The Ortega regime recently decided to cancel the legal status of the Yatama Party, days after arresting Brooklyn Rivera and Elizabeth Henriquez, its two principal leaders. This decision represents what the FSLN sees as a preventive action to neutralize that political organization. In my view, however, the decision is a mistake.
Why did they do it?
It’s important to consider that Yatama was part of the alliance called Unida Nicaragua Triunfa “United Nicaragua Triumphs”], a group the FSLN spearheaded in 2006. Part of that alliance involved policy agreements, among them a commitment on the part of the FSLN to move forward with the process of land titles and the restructuring of the indigenous and Afro-descendent territories, a historic demand of the social movement that Yatama led. However, Yatama ended up abandoning that alliance in 2014, due to the FSLN’s lack of compliance with the agreements.
In 2018, Yatama was in the opposition camp nationally, although it didn’t necessarily share the agenda of the other opposition organizations of that time. We should recall that in May 2021, Brooklyn Rivera supported the election of Lumberto Campbell as a Magistrate on Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council, which caused Yatama to be expelled from the [opposition] National Coalition. At the time, some thought that Yatama had negotiated an agreement with the FSLN, but it wasn’t’ so. In reality, it was an act of political survival that had repercussions within and outside of the organization. The consequences included the resignation of George Henriquez – then an aspiring presidential candidate – from the Yatama Party’s Political Directorate.
Yatama is the only organization with the political capacity to challenge the FSLN for votes on the Atlantic Coast. Despite having abandoned the alliance with the FSLN in 2014, and the expulsion of Brooklyn Rivera from the National Assembly in 2015, Yatama succeeded in confirming its support among the Miskito people. Rivera was reelected as an independent deputy in 2021, while in the 2019 regional elections – despite the complaints of electoral fraud – the Yatama party received enough votes to elect 14 council members to both of the Regional Autonomous Councils. Likewise, back in 2005, Yatama received a favorable sentence from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, whose judges ruled that the Nicaraguan government had violated its candidates’ rights to political participation as outlined in the American Human Rights Convention, by blocking them from participating in the 2000 municipal elections.
The illegal and repressive preventive action of the FSLN to dissolve Yatama is also in reprisal for the actions of its principal leaders and vast network of collaborators within and outside the country. The Yatama leaders have continued making use of the international supports for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and they’ve utilized the global spaces and forums to denounce the abuses of the Ortega regime against the indigenous communities, abuses that have included direct violence, forced displacements and death threats against the local authorities and natural leaders. Within this perspective, the Ortega regime’s refusal to allow Anexa Alfred [Miskitu indigenous leader] to return to the country, its persecution of George Henriquez, and the recent arbitrary detentions of Brooklyn Rivera and Elizabeth Hernandez have been no coincidence.
The attack against Yatama comes in anticipation of the regional elections, scheduled for March 2024. With this strategy, the FSLN continues moving forward with their hegemonic vision of a centralized single-party system. It’s an action consistent with the regime’s radicalization, in the face of international condemnation, and sends an intimidating message to the few regional parties that have as yet survived the prolonged attack against local political organizations and the existence of diverse parties – an attack that began when the FSLN and the PLC [Liberal Constitutionalist Party] signed a pact in 1999.
In addition, with the cancellation of Yatama, the government is reaching beyond the organization itself and sending an intimidating message to other Atlantic Coast activist organizations that defend human rights, as well as to the local authorities who are not aligned with the Party, and to the community leaders who continue denouncing the pernicious effects of the “green-financed” projects. The latter refers to projects that have granted the regime abundant resources, such as the “Bio-Climate” Project for which the UN Green Climate Fund approved US $116 million dollars in 2020. The first outlays of this fund, however, are currently suspended until the government realizes “good-faith” consultations and obtains the consent of the communities within the project area. Going back to “remediate” a consultation that didn’t initially meet the standards defined by the Green Fund with respect to the preliminary, free and informed consent of the Indigenous Peoples has been an embarrassment for the government.
With the repressive actions against Yatama, the Ortega government is going after the civic organizations and Atlantic Coast authorities who filed an anonymous complaint, for fear of reprisals, with the Green Fund’s Independent Redress Mechanism. This complaint generated a thorough independent investigation that substantiated serious lapses in the project’s consultation process. In that way, the mechanisms of the United Nations System for green financing and human rights protections were opportunely alerted. Today, these mechanisms are demanding that the regime respect the commitments and standards with respect to the protection, safeguards, and previous consent, all principles that are enshrined in the international standards of law for Indigenous Peoples.
The FSLN is once again making a historic error by seeing the struggle of the Indigenous Peoples of the Caribbean Coast as an opposition struggle. That’s not necessarily so – the struggle for land, life and autonomy has been a historic demand of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples towards the Nicaraguan government. The 2018 crisis made this struggle more evident, but the contradictions had been accumulating for a long time. The FSLN’s biased preconception is that the proposals of the Atlantic Regions line up with the clamor of the opposition. Because of that, they’ve opted for a preventive solution of force and repression, exactly as they’ve done in the rest of the country. This, however, is inaccurate.
The political crisis the regime confronts has led to a false solution that the FSLN has tried in the past, when they accused the indigenous resistance that challenged the Sandinista Revolution of being “counter-revolutionaries.” Today, they’re accusing the leaders of the most important indigenous movement on the Caribbean Coast over the last four decades – a movement with whom they had agreed to an alliance – of being “traitors to the homeland.” That same mistake that in the 80s had an enormous political cost, and above all brought deaths and great suffering to the families of Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast Regions, is today being replicated by the FSLN.
Current scenario differs from the 80s
In contrast to the eighties, today’s FSLN utilizes an intermediate political class, a regional elite that’s been empowered by the regime. This class has contributed to a narrative that there’s maximum autonomy on the Atlantic Regions and things are good. An elite of this type didn’t exist during the eighties. For a number of years, the FSLN was a solitary but bellicose voice with a nationalist revolutionary vision that clashed with the local political identities, who responded to it with belligerence.
Today that has changed. The FSLN has appointed natives of the Atlantic Regions to high and intermediate circles of power and these functionaries do the work of formulating their own truths and disseminating them internationally. It’s a highly consolidated group that has taken on the task of harassing and intimidating the local activists that denounce the violations of the Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples’ rights. What’s more important yet, is that they’ve taken on the job of legitimizing internationally the regime’s repressive actions. This is a well-organized elite with broad access and experience in influencing international spaces, including the agencies of the United Nations.
The FSLN has replaced the legitimate local authorities
In addition to that political elite, the FSLN has also expanded its networks of power to the level of the territorial authorities – manipulating the mechanisms for local elections or imposing political authorities that are allied with them. However, not all the territorial authorities – the case of the Mayangna peoples in the Bosawas biological reserve is a good example – have submitted to this supplanting of their legitimate authorities. On the contrary, they’ve been denouncing the practices that are detrimental to the community autonomy, the threats to their leaders, and the abuses of the FSLN political operators.
The regime’s actions against Yatama announce the rules of the game that the regime is going to impose in the 2024 regional elections. A flat road, where their own voice will reign as nearly the only majority option. Where the defenders of the land, and the community leaders and authorities understand the political cost of self-organizing and making public denunciations; and above all a state of affairs where the FSLN can consolidate its hegemonic vision and increase the power of its local elite.