Category Archives: Thanksgiving

This is how they massacred the Mayangna Indigenous in the Bosawas Reserve

At the end of January Nicaragua and the international community were shocked to learn of a massacre of Mayangna indigenous on their own lands by 80 heavily armed settlers. This is the latest – and one of the deadliest – of several attacks in recent years. The constant complaint of these indigenous communities is they receive no protection from the Police and Army. Even though they finally do have title to their ancestral land, their pleas for the government to take the required next step in the titling process – dealing with non-indigenous populations on the land –  has fallen on deaf ears. This incident shows once again that in the absence of government action, the title becomes a meaningless piece of paper, and the goodwill the titling created is quickly dissipated.

This is how they massacred the Mayangna Indigenous in the Bosawas Reserve

By Amalia del Cid, La Prensa, Sunday February 9, 2020

[original Spanish article with pictures]

On January 29th four Mayangna indigenous were attacked when they were in a river, looking for fish for the thanksgiving feast of their community. This was the massacre of Alal.

In the silence of Bosawas it is possible to hear the cry of a person, or the barking of a dog, from far away. If someone wants to find the origin of the sound, they have to walk for ten or fifteen minutes to find it, or instead stay very quiet and listen very carefully. Three women who were fishing in the Kikulang river on the afternoon this past January 29th did that, when they heard steps running toward them.

First, they thought that someone was coming to sound the alarm, as tends to happen in these lands when a person has an unfortunate encounter with a poisonous snake. But a little later they saw a breathless young man appear who could not utter a sound; followed by another boy, with a bullet wound. Behind them ran a third young man, who shouted from a distance, “they killed my Dad!”

The one who was in front was Centeno Indalecio, and the wounded boy, Marcony Jarquín. The last boy was Becker, the son of the best fisherman of the community of Alal, Juan Emilio Devis Gutiérrez. They came fleeing from the Kun Kun river, located an hour and a half walk from the Kikulang river, and they went to the village to alert the rest of its inhabitants. They had to warn them that armed settlers were attacking.

Throughout the previous day and the morning of the 29th itself, a dozen men had left from Alal to fish in the Kun Kun River, and hunt agoutis and deer in the Waktah mountain. Their mission was to get meat so the church could sell it on January 30th, thanksgiving day, recounted a community leader, who has asked that his name be omitted. He is afraid that some settler might recognize him.

Some years ago, before 2015, for the inhabitants of this Mayangna community it was still possible to go out to hunt or fish for three or four days without causing any concern among their relatives. “Now no,” says the indigenous leader. “Now you cannot leave the house. Crossing the Kaska River (which runs through the community) is now dangerous.”

Since the attacks from the settlers began to multiply in the indigenous territory to which Alal belongs, the community members took on the custom of returning early from their plots of land, and letting their relatives know exactly where they were going and when they would return.

Those who left on January 28th said that they were going to return the next day, but they did not return.

The silent “war”

The Mayangna Sauni As territory, or territory one, is found in the heart of the Bosawas Reserve, 25 kilometers from Bonanza in the Autonomous Region of the Northern Caribbean Coast. It extends for some 2,000 square kilometers, and has a population of approximately 7,000 people. The Alal community is one of 23 that make up this territory and is found “on the edge of the Reserve.”

After Alal there is only forest “up to three days of forest” before reaching another community. Walking straight forward it is possible to get lost and never get out of there. The closest communities are found several hours away, and the land is grooved by several rivers and naturals waterways. On that vastness for many years now an unequal “war” has been experienced between indigenous and invading settlers, a drama that affects nearly all the indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples settled on the 23 territories that legally and ancestrally belong to them.

With all that, Alal had never suffered a direct attack. In 2017 the neighboring community of Wilu was attacked by armed settlers, and in 2019, also the communities of Suniwas and Betlehem, even though in none of those attacks were people killed. Forgotten by all the State institutions, the indigenous have maintained their own patrols, armed with homemade harpoons and one or another hunting rifle, to discover in time the presence of “third parties” who come in to occupy by force the land of the reserve. But none of that helped on January 29th.

The first to leave were Marcony Jarquín, Centeno Indalecio and Arly Samuel Gutiérrez. They left on the morning of January 28th, in the direction of the Kun Kun river, located a two and a half hour walk from the community. A little later, Amaru Rener Hernández and Cristino López Ortiz followed their steps. And later, that same day, a group of men left to hunt in the mountains, above the Kun Kun river.

Among these last ones were Víctor Díaz Tránsito Meza Bruno, Econías Miguel, Carlos Bruno and Navarro Miguel. All forest rangers, responsible for patrolling the plots that the inhabitants of the community work close to the Kaska river.

The next day, on the morning of the 29th, Juan Emilio Devis Gutiérrez and his son Becker also went to Kun Kun for the purpose of collaborating in the collection for the day of thanksgiving. After all, no one fished better in Alal than Juan, 40 years of age. It was known that when he went out to swim under water with his harpoon, he would bring in enough fish to supply a good part of the community. In addition, he was a forest ranger and one of those most concerned about the destructive movement of the settlers into the Reserve.

Like him, the other indigenous that left to fish and hunt were those who did not complain when the church would mention their names to commit them to some task.

Arly Samuel, 19 years old, and Amaru Rene, 24, were working in the plots from Monday to Friday, and Saturdays they would go to high school. Cristino, 25 years old, also would plant the land, and on Fridays would travel to Bonanza, more than four hours by foot and more than two hours by bus, for university classes. He was about to begin his third year of Language and Literature.

At 4:00 in the afternoon that tragic Wednesday no one had returned to Alal, and the community members began to get really concerned.

A cry in the jungle

“They killed my Dad!”, shouted the son of Juan Emilio Devis. And the women who were fishing in the Kikulang began to run along with the three boys who came from the Kun Kun river. On arriving at Alal, Centeno Indalecio and Marcony Jarquín alerted the people, and the community leaders took charge of spreading the word, “they are attacking the community!”

“They told the women and children to leave first,” relates an indigenous leader. “They left without grabbing clothing, without anything. My Mom is a nurse and she got to work to take care of the wounds of Marcony, she just finished doing that, and in five minutes the armed men attacked the community.”

In a few minutes almost all of the nearly 500 inhabitants of the community abandoned their homes and went into the forest to find refuge in neighboring hamlets, above all in Musawas, the capital of the territory, located two hours away.

Alal was left empty. And around 5:20 pm some eighty armed men charged into the village; they burned 16 homes, including the pastoral center; they damaged the church, the school and the health post; they burned the school snacks and killed all the cows that they found: around twenty.

They also wounded a young man named Will Fernández, who received a bullet in the head, but still had the strength to go into the forest to hide, where he spent the entire early morning.

On dawn January 30th the attackers had now left, and the sun lit up the scene of the wooden homes reduced to ruins and ashes. Some inhabitants of Alal returned to confirm the disaster, and they began to look for the disappeared.

Will they found in the forest. He was not speaking, could not see, was barely breathing, but he was alive. The “smell of death” that began to be perceived in the air was the biggest concern, because it was not the stench of the cows; it was coming from a waterway on the banks of the Kaska. There was the body of Juan Emilio, still dressed in the clothing that he used to go fishing. Cream colored pants, threadbare and ripped; rubber boots and an old grey t-shirt with the words “Las Vegas”.

The fisherman was found face up, covered by some leaves that fell from the trees in the early morning. He had his hands tied behind his back, the head showed signs of having been beaten with shovels, various bullet holes and there are those who state that, on taking off his boots, they discovered that his toes had been severed.

Becker was mistaken when, on fleeing from the river, he thought his father was dead. The invaders had brought him in alive from Kun Kun to kill him in the community of Alal itself.

Another three dead

Of all the men who did not return home on the afternoon of the 29th, four were dead. On the 30th those who had gone out to hunt in the mountains were taken to be disappeared, and their names were mentioned in the first denouncements issued by the leaders of Alal. Nevertheless, that same afternoon it was known that, deep in the forest, the hunters did not even know about the attack of the settlers, because the sound of the river drowned out the sound of the gunfire.

It was precisely they who found the bodies of Cristino and Amaru on the banks of the Kun Kun, when they came down off the mountain, the afternoon of Thursday January 30. They saw from far away two men who seemed asleep, and at first, they were alarmed, thinking they were settlers, but on seeing that they were not moving, they went to see what was going on. There they recognized the two boys.

Cristino and Amaru were buried on the morning of Friday January 31, in the small cemetery that is located 300 meters from the church. The previous afternoon the community buried Juan Emilio and Arly Samuel, who they found on the path between Kun Kun and Kikulang. The bullets got him when he was running, and later the attackers struck him until they nearly cut his head off.

That Friday, when now the dead of Alal were buried, the Police issued a press release stating that there was no evidence in the zone that people had died. It was not until Saturday, three days after the massacre, and in the face of the overwhelming evidence that was already circulating on social networks, that the institution was forced to recognize the murder of the four Mayangna indigenous.

Life in the community, nevertheless, has not returned to normal. And it may never return, as long as the conflict with the settlers persists, who are invading indigenous territories. For now, the community members have not even finished returning, and those who returned, do not have anything to eat, because they are afraid of what might happen to them if they go beyond the Kaska river.

A little more than a month ago Cristino receive a medal for being the best goalkeeper in the soccer league of the Mayangna Sauni As territory, and less than two weeks ago was preparing to start a new year of classes in the university. Now he is dead, and the fear is that no one will pay for this.

From 2015 to now, at least forty indigenous have been murdered for resisting the illegal occupation of their lands, states Lottie Cunningham, the president of the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN). All of those cases have gone unpunished.

“None have been investigated, there is no material or intellectual author punished or sentenced, and this impunity is going to encourage this invasion even more,” she maintains.

For the indigenous who have lost friends and relatives at the hands of the settlers, the feeling of injustice and vulnerability is even greater. “They are violating the law on us”, says one of them. “If I see a dead horse in the street, I take a photo of it, put it on internet, its life has value. But we, it is like we are nothing…like we aren´t worth anything”.

Social impact of the invasion of the settlers

The problem of the invasion of the settlers is an old one. It has not been resolved by any government, and in recent years it has gotten exponentially worse. It is a matter of thousands of people who invade lands that by law belong to the indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples, a territory that encompasses about 54% of the Caribbean Coast.

There is every type of settler: from peasants who are deceived by sellers of land that does not belong to them, to former military and large landowners who have seized “farms” of up to 10,000 manzanas. They are people who show up with deeds signed by anyone.

There are 23 indigenous territories, within which there are 304 communities and 270 of them live “in distress, fear and crisis”, threatened with greater or lesser amounts of violence, “under intimidation, harassment and that massive illegal invasion of their territory,” points out Lottie Cunningham, president of the Center for Justice and Human Rights in the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN).

Twelve of those communities have protectionist measures from the IACHR, “but since 2015, at no moment have the State authorities demonstrated the willingness to implement those measures to protect the life and territory of the indigenous.”

For Cunningham there is no doubt that the tragedy that the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean are experiencing is the direct responsibility of the State. “The State authorities have been accomplices, because they have not carried out comprehensive actions to mitigate the threat, intimidation and harassment that the communities are experiencing. The Government has demonstrated that it has supported the settlers in a paternalistic way, many of them former military, because they are armed. Right now, most of the indigenous communities are on alert, they do not sleep. They are watchful so as to not be attacked,” she maintains.

Just in those twelve communities benefitted by protection measures, more than 1,000 people have been displaced from their crop lands, and more then 600 from their communities. 32,330 hectares of plots of land have been lost. And if a census could be done of the rest of the 270 threatened communities, the results would be even more overwhelming.

The people who have stayed in their communities are “dying of hunger”, surviving on bananas that grow in the jungle. Those who have left, have had to overcome daily difficulties in cities like Waspam, Puerto Cabezas and Bonanza, or in communities with larger populations. Some indigenous have migrated to Costa Rica and Panama, and many to Honduras.

The women are placed as poorly paid domestic workers, and the men have gone out to sea to work in deep diving, fishing lobster and shrimp, states Cunningham. But since they are not accustomed to that work in the high seas, several have drowned.

The tragedy of the indigenous in the face of the invasion of the settlers, who are looking for land for grazing cattle and mono-cropping, precious wood and gold, is profound. Its most visible and brutal face is that of the murders, but there is a deeper complex problem which no authority has wanted to resolve, even though, frequently the names of the invaders are known.

 

Four Days in November

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us here in the United States, which means that we have moved into late November and early Winter.  It’s always a transition time, with the reds and golds of Autumn giving way to dormant brown and, eventually, snow white.  Lots of people don’t care for November here in the upper Midwest of the country, but I love it.  It’s another promise of change and of time moving on, hallmarks of getting out of the “comfort zone,”  and that’s a good place for us to be.  But this month has already presented a series of “moments” for me, three significant days in a row, even before the promise of turkey.

The first day of note was the U.S election.  To my knowledge, and certainly in my experience, there has never been a contest as coarse, demeaning, undignified and as utterly devoid of fact as the election of 2016.  Much has been written about the candidates’ behaviors by others (nearly everyone), but from the perspective of one rather ordinary citizen, I characterize the fiasco as an event which oozed disgrace and lack of civility at every turn.  If this is, in fact, democracy in action, then my own sensitivities suggest that we search for an alternative form of government altogether.

Yet the discouragement and even despair that I felt during this election season is ironically what made the second day of my November journey stand out so brightly.  On the  day following the election, I met with both the Managing Director and the Program Director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.  We convened to meet one another for the first time, to talk about some of the new aspirations for the Forum and to discuss a potential presentation by Winds of Peace at next year’s assembly.  The conversation was a stimulating and hopeful one.

I mean, how could it NOT have been, when elements of the discourse included the names of past laureates, the efforts being made around the world to convene peaceful resolution of conflict. Yes, members of the Tunisian Quartet, the 2015 recipients of the Peace Prize, would be in attendance.  President Obama has been invited, in addition to his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, who is among the faculty at peace and conflict resolution institute in Hawaii.  Congresswoman Gabby Giffords will be in attendance, with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.  And many others, less celebrated and completely anonymous, will be present over those days to talk about their own initiatives and experiences with peace-building.  Against the glow of enthusiasm and commitment of my hosts, a feeling of hope seemed to lift me a bit straighter in my chair.  I walked back to my car with a little more bounce in my step, I think.

On the third day of this sequence, I was to speak to a University of St. Thomas class about the work being done by the Foundation, and how it mirrors, in many ways, the strategies and attitudes brought into play in my former for-profit organization, Foldcraft Co.  I arrived on campus a little early, so I took advantage of the beautiful morning and walked around for a while, taking in the surroundings and feeling the promise that only a university campus can provide.  Quickly I noticed the scores of banners hung around every sidewalk and building, which read, “All for the common good.”  I was struck by the rightness and optimistic promise of that phrase and truly moved to see its presence everywhere.  It was an advent to the class experience to follow.

The presentation went well ( I was told).  The class participants were engaged and curious and full of outward excitement at ideas of organizational wealth-sharing, broad participation and transparency, collaborative work and rewards, and the practice of capitalism without distinction of class, the sanctity of human worth. The questions penetrated the essence of broad ownership and widespread involvement.  The students were intrigued and enthused.  I was pumped and energized.  Together, we had a good time.  After the class period, several students asked for my business card so that we might talk further about the marriage of business and social responsibility.  On this day, I did not notice a bounce in my step as I walked back to the car; I rather had the sense of floating

Within the span of three days, I experienced the lows and the highs that I know are inevitably a part of our human existence.  The outcome to all of it was simply this: I am reminded that the lows are to be found wherever we choose to see them.  There are enough to bring the entirety of mankind to its knees and complete dysfunction.  But just as assuredly, the highs are at least as numerous, and carry the potential to raise us above the mire of surrender.  It’s a matter of where one’s gaze seeks direction.  With heads down, we see the world as a dark place, indeed, and its paths lead to seemingly endless disappointment and loss.  But there is a great deal more to seen with heads up,  absorbing the brighter prospect, allowing us to see and draw strength from the hope that still does surround us.

All of which leads me to the fourth important day of this month, the one during which we are encouraged to be thankful for every blessing of our lives.  What a great idea, gratitude.  What a terrific posture for looking up, noticing the uplift that surrounds us, for acknowledging and embracing it, and for choosing to be the very engine for change, “all for the common good.”

Wow, Happy Thanksgiving, indeed….

 

 

Thanks Giving

As I prepared for the Thanksgiving holiday this week and the arrival of at least some of our children for a short visit, I found myself in an introspective frame of mind and full of gratitude for my life’s blessings.  I suspect it was a reflective moment for many people in the U.S., or at least it’s supposed to be.  It’s good to give thanks for copious amounts of food and leisure time, football games and “Black Fridays.”  Right?

With just a little different perspective, though, we might recall the basis of earlier Thanksgivings and what was celebrated in those times.  The very first one, I have read, was the effort of the earliest immigrants here to celebrate their very survival in those first years, with the Wampanoag Indigenous people, without whose assistance the great migration might have stumbled to a halt.  The first immigrants owed much to the first peoples; but in sharing, they all observed their common thanks to whatever Spirit occupied their hearts.

The first immigrants to this country stood upon the shoulders of Indigenous people who had been here for generations.  The Europeans were sustained by the Indigenous, learned from them, shared their food and means to survive the new environment.  The Native American culture must have seemed other-worldly to the newcomers, but then, the immigrants had deliberately chosen to seek out a new world. 

Those early celebrations contained two distinct components, the thanks and the giving.  They are pieces of our historical fabric that I’m trying hard to remember in these modern times, when the recognition of our needs for interdependence and stewardship often dims in the shadow of consumerism and self-gratification.  For some, shopping has become the new face of gratitude. Thanksgiving Day has become a day of thanks marked by over-consumption of food followed by conspicuous consumption of other “things.”  In response, I’ve tried to eat less and think more about my own giving.

Since the dawn of existence, we have lived on a finite planet.  That simply means that for every gift, every resource, every blessing that I have received, someone else did not receive it.  Wherever I may fall on the human continuum of prosperity, there will be those above me and those below.  I need to be thankful for where I am on that continuum, but I never wish to lose sight of those below.  I need to remember them because I can, in just the same fashion as I have needed and hoped for the support of those above of me.  It’s the way a real Thanksgiving is supposed to work, I think.  In giving, there is an implicit need for my thankfulness: thanks for being in a circumstance where I have the ability to give, for recognizing my capacity to do so, and for the self-reformation that comes in the giving.  It’s a perspective that is strangely comforting to me, and a view for which I am truly thankful.

There is comfort and confidence in the recognition that I am on this journey of life with many others, rather than facing its uncertainties by myself.  And I think that I am not alone in this….