By Chris Lang
At its Board meeting in November 2020, the Green Climate Fund approved funding of US$62 million for a REDD project in Nicaragua. The decision came despite the fact that the project risks conflict, criminalisation and repression of critical voices, as World Rainforest Movement pointed out in a letter to the Board.
The project is titled “Bio-CLIMA: Intergrated climate action to reduce deforestation and strengthen resilience in Bosawás and Rio San Juan Biospheres”. More than 120,000 people signed on to a petition organised by Rettet den Regenwald calling on the Board to reject the proposal.
In January 2020, more than 80 armed men attacked an Indigenous community in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve. According to a report titled “Nicaragua’s Failed Revolution” by the Oakland Institute, “four people were reportedly killed, two injured, and 16 houses burned”. The Oakland Institute writes that,
In the weeks following the incident, locals remained under continuous threat and harassment, as they kept hearing guns fired in the air, near their villages. This is yet another episode in the war that has been raging for many years against the Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities in Nicaragua.
Since 2015, land invasions for mining, cattle ranching, and the exploitation of forests have resulted in the deaths of 40 Indigenous People. Dozens more have been injured. Others have been kidnapped. Some are still missing. Thousands have had to flee their homes.
Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities have the law on their side. Nicaraguan Law 445, the Communal Property Law, was passed in 2003. It sets out a five-step process for Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to obtain formal titles to their land. The fifth step in the process requires the Nicaraguan state to carry out Saneamiento, (literally “cleaning up”) the removal of non-indigenous settlers (colonos) and corporations from Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories.
The Sandinista government under Daniel Ortega has been in power since 2006. Since then, 23 territories in Nicaragua have been titled under Law 445, covering about 31% of the country.
But the Oakland Institute reports that these titles are “empty promises given the continuous land invasions and violence that communities face”. Even worse, the government actually encourages the invasion of Indigenous and Afro-descendant territories:
The government has failed to provide protection to the local communities and to ensure and enforce Saneamiento. These communities have faced a constant stream of settlers, central government interventions, forestry and extractive industries, that threaten their lands, economic wellbeing, and political autonomy. This trend has been exacerbated in recent years with an increase in murders and kidnappings.
The suffering and violence faced by the communities is not just due to the government’s failure to implement the law. This report shows that the government actually plays an active role in encouraging the colonization of the protected lands by outsiders.
Mining, logging, cattle ranching
The government claims that more than 7.1 million hectares of land is available for mining concessions. That’s about 60% of the country. Mining by settlers and transnational corporations has resulted in violence and evictions of Indigenous communities.
In 2017, the government created the Nicaraguan Mining Company, ENIMINAS. The state increased its involvement in the mining sector through joint ventures with private firms. One month after the law was passed to create ENIMINAS, the total area of land under mining concessions increased from about 1.2 million hectares to 2.6 million hectares. About 854,000 hectares of this land is in the buffer zone of the Bosawás reserve.
Meanwhile, PRONicaragua, the state’s investment and export promotion agency, advertises Nicaragua as having 3.5 million hectares available for forestry projects. But the majority of Nicaragua’s primary forests are within the autonomous regions. Corporations, ranchers, and illegal settlers have been clear cutting forests for timber and to establish cattle ranches.
Nicaragua has the largest cattle-raising industry in Central America. The autonomous regions have the highest concentrations of cattle and most of the expansion of cattle ranching is taking place there. The Oakland Institute reports that,
The forest cover in Nicaragua has dropped from 76 percent in 1969 to 25 percent today. President Ortega and his family have personal links to the forestry and logging business in autonomous regions through the Alba Forestal company.
In 2015, Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples in Nicaragua created a national alliance, the Nicaraguan Alliance of Indigenous and Afro-descendant Peoples (APIAN). APIAN’s leaders are demanding Saneamiento in their fight against dispossession.
In December 2019, APIAN released a statement expressing its concern about a REDD agreement between the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility and the government of Nicaragua:
In November 2020, APIAN sent an open letter to the Green Climate Fund asking the board to reject the proposal. “In view of the great difficulties we have in conserving our resources and protecting our forests against the irrational exploitation of our resources, it is urgent that we reconsider the decision to be made about our forests,” APIAN wrote.
Lottie Cunningham Wren is a lawyer working with Miskito Indigenous communities. In 2020, she won the Right Livelihood Award for her work defending the rights of Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities to their land. She told Mongabay that, “We have been facing a lot of threats from different companies and settlers doing land grabbing. Every year is getting worse and worse.”
Cunningham explained that when consultations take place, for example between mining companies and Indigenous communities, elites chosen by the Nicaraguan government dominate. “What the government does is impose the leaders they want instead of certifying the leaders who are elected by the communities,” Cunningham told Mongabay.
APIAN pointed out the same problem in its letter to the Green Climate Fund board:
[N]o project has free prior and informed consultation with indigenous and afro-descendant communities that are owners of full ownership of their lands and natural resources, as described in the communal titles granted by the Nicaraguan government to the peoples. Rather, the national government promotes parallel governments in accordance with its interests that threaten the self-determination of our peoples.
The Green Climate Fund: Undermining Saneamiento
The project that the Green Climate Fund approved at its board meeting in November 2020 will undermine Saneamiento. Instead of upholding Law 445, the Green Climate Fund project will push Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities into signing “peaceful cohabitation and forest conservation agreements” with the settlers who have invaded their land, cut down their forests, and harassed, threatened and even in some cases murdered their friends and relatives.
The approved funding proposal includes the following:
Output 1.1.1 Land use/management plans formulated; and restoration/conservation agreements signed/formalized with beneficiaries. Climate responsive land use and business planning at individual farm and community level shall be supported through the provision of technical support, as also facilitation and legal support to reach peaceful cohabitation and forest conservation agreements between indigenous communities and non-indigenous settlers.
The Bio-CLIMA project will support non-indigenous families “living in peaceful cohabitation for at least five years in Indigenous Territories”, as long as they commit “to contribute to productive landscape restoration and forest conservation”.
This tearing up of Nicaraguan law and Saneamiento was not explicitly discussed during the Green Climate Fund board meeting.
The US rejected Nicaragua’s funding proposal. The rejection had nothing to do with the proposal, and everything to do with US imperialism. “Consistent with our congressional mandate to oppose the use of funds for countries whose governments are not addressing trafficking in persons, we cannot support this project,” Mathew Haarsager, the US board member said.
The board members for Germany, France, Italy, and Spain raised concerns. But with the addition of a few conditions, the board approved the project.
PHOTO Credit: Oakland Institute.