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Getting the Facts Right on the Impact of the Beef Industry on Indigenous People in Nicaragua

November 2, 2020
Miskitu villager shares her testimony
A Miskitu villager shares her testimony of violence at the hands of colonos

The Oakland Institute’s May 2020 report, Nicaragua’s Failed Revolution, documented the incessant violence faced by the Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN), resulting from land invasions to expand ranching, mining, and forestry activities. These findings were echoed by an October 2020 PBS program highlighting cattle ranching as a driving force behind the violence.

On October 29, 2020, an article authored by John Perry and a brief by Nan McCurdy, a missionary with the United Methodist Church, dismissed the Oakland Institute’s findings, labeling our research as a US political attack on the country. Perry argues that the vast majority of cattle production “is in areas that are distant from Nicaragua's remaining forests, which are protected reserves” and that the autonomous region discussed in the report “has a relatively small proportion of the country's cattle (about 10%).”

Mr. Perry’s failure to do research is obvious given he is unaware of official government figures from the national agriculture census — cited in our report — which provide a much higher estimate for the number of cattle in the autonomous regions of RACCN and RACCS. According to the last agricultural census, some 39% of all livestock in Nicaragua is found in just these two regions — RACCN with the second highest amount of bovine animals, after RACCS, which had 1.28 million heads of cattle. The number is likely to be even higher today given the rate of land conversion for ranching has been much higher in protected areas — as stated in our report and confirmed by other independent investigations, including Mongabay.

Mr. Perry also accuses the Oakland Institute of making “false links between land conflicts and meat exports, creating an image that Nicaragua (like, for example, Brazil) is carelessly or deliberately allowing indigenous lands and rainforest to be destroyed while the government does nothing about it.” Without providing evidence to back his claims, Mr. Perry chooses to ignore dozens of testimonies from local community members compiled during the Institute’s own independent field research, and cited in the report, which clearly assert that the violence, including numerous murders, are perpetrated by colonos for ranching. It would only take Mr. Perry to shake away his blinding ideology and cozy relationship with the Ortega administration, travel from his residence in the picturesque Masaya to the affected areas, and spend time with the impacted communities to verify the facts for himself.

Regarding the complicity of the Nicaraguan government, the report presents compelling evidence. While settling of the colonos in the Caribbean coast to exploit the area’s rich natural resources has been a strategy deployed by different administrations — as explained in the report — it is under the Ortega administration that the demand for Saneamiento, as guaranteed by national law, has been rigorously suppressed and undermined — not only through affording impunity to the settlers for their violence against the Indigenous, but also through direct involvement of government officials.

Silence around the failure of the Nicaraguan government in enforcing national laws, its collusion with business interests, and its active role in the colonization of the protected lands by outsiders, was shattered by our report which also brought forward testimonials around government’s failure in following upon on reports of violence and killings of the Indigenous Miskitu community members since 2015.

Additionally in recent years, several regional and FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) allied officials, including Carlos Alemán Cunningham (Coordinator of the Autonomous Regional Government of the RACCN), Waldo Müller Lacayo (President of Tasba Pri and previously, a regional FSLN councilor), as well as the late Adrián Valle Collins (Secretary of Tasba Pri), have been responsible for illegal land sales to settlers in RACCN. In 2016, news outlet El Confidencial released copies of illegal land sales signed by the above officials.

Beyond the wrongdoings of individuals, the responsibility of the government also lies with its strong promotion of the livestock industry for exports, as officially advertised by the government investment promotion agency ProNicaragua, which boasts that “Nicaragua has the largest cattle-raising industry in Central America.”

On October 27, 2020, in what appears to be a direct reprisal of the Oakland Institute and PBS reports, Nicaragua approved a Special Cyber Crimes Law mandating prison terms of two to five years for those “who use online platforms to spread false information or information that could raise alarm among people [and] incites hatred or violence, or puts at risk economic stability, public health, national sovereignty or law and order.” It is unfortunate, that just like the Nicaraguan government, Perry and McCurdy have decided to shoot the messenger instead of looking objectively into the serious issues raised by the Oakland Institute.

To set the record straight and challenge the defamation unleashed by the Nicaraguan government and its supporters, we reiterate that the Oakland Institute is an independent policy think tank, and we do not accept any government or corporate funding. Our work starts at the request of the impacted communities, as was the case with our work with the Maasai villagers in Tanzania, Indigenous groups in Ethiopia, to communities in Papua New Guinea and Sri Lanka, or the Miskitu communities in Nicaragua. Our research and advocacy originates not from hostility to any political regime but stems from pro human rights; pro Indigenous rights; pro environment; pro people and the planet agenda.

In light of the above, and given Mr. Perry’s and Ms. Nan McCurdy’s concern for the poor and the marginalized in Nicaragua, their advocacy efforts would be more apt if directed at the Nicaraguan government and the non-state actors, such as the cattle ranching companies to address the violence against the Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in the country and ensure respect and enforcement of the national legislations.