Against the Current, No. 11, November-December 1987
The Crash of '87: Opening of a New Period?
— The Editors
The Rainbow: Storm Clouds Ahead?
— Joanna Misnik
Vanunu and the Israeli Bomb
— Stanley Heller
Alan Garcia & the Crisis of Populist Rule in Peru
— Scott Malcomson
On Sendero Luminoso -- Shining Path
— Scott Malcomson
South Africa: The Black Unions & the State of Emergency
— Pippa Green & Alan Hirsch
South African Unionists Back Divestment
— John Gomomo
- Guidelines for Divestment
Of Scrooge, Bentham & Reagan
— Paul Siegel
Random Shots: Pat Robertson's Miracle
— R.F. Kampfer
- Auto Unionism in Crisis
It's Their Crisis -- But Our Jobs
— Robert Brenner interviews Eric Mann
New Speedup in Auto
— Kim Moody
- Central America
Central America's Peace Plan & the US. Solidarity Movement
— David Finkel
CISPES: Challenge of Solidarity
— David Finkel
Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast Dialogue: Autonomy & the Revolution
— Katherine Yih
The FSLN, Mass Organizations & the Socialist Transition
— Milton Fisk
- More Debate on Baby M
Debate on Baby M
— The Editors
Protecting the Mother's Right Is Critical
— Nancy Holmstrom
A Reply to Our Critics
— Johanna Brenner & Bill Resnick
- In Memoriam
Harvey Goldberg: An Appreciation
— Patrick M. Quinn
WHEN THE PROJECT to define an autonomous mode of government for the Atlantic Coast was announced at the end of 1984, it was heralded as a bold response to a historic demand of the people of the Coast and a way to bring peace to the region.
Less than 100 years have passed since the Atlantic Coast was incorporated into the Nicaraguan state by military force. The original inhabitants of the region actively resisted this internal colonialism for several decades. To the present day a degree of resentment toward Mestizos (the Spanish-speaking majority) and the Nicaraguan state is palpable in certain sectors of the population.
Thus historical circumstances are partly responsible for the difficulties the revolution has faced in the Atlantic Coast. Manifestations range from a generalized passive resistance toward revolutionary programs to armed insurrection.
The statute on the autonomous regions of the Atlantic Coast was approved by the National Assembly on Sept. 2, 1987. It is hoped that it will lead to mutual respect among the six ethnic groups (see table), reinforcement of ethnic pride and cultural diversity, and more local control over government and economic development.
Centuries of Domination
For the three centuries prior to 1860 the British controlled the Mosquitia (which included the Atlantic lowlands of Honduras) through trade, indirect rule using the Miskitu, some colonization, and cultural domination. In 1860, largely through the pressure of the U.S. government, which was interested in the Rio San Juan as a possible canal route, the British ceded control of the area to Nicaragua and Honduras.
By this treaty, a part of the Mosquito Kingdom (the territory governed by Britain’s proxy, the Mosquito King) was turned into a reserve where the indigenous and Creole inhabitants were to exercise local political control. In effect, however, the United States assumed the colonial role. North Americans became heavily involved in lumber extraction, banana production, mining, and commerce. By the 1890s they controlled 90% of capital investments in the region.
In 1894 the Nicaraguan government proclaimed its sovereignty over the people and territory of the Mosquito Reserve, a crucial event officially referred to as the “Reincorporation” but still called the “overthrow” by some Creoles. Although U.S. economic activity continued unaffected, Mestizos from the Pacific Coast took control of the government bureaucracy, thus establishing the conditions for their economic advantage over the local people. Domination was imposed in the cultural realm as well by the outlawing of education in any language but Spanish and other measures.
For forty years after the Reincorporation, the Creoles and to a lesser extent the Miskitu frequently protested their political, economic, and cultural domination at the hands of the Mestizo Nicaraguans. At the beginning they rejected Nicaraguan sovereignty unconditionally, asserting their “Mosquitian” nationhood, and petitioned the British consul to be taken back under the protection of the British Empire. They also appealed to the U.S. State Department to force the Nicaraguan government to respect their rights. Hundreds of specific complaints were registered, especially of expropriation by Mestizos of lands legally titled to local inhabitants.
Under Somoza, Mestizos continued to occupy the top positions in the state apparatus and economy, as well as being represented in all other socio-economic classes; Creoles predominated in the middle levels of the economy, as professionals, skilled workers, and boat captains; and the indigenous peoples were concentrated at the lowest, most poorly paid levels.
Thus, at the time of the Triumph, there was a well-established ethnic hierarchy and a lingering sense of disenfranchisement on the part of both Creoles and Miskitu. These two groups had somewhat different aspirations, however, due to their different stations. The Creoles aspired to keep their relative economic and political privileges as an ethnic minority within the Nicaraguan nation. The Miskitu, who faced a dual class and ethnic oppression, framed their demands largely in ethnic, Miskitu-nationalist terms.
Revolution Marches to the Coast
After the Triumph Sandinista cadre arrived on the Coast to consolidate the new state and implement the revolutionary programs, but few had much knowledge of the history of the region or of the attitudes of the Coast people. The initial Sandinista analysis of the rural Miskitu, for example, was that they were campesinos like the Mestizo campesinos. As such, they could be included in the cooperativization and land-tilling programs of the agrarian reform with no special attention to their social organization or to whether they might already have land titles under previous treaties.
Furthermore, the ideology of the revolution clashed with much of the Coast people’s ideology. For example, while the revolution held that the United States was an imperialist power that had dominated the country and the Coast in particular, Coast people respected the North Americans, associated their presence with good economic times, and had assimilated many elements of U.S. culture and outlook. Another example was the revolution’s policy of expropriating large shop owners and other large property owners-this ”communistic” practice didn’t sit well with the Creole community.
By the first year of the revolution the targets of Miskitu and Creole resentments-“dese people”-were variously the “Spaniards” (Mestizos), the Sandinistas, or the Nicaraguan state itself.
The Miskitu were the more militant of the two groups. In November 1979, an indigenous mass organization named Misurasata (an acronym for “Miskitu, Sumu, Rama, Sandinistas, working together,” although the Miskitu have always dominated the group) was created at an assembly of a previously established indigenous organization.
Although tensions between Sandinistas and organized Miskitu already existed at that time due to the FSLN’s apprehensions about indigenous separatism, the Sandinista government recognized the right of the indigenous to self-organization. Like other mass organizations Misurasata was accorded a seat on the Council of State (precursor of the National Assembly). This seat was held by Steadman Fagoth, coordinator general of Misurasata.
In the space opened by the revolution, Misurasata flourished. It won the right to a literacy crusade in Miskitu, Sumu, and English, and was given the responsibility of organizing the campaign in Miskitu and Sumu areas. Misurasata cadre used the literacy crusade in their own organizing efforts, which became increasingly separatist in content and tone. Over the course of 1980 Steadman Fagoth and his followers had redefined Misurasata’s role from that of a mass organization representing indigenous interests within the government to one which directly challenged the principles of the revolution.
Misurasata Bids for Power
One of the major points of negotiation between Misurasata and the government was the ratification of historic land titles. The government had mandated Misurasata to study the situation and present evidence and a recommendation for discussion. The government’s understanding was that at issue were traditional private and communal village properties. In February 1981, however, it learned that Misurasata planned to present a demand for one-third of the national territory including the mines.
Rather than presenting the demand as a bargaining position, Fagoth and Brooklyn Rivera, another Misurasata leader, planned to unveil the land claim before thousands of receptive Miskitu in Puerto Cabezas at the closing ceremony of the literacy crusade. Inviting the government was expected to force its acceptance of the demand. The Sandinistas maintain that Misurasata had also orchestrated a series of armed confrontations to coincide with this bid for increased power.
The government’s response was the preemptive detention of twenty-two Misurasata leaders. The situation was further inflamed when Sandinista soldiers tried to arrest some Misurasata literacy workers in Prinzapolka on Feb. 20. A shoot-out resulted in which four Miskitu and four soldiers died.
All the leaders except for Steadman Fagoth were quickly released. Documentation from the Office of National Security, Somoza’s intelligence apparatus, released to the newspapers in February 1981, showed the Fagoth had been an informer during his years as a student in Managua in the 1970s. In May, Fagoth was freed on the condition that he accept a scholarship to study abroad. He immediately crossed the border into Honduras and from the contra radio station began broadcasting in Miskitu virulent attacks on the government, calling for armed resistance to the Sandinistas.
Brooklyn Rivera left Nicaragua somewhat later, under no pressure from the government. He apparently joined Fagoth briefly then split off and went to Costa Rica.
Military training camps were set up by Fagoth in southeastern Honduras in September 1981. By the end of December 1981, two months of counterrevolutionary attacks along the Rio Coco coordinated by the Honduran military had resulted in sixty deaths of civilians and Sandinista military. These attacks were part of the “Red Christmas” plan to foment insurrection in the Rio Coco communities, occupy the mostly Miskitu northeastern triangle of Zelaya down to Puerto Cabezas, and declare this a liberated Miskitu zone in order to appeal for international recognition and assistance.
Resettlement of the Rio Coco
Faced with the conditions of military attack along the border and the doubtful loyalty of the Miskitu in the area, the Sandinista government concluded that the insurrection posed an imminent external threat to national integrity. The Sandinistas began a large-scale evacuation of villages on the river in January 1982. The villages were then destroyed along with crops and animals to prevent their use by attacking forces.
Some 8,500 Miskitu and Sumu were taken to a resettlement area called Tasha Pri. Another 15,000 crossed the border into Honduras. Although the relocation effort was accorded massive resources, and housing, health, and educational facilities were better than in most of the Rio Coco villages, the adults never felt at home in Tasha Pri. One inhabitant interviewed in 1983 summed up the general sentiment: “Miskitu man needs the river.”
As the counterrevolution became consolidated with the support of the United States, Fagoth and Rivera organized separate indigenous counterrevolutionary forces in their respective countries of residence. The indigenous armed opposition groups outside and within Nicaragua have been characterized by severe factionalism and in stability. The U.S. government continues to fund and manipulate these groups, seeking to unify them with the rest of the counterrevolution. These efforts have met with little success in the last three years. The indigenous armed opposition has declined gradually, in part because of disillusionment with the potential of the counterrevolution to respond to Indian demands, in part because of government actions.
In 1983 Managua issued an amnesty decree applicable to much of the indigenous armed opposition. This was followed by the initiation of the autonomy process in late 1984, talks between the government and Brooklyn Rivera in the first months of 1985, and the return of indigenous refugees to the Rico Coco in 1985. The latter move was carried out in response to popular pressure and enjoyed the massive assistance of the government and international agencies. In spite of counterrevolutionary attempts to sabotage the transportation of people and supplies to the river, and the severe scarcities in the river com munities, the Miskitu population along the Rio Coco, which had fallen to about 6,000, currently stands at 17,000.
Creoles, as a group, have been less involved in armed opposition than the indigenous peoples, particularly the Miskitu, although some did join one or another faction of the counterrevolution. The anti-government sentiments of Creoles have more often been expressed through street demonstrations in Bluefields, a sort of unorganized passive resistance, and emigration.
Population of Atlantic Coast
(Special Zones I and II)
(Special Zones I and II)
|Ethnic Group||Description||Population of Coast Population||Region of Concentration|
|Mestizos||Spanish-speaking national majority.||47%||both|
|Miskitu||Thought to have differentiated genetically and culturally from rest of indigenous population through contact with European and Blacks. Speaks Miskitu.||36||SZ I|
|Creoles||Product of mixture of whites, Blacks, and indigenous. Cultural affinity with rest of Black, English-speaking Caribbean.||13%||SZ II|
|Sumu||Distantly related to Miskitu but more “purely” indigenous. Native language is Sumu, of which there are two distinct dialects in Nicaragua.||1.5%||SZ 1|
|Garifuna||A Black group which immigrated from Honduras in last 100 years. Although Garifuna is spoken in parts of Honduras and Belize, the Nicaraguan group speaks English and is assimilating toward Creole ethnic identity.||1%||SZ II|
|Rama||An English-speaking indigenous group. Less than 5O speakers of Rama remain.||0.6%||SZ II|
Note: the population of the Atlantic Coast constitutes less than 10% of the national population
Birth of the Autonomy Project
The autonomy project was undoubtedly both a tactical and a strategic response to conditions in the Coast. At the time it was officially initiated, late 1984, the counterrevolution had been hitting the country hard, yet there were prospects for peace in the Atlantic Coast. The Nicaraguan government was entering into a series of talks with Brooklyn Rivera, the head of the exiled Misurasata, and probably wanted to have a process underway that would serve as an alternative to the more extreme, separatist demands he could be expected to come up with.
But in addition, the revolutionary government had come to recognize the legitimacy of some ethnicbased demands rather than dismissing them categorically as going against the interests of the revolution. The right to live and produce according to tradition, the right to be educated in one’s native language, the right of all ethnic groups, no matter how small, to have a voice in local government and economic decisions-these were seen as reasonable and just demands. Thus regional autonomy had a double purpose: to satisfy ethnically-based demands of the Coast population and to promote peace in the region.
The drafting of the autonomy statute was a careful and democratic process lasting two-and-a-half years. Coast people took a central role. Commissions were formed in each of the two regions and at the national level. The national commission consisted of the two Coast representatives to the National Assembly and three other intellectuals familiar with the region. The regional commissions were much larger; their thirty to sixty members represented all the ethnic groups of the respective region, the major communities and zones of the region, and various socio-economic classes.
In the first months of 1985, while the negotiations with Brooklyn Rivera were still underway, the commissions engaged in study of the issue, considering theoretical material, systems of regional autonomy in other countries, and of course the concrete problems of their own Atlantic Coast.
In the south there ensued a two-year period of laborious work sessions on the part of the commission; publicity efforts; an exhaustive consultation of the population, both by sector, for example, industrial workers, students, religious community, campesinos, and door-to-door; elaboration and amendment of various drafts of the statute; two random-sample opinion surveys; two multiethnic assemblies to discuss principles and specific issues; more drafts; and so on.
In the north the situation was more problematic because of the proximity of the war. In logistical terms, the war impeded the free movement needed in order to convene or do representative consultations in the rural areas. More important, it exacerbated factionalism in the autonomy commission since various rival groups were represented there, officially or not, which led to attrition and general disorder. Nevertheless sufficient stability was achieved in the past year for extensive consultations to be conducted.
The most decisive event of the process leading up to the National Assembly’s approval of the autonomy statute was its approval by a Multiethnic Assembly of local delegates on the Atlantic Coast five months earlier. The assembly was held in Puerto Cabezas, Special Zone (SZ) I, on April 22-24, 1987. There were 220 delegates at the April assembly, representing sixty-five communities, all six of the ethnic groups in the region, and a wide range of social sectors and classes. The ethnic minorities were represented in excess of their real numbers and the Mestizos (Spanish-speaking group) were substantially under-represented. [See the Table for a description of each of the ethnic groups.]
The Mestizo group, which is the majority in the country as a whole and represents 47% of the population in the region, had only 30% of the delegates. A number of the Mestizo campesino communities were unable to attend because of transportation problems.
The Miskitu, representing 36% of the region’s population, had 42% of the delegates; the English-speaking Creoles, with 13% of the population, had 19% of the delegates. The Garifuna, another Black group, with 1% of the Coast’s population, were 3% of the delegates. The indigenous Sumu are 1.5% of the region’s population and had 5% of the assembly’s delegates while the Englishspeaking Rama, being .6% of the region, had 1% of the delegates.
The basis of the discussion was the draft autonomy statute, the product of regional discussion with input from Managua. The delegates met first in small groups to analyze and propose changes in the draft, then in a plenary to discuss and vote on the draft article by article.
In many ways the procedure was exemplary. The initial small groups at the conference were formed on the basis of language and geographic location, which allowed those with common interests and viewpoints to collectively formulate their proposals and amendments. There was simultaneous translation into four languages during much of the plenary.
The plenary used parliamentary procedure to maintain an orderly discussion that focused on the points people were concerned with, but the procedure was flexible enough that it did not cut off discussion. The atmosphere was open, and there was free attendance by journalists and other observers. The Multiethnic Assembly did not merely give its opinion of the draft, a project of both regional and Managua input, but redrafted it, voting on proposed revisions for each article. It was the draft produced by this assembly that was approved in September by the National Assembly, after debate and minor amendments.
There was consensus on most of the forty-odd articles. For example, the following points were agreed to without much controversy:
• The languages of the Atlantic Coast will be official within the autonomous regions.
• The inhabitants of the Atlantic Coast are entitled to full equality of rights; to promote and develop their languages, regions and cultures; to use and benefit from their waters, forests, and communal lands, in accordance with national development plans; lo organize their social and productive activities according to their own values; to be educated in their own languages, through programs that take into account their historical heritage, their traditions and the characteristics of their environment; to their own forms of communal, collective, or individual ownership and transfer of land.
• There will be a popularly elected Regional Council (regional government) and a Regional Coordinator elected by the Council from its members.
Among other functions, the Regional Council will promote the integration, development, and participation of women in all aspects of political, social, cultural, and economic life of the region.
• A special development fund — composed of monies not included in the regular budget — will be earmarked for productive, social, and cultural investments in the region, to be administered by the Regional Councils.
• Communal property is constituted by the communal lands, waters and forests that have traditionally belonged to the communities; the inhabitants of the communities will have the right to work on communal plots of land and are entitled to the benefits generated therefrom.
Yet, curiously, the bill that came out of the Multiethnic Assembly gave less explicit power to the regions than had earlier drafts.
While most of the provisions for regional autonomy were welcomed and approved by all, the assembly majority adopted a cautious approach toward pushing these further. There was no restriction on the right to make or vote for such proposals. There were both Miskitu and Creole groups that did so. But the majority of Miskitu and Creole delegates voted against proposed extensions of regional powers. The debate on these proposals did not take the form of Mestizo FSLN representatives promoting centralism versus ethnic minority leaders advocating regionalism. Rather, it appeared that the scars of the contra war and the border fights with the armed Miskitu forces had left the ethnic communities internally divided, with a clear majority wishing to avoid being drawn into any project that implied a clash with the government.
There were two small groups who were prepared to inject more power for the regions into the statute: some of the Creole members of the autonomy of Special Zone II and a Miskitu group composed of intellectuals and some Misurasata members who had laid down their arms and returned from Costa Rica at the beginning of the year under the provisions of a 1983 amnesty decree.
Many Creole leaders had participated actively in the autonomy commission in SZ II, and as a result, in the south the Creoles were better versed in the process and issues of autonomy than any other ethnic group. In spite of this, their general attitude toward autonomy had been one of reserve, due to their distrust of the FSLN and their belief that autonomy was a project of the party. The exception to this generalization was a group of younger Creoles who supported the FSLN and had promoted the autonomy process consistently.
These two attitudes were also represented in the autonomy commission of SZ II. The subgroup presenting “regionalist” positions consisted mostly of mature, respected community leaders but included a few of the younger Creoles with ties to the party; they shared a conscientious attitude toward their work on autonomy and a desire to gain more decision-making power as a region and/or as Creoles.
The Miskitu group that had alternative positions to present at the assembly had Misurasata links, and it is probably that some of its participants enjoyed a measure of popular support, although it was unclear how large the group with its potential supporters was.
The main points of contention at the assembly were: territorial limits of the region, natural resources, powers of the regional government, representation on the Regional Council, and policing:
Territorial limits. Both the Creole group and the Misurasata group wanted the northern and southern regions to be reunified into a single autonomous region, albeit with two administrative, subregional governments. This seemed to be a point of principle-the Department of Zelaya had been divided into Special Zones I and II when the government was regionalized in 1982 yet the whole Coast had always had a strong historical and cultural unity.
Unification was voted down in the plenary.
Natural resources. Here the issues were who would have ultimate say in how natural resources, including waters, forests, and community lands, were used, the inhabitants of the region or central government; and how the revenue resulting from natural resource exploitation, especially industrial-scale, such as fishing and mining, would be divided between regional and national governments. The Creole group wanted to nail down an explicit commitment for most of the benefit to go to the Coast, with details to be worked out through some form of negotiation between the regional and central governments.
The outcome was that the proportion of benefit to the Coast was left unspecified. However, a clause was included stating that the proportions would be determined by mutual agreement between regional and central governments.
Powers of the regional autonomous government. Some of the concerns of both the Creole and the Misurasata groups revolved around the general question of how much autonomy was implied by the somewhat vague functions of the autonomous regions outlined in the draft, such as participation in planning, etc. A more specific worry was who or what institution would have maximum authority in the regions. Some of the Creole group had been assuming it would be the elected coordinator of the Regional Council or the Council itself, yet under the Constitution the president of the republic can name delegates to all the regions. Since the president’s delegate does not have to be the regional coordinator, there was ambiguity about who would have ultimate authority in the event of a conflict.
In the voting and final statute the vagueness of functions stands, as does the president’s right to name a delegate independent of the regional coordinator. On the latter point it was argued that it might be better for the presidential delegate not to be the same as the regional coordinator, in order to avoid conflicts of interest.
Representation on the Regional Council. Representation on the Council was a fundamental issue, that is, whether and how to give more political voice to ethnic minorities through disproportional representation. In the south there had been general agreement that a regionally appointed electoral council could be trusted to devise a satisfactory system of weighted representation. At the assembly some of the Creole group argued for equal representation by ethnic group.
It was decided that all ethnic groups of the region must be represented but not necessarily equally, in the fortyfive member Council; all ethnic groups of the region must be represented on the Regional Council’s seven-member Board of Directors; and oversight will be by the national, not a regional, electoral council as established in the Constitution.
Police. The question was, what institution would be responsible for policing in the region, a regionally or a centrally administered one7 The basic concern on the part of the members of the Creole group was that the police be local people, preferably from the community in which they were to work.
An article explicitly assigning responsibility for policing to the regional government, with a guarantee that police be local people, was voted down.
The Creole group was eloquent, going to the heart of the autonomy question. For example, during a protracted debate about how much of the revenue from natural re sources should stay in the region, many regional governmental figures were taking a “centralist” line. One of the Creole group, however, a member of the autonomy commission in the south, stood up and declared:
“The struggle here is not a struggle over money; it is a struggle for the right to participate in the decisions that affect our lives. For so many years we have been marginalized and decisions made over our heads….”
Another commission member spoke out for equal representation by ethnic group in the Regional Council:
“Let us not forget all the ethnocentrism of the past. We must avoid the situation where, because of mere volume [in the population], one ethnic group has hegemony. It is an audacious suggestion perhaps, but to be faithful to my conscience I propose that all ethnic groups have an equal number of seats in the Council, regardless of their proportion in the population.”
But the group was small — only about a dozen people from it spoke in the plenary.
In spite of the fact that the positions of the Misurasata group coincided closely with those of the Creole group, there seems to have been virtually no communication between the two. The Misurasata group, furthermore, gave little support to the positions the Creole group put forward in the plenary, indeed they scarcely spoke at all.
If these groups “lost,” then who was it that “won”? First of all, it is essential to point out that the majority won; most votes passed by a huge margin with at most a handful of opposition votes and few abstentions. Second, the most articulate speakers arguing the more “centralist” line included respected local leaders, such as the regions’ representatives to the National Assembly, officials of the regional governments, and certain members of the autonomy commissions. It appears that the vast majority, which crossed ethnic lines and included large sectors of Creoles and Miskitu, either agreed with the positions of these figures or simply placed their trust in them. Moreover, some Miskitu delegates were possibly reluctant to associate themselves with proposals voiced by delegates who had so recently been under arms against the government, and consequently chose to work out their own aspirations for autonomy under the fairly open-ended proposals already agreed to by Managua.
Many sectors expressed an overriding optimism and enthusiasm about the thing in its generality without analyzing in detail the points of discussion. During one session, for example, a Miskitu observed:
“In the past we were divided and also the Spaniards [Mestizos from the Pacific1 oppressed us when we spoke our own language. Now for the first time we’re talking about unity and our rights as Miskitu.”
“In the past there were no meetings like these. We didn’t understand our rights, and other people, like the North Americans, destroyed our natural resources. Today we understand better, now we’re working for our development.”
These kinds of remarks-and voting patterns-demonstrate that most of the delegates approved of the general connotations of “autonomy” and trusted in the current leadership-autonomy commission, government, or party-to bring it about.
Although the product of a regionally based democratic process, the statute does not explicitly accord much power to the regions. In part the vagueness was purposely built in, as is usual in national constitutions and other statements of principles. The details will be worked out “sobre la marcha” (“in the course of things”) and established in more specific laws.
Also, it must be remembered that the statute is a compromise representing the current configuration of the conflict of interests inevitable in any such determination of the relative powers of different levels of government administration. The regional political figures with a role in national government had to be concerned about not appearing too regionalist, in order to “get [the bill] past Managua.”
Beyond these explanations, the somewhat “centralist” leanings of the statute are the outcome of a more specific contradiction between the two main goals of the autonomy project itself: 1) to recognize the legitimacy of ethnicbased and regional demands, promoting participatory democracy and more local control; and 2) to bring peace to the region. These goals are possibly mutually antagonistic in the current period.
The first goal implies empowerment and dealing responsibly with its consequences. Ideally a situation should result where ethnic-based or regional demands could be negotiated between the sector in question and the regional or national government, or between the regional government and the national government. In order to function as truly participatory democracy, autonomy requires an engaged, critically thinking population. Such characteristics clearly are not created overnight, nor are they instilled from the outside. They are produced by a people’s own struggle against systems of oppression or toward some other betterment of their situation.
A government can choose to promote such mobilization, as is being done on the Coast through the literacy campaign in native languages, indigenous mass organizations, community education in primary health care, etc.-or not. In the current circumstances of continuing war, given the history of Misurasata and the organizing potential shown by Creole intellectuals in the past, the government undoubtedly wants to avoid strong ethnic mobilization, especially by the two largest of the minority ethnic groups, while promoting mobilization around less potentially divisive issues. This explains the somewhat defensive posture taken by influential Coast leaders toward the “regionalist” positions of the nonFSLN Creole and Misurasata groups in the Multiethnic Assembly.
The war must be won before autonomy can flourish as a full, complicated, contradiction-laden political system/process enjoying massive participation of Coast people. In the meantime, the new autonomy statute has laid the groundwork for its eventual realization by establishing-with considerable open-endedness-the necessary structures. Through these structures the historic demands of Coast people regarding control of natural resources, participation in regional economic decisions, respect for cultural traditions, and representation in government, will be addressed and negotiated.
November-December 1987, ATC 11