Accepted paper:

Loosing the land, again. Indigenous rights without impact in post-colonial Nicaragua


Katja Seidel (Maynooth University)

Paper short abstract:

Land-demarcations and an autonomy statute protect indigenous and ethnic land rights in Nicaragua's Autonomous Region. However, a transoceanic Canal now threatens their territories, evoke conflicts, lawsuits and resistance, and demonstrate the continuity of indigenous struggles since colonial times.

Paper long abstract:

In 2013, Nicaragua's President Ortega signed a contract with the Chinese based construction firm HKND (Hongkong Nicaragua Development) to build the Gran Canal Interoceanico. The canal aims to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean with a 275 km long maritime waterway, half of which on indigenous territories. The state sanctioned mobility project ignores autonomy regulations of the Atlantic Regions, such as the obligation to consult with concerned indigenous and ethnic populations, or land ownership and cultural wellbeing officially secured by land-demarcations in the early 2000s. While these legal regulations had brought back tentative trust to the largely divided country, conflicts are now resurfacing as tens of thousands are faced with resettlement plans and environmental destruction. Three years after construction was officially inaugurated, the Canal project has (apparently) been abandoned. However, during the past five years of anticipating the realization of a century-old 'dream', indigenous activists and lawyers marched the streets and legally defended their land. This paper demonstrates postcolonial continuities of injustice experienced by indigenous populations seeking their rights to land and self-determination. Although international law and human rights regimes increasingly provide protection, international investment treaties and state power put populations in Nicaragua at risk. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, historical documents and contemporary lawsuits I argue that, while the infrastructure project seeks to turn a remote country into a space of global economic concern, indigenous groups are again obliged to resist historical continuities of injustice and marginalisation demonstrated in the gap between rights and the practical implementation of these rights.

panel P065
(Post-)colonial settling and native staying: indigeneity and land rights in the Americas [law net]