Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The Miskito independence movement Wihta Tara has been marching for about three days, and the entire town has more or less shut down (though some of that may be because it´s raining so much). I heard that there were people throwing stones and pro-Sandinista folks lighting tires on fire down at the central park, but this entire part of town is quiet now. The Wihta Tara headquarters, which is also referred to as the Miskitia embassy, is only two blocks south of our house. There was a police blockade by it earlier. Police were grabbing young men as they walked by and pulling up their shirts to see if they carried any weaponry, but besides that everyone was mostly just standing around and waiting.

The conflict has brought out a lot of the racial tensions in the city. Creole and mestizo folks have very strong prejudices against the Miskitos. On Sunday, we were eating lunch at the house of a mestiza woman we are helping with some English translations when Wihta Tara marched by the first time. She explained to me that they were mostly thieves, delinquents, and people who generally didn´t want to work. Despite Wihta Tara´s emphasis that they are a nonviolent movement, they seem to be widely perceived as violence-obsessed. I think both sides have some truth in their versions. The man in charge of trash collection, whom we had spoken to the day before, explained that Wihta Tara was a bunch of old people who wanted to go back to the days when people hunted with bows and arrows.

He did also make the point that the original Miskito monarchy which Wihta Tara is trying to reinstate was only a puppet of the British government, anyhow. The presence of imperialism on the Atlantic Coast is interesting this way. It has long taken the form of economic conquest, even when political conquest was the primary form of empire elsewhere in the world. However, it is the political conquest of the past 100 years, and especially the last 30, by the Nicaraguan government that has the local people up in arms.

The politics are accompanied by the economic reality that the wealthy here tend to be Creole and especially mestizo, and the Miskito people tend to be poor. This is especially visible in the two schools where we work. The private Catholic school is overwhelmingly Mestizo and Spanish-speaking. Several of the teachers characterize the students as spoiled rich kids (comparatively) who expect to live off their parents´money and don´t feel the need to learn or be respectful. My experience teaching there does not lead me to disagree. The kids at Maureen Courtney, the special needs school, are predominately Miskito (because, according to one mestiza woman, the Miskito parents don´t care for their kids as well).

All of this makes for a mildly uncomfortable position for me as an outsider. Though they do think I am monied, no one really bears any grievances against me as a white person or American. All their resentment is for one another. This is, in the end, the legacy of European imperialism on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting observations. Do you think the prejudices would be absent if there had not been imperialistic influences earlier?