Dispute Over Indigenous Miskito Lands, Nicaragua

Indigenous communities all over Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast say they are under attack by settlers who have taken over their ancestral lands. At least 30 Miskitos have been killed in this conflict.


As part of the negotiations after many years of internal conflict, in 1987 the Nicaraguan government created the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic (RAA-North and RAA-South) and conferred its management to the indigenous Miskito and other ethnic communities. These lands are protected under the Law 445 which recognizes the "indigenous communal property" and established these lands as non-derogable, inalienable, non-attachable and tax exempt (Art. 3 "Las tierras comunales no se pueden gravar y son inembargables, inalienables e imprescriptibles"). The Political Constitution of Nicaragua establishes that these indigenous lands cannot be sold, bought or exchanged. However, illegal land trafficking is threatened Miskito´s livelihoods since the last decade. The increase of settlers or "colonos" in the area has provoked land disputes. Settlers are made up by small peasants but also by large farmers willing to expand their businesses, wood smugglers and ranchers. The land conflict has reached high levels of violence: fire attacks on indigenous communities, kidnappings, tortures, and murders are some of the violent acts denounced by Miskito. They blame the attacks on "settlers" who are occupying their ancestral territories -sometimes- with the support of the local government authorities. According to an in-depth report (1) both officials from the official party Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) and Yatama political party are part of the illegal land sales. In 2015 settlers attacked with fire the Polo Paiwa community. The inhabitants ran away to other near communities. Due to the violence and displacements, indigenous groups have crossed the borderline looking for refuge in Honduras. According to a Center for Justice and Human Rights (Centro por la Justicia y Derechos Humanos de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua- CEJUDHCAN) the land conflict has left 3,000 displaced people and at least 32 Miskitos have been killed. Misko´s claim for the Tasba Pri which means "Free Land" to continue their ancestral activities such as agriculture, fishing, and artisanal mining. For Miskitos, these events hark back to another time, when they battled the leftist Sandinista government in a quest to keep their land in the civil war in the 1980´s. 

Basic Data
NameDispute Over Indigenous Miskito Lands, Nicaragua
ProvinceRegión Autónoma del Atlántico Norte (RAAN)
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Deforestation
Land acquisition conflicts
Logging and non timber extraction
Specific CommoditiesLand
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe Miskito is the largest indigenous group on the Caribbean coast (up to 300,000 Miskito).
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population300,000
Relevant government actorsMinisterio de Recursos Naturales (MARENA); Policía Nacional
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersEjos: Asamblea Territorial y Comunal.;

Supporters: Centro por la Justicia y Derechos Humanos de la Costa Atlántica de Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN),
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingArtisanal miners
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
National Ejos
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationInvolvement of national and international NGOs
Property damage/arson
Threats to use arms
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Health ImpactsPotential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..)
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Criminalization of activists
Violent targeting of activists
1) Trespassed the existing law 2) Kidnapping 3) At least 30 Miskitos have been killed.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Violence is rising and the Nicaraguan government has not done enough to settle this land conflict.
Sources and Materials

Régimen de Propiedad Comunal de los Pueblos Indígenas y Comunidades Étnicas de las Regiones Autónomas de la Costa Atlántica y de los Ríos, Bocay, Coco, Indio y Maíz (Ley 445)
[click to view]


El éxodo de los miskitos
[click to view]

El infierno de los miskitos
[click to view]

Nicaragua Dispute Over Indigenous Land Erupts in Wave of Killings
[click to view]

(1) Corrupción y muerte en territorio miskito
[click to view]

La guerra oculta de Nicaragua
[click to view]

Media Links

Reportaje Especial: Corrupción y muerte en territorio miskito
[click to view]

Other Documents

Hundreds of indigenous people flee to Honduras because of violence Source: Carlos Herrera/Confidencial
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorENVJustice Project
Last update03/08/2017