Mounting regional chaos has claimed the life of another Latin American Indigenous leader in Nicaragua. Well-known Tuahka Indigenous Territorial Government Prosecutor, Camilo Frank López, was shot three times in the forehead at a local establishment, known as Bar Norteño # 2, located in the infamous ‘Mining Triangle.’
The murder was first reported January 25 on various Nicaraguan social media outlets. Eloy Frank, López’s first cousin, was also shot and wounded in his arm during the attack.
Regional authorities have not yet established an official motive – nor have they identified the attacker – but speculation has been floated by Carlos Sanders, president of the Indigenous Territorial Government Mayagna Tuahka, that the perpetrator was a hired assassin.
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Outside interests – including the Sandinista ruling party – have been repeatedly accused of sowing confusion and conflict in indigenous political affairs in Nicaragua’s northern Caribbean coast. It is here the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) faces perhaps some of their strongest political opposition, in the form of the indigenous YATAMA (Yapti Tasba Masraka Nanih Aslatakanka / Sons of Mother Earth) organization turned political party. The recent presidential election was plagued with accusations of voter suppression and voter fraud in the area as Daniel Ortega consolidated power at the national level, and entrenched his family dynasty under the guise of a fourth ostensibly democratically elected term.
Resource wars, a violent siege inflicted by Mestizo settlers encroaching on legal Indigenous territories – with related accusations of government neglect and collusion with the illegal settlers known as ‘Colonos’ – have escalated the violence. Indigenous groups have been forced to take up arms to defend their families and communities, and a climate of distrust and conflict has broadly prevailed.
While other parts of Nicaragua enjoy a comparatively low crime rate among Central American nations, the rising state authoritarianism concerning the controversial trans-oceanic canal, and attempted land grabs in the indigenous regions of the north, threaten to permanently undermine the progress Sandinistas originally made toward respecting indigenous rights and establishing a larger peace in the region.
While military troops were recently deployed to protect Chinese mining interests in Nicaragua’s fellow Bolivarian state of Ecuador, President Ortega has apparently galvanized his partnership with the Chinese HKND Group to initiate the largest earth-altering project ever attempted. Following outcry from environmentalists and indigenous rights supporters regionally and internationally, Russia stepped in to offer security for the canal project – recently providing $80 million dollars’ worth of military tanks which speculated concern over plans to forcefully intimidate growing internal dissent. Russia has also been quietly launching a new drug war in the region for years; and there have been reports of Russian interests attempting to infiltrate local politics towards this aim.
La Muskitia, the autonomous Indigenous binational territory of the northern Caribbean coast, is host to the most vast and biodiverse tropical rainforest in the western hemisphere, second only to the Amazon. The rich, carbon mitigating forest is popularly referred to as “the lungs of Central America.”
The climate of chaos and violence which has seized indigenous territories in northern Nicaragua threatens to undermine the collective indigenous history of successful environmental and cultural stewardship of this extremely vulnerable region. The ongoing fallout could permanently displace one of the last strongholds of indigenous culture and biodiversity in the Americas.