South and Meso American Indian Rights Center

Tuesday, January 6, 1998


This Action is very urgent. Collaborating indigenous organizations in Nicaragua's north Atlantic region fear that violence will soon become unavoidable, if the Nicaraguan government does not stop the logging and begin the process of demarcating indigenous lands.

I will be meeting with Miskito and Mayagna leaders in Bilwi late in January and will report what I learn there in our next Action Status Report.

World Bank president James Wolfsensohn is scheduled to visit Nicaragua in March or April -- so it's very important that he hears from us.

Wishing you all a very fine new year,

Paula Palmer
Executive Director
Global Response Network

GR Action #1/98 Preserve Rainforests, Stop Logging / Nicaragua January 1998

"What will be left of Nicaragua when SOLCARSA is finished with it? Nothing more than a huge desert. How is it possible that our precious ancestral forests are being converted into plywood?"

— Gilda Aburto, Nicaraguan journalist, Ambien-Tema

The World Bank is funding a $7.1 million program to ensure "the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources" in the North Atlantic region of Nicaragua. Half the people of the North Atlantic region are indigenous Mayagna (Sumos) and Miskitos, but the Nicaraguan government has never demarcated the lands they have traditionally used and occupied. These lands are in the largest rainforest north of the Amazon.

To its credit, the World Bank project requires the Nicaraguan government to create and carry out legal mechanisms to demarcate and title Indian lands, so that Mayagna and Miskito communities will be able to conserve and manage their precious natural resources. The Nicaraguan government claims to be complying with World Bank requirements by introducing legislation to initiate the demarcation process. But at the same time it is granting logging concessions in the hardwood forests where the Mayagna and Miskito communities are located.

Mayagna and Miskito organizations and Nicara-guan environmentalists are denouncing the logging concessions. They point out that by the time indigenous peoples' lands are demarcated and titled, the forests will be cut down, the waters polluted, and the indigenous communities uprooted and displaced by loggers. Indeed, this irreparable destruction is well under way.

The Nicaraguan Supreme Court has ruled the largest logging concession unconstitutional. In spite of this ruling, the Nicaraguan government refuses to revoke the logging permit. And the World Bank is ignoring it as well. World Bank officials have not questioned or confronted the Nicaraguan government about logging concessions in the very region where the Bank's objective is to "ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources."

If the Nicaraguan government can obtain World Bank funding for conservation with one hand, and fat fees from multinational logging companies with the other, it will hardly be motivated to take conservation and sustainable development seriously. The World Bank can and should stand up to this hypocrisy.

Background: The SOLCARSA Concession

The largest logging concession, measuring 62,000 hectares (155,000 acres), has been granted to SOLCARSA, a subsidiary of the Korean multinational corporation Kum Kyung. The SOLCARSA concession includes the largest wild population of mahogany outside the Amazon basin. To the Mayagna people who live in the area it is sacred land.

In 1995 the Community of Awas Tigni sued Nicaragua‚s Ministry of Natural Resources for granting the SOLCARSA concession. Last February, Nicaragua's Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Awas Tigni Community, finding that the logging concession violates Article 181 of the Nicaraguan Constitution. But almost a year later, SOLCARSA continues to build logging roads deeper and deeper into the rainforest, and the Nicaraguan government refuses to revoke the company's concession.

As SOLCARSA's roads advance toward the expanding port facilities under construction in Bilwi (Puerto Cabezas), indigenous communities are already experiencing disruption, displacement and contamination. The Mayagna and Miskito village of Finicia was forcibly relocated once so that SOLCARSA could build a plywood plant. Now the company wants the village to move again, abandoning newly planted crops and fruit trees, to permit expansion of logging decks and lumber yards. Promises of scholarships, schools, electricity, drinking water and jobs in exchange for relocating have not been fulfilled.

In Betania, where SOLCARSA began logging in May 1995, residents complain that SOLCARSA overworked laborers and forced some to work against their will. Other communities have testified that SOLCARSA has been cutting outside of its concession and has not sought permission from communal landholders who have legal title to the land. Observers have found that SOLCARSA's wood treatment plants use toxic chemicals that have been banned in most countries, risking contamination of drinking water and agricultural lands.

Requested Action:

Global Response members are asked to write letters to the president of the World Bank and to the president of Nicaragua.

1) Write a polite letter to the President of Nicaragua. Ask him to revoke the SOLCARSA logging concession until the process of demarcating and titling indigenous lands is completed.

2) Write a polite letter to the President of the World Bank. In your letter:

Commend the World Bank for requiring the Nicaraguan government to demarcate and title indigenous peoples' lands, as part of its Atlantic Biological Corridor Project.

Point out that if SOLCARSA and other companies are allowed to continue logging, precious hardwood forests where Mayagna and Miskito people live will be destroyed before demarcation and titling can be completed. Continued logging makes a farce of indigenous land rights, natural resource management and sustainable development -- the World Bank's stated goals in the Atlantic region.

Urge the World Bank to persuade the Nicaraguan government to revoke the SOLCARSA concession until the process of indigenous land demarcation and titling in the Atlantic region is complete.

Send faxes or letters to:

James D. Wolfensohn, President
The World Bank
1818 H. St. NW
Washington D.C. 20433
FAX: code+202/522-3031

Sr. Arnoldo Aleman
President of Nicaragua
Casa Presidencial
Managua, Nicaragua
FAX: code+505/228-7911

This Global Response Action was issued in support of and with information provided by the Indian Law Resource Center, Centro CONADES (Bilwi, Nicaragua), and the Environmental Task Force of the Nicaragua Network.

GLOBAL RESPONSE is an international letter-writing network of environmental activists. In partnership with indigenous, environmentalist and peace and justice organizations around the world, GLOBAL RESPONSE develops Actions that describe specific, urgent threats to the environment; each Action asks members to write personal letters to individuals in the corporations, governments or international organizations that have the power and responsibility to take corrective action. GR also issues Young Environmentalists' Actions and Eco-Club Actions designed to educate and motivate elementary and high school students to practice earth stewardship.

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