Since the announcement of the first COVID-19 case in Nicaragua on March 18, nearly 20 communities, mainly indigenous and Afro-descendant, have declared themselves in self-quarantine or confinement. The inability of state institutions and the government's unwillingness to take action to control the spread and effects of the pandemic in the country, add to the conditions of social exclusion and inequality that already existed in these populations.
These acts of self-protection once again highlight the historical reality of abandonment experienced by Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities throughout the country. The State, its institutions, and even the private sector not only abandon these communities, but they are also the originators of most of their vulnerabilities.
The country's indigenous and Afro-descendant communities consistently denounce that they do not have direct voices in political and decision-making spaces, making them null and void in the face of the actions being taken, or should betaken, in the context of the pandemic of the new coronavirus or in the face of any other local or national crisis.
"You still hear the gunshots and people haven't forgotten their dead, although now there are new victims. They are victims of the virus and dictatorship," says Mauricio, a 24-year-old who self-identifies as Ocanxiu indigenous and who lives in the hard-hit neighborhood of Sutiaba, León. "The Government is more interested in repressing the most vulnerable and shutting up dissenting voices. In Sutiaba, and I am sure in other neighborhoods and communities, neither the MINSA - Ministry of Health - nor any other institution has ever arrived to collect information or at least to speak about the virus that is killing us," added the young man, who has been renamed to protect his identity due to the escalation of violence and siege against former political prisoners and other individuals not related with the government across the country.
In the context of the pandemic, with great courage and effort, several independent media outlets in the country portrayed how indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, mainly from the Caribbean Coast, confront the new coronavirus and other life-threatening conditions that impact the elderly people of many families alone and without basic resources. In the Pacific region of the country, the story is no less dramatic or painful.
"I was afraid to arrive at the Osman Rios -Health Post in Sutiaba - because I didn't know if I was going to leave sicker if I was going to be withhold a lot of time because of the confinement," says a merchant living in the Sutiaba neighborhood and working in a popular area of León, a municipality that has already reports more than 130 suspicious deaths by Covid-19 according to data from the Covid-19 Citizen Observatory in Nicaragua, which has served as an alternative to documenting the impact of the pandemic and is a reference for the World Health Organization (WHO).
Enrique Beteta, an official at MINSA, said that at the at the end of 2019 more than 5,200 citizens had been cared for at that health center in Sutiaba. When attempting to obtain information on the number of cases and persons attended for Covid-19 at that medical center, local workers simply told the Conyuntura team that "that information can be obtained from the Ministry [of Health]".
Mauricio claims that at the end of July the virus was spreading in a zone of the city with many street food establishments. "In my house we have been taking care of ourselves since before the firstcase because we knew that the government would do nothing. Since I am the stubborn one in the family, I went to lunch with a friend because I was tired of being locked up, and five days later it turns out I lose my senses of smell and taste. I isolated myself in my room and there I became ill," said the young man, who also said that in hospitals they work with "stealth, but not professional".
"I arrived because I was so sick. Hardly anyone dares to go to the hospitals, but I did it because I was so afraid. At HEODRA -Hospital Escuela Oscar Danilo Rosales Argoello - it's all silence and fear. Three days after my consultation I received a call from MINSA and was only asked 'how I feel'," Mauritius added.
Conyuntura requested information from the HEODRA medical team on the number of cases, the conditions of people still in the Covid-19 unit, and the aggregated data on the indigenous population served during the pandemic. Once again we were redirected to MINSA.
The situation in Sébaco, Matagalpa, home to many indigenous families in the center of the country, is similar to that of Sutiaba. "We have been told—by MINSA and the mayor’s office—that we must keep this information—on covid-19 contagions—exclusively within the administration. The workers themselves are afraid of being fired and in the city's health posts no data are shared on anything," says Maria, a private clinic worker in the municipality, who called for anonymity for fear of losing her job.
"Here we have received a few cases of indigenous people, most of them 40 years or older, who had to come by their own means," says Maria, demonstrating the inaction on the part of local and national authorities to the protect the country's most vulnerablt community. The Citizen Observatory reports to date 13 deaths from the new coronavirus in the municipality of Sébaco.
More than 100 KM from Sébaco is the indigenous neighborhood of Monimbó, Masaya, a place the feels frozen in time. Tourism has declined almost entirely, crime is increasing and the virus seems to spread without stopping. Meanwhile, the official media highlights "the advances of the Nicaraguan Autonomy Process, emphasizing the government's actions to confront Covid-19 through the Family and Community Health Model", even though Ortega has yet to implement any extraordinary measures to protect that particular population or the country at large. Masaya, a bastion of the Sandanista revolution, home to an indigenous community and one of the civic centers of the so-called "April rebellion,” counts 158 deaths and more than 600 cases of Covid-19, according to data from the Citizen Observatory.
The efforts of the country's indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to survive and confront the various crises throughout their histories has been a lonely journey. National and international agencies, including the Oakland Institute, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), among others, documented a cruder, unequal, and violent reality in recent years.
One of the main streets of the indigenous neighborhood of Monimbó in Masaya
Photo of Coyuntura by Jairo Videa
The Oakland Institute published a report in early August of this year entitled "Nicaragua: A Failed Revolution: The Indigenous Struggle for Sanitation", which documented the new threats covid-19 has brought to indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants of the country, and how the Government "encourages the colonization of its territories", mainly on the Caribbean Coast, in the midst of the pandemic.
"Since January 2020, ten people from the Mayangna and Miskitu communities in the North Caribbean Coast Autonomous Region (RACCN) have been killed, bringing the total number of murders since 2011 to 46. Dozens of people have been injured, abducted, and disappeared, and thousands displaced due to land invasions. Nicaraguan state functionaries are complicit in the illegal sale of land and in the police, repression perpetrated by the state against communities that resist dispossession," states the Oakland Institute report.
Hunger and poverty; the lack of drinking water, food, medicines and medical personnel; unpunished violence from settlers; forced displacement; deforestation and the advancement of the agricultural frontier; lack of decent jobs; violence against women and children; drug trafficking; natural disasters; repression by the National Police and paramilitary groups. The list of ills for indigenous and Afro-descendant communities seems to be without end.
On the Caribbean Coast, home to countless indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, the State's investment in the local population seems to "vanish into the air," according to allegations of community leaders consulted by Coyuntura.
The Government, settlers, and the armed forces of the State are the main culprits in the face of increased killings against indigenous leaders and settlers in the Caribbean area. "Settlers and indigenous people are pieces of perverse game of chess between local and extra-regional power groups. We found scenes of this battle in Bosawás. For those in power there are no 'good' or 'bad', there are only useful or useless according to your conjunctural interests," says a September 2016 publication of Revista Envío.
The repression and abandonment of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities on the Caribbean Coast is most evident with the pandemic. Although Ortega and his officials have denied the impact that Covid-19 has had on the country, the Autonomous Regions suffer the reality of the destructive force of this silent virus, which does not stop its advance and hits the most vulnerable particularly strongly.
To date, the Citizen Observatory records 190 cases and 91 deaths in the Autonomous Region of the North Caribbean Coast, while in the Autonomous Region of the Southern Caribbean Coast reports 243 cases and 69 deaths by Covid-19.
Women in Kakabali, south Caribbean Coast
Photo of Flickr by Fernweh Reise
In the context of the pandemic, the state's inaction has prevented the accurate documentation of the impact of covid-19 in the most vulnerable areas of the country, including Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities. President Ortega, for his part, called the pandemic a divine sign (sent by God himself) and assured that "transnational forces that only want to take control of the planet" are "a sin."
Faced with these statements, Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, said, "Your own government has made deals with Canadian, British, Australian and Colombian mining companies that are exploiting the country's mineral wealth at the expense of indigenous livelihoods."
Nora Newball, representative of the Alliance of Indigenous and Afro-Descendant Peoples of Nicaragua (APIAN), within the framework of the 172nd Session of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), highlighted how the State has seriously harmed forests with the deforestation caused by Alba-Forestal company and "the imposition of the Great Interocean Canal." In addition, the advocate and political leader explained how the private sector also exploits all kinds of natural resources throughthe expansion of the North African palm, the advancement of the agricultural frontier,