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Cablegate: What's Really Behind the Mosquito Coast Independence Movement?

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/10/27
TAGS: PHUM PGOV NU PBTS
SUBJECT: WHAT'S REALLY BEHIND THE MOSQUITO COAST INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT?

REF: MANAGUA 1047; MANAGUA 501; MANAGUA 415
MANAGUA 103 - JANUARY ELECTION FRAUD
2008 MANAGUA 1329 - HURRICANE FELIX

CLASSIFIED BY: Robert J. Callahan, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Six months have passed since the April 18
declaration of independence of the Mosquito Coast by the Council of
Elders and the election of Reverend Hector Williams as the Wihta
Tara (Miskito for "grand judge") to lead the people. The Ortega
government continues to be silent and has refused to open a public
dialogue with the independence movement leaders. A protest march,
which was to culminate in a takeover of the Regional Government
Offices was repressed by government supporters with police
acquiescence (see REF A). Independence is not a new issue for
Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast, which has passed through more than 100
years of various levels of autonomy from the central government.
However, this latest iteration of the movement seems disingenuous
and manipulated by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN)
and certain actors within the movement for their own political and
personal purposes. END SUMMARY

--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- -----
SIX MONTH ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE MOVEMENT
--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- -----

2. (C) On April 19, the Council of Elders, an indigenous Miskito
Indian group from the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN), held
an election and declared their independence from the central
government (see reftel B). The new "Wihta Tara" (Miskito for
"grand judge") elected by the Miskito Council of Elders announced
the formation of a new "Miskito army" for the first time since the
1890s. This Miskito "army" (not an organized armed force in any
sense) and the Wihta Tara peacefully occupied YATAMA party
headquarters in late April, after which the movement seemed to
disappear from the media's radar. As the six-month anniversary of
the independence movement approached, the central government had
not issued an official statement about the independence
declaration, nor had held any public talks with the Wihta Tara.
Perhaps as an effort to call attention back to the independence
movement, the Wihta Tara called on followers to join him in the
unsuccessful march to take over the regional government offices in
Bilwi, RAAN in mid-October (see REF A).

--------------------------------------------- -------------
MOSQUITO COAST INDEPENDENCE IS NOT NEW
--------------------------------------------- -------------

3. (U) The issue of independence for Nicaragua's Mosquito Coast
spans over 100 years. The Caribbean coast of Nicaragua was
independent from the central government until 1894, when it was
forcibly annexed by the GON through a military campaign led by
Rigoberto Cabezas. Before annexation, the Mosquito Coast was a
British protectorate from 1655 until 1860, and ruled by a line of
Miskito kings, the first of whom was crowned in England. The
British protectorate over the Miskito Indians brought the English
language and customs to the Caribbean Coast over the period, but
U.K. claims were alternately disputed by Spain, the Central
American Republics and the United States. [NOTE: U.S. opposition to
the British protectorate was mainly due to fears that Britain would
control Greytown at the mouth of the San Juan River and the
proposed inter-oceanic canal through Nicaragua. END NOTE]

4. (U) An 1860 treaty between GON and the United Kingdom known as
the Treaty of Managua transferred to Nicaragua the sovereignty over
the entire Caribbean coast from Cabo Gracias a Dios to Greytown at
the mouth of the San Juan River, but granted autonomy to the
Indians in the Mosquito Reserve. [NOTE: The Mosquito Reserve is a
narrow strip of territory that measures approximately 225 miles
from Greytown in the south to the Wawa River in the north and
inland approximately 40 miles from the Caribbean Coast to the
eastern limit of the Nicaraguan highlands. END NOTE] From 1860
until 1894, the Mosquito Coast was essentially autonomous from the
central government and self-governed by an elected Indian chief.
The Miskito Indians rejected the suzerainty of Nicaragua over their
territory, and even appealed to the Hapsburg emperor of Austria,
who in 1880 sided with the Indians claim of a right to
self-government. In 1894, Rigoberto Cabezas led a military
campaign to annex the Reserve. Miskito Indians' and other coastal
peoples appealed to England for protection, but to no avail.

--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- ---------------
FORCED ASSIMILATION FOLLOWED BY SOMOZA HANDS-OFF POLICY
--------------------------------------------- ---------------------- ---------------

5. (U) Following the Cabezas campaign, the Atlantic Coast was
subjected to a decades-long campaign by the Managua central
government to impose Spanish culture and language on the region,
which was renamed the Zelaya Department (after the Nicaraguan
President). Schools that taught English or indigenous languages
were forced to adopt Spanish language and textbooks - a practice
that was deeply resented by the local populations. In the early
1900s an Afro-Miskito leader from Bilwi, Samuel Pitts, raised an
army of over 6,000 Miskito Indians to attack Managua in order to
regain their independence and fight the "illegal" incorporation of
the Caribbean Coast into Nicaragua. His indigenous army traveled
as far as the San Juan River until a severe outbreak of malaria
decimated their ranks. Pitts returned to the coast to raise
another army for a second campaign, but was ambushed and killed by
agents of the GON.

6. (U) Through the ensuing years the region was economically
exploited by foreign companies (with the blessing of the central
government) for its rich resources, but was generally ignored by
the GON in terms of providing other public services available on
the Pacific side of Nicaragua. During the Somoza era (1934 - 1979)
Managua had a "hands off" policy that allowed independent
development of the region and a sense of autonomy that is still
frequently referred to as "the golden time" because there were
plenty of jobs at foreign companies which operated banana
plantations, lumber businesses and gold mines. The 1979 Sandinista
Revolution irrevocably ended the quasi-independence of the region
and brought the Atlantic - Pacific conflict back.

------------------------------------------
MISQUITO COAST & SANDINISTAS
------------------------------------------

7. (U) Prior to the Sandinista Revolution, some Miskito indigenous leaders, such as Brooklyn Rivera, received training from Sandinista guerrilla movements. However, after the Sandinista Revolution, the new government sought to extend full control over the Atlantic Coast down to the local neighborhood through its Sandinista Defense Committees. In response to central government control over the region, several Miskito groups formed a guerrilla movement that eventually joined the Nicaraguan Resistance (Contras) in Honduras. For example, on February 25, 1982 a Miskito guerrilla leader, Steadman Fagoth, took refuge in Honduras with 3,000 other Miskito guerrillas. The Sandinistas subsequently began to denounce the Contra activities along the Rio Coco zone. Then on December 20-21, 1982 several Sandinista soldiers were killed in the village of San Carlos and the government retaliated by massacring at least 30 Miskitos the next day. A state of emergency was declared over the region which lasted from 1983 until 1988.

8. (U) During the conflict, the Sandinista-leaning Atlantic Coast
leaders such as Ray Hooker convinced the central government that
the way to peace would be to grant limited autonomy to the diverse
region. In 1987, Ray Hooker and other like-minded leaders were
able to draft and secure the passage of Law 28 in the National
Assembly that created the RAAN and RAAS from the former Zelaya
department. The legislation provided a framework for regional
autonomy with some level of regional integration with the rest of
Nicaragua. It was sufficient to convince Miskito and other
guerrilla leaders to peacefully end their conflict with the
Sandinistas.

--------------------------------------------- -----------------
POST AUTONOMY - NEW POLITICAL ASSIMILATION
--------------------------------------------- -----------------

9. (U) With the return of democracy to Nicaragua in the 1990
victory of Violeta Chamorro, new hope came to the region that it
would not be neglected nor exploited by the central government for
its rich natural resources. Regional parties such as PAMUK and
YATAMA (Miskito for "Sons of the Living Earth") held sway in the
initial elections, but by the election of Arnoldo Aleman in 1996
the better organized and financed national parties, such as the
FSLN and the Constitutional Liberal Party (PLC), had established a
firm presence in the region. Coastal people realized that the
Autonomous Laws did not provide true financial autonomy to control
their own development, as the central government exercised enormous
control over regional budgets and national programs. National
party control over state institutions, such as the Supreme Court
and the Supreme Electoral Council, also discouraged the progress
and development of regional political parties. Combined with the
tremendous wave of Pacific-coast migrants to the region following
the war, regional parties have been forced to align with national
parties in order to survive.

---------------------------------
WHY INDPENDENCE NOW?
---------------------------------

10. (C) The Wihta Tara's April 19 public declaration of independence started the most recent political showdown between the RAAN indigenous separatists and the regional and municipal governments, controlled by the FSLN and their YATAMA allies. While the GON has publicly ignored the uprising, surrogates for President Ortega, including Steadman Fagoth, have publicly blamed the USG for being behind the movement. Leaders of the independence movement claim that there are several reasons why they have declared their independence. They are frustrated with the regional government's corruption and its failure to address the needs of the Miskito people following the September 2007 Hurricane Felix natural disaster (see reftel E). They are also upset about the election fraud perpetrated by the FSLN and its Yatama allies during the January 2009 municipal elections (see reftel D). Moreover, they are discouraged with the deteriorating economic situation within their community and the central government's neglect of the region.

11. (C) Despite these valid arguments for independence, contacts
tell us that the real force behind the current independence
movement is Oscar Hodgson, the Council of Elder's legal
representative. Hodgson reportedly worked for Lenin Cerna and the
Sandinistas' intelligence service during the 1980s and continues to
have ties with the FSLN party. He wanted a position in the
regional government, but was passed over. Contacts have told us
that Hodgson is manipulating the independence movement to enter
into a negotiation with the FSLN. It is widely believed that any
chaos in the Atlantic Coast through the independence movement would
prevent free and fair Regional Council elections on March 7, 2010,
and help the FSLN consolidate control in the region. Fagoth was
allegedly dispatched by President Ortega in May to negotiate with
Hodgson and the Wihta Tara, but the closed-door discussions
allegedly broke down when the Council of Elders asked for more
money than Ortega was willing to pay.

--------------
COMMENT
--------------

12. (C) While there are deep historical grievances behind the
current independence movement, our contacts tell us that they are
suspicious of the timing and true motives of the organizers. Oscar
Hodgson, a trained lawyer and the legal advisor to the Miskito
Council of Elders, is known to be an FSLN-sympathizer. Post
believes that he may be manipulating the independence movement to
create leverage in negotiating with the FSLN nationally. It is
highly suspicious that neither the Government of Nicaragua (GON)
nor President Ortega has made any official statements about the
April 19 declaration months after the fact. What is behind the GON
silence? Post believes that FSLN may also be allowing the current
independence movement as part of a Machiavellian strategy to keep
coastal people off-balance in the run-up to regional elections set
for March 7, 2010. The independence movement could create a crisis
in the region that might force the National Assembly to cancel or
postpone regional elections. In the absence of a clear statement
by the FSLN government about the movement, combined with public
accusations by its surrogates (Steadman Fagoth, Brooklyn Rivera)
that the U.S. is behind it, the movement can be manipulated by the
FSLN to serve its political purposes. We will continue to monitor
events as they unfold.
CALLAHAN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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