Monday, March 24, 2014

Maritsa Centeno, Yakisa Sur Indigenous Community in Matagalpa

Maritsa Centeno
Maritsa is from the Yakisa Sur community of Matagalpa.  Her son, 2 years old, wasn’t feeling well, so he and his father stayed home.
We must recognize the other (Pacific side) indigenous of Nicaragua.  History:  RAAN/RAAS were not colonized by the Spanish, but rather by the British.  This permitted the indigenous to not lose their languages because the Brits didn’t make them abandon their language, culture, or religion.  The rest of Nicaragua at the time of independence of Central America, established Spanish as the language and forbid our religious ceremonies.  The Catholic church persecuted women who performed our traditional ceremonies.  State policies and laws were passed to deprive the indigenous of their lands.  The government said after independence that 50% of indigenous land must be administered by the government because they needed to rent the land to investors and use the money to educate the indigenous.   But one year later, the government declared that the outsiders could buy the land.  That’s why many indigenous today don’t have land, especially in Matagalpa. 
Our great-grandfathers lived well before colonizers came – we became Mestizos – they don’t have to recognize us as original owners of the land.
After 1970, all of the original people of the Pacific, Central and Northern zones have re-organized themselves in the original way.  They all now have Councils of Elders and mayors who carry a baton, chiefs, and judges.  The government recognized those officials and structure, but they don’t recognize their right to the land.  The government is maintaining strict control over those indigenous structures.  They financially support candidates who support the government.  This prevents local leadership from carrying out actions in favor of the indigenous.
As proof, for example, there was a bill proposed for indigenous rights in the North, Central, and South parts of Nicaragua but those bills never become law.
In May 2010 Nicaragua approved the UN Covenant on Indigenous Peoples, but did it strictly for image – not for carrying it out.
In Matagalpa, the indigenous have the largest section of land, it’s in the humid area – there are big land owners there who are important I the government. 
Susan – my husband owns for “use and enjoyment” a title, and pays rent to the indigenous community.  Maritsa said that the bigger “owners” pay their taxes to the central government who don’t recognize our ownership – the big “owners” support the government and pay taxes.
There are some cooperatives and some state-owned farms as well.  Some are also from way back like Matagalpa Coffee Company, and there are some German, Italian, and Swiss owners.
They took half of our land and gave it to big land owners whose descendents still own the land.  Most of the farm workers are indigenous.  They gat about 80Cd per day, or about $3.
Some big farmers rent land to iindigenous farmers, who pay back 2100 weights of corn, (2000 lb) which is 1/5 of their crop, and 500 weights of beans.  This is a terrible exploitation of indigenous on their own land.
I’ve been filing claims at the local level against this exploitation and they say I’m a right-winger.  It makes my claims for rights very difficult because the close the doors on me.  I have training in standard international human rights and rights of indigenous at Leon at the National Autonomous University.  I have been working for ten years in the North, Central, and South zones on indigenous rights.  I studied the problems of these regions, and they are systematic. I also studied other areas.  For example, in Salinas, southwest of Lake Nicaragua, in the Department of Rivas, people are buying beach areas.  In Salinas del Aguadapa, the head of the indigenous group sole some of their land without permission of the Council of Elders.  When the Council of Elders went to the authorities, they got no response from the judicial system – the government supports the investors over the indigenous.
In the center of Motene, in the Urvite Las Pilas community, a man appeared with a land title from a woman who had never been there – it was for 1600 Mz along the lake.  The local authorities honored it.  This is for a tourism project.  We learned that behind him was a high ranking army officer.  We weren’t able to prove our accusation in court in Rivas, but the indigenous are appealing to the court in Grenada – they don’t want to let this person grab their land. 
In Rivas Nawas where the indigenous live, there are 3 – 5 more indigenous communities.  In Matagalpa, the indigenous people live in Sam Ramon, San Dioncia, and three other towns.  All of the people in San Ramon and San Dionicia are entirely on indigenous land.  In Leon, just the Suptiaba people have their own territory – they administer a small piece of land, but it is their original territory.
Our Matagalpa language died in 1994.  Last year the government was going to try to recover our language, but it did not come forward.
In the 1870s people used slave indigenous labor to build cathedrals and other structures.  In 1881, the indigenous of Matagalpa rose up because they were forced to build cathedrals and a telegraph line – the government reacted with massacre and held the city at siege.  They killed 5 – 8,000 Matagalpa people.
In the war against William Walker, in San Jacinto, the indigenous fought with bows and arrows, but  were not recognized for their role until two years ago – they had been put in a common grave. 
One success – inMoninpo in Masaya, in the district of Orchega, Indians had lost their land, and just had their houses – but they just got back their cemetery. 
In Jinotega, they have fought for twenty years regarding the property that was lost to the Lake Apanas dam.  They have a virgin that has her land.
Since 2007, the Matagalpa have been trying to recover our spiritual heritage – I am the coordinator for that in all of these areas.  There are two ceremonial circles in Matabalpa and one in Jinoteca.  We are working to re-establish in a more formal manner.
Last Friday, our community was visited by a United Nations representative of Nicaragua denouncing the abuse of women in agriculture in our community.
Charley talked about the Abenaki 30 year legal battle with the state of Vermont.  We have 68 acres set aside for us in trust but not in our name.  We’re trying to reclaim our heritage and culture, and looking for a ceremonial place to start ceremonies again.  We have the same history of racism as indigenous everywhere.
Question – can you file claims under laws 92 and 445?  No, those are only on the Caribbean side.  Charley – the UN specifies rights and the Interamerican court may be able to help.  Maritsa – that takes a lot of money and lawyers.  Jinoteca has started this process but it is not going very far.  Charley – this is for our children.  Maritsa – I was at first fearful to revive the spiritual customs but since 2012 we have renewed interest.  Charley - This is a correct path – who knows where it will take you.  Susan – In El Chile in Matagalps are women who tried to get weaving skills passed on, but they now weave on looms and can sell their cloth.  Maritsa – Samoza forbade cotton, weaving, fermented corn for our ceremonies, and celebration of the Goddess of corn – because the state wanted a monopoly on alcohol and the tax money.  Carlos – are they making it now?  Maritsa – very little.
Organization of women in the department of Masaya is Comisaria de la Mujer.

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