Journalist and documentary filmmaker Camilo de Castro Belli spent over seven years filming in the Indio Maiz Biosphere Reserve. The product of his work, a feature length documentary, presents the struggle of the indigenous communities to protect the reserve and its natural resources from the advance of illegal ranching, with the government’s complicity. The film, titled “Patrol”, premiered May 26 at the MountainFilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado.
In an interview with Esta Noche and Confidencial, de Castro recounted how, in 2016, they began filming a group of rangers who were patrolling the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve. These forest rangers are now the protagonists of his documentary, which tells the story of the Rama and Kriol people’s fight to defend their territory from the illegal invasion of settlers and ranchers. The indigenous people confront a situation in which the Government does not respond adequately to the evidence and complaints of forest degradation and the expansion of illegal activities within their territory.
Although there are many ranchers – large, medium, and small – illegally using the reserve, the documentary investigates one of the large ones, José Solís Duron. Originally based in Nueva Guinea, Duran entered the reserve several years ago, expanding his operations with total impunity. Now, in addition to raising cattle, he sells land.
His case isn’t the only one, de Castro noted, citing “other documented cases of very large ranchers who are entering the reserve. They indiscriminately clear-cut the land to establish their pastures. De Castro wondered out loud why the Government, knowing those farms are there, does nothing to enforce the law and protect the water, forest and biodiversity reserve?
“Don’t buy Nicaraguan beef”
Knowing it’s impossible to press for a solution to the problem from within Nicaragua, the journalist intends to take advantage of the repercussions from his film to denounce the complicity of the Nicaraguan government with these illegal ranchers, who cause “enormous damage to a reserve that is the patrimony of all Nicaraguans.”
Given that it’s equally impossible to include private sector organizations in the effort to find a solution, since they’ve been outlawed by the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo, they’re planning “a campaign to impact the companies that are buying Nicaraguan meat. If there’s no will to sit down and seek solutions, we have to exert pressure; and the only way we have of exerting pressure right now is through the companies that buy meat from Nicaragua.”
De Castro’s proposal is “to make them see that buying meat from Nicaragua in the country’s current context risks people’s right to live their lives, and that it’s important to seek solutions to these problems for the good of the country (…) of the indigenous peoples, and of the planet.”
Beef is one of Nicaragua’s principal export products. In 2022, the country exported nearly 685 million dollars worth of beef, principally to the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Panama and Taiwan, according to data from the Center for Export Procedures.
Illegal ranching puts the country’s food security at risk, as well as the health of Nicaraguans and the country’s viability, De Catro asserted. He invited Nicaraguans to abandon “the short-term mentality that seeks only to increase exports each year. Instead, we should think about what can be done to grow sustainably,” without continuing to mortgage the future of Nicaragua’s youth. “I’m speaking strictly about food production and how it relates to the conservation of the forested areas we still have in the country,” he stressed.
Protect the last forests in Nicaragua
The filmmaker clarified that it’s not a mater of practicing conservation per se, because “we know there are a ton of people who depend on ranching for their sustenance every day.” He emphasized that it’s not their intention to harm those who are doing things right, and who work where these activities are lawful. However, they’re against the ranchers who “carry out these activities illegally, fully aware that they’re within the protected areas.”
In describing the situation in the communities, he stated: “it’s dramatic, because they’re surrounded and harassed by land colonists.” The same thing happens in the Bosawas reserve, where they can’t go to work their plots of land and are constantly under threat. “That keeps them from being able to maintain their way of life, so their children can live peaceful lives and grow up in a healthy environment,” de Castro indicated.
Other problems they must confront is water pollution from the use of pesticides; the overexploitation of marine life; and excessive hunting, all of which affect the food security of the indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants. “The Rama and Kriol people are making a tremendous effort to save the last remnants of forest left to them, because in the north their territory has already been swept away. So, Indio Maiz is the last remaining area of their ancestral lands,” he explained.
For the moment, the film will only be presented in festivals. However, they plan to project it in Guatemala, Honduras and Costa Rica, and later put in online so that Nicaraguans can see it. Meanwhile, more information can be found in English at: patrolmovie.com.