Advances Toward A Miskito-Sandinista Cease-fire

On Monday, April 28, 1985, the Nicaraguan Government released 14 prisoners charged with participation or association with the armed resistance movements, MISURASATA and MISURA. This partly fulfilled the first substantive agreement between MISURASATA and the Nicaraguan Government, signed by Brooklyn Rivera (General Coordinator of MISURASATA) and Luis Carrion (Vice Minister of the Interior) in Mexico City on 22 April 1985 (text included in this CSQ).

The prisoner release marked the first, visible results of the three peace negotiation sessions which have followed Rivera's formal visit to Nicaragua in October 1984. The Mexico City agreement also committed the government, in collaboration with MISURASATA, to provide food and medical supplies to Indian communities affected by recent violence, and will allow community members to resume normal subsistence activities (hunting, fishing, and marketing). While this normalization is underway in these communities, both MISURASATA and government security forces will avoid all offensive actions against each other. Equally important, the agreement committed both sides to continue negotiations concerning the fundamental complaints - land and natural resource rights, local self-determination and recognition of MISURASATA - which initially sparked the armed violence.

Failure to reach any mutual understanding, let alone implement an agreement, stalled the two previous negotiation sessions in Bogotá. Although both parties always agreed that an end to the violence was essential, the Nicaraguan Government's goal was largely to obtain a total cease-fire. MISURASATA, reflecting the opinion of most combatants and noncombatants, emphasized that the violence on the Atlantic Coast was a response to unacceptable policies and actions. And they stated that until rights to land, natural resources and self-determination were recognized, fighting would remain endemic and widespread. Without a commitment to continue negotiating such rights the Indians would have equated a cease-fire with a surrender of their aboriginal rights, and they would not have complied with the agreement.

The Nicaraguan Government's recognition of the violence's local genesis already produced a shift in vocabulary; MISURASATA members are no longer labeled contras. But much misunderstanding and, at times, basic disagreement with MISURASATA's goals persists. Nevertheless, Rivera still hopes to reach a broad agreement with the Sandinistas. The authoritative Latin American Weekly Reported recently reported that Rivera said that the

Miskitos were not interested in overthrowing the government whether it was right- or left-wing, as long as their culture and heritage was respected. Noting that the Sandinistas had accused the Indians of being CIA dupes to smokescreen their determination to "integrate" the tribes into the revolution, Rivera said the US government was just as hypocritical in using the Miskitos to claim the Sandinistas were totalitarian, without ever showing any interest in the Indians' real complaints. As for the contras in ARDE and FDN, he said, "They have told us that they would never give us Indians autonomy if they were in power" (LAWR 5 April 1985).

Regarding MISURASATA's basic proposal, two aspects of the recent negotiations undoubtedly impressed the Nicaraguan Government's negotiating team. First, invited observers at the Bogotá meetings (March 26-27) included leaders of Indian organizations from Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Cost Rica, Canada, the US, and the Six Nations Confederacy. Although participating as impartial observers, the Indian representatives unanimously expressed agreement with the basic goals of MISURASATA. Russell Means, representing the American Indian Movement (AIM), succinctly summed up the Indian opinion. The Nicaraguan Indians are involved in this fight, he stated, "because it is the same struggle that my people are involved in over our holy land that is South Dakota and why the Dene Nation are fighting against forced relocation by the Reagan Administration. It is the same struggle, and it is not different from the tip of Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic Circle...This is the Fourth World struggling to become one with the earth."

Equally significant in shifting the context from the East-West struggle to basic Indian rights was the presence at the negotiating table of David Rodriguez, a Miskito commandante associated with MISURA, the Honduras-based group often characterized, inappropriately, as those troops commanded by and steadfastly loyal to Steadman Fagoth. By association, they are assumed to be controlled by the contras (i.e. the Democratic Revolutionary Front (FDN) and its international supporters, including the US CIA), and thus committed to the overthrow of the Sandinista Government. The expressed policies of MISURA and its military activities are complex and, apparently in many cases, purposely obfuscated. Only a few observers have noted that while the urban-based leadership of both Indian organizations may disagree violently regarding goals and alliances (MISURASATA, for example, refused to join the combined opposition forces while Fagoth openly announced his alliance), the fighters and most Indians inside Nicaragua agree on the causes of the conflict and support the terms of the peace proposal submitted by MISURASATA at the December 1984 Bogotá meeting. Rodriguez clearly stated that, for the Indians, the only attractions of MISURA were the easily obtained arms and other equipment; there was no expressed loyalty to Fagoth or his political allies. He explained that inside Nicaragua the MISURA/MISURASATA distinction was relatively meaningless; they had been fighting in close coordination for several years. And in August 1984 Indian commanders met on the Atlantic Coast and formed the Frente Interno Indígena (Internal Indian Front). Their goals parallelled those outlined in MISURASATA's original proposal. So when these basic rights are recognized, it is not simply MISURASATA forces which will cease firing, but so will Indian fighters throughout the Atlantic Coast.

However, while the Mexico City meetings produced the first feelings of optimism since the negotiations began, much depends on the future actions of the Nicaraguan Government. The Latin American Weekly Report (5 April 1985) accurately observed that "a solution may depend on the resolution of tensions within the Nicaraguan Government between President Daniel Ortega, who is believed to want a settlement, and the hardliners grouped around Tomás Borge."

Thus far the peace initiative has been promoted, supported, and negotiated by the more moderate elements within the FSLN, President Daniel Ortega and Commandante Luis Carrion. However, two days after the Mexico City agreement was signed, the Nicaraguan Government announced that Tomás Borge had been named to oversee government policies on the Atlantic Coast. His first statements cast doubt on the ability to obtain MISURASATA's goals. "Here there are no whites, blacks, Miskitos, or Creoles," he said. "Here there are revolutionary and counterrevolutionary Nicaraguans, regardless of the color of their skin. The only thing which differentiated us is the attitude we assume toward the nation" (New York Times, 26 April 1985). The next round of negotiations is set for May 25-26 in Bogatá. Some progress has been made, but whether or not the violence can be resolved internally and amiably, and with the support of friendly nations, will be determined by the Nicaraguan Government's ability and willingness to negotiate MISURASATA's basic goals. Rivera has stated: "The agreement [is] a positive blow, in the first place, for peace for the indigenous people, and in the second place a positive blow for peace in Nicaragua, with consequences for the entire region". When these "blows" coalesce into mutually acceptable programs, will the long-term consequences or the peace negotiations will be realized.

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