Nicaraguan Indians under threat from logging

Issue 

"What will be left of Nicaragua when SOLCARSA is finished with it? Nothing more than a huge desert. How is it possible that our precious ancestral forests are being converted into plywood?" — Gilda Aburto, Nicaraguan journalist.

The World Bank is funding a US$7.1 million program to ensure "the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources" in the north of Nicaragua. Half the area's people are indigenous Mayagna (Sumos) and Miskitos, but the Nicaraguan government has never demarcated their lands, which are in the largest rainforest north of the Amazon.

The World Bank project requires the Nicaraguan government to create legal mechanisms to demarcate and title Indian lands so that Mayagna and Miskito communities can conserve and manage their natural resources.

The government claims to be complying with World Bank requirements by introducing legislation to initiate the demarcation process. But, at the same time, it is granting logging concessions in the hardwood forests where the Mayagna and Miskito people live.

Mayagna and Miskito organisations, and Nicaraguan environmentalists, have denounced this, pointing out that by the time indigenous peoples' lands are demarcated and titled, the forests will be cut down, the waters polluted and the communities uprooted and displaced by loggers. Indeed, this irreparable destruction is well under way.

The Nicaraguan Supreme Court has ruled the largest logging concession unconstitutional. In spite of this, the government refuses to revoke the permit. The World Bank is ignoring it as well; its officials have not questioned or confronted the Nicaraguan government about logging concessions in the very region where the bank's objective is to "ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources".

If the government can obtain World Bank funding for conservation with one hand and fat fees from multinational logging companies with the other, it will hardly be motivated to take conservation and sustainable development seriously.

The largest logging concession, measuring 62,000 hectares, has been granted to SOLCARSA, a subsidiary of the Korean multinational Kum Kyung. The SOLCARSA concession includes the largest wild population of mahogany outside the Amazon basin. To the Mayagna people, it is sacred land.

In 1995, the community of Awas Tigni sued Nicaragua's Ministry of Natural Resources for granting SOLCARSA the concession. Last February, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the community, finding that the logging concession violates article 181 of the constitution. A year later, SOLCARSA is building logging roads deeper into the rainforest, and the government refuses to revoke the company's concession.

As SOLCARSA's roads advance toward the expanding port facilities under construction in Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas), indigenous communities are already experiencing disruption, displacement and contamination.

The Mayagna and Miskito village of Finicia was forcibly relocated once so that SOLCARSA could build a plywood plant. Now the company wants the village to abandon its newly planted crops and fruit trees to expand logging decks and lumber yards. Promises of scholarships, schools, electricity, drinking water and jobs in exchange for relocating have not been fulfilled.

In Betania, where SOLCARSA began logging in May 1995, residents complain that the company overworked labourers. Other communities have testified that SOLCARSA has been cutting outside of its concession and has not sought permission from communal land holders who have legal title to the land. Observers have found that SOLCARSA's wood treatment plants use toxic chemicals that have been banned in most countries, risking contamination of drinking water and agricultural lands.

[From Global Response. ]