I wrote a reflection here in May, 2007 about a circumstance facing the Indigenous People of Telpaneca, and how they had been forced to fight the same battle against the municipal and state government with regard to illegal squatters on their land. One of the actions that had been taken in those days was the construction of several green outhouses on the farm properties, so that the municipal government could claim that the squatters had “improved” the farms and thus had a right to remain. It seemed a ludicrous argument then and is even moreso now.
The Indigenous have continued to press their claims and rights through every legal means required of them, despite still more of the odious outhouses popping up on the lands as seen here. (I took this photo from nearly the same spot as in my May 07 entry.) Their most recent stop was before the Nicaragua Supreme Court just last Friday, as the President of the Indigenous, Jose Benito Basilio, presented a deposition on behalf of his people. The court will consider the arguments of both sides before rendering its decision within the next months.
This is an important case, not just for Tepaneca, not just for Indigenous people, not even just for Nicaragua. It’s a case of basic land rights which, if it fails at the Supreme Court level, will almost certainly be taken to the Inter-American Court of Justice for a hearing there. At its root is the question of how to come to terms with the fundamental conflict between Indigenous patrimony and nationalistic authority. When Indigenous people exert their ownership of land through titles acquired long before nation-states existed, whose claims to ownership shall prevail?
The question is one which neither the Niacraguan nor other Inter-American Court governments may wish to defer to an outside court, because the ramifications are far-reaching. But the Indigenous of Telpaneca have courageously and persistently fought for their lands despite artificial obstacles raised at every turn. They have not swerved or hesitated in their quest for justice. They have mobilized their members (1500 in a rally in Telpaneca just 2 weeks ago, without the support of any other Indigenous groups). Their case is sound and backed by the evidence. They give meaning to the Margaret Mead observation: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We will watch the proceedings with great interest and hope….