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



A Divided People A Manipulated Banner?

Envío team

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 Miskitus from the banks of the Río Coco. Some 10,000 Miskitus, a sixth of the total Miskitu population, were relocated in settlements established by the Nicaraguan government in a 70-kilometer strip of land situated between Rosita and Puerto Cabezas. Thousands of other Miskitus 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 resettlement

The trends observed today in the settlements to which the Sandinista government brought the Miskitus 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 links between these communities and the government. Before the evacuation and resettlement, the history of the Miskitu population could be divided into 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 Confrontations: February 1981-December 1981.

The period on the Río Coco: Until 1978

In terms of social organization, the coast Miskitus 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 relationship with families in other communities. Through the mother, the children discovered the social network of relationships with relatives throughout the Miskitu 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 Miskitu 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 and combined this production with temporary work, either in the mines or on the plantations of the transnational companies that operated in the area.

Cultivation was done on an individual family basis and there was a system of exchange of goods for services, 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 and who 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 Miskitu ethnicity has been the use of their own language. The racial phenotype of the Miskitu is basically not visually distinctive and it is difficult to identify the Miskitu 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 Miskitus’ own language and religion, together with the network of family relationships, were forming an awareness of nationality that identified with the Anglo-Saxon.

This ideology found an unexpectedly strong foundation in the transference of the spoken Miskitu language to a written form—work initially done by Moravian missionaries. 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 Miskitu people with other indigenous groups (Sumu and Rama), 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 Miskitu 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 return of the Miskitu 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 Miskitu 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 States.

The insurrection period: 1978-July 1979

During this period, social organization and production saw no change. Nevertheless, a significant phenomenon occurred. While the people on the Pacific coast consolidated their organizational efforts under the leadership of the FSLN and the image of Nicaragua at an international level was tied to Sandinismo, a sharp anti-Sandinista sentiment developed on the Río Coco.

The roots of this anti-Sandinista sentiment have their logic in history. Sandino’s ideology was marked principally by its anti-imperialism. The military actions of his army primarily targeted the North American mines and companies. Among the Miskitus, these activities caused a loss of employment and thus reinforced the Miskitu identification with North American interests. The Miskitus saw Sandino the same way the Americans painted him—as a bandit. In addition, Sandino’s troops executed the Moravian pastor Kark Bregenzer in 1931 for being a Yankee collaborator. Thus, from the beginning, Sandinismo and Sandino represented two negative elements to the Miskitus: economic loss and serious wounds in their “national” identity (tied to the North Americans and the Moravian Church). Because of this history, some pastors preached in 1978 that with the Sandinistas, the Miskitu 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 with the Miskitus: he appeared among them as a friend of the Americans, speaking English, and he also gave speeches in Miskitu. 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 that had been lying dormant among the people. This was Stedman Fagoth. He played a double role, presenting himself to the FSLN as a revolutionary.

The only variation in production was that pre-cooperative groups began to be financed, but they did not bring the results the government hoped for. As the North American mines and companies began to decrease production and soon to leave the country, unemployment increased and people began to be discontented.

Regarding their world view, caution in the face of the Sandinistas (Spanish) was maintained. The organization known as Misurasata (it stood for union of Miskitu, Rama, Sumo and Sandinistas), which was created at the end of 1979 and supported from the beginning by the FSLN, promoted an 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 that was not easily politicized began to exist. This group grew substantially after the evacuation.

Misurasata became the foundation of 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 clear ethnic leadership that rapidly became political). Social expectations were raised during this period and the organization’s banners were clearly political. Titles to communal lands were requested, pressure was applied to obtain a high return of the profits of the coast’s mining resources, and official use of the native language was demanded.

This situation generated a somewhat peculiar relationship with the revolutionary government. It initially encouraged the coast’s libertarian aspirations, which it considered legitimate demands of an oppressed people. At the same time, the government became the Miskitus’ benefactor: soon programs for bank credit, health and construction were begun. But the Miskitus 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 ethnic terms. Social expectations were also rooted in ethnicity.

The FSLN thought it had found a structure capable of consolidating the revolutionary process on the coast in Misurasata, but it was mistaken. It was ethnic identity that gave more cohesion and growth to Misurasata. There had been virtually no relationship with the Somoza government on the coast, and there was a serious lack of marketing mechanisms, employment for the work force or infrastructure. The traditions that connected the Miskitu population to US 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), and the demands began to change. Now, not only did the organization demand tittles to communal lands, but also a separate and autonomous area. The 3,000 Miskitus who first followed Fagoth to the Honduran Moskitia immediately began to be trained militarily. It is significant that when Brooklyn Rivera and Hazel Law, the other two leaders of Misurasata, condemned Fagoth in May 1981, they didn’t drop his claim for autonomy over territorial lands. The Rivera-Fagoth confrontation could have been the spark that made the Miskitus aware that the counterrevolution was manipulating the indigenous demands in a pretentious and disproportionate way. The Miskitus couldn’t form a separate state simply because the reality of the forces of production doesn’t permit it. Finally the ethnic-government contradictions that reached their peak became at the same time the axis of the US strategy and a principal part of the internal counterrevolutionary strategy. Today, Misurasata, which has changed its name to Misura and operates only as a military organization out of Honduras, is defined by its alliance with US 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 characteristic of the contradictions remained.


The 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 being a way to guarantee the survival of the Miskitus who were completely vulnerable in the conflictive area. In terms of social organization, the evacuation meant a complete rupture with their 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 come primarily from 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 Miskitu cause. The counterrevolution took a sector of the Miskitu 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 Miskitu area were considered by the people to be theirs, notwithstanding official borders.

There was a dual set of expectations during this period. One, that of the “avengers” in Honduras, was to reconquer their 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 relations with the government and declared war. For those evacuated, new relations with the Sandinista government began—and covered almost all aspects of life. 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 its 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 Miskitu 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. Reestablishing family ties and relocating relatives will require a slow readjustment.

What is most significant in this sense is that the resettlement presented the communities with an urban experience. They had never lived as close or in the same way. At that moment, the resettlement was still an “imposition organized from 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 building houses, setting up the settlement itself and preparing for planting. The novel part of the experience was the attempt at collectivization. Although rather than collectively, everything was done by mass coordination methods because of the lack of preparation for communitarian work.

The instability of the settlements tended to idealize the greater stability of 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 “river.” They would give anything to get permission just to go 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 that had influence within the social structures.

From the beginning, energetic ecumenical religious work began in the settlements. Some Moravian pastors wanted to preserve the social relevancy of their leadership, so they aligned themselves with the process. The collaboration of some Catholic deacons had positive results. The Miskitus seemed to have no problem with this new type of ecumenical celebrations.

Regarding expectations, there was a longing for the past and a certain feeling of powerlessness which was always overcome by their efforts to “colonize” the new area. The expectations were to return to the Rio Coco in whatever way possible, for they felt completely disoriented in this tropical rainforest 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 Miskitu personnel as representatives in the settlements, which 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 life style 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 Miskitus. 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 sees things in the spirit that everything has been the “will of God.” There are other signs that there is more stability: two sukias (native healers) have appeared, and new leaders have sprung up from within the community who are not in rivalry with the FSLN. Those who collaborate with the government are no longer called “informers.” They are 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 propagated by the counterrevolutionary 15 of September Radio, based in Honduras.

Expectations relate to the satisfaction they feel, as much from the achievements in production as from the benefits they receive from the revolutionary process. Despite 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 potable 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 Miskitus is the possibility to plant perennial or semi-perennial trees. Once they have their banana and orange trees and have cassava available in the family garden close to their houses, it is likely that the Miskitus will feel more permanently settled.

The Miskitu Refugees in Honduras
While the thousands of relocated Miskitus in Nicaragua were settled between Rosita and Puerto Cabezas, those who went to Honduras are concentrated in the refugee camp at Mocorón.

Mocorón is presently an area that both geographically and humanly reveals the counterrevolutionary dimensions that the coast’s ethnic problem have taken. It is also one in which both the internal divisions of the indigenous movement and the complicity of the Honduran and US governments in using the existing situation for their own ends may be examined.

Mocorón: Refugee camp and counterrevolutionary base

There are now slightly less than 12,000 Nicaraguan Miskitu refugees in Honduras, about 9,000 of whom are located in the refugee camp at Morocón. The others are in other refugee centers in Tapamalaya, the Rio Patuca and Cocobila. In addition, there are 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 Sumus from the village of Musawás. There has been no significant entry of refugees since then.

The camp a Mocorón is administered by World Relief, a US evangelical organization under contract to UNHCR. In addition to World Relief, there are Peace Corps volunteers, doctors from Medicins Sans Frontiers, health promoters form Save the Children and a Swedish crew working at Mocorón. World Relief employed Diana Negroponte, wife of US Ambassador to Honduras John Negroponte, for three months, from March to June. Mrs. Negroponte worked in the office in Tegucigalpa and at present the wife of a USAID official is working for World Relief.

World Relief and the UNHCR are pushing for a plan to relocate the Miskitus, which if not opposed publicly by the Reagan administration, cannot please it very much. The reasons for opposition to the relocation plan are:

1. The camp at Mocorón serves as an ongoing accusation against the Sandinista policies towards the Miskitus and thus serves US propaganda purposes.

2. The camp is a recruiting ground for the counterrevolutionary forces and allows them 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 functions as a logistics and supply base for the military camps.

The camp at Mocorón is located 40-45 kilometers from Nicaragua’s border and many of the projected relocation sites are no farther, and in some cases even closer, to the border. The major justification for the move is to develop self-sufficient communities and remove the refugees’ dependence on international agencies. The relocation plan calls for 4,000-5,000 refugees to settle in the area around Mocorón and the other camps along the Rio Patuca, and in the area of Cocibila and Tapamalaya where some have already settled.

World Relief’s plan for the relocation states in part: “The Miskitu refugees from Nicaragua are privileged. 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 Morocón by December 31, 1982, was moving along on schedule until mid-September when the Honduran government’s National Refugee Commission ordered a new set of studies done on the relocation sites. The National Agrarian Institute, the Forest Agency and the Department of Natural Resources will conduct 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 commission has already rejected Cocobila, the relocation site farthest from the border, and even if the plan does move forward, the majority of Miskitus will still be located within the 50-kilometer perimeter usually required by UNHCR. The relocation plan is thus not primarily a means of removing the Miskitus away from a conflictive border zone, as was the case with the Salvadoran refugees, but rather one of trying to find a more permanent arrangement for the refugees to live in Honduras.

The Honduran Miskitu organization, Masta, is not opposed to the relocation plan in principle, but is opposed to the way it is presently being carried out. Smelling Wood, Masta’s president, says his organization has not been consulted on the relocation plan by the UNHCR, the Honduran government or Misurasata. As a result, there is resentment and friction with local residents in several of the relocation areas. Wood traveled to Tegucigalpa in mid-October to present his concerns to the National Refugee Commission and ask that the relocation be delayed until Masta is involved directly in the process.

By far the most vigorous opposition to the relocation comes from the Misurasata split (also known as Misura) that is now in Honduras and its leadership in the refugee camp at Mocorón known as “the commission.” This commission consists of six members, including one Moravian pastor, all loyal to Stedman Fagoth. It cites various reasons for opposing the relocation, but it all boils down to the fact that they are dedicated to waging war against Sandinistas and will not accept any movement farther away from the border, as they state quite openly. Its members also argue that they cannot and will not move since the Honduran government has not yet given the go-ahead for the relocation. They content that the whole plan is being promoted by the French in UNHCR who are all communist. 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 spread by the commission, the refugees fear that they will not be safe if they move to new sites and are also afraid of the commission itself if they decide to move out of the camp to start a new life for themselves elsewhere. One man who is planning to move up to the Río Patuca said the people are afraid of moving because of the commission itself and what it might do to them. Relief workers recounted that the commission has destroyed refugees’ food ration cards and that families hid their children to prevent their being recruited into the counterrevolutionary bands.

The commission had presented a series of conditions for their return to Nicaragua that include a permanent UN presence on the Atlantic Coast, recognition of the coast as an autonomous region and a declaration that the Miskitus will live “without Sandinismo and without Somocismo.” The commission recognizes that its conditions cannot be met by the Sandinista government and thus states 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, the Miskitus’ maximum authority, has not officially declared war, the fighting has been going on since January and an organized army is in training.

Misura leaders speak with a Messianic fervor of their war against the Sandinistas. They believe that Stedman Fagoth is destined to lead them and compare their situation with that of the exodus of the Jews, speaking 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’ll fight with the Bible in one hand and our rifles in the other.”

When asked how the Miskitus could possibly defeat the Sandinistas they respond enigmatically, “Dios es grande” (God is great), adding that “the Sandinistas have fought against God, but we’re 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 preaching this message widely throughout the camp. It is a message that can only be described as waging a holy war against the Sandinistas.

The commission claimed that the Sandinistas have suffered 2,000 casualties since January compared to 37 of their forces. Wilmur Dixon said, “Make sure you say in your report that the Miskitu people support the program of President Reagan 100%.” Although Dixon had evaded earlier questions about direct US support for Misura, his final remark seemed like a word of thanks to the Reagan administration for the help it has provided.

There are divisions within the Miskitu community. Both Boner Müller, uncle of Stedman Fagoth, and the commission speak very disparagingly of Brooklyn Rivera. They call him a “leftist because of his alliance with Edén 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 he’s opposed to US intervention in Central America?” Misura leaders say that Brooklyn abandoned them and that his armed organization, which has kept the original name Misurasata, is now defunct and all support is for Fagoth.

Brooklyn Rivera’s wife Ada Luz said that several Rivera supporters have been killed by Fagoth’s people and others confirmed it. She said 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 Miskitus and Somocistas. She believes, however, that people still support Rivera and are definitely opposed to any alliance between the Miskitus and the Somocistas. Although she said Brooklyn believes there will be an internal split in the Sandinista military leading to Pastora’s return, she also said Brooklyn is open to dialogue over autonomy for the Atlantic Coast. She emphasized that she means 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 Müller agreed that the United States is withholding support from Misura at present due to the split between Fagoth and Rivera. Boner complained that Misura needs better weapons and in an article in the Honduran press Fagoth complained that it lacked the material aid needed to wage a successful insurrection against the Sandinistas because democratic unity would assure our triumph over Marxism.” It appears that the US strategy may be to pressure the two original Misurasata leaders, Rivera and Fagoth, to patch up their differences and thus convert the organization into a more effective political and military force. That strategy does not appear to be working at present with Rivera’s participation in Pastora’s ARDE in Costa Rica and Fagoth’s position with the FDN.

The Honduran-US Connection

According to a number of different accounts, there are at least five military camps of anti-Sandinista forces along the border of the Río Coco in the Honduran province of Gracias a Dios. According to most accounts, these camps are a combination of Miskitus in the majority and Somocistas in the minority. The camps are located in or near 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 Miskitus themselves for disciplinary purposes.

Misura 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 Misura has a warehouse located across from the Bar La Perla at the end of the wharf. The wharf and warehouse are guarded by two Honduran Public| Security Forces soldiers day and night. From this warehouse, supplies are trucked by a blue state truck out to the camps. When asked to whom the warehouse belonged and where the supplies were going, the Misura members loading the truck said COHDEFOR, the forest agency. However, the COHDEFOR regional director later said that his agency has no warehouse in Puerto Lempira and confirmed that it belonged to Misura.

According to two separate accounts, when the US 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 Misura trucks drive right up to the planes to receive cargo and the planes are unloaded directly into the Misura trucks. These planes, flown by US pilots, 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 Mexico refugee camp in Mocorón. This battalion is responsible for 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 (Personnel Used in Anti-Subversive Missions), TESON (Troops Specialized in Jungle and Nocturnal Operations) and Zapador (special forces for setting anti-tank and anti personnel 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 Río Coco. In addition, several Honduran soldiers reported that groups of 30 Honduran soldiers are assigned to guard each of the Misuras 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 Sánchez, the military commander in Puerto Lempira, (not to be confused with a Colonel Sánchez, who is commander of the battalion in Druzuna), also confirmed the presence of squads of 30 soldiers in various towns along the border, but said 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 Honduran army’s June operation 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-130s and then to Druzuna in Chinook helicopters.

On October 7, at 2 pm, a US UH-1H “Huey” helicopter buzzed the refugee camp at Mocorón a couple of times then touched down on the dirt runway usually only visited by the Wings of Hope missionary plane. Out hopped three US military advisers, with a complement of Honduran officers tagging along behind. The US advisers consulted their maps, spoke briskly with their Honduran counterparts then walked off a short distance to speak among themselves. As the Honduras officers waited, Major Sánchez, the top-ranking officer present, was asked why, if it was not a secret, they had landed at Mocorón. 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 US military presence in the Morocón region, 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 Miskitu refugees. Donald Crumb spent six weeks in Honduras in June and July and during that time was in Mocorón two weeks. World Relief Workers in Mocorón were perplexed, they say, as to what Crumb did during that whole time. According to a US 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 June 14-16, a week before the Honduran troop movement into El Salvador on June 23.

Manipulation of ethnic identity

In recent years, Central America has seen a huge flow of refugees. Are these Nicaraguan Miskitus who have gone to Honduras just another among the dramatic list of people who have had to become refugees? They are located away from their land—although it must be remembered that, for the Miskitus, the land in Honduras is also “Miskitu territory.” One unique characteristic of this group is that it has 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. Nonetheless, what makes these refugees distinct is that they are indigenous. Those in Guatemala are as well, but in the case of the Miskitus, the objective of their exodus is to return only after obtaining, through armed struggle, the “independence” of the Moskitia.

This goal, which sets them apart from 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 including mestizos in the area makes any separatists proposal questionable. The combined population of the three indigenous groups—Miskitus, Sumus, Ramas—is 27%, while the mestizos represent 63% and the Creoles 10%.

The United States knows this. But, making use of the traditional Anglo-Saxon influence, taking advantage of the communities’ dispersion over 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 Miskitus an impossible dream as once it sold them whiskey or imported clothing.

Mocorón is one more example of the use imperialism makes of ethnic groups. In its time, England too used such groups, in Nicaraguan and in other areas as well. The United States also has a tradition of this; in 1925 it militarily supported the rebellion of the Kuna nation in Panama with the single objective of obtaining the rights to the Panama Canal.

This unsophisticated nativism has generated mobilization to a holy war among the Miskitu people. But this type of mobilization is deeply destabilizing and, in the long run, leaves people neutralized, for they feel frustrated when seeing that their expectations are not fulfilled. And they cannot be fulfilled. While many young Miskitu men fight for this unrealistic cause they are being used for another end—to roll back the Nicaraguan revolutionary process. A large part of those “situated” in Mocorón live in depressing conditions. Apathy and poverty dominate and, above all, there’s absolute passivity on their part that makes any collective work difficult. Mocorón is definitely a clear example of the distortion of a genuine ethnic sentiment when manipulated from outside and pushed to make claims that come out of an unsophisticated nativism.

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The Miskitu Question in Nicaragua

A Divided People A Manipulated Banner?

The Miskitus and the Atlantic Coast


A Policy of Genocide?

Concerning the Schlaefer Case
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