Nicaraguan Indigenous: Biosphere Reserve Is Our 'Lungs'

Indigenous groups say the Nicaraguan government should do more to protect the massive but quickly disappearing Bosawás Biosphere Reserve.

Nicaraguan Indigenous: Biosphere Reserve Is Our 'Lungs'
Giacomo Tognini

MATAGALPA — The 20,000-square-kilometer Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in northern Nicaragua is as biologically rich as it is expansive, covering about 15% of the national territory. It is also home to various indigenous communities. And yet — despite its designation in 1991 as a UNESCO World Heritage site — the largely unexplored jungle area is under serious threat from illegal settlement and logging, the Nicaraguan daily El Nuevo Diario reports.

The government estimates that there are at least 34,000 settlers squatting on indigenous and protected land within the reserve. To address the problem, it launched a so-called "Action Plan" five years ago that combines tighter security and stronger environmental standards within the reserve and economic development of nearby areas. Army operations have targeted timber traffickers and illegal land dealers in the area.

The local Miskito and Mayangna indigenous groups, however, say it's not enough. Leaders from the communities recently met with officials from the government, army, and national police to plan a more effective response. But they've also taken matters into their own hands, organizing patrols to detain settlers found in their territory.

"If we don't do something together, soon there will be no reserve, no water, no animals," said indigenous leaders in a joint statement to the Nicaraguan government. "Bosawás will become a desert."

Photo: rubenmejiap via Instagram

Illegal settlement dates back to at least 1968 — before most of the park was first protected in 1971 — when the closure of nearby mines forced many laid-off miners to the hills of Bosawás in search of work in artisanal mining or agriculture. The most recent influx, from 2000 to 2006, was driven by local politicians campaigning on promises of opening up the reserve to legal settlement, leading some indigenous leaders to sell off land to settlers and timber companies.

While many settlers paid for the land they now occupy, a 2003 law establishing indigenous control of territory within the biosphere reserve doomed most settlers' hopes of gaining legal deeds to their land. The majority of settlers now arrive through one of five main routes stretching into the reserve from nearby towns, including the regional centers of Jinotega and Matagalpa.

The situation on the ground has become increasingly volatile, with both settlers and natives committed to defending their land at any cost. There have been numerous reports of violence and even deaths in the region. In the meantime, logging and human encroachment continue to take a toll on what some call the "lungs of Central America," damaging some parts of the reserve irreparably.

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Dutch Cities Have Been Secretly Probing Mosques Since 2013

Revelations of a nationally funded clandestine operation within 10 municipalities in the Netherlands to keep tabs on mosques and Muslim organizations after a rise in radicalization eight years ago.

The Nasser mosque in Veenendaal, one of the mosques reportedly surveilled

Meike Eijsberg

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Photo of people standing on prayer mats inside a Dutch mosque

Praying inside a Dutch mosque.


Broken trust in Islamic community

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talk to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

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