November 24, 1997

From the Editor

FADCANIC has now published in Spanish the speeches and resolutions of the III International Symposium on Autonomy of the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast.

This issue of URACCAN UPDATE carries an English-language translation the opening address to the Symposium given by Dr. Ray Hooker, President of FADCANIC. In our next issue we will carry a translation of the Final Declaration of the Symposium. Later we hope to be able to include translations of documents of some of the commissions of the Symposium. Translations are courtesy of URACCAN UPDATE.

Those interested in obtaining the Spanish-language publication "Discursos y Resoluciones del III Simposio Internacional sobre la Autonomia de la Costa Atlantica de Nicaragua" should contact FADCANIC at: fadca@ibw.com.ni [email address].

Dr. Hooker's opening address to the III Symposium offered a list of important advances for the Autonomy process. To that list, we are sure he would want to add the progress made in developing an autonomous health system that responds to the concerns, needs, and cultural particularities of the peoples of the region. Below we carry a brief report on an important aspect of that work, the formation

of the Regional Health Council of the RAAN [North Atlantic Autonomous Region].



This week is a special one for the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN). On November 27-28 the RAAN Regional Health Council will be launched. The RHC will function as a consultative body to the SILAIS (official health system) in the RAAN.

The RHC's formation is part of the implementation of a new health model for the RAAN developed as an initiative of the Health Commission of the Autonomous Regional Council, URACCAN, and the Official Health System. URACCAN Update reported on this proposal in the October 9, 1997 issue.

In announcing the launching of the RHC, health workers outlined its basic philosophy:

"The state of health of any population is the synthetic expression of a concrete historical moment, of the level reached in the relationship between human beings and nature, and between human beings themselves, with respect to their physical, mental, and social health. It reflects loyally the level of material and spiritual development of a society...

"Changes stemming from the restructuring of health as a goal and factor of human development...are establishing a new framework for organizing and offering health services. As already pointed out by many authors, 'in the communities of the Autonomous Regions there exists a medical practice that in life combines elements of Indigenous medicine with western and with household medicine. Indigenous m

edicine has constituted the main resource for health attention in those communities'. Hence it is clear issues such as equity, sustainable development, autonomy, and community participation require an approach culturally attuned to the Region and its inhabitants."

The RHC will be made up of representatives from over thirty government and public bodies, Indigenous communities, NGOs, church organizations, health workers, churches, union, professional, and business organizations, women's organizations, and the two regional universities (URACCAN and Moravian).

Its functions will include: 1) identifying regional health problems; developing proposals to deal with those problems; considering other health related proposals; budgetary and planning review; to make public statements regarding the health process and illness in the region.

Featured speakers at the inauguration will be Alta Hooker, President of the Health Commission of the Regional Autonomous Council, the Governor of the RAAN, and a representative of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health.

SINS WATLA ULBANKA -- Issue Number II on the streets

Issue Number Two (Oct-Nov-Dec 1997) of Sins Watla Ulbanka [The House Where Knowledge is Written] is now out. Published by the Institute of Traditional Medicine and Community Development, this issue carries articles on:

1. Destruction of natural resources and its impact on medicinal herbs and our health.

2. An interview with a midwife

3. Medicinal uses of manzanilla [chamomile]

4. Hygiene for kids less than five years old

5. Medicinal use of cashew

6. Workshops on the proposed health model


Sins Watla Ulbanka is edited in Spanish by Alta Hooker.


"Communicating for Democracy - Democratizing Communication"

ALAI [Agencia Latinoamericana de Informacion--Latin American Information Agency] has forwarded us an announcement of an international forum on Communication to take place next year (September 9 - 11, 1988) in San Salvador, El Salvador.

The Forum will be "a meeting point for diverse social elements to come up with proposals and actions in favor of the Right to Communication and to strengthen initiatives and movements dedicated to the democratization of Communication.

For further information you may contact:
ALAI: Casilla 17-12-877, Quito, Ecuador
Tele: 593 2505074 Fax 593 250 5073
Email: info@alai.ecuanex.net.ec

III International Symposium on the Autonomy of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua

Managua, October 12-15, 1997


Honorable members of the Presiding Commission

Sisters and Brothers

Throughout our history two historical experiences and two juridical orders stand out not only for the extreme contrast between them but also because they are mutually contradictory. One unfolded in the Pacific Region of Nicaragua where Spaniards exterminated established indigenous cultures. The population of more than one million in 1502 dropped to less that 50,000 inhabitants by 1555. The indi

genous peoples of the Pacific lost their culture and suffered forced assimilation into the dominant Spanish culture.

History was different in the Atlantic Region. Here the peoples of the Atlantic waged a struggle of ongoing resistance to maintain their own identity and way of life. To increase their chances of survival against the Spanish danger the Atlantic indigenous peoples, who were never conquered by force of arms during the colonial period, formed alliances, first with pirates and later with the English.

Because of this alliance, Spain was never able to extend its sovereignty over the Atlantic region - some 50% of the territory of Nicaragua. England establish a Protectorate in this region that lasted until 1894.

Against its wishes Africa also came to form a part of this conflictive setting. Some Africans were brought here as slaves by the English; others arrived as free men and women. It has been historically confirmed that on three occasions Africans took over the boats used to transport them as slaves to plantations in the Americas and took refuge in our Atlantic forests. At first they came up agains

t Indigenous inhabitants of the region, but after an initial period of conflict both the Africans and the Indigenous peoples realized that their real enemies were the Spaniards and that they would have better chances of survival if they united.

This alliance between Indigenous and African peoples, first with pirates and later with the English, is one of the means used by these people to preserve intact basic aspects of their culture to this day - their languages, forms of social organization, traditions, and communal properties.

In 1894 the government of Nicaragua headed by President Zelaya conquered the Atlantic Coast region with support from US armed forces. They divided up the lands and forest and mineral resources among the foreign North American companies and the governing class of the time. All this came together with a process of cultural assimilation or integrationism that one government after another tried to i

mpose. In this way the inhabitants of the Coast ceased to be owners of their own destiny and became second-class citizens.

The Sandinista revolution overthrew Somoza's dictatorial government in 1979 and conquered political power both in the Pacific and the Atlantic regions. In its first years the Sandinista government tried to solve the problems of the Atlantic through an economic and social development model that was unsuccessful for a number of reasons. Among them we should emphasize efforts by the government of t

he United States to destroy the Sandinista government and also errors committed by the Sandinistas themselves.

Military conflict aimed at destroying the Sandinista government began in 1980. The Atlantic region was converted into a zone of armed conflict in which none of the protagonists exercised control over the region. By the end of 1983 the Sandinista government only controlled the physical space of the cities of Bluefields and Puerto Cabezas.

Because of its revolutionary principles and in order to achieve the pacification of 50% of Nicaraguan territory, the Sandinista government decided towards the end of 1984 to back an Autonomy process on the Atlantic Coast. The government recognized that Indigenous peoples and communities should have more political, economic, cultural, and social power. Thus, with the approval of the new 1986 Cons

titution, entire Articles and Chapters were included that recognized those rights for the peoples of the Atlantic Coast. The Statute on Autonomy of the Atlantic Coast was approved in 1987 based on those rights. In 1990 the first autonomous authorities were elected on the Atlantic Coast. New regional elections were held in 1994 to renew the autonomous authorities.

At this point it is important to try to define Autonomy.

Let's begin by identifying what is NOT Autonomy.

Autonomy is not a movement for independence; it is not a separatist endeavor. We Costenos are committed to consolidating the National Unity of Nicaragua through strengthening Indigenous peoples and ethnic communities of the Nicaraguan Caribbean area, just as we are committed to Central American reunification and Latin American unity. But it should also be understood that Nicaragua is a Caribbean

nation; and that our Caribbean heritage is just as precious to us as the common cultural ties that unite us with other Central and Latin American nations. Since 1894 Nicaragua has tried to build a wall to deny us contact with our Caribbean brothers and sisters. The Berlin Wall was knocked down in 1989 The days of walls have ended. Like it or not, we are now in the globalization process. Now

we must become builders of bridges that unite Central and Latin America. We must become bridges of understanding to unite the great Caribbean family. Fear of separatism and fear of cultural extermination are deeply entrenched in the collective conscience of the Pacific and Atlantic Coast peoples. But we cannot allow our lives to be run by fear. When fear takes over the Goddess of Justice and Wi

or ourselves but also for our children and for their children.

Autonomy is not integration. Why is integration not Autonomy? Because all processes of integrating peoples have meant that one people and one culture is devoured by the other; that one people and one culture is forcibly assimilated by the other. One culture assassinates the other. Cain and Abel's Biblical story repeats itself. Assassination becomes a legitimate means to establish differences b

etween peoples. It is often glorified in peoples' songs and legends. Autonomy must definitely not become a melting pot.

So then, what is Autonomy?

Autonomy is a process for building a new national identity nourished by cultural diversity. Autonomy is a tool that the peoples of the Pacific and the Atlantic must use to build a better Nicaragua, a united Nicaragua, a Nicaragua in which the principle of democracy is the fundamental guide for political, economic, and social conduct. Autonomy is the instrument that all the peoples of this land o

f lakes, volcanoes, and tropical humid forests must use to build the strong and creative multiethnic identity stipulated in the Constitution, both the old and the reformed of 1995. Autonomy is a cohesive process that builds unity in diversity. I re-iterate: Autonomy is a transformation process that infuses cultural diversity with increased capacity to nourish and continuously strengthen national


Autonomy is a process of national liberation, of national reconciliation. The divine sparks trapped in each alienated Costeno, in each demeaned Nicaraguan, must be re-animated and redeemed through a successful autonomous process. Our moral imperative is to build a better Atlantic Coast, to build a better Nicaragua.

Autonomy is the instrument that enables endangered cultures of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua to overcome the destructive forces that threaten to convert our culture into museum pieces. Autonomy is an instrument for cultural survival and national cohesion.

Autonomy is also a process of cultural, racial, and genetic reconciliation. For many years we have undervalued our Indigenous and African heritage while overvaluing the European contribution to what we are. We have lived this falsity for many centuries, damaging our self-esteem; converting it into a destructive, pathological process instead of a creative and constructive one. In place of a stro

ng, creative, and united Nicaragua, we have built a nation divided by confrontation and intolerance. We can do much better. We must do better. Either that, or we will be swallowed in a globalization process.

The Economist -- one of the most influential magazines in the business and political world in Great Britain -- pointed out in its last issue in September, 1997 that autonomy processes are not leading to separatism, but rather help to maintain the cohesion and unity of national states. In Great Britain the national government is working to back autonomy in Scotland and Wales. The same process is

occurring in Spain and Germany. On the other hand, Turkey's refusal to grant real autonomy to the Kurdish people has led to at least six times as many Kurdish and Turkish people killed as in the Basque and Irish conflicts taken together.

In the framework of the new world order of neoliberalism and globalization, confrontation has sharpened since 1990 between central governments and Indigenous peoples struggling to survive. According to the ILO, the world's Indigenous populations (300 million people) live in zones that contain 60% of the planet's natural resources. Most of Nicaragua's natural resources are located in the territo

ries of its Indigenous peoples. The new market economy threatens communities with the destruction of the material basis of their identity -- their natural resources, their biodiversity, and their environment.

The new order aims to transform the world into one marketplace. Transnational interests have a lot of influence over governments, political parties, and regional alliances. In some regions of the planet they have destroyed peoples and cultures, but that doesn't have to happen here.

But for that reason we Costenos have to make a profound and transparent evaluation of Autonomy following six years of functioning of our Regional Autonomous Governments. We have to identify the successes and the failures of the process and to design a short, medium, and long term plan for defending and streamlining Autonomy. We need to learn from the autonomous processes of peoples in other plac

es of the world and to share with our brothers and sisters of those countries the difficult lessons we have learned through all these years of struggle.

What are some of the successes and failures of the Nicaraguan Autonomy process?

The peoples of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua have an autonomous regime that recognizes special political, economic, social, and cultural rights. Although the citizens of this region continue to be denied the full exercise of those rights, there have been some advances. It is necessary to emphasize them, because at times, pressured by the desire to realize our utopia immediately, we have a ten

dency to stress the negative and to underestimate the positive. Here are, for example, some of the goals attained.

+ Functioning Autonomous Governments in the RAAN and the RAAS since May 1990.

+ Regional Council elections in May 1994.

+ Approval in June 1994 of a proposal to Regulate the Autonomy Law by both Regional Councils. The proposal was presented to the (central) government on that same date for its ratification and implementation.

+ Creation and functioning since 1991 of the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua (URACCAN) and in 1992 of the Bluefields Indian Caribbean University (BICU).

+ Functioning and strengthening of the Intercultural Bilingual Education Program (PEBI) in the RAAN and the RAAS thanks to support from NGOs and the RAAS Regional government since 1995.

+ The work of FADCANIC and other organizations of civil society in search of solutions to the problems of the Atlantic Coast region.

+ National Assembly approval in June 1993 of the Official Languages Law for the communities of the Atlantic Coast.

+ National Assembly approval in July, 1995 of the Constitutional Reforms in which it is stipulated that concessions involving Atlantic Coast natural resources must be approved by the Regional Councils of the Autonomous Regions.

+ Constitutional reform of the Electoral Law that for the first time since 1894 empowers the peoples of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua to legally organize regional political parties committed to give first priority to the vital interests of Costenos.

+ Participation of leaders of almost all political parties and many organizations of civil society of the Pacific, working hand-in-hand with Costeno women and men to assure that this Symposium be a transcendental national experience.

+ Recent polls carried out in the autonomous regions show that the sentiment of Nicaraguan national identity has increased together with the strengthening of the identities of each of the peoples and communities of the Nicaraguan Caribbean. This shows that in Nicaragua the Autonomy process, far from dividing and atomizing us, gives coherence to national entities.

However, there are also difficulties that restrict the advance of the Autonomy Process. The main ones are:

- The ambiguity of the Autonomy Law and its systematic disregard by authorities of the central government and at times of the regional structures themselves.

- Improper use of funds by public officials both at the central and the regional level .

- Lack of investment by the central government in the Atlantic Coast.

- Grinding poverty of the population.

- Lack of technically skilled human resources to manage efficiently the natural resources and institutions of the Atlantic Coast.

- Lack of unity among Costenos that undermines their ability to successfully defend their vital interests.

- Lack of communication among Costenos due to a multiplicity of structural problems such as lack of good communication media and roads, and also linguistic and cultural barriers.

- Massive and ongoing migration of young men and women from the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast because of lack of work. This will have a medium and long term impact because the most talented are abandoning the region. The Caribbean Coast is losing their talents, accumulated experience, and their full understanding and identification with the region.

- Costenos have still not been able to build strong political organizations firmly committed to defending the vital interests of the Atlantic Coast.

- Costenos have still not been able to establish enough economic and business institutions to guarantee that a major part of the wealth generated in the region stays there.

- The incessant advance of the agricultural frontier and consequent devastation of forests.

- All those obstacles have restricted full community participation and the protagonistic role that all we Costenos must play in the autonomy process.

This complex and contradictory reality is what we want to examine in this III International Symposium on the Autonomy of the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast. Based on that analysis we can build together alternatives that strengthen democracy; consolidate national unity; deepen respect for the rich ethnic diversity in our history and for our dignity; and help to attain human and sustainable development

that in the end will strengthen the Autonomy Process of the Nicaraguan Atlantic Coast.

Welcome sisters and brothers of the Nicaraguan Pacific and Atlantic Coast and those who come from far away countries. Let's resolve to achieve this goal together. Ladies and Gentlemen, I declare officially inaugurated the III International Symposium on the Autonomy of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.