One Year of Coast Autonomy: Little to Celebrate
May 4, 1991 should have been treated as an historic milestone in Nicaragua, deserving of fanfare and celebration. It even merited a foreign journalist or two, one of the many who spent so much time the past decade covering the bitter struggle that led up to this moment. But the date, which marked the first year of autonomous government on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast, slipped past national and international consciousness virtually unnoticed.
On the coast itself, the commemorations reflected how little there was to celebrate. The details of the day also captured in miniature the myriad problems besieging the new autonomous governments. Perhaps most symbolic was the absence of any central government official—with the exception of Brooklyn Rivera, who directs the new, highly controversial and arguably misnamed National Institute for the Development of the Autonomous Regions (INDERA).
The first year of autonomous government, in sum, has been beset by conflict with the central government, lack of financing, internecine fights among leaders of Yatama, the Miskito organization that holds a plurality of seats in the northern autonomous region, accusations of scandal, popular population’s frustration and apathy and a dearth of political vision, cohesion or good will from virtually any quarter. Ironically to some, about the only actors who have played a constructive role in this drama are the elected FSLN councilors—the minority in both regions.
In Puerto Cabezas, government seat for the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), the events were rich with illustrative detail. In late April, the FSLN bench in the Regional Council proposed commemorating the date this year as a "day of protest," one meriting not celebration but a detailed accounting in each councilor's electoral district of how little the year had reaped and why. While the motion was approved, there were no funds to organize it effectively. Next was the rumor that Rivera, also a Yatama leader, was preparing his followers to amass in Puerto Cabezas and unseat RAAN Regional Coordinator Leonel Pantin and executive board president Uriel Vanegas on grounds of corruption and mismanagement. The police and army mobilized to avoid any violence, but the message was clear. While Pantin and other Yatama government officials were holding a small public event in the basketball stadium to present a superficial annual report, Rivera backer Alfonso Smith, Yatama's representative in the National Assembly, attracted an equally small crowd in the plaza opposite to demand the resignation of Pantin and Vanegas. One agitator also tried, unsuccessfully, to incite yet another takeover of municipal and regional public buildings. The FSLN stayed out of the conflict, presenting the detailed evaluation it felt was warranted at a later hour to its own supporters—a group only slightly larger than the other two.
In Bluefields, government seat for the South Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAS), the anniversary was only noted in a formal and extremely brief Regional Council session. Typically, Regional Coordinator Alvin Guthrie was not in attendance. Executive board president Eduardo Argüello simply read a one-page speech to the councilors, many of whom had come from distant communities, then closed the session; the accumulated agenda of business items remained undented. Argüello's acknowledgement that there has been little development in the zone thus far was masterful understatement. Avoiding the conflicts in his own area, Rivera opted to go to the events in Bluefields, where he was ignored.
It would be idealistic to expect any brand new autonomous government to function smoothly in a region with no modern-day precedents. One has only to look at the first post-colonial governments in India and the emerging African nations in the past 15-40 years to appreciate how unprepared both conditions and the populations themselves were, after long periods of subjugation, for local leaders to effectively assume the reins of self-government. With all the internal skills and outside support in the world, such processes take years, generations, to find their stride. The autonomous governments on the Atlantic Coast can hardly be expected to find theirs in one year when they critically lack both skills and support.
This article examines the nature and causes—both within the region and beyond—of autonomy's crisis on the Atlantic Coast, focusing particularly on the role played by Nicaragua's central government in this historic new process. The bottom-line, and perhaps unanswerable, question is: What chance of development does this fragile process have in the near and distant future?
Off on the wrong footThe two autonomous governments began their labor with a number of unique circumstantial handicaps, some of which were simple bad luck or bad timing. While they are not at the structural root of the problems, they have put the new governments, particularly the one in the north, at an even greater disadvantage in dealing with their more fundamental internal and external problems.
Simultaneous elections. Elections for the first autonomous government on the coast were originally scheduled for April 1989, but were postponed after Hurricane Joan flattened Bluefields and surrounding areas in October 1988. Had they occurred when planned, there would have been nearly a year of continuity at the national level; the Sandinista government had already drawn up plans to progressively turn over ministerial and government administration to the new local authorities. Even taking into account the Sandinistas' preoccupation with the upcoming presidential campaign, they would have attended to the transition on the coast.
National election results. Whatever local contenders believed might be the results of the regional elections, few on either side genuinely thought the FSLN would lose the presidency. The change of central government from one that had guided and promoted the autonomy process to one ignorant of and viscerally opposed to it was a formidable new factor that had not realistically figured in anyone's strategy.
Regional election results. Neither UNO in the RAAS nor, apparently, Yatama in the RAAN took seriously the possibility that it might dominate the 45-seat Regional Council in its area. Thus neither group chose candidates that qualify among "the best and the brightest." Most intellectually adept and politically experienced costeños in the south either already identified to varying degrees with the FSLN or hesitated to run as candidates for an unknown coalition of Managua-based parties. In the north, radical Yatama leaders gave independent Miskito professionals a wide berth, suspicious that they were secretly FSLN sympathizers. As a result, most of the majority bench councilors in both regions, whatever their motivation and commitment may be, are woefully under-qualified for their new responsibility.
Even more problematic is that both Brooklyn Rivera and Stedman Fagoth—charismatic, university-educated Yatama strongmen sure to win any position they ran for—stayed out of the race. They claimed at the time that they did not want to appear opportunistic to their base, a fear they seem to have overcome in the ensuing year. An interpretation much more in character for both, assuming that the FSLN would win the presidency and even stood an outside chance of gaining the majority in the Regional Council, was that they sat out the elections so as to later play a destabilizing role as outside agitators. That is largely what they are now doing, each in his own unique fashion, despite Yatama's plurality in the RAAN regional government.
Autonomy law ambiguities. Nicaragua's legislative process involves two distinct stages in drawing up a major law such as the Autonomy Statute. First the bill itself is drafted in relatively general conceptual terms; once passed, specific rules and procedures for its effective enforcement are drawn up and passed in a regulatory law. Both the FSLN's residual fears of coast hostility to Managua and its genuine desire to help the coast governments break in their new shoes gradually led it to keep the Autonomy Statute's language even more vague than usual, particularly regarding the assigning of clear authority to either government level. With a law so open to interpretation, the autonomous governments are legally defenseless against a new central government that wants to keep them shoeless forever. The regulatory proposals drafted by the two Regional Autonomy Commissions prior to the elections are now unlikely to be given much consideration in the struggle around this second stage.
Economic Prostration. The Autonomy Statute recognizes that autonomy without a material base is a contradiction in terms. With the region's productive infrastructure largely destroyed by war and the hurricane, and even subsistence agriculture paralyzed for years by the war and massive population displacements, the autonomous regions are almost wholly dependent on the central government for funding, which has barely been forthcoming. As we detail below, this and the broader issue of control over the region's natural resource base are two key expressions of the conflict between the levels of government.
Coordinators caught in vises. As head of the rightwing Confederation of Trade Union Unity (CUS), which has received funding from the American Institute of Free Labor Development, RAAS Regional Coordinator Alvin Guthrie has good relations with UNO business interests in Managua and close ties in the United States. But neither UNO nor the CUS has much of a structural base among the multiethnic population in the RAAS. Guthrie's own popularity is limited by perceptions of him as self-serving and corrupt. He is thus not in a position to take a strong stand on either side of the contradiction between the centralist instincts of the Managua government and the coast people’s strong regionalist demands.
In contrast, Yatama is a specifically regional and Miskito organization, with strength only in the RAAN. One would have expected it to organize a strong indigenous protest against the new central government's behavior, but it has been debilitated by political and, more importantly, personal power struggles. Publicly acrimonious leadership fights, particularly between Rivera and Fagoth, have alienated Yatama's base in the communities and undermined the regional government's already limited ability to function. Still often played out in shouting matches in the streets, the fight now has a new organizational battlefield. With Rivera monopolizing and even blocking central government relations with the region from his ministerial post in INDERA, Fagoth, Yatama's unelected director, has opted to defend regional autonomy as one of Leonel Pantin's key advisers. Pantin, a Moravian Church bureaucrat who only became a Yatama candidate after Rivera returned in 1989 and smashed efforts to build an independent slate, is trapped in a double-edged contradiction—between Yatama's two powerful leaders and between their organizational structures in the region and in Managua. Fagoth opportunistically defines himself as a moderate ally willing to reconcile with the Sandinistas and casts Rivera as a vengeful opponent determined to eradicate Sandinismo, who has sold out to the central government, a slick role reversal from the eighties.
Conflicts among former combatants. The issue of unfulfilled promises to former contras, currently reaching worrisome heights in the Pacific, is minimal in the RAAS, where the war had significantly wound down by 1987. In contrast, it is even more complicated in the RAAN than in the Pacific. Between 1985 and 1988, the Sandinista government signed some 20 peace agreements with factions of the three Miskito fighting groups there, totaling some 1,400 fighters. The centerpiece of those accords was that the government would subsidize fighters—up to a third of each group, at least on paper—who opted to defend strategic areas in coordination with the army. Today those fighters, known on the coast as desalzados (no longer insurrectional) have been left high and dry. They are of even less interest to the UNO government than those who demobilized after the elections and now receive assistance from CIAV, the structure directed by the Organization of American States to carry out contra demobilization. The RAAN Regional Council, whose executive board president, Uriel Vanegas, is a former commander of 400 desalzados, wants to help them, but has no funds to do so. Armed and feeling betrayed, the desalzados have posed security problems at various moments.
Popular support. Despite two years of consultation between 1985 and 1987, most coast people still do not really comprehend what autonomy is supposed to mean. The reasons are multiple: the traumatized population's preoccupation in that period with the ongoing war; the low educational level in most outlying communities; the autonomy document's vague and abstract legal language, which did not answer their concrete and specific questions; ingrained skepticism toward anything promoted by the Sandinistas; and, particularly in the north, the fact that, at the time, some 35,000 Miskitos and Sumos were trying to survive in Honduran refugee settlements and did not even participate in the consultations.
Today, while grateful for the war's end, these people face the exhausting task of rebuilding their communities and their own uprooted lives; coping with the destroyed infrastructure and near total lack of medicines, medical personnel and teachers; and making some sense out of the struggles in Yatama, the organization many once thought would be their salvation. While mention of the word autonomy still brings a wistful smile to many faces, it is not clear what hopes it triggers. What is clear is that those hopes are not being invested in the powerless new autonomous governments, which are not meeting the people's basic and urgent needs even as well as the Sandinistas did in the middle of a war. Also clear is that the initial enthusiasm they dared to feel about Violeta Chamorro is gone. Their views about the Sandinistas are still quite mixed, but improving.
A telling election campaignSome of what has occurred over the year was predictable from the start of the election campaign in 1989, and many remaining blanks were filled in by the election results. Of the few surprises, one came on presidential inauguration day in Managua and another the day the new regional governments were sworn in.
The FSLN in the RAAS thought its region might not do well in the presidential race, so it concentrated its efforts there. Having accepted the ethnic communities' own candidates for over 30 of the 45 slots on its Regional Council slate, that race seemed in the bag. But unlike in the RAAN, nobody told people they could split their vote. Most of the 61% who opted for Violeta Chamorro also marked UNO on their other two ballots. This gave UNO 23 Regional Council seats to 18 for the FSLN and 4 for Yatama; the FSLN and UNO each won a National Assembly seat. The morning after the elections, when voters realized what they had done, many were as devastated as the FSLN.
Yatama, in contrast, had created a baroque balloting strategy. Not registered as a party, it could not run its own National Assembly candidates, so it decided to cut a deal with one of the national parties. After talking to UNO, the Social Christians (PSC) and even the FSLN, Yatama persuaded the PSC, which had no National Assembly candidates in the coast, to run Yatama on its slate. Since PSC presidential candidate Erick Ramírez also gave Yatama the equivalent of $1,000 for its campaign, he was a bit put out to discover in early February that it had been pushing Violeta Chamorro for President all along.
Yatama's dual alliance meant it had to teach a largely illiterate Miskito population to mark a different box on each of the three ballots. But its daily workshops in the communities paid off. Chamorro got nearly 46% of the RAAN vote, to 39% for the FSLN (10% got their ballots confused and voted for the PSC). The PSC-Yatama and FSLN candidates each won a National Assembly seat with 40% and 39% respectively (UNO took the third) and Yatama won 22 Regional Council seats under its own name (the FSLN got 21 and UNO 2). Even though over 20% of the Regional Council ballots were invalid, only one seat was closely enough contested for this to make a difference in the FSLN's favor, but that seat would have given it a one-vote majority. The FSLN won roughly 20% of the rural indigenous vote and 36% of multiethnic Puerto Cabezas; its strength was in the three largely mestizo mining towns, where it averaged 67%. (The remainder of this vote went roughly 18% for UNO and 15% for Yatama.)
There is speculation, but no proof, that the Yatama-UNO alliance was made by Washington, even before Rivera and Fagoth returned to Nicaragua in September 1989. If true, it is not yet evident what they got in exchange. Asked on the eve of the elections about their decision to support Chamorro, both said they simply wanted the FSLN defeated and did not think the PSC had a chance. Since principled behavior does not play a large part in Miskito politics toward the Pacific, that answer may be genuine.
Although they actively campaigned for Chamorro from the outset, they faced strong skepticism within Yatama; UNO's platform studiously avoided the word autonomy in its brief section on the coast. Daniel Ortega's rally in Puerto Cabezas in late January was enthusiastic, sizable and multiethnic, while that of Chamorro’s running mate Virgilio Godoy two weeks later was a disaster. Chamorro’s campaign only took off after a Yatama delegation met with her in Managua on February 8. In her 5-point pronouncement following that meeting, Chamorro called autonomy "a right and also an achievement of the [coast peoples'] struggle against Sandinista aggression." She added that the Autonomy Statute should be "substantially improved," and that a reform bill presented by Yatama would be used as a guide. She also backed Yatama's participation in the Regional Council elections and, last but hardly least, named Rivera her adviser on the coast.
President-elect Chamorro kept her choices for the lusted-after Cabinet posts a secret until her inauguration. To the surprise of many, particularly those on the new Regional Councils, she announced the creation of INDERA and named Rivera to head it. With no specific mandate, INDERA was conceived as a sort of super-ministry, to coordinate with other ministries in Managua and, theoretically, with the two regional governments.
The RAAS government's very first communiqué rejected INDERA as illegal. Article 23 of the Autonomy Statute grants the Regional Councils the faculty to "participate in the formulation, planning, execution and supervision" of policies and programs concerning the region. Not only did they not participate in INDERA's formulation; they were not even officially informed of it. Over the past year, Rivera has maintained that precedent.
The second surprise came nine days later, at the inauguration of the Regional Councils. In the RAAN, where relations between the FSLN and the variously named Miskito organizations over the past decade had been anything but harmonious, the ceremony went off without a hitch. The seven candidates to the Council's executive board had been agreed to in prior negotiations; Yatama councilors were unanimously elected to the top four positions and FSLN ones to the remaining three. Pantin, a moderate, was approved as regional coordinator—or governor, as the position is popularly known in the coast.
In the RAAS, the event was far less conciliatory. Guthrie insisted on offering the FSLN only the two at-large executive board seats, basing his argument on its poorer showing in the elections rather than on UNO's obvious shortage of people with any qualifications. The FSLN declined the insulting offer and abstained from ratifying the formal board elections during the inaugural session. That decision did not imply boycotting the Council, but rather playing what role it could strictly from the opposition and letting UNO bear full responsibility for its shortsightedness. No representative of the President's office attended either event.
Different Regional Councils settle into similaritiesThose two snapshot moments, so different in content and tone, have faded into a composite sameness over the year. In both regions, for example, the central government's actions—and inactions—have forged a limited and fragile unity of criteria between the majority and minority benches, above all on the issue of INDERA. Until the 1991 national budget was approved in December, neither regional government received any funding from Managua, despite repeated visits by the two regional coordinators and majority bench delegations. Even now, the Councils have barely enough budget to cover their own minimum expenses. Isolated from the decision-making center in Managua, ignored by the regional ministry offices—themselves poorly funded—and lacking any clear-cut authority, both have fallen into a defensive posture, the classic politics of impotence.
In both regions, the FSLN bench has tried repeatedly to put forward solid motions for the betterment of the regions or for more effective functioning within the Councils themselves. But even when its well-reasoned arguments overcome knee-jerk suspicions, the respective coordinators usually just ignore the resolution and continue doing what they please. Examples range from an approved FSLN motion in the RAAS that Alvin Guthrie spend at least 15 days a month in the region to repeated requests by both Councils that their coordinator provide a detailed report on how funds entering the region from either the central government budget or resource exploitation are being used.
This habit of sidestepping the Council recently exploded into a full-scale public scandal for Pantin and Vanegas in the RAAN. Without consulting the Council, they had signed a contract on December 23 with an agent claiming to represent a US company called Caribbean 2000. The contract, which granted the company exclusive right to purchase, process and export all marine life caught in the RAAN without paying any taxes or license fees whatever, was leaked to the national media in April. Pantin claims that, with no funds help the beleaguered people in his region, he was seduced by the company's offer to supply a commissary with low-priced goods and build a television station in the region. Pantin also claims he only read the Spanish version of the contract and that when, in February, it was discovered that the English translation had discrepancies, he annulled it. The annulment document, however, has not been made public and a close review of both versions of the contract reveals that the only difference is the passport number of Harold Payne, the supposed agent.
Pantin supporters responded to the scandal with a barrage of vicious counter-charges against key coast figures, particularly Rivera. While the intent may have been to pale Pantin's gaffe by comparison—and, if so, was somewhat successful on the coast itself—the larger effect was to buttress the central government's private view that the coast is full of heathens who should not be entrusted with power.
There was one silver lining to this dark cloud, however. The FSLN bench in the RAAN Council pushed the compromised coordinator to agree that no future concessions would be signed without passing through the appropriate commission for thorough study and approval. It is to be hoped that this lesson will not be lost on the RAAS coordinator as well. It is also to be hoped that the councilors in both regions learned their own lesson—that they must keep their internal political differences in check and organize themselves to play a consequential role in the government to which they were elected. Not only is this the only way to control abuses of authority; it is also the best way to force the central government to take them seriously.
Coast-Managua conflict retakes center stageAfter a decade of armed struggle typically—and erroneously—perceived as emanating strictly from FSLN-Miskito contradictions, the historic antagonism between the two sides of the country again dominates political thinking on the coast. But there are signs that the revolutionary experience has had some influences on coast consciousness. Now, for example, instead of lumping all "Spanish" from the Pacific together into one homogeneous entity, the words "capitalist" and "bourgeois" creep into references to the UNO central government. It is also occasionally possible to hear a Miskito, and not only a Sandinista Miskito, refer to the strategic need to ally with workers and peasants in the Pacific to defend the common interests of Nicaragua's poor majorities.
And, despite the coast's acute economic crisis—an estimated 70% of the economically active population is currently unemployed—there is even a new edge to the population's desire to bring back the "golden days" of the American companies. Most still want the benefits this would imply—wage labor, foreign goods in company commissaries, "development"—but there is more awareness now than 11 years ago that the companies cannot be permitted to make off scot-free with the region's natural resources as they did before. Autonomy may mean bilingual education, respect for peoples' languages, religion, forms of organization and production and generally being treated as first-class citizens, but it mostly means controlling the region's natural resources. That issue, as much as opposition to INDERA, is slowly forcing a level of unity and professionalism among the different political groups on the coast in their struggle with the central government.
The chronology at the end of this article summarizes revealing moments within the coast and particularly between it and Managua. Two issues in particular—INDERA and natural resource control—deserve more detailed examination, because they offer an insight into the central government's strategic thinking, or perhaps lack of it, regarding the coast.
INDERA: Worse than a bad ideaWhile INDERA still has no legally defined mandate, it has not wanted for resources. Throughout 1990, while the regional governments were paralyzed by lack of funding, INDERA put together a staff of more than 40 professionals. To stave off initial criticisms that INDERA would favor Miskito interests, Rivera appointed Creole lawyer Owyn Hodgson his deputy director. The 1991 national budget allotted INDERA $1.6 million, nearly that of the two autonomous governments combined ($2.1 million). (These dollar figures were devalued 400% with the March monetary measures. According to Regional Council members, their budgets were then upwardly adjusted 160%. In dollar terms, that would put their combined budget now at about $1.1 million. The percentage of INDERA's budget adjustment is not known.)
Was INDERA a diabolical central government scheme to wrest authority from the new autonomous governments? Not even most Sandinistas on the coast really think so; they are more inclined to view it as a stupid repetition of the same error their own government made in 1980 when it created the Nicaraguan Institute for the Atlantic Coast (INNICA). While the Sandinista government corrected its mistake by abolishing INNICA in 1984, that coordinating institute was more justifiable in its day than INDERA is now—at the time it was conceived, there was not even a regional government in the coast, much less an autonomous one.
And what of Rivera's appointment? Was it the payoff for supporting Chamorro? At the very least, it appears a conscious and clever decision to co-opt the chief Miskito agitator, removing him from the field of conflict and putting him to work getting assistance from all the international contacts he made during the past 10 years. But even there, evidence does not support either thesis. Sources on the coast say the UNO government had several other candidates, including pro-Sandinistas, who refused the offer, and that Yatama leaders themselves proposed Rivera. If so, much of the responsibility lies with Yatama for not having insisted on direct relations between the central and autonomous governments. And even if a development institute with a liaison role has its place, Yatama should have insisted that it answer to the regional governments, not Managua.
Rivera himself seems to be the one who converted the government's problematic decision to create INDERA into a disproportionate controversy. By all accounts except his own, he has used his position to enhance only his own power and turn Managua even more against giving any authority over to the regional governments. The other ministries usually consult with Rivera before making their plans, believing him to be the appropriate channel to the coast; Rivera, however, consults with the autonomous government authorities neither before nor afterward.
In a recent interview with Wani, the magazine of the Central American University-linked Center for Research and Documentation on the Atlantic Coast (CIDCA), Rivera professed surprise at such accusations. He denies that INDERA has tried to supplant the autonomous governments and claims that a lack of resources prevented it from doing anything the past year other than develop its own structures and formulate projects. He neglected to mention a few things INDERA has done, independent of the Regional Councils, such as maneuver to gain control of the regional government's grain warehousing and distribution facilities in Puerto Cabezas. And in the RAAS, where FADCANIC, a nongovernmental development foundation, has regional government support for its well-conceived and detailed proposal for a coast university, INDERA hastily slapped together a few traditional faculties in Bluefields in an effort to preempt it. It is not far-fetched to presume that INDERA did so because FADCANIC's director is the FSLN's National Assembly representative from the RAAS, Ray Hooker.
Rivera may have initially hoped to enlarge his own power base and undermine that of his detractors in the coast through his new position, but the money to do so is not yet coming fast enough to divide the opposition he has engendered. In early February, at the first joint meeting of high-level representatives of the central government and both regional governments, all regional delegates insisted that INDERA be dissolved. A tripartite central-regional government commission formed on that occasion reportedly formalized the recommendation and proposed that INDERA's budget then be divided between the two coasts. More recently, an alternative solution, suggested by the Ministry of the Presidency, seems to have been instituted in the RAAS; Owyn Hodgson agreed to set up an INDERA office and technical team, subordinated to the regional coordinator. Asked whether this approach would be acceptable in the RAAN, FSLN National Assembly representative Mirna Cunningham responded that even central government officials doubt Rivera would accept such subordination. She added that the Regional Council itself would probably only agree if INDERA itself were dismantled. In late April, a few days after her comment, Rivera paid one of his unannounced visits to Puerto Cabezas, this time with Environmental Resource Minister Jaime Incer. A fight broke out between Rivera and Fagoth when they chanced to meet that evening, during which Fagoth's group bashed in the windows of Rivera's vehicle. The stakes would have to be high to overcome that level of friction.
Natural resources: The big plumThe coast's primary natural resources are lumber, fishing (particularly shrimp and lobster) and mining (mainly gold). According to FADCANIC's university funding proposal, lumber extraction, if implemented under an integrated conservation and sustainable production program, could generate some $30 million in its first year; within 40 years, that figure would multiply to $440 million. Industrial and small-scale fishing, the major source of employment on the coast, could generate up to $500 million a year, depending on the species. At the present time, says FADCANIC, only 8% of the estimated sustainable supply of seafood is caught and only 5% sold commercially, bringing in a maximum of $22 million. (That figures does not include the catch by both licensed and illegal foreign fleets fishing off the coast.) Industrial mining, paralyzed for years for various reasons, and the coast's reported oil potential are both much more complicated issues of control than fishing and lumber, given the tremendous cost and technological factors.
With mining, lumber and fishing nationalized by the Sandinistas, local control over the region's resources was less of an issue for most coast people than the proportion of income from their exploitation that would be plowed back into regional and communal development. Now, with a new central government committed to re-privatization, control over the resources themselves has become the uppermost concern. As Mirna Cunningham explains, "What use would a contract with the central government for a percentage of the benefits be to us once the government sells the exploitation rights for that resource to a private company?"
This past year has been anarchic, with central government ministries and, reportedly, both regional coordinators negotiating contracts for fishing and lumber rights with no coordination, common criteria or financial accountability. The issue was broached systematically in the first (and only) joint meeting with the central government, finally held on February 8 of this year. Pantin came armed with a comprehensive and legally documented presentation that had been worked on and approved by the Regional Council together with an independent support group called Costeño Unity for the Defense of Autonomy (UCDA). In contrast, the RAAS councilors had not even heard Guthrie's presentation before he read it at the meeting. Both contained proposals on resource administration—Pantin's covering all three categories, Guthrie's only fishing. Pantin's total document was unanimously supported by the RAAS delegation and its section on resources, amended by Guthrie's fishing proposal, was submitted to the central government as a formal joint proposal. The government promised to return by the end of the month with a counterproposal for negotiation in the permanent tripartite commission created to address ongoing problems on the coast.
In her pre-election accord with Yatama, Violeta Chamorro had pledged to support plans for the "ethno-development of the communities" and the use of the region's resources to "promote socioeconomic and welfare programs based on [the peoples'] own values and interests." A year later, on February 28, her government duly presented its counterproposal to the tripartite commission, made up of the two regional coordinators, a legal adviser for each, one National Assembly representative from each region (specifically Ray Hooker and Mirna Cunningham), and three central ministry representatives, including INDERA.
At the previous meeting, the central government had confidently predicted that negotiations could be wrapped up on March 4, the day the commission reconvened after a four-day recess for the regional delegates to discuss the counterproposal with their colleagues on the coast. On March 5-6, President Chamorro and her Cabinet were to travel to the two regions to formally announce the accord. Negotiations did not conclude that day, however; in fact, they did not begin. All regional representatives with the exception of Alvin Guthrie walked out after hearing the counterproposal.
The chart "Positions on Natural Resources" summarizes the positions in the regional and central government proposals—the latter curiously titled "Analysis of the Negotiation Points."
In addition to its demonstrably centralist intent and its reticence to use the word autonomous to refer to the regional governments, the central government's document differs in several other notable ways from the regional proposal:
- No mechanism is proposed for determining benefits with the exception of fishing, where they would be unilaterally established by the central government. Even that violates the autonomy law, which stipulates that benefits will be established by accords between the central and regional governments.
- It replaces the regions' proposal with a mixed—and presumably equally weighted—government regulatory commission with the concept of regional government "participation." The use of this ambiguous term can hardly have been unconscious, since it is precisely the one in the autonomy law that has caused so much interpretative discrepancy.
- While the central government agrees that small-scale fishing should be the faculty of the regional governments, its qualifier totally negates that. Small-scale fishing is essentially the activity of community cooperatives or individuals and in precisely those waters.
- The counterproposal states that the government's offer to contribute (unspecified) benefits from industrial mining to regional development is "not contemplated in the autonomy law and constitute[s] a central government contribution to the development of the autonomous regions." That is a bit smug given that Managua has fallen well short of complying with the autonomy law's basic budget requirements for that purpose. The law says that the Regional Councils, in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance, should draft a budget for financing regional projects (which was not done). That budget is to be made up of a) regional taxes, according to a plan the Regional Council is empowered to prepare, including profit taxes (not just a percentage of them) on companies operating in the region; and b) funds from the general budget of the Republic. A third source of funding is the "special fund for development and social advancement," to be drawn from domestic and foreign funding and other extraordinary income, for investment in the regions' own social, productive and cultural projects. The central government has made no effort to establish this fund or seek foreign financing for it; and since the regional governments' budget line from the central government is barely enough to permit councilors to travel from their communities for meetings, they are in no position to do their own search.
- The designation of individual communities as the direct recipients of benefits replaces the regional governments' proposal to create the Special Development Fund.
- Assigning a participatory negotiating role to the individual communities seems not so much intended to favor their democratization as to divide them all and conquer some (along the lines of US Indian reservations), create greater economic inequality in the region and financially and politically deprive the autonomous governments of their proper role in overseeing development and strengthening the multiethnic regions as a whole. Regional autonomy is hardly enhanced by the central government paternalistically usurping the regional government's power to develop its own relations with its municipalities and communities.
One minister later claimed that the document had been prepared by a technical team and had not been officially authorized. If true, it is a telling measure of the government's disrespect for and disinterest in the problems of an entire half of the country. In any case, neither side has yet called for the reconvening of the tripartite commission after the walkout. As one consequence of this hiatus, work has not advanced on regulating the Autonomy Statute. This vacuum is the source of much of the chaos in interpreting and acting on the law.
Asked what he thought the central government's views on autonomy are, Ray Hooker selected his words with characteristic and chilling precision: "They have made no effort to become familiar with the process. They presume that the coast is there for those bold enough to take control of its natural resources. They're not going to allow the people of the coast any degree of control over the affairs of the area. They don't know what's there, and they're really convinced that we are savages." Questioned about the government's strategy for undermining autonomy, Hooker said he does not believe they even have one, adding wryly, "Historically they had a strategy—cultural assimilation, which means cultural extermination. It's given them good results in the past, so why change it?"
International presence: A mixed bag in the RAAN
The championing of the Atlantic Coast's autonomy struggle by other governments, particularly that of the United States, was always louder than it was genuine. Governments generally find it more politic to aid minority groups as victims than to back their efforts to become protagonists of their own destiny. While there is some bilateral governmental activity on the coast, particularly in the RAAN, and prospects for much more in the coming year, little of it is designed to bolster regional autonomy per se. Until now, most projects have been for specific sectors—repatriating refugees or demobilized Yatama fighters, for example—and tend to provide emergency rather than development aid. With the entire population in dire need, such exclusive targeting has fostered jealousies within and between the sectors.
One specifically mandated intergovernmental institution, CIAV-OAS, even got caught in the crossfire between former groups of fighters. According to Carlos Valderrama, CIAV's director in the RAAN, the demobilization accords with Yatama made clear that eligibility for CIAV assistance required disarming in specific security zones and authorization for non-Yatama fighters from a Yatama commander. This presented few problems for desalzados who went to the zone south of Puerto Cabezas, where Yatama troops loyal to Rivera were demobilizing. On the Río Coco, however, conflicts erupted between top Yatama commander Osorno Coleman and desalzados loyal to Fagoth and Vanegas. CIAV finally mediated a negotiation in which the central government itself agreed to provide desalzados the same benefits CIAV was giving Yatama fighters. The government's failure to comply with this commitment led to their looting of warehouses—including CIAV's—and highway assaults. "They were patient until then," says Valderrama, "but who else were they to ask?" He and most others agree that underlying the desalzados' actions is an attempt to call attention to their plight.
The army now recognizes that its own paternalism contributed to this problem; the army subsidized the desalzados for years without ever demanding that they reintegrate into community production. Mirna Cunningham, presidential delegate in the RAAN for most of that period, agrees. "We saw them as a security issue and never really helped them make the psychological transition to civilian life."
Valderrama has high praise for the army, however. "They show a lot of common sense here," he commented, adding that most are from the Pacific. "They're the only ones we can work with effectively." He credits them for the general lack of problems in the communities now between the army and the demobilized. In August, he explained, the army agreed to unload a CIAV boatload of supplies for Yatama and offered its vehicles to transport them to the communities. The newly demobilized helped load the vehicles, but would not get in them or talk to the soldiers. "By the next boat they greeted each other, and by the third you couldn't tell them apart. But the first step was the army's concession."
Few projects are coordinated through the new autonomous governments, as they were during the Sandinista administration. Donor agencies tend instead to coordinate through central government institutions, including INDERA, where communication with the region stops dead. Leonel Pantin, for example, when asked about the rice seed from USAID already being distributed to communities in the north, claimed to have been advised of the project only days before.
Another reason, at least in the RAAN, is that the autonomous government does not play an assertive role once the projects are on the ground. Valderrama, for example, says it has not worked with CIAV. "It has never said no," he says, "but it has never helped either." While he attributes this in part to the explosive situation, in which the government has just tried to keep everyone calm, he also says it has no resources, structure or experience.
An exception to this is the Repatriation Assistance Project (PAR), which was set up during the Sandinista government. Because the UN High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) is not an executing agency, it needed a mechanism to coordinate and distribute its reconstruction and subsistence agriculture materials. The solution was to create PAR, an inter-ministerial team of existing field technicians coordinated by a regional government delegate with UNHCR participation. UNHCR regional director Gerard Fayoux says the RAAN team is still coordinated by the same person and that he is "very happy" with the system.
Turning an eye to regional reconstruction
UNHCR's provision of emergency materials to returning refugees is now completed in all but the most remote communities. UNHCR is ready for its final phase—what Fayoux calls "quick intervention" projects in education, health, production and infrastructure to help put regional society as a whole on the road to development and thus ease some of the sectoral tensions. Among the small projects awaiting final approval from donor countries are rural school construction and training for 650 community teachers; repairs to the existing water system and hospital in Puerto Cabezas and new wells in the Río Coco and other communities; grain threshers in the Río Coco area and a refrigeration unit for the fishing community of Bismuna. UNHCR participation in these and other projects will also be coordinated through PAR. With this, its activities in the RAAN will wind up. "Repatriation is part of our mandate; development work isn't," Fayoux said. "That's for the UNDP [United Nations Development Program]."
Valderrama, in contrast, says that, if he had it do all over, he would emphasize production rather than emergency aid. He adds that only two of the three development poles planned for the RAAN are functioning since they do not correspond to Miskito cultural patterns; one pole has 45 families and the other 60. Yatama, he says, only agreed to them to assure the budget line, but most fighters have returned to their traditional communities. Similar to the UNHCR package for repatriated refugees, CIAV gives demobilized fighters zinc roofing, tools and seeds for planting, and Valderrama says they are responding well. CIAV's main problem was that far more people demobilized on both sides of the country than the commanders originally estimated. The budget had to be upped another $10 million and is still insufficient. Valderrama is quite aware that the over 2,000 Yatama beneficiaries include not only fighters, but couriers and myriad relatives; he grinned as he recalled one 16-year-old "combatant" who wanted help for what he said were his six children—the oldest of whom was 10.
The Río Coco and flatlands south of it are home to the vast majority of the region's Miskitos, who have some 50,000 inhabitants in over 70 communities there. A major new package for this area has come out of the International Conference on Refugees in Central America (CIREFCA) meeting held in New York in January 1990 and attended by over 200 governmental and nongovernmental agencies working in Central America. The United Nations sponsored the conference after the Central American governments agreed in the Esquipulas accords to assist the region's war refugees, and repatriated and internally displaced people. The European Community (EEC) is financing at least $4 million for a Río Coco project submitted to CIREFCA by the Sandinista government; it is part of a $43 million package approved for Nicaragua as a whole.
Fayoux says the project covers aspects related to production, education, health, socioeconomic integration of women and community organization. Among the specific ideas is a vaccination boat, which will spend two days in each community on the river. In coordination with Ministry of Health workers, the project will also restore health centers in strategic communities and upgrade the training of community health promoters. Like the new phase of UNHCR's work, these projects will reach not just one sector, but the river's uprooted population as a whole, although only about 60% of the communities will be targeted.
Yet another group centering its efforts there is Sal y Luz, reportedly linked to the Louisiana-based rightwing organization Friends of the Americas. During the war, Friends of the Americas used humanitarian aid to draw Miskito refugees in Honduras out of the UNHCR settlements and into refugee camps run by the armed group Misura. The purpose was to more easily recruit new fighters, and much of the aid ended up in the hands of Misura fighters. Sal y Luz has taken advantage of the Ministry of Education's inactivity on the river. Truman Cunningham, a repatriated Miskito who coordinates the group's activities, said it is receiving US funding to organize community teachers, many of whom worked with Sal y Luz while in Honduras. Asked if they have textbooks, he said they will use the controversial AID-financed Azul y Blanco books, translated into Miskito. An independent source says Sal y Luz also brings in health supplies from Honduras, often in Honduran army helicopters.
The focus on the Río Coco, whatever its political or other motives, has left other zones and entire other ethnic groups virtually unattended except for small projects by some 20 national and international NGOs. A $5.4 million AID donation for the coast, announced on May 22, as this issue of envío goes to press, merits closer study. According to the USIS press release, it is being channeled through the government's Institute for Natural Resources and the Environment (IRENA) and will employ 3,000 coast people over the next two years in repairing 250 kilometers of roads and 10 health centers and thinning 150,000 hectares of forests. AID is already supplying 12,000 quintals of rice seed to the RAAN and 3,000 to the RAAS, which are being physically distributed by selected agencies already working in the region—principally UNHCR, CIAV and the ecumenical development agency CEPAD. Unlike another EEC-financed Río Coco project, which encourages Miskito agricultural coops, the AID rice project targets individual rice-growing families. AID also reportedly hopes to develop grain marketing within the regions. Perhaps this economic attention to the coast is finally the US quid pro quo for Yatama's electoral support of Chamorro.
Conclusions: Where is it all going?This significant influx of aid to the region should alleviate some of the severe economic suffering of the past year, and even make a dent in the structural damage done over the decade of war. The psychological damage will take much longer.
Still at risk is the Atlantic Coast's economic and political future. Its resources are firmly on the agenda for privatization, and national and foreign investors are already circling the jungle skies like predatory birds searching for the weakest and juiciest morsel below. With the regional governments muzzled and hungry and the central government on the side of the predators, the coast's resources are easy prey. Caribbean 2000 was only one example. Another is a proposal for a "miners' bank," which would buy gold and also supply materials to small-scale prospectors and set up an airline between the mines, Puerto Cabezas and Miami. Sources say that its two US promoters, Louisiana lawyer Bill Reems and mining engineer Ed Chambers, have extensive experience in Bolivian mining. Chambers reportedly participated in writing Bolivia's mining legislation in the early 1980s. The Nicaraguan newspaper El Nuevo Diario says Chambers & Assoc. has offered $2,000 to the RAAN regional government for its special development fund.
Neither the Regional Council's special commission created to investigate this proposal nor its regular budget and planning commission, assigned to review other concession requests, has reportedly even drawn up a set of criteria. All of this, of course, will be moot if the central government wins its battle to retain exclusive control over the region's resources. The regional governments will be condemned to little more than a folkloric symbol.
This, in turn, will depend in part on the degree to which the different forces in the coast can pull their bases together and back up demands for genuine autonomy with popular mobilization organized behind clear and shared positions. As the union movement on the Pacific has learned, the central government only negotiates seriously in response to mobilization, which must then be maintained to pressure government compliance with its agreements.
While Yatama's leadership struggles have damaged its organizational capacity in the north, the FSLN is slowly building a new local base. César Pais, coordinator of the FSLN departmental committee in the RAAN, says the FSLN only had about 500 members before the elections, most of whom were either urban or from the Pacific. That number has now quadrupled, and is mainly made up of community members frustrated by the false electoral promises of Yatama and UNO. Johnny Hodgson, head of the FSLN Regional Council bench in the RAAS, reports a similar phenomenon there.
Asked if he had new views on the FSLN's errors a year after the electoral defeat, Pais ticked them off without hesitation: 1) The cadres from the Pacific didn't trust us and were afraid to work more openly with the region; 2) if we had signed an accord with Yatama leaders like Rivera and Fagoth in the negotiations, then supported them, their mythological stature would have ended; 3) we should have been more flexible with laws such as the draft; 4) we acted guilty about the war and used food donations very paternalistically rather than deal with the situation as it was; and 5) the FSLN had many resources, but we didn't think of the future, so we didn't use them well. On the positive side, he said that the FSLN helped people find their own identity and learn to speak out. He does not consider the autonomy law an achievement as such, since it has many defects, but feels it set the basis for development. Finally, he sees the population in the RAAN as more politicized than in the Pacific, although he attributes this to experience, not to the FSLN.
The FSLN's role as opposition in the north is a particular dilemma. As Pais explains, "There are no deep contradictions between the best FSLN and Yatama cadres, in fact there's a lot of consensus, but Yatama's internal problems hurt this. They create credibility problems for the autonomous government and force us either to be in the middle or to choose sides. And we can't take a pure position because then we don't advance at all. We just have to wait until they resolve their problems."
Moravian church officials met with President Chamorro in January to urge her to give the coast more priority. The Moravian leadership has also tried to mediate the conflict between Yatama's leaders, but with no luck. As early as June 1990, Bishop John Wilson and others sent a letter to Rivera expressing their grave concern and offering seven recommendations "for study and reflection... to avoid bloodshed for the people." Among them was a proposal that INDERA become a support and advisory body to the autonomous governments, in service to the autonomous regions. In a recent interview, Bishop Wilson told envío that he thinks this rivalry for absolute power goes all the way back to the era of the Miskito kings. His solution is to let people vote for their own choice of leaders in an open Yatama assembly. Various dates have been set for such an assembly, but it has yet to take place. It fell through once last year because Rivera and Fagoth could not agree on whether to hold it in Puerto Cabezas or a nearby, historically meaningful community.
There is increasing talk on the coast about the possibility of a new, more integrationist party, neither Yatama nor FSLN. Some see Fagoth's conciliatory posture toward the FSLN as an attempt to win disgruntled costeño Sandinistas over to this idea—with him in a leadership position. To further this, he and others have been spreading rumors of serious differences between coast Sandinistas and the FSLN National Directorate—admittedly from the Pacific and still with a limited understanding of the coast's multiple dynamics.
Meanwhile, regional government officials and advisers on all sides have bent over backward to maintain a moderate tone with the central government. They take pride in the fact that the coast has had virtually no strikes or uprisings as on the Pacific—just proposals. But as Mirna Cunningham told a recent Central American University-sponsored anthropology conference, the central government "hasn't answered at all, or its answers are unsatisfactory." She called the situation tragic in her region: "There's been no credit, bridges, transportation, food, medicines or medical specialists for four months; there's collective hysteria in the communities, and assaults; schools are closing; many communities have had no light or water for a year, and the forests are burning. But no one responds."
She sees two alternatives for the RAAN. One is a continuation of the present situation, in which Pantin continues to present a weak image to the central government and promote or fall prey to divisions within Yatama, which only strengthens Rivera and assures INDERA's continued existence. The other is for Pantin to promote more unity with the FSLN and better organization and intensive training within the Regional Council, which would permit it to take more of an offensive with Managua.
What will happen this year in the coast is unclear, but something has to give. Pantin himself says he will "work for unity and reconciliation at all cost, and constantly seek the best communication with the central government." Some who support the Yatama regional government, however, hint of a new strategy. The most one would say is that "the first year was one of negotiation, but the central government is trying to drown us and we're fighting to breathe. After May 4, we can't keep on fighting like this. We have to use the law and take a series of actions to force the government to come negotiate with us." In his brief speech on May 4, RAAS executive president Argüello made a similarly cryptic allusion to a new strategy: "It is not enough to remain in Bluefields attending sessions in this assembly month after month making requests to the central government that are never attended... In the future our strategy will go in another direction, that is to win autonomy by being present in the place where decisions are made."
It is not known to what degree these ideas involve a more confrontational posture, backed by organized civil mobilization. Regional government petitions to Managua have repeatedly warned of social upheaval if their requests are not heard. For the moment, however, everyone is pulling in different directions, within and between groups. The few popular outbursts have been scattered, spontaneous and futile. The situation on the coast is mindful of a final scene in Angel, Merle Collins' novel about Grenada. The scene is a metaphorical alternative to the tragic events of 1983 there, when the violent disintegration of the New Jewel Movement threw its popular backers into disarray and permitted the US invasion: Doodsie, oppressed mother of Angel, the book's politicized protagonist and herself a slow but common-sense convert to the just-destroyed revolution, hears a chicken hawk circling over her yard. "It just tryin to frighten allyou for you to scatter so that it could swoop down...an grab a chicken," she mutters, and goes out to gather the chickens around her by throwing fistfuls of corn until the chicken hawk flies off. "Allyou self too stupid," she rails at the chickens. "Stay together an dey caan get none!"
Chronology of Events
8 - Violeta Chamorro signs accord with Yatama.
25 - UNO wins national elections and majority of Regional Council in RAAS; Yatama wins plurality in RAAN. Municipal elections not held in coast pending territorial redefinition by regional governments; existing mayors to continue in post.
30 - Cuban medical contingent leaves RAAN, but remains in RAAS by popular request. Quarterly Cuban boatloads of food and clothing and RAAS housing project will also end.
18 - Osorno Coleman, top commander of "Yatama, Atlantic Front of the Nicaraguan Resistance," signs definitive ceasefire.
25 - Presidential inauguration; Chamorro creates INDERA and appoints Brooklyn Rivera to head it.
30 – Yatama illegally takes over Puerto Cabezas and Waspán municipal offices from Sandinista mayors and confiscates local radio station.
4 - Regional Council inaugurations; both new regional coordinators appoint replacements for ministerial delegates in coast. (They are never ratified by central government.)
5 - In RAAN, FSLN agrees to concede mayors' offices in Miskito municipalities but retains those in mining areas. (A later takeover plan by UNO extremists in RAAS is thwarted on legal grounds.)
- In Puerto Cabezas' central park, Rivera publicly accuses Fagoth and Vanegas of drunkenness and general ineptitude.
12 - Presidential decree 1-90 violates autonomy law by transferring authority for territorial delimitation to Ministry of Government.
14 - Moravian Church Bishop John Wilson writes to Brooklyn Rivera expressing deep concern for recent events and offering recommendations to avoid bloodshed.
20 - In communiqué, RAAS Regional Council rejects INDERA as unconstitutional and demands central-regional government coordination, prompt assignation of budget, and right to name regional authorities, supervise resource exploitation and receive major portion of resource benefits.
- Joint regional government commission created to try to meet with presidency.
- Three development poles assigned to over 2,000 demobilized Yatama fighters in RAAN. Yatama brings Radio Miskut transmitter from Honduras and receives frequency from Telcor for broadcasting in RAAN. Coleman opposes Rivera-Fagoth fight and refuses to authorize CIAV assistance for desalzados willing to turn over their weapons. FSLN bench successfully opposes development pole proposal for demobilized contras in RAAS.
- Central government holds telethon for victims of flooding in RAAN, exaggerating data. Victims later say little collected material arrived and given only to Yatama supporters. Cuba responds to INDERA request for emergency medical team.
- US mining company Rosario Resources reported negotiating with central government to reopen operations in Siuna and Rosita.
4 - In lieu of presenting a regional tax plan according to national law, RAAS Regional Council executive board signs a regional law imposing a 7-20% value tax on processed seafood exports and 15-25% tax per pound of unprocessed exports and demanding 33% of fishing licenses conceded by INPESCA.
6 - President Chamorro and Brooklyn Rivera visit Puerto Cabezas to distribute powdered milk to children from flood areas. In meetings with Regional Council and its executive board, they hear complaints about INDERA, lack of funding for region and non-ratification of ministerial delegates. Chamorro agrees to create coordination mechanism between regional and central governments.
14 - Vice Minister of the Presidency Antonio Ibarra, assigned to coordination, meets with regional government majority bench representatives; is quoted as saying that the coast's natural resources are the exclusive domain of the state. Fagoth accuses central government of conceding licenses for resource exploitation without regional consultation or benefit.
- Minister of Government Carlos Hurtado and Ibarra go to RAAN to turn over state share of Atlanor, a mixed-venture fishing operation near Puerto Cabezas, to regional government. In meeting with Regional Council, Ibarra reportedly says Chamorro prefers resolving conflicts as they occur to regulating autonomy law. Chamorro's personal adviser later says there are too many diverse criteria regarding autonomy.
30 - In a meeting with Protestant pastors, FSLN promises to discuss with UNO government their denunciations of lumber concessions in RAAN that result in indiscriminate cutting.
- UNHCR in RAAN formally closes repatriation program from Honduras. Between May and November 1990, nearly 10,000 indigenous refugees return, a total of almost 27,000 since 1985, plus an estimated 25% more who returned on their own.
- With UNO demanding a quota of power in the mines, particularly after major influx of former contras, Pantin tries unsuccessfully to replace Sandinista mayors there with UNO mayors (existing mayors lock up offices). Pantin then creates parallel government by appointing UNO "zonal representatives" in mines. Mayors have received no funding from Managua since change of government, workers are unpaid, towns without electricity or water, roads and bridges not maintained, food is scarce and 350 children have died in Siuna for lack of medicines or medical care.
- FSLN issues 3-page list itemizing these and many more problems in mining areas after 5 months of new government.
- Studies begin to show seriously increased cocaine traffic into the coast, mainly from San Andrés, Colombia, or illegal fishing boats; also drug-for-weapons trade.
18 - Desalzados in RAAN loot food and clothing stored in church and regional government warehouses; 25 are arrested. Rivera accuses Sandinistas of encouraging looting.
24 - Guthrie demands $500,000 from INPESCA in payment of taxes decreed in August.
27 - Pantin fails to negotiate assistance for desalzados from central government. In coming months they carry out armed assaults on vehicles on highway to Waspán, robbing their passengers, and attack a CIAV boat entering Puerto Cabezas with supplies for demobilized Yatama fighters.
6 - With Rama highway held by UNO extremists and former contras, similar forces take over Radio Zinnica and governmental offices in Bluefields and form a group called "Commission of the People." Four days later Guthrie signs a 10-point accord with group covering many points he is already pushing, including dissolution of INDERA and legal expropriation of INPESCA processing plants.
11 - During a commemoration of the founding of Misurasata (Yatama’s predecessor) in Puerto Cabezas, Rivera supporters begin a rock-throwing spree against Fagoth backers, leaving 5 police officers wounded, among others.
11 - RAAS Regional Council supports FADCANIC proposal to create a University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua (URACCAN). It also writes to President Chamorro to complain about INPESCA's appellate court suit against the new RAAS tax law. This is followed by a letter requesting a meeting with Chamorro and INPESCA and other ministers to clarify faculties.
23 - RAAN regional coordinator, executive council president and Puerto Cabezas mayor sign Caribbean 2000 contract.
- Chamorro decrees that administration of Atlantic Coast mines and municipalities be transferred to Matagalpa as an "ecological sub-zone" in violation of Autonomy Statute. Rivera had proposed a similar demarcation in 1988 negotiations, presumably to reduce mestizos in indigenous territory.
14 - Document by technical team of Vice Ministry of the Presidency acknowledges need to reform centralist state organization schemes to allow public administration by autonomous governments. Proposes transferring INDERA to regional capitals to work with Regional Councils "in the design of strategies within the national programs that permit their direct participation in prioritizing, designing and implementing the programs and special projects in their territory."
- Independent professionals plus members of FSLN and Yatama form Costeño Unity for Defense of Autonomy (UCDA).
- RAAS Council delegation meets with President Chamorro and then with Ibarra. Both agree INDERA should be dismantled or put under regional government control, regional government budget should be increased and region should get 60% of shares of INPESCA processing plants.
4 - RAAS Regional Council writes to Education Minister Humberto Belli detailing advances and importance of bilingual-bicultural education program, complaining about its transfer from regional Ministry of Education control to Managua's Spanish-language Primary Education Program and requesting release of $16,000 donation.
8-11 - First joint meeting of central and two regional government delegations. Regional delegates present problems and central ministers present plans for regions. Regions submit joint proposal on natural resources. Four ad hoc commissions propose solutions to financial development, infrastructure, social and autonomy/coordination problems. Permanent tripartite commission formed to deal with regulating of autonomy law and natural resources. It forms Regulation committee and recommends how to proceed; agrees to present draft by March 31.
1 - National Assembly Commission on Ethnic Affairs and Atlantic Coast Communities hears presentations by 14 central government ministry representatives on 1991 plans for coast.
28 - Central government technical team presents natural resource counterproposal to tripartite commission; almost all regional representatives walk out. No further meetings held; work on regulations paralyzed.
- INDERA gains control of La Fe grain warehouses from RAAN regional government to support influx of grains from Managua and control prices; sells in communities, but reportedly does not buy community bean harvest.
4 - National media reveals Caribbean 2000 scandal.
8 - Fagoth accuses Brooklyn Rivera and INPESCA of involvement in drug trade on the coast.
10 - Guthrie writes conciliatory letter to President Chamorro, accepting many points of government counterproposal on natural resources; not previously discussed in Regional Council.
16-19 - In regional anthropology conference at Managua's Central American University, coast authorities present economic, political, ecological and educational situation. Guthrie's adviser says suit is being filed against INPESCA in Supreme Court and processing plants are embargoed for nonpayment of taxes. Conference participants issue communiqué denouncing President Chamorro's disrespect for autonomy law and government blockade against regional governments, asking for elimination of INDERA and calling for international solidarity with autonomy cause and end to 500 years of indigenous discrimination on Atlantic Coast.
25-27 - In unusually intense session, RAAN Regional Council declares May 4 a "day of protest," approves that budget and planning commission must review all contracts and agreements received by coordinator, forms special commission to review contract proposal for a miners' bank, rejects minutes of previous meeting (for first time) since decisions not carried out by coordinator.
30 - An unlicensed Honduran fishing boat is captured off the coast of the RAAN. Three more are captured in next 10 days.
4 - First anniversary of autonomous government in coast.
Positions on Natural Resources
Faculties: Regulation of small-scale extraction and trade is the faculty of the autonomous government. A mixed central-autonomous government commission will define industrial prospecting commissions.
Benefits (Not mentioned.)
Faculties: The two autonomous governments will jointly administer small-scale fishing. The Nicaraguan Fishing Institute (INPESCA) will become a normative entity only; 60% of its industrial fishing and processing infrastructure in the RAAS will be privatized to that autonomous government.
Benefits: Central and two autonomous government will each receive 33% of income from industrial fishing licenses; 50% of income from fines on foreign fishing boats will go to central government and 25% to each autonomous government. Regional portion in both cases will serve to create special development fund.
Faculties: Forests on communal lands are the exclusive property of the communities, administered by them within regulations established by the Regional Councils. Ecological administration is the faculty of the autonomous governments as established in the Autonomy Statute.
Benefits: A mixed central-autonomous government commission will define percentage of benefits from industrial exploitation outside of communal lands.
Faculties: A central-regional government commission will regulate small-scale exploitation with active participation by inhabitants of communities where resources are found. Industrial exploitation and license concessions are exclusive faculty of central government.
Benefits: Benefits from mining on communal land will be given totally to that community. Percentage of income or other taxes will be turned over to regional government or municipalities or said communities for region’s economic development. Benefits from exploitation on “national lands” will go to regional or corresponding municipal governments.
Faculties: Small-scale fishing will be the faculty of the regional governments. Such fishing “in the rivers, lagoons and those parts of the ocean traditionally used by the community inhabitants will be the absolute faculty of the communities.” The central government’s corresponding institutions (presumably INPESCA) will regulate Industrial fishing in “national properties” with regional government participation.
Benefits: To be established by the central government in its regulations and given to regional and corresponding municipal governments. (Income or other taxes to be handled as above.)
Faculties: The central government’s corresponding institution will regulate industrial use of resources on communal lands with the communities. Exploitation of resources on national lands will be the exclusive faculty of the central government’s corresponding institutions, with regional government participation.
Benefits: (Taxes to be dealt with as above. No mention of benefits.)