Current Events, Volunteers

Bluefields, Nicaragua

dscf8484Bluefields, the previously prospering and booming colonial port in Nicaragua formerly ruled by Britain is now filled with slums and drug-trafficking.

Bluefields is the capital of the South Caribbean Autonomous Region (RACS) in Nicaragua. Composed of the largest population of people of African descent, Bluefields has a strong and direct relationship to Creole culture.

The British and Spanish held power in Bluefields during the 17th century. Spain conquered the Providencia settlement and inserted itself into the Miskito Indians’ African ancestral group. British then later extended control in Mosquitia and forced Africans to be slave labor, according to Disparate Diasporas.

Bluefields was sealed off from the rest of Nicaragua. This started with the British Protectorate of the Mosquitia (1710). The History Files website states that the Miskito natives claimed the colony of Greytown and controlled the indigenous communities. As the interest in the region declined, Britain assigned this protectorate to Honduras. Consequently, the Miskito rebelled against this, and power was transferred to Nicaragua.

A racial hierarchy prevailed alongside racial mixing of the various groups of people. For instance, the freed colored people were in the middle and the Maroons (unmixed Mosquitian former slaves of African descent) at the bottom.

Despite the British leaving Bluefields, slavery remained. Blackness was equated with servitude. Maroons defeated the British attempt to retain power over Bluefields by communicating to U.S. traders that they had been sold their freedom by Col. Robert Hodgson, a British imperialist of Nicaragua, and claimed direct descendancy from him. This confirmed their freedom and high social and racial hierarchy, according to Disparate Diasporas.

Separate from the directly oppressive colonial regimes, people inhabiting Bluefields referred to themselves as Miskito Coast Creole culture. The term described all the free English-Creole- speaking nonwhite people born in the Americas and residing in the Mosquitia. The Creoles that rose up held immense power and wealth. Among the Creoles, an elite held economic authority and possessed slaves. They used black and less wealthy populations as a source of labor.

During the late 1800’s, Bluefields became a trading center as a result of its trade with the U.S. According to BlackPast.org, Nicaragua established Spanish in place of English as the official language of the region.

It took approximately one hundred years until Bluefields regained its power from Nicaragua.

In 1988, the LA Times called Bluefields a “funky fishing port with a reggae beat and an Afro -Caribbean beat”. Now it is a region full of slums and run-down buildings.

Struck by Hurricane Joan and involved in the Nicaraguan Civil War in 1988, the population of Bluefields suffered economically. Essentially, the locals hold little social, political, and economic power. Although the Nicaraguan government is engaged in local affairs, it does not assist the local population.

Nacíon Comunitario Moskitia is an organization fighting for Bluefields’ autonomy and rights and is headed by Peter Moore. Through using a 1984 document, the organization will support the idea that the people from the self-governing region do not have to pay taxes to the Nicaraguan government. According to Tico Times, the document states “All income that the Miskito coast produces will be invested in their own benefit, preserving economic autonomy.

Moore states that Nicaragua does not respect the laws of the self-governing region by taxing it just like other regions of Nicaragua while not investing in Bluefields.

There is further division with the segregation of the four indigenous groups. Each group has their own institutions accorded to them.

Bluefields has changed but there are groups working on bettering the conditions of the region.

This article was written by RK, a volunteer at the San Jose Peace & Justice Center. Thank you for your research and sharing this important topic. 

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Current Events, Volunteers

“The Kurdish Bike: Life in a Village in Kurdish Iraq” Forum at the Humanist House on 10.22.17

By Abiola A, a student volunteer from San Jose State University

This was a talk about Alesa Lightbourne’s experience in Kurdish Iraq where she went there to teach abroad but ended up learning about herself and the new country she was living in. Her book and her presentation were about her time there and the experiences she had with the people there in 2010.

Her story started with her son asking her a simple question, “if you could do anything, what would you do?” She turned her answer into action and decided to teach abroad in Kurdistan with the Peace Corps. She explained the origins and demographics of the Kurdish people which started with them spread out among the lands of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. They are the world’s largest group of people without a country and have been a people since 500 B.C. The idea of “divide and conquer” was prevalent in the tactics of leaders like Winston Churchill and others like him, because they knew how much power people like the Kurds had if they united. Also, leaders knew the Kurds lived where the world’s major oil resource was. Having them split among their enemies’ lands made them easier to control.

When Alesa was there, she asked some men on the street what they wanted in life and they all said they wanted to be free and unified in Kurdistan. They were all once promised that they would be free but just like many other treaties, it fizzled out and the promise was never kept. Failed policies like that and the Al Anfel genocide are the reasons why Kurdistan is in the present state. The Al Anfel genocide led to the destruction of 4,000 of 4,655 towns, ruined their agriculture, and killed many men while placing women into concentration camps and brothels.

As for the Kurdistan Alesa lived in, she had an unexpected and last-minute change of plans in terms of her teaching. She expected to teach adults at a university but ended up teaching middle school because the students’ last teacher was kidnapped and they were without a teacher for two months. It was an adjustment for her because they have a stricter structure for teachers to follow for those grade levels compared to college students. For example, administrators and other staff would walk by the classrooms to make sure the students were on the scheduled lesson (by checking their page number) and made sure the teachers didn’t sit down every day.

Through teaching her students she learned the harsh reality of female genital mutilation. A girl went up to her and asked how Alesa felt when she was mutilated. Alesa was shocked learning that such a young girl thought it was normal all over the world for girls and women to have their clitorises cut off. Alesa found herself in conflict of learning to be tolerant of aspects of other cultures, including genital mutilation. She also was aware of how Kurdish women weren’t allowed to do things many women could do freely in the states like even riding a bike. She dressed like a man (or more gender neutral than she usually dressed) and explored Kurdistan on her “Blue Angel,” bike. While exploring she met a woman named Bezma, who was studying to become an English teacher. Alesa became well acquainted with Bezma and her family and learned how similar her life can be with people on the other side of the world, despite their apparent differences.

I don’t want to give too much away about her book but after attending her presentation, it was clear that it was a life changing experience. So much so that enriched her life in a way that motivated her to tell her story to the world in her book, The Kurdish Bike: Life in a Village in Kurdish Iraq.

If you haven’t read it, go check it out!