Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 37 | Julio 1984



The Miskitus and the Atlantic Coast

Envío team

Nicaraguan will be celebrating the fifth anniversary of its revolution on July 19, 1984. This is therefore a good time to evaluate the achievements and mistakes of the revolution, take a look at what the future may hold, and measure and anticipate the threats of increased aggression.

Have the policies of the FSLN with respect to the Miskitu indigenous people of the Atlantic Coast been beneficial or detrimental to these people? Is there any truth to the charges that the Sandinistas are guilty of contemptible manipulation of human beings at best, and a deliberate policy of genocide at worst? What is the revolution’s perspective regarding the indigenous population, which is an important element in the integration and institutionalization process that constitutes Nicaragua’s model of a nation?

Since 1982, envío has published several articles analyzing the facts related to the indigenous question. It has been our intention to help clarify an extremely complex issue and enable our readers to make judgments based on sound information.

On the occasion of this fifth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and in the year that commemorates the 50th anniversary of Sandino’s death, we feel it appropriate to put together the different materials at our disposal and present them in this special monograph issue. We have also included the article of Father Ricardo Falla, S.J., which first appeared in the magazine ECA, of the José Simeón Cañas Central American University in San Salvador.

The relocation of 10,000 Miskitus from the banks of the Río Coco on the border with Honduras to the settlement called Tasba Pri in January 1982, while caused by a need to defend the area against counterrevolutionary attacks, exacerbated and gave international exposure to a problem that has existed for centuries. Without an understanding of the history and the growing conflicts in the area in 1981, it is impossible to understand the relocation measure, define it as a good choice or a mistake, or respond to criticism of it. Despite the possible repetition from one article to another, we wish to emphasize the importance of the historical dimension in the analysis of the Miskitu issue.

The opinion of those who made the decision to carry out the relocation was that it was necessary, despite the errors that occurred and have been recognized. This opinion is confirmed by the dramatic escalation of the military aggression—including the mining of Nicaragua’s ports—since 1982.

Regardless of the economic cost and human suffering, Nicaraguan authorities have handled the relocation and the entire ethnic, social, political and religious problem of the Miskitu community with more deliberation and understanding than their counterparts who have dealt with the relocation of Salvadoran refugees in Honduras or Guatemalan refugees in Mexico.

In its July 1982 study of the Atlantic region’s demography, the Center for Research and Documentation on the Atlantic Coast (CIDCA) correctly pointed out that figures related to the present situation and the relocation have constantly been manipulated and exaggerated. Sources opposed to the Nicaraguan government have made dramatic claims of “forced” relocations into “concentration camps” of 25,000 and 30,000 people out of a total population of 120,000 Miskitus.

No serious basis for such figures exists. An attempt to substantiate the charge of “genocide” seems to have motivated this exaggeration. CIDCA provided the demographic information presented on page 51.

CIDCA’s staff used as its principal source the information complied by INEC (National Institute of Statistics and Censuses) during the housing census it initiated in 1981. Counterrevolutionary activities that endangered the lives of census workers in many rural areas of the Atlantic Coast region forced INEC to suspend this census before its completion. In its interpretation of the data, CIDCA had to consider the heterogeneity and ethnic mixtures in large populations such as those of Puerto Cabezas, Waspam, Rosita, Bonanza, Siuna and Bluefields. It had to estimate the percentage represented by each ethnic group, and did so by slightly overestimating the average number of inhabitants per dwelling for the Miskitu, Sumu and Creole populations to avoid any reduction of the demographic importance of these groups.

The results of this study show that approximately 10,000 Miskitus were transferred from the villages along the Río Coco. Other pertinent figures reveal a total Miskitu population of 66,994 before the move, when substantial numbers also went to Honduras; a total of 282,081 inhabitants of the Atlantic Coast region; and, according to September 1983 data from INSSBI (Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security and Welfare) a total Nicaraguan population of 2,917,816.

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The Miskitu Question in Nicaragua

A Divided People A Manipulated Banner?

The Miskitus and the Atlantic Coast


A Policy of Genocide?

Concerning the Schlaefer Case
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