Global Campain on Agrarian Reform: Mission in Nicaragua

Preliminary Report

Managua, Nicaragua, June 29th, 2007 – On invitation of the peasant organisations of the Agrarian Desk (Mesa Agropecuaria Forestal – MAF), member of the Via Campesina and the Human Rights Organisation of Nicaragua (CENIDH-Centro Nicaragüense de Derechos Humanos), The International Research Mission visited Nicaragua from June 22 until June 29 in order to verify the denounced human rights violations regarding peasant and indigenous communities. The Mission integrated delegates from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Germany and Nicaragua, all members of FIAN International and La Via Campesina. The Mission has been carried out in the context of the “Global Campaign for Agrarian Reform” which Via Campesina and FIAN have been promoting since 1999.

The general objective of the Mission has been to support the national endeavours regarding the Right to Food and the Agrarian Reform in Nicaragua by verifying concrete cases in the Departments of Matagalpa, Chinandega, Managua and the Atlantic Coast, in which the economic, social and cultural rights, particularly the Right to Food and the Right to Land of the peasant and indigenous communities, have been threatened or violated.  The International Mission held meetings with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAGFOR), with the General Prosecutor of the Republic, the Intendancy for Property, the National Commission for Peace, Reconciliation and Justice, FAO, the Municipal Mayor of Tipitapa and Waspam, the organisations of producers FENACOOP, UNAPA, ATC, ARNIC, CNOR and different organisations of the Civil Society like INGES, GISSAN, the Civil Coordination and SIMAS.

General Situation:
Nicaragua has an advantageous agricultural situation compared with the remaining Central American countries, as it is the biggest, and has the least population per square kilometre. It remains a basically agricultural country, with a big productive potential concerning food production. However, it also faces serious problems of hunger, malnutrition and poverty. The distribution of the population and the poverty defers   between urban areas and rural areas: in the urban area the percentage of population is highly concentrated (58.3 %), however shows a low quota of poverty; whereas in the rural areas it is the contrary,  a total of 41.7 % of population  shows  a very high quota of poverty. The Central and Atlantic regions continue to be the poorest in the country, the two together concentrate about 73.5 % of extreme poverty. The Central region shows the highest percentage of poverty (41 %) and of the extreme poor (51.7 %), even though the region concentrates half of the total population (43.5 %),  and therefore of the actual  alimentary and nutritive security problem.

The Sandinist Revolution left a radically changed agrarian structure when Daniel Ortega passed the office on to the  government of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in April 1990. More than 1 million hectares land dedicated to agriculture had changed hands. The electoral loss of the Sandinists did not only signify a change in government but also a change of system. All transferrals executed during the revolution were questioned by the new governing class. A pact of transition achieved to limit the velocity and profundity of change, also securing the property to those benefited by Agrarian Reform. Being convinced, that the Agrarian Reform would never be questioned, the Sandinists had not undertaken the task to legalise properly the massive transferrals. Sixteen years later when the Sandinist area ended, the legalisation of the land handed over in the framework of the Agrarian Reform had not been completed. The lack of a systematic and complete land register – there is only a partial register of the Pacific region of 1971 – adds on to the problems created by the Sandinist practice of registering land handed over with a new number, without taking reference to the old number registered before. In view of this situation those benefited under the Reform in the decade of the 80s and 90s still lack legal title, because of which they live in a insecure situation or have been robbed of their land which had been handed over to them in the framework of the Agrarian Reform.

Verification of the specific cases visited in the rural areas:

Case 1: San Antonio de Oaxaca Farm, Department of Matagalpa
A group of 45 agrarian labourers  (37 men and 17 women) in view of working wages not paid, presented charges to William Benavides Chavarría in 2002. The local judge decided in their favour and ordered, that the farm “San Antonio” (of 259 manzanas) be handed over to the workers, in lieu of payment. But in February 2003 the property was invaded by 43 peasants who said to have a letter of attribution which they received from the government in office under the so called “La Tuna Agreements”. Since then there have been different acts of human rights violations, like evictions, during which people were beaten, injured and various persons detained. Moreover since then they have not been able to use the property. The group of agricultural workers has appealed to different Government instances, they have demonstrated and demanded a solution with different departmental and national instances (OIT, Intendancy of Property, Ministry of Government, and others), and only have received a promise to solve their problem, the last one on behalf of the National Secretary of FSLN (the Sandinist Party), that during the next days a definitive property title would be handed over to them.

Case 2:  La Pintada Farm, Department of Matagalpa
In 1990 a group of 48 peasant families acquired a rental contract with the State with an option for acquisition of the La Pintada farm of 600 manzanas. Until 2002 they led a quiet life, but in this year the contract ended and in October 2002 the State handed over property title in the framework of Agrarian Reform to 30 demobilised persons. At the same time the original workers verified that the property is part of the territory of the indigenous community of Matagalpa and asked for their support and obtained from them a document which permitted the usage of the land. (The 2nd court of the civil district of Matagalpa dictated a sentence which says that this property is part of the territory of the Indigenous Community of Matagalpa and therefore the State does not have the authority to hand over titles of Agrarian Reform for this land). In 2004  the Intendancy for Property and the police installed 145 families on the property (under the Agreements of “Las Tunas”). At present, the 30 demobilised families who had received a letter of assignation have left the property as they sold their part to a single family. The original group of 36 families is divided into 2 groups (21 and 15 families), of which the first one wishes to keep the whole property for themselves, preventing the remaining  group from cultivating their productive plots.  The demand is to annul the sale carried out by the group of demobilised persons and that the government should solve the problem of the original families by means of titling the property.

Case 3: La Suana farm, Department of Matagalpa
Since 1990 a group of 55 labourers acquired rental contract with an option to buy the property called “La Suana” of 345 manzanas, situated in the Department of Matagalpa. En April of 2005, they were invaded by a group of 40 persons which said to have a letter of assignation for 80 manzanas handed over by the then Government under the “Agreement of Las Tunas”. This group sold the land and left it in October 2006. The original group which has been living on the farm for 17 years, had to bear evictions by  the police, with people beaten, injured and imprisoned. Despite this situation  they constructed their houses, school, installed a drinking water system and even though the land is insufficient, they have been able to produce their own alimentation and other agricultural products for the market, and therefore they expect that the Intendancy of Property will give them the corresponding title of property.

Case 4: El Ensayo Farm, Department of Chinandega
In 1992 the cooperative “Rafael Herrera”, which integrates 73 families (400 persons, 217 minors under 12 years) was organised, and received a letter of assignation for the El Ensayo property of 365.28 manzanas, situated in the Department of Chinandega. The conflict started when some persons showed up with titles handed over under the Agrarian Reform by former governments, with which until today there exists a judicial conflict. Due to this situation the cooperative has been evicted on several occasions, with people being beaten, injured, imprisoned, their crops were destroyed and the water wells poisoned, from which they take their drinking water. They also undertook marches to the Capital, carried out hunger strikes and other actions, to call the attention of the authorities so that they may solve their problem. The National Court for Property decided in favour of the cooperative in 2005 and did not accede to the demand of the other party. In 2006 the mentioned property had been registered under the State of Nicaragua, because of which the General State Attorney of the Republic has been asked to annul the inscription of the title under the Agrarian Reform which Ms. Carmen Deshon had registered, which is most important so that the Intendancy of Property can  hand over the definitive title to the 71 families of the cooperative “Rafael Herrera”.

Case 5: El Timal farm, Department of Managua
Of this property of about 36.000 manzanas, only about 5.000 manzanas are property of the State of Nicaragua. There are 2 settlements and 17 agricultural cooperatives, comprising 2.000 families who arrived from different parts of the country and who have had been demobilised from the army, the police, the resistance of Nicaragua, plus 500 families without land. These families have been living on this land since 2000 and during this time they had to suffer various evictions, but also invasion of the property by other groups, because of which there have been confrontations between the different groups, resulting in persons injured and imprisoned. Furthermore, they had productive losses, because their crops were eaten  by cattle of other private owners. At this moment, the government has installed an inter-institutional commission in order to tackle this land issue and attend to these groups. The intention is to carry out a revision of the claims so that land titles can be handed over to the true subjects entitled under  the Agrarian Reform.  This group demands to receive the definitive land titles.

Case 6: Awas Tigni, Caribbean Coast
The Mayagna people of Awas Tigni have fought since 1990 for the recognition of their inherited rights over their territory. In view of the negligence of the former governments, the Inter-American Court for Human Rights decided on August 31, 2001, that the State of Nicaragua has to delineate the territory of the community Awas Tigni in the course of 15 months. Unlike former governments, the presently installed one has given special attention to the Awas Tigni case, which can be noticed due to various advances in this year. On February 14, 2007, the Regional Autonomous Council of the Atlantic ratified a former resolution of the Commission for Territorial Demarcation and Restructuring, which will solve the problem of overlapping between the Awas Tigni community and three Miskita communities. Recently, the Secretary to the Presidency for the Caribbean Coast, Lumberto Campbell, expressed to the Awas Tigni community that the process of demarcation will be initiated in these days, and that the title will be handed over on August 9th, 2007. During a meeting with the Mission, the Vicen-Intendancy for Property, confirmed this statement of the Secretary to the Presidency. After visiting this case in situ, the Mission attributes great importance to these advances, and is asking to maintain this level of attention on the case, in view of the problems to expect when the territory will be delineated. Furthermore, the Mission asks to consider the situation of threats and harassment which are being experienced in this territory. Therefore, it asks to adopt all measures necessary to give an effective protection to the Awas Tigni community against any kind of aggression and hostility by third persons.


During the visits in the rural areas, the majority of the peasant families said, that the government has shown signs of political good will to stand up to the agrarian problem, but that it remains to be seen, how these promises will be carried out in order to really solve the agrarian conflicts and facilitate the necessary resources to the communities so that they can produce their own food.

During the meeting held with the competent authorities about cases verified by the Mission, the General Attorney of the Republic, Intendancy of Property and Council for   Reconciliation, Peace and Justice have expressed their compromise to give special attention to solve the cases presented by the Mission.

The International Mission appreciates the political decision of the Government to consider the problem of alimentary security for the population to be a national priority, which is expressed in starting the Hambre Cero (Zero Hunger) Programme, especially in handing over the so called Productive Bonus to rural women.

We also consider of utmost importance to count with a specific judicial framework in order to fight the causes for hunger and malnutrition, seen with a focus on  the human Right to Food.  Therefore we also laud the Governmental project proposal for a Law of Alimentary Sovereignty.

We also consider this to be a positive step to create the Territorial Operative Commissions for the solution of the agrarian conflicts, using means of mediation and negotiations. Here again special attentions has to be given to the indigenous communities through a special vice-intendancy which will be responsible for the demarcation and final titling for the territories of the indigenous communities in favour of their legitimate owners.


Based on the observations made, the International Research Mission of Via Campesina and FIAN International recommends the following to the Government of Nicaragua:
1.    To fight hunger, to defend the right to food and to promote the alimentary security as priority of the Government
2.    In order to solve the underlying general conflict in the agrarian sector in Nicaragua, it is absolutely necessary to implement a land policy in the framework of an Integral Agrarian Reform which will facilitate the access to land and guarantee the security and use of this land.
3.    A profound process for territorial restructuring is necessary which will include a revision of the register and titles on national level and the delineation of all those properties, which at these moments do not have clarity o show various property titles for the same land.
4.    It is necessary to follow up and strengthen the specific attention to the solution of agrarian conflicts, specially the cases verified by the Mission, taking into account the integral perspective of the human rights of vulnerable groups. This refers to various State institutions and peasant and indigenous organisations.
5.    The promotion of the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of rural women, which means that – when titling land in their favour, or in health, educative and working politics – any type of discrimination which is still prevailing, will be fought and overcome.
6.    The imminent demarcation and titling of the indigenous territories in order to return their ancestral rights and the prevention of conflicts which might evolve during delineation.
7.    The highest possible participation and transparency when planning and carrying out public policies with regard to the Right to Food, Right to Land, and rural development.

Follow Up of the Mission

This present report has preliminary character and will be elaborated and concluded by end of August of this year, and will then be presented to peasant  and human rights organisations in Nicaragua, as well as to competent Government instances. It will also be presented to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations, the Special Rapporteurs for the Right to Food, Right to Housing, for the Defenders of Human Rights, and Indigenous Peoples, and to the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights of the Organisation of American States.

We will also monitor, whether the compromises expressed by Government authorities to the International Mission, will be fulfilled.

Via Campesina                                                  FIAN International