Between a Rock and a Hard Place - Left-Wing Revolution, Right-Wing Reaction and the Destruction of Indigenous People

[To get a] picture of the Meo's situation in Laos, [there must be] discussion of the US Program to organize them to fight for the United States, trapping them like desperate dogs and throwing away the leash when they lost their usefulness.

It has become characteristic of US counterinsurgency/counterrevolutionary doctrine for indigenous peoples within Third World states to be manipulated against communism, providing a ready and onsite combatant pool for deployment against progressive movements and governments.(1) Typically executed by special forces or Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) personnel, or both, this line of action has repeatedly resulted in the dislocation, dissolution, decimation and, in some cases, the virtual eradication of indigenous societies.

The US opts to enter into military alliances with indigenous peoples solely on the basis of its own geopolitical needs, and never for such altruistic motives as "saving them from genocide. It is primarily US actions and firepower that have inflicted casualties upon America's indigenous allies, consistently forcing them to "face extinction as...organized societies". Why are indigenous peoples so susceptible to recruitment by US low intensity warfare specialists? And do leftist revolutionary theory and practice promote such alliances?


According to Morechand, "the Hmong [sic] consider the term Meo, used by the Lao, demeaning" (probably because they associate it with the racist Vietnamese word moi - meaning "savage" or "subhuman" - used to describe tribal peoples generally); "they have tended to avoid involvement with the lowlanders except for trade." Hawkins observes that the h'Mong areas of Laos, centering upon the Plain of Jars, have historically been "the scene of frequent revolts against [i.e., resistance to] lowland control."

By all accounts, the h'Mong jealously guarded their cultural integrity, political autonomy and the self-sufficiency of an economy based upon "the shifting cultivation of upland rice, maize, and opium as a cash crop". Further, "the montagnards [the French word encompassing hill peoples such as the h'Mong] were neglected by the dominant Lao during the colonial period," roughly 1890-1950, and were thereby able to maintain the full and relatively untrammeled range of characteristics marking the expression of de facto national sovereignty in the modern era. This situation was undoubtedly facilitated by the French colonists' lack of interest in the Annamese highland areas inhabited by the h'Mong; they preferred to view Laos as a potential lowland "river empire".

It was not until World War II gave rise to an encroachment upon their territory that the h'Mong elected to enter into alliances with outsiders. In 1946, h'Mong leader Faydang allied with the anticolonialist Lao Issara exile government headed by Prince Phetsarath and Phaya Khommao. The h'Mong hoped that this union would return the Lao "neglect" of highland internal affairs exhibited in earlier years. A "free Laos" was perceived as corresponding nicely with a "free h'Mong state." A significant snag in this arrangement was the fact that "all the Lao Issara exiles shared the belief that Laos was incapable of gaining freedom unassisted"; an important minority of the Lao Issara, grouped around Prince Souphanouvong, were willing to use Vietnamese support to wage an armed struggle for total independence from France...[and] came to share the Viet Minh view that the war for independence involved all of Indochina.

The question became to what extent would the Laotian nationalist movement align itself with or subordinate itself to Ho Chi Minh's centrist Viet Minh.

This issue created a split within the Lao Issara, leading to the emergence of a "moderate" faction, finally headed by Prince Souvanna Phouma, with which the h'Mong were allied. Phouma assumed power through the 1954 Geneva Peace Accords in exchange for "acceptance of anti-communist premises and forces including the French, the Thai, and lastly the Americans". Considering such stipulations (accurately enough) to be blatantly neocolonial, the Souphanouvong faction, now identifying itself as the Pathet Lao, rejected the new regime, aligned itself more closely with the nationalist/Marxist Hanoi government and prepared to refocus its armed struggle against its former colleagues in Vientienne.

For what may have been tactical reasons, the Pathet Lao based themselves squarely in the midst of h'Mong territory, a matter that set off inevitable friction between the two groups.(2) Worse, under a 1951 agreement granting reciprocal use of troops in "each other's territory"; the Pathet Lao brought in Vietnamese cadres, representatives of a people whose traditional haughty disdain of all things "moi" had not endeared them to the h'Mong. Programs were implemented quickly in the "liberated" areas. These included the conscription of h'Mong youth into the Pathet Lao guerrilla units and the extraction of "taxes" (usually in the form of food and crops) from the villagers. Finally, the Pathet Lao proposed its vision of the future: a program formulated in Vietnam in 1950, openly calling for incorporating people of "all tribal groups" into the anticipated post-revolutionary progressive state and society. Clearly, the h'Mong had little option but to view these developments as an outright denial of their right to national sovereignty, or even autonomy. Active resistance to the Pathet Lao and Vietnamese began with their arrival in h'Mong territory.

Meanwhile, America maneuvered to pull Laos away from neutrality by integrating it into John Foster Dulles' collective security scheme [to "contain" countries such as North Vietnam, and] having associated Laos with SEATO, the next US move was to strengthen the country in order to forestall communist takeover. Laos became the only foreign country in the world where the United States supported 100 percent of the military budget.

Under such conditions, the Vientienne government was prodded by the US to mount further operations against h'Mong territory to destroy the opposition, a policy that quickly created h'Mong resentment against the Lao Issara no less than the Pathet Lao. The trend reached its head in 1957, when Vientienne entered into negotiations with the Pathet Lao - from which the h'Mong were excluded - concerning the "political disposition" of the highlands and a possible coalition government. Unsurprisingly, the h'Mong, under the leadership of Touby Ly Fong, rejected the presumptions of both the left and the right, and aligned themselves in 1960 with the Laotian neutralist revolt of Kong Le.

For its part, the US pursued its principal regional policy objective of walling North Vietnam in from the west and, proceeding from the assessment that the h'Mong were "the best fighting men in all of Laos," started, probably in 1958, to send in the first "US Special Forces [that] began advising the scattered detachments of Meo who continued to hold mountain strongholds within Pathet Lao territory". The CIA, quickly realizing the potential effectiveness of this program, increased the number of "Special Forces White Star Mobile Training Teams" by the end of 1960 and, with remarkable insight into the motivation of the h'Mong, began selling its "package" with promises of "an autonomous 'Meo state' in return for [the h'Mong's] helping...fight the [communists]". H'Mong leader Vang Pao, with the agreement of Touby Le Fong, responded with a plan that "Special Forces advisors the first step in building up a substantial guerrilla army". This "development process" was continued uninterrupted despite the 1962 Geneva Accords for a Laotian cease-fire, from which the h'Mong (as always) had been excluded anyway.

As the Indochina war escalated throughout the 1960s, the h'Mong highlands area became crucially important to the North Vietnamese as a crux of its supply conduit (the head of the so-called Ho Chi Minh Trail) to the south; correspondingly, "the Meo outposts [were] seen as vital barriers to communist penetration" by US strategists, and came to be "regarded as perhaps the single most important American program in Laos". Guided by veteran CIA covert operative Edgar "Pops" Buell, Vang Pao's ground forces were coupled with US airpower, which had shifted its emphasis "from tactical to strategic bombing" on the Plain of Jars at least as early as 1966. The comparatively massive numbers of Vietnamese now operating within the highlands, and the devastation their presence attracted from the air, caused the h'Mong to fight with desperate ferocity for Vietnamese eviction. Caught in the crossfire, the h'Mong were physically decimated. Buell wrote in March 1968:

Vang Pao has lost at least a thousand men since January 1, killed alone, and I don't know how many more wounded. He's lost all but one of his commanders...A short time ago we rounded up 300 fresh recruits. Thirty percent were 14 years old or less, and ten of them were only ten years old. Another 30 percent were 15 and 16. The remaining 40 percent were 35 or over. Where were the ones in between? I'll tell you, they're all dead...and in a few weeks, 90 percent of [the new recruits] will be dead.

Despite such sacrifices by the fighters, by 1970 Buell was estimating that 250,000 of the approximately 300,000 h'Mong had been displaced from their homeland. Another source estimated that of "a quarter of a million Meos in 1962, only a pitiful remnant of ten thousand escaped to Thailand in 1975". Vang Pao, with few alternatives available, continued the struggle, his "ultimate fight for de facto autonomous Meo kingdom spreading through most of [eastern] Laos". By 1975, with the final collapse of the US military adventure in Indochina and the consolidation of the Vietnamese statist agenda, even Vang Pao was gone; he had resettled in an upland ranch in Montana, but his people were largely dispersed into squalid refugee camps along the Laos-Thai border. The culture and society for which they had fought so hard and suffered so much was shattered.

Still, as Chomsky and Herman note, at least as late as March 1978 pockets of h'Mong were still in Laos and resisting subordination to lowland authority; "a major military campaign by Laotian and Vietnamese forces...with long range artillery shelling, which was followed by aerial rocketing, bombing and strafing" was directed at them.(3) The h'Mong who continue to reside in Thai refugee camps - perhaps as many as 100,000 in 1987 - still maintain a staunch loyalty to their traditional leaders and the hope of a h'Mong state. Reports that Vang Pao has directed the h'Mong in the camps to regroup and continue the struggle for their homeland indicate that they have not abandoned their dream of resuming their own sovereign existence.


Miskito, Sumo and Rama Indian nations constitute the indigenous peoples of Mosquitia,(4) where they have lived from time immemorial. The Indian nations have staunchly and consistently defended their homelands from invasion and occupation, first by the Spanish, then by the British and Americans and now by the forces of both the left and the right from the contemporary Nicaraguan state. A significant population of Creoles has peacefully shared the area with the Indians since the seventeenth century; more recently ladinos from western Nicaragua have begun migrating to the region.

Despite the efforts of European-rooted colonial regimes and settler states to assimilate and eradicate Indian identity in Mosquitia, distinct Indian societies - characterized by separate languages, the perpetuation of traditional social, cultural and political practices, and control of a good portion of their land base - still exist. Indians harbor strong animosity toward the modern descendants of the original Spanish invaders. Many Indians in Mosquitia continue to refer derogatorily to the Pacific-side Nicaraguans as "Spaniards," reflecting primarily cultural and ideological rather than racial differences. Nicaraguans perceive Indians as "backward" and "primitive," requiring salvation through revolutionary principles. The situation is not dissimilar to relations between the h'Mong and lowlanders in Laos.

Cultural divergence in Nicaragua is coupled with a geographic separation of the Pacific side from Mosquitia. This separation facilitated the Spanish/Catholic colonization of the Pacific area, leaving Mosquitia more susceptible to the influence of the United Kingdom and the US. Most of the sources of conflict in Mosquitia today can be traced to attempts by both Nicaragua and the US to extend their hegemony over the sovereign Indian nations of the region. The ongoing Indian resistance is, at root, a response to those attempts. This also corresponds well to the realities of Laos.

The modern Indian movement in Mosquitia was embodied initially in the organization ACARIC (Association of Agricultural Cooperatives of the Rio Coco), formed in 1967 to acquire a recognized land base and freedom in agricultural production for the Indians along the river. In 1973, ACARIC was succeeded by ALPROMISU (Alliance Promoting Miskito and Sumo Development), which continued and expanded the drive for Indian self-determination. ALPROMISU joined the emerging international movement of indigenous peoples in an attempt to achieve the hopes of the Indians of Mosquitia.(5) Although founded by the Indian elders of the region, the organization was publicly led by a new generation of Miskito students studying at the National University in Managua, including Brooklyn Rivera, Hazel Lau and Steadman Fagoth.

Although the Sandinista insurgency of the 1970s, which overthrew the despotic, US-supported Somoza dynasty, was fought almost exclusively in Pacific Nicaragua, Atlantic Coast Indian support and participation existed, including that of the MISURASATA (then ALPROMISU) leadership. After the triumph of the revolution in 1979, Indian leadership was optimistic that conditions for Mosquitia would improve, and the Sandinistas would promote a truly revolutionary Indian policy that would respect aboriginal land rights, cultural and economic autonomy and political self-determination.

Within three months of the Sandinista victory, however, the new government informed the ALPROMISU leaders that the Indian organization was incongruent with the advancement of the revolution. The government believed that the Indians should be integrated into the national revolutionary mainstream through the mass organizations designed to promote class consciousness and minimize the Indians' nationalist disposition. Only after traveling to Mosquitia personally did Daniel Ortega, director of the revolutionary junta, concede that his effort to disband the organization was futile. Subsequently, a compromise was reached whereby the organization would continue but would be renamed MISURASATA, an acronym for Miskito, Sumo, Rama, Sandinista Aslatakanka (United). Unfortunately, the enmity created within Mosquitia as a consequence of unilateral Sandinista policy, coupled with US policy designed to destabilize the Nicaraguan government by any means available (including the use of some Indians), has led to protracted warfare in the region that continues today.

Revolutionary Triumph/Indian Policy Failure

Initially, postrevolution relations between the Indians and the Sandinistas were relatively amicable and cooperative. The Indian leadership of ALPROMISU endorsed the revolution and sought to advance Indian aspirations through the revolutionary processes. Within a short time, however, relations began to worsen, and a six-year period started (1981-1987) which, even the Sandinistas now admit, was replete with "excesses and mistakes" by the government. Many of Managua's policies during this time seem almost intended to provoke conflict with Indian peoples aspiring to self-determination. Among the more contentious of these were:

* Unilateral decisions to introduce cadres of government workers and foreign (primarily Cuban and Eastern Bloc) advisors and technicians into Mosquitia in an effort "to integrate fully Indians into the Sandinista Front" (1979-present).

* Implementation of literacy and medical programs that disregarded or ignored the needs, desires and cultural traditions of the Indians. The literacy campaign in the region was begun in Spanish, even though the predominant languages are Indian and English (1980-1981).

* Unilateral natural resource exploitation policies that denied Indians access to much of their traditional lands and severely restricted their subsistence activities throughout Mosquitia (1979-present).

* The arrest and imprisonment of the entire MISURASATA leadership (1981), and the eventual withdrawal of recognition of MISURASATA, arguably the only fully representative Indian organization in Mosquitia (1981).

* The military occupation, bombing or deliberate destruction of over half of all the Miskito and Sumo villages in Mosquitia (1981-present) and the military conscription of Indian youth into the Nicaraguan military (1980-present).

* The removal of at least 10,000 Indians from their traditional lands to "relocation centers" in the interior of the country, and the destruction of their villages (1982-1987).

* Embargoes and blockades against Indian villages that were known to support Indian self-determination (1981-present).

* The unilateral imposition of an autonomy process without adequate participation of all Indians affected, and without provisions sufficient to guarantee Indian self-determination (1985-present).

Each of these elements was, and is, present in Vietnamese/Pathet Lao policies vis-à-vis the h'Mong. The implementation of these subordinating "methods" led, directly or indirectly, to two developments: the escalation of antagonism in Mosquitia toward the government, to the point of armed Indian opposition, and the splintering of the Indian movement into three different factions.

Animosity between the Indians and the government had reached such an elevated level in early 1981 that, on February 22 when the government arrested the MISURASATA leadership, young Indian men and women turned on the Sandinista troops in the town of Prinzapolka, beginning the armed Indian resistance. Counter to the prevailing view of most of Managua's international supporters, Sandinista repression and the consequent emergence of the armed resistance as a component in the Indian struggle began nearly a full year before the US undertook its covert support of the Somocista-led counterrevolution from Honduras.

Despite the release of most of the MISURASATA leadership within a few weeks of their arrest in 1981, the MISURASATA representative to the Nicaraguan Council of State, Steadman Fagoth, was detained longer, since he had been accused of serving as a government agent during the Somoza years. He was released from prison only on the condition that he agree to spend an extended period of time studying in Bulgaria. Although he initially agreed to the condition, he fled instead to Honduras and joined the Somocistas, lending credence to the Sandinista allegations against him. Brooklyn Rivera, the general coordinator of MISURASATA, remained in Nicaragua after his release to continue trying to mend the disintegrating relations between the government and the Indians. Rivera immediately condemned Fagoth, and urged international groups to ignore him. Rivera's task of improving relations proved difficult because the Indian villages had become increasingly radicalized by the events of the preceding months, and were unwilling to make further compromises in their talks with the government.

Subsequently, the Sandinistas withdrew recognition of MISURASATA, which had been formed with the consensus of 225 Indian communities in Mosquitia, and remains the only Indian organization that can make this claim. The government also made it clear to Rivera that if he did not renounce MISURASATA's self-determination perspective and "join the revolution," his personal safety in Nicaragua could not be guaranteed. Taking that as a threat, Rivera went to Honduras but quickly discovered how well established Fagoth was with his CIA-Honduran hosts. Rivera was arrested by the Hondurans. Apparently on the orders of the CIA, he was deported to Costa Rica.

With the primary leaders of MISURASATA, Rivera and Fagoth, removed from the country, the Sandinistas changed their tactics and attempted to negotiate land agreements with individual Indian communities. Eventually, the government realized the futility of such an approach with a tenaciously communitarian people who informed the government that land agreements could be reached only by all of the villages acting together. In 1985, the government resorted to creating its own sanctioned Indian organization, known as MISATAN. For obvious reasons, this new entity was met with almost universal suspicion among Indians and in 1987 has still established itself in only a few villages.

Despite the exodus of tens of thousands of Miskitos, Sumos and Ramas from Mosquitia since 1981, and despite the departure of the leaders of MISURASATA, the Sandinistas decided to move forward with their own design for regional autonomy for Mosquitia. The Sandinista plan has been touted by supporters as the most progressive Indian policy in the hemisphere. It is also viewed as a sign that the Sandinistas have realized their past errors and are now willing to make concessions to the Indians.

Since its beginning in 1985, however, the Sandinista autonomy plan has been wracked by discord and non-cooperation in the villages. A major reason for the Indian skepticism of the government's proposal is that, at base, it advances the government's philosophy that decisions in the region will continue to be made ultimately by the central government. Under the government's plan Indian villages only possess administrative and consultative functions. According to the proposed statute, unveiled April 22, 1987, no original jurisdiction rests with the Indians, other than the most rudimentary administrative details. Such a principle is precisely the same as that evidenced in Vietnamese centrist ideology and, for that matter, the "plenary power" doctrine by which the US governs North American Indians.

Issues such as territorial land rights remain unaddressed. Control of the military and the police continues to remain with the central government. Decisions concerning natural resource exploitation within the "national economic strategy" will continue to be controlled from Managua. Under the government's plan the autonomy is "regional," raising a serious issue regarding the ability of Indians to control their traditional lands if recent ladino immigrants, who now outnumber the Indians on a regional basis, are allowed equal political participation. In sum Managua's autonomy plan is little different in substance than the Indian Reorganization Act, used by the US government since 1934 to subordinate American Indian nations within its borders.

Conversely, MISURASATA has recently (May 1987) released its own proposal for autonomy, in addition to a draft treaty of peace between the Indian nations and the government of Nicaragua. The MISURASATA plan calls for significantly more control by Indian governments, and a more cooperative process of decision making with the central government on issues such as the military defense of the region and natural resource development. The government has refused even to respond to the MISURASATA proposal.

Enter the CIA

The CIA is no stranger to Mosquitia. In 1961, the town of Puerto Cabezas was used by the agency to launch the ill-fated Bay of Pigs assault on Cuba. CIA policy in Latin America indicates that it is neither timid nor particularly secret in its operations, especially as regards Nicaragua.

In the case of the Indian struggle in Mosquitia, the CIA has been interested in manipulating Indian discontent - in much the same fashion as it once used the h'Mong as surrogates against Hanoi - to serve its own ends of destroying the Nicaraguan government in toto. As Brooklyn Rivera has stated, "The CIA cowboys want us to be their little Indians". The first movement in that direction was the grooming of MISURASATA detector Steadman Fagoth in mid-1981. The conditions of support from the agency to Fagoth were clear: his charisma as a Miskito leader, and now as a member of the Nicaraguan Democratic Front (FDN) - more commonly known as the contras - was to be used to open a military front in Mosquitia with the ultimate goal of toppling the Sandinista government.

From 1982 through 1984, the CIA armed and supported Fagoth, the sole Indian leader trusted to do the CIA's bidding, and the only Indian leader with access to the CIA station in Honduras. During this time, military activity along the Rio Coco increased, as did reports of human rights abuses by both the Indian contras and the Sandinistas. Accounts circulated of an egomaniacal Fagoth who killed anyone who opposed him, and abused and mistreated his own troops. In late 1984, Fagoth showed two US Senate investigators a "hit list" of 12 Indian leaders he planned to assassinate. He claimed to have killed five already, a matter he still admits. The US State Department is currently investigating allegations that Fagoth, either personally or by his supervision, engaged in human rights abuses. If the charges are proved, regulations require him to be barred from ever receiving US funding again.

Fagoth also publicly condemned Rivera for opening negotiations with the Sandinistas in 1984, and threatened to kill him and anyone else who negotiated with the Nicaraguan government. Late in 1984, Fagoth's ego and bravado led to his removal by the CIA from "his" organization, MISURA (MISURASATA without the Sandinistas).

As a result, in September 1985 the CIA created a new Indian contra organization known as KISAN (Nicaraguan Coast Unity), to be led by Wycliffe Diego, a protégé of Fagoth. The CIA's control of KISAN was complete and deliberate. Diego was on salaried by the CIA, and no leaders of MISURASATA, especially Rivera, would be allowed in Honduras to challenge his authority among the KISAN troops or in the Honduran refugee camps. The CIA's ethnocentrism blinded them to Indian tradition in Mosquitia, which demands consensus and accountability from their leaders. KISAN, an organization of "leaders" with nonexistent grassroots support, showed signs of failure from the beginning. KISAN disintegrated in 1986 when disenchanted warriors spontaneously resurrected MISURA (without Fagoth), and other military commanders began to negotiate individual cease-fires with the Sandinistas.

With the organization members deserting before their eyes, the KISAN leaders resorted to strong-arm tactics to maintain themselves, including invading the refugee camps, kidnapping Indian youth and conscripting them. Such tactics have caused some Indians to return to Nicaragua to take their chances with Sandinista policy, rather than watch their own brethren suffer in the squalor of the refugee camps. The fact that this was exactly the same approach the Pathet Lao took - which so greatly exacerbated tensions between them and the h'Mong - is clearly ironic.

In 1987, with the looming demise of KISAN, the CIA operatives in Honduras, in cooperation with Col. Eric Sanchez of the Honduran Fifth Battalion Headquarters, near Mocoron, created yet a third Indian contra organization - FAUCAN (United Armed Forces of the Atlantic Coast). The plan was again to bring the Indians under the clear and unambiguous control of the CIA and Honduran military, and to insure that the Indians followed the CIA's strategy, in Mosquitia, subsuming their own aspirations.

Support from FAUCAN was even less than it was from KISAN in its final days; frontline troops refused to fight for an organization without an Indian agenda. Even the former MISURA and KISAN leaders did not support FAUCAN. The new organization, similar to its predecessors, seemed destined to fail because of the CIA's obliviousness to Indian aspirations. One Indian fighter put it succinctly:

We left Nicaragua because the Sandinistas didn't want us. Now we see the gringos, who are supposed to be our allies, don't really care about us either...our interests are very small compared to theirs. It seems as though they just want to use us.

The CIA's failures within Mosquitia, including FAUCAN, attained international attention in mid-1987. This resulted in two immediate changes with respect to the Indians. First, four of the five CIA operatives working in Mosquitia were reassigned to other stations. Second, the State Department assumed control of the administration of US policy in Mosquitia. The immediate significance of the change may be in which Indians the US now chooses to support. Because of Rivera's adamant refusal to take orders from the CIA, he was denied any financial or military assistance, even after Congress specifically allocated $5 million for MISURASATA in 1986. The money was not released to Rivera because it was being administered by the CIA, which sought to use it as a "lever" by which to "bring Rivera around" to its point of view.

Since the State Department has increased its influence in Mosquitia, greater freedom of association has been allowed in Honduras. From June 9-14, 1987, in Rus Rus, Honduras, the first regional gathering of all Indian factions (except MISATAN) was convened. For the first time in seven years, MISURASATA leadership was allowed into Honduran Mosquitia. The final outcome of the meeting remains unclear, except that there existed consensus for a reaffirmation of Indian self-determination. The new, unified movement is to be known as YATAMA, and is to be free to organize throughout Mosquitia.

Clearly, within the Indian struggle two "turf" battles remain to be fought. The first is between the State Department and the CIA. The bureaucratic, territorial rivalry between the two agencies is neither a new nor genial one. The CIA's failure in Mosquitia, coupled with other recent exposure in the Iran-Contra scandal, has embarrassed the agency; presumably, it would now like to see the State Department's strategy in Mosquitia fail as well. It retains enough power in the region to make a policy change very difficult.

The second battle is between Brooklyn Rivera and Steadman Fagoth. Fagoth's support among the troops is minimal, since he was publicly condemned at Rus Rus by his former commanders. Nonetheless, he retains considerable support from the Honduran military and is apparently being "rehabilitated" by the CIA, primarily because he continues his extreme anticommunist, anti-Sandinista rhetoric.

Rivera maintains his call for an independent Indian resistance. This leaves him open for attacks from both the CIA-Fagoth alliance and the Nicaraguan government. Despite the dangers, he continues to speak candidly about his opinion of the CIA:

Believe me that we have been and still spend much of our time, our energy, our resources, fighting against or defending ourselves against the Contras and the CIA actions against the organization. They have been creating artificial organizations. They have been inventing leaders. They have even attempted to kill MISURASATA leadership. The damage that the Contras and the CIA have effected against the Indian people, against the resistance of our people, is clear.

On the continuing Indian resistance, Rivera concludes:

One thing is certain: our people will continue their struggle, no matter the circumstances. We will continue. Many of our young people have already given their lives for our people; they have sacrificed themselves. We will continue because that is the mandate of our elders, that the young people should continue it until we have liberated our land, and we can live there peacefully. Our people have a long history of struggle and resistance, and we do not trust those who attack us. So, apparently we will be forced to continue our struggle for a very long time.


The situation in Mosquitia remains highly volatile. It is impossible, at this time, to predict the ultimate results of this conflict. A prolonged war of attrition could reduce the independent Indian fighters to a h'Mong-like dependence upon the CIA or other foreign agencies for their very survival. It would, of course, be extremely unfortunate for the Miskito, Sumo and Rama nations to have their warriors thus converted into US military surrogates. It is obvious why the US would wish such an outcome, but it is less clear why the Sandinistas would allow themselves to follow the failed Vietnamese policies that push indigenous people in this direction.

Although the ruling party of Nicaragua, the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), purports to be "Marxist-Leninist" in orientation, as did the Vietnamese and Pathet Lao revolutionaries before them, their ideology differs substantially from Lenin's own writings. As concerns the so-called "national question" - the Marxist term encompassing the self-determining aspirations of all peoples such as the h'Mong, Miskito, Sumo and Rama - both the Vietnamese and Sandinista prescriptions appear, in simplest form, to be that all "minorities" have not only the right, but indeed the obligation to struggle for sovereignty so long as they are subordinated to a "reactionary state." Once encapsulated within a "progressive state," however, such rights mysteriously disappear; they are then bound by duty to integrate themselves with "the revolution." The formulation at issue comes not from Lenin but from Stalin and finds its clearest reflection - albeit with reversed priorities - in the ideology of contemporary corporate capitalism. When put into practice either outlook has been shown to yield a genocidal impact upon indigenous peoples.

Confronted with the specter of their own extinction as peoples - a prospect bound up in their forced incorporation into some "broader society" - indigenous nations have no alternative but to engage in the most desperate forms of resistance, seeking succor and assistance (real, or only apparent) from wherever it may come. The breadth and scale of this phenomenon today may be illustrated not merely by the examples of the h'Mong, Sumo, Miskito and Rama, but by the vast proliferation of similarly motivated conflicts.

In contrast to the Stalinist perspective adopted by both the Sandinistas and Vietnamese communists, Lenin was very clear that full rights of self-determination applied to peoples and nations exactly similar to the h'Mong and Indians of Mosquitia (e.g., the more than 400 peoples indigenous to the USSR).

In this connection, Lenin wrote:,

Victorious socialism must necessarily establish a full democracy and consequently, not only introduce full equality of nations, but also realize the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, i.e., the right to free political separation. Socialist parties which did not show by all their activities, both now, during the revolution, and after its victory, that they would liberate the enslaved nations and build up relations with them on the basis of a free union - and free union is a false phrase without the right to secede - these parties would be betraying socialism.

He continues on this point:

The recognition of the right to secession for all; the appraisal of each concrete question on secession from the point of view of removing all inequality, all privileges, and all exclusiveness...let us consider the position of an oppressor nation. Can an oppressor nation be free if it oppresses other nations? It cannot.

Until self-proclaimed Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries match their practice to such principles, the brand of "progressivism" they represent will not be preferable to the capitalist order they seek to replace, at least insofar as the rights of indigenous peoples are concerned. To the contrary, their avowed "humane alternative" will simply represent a continuation of the destruction of indigenous societies ushered in by capitalism, the "same old song" so aptly described by American Indian Movement leader Russell Means in a 1980 speech. One need look no further than this to discover how it is that indigenous peoples are presently trapped between the "rock" of right-wing reaction and the "hard place" of left-wing revolution.

In the interim, indigenous peoples have no choice but to continue to defend themselves, their sovereignty, and their cultural integrity by any means necessary, against both the forces of the right and of the left. Toward that goal, they must continue to exercise the right of any nations, forging alliances - including those which are temporary, desperate or merely forged by expedience - with whichever entity represents the least immediate threat to their survival.


(1) This has been the guiding principle of the US Special Forces Warfare School at Fort Brass. NC, since at least as early as 1053.

(2) Adams and McCoy offer maps (pp. 210-211) that demonstrate the correspondence of Pathet Lao basins areas to h'Mong territories.

(3) Chomsky and Herman attribute the verbiage to the "reactionary" New York Times columnist Henry Kamm, but do not contest its accuracy". Strangely, for two individuals holding well-deserved credentials as human rights advocates. Chomsky and Herman seem concerned in this instance only with whether the h'Mong might be receiving assistance from the US, and not with the legitimacy of the h'Mong defending their own territories. Indigenous peoples seem increasingly to be trapped between left/right polarities, with scarcely a thought given to their needs, rights or agendas that might validly exist beyond the parameters of the left/right paradigm.

(4) Mosquitia is a generic term referring to the traditional territories of the Miskito, Sumo and Rama Indian nations in the Atlantic Coast region of contemporary Nicaragua and Honduras. Although the Wangki River (Rio Coco) was used by the World Court in 1960 to delineate the boundary between Nicaragua and Honduras, the Indians have consistently ignored the boundary that bisects their traditional lands. The traditional boundaries run roughly from just south of Puerto Limpera, Honduras, south to Punta Gorda, Nicaragua, and from the continental shelf in the Atlantic Ocean west to the Nicaraguan communities of Siuna and Yakalpahni. Unless otherwise indicated, "Miskitia" in this article refers to the Nicaraguan Miskitia.

(5) According to the Draft Declaration of Principles for Indigenous Rights, presented to the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations, indigenous peoples have, among others, the following rights:

a. The right to self-determination, including the right to whatever degree of autonomy of self-government they choose.

b. Permanent control of their aboriginal, ancestral historical territories.

c. Freedom from the imposition of jurisdiction over them by any State, except through their free, informed consent.

d. The right of self-defense against State actions that conflict with their right to self-determination.

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