Miskitos in Honduras and Nicaragua:A Divided People a Manipulated Banner?
What is the situation of the displaced Miskito Indians on either side of the border? This wide region called Moskitia knows no legal boundaries between Honduras and Nicaragua.
Increasing political and military tension on the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast (especially northern Zelaya) in the last months of 1981 and January, 1982, culminated in the evacuation of thousands of Miskitos from the banks of the Río Coco. Ten thousand Miskitos, one sixth of the total Miskito population, were relocated in settlements established by the Nicaraguan government on a 70-kilometer strip of land situated between Rosita and Puerto Cabezas. Thousands of other Miskitos crossed the border into Honduras, either at the same time or earlier, and now live there as refugees. What is the situation of these displaced people who do not recognize the legal borders of the Honduran and Nicaraguan Moskitia?
STAGES LEADING UP TO THE RESETTLEMENTThe trends that are observed today in the settlements to which the Sandinista government brought the Miskitos must be examined at several levels: the social organization of these communities, the sphere of production, the labor market, the ideology, and the institutions. It is also important to weigh the social expectations and the articulation between these communities and the government. Before the evacuation and resettlement, the history of the Miskito population could be divided in four periods:
1- The Period on the Río Coco: until 1978.
2- The Insurrection Period: 1978 – July, 1979.
3- The Beginning of the Revolution: July, 1979 – January, 1981.
4- The Sharpening of Contradictions: February 1981 – December 1981.
The Period on the Río Coco: Until 1978In terms of social organization, the Miskito of the Coast were grouped in small communities, scattered through the region. These communities adapted themselves to the type of eco-systems available. The family nucleus was basically the backbone of the community, and it was the mother who, to a large extent, managed the family and its relationships with families in other communities. Through the mother, the children discovered the social network of relationships with relatives throughout the Miskito zone.
Religion evolved from being exogenous to the culture – the predominant Moravian religion has its origin in Central Europe – to being totally assimilated and an essential part of the social organization. In the last century, family relationships and the religious organization provided by the Moravian Church constituted the base of the Miskito social organization.
Production depended on the ecological area in which the communities were living along the coast, on the plain, or along the banks of the rivers. They cultivated rice, beans and tubers (a very important dietary item to them) for their own consumption. They combined this production with temporary work, either in the mines or on the plantations of the transnational companies which operated in the area.
Cultivation was done on an individual family basis, and there was a system of exchange of goods for services, which is explained by the lack of currency. The companies needed a large work force available for the job of clearing and preparing the land. There was also agreement regarding the community lands of each village. If one lived in the community, one had access to these lands and could work them.
In terms of ideology, a strong anti-Spanish feeling has always existed, along with a corresponding appreciation of anything Anglo-Saxon. Through their history, the principal manifestation of the Miskito ethnicity has been the use of their own language. The racial phenotype of the Miskito is basically not visually distinctive, and it is difficult to identify the Miskito only by appearance. The Moravian religion played the role of ethnic unifier. What was a “mission church” in the beginning evolved into a truly “national church”. The Miskitos’ own language and religion, together with the network of family relationships, were forming an awareness of nationality that identified with the Anglo-Saxon.
In the transference of the spoken Miskito language to a written form – a work initially done by Moravian missionaries – this ideology found an unexpectedly strong foundation. With the hymnals, prayer books and written sermons, a common vision of the world was built, and their particular value system was concretized. Due to the continued confrontations of the Miskito people with other indigenous groups (Sumo, Rama), as well as with the Creoles, the “Spaniards” and the “gringos”, the common consciousness had to be ethnic. That is to say, when this type of ideology (rooted in social organization, language and religion) is confronted by other ideologies, there is always friction, and this friction always strengthens the ethnic identity.
The social expectations of the Miskito population were very much in accord with their belief system. They did not aspire to a simple improvement in provisions or communications but rather to obtaining relatively expensive and American-style consumer goods. In the collective conscience, “the good old days” had, as their point of reference, an orchestra from New Orleans, an ample supply of whiskey or the arrival of boats bringing American clothing. In the conscience of the poor, there was a waiting for the coming of the Miskito Kingdom.
Interaction with the State was difficult or non-existent. The State was seen as something alien, unknown. During the time of Somoza, the security forces were the authority that assured order among the employees of the North American companies, which both the Miskito and the National Guard revered. Within the communities, local judges, emerging from the community itself and endorsed by the government, were perhaps the only organic tie to the State.
The Insurrection Period: 1978 – July, 1979.
During this period, social organization and production saw no change. Nevertheless, a significant phenomenon occurred. While on the Pacific Coast the people consolidated their organizational efforts under the leadership of the Frente Sandinista and the image of Nicaragua at an international level was tied to Sandinismo, on the Río Coco a sharp anti-Sandinista sentiment developed.
The roots of this anti-Sandinista sentiment has its logic in history. The ideology of Sandinismo was marked principally by its anti-imperialism. The military actions of his army had the North American mines and companies as a primary target. Among the Miskito, these activities caused a loss of employment and thus reinforced the Miskito identification with North American interests. The Miskito saw Sandino in the same way that the Americans painted him – as a bandit.
In addition, in 1931 Sandino’s troops executed the Moravian pastor, Kark Bregenzer for being a Yankee collaborator. Thus, from the beginning, Sandinismo and Sandino represented two negative elements to the Miskitos: economic loss and serious wounds in their “national” identity (tied to the North Americans and the Moravian church. Because of this history, in 1978 some pastors preached that with the Sandinistas, the Miskito would lose their canoes, their cattle and their religion. Bergenzar was extolled at the time as a Moravian martyr.
Along with these prejudices against Sandinismo, it must be added that Somoza cultivated a certain image among the Miskito: he appeared among them as a friend of the Americans, speaking English, and he also gave speeches in Miskito. When ALPROMISU was founded in 1974 to form small organizational nuclei, based on agricultural clubs, Somoza infiltrated them, neutralizing them.
The Beginning of the Revolution: July, 1979 – January, 1981.
In terms of social organization, there was no change in the communities. The most important occurrence in this period was the emergence of a native leader who was able to regain the interests and expectations which had been lying dormant among the people. This was Steadman Fagoth. He played a double role: to the Frente Sandinista, he presented himself as a revolutionary; to the Miskito population, as an answer to this new from of “Spanish domination” that Sandinismo represented to them.
The only variation in production was that pre-cooperative groups began to be financed. This did not bring the results the government hoped for. As the North American mines and companies began to decrease production – to the point of leaving the country – unemployment increased and people began to be discontented.
Regarding their worldview, caution in the face of the Sandinistas (Spanish) was maintained. The Misurasata organization (union of Miskito, Rama, Sumo and Sandinistas created at the end of 1979 and supported from the beginning by the FSLN) promoted at ethnic identity that was stronger than ever. This “ethnically radicalized” many leaders, above all the Moravian pastors. At the same time, a large segment of the population which was not easily politicized began to exist. This group grew substantially after the evacuation.
Misurasata became the foundation on the ideological radicalization. It had a structure similar to the FSLN in that it counted on mass organizations for men, women and young people and, through them, implemented its political policies. It counted on their traditional leaders, the Moravian pastors. (Misurasata was founded with a base of 400 Moravian pastors who began to exercise a clear political leadership which rapidly became political-ethnic). Social expectations were raised during this period. The banners that were lifted were clearly political. Titles to communal lands were requested, pressure was applied to obtain a high return of the profits of the mining resources of the Coast, and the official use of the native language was encouraged.
This situation generated a somewhat peculiar relationship with the revolutionary government. It initially encouraged the libertarian aspirations of the Coast, which it considered legitimate demands of an oppressed people. At the same time, the Government became the benefactor of the Miskito: soon programs for bank credit, for health and for construction were begun. But the Miskito only saw this as a new form of manipulation.
The Sharpening of Contradictions: February, 1981 – December, 1981.
While social organization and production stayed the same as in the earlier period, ideology was consolidated more and more in terms of ethnicity. Social expectations were also rooted in ethnicity.
In Misurasata, the FSLN thought it had found a structure capable of consolidating the process on the Coast. But they were mistaken. It was ethnic identity that gave more cohesion and growth to Misurasata. There had been no relationship with the Somoza government on the Coast. There was a serious lack of marketing mechanisms, employment for the work force, and infrastructure. The traditions which connected the Miskito population to U.S. hegemony were so deep that the contradictions inevitably become more acute. The ethnic problems, never taken into account by anyone, began to be manipulated by the internal and external counterrevolutionary efforts.
Misurasata stopped being a mass organization and became a political alternative aligned with the MDN (Nicaraguan Democratic Movement, led by Alfonso Robelo). The demands began to change. Now, not only did they demand titles to communal lands, but also a separate and autonomous area. The 3,000 Miskito who first followed Fagoth to the Honduran Moskitia immediately began to be trained militarily. It is significant that when, in May 1981, Brooklyn Rivera and Hazel Lau, leaders of Misurasata, condemned Fagoth, they did not drop his claim for autonomy over territorial lands. The Rivera-Fagoth confrontation could have been the spark that made the Miskitos aware that the counterrevolution was manipulating the indigenous demands in a pretentious and disproportionate way. The Miskito ethnic group could not become a separate state simply because the reality of the forces of production does not permit it. Finally the ethnic-government contradictions which reached their peak became, at the same time, the axis of U.S. strategy and a principal part of the internal counterrevolutionary strategy. Today, the organization of Misurasata, which operates only in Honduras, is defined by its alliance with U.S. interests and with the active counterrevolutionary forces.
The results of this list of contradictions are clear. The problem ceased to be only a political problem and became, primarily, a military problem, although the political character of the contradictions remained.
THE MISKITO RELOCATED IN NICARAGUAThe Evacuation: January – February, 1982.
Hostilities began on the Río Coco in November, 1981. The evacuation became a political and military necessity for the FSLN, as well as a way to guarantee the survival of the Miskito who were completely vulnerable in the very conflictive area. In terms of social organization, the evacuation meant the complete rupture with the natural environment and thus with the traditional community setting. It also signified the rupture of the family structures.
Production was destroyed. Those evacuated brought some animals, which were eaten en route. Tools, houses, and lands remained behind. A wartime economy was set up. The evacuated population comes primarily from the “masses”, the poor majority of the area, as do those who went to Honduras. This influenced their reaction to the new situation.
The belief system reflected the total chaos that existed. A deep wound had been opened in the ethnic identity. The combativeness of some took them to Honduras to join an army that is counterrevolutionary, but one which they saw, above all, as the vindicating army of the Miskito cause. The counterrevolution took a sector of the Miskito population. Another sector would swell the ranks of the exodus from the country. But both groups were joined by familial, social, religious, moral and ethnic ties. Both the Honduran and Nicaraguan Miskito area were considered by the people to be theirs, notwithstanding official borders.
There was a dual set of expectations during this period. One, of the “avengers” in Honduras, was to reconquer the territory at whatever cost. In this struggle they felt supported by sectors of the Moravian religion, which became a symbol of national identity and political organization – through the leadership of the pastors. The expectations of the majority of the people were confused. Sadness and frustration were dominant. What they were hoping for, more than anything, was for the “nightmare” to end.
The “avengers” broke articulation with the government and declared war. For those evacuated, a new articulation began – covering almost all aspects of life – with the Sandinista government. Due to the very dynamic of the events, this was seen as forced.
The Resettlement: March – October, 1982
When the first moments of provisional accommodation passed, with all the limitations and shortcomings, the evacuated communities were distributed among the various resettlement areas located along the road between Rosita and Puerto Cabezas, a new communications artery for the Miskito people.
Regarding social organization, these months were characterized by great instability. The communities were rebuilding themselves in each settlement. Families were structured differently. Before and after the evacuation, many young men crossed the border into Honduras. There were many women alone, wives without husbands, old and sick people. To reestablish family ties and relocate relatives will require a slow re-adjustment.
What is most significant in this sense is that the resettlements presented the communities with an urban experience. They had never lived so close or in the same way. At that moment, the resettlements were still an “imposition organized form above”. There were still no signs of genuine social life.
In production, there was nothing except the hurried planting of rice. What existed was a refugee economy where everything was subsidized. What was most resented in this period was the lack of currency. The labor force was channeled into the construction of houses, into setting up the settlement itself, and into preparation for planting. The novel part of the experience was the attempt at collectivization. More than collectively, everything was carried out by methods of mass coordination because of the lack of preparation for communitarian work.
The instability of the settlements tended to idealize the greater stability of the life on the Río Coco. Little by little they stopped thinking about the abandoned homes and possessions and only remembered one fact of life on the river, that it is “their river”. They would give anything to get permission to just go to see it. The feeling of a loss of freedom was, perhaps, another of the strongest irritants. The fear of the unknown also weighed heavily, causing insecurity; it was a new land that had its own jealous spirits. A crucial factor in the shaping of ideology was the hidden, or in some instances explicit, ties with the “avengers” in Honduras. That generated secret groups in the communities which had influence within the social structures.
From the beginning, in the settlements an energetic ecumenical religious work began. Some Moravian pastors wanted to preserve the social relevancy of their leadership, and so they aligned themselves with the process. The collaboration of some Catholic deacons had positive results. The Miskito did not have any problem with this new type of ecumenical celebrations.
Regarding expectations, there was a longing for the past and a certain feeling of impotency, which was always overcome by their efforts to “colonize” the new area. The expectations were, in whatever way possible, to return to the Río Coco, for they felt completely disoriented in this tropical rain-forest in which they had been deposited.
Articulation with the government was carried out directly. The gravity of the military situation mitigated the negative perception of the FSLN. Various ministries began to name Miskito personnel as representatives in the settlements. That has been a very positive achievement.
The Present Period: Production and Harvest – November, 1982.
A greater stability has been achieved in social organization. Children and young people are living a more urban lifestyle and, without a doubt, they have benefited most by the change. Young people are also unconsciously delaying marriage until they have more secure economic and social possibilities.
Production has been a success. The rice crop was far greater than expected, due as much to the fact that they were cultivating new lands as to the collective work of many – not all – of the Miskito. Other types of collective work have still not been assimilated. And the problem of the lack of cash has not been resolved.
The prevailing ideology is also characterized by a greater degree of stability. The memory of the Río Coco lingers, but an adjustment has taken place. Part of this adjustment is due to a Christian resignation, which is widespread and which sees things in the spirit that everything has been the “will of God”. There are other signs that there is more stability: two “suguias” (native healers) have appeared, and new leaders have sprung up from within the community who are not in rivalry with the Frente. Those who collaborate with the government are no longer called “informers”. They are, instead, beginning to be respected and to be called “leaders”.
As for religion, the ecumenism of Moravian pastors and Catholic deacons plays a stabilizing role. A destabilizing factor is the continuing current of rumors which is propagated by the counterrevolutionary 15 of September Radio, based in Honduras.
Expectations relate to the satisfaction that they feel, as much from the achievements in production as from the benefits they receive from the revolutionary process. In spite of all they have suffered, they spare no praise in describing the present advantages of new schools, of pensions received by those suffering from silicosis from work in the mines, of books the children have received, of tools given to the adults. They are equally aware of the advances achieved in health. The advantages of drinking water and electricity will be felt soon.
Actually, the greatest expectations are expressed in the desire for a family garden of a half-hectare or less and in the desire to work, not so much in huge groups, but in small groups or by communities.
A sign of property to the Miskito is the possibility to plant perennial or semi-perennial trees. Once they have their banana and orange trees and have yucca available in the family garden close to their houses, it is likely that the Miskitos will feel more permanently settled.
THE MISKITO REFUGEES IN HONDURASWhile the thousands of relocated Miskitos in Nicaragua are located between Rosita and Puerto Cabezas, those who went to Honduras are concentrated in the camp at Mocoron.
Mocoron is presently an area in which, both geographically and humanly, the counterrevolutionary dimensions which the ethnic problem of the Coast have taken are evident. It is also one in which both the internal divisions of the indigenous movement and the complicity of the Honduran and U.S. governments in using the existing situation for their own ends can be examined.
Mocoron: Refugee Camp and Counterrevolutionary Base
There are now slightly less than 12,000 Nicaraguan Miskito Indian refugees in Honduras, about 900 of whom are located in the refugee camp at Mocoron. The remainder are in other refugee centers in Tapamalaya, the Rio Patuca, and Cocobila. In addition, there are also refugees who are not receiving assistance from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) because they are located too close to the border and have refused to move farther away (this is the case of 700 refugees in Usibila) or because they are in the Misurasata military camps and do not want to be registered as refugees. The latest group of refugees arrived in July, consisting of approximately 600 Sumos from the village of Musawas. There has been no significant entry of refugees since then.
The camp at Mocoron is administered by World Relief, a U.S. evangelical organization under contract to UNHCR. In addition to World Relief, there are Peace Corps volunteers working at Mocoron, doctors from Medicins Sans Frontiers, health promoters from Save the Children, and a Swedish road-building crew. World Relief employed for three months, from March to June, Diana Negroponte, wife of the U.S. Ambassador, John Negroponte. Mrs. Negroponte worked in the office in Tegucigalpa, and at present the wife of a U.S. AID official is also working for World Relief.
World Relief and the UNHCR are pushing a plan to relocate the Miskito Indians, which, if it is not opposed publicly by the U.S, cannot please them very much. The reasons for opposition to the relocation plan are:
1- The camp at Mocoron serves as a permanent accusation against the Sandinistas´ policies towards the Miskitos and thus serves U.S. propaganda purposes.
2- The camp serves as a recruiting ground for the counterrevolutionary forces and allows Misurasata to organize the refugees against the Sandinistas.
3- The camp serves as a rearguard for the combatants, a safe place where they can rest and visit their families.
4- Some argue that the camp also serves as a logistic and supply base for the military camps.
The camp at Mocoron is located 40-45 kilometers from the Nicaragua border and many of the projected relocation sites are no farther from, and in some cases even closer to, the border than the present location of camp. The major justification for the relocation, therefore, is to develop self-sufficient communities and remove the dependency of the refugees on international agencies. The relocation plan calls for 4000-5000 refugees to settle in the area around Mocoron and the others along the Rio Patuca and in the area of Cocobila and Tapamalaya where some have already settled.
World Relief’s plan for the relocation of the Miskitos states in part: “The Miskito refugees from Nicaragua are privileged refugees. You have freedom of movement. You have come into a country that accepts you openly. You have moved into a culture very similar to the one you left behind and where the same language is spoken. Few refugees in other parts of the world have these privileges”.
The relocation plan, which contemplates closing down the camp at Mocoron by December 31, 1982, was moving along on schedule until mid-September when the National Refugee Commission ordered a new set of studies done on the relocation sites. The National Agrarian Institute (INA), the Forest Agency (COHDEFOR) and the Department of Natural Resources will carry out the studies to analyze land-tenure patterns and possible damage to forest resources. This delay could mean that the refugees will be unable to plant this year and could set back the entire relocation until well into next year. At this point, it is unclear whether the delay represents a normal bureaucratic snag or a higher level political decision to stop the relocation.
Whichever is the case, the relocation site farthest from the border, Cocobila, has already been rejected by the commission, and even if the plan does move forward, the majority of Miskitos will still be located within the 50 kilometer perimeter usually required by UNHCR. The relocation plan is not, therefore, primarily a means of removing the Miskitos away from a conflictive border zone, as was the case with the Salvadoran refugees, but is rather a means of trying to find a more permanent arrangement for the refugees to live in Honduras.
The Honduran Miskito organization, Masta, is not opposed to the relocation plan in principle, but is opposed to the way in which it is presently being carried out. Smelling Wood, the president of Masta, says that his organization has not been consulted on the relocation plan either by the UNHCR, the Honduran government or by Misurasata. As a result, there is resentment and friction in several of the relocation areas on the part of local residents. Wood traveled to Tegucigalpa in mid-October to present his concerns to the National Refugee Commission of the Honduran government and ask that the relocation by delayed until Masta is involved directly in the process.
By far the most vigorous opposition to the relocation comes from Misurasata (also known as Misura now in Honduras although the two are used interchangeably) and its leadership in the refugee camp at Mocoron, known as the commission. The commission consists of six members, including one Moravian pastor, and all are loyal to Steadman Fagoth. The commission cites various reasons for opposing the relocation, but it all boils down to the fact that they are dedicated to waging war against the Sandinistas, and they will not accept any movement farther away from the border. They state this quite openly. At present, they are also arguing that since the Honduran government has not yet given the go-ahead for the relocation, they cannot and will not move.
The commission says that the whole plan is being promoted by the French in UNHCR, who are all communists. On the other hand, they are planning to send a letter to UN representative, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, protesting the relocation.
About 500 refugees have moved to the new sites, although to do so they must defy the commission’s authority within the camp. Due to rumors that the commission has spread, the refugees fear that they will not be safe if they move to new sites, and they are also afraid of the commission itself if they take the decision to move out of the camp to start a new life for themselves elsewhere. One man who is planning to move up to the Rio Patuca said that the people are afraid of moving because of the commission itself and what it might do to people. Relief workers recounted that the commission has destroyed refugees’ food ration cards and that families hid their children so that they are not recruited into the counter-revolutionary bands.
The commission, representing Steadman Fagoth and Misurasata, had presented a series of conditions for their return to Nicaragua that include a permanent presence of the United Nations on the Atlantic Coast, the recognition of the Atlantic Coast as an autonomous region, and a declaration that the Miskitos will live “without Sandinismo and without Somocismo”. The commission recognizes that their conditions cannot be met by the Sandinista government and thus state that “the indigenous people are preparing for an armed struggle against the Sandinistas in order to make the Atlantic Coast independent”. They state that armed struggle is their only alternative, and although the Council of Elders of the Miskitos, the maximum authority, has not officially declared war, the fighting has been going on since January and an organized army is in training.
Misurasata leaders speak with a messianic fervor of their war against the Sandinistas. They believe that Steadman Fagoth is destined to lead them, and they compare their situation with that of the exodus of the Jews and speak of returning to the promised land. In comparing their military strength with that of the Sandinistas, they simply recount the story of David and Goliath. One of the leaders, Wilmur Dixon, said, “We will fight with the Bible in our left hand and our rifles in our right hand”.
When asked how the Miskitos could possibly defeat the Sandinistas, they respond enigmatically, “Dios es grande, Dios es grande”. They say that “the Sandinistas have fought against God, but we are fighting with God on our side”. One of the most forceful members of the commission is Moravian pastor Evaristo Findley, and one of the most powerful instruments of persuasion is the Moravian Church which is widespread throughout the camp in preaching this message, which can only be described as waging a holy war against the Sandinistas.
The commission claimed that the Sandinistas have suffered 2000 casualties since January compared to 37 of their forces. Wilmur Dixon said, “Make sure that you say in your report that the Miskito people support the program of President Reagan 100%”. Although Dixon had evaded earlier questions about direct U.S. support for Misurasata, his final remark seemed like a word of thanks to the Reagan Administration for the help it has provided.
There are divisions within the Miskito community. Both Boner Muller, uncle of Steadman Fagoth, and the commission speak very disparagingly of Brooklyn Rivera. They call him a “leftist” because of his alliance with Eden Pastora and his recent trip to Europe in which, according to the commission, he only visited the socialist countries of Bulgaria, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland. Boner said, “How can we trust a man like Pastora when he says that he is opposed to U.S. intervention in Central America?” Misurasata leaders say that Brooklyn abandoned them and that his armed organization, Los Astros, is now defunct and all support is for Fagoth.
Ada Luz, wife of Brooklyn Rivera, said, and others confirmed, that several Rivera supporters have been killed by Fagoth’s people. She said that Fagoth is highly ambitious and sees himself as a kind of future governor of the Atlantic Coast area under a new government won militarily by the alliance of the Miskitos and the Somocistas. She believes, however, that the people still support Rivera and they are definitely opposed to any alliance between the Miskitos and the Somocistas. Although she said that Brooklyn believes that there will be an internal split in the Sandinista military leading to the return of Pastora, she also said that Brooklyn is open to dialogue over autonomy for the Atlantic Coast. She emphasized that she meant autonomy and not independence, but it is unclear exactly what the difference would entail.
In one very interesting point of convergence, both Ada Luz and Boner Muller agreed that the United States is withholding support from Misurasata at present due to the split between Fagoth and Rivera. Boner complained that Misurasata needs better weapons, and in an article in the Honduran press Fagoth complained that Misurasata lacked the material aid necessary to carry out a successful insurrection against the Sandinistas because of a lack of “a broad democratic unity that would assure our triumph over Marxism”. It appears that the U.S. strategy may be to pressure Misurasata to patch up its differences and thus convert it into a more effective political and military force. That strategy does not appear to be working at present with Rivera’s participation in ARDE (Alianza Revolucionaria Democrática) in Costa Rica and Fagoth’s position with the FDN.
The Honduran – U.S. ConnectionAccording to a number of different accounts, there are at least five military camps of anti-Sandinistas forces along the border of the Rio Coco in the Honduran province of Gracias a Dios. According to most accounts, these camps are a combination of Miskitos in the majority and Somocistas in the minority. The camps are located in or near to Rus Rus, Leimus, Auasbila, Auka and Suhi. One camp, described by an eyewitness foreign relief worker, housed up to 200 men and contained a prison used against the Miskitos themselves for disciplinary purposes.
Misurasata operates its own logistics and supply system for the military camps out of Puerto Lempira. Boats from La Ceiba arrive in Puerto Lempira with supplies, and Misurasata has a warehouse located across from the Bar La Perla at the end of the wharf. The wharf and the warehouse are guarded by two FUSEP (Fuerzas de Seguridad Publica) soldiers day and night. From this warehouse, supplies are trucked by a blue stake truck out to the camps. When asked to whom the warehouse belonged and where the supplies were going, the Misurasata members loading the truck said COHDEFOR, the forest agency. However, the regional director for COHDEFOR later said that COHDEFOR has no warehouse in Puerto Lempira and confirmed that it belonged to Misurasata.
According to two separate accounts, when the U.S. C-130 Hercules transport planes arrive in Puerto Lempira (as they have been doing even after the termination of the airlift of the 5th Battalion to Druzuna in July), the Misurasata trucks drive right up to the planes to receive cargo, and the planes are unloaded directly into the Misurasata trucks. These planes are flown by U.S. pilots, they are based in the Panama Canal Zone and are supposedly providing logistical support to the Honduran military.
Since July, the Honduran army has maintained the 5th Battalion in Druzuna, about 3 kilometers from the Miskito refugee camp in Mocoron. This battalion has the responsibility of defending the entire border with Nicaragua in Gracias a Dios. It includes members of almost all of Honduras’ special forces (except the urban anti-guerrilla force, Cobra), parachutists, PUMAS (Personal utilizado en misiones anti-subversivos), TESON (Tropas especializadas en selva y operaciones nocturnas) and ZAPADOR (special forces for setting anti-tank and antipersonnel land mines).
The military maintains a regional command in the town of Pranza, approximately 15 kilometers west of Leimus on the Honduran side of the Rio Coco. In addition, several Honduran soldiers reported that groups of 30 Honduran soldiers are assigned to guard each one of the Misurasata military camps along the border. Other reports confirmed that the camp outside of Rus Rus is guarded by Honduran soldiers who prevent any roving journalists or curiosity seekers from wandering into the camps. Major Sanchez, military commander in Puerto Lempira, (a Colonel Sánchez is commander of the battalion in Druzuna) also confirmed the presence of squads of 30 soldiers in various towns along the border, but said that they were border guards.
The 5th Battalion in Druzuna was previously based in Comayagua and participated, along with the 10th Battalion from Marcala, in the June operation of the Honduran army into El Salvador. The soldiers complained that after three weeks in El Salvador, in which they penetrated as far as Perquin, they were only given 24 hours leave-time before being flown out to Puerto Lempira in the C-130’s and then Chinook helicopters to Druzuna.
On October 7, at 2 P.M., a U.S. UH-1H Huey helicopter buzzed a couple of times over the refugee camp at Mocoron and then touched down on the dirt runway usually only visited by the Wings of Hope missionary plane. Out hopped three U.S military advisors and a complement of Honduran officers who tagged along behind. The U.S. advisors consulted their maps, spoke briskly with their Honduran counterparts and then walked off a short distance to speak among themselves. As the Honduran office waited, Major Sanchez, the top-ranking officer present, was asked why, if it was not a secret, they had landed at Macoron. He replied, “We have absolutely nothing to hide. We are here preparing for some joint maneuvers we are going to carry out with the United States in December”. These maneuvers have since been postponed.
In addition to the U.S. military presence in the region of Mocoron which is open and public, several political officers from the Embassy and State Department officials have visited the area under the guise of assessing the situation of the Miskito refugees. Donald Crumb spent six weeks in Honduras in June and July and during that time spent two weeks in Mocoron. World Relief Workers in Mocoron were perplexed, they said, as to what Crumb did during that whole time. According to a U.S. government source, Crumb worked previously as a city planner for the Environmental Protection Agency and was then transferred to the State Department’s Bureau of Refugee Affairs. To the best of this source’s knowledge, Crumb had no previous experience in refugee affairs. Crumb was also in the Salvadoran refugee camp in Colomancagua from June 14-16, a week before the Honduran troop movement in El Salvador on June 23.
Manipulation of Ethnic IdentityIn recent years, Central American has seen a huge flow of refugees. Are these Nicaraguan Miskito who have gone to Honduras just another among the dramatic lists of people who have had to become refugees? They are located away from their land – although it must be remembered that, for the Miskito, the land in Honduras is also “Miskito territory”. One unique characteristic of this group is that they have left a country whose government supports the demands of the poor majority. This aspect is precisely what the international press tends to emphasize, with the clear objective of questioning the Nicaraguan revolution. Nevertheless what makes these refugees distinct is that they are indigenous. Those in Guatemala are also, but in the case of the Miskito, the objective of their exodus is to return only after obtaining, through an armed struggle, the “independence” of the Moskitia.
This goal, which sets them apart among other Central American refugees, is only an illusion. The primitive state of the production on the Coast, as well as the presence of other ethnicities in the area (the total indigenous – Miskito, Sumo, Rama – population is 27%, while the Mestizo is 63% and 10% are Creoles) makes any separatist proposal questionable.
The U.S. knows this. But, making use of the traditional Anglo-Saxon influence, taking advantage of the dispersion of the communities during many years, exploiting a situation in which the infrastructure is totally deficient (lack of roads, markets, and social contacts), it has managed to “sell” the Miskito an impossible dream as before it managed to sell them whiskey or imported clothing.
Mocoron is one more example of the use imperialism makes of ethnic groups. In its time England used such groups, in Nicaragua and in other areas as well. The United States also has a tradition of this; in 1925 they militarily supported the rebellion of the Kuna nation in Panama with the only objective being to obtain the rights to the Panama Canal.
This unsophisticated nativism has generated a mobilization to a holy war among the Miskito people. But this type of mobilization is deeply destabilizing and, in the long run, leaves the people neutralized, for they feel frustrated when they see that their expectations are not fulfilled. And they cannot be fulfilled. While many young Miskito men fight for this unrealistic cause they are being manipulated for another end: overturning the Nicaraguan revolutionary process. A large part of those “situated” in Mocoron live in depressing conditions. Apathy and poverty dominate and, above all, there is an absolute passivity on their part that makes any collective work difficult. Mocoron is definitely a clear example of the distortion of a genuine ethnic feeling when it is manipulated from outside and pushed to make claims which come out of an unsophisticated nativism.