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Indigenous Nicaragua

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Smoke_break_el_serrano_1987

During the Sandinista Revolution, there was open hostility between the FSLN and the Miskito peoples who lived on the Atlantic Coast. This was emblematic of how a lot of Marxist groups felt about native peoples, who largely just wanted to be left alone and had no interest in the modernization projects pushed by Marxist ideology. This conflict led to a lot of depredations and it was pretty bad. In fact, a lot of Miskitos joined the Contras as a way to resist the Sandinista incursions on their lands. Today, Daniel Ortega claims to be an ally of the Miskitos and maybe he is on some level. But in a nation as poor and rural as Nicaragua, it’s not too surprising that settlers are moving onto Miskito lands, that a lot of really bad things are happening, and that the Miskitos are losing out and having their lands stolen, as has happened to indigenous peoples in the Americas for over 500 years.

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  • LeeEsq

    There isn’t exactly a right to be left alone under most forms of Marxism though even if your from an indigenous group. A lot of Marxists groups tend to adopt a very dualistic cosmology and you are either with them or against them. Its a repeated theme throughout the 20th century.

    • antoni_jaume

      It is not that there is a right to be left alone under right wing policies. Unless it is to be left alone to starve to death.

      • LeeEsq

        Thats a non-sequiter. I’m just pointing out that we really shouldn’t be surprised at the behavior of the Sadinistas towards the Miskito peoples. Its perfectly fitting with most forms of Marxism. The idea that different groups like the Miskito or the Hasidim should be left alone if generally a liberal one and even than its selectively applied.

        • DrDick

          It has nothing to do with Marxism, as rightwing groups in Latin America generally even worse (witness the Guatemalan genocide against the Maya).

          • Conservatism, over the past 100 years or so, though, has put a lot of effort into persuading people that liberalism and leftism are destroying traditional (and seemingly traditional) ways of life, and that people who feel unhappy about this can find refuge with the conservatives.

            However, they didn’t necessarily combine this with politics or a belief that a conservative way forward was possible. Therefore, aj is right that people were logically to be left either to starve (or to sadly compromise their principles, either by collaborating or by creating (quasi-)fascist groups).

            Parts of the left–I couldn’t say whether they are Marxists–apparently have incorporated this conservative propaganda, which isn’t to say there isn’t a need to better consider how indigenous and generally rural people should be treated. It may be true that the right in Latin America has been worse, but I read the OP as a call for self-examination, not exculpation by comparative condemnation of the other side.

            • DrDick

              Again, this is not about which side is superior, but about the fact that this ideology is not linked to any particular political agenda. It is not about Marxism or conservatism, but about colonialist mentalities which affect everyone in the colonizing societies.

          • No Longer Middle Aged Man

            I disagree. It has a lot to do with particular variants of Marxism which see “tribal” ways of life as archaic and that it is the responsibility of the state/society to bring such groups into modernity. This has been the ostensible justification of China re Tibet (get rid of feudal forms) even though there is a significant element of Han ethno-nationalism.

            The right wing assaults on indigenous people can also take this view but they have some other variants:
            1. Guatemala: as you cite, where it was an all out assault on indigenous people based on racism and fear that they would harbor rebels
            2. Ecuador: I don’t recall much justification ever being given, it was fairly raw “we want their land, it has valuable resources and belongs to the nation”
            3. Brazil: the indigenous people are Brazilians, we must incorporate them into society. I think this was probably the most cynical of all the approaches given what “incorporation” meant in practice. Even more so since the original premise of the sertanistas was that they were required to go unarmed to seek out indigenous peoples and in essence accept being killed so as to demonstrate that society (aka white people) were not a threat and that society meant them (the indigenous peoples) no harm.

            • LeeEsq

              A lot of different modernist political philosophies across the political spectrum have struggled with what to do with many different types of groups that apparently want nothing or at least selectively little to do with the modernity or general society. Different indigenous groups, religious groups like the Amish or Haredim, nomadic groups like the Roma or Bedouin, or even counter-cultural groups that aren’t strictly traditional but don’t like the majority interpretation of modernity.

              Some have no ethical problem with forcing their modernity on these groups for a variety of reasons. Others have qualms about enforcing modernity but aren’t exactly that thrilled about letting traditional and potentially somewhat to very illiberal groups go out on their own. Others will allow some traditional groups to carry on but not others depending on variety of formula. People on the right will be more supportive of religious anti-modern groups and those on the left of indigenous groups.

            • DrDick

              Again, this is not about “Marxism” as such, but reflects the larger values and priorities of the settler society, as your example demonstrate.

              • gmack

                Except that Marx himself occasionally made noises in these directions (i.e., he occasionally indulged in some basic modernization narratives that viewed indigenous societies as “earlier” and “archaic” forms). That’s not surprising. Marx too emerged in a context of European colonialism. But the question is not how to save some “true Marxism” from the taint of modernization narratives but to investigate how one might adopt the insights of Marxist analyses while avoiding the seductions of European chauvinism.

                • DrDick

                  I would agree with that and am not an orthodox Marxist for exactly those kinds of reasons.

          • LeeEsq

            Thats some high whataboutery.

            • DrDick

              No, it is simply the truth that these ideologies permeate colonial societies, regardless of political orientation. Blaming “Marxism” misses the point.

      • Marxism is a dualistic philosophy that historically combines commitment to modernization with political rights for ordinary people. Originally there was just a smidgen of magical thinking that hid the fact that Marxists only have the same means available as everyone else when they turn out to want to make people do something they don’t want to do. (Beyond the fact that some Marxists assumed people like the Miskito would simply, having lost relevance, disappear.)

        • LeeEsq

          Exactly. Its why Murc points out that leftism without liberalism always becomes a form of authoritarianism.

          • Murc

            Awww, my message is being heard!

            • LeeEsq

              I’m on the right of this site, so I always thought like you did. My general belief is that the recipe for a free and prosperous society is relatively easy. Market economics for prosperity and wealth, a welfare state to avoid inequality and promote some degree of fairness, and liberal democracy to prevent abuse of power and authoritarianism.

              • cpinva

                “Market economics for prosperity and wealth”

                you conveniently left out the third part of this trifecta: social destruction. even adam smith recognized, many years ago, that the “invisible hand”, left purely to its own devices, will inevitably destroy the economy it’s supposed to be running. it will do this because of man’s natural greed. to keep (or at least attempt to keep) this from happening, gov’t regulation/enforcement is necessary, a fact the right has been arguing against since day one.

                • LeeEsq

                  I said market economics. That doesn’t mean pure unfettered capitalism.

                • cpinva

                  “I said market economics. That doesn’t mean pure unfettered capitalism.”

                  what, exactly, do you think “market economics” is, other than “pure, unfettered capitalism”? every rightwingnutjob who rails against gov’t regulation asserts that the (unfettered) market is the sole, best determinant of the proper allocation of scarce, allocable resources. had you mentioned a well regulated market, I might take you seriously. you didn’t, so I don’t.

        • Murc

          Marxism is a dualistic philosophy that historically combines commitment to modernization with political rights for ordinary people.

          … it does?

          I’m trying to think of a major polity that embraced both Marxism and political rights for ordinary people and coming up blank.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, it is right there in the name. ;-)

            • Ramon A. Clef

              My high school German teacher, back when the GDR was still a thing: “If they have to put ‘Democratic’ AND ‘Republic’ in the name, they’re protesting too much.”

              • Q.E.Dumbass

                A softer example would be the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which does not actually exist as a state.

                • Domino

                  The dominant political party in Japan over the past 40 years is the LDP – Liberal-Democratic Party.

              • cpinva

                kind of like when someone starts a sentence with, “I’m not a racist but………..”. they’re a racist.

          • LeeEsq

            Marxists don’t seem to like it when other people have different ideas.

            • DrDick

              Nor do conservatives or “moderates”.

              • AdamPShort

                My favorite is when “moderates” go on and on about how the problem is the left and the right and how they just call each other idiots and never listen and then as soon as the “moderate” catches his breath he’s calling the left and the right idiots and saying there’s no point in listening to them.

            • IM

              Historically liberals also liked top drag indigenous societies or generally “backward” areas kicking and screaming into the century of the fruitbat.

              The Vendee, the canudos war, the war against the cristeros and so on.

              • Linnaeus

                There’s also the native peoples of North America.

            • Aaron Morrow

              Marxists People don’t seem to like it when other people have different ideas.

              • AdamPShort

                I am struck often by how many statements people make about specific groups of people that can easily – and uncontroversially – be applied to human beings generally.

                I just had someone scream at me that Democrats lie, cheat, steal and produce coarse propaganda. This is a difficult charge to meet since these are near-universal qualities of human beings, and thus it is trivially true that Democrats, being human beings, do these things.

          • IM

            I’m trying to think of a major polity that embraced both Marxism and political rights for ordinary people

            West Bengal. Or Kerala.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              Except both of these states are part of the greater democratic polity of India. So the communist state governments in Kerala and West Bengal were constrained by the much greater power of the Congress Party in control of the federal government.

              • cpinva

                btw, welcome back J. Otto.

              • IM

                constrained or surpressed. Not alawys paragons of democracy, congress.

                But yes, it is telling that I don’t have a nation state example.

          • DrDick

            I am trying to think of any settler/colonial society that embraced full rights for all the people and not just the colonialists.

            • “Colonialists”: typo?

              • DrDick

                Nope.

            • Murc

              That list is almost certainly zero, yeah.

              • LeeEsq

                New Zealand comes as close as possible.

                • DrDick

                  Not even close. They have made some progress in the last 30 years, but they were as bad as anyone else before that.

                • LeeEsq

                  The Maori were enfranchised during the 19th century and basically seen as part of the nation. That’s much better than the Americans, Australians, and Canadians.

                • DrDick

                  The Maori have been marginalized and dispossessed for most of that period. You forget that this is what I do for a living.

          • gmack

            I take bianca steele’s initial comment to be about Marxist theory, and so does not necessarily apply to any particular polity. To speak of a “Marxist polity” at all seems, well, weird. Of course, speaking about “political rights” as one of the goals of Marxism is also weird. Marx’s views on politics and the state were complicated (to put it mildly), but it’s hard to read, say, “On the Jewish Question” and come away with the idea that Marx’s goal was the provision of political rights for ordinary people.

  • rea

    Note how this mirrors the preferences of our leftier-than-thou brethren here in the US. It’s about class, not identity; therefore atrocities committed against racial, and ethnic minorities, etc. are irrelevant.

    • LeeEsq

      Its bog-standard Marxist thought on the issues. To a classic Marxist, any sort of non-class identity, be it religious, gender, sexuality, or nationally/ethnically based, is basically an illusion by the upper classes to maintain control over the working classes. Therefore, they must be discarded so we can have a true revolution.

      • Thom

        Like J Otto, you seem to want to think that Marxist thought stopped developing circa 1920. It did not.

        • LeeEsq

          Marxist thought might have evolved since 1920 but actual Marxist practice did not evolve. Every bloody attempt to implement any form of Marxist thought has been a great big, bloody disaster but this doesn’t persuade people from keeping the hope alive. This time will be different.

          • witlesschum

            The Coup has made some really good albums, though.

            • AdamPShort

              I have a copy of the original Party Music. I don’t really collect things but that’s one I’m keeping forever.

        • J. Otto Pohl

          1920? No Stalin had great innovations in Marxist thought in 1928 (collectivization), 1937 (The Great Terror and mass deportation of ethnic Koreans), and 1948 (Zhandovshchina). Mao had great innovations in Marxist thought in 1957 (anti-rightest campaign), 1958 (GLF), and 1966 (Cultural Revolution). I am sure if I wasn’t lazy I could put together similar lists of innovations in Marxist thought by Kim Il Sung and Pol Pot. But, this list goes at least to 1966 not 1920.

          • Q.E.Dumbass

            What was Mao’s dipshit:monster ratio?

            • J. Otto Pohl

              I am reading Frank Dikotter’s Mao’s Great Famine right now. He makes a compelling case that the famine resulting from the GLF was mostly evil not dumb. If nothing else it involved the summary execution or death through torture of some 2.5 million people (p. xiii).

              • Q.E.Dumbass

                Should check up to that; from my (rather limited) knowledge of Mao, my impression was that his reign was incompetence backed up by evil — essentially Gray’s Law on a grand scale.

                • Just_Dropping_By

                  The incompetence argument for the disaster of the Great Leap Forward only goes so far — the Soviet advisors in China at the time, based on the Soviet Union’s own experience, expressly warned the Chinese leadership against a number of the agricultural “reforms” they were planning. The fact that this advice was ignored suggest that there was more than just incompetence involved.

                • Q.E.Dumbass

                  Plausible, but the way you’re wording it, at least, it seems like it can easily be explained by Blithering Butthole-level arrogance.

                  I was also thinking about the Cultural Revolution, although that’s more an inversion of Gray’s Law than a straight invocation.

                • cpinva

                  “The fact that this advice was ignored suggest that there was more than just incompetence involved.”

                  yes, and I would suggest ego as part of that equation. we have a classic example of that currently sitting in the white house. I’m fairly certain Mr. Trump didn’t set up his casinos in Atlantic City with the intent that they fail, he simply decided that he was smart enough to be able to ignore a basic rule of business (don’t compete with yourself) successfully. he wasn’t/isn’t. it’s why you only very rarely see two 7-11’s across the street from each other, because it makes no sense.

                  the Chinese leadership thought they were smart enough to successfully ignore the “lessons learned” by their Soviet advisers. in the jockeying for power, to get closer to Mao by showing him they were better than the Russians, the Chinese people ended up being the sacrificial goat. oh well, plenty more where they came from.

                • Q.E.Dumbass

                  That more supports the “egotistical dumbass” hypothesis than it does malicious intent.

                • Maybe the intent was to lose money. Interesting Twitter thread on money laundring.

                  1. A thread on something that's been bothering me: How on earth was Trump losing money on his casinos while competitors were making bank? https://t.co/EsrkuLkHCV— Adam Khan (@Khanoisseur) January 7, 2017

                • LeeEsq

                  Egotistical dumbass or malicious intent? What does it matter. Tens of millions of people died and countless more suffered when they didn’t have to.

                • Q.E.Dumbass

                  Hence my saying it invoked Grey’s Law.

              • LeeEsq

                I love Frank Dikotter’s books on Modern China.

                • J. Otto Pohl

                  I had him for my historical methods class at SOAS for my MA back in 2001-2002.

          • Thom

            Like LeeEsq, you seem to be unaware of intellectual developments in Marxism, which have made great contributions in multiple fields, whatever the failings of states that claimed Marxist inspiration. Not everything is about states, politics and “great men.”

            • LeeEsq

              Our theories work well on paper even though the fail in reality when actually implemented is not a great argument. Anything can be made to work on paper. Its whether it works when dealing with actual people in the physical universe is what counts.

              • Thom

                You are still responding about states and their actions. (And yes, like many 20th century states, most that professed Marxism were awful in many respects.) Your first comment was about “Marxist thought,” so that is what I was responding to. Not all Marxism is about theories (or practices) of states. It is mostly analyses, from a Marxist perspective, of social history, economics, development, art, etc. Your approach to Marxism is like saying that all capitalist thought is the support of right-wing authoritarianism and unregulated markets. That is also not the case.

            • J. Otto Pohl

              In theory apartheid could be made to sound very benign as well. It is practice that is important.

              http://jpohl.blogspot.com/2012/12/george-fredrickson-on-race-and-south.html

              • No one on this blog is implementing policy. People do non-reformist politics because the philosophy promises them what they want. Marxism, aspirationally shorn of the impossibility of implementing it and turned into something hopefully less violent (something I personally don’t think is actually possible, beyond vague platitudes), is still the basis for quite a bit of non-reformist left wing political thinking throughout the world.

                If a small group resists past a certain point, any government of whatever philosophy is ultimately going to have to use force or give up on governing them. And in the latter case, the government will have to continually face resistance from those governed who can’t abide continual cholera epidemics and poverty. Marxism is an attempt to pretend that the correct ideological stance will allow governing to happen without resistance.

                • cpinva

                  “Marxism is an attempt to pretend that the correct ideological stance will allow governing to happen without resistance.”

                  I suspect (and I’m no Poly Sci person) that any ideology, taken to its extreme, will ultimately result in disaster. it’s why the founders set up three, co-equal and competing branches of government. the tension between them was supposed to keep any one of them from gaining so much power, they could force their extreme on everyone else. at least, I believe that was the thought process behind it. I could be wrong.

                • Thom

                  Marxism, to me, is a tool of analysis (among many other tools of analysis) that can be applied to all aspect of human reality. It emphasizes material conditions of life, but takes into account ideologies, identities, and so forth. What people criticizing “Marxism” here seem to be talking about is Stalinist methods of rule.

                • Most people here don’t seem to have academic Marxism in mind at all (also if I’m not mistaken willingness to use Marxian analyses *in the US* generally indicates left political affiliation, as it might not elsewhere), so I avoided that since there’s plenty just in the political sphere!. Obviously despite its academic usage, though, Marxism as a political stance remains a thing among activists and politicians, as well as ordinary leftists, and most leftists’, even Marxists’, willingness to defend Stalin is long gone.

                  I would be quite confused, for example, if a conservative person told me they were using Marxist modes of analysis.

                  ETA my real life experience has been that acceptance of Marx is what determines which side of the left/liberal divide one will be on.

                • Thom

                  Yes, use of Marxist analysis correlates very well with left-of-center political views. It does not correlate well with support for Stalinism, at least in the West. As a historian of Africa, interacting with other historians, anthropologists, sociologists and political scientists, I have known many Marxists, but no Stalinists. And virtually everyone in my academic generation of Africanists (PhD 1995) was influenced by Marxist thought, though it was no longer ascendant by then.

            • Domino

              Honestly, what about Mozambique?

              Revolutionary Communists took over, and established The People’s Republic.

              I lean pretty left on issues, but I’ve come to reject anyone who claims the mantle of Communist and Marxist thought. Not that Marx himself would’ve approved of a bunch of group who have taken up his mantle, but most of his “solutions” should be laid to rest along with the old man.

              Not that they’re perfect, but I see States like Denmark, Sweden, and Norway as the best we can (realistically) expect out of the State.

              • DrDick

                There are also the Nepalese Maoists.

            • There are a number of parliamentary systems with cooperating Marxist political parties, as well. This isn’t the place I’d expect to find Manichean “us versus the Commies” thinking where discussion of ideology has to be swept under the carpet because Stalin and Hoover.

  • searcher

    During the Sandinista Revolution…

    I thought we were supposed to lay off the Bernie Bros now?

    • Woodrowfan

      that’s the Sandalistas.

  • BiloSagdiyev

    Hey, kids! The muzzle of a rifle is not a hand rest.

  • DrDick

    This is endemic among the settler societies in Latin America, regardless of social class or politics. The worst offenders have always been rightwing oligarchs and autocrats. Marginalization and elimination of indigenous peoples is a central part of their cultural enterprise.

    • Which developing countries, worldwide, have most successfully integrated (or worked towards integrating) indigenous peoples into a modern state, and how have they done it?

      • Murc

        Pedantry: do you mean actually successfully, or merely most successfully?

        Because the later formulation encompasses a multitude of grotesque failures that still meet the criteria, because there are degrees of failure that are less fail-y (and thus, more successful) than others. Whereas the first demands a level of minimal actual success.

        • Comparatively. Lack of genocide, basically functioning government, reasonable hope of improvement without necessitating some intervening revolution or foreign intervention. And by “integration,” government isn’t entirely or even slightly substantially by European colonizers.

          • cpinva

            “Lack of genocide”

            if you take that out of the equation, you kind of eliminate the whole point of colonizing, which is to gain land/natural resources. I don’t think leaving the indigenous populations in place has ever been part of any plan of colonization, because it negates the whole purpose of it.

            • To clarify, I’m asking about post-colonial states over the globe, including Africa and Asia, as well as Latin America.

              • Or never colonized, if such exist.

                • Hogan

                  Thailand, Japan. Ethiopia mostly.

                • prognostication

                  Hogan:
                  The Japanese of course colonized the Ainu out of existence in fairly recent memory, and the Thais have not exactly treated the “hill tribes” well either. So their lack of being on the receiving end of colonization (-ish) doesn’t seem to have helped.

                • DrDick

                  prognostication:

                  The Ainu are still around and engaged in a cultural revival of sorts, though much of their culture has been lost along with most of their lands.

              • Thom

                There was thorough colonization of Africa, and both conquest and overrule involved a lot of killing, but genocide only in a few horrific instances, especially the genocide of San peoples, esp. in the Cape Colony (South Africa) by Dutch and other NW European settlers from the 17th-19th centuries; and the genocide of Herrero by Germany in early 20th cent Namibia. And it could be argued that postcolonial genocide in Rwanda and elsewhere in Central Africa is an outgrowth of colonialism. But mostly the means to exploit the land and other natural resources was through indigenous labor, so killing off that labor would have been counterproductive.

                I think rather than “indigenous” (which would count all people with long African ancestry in Africa, you are thinking of “first people” populations. That would include the San, as well as Pygmies and other such groups, and there I think your point holds well, and postcolonial governments also have problematic policies with respect to such groups.

                • DrDick

                  Much the same is true for Native America north of Mexico.

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Ghana through the implementation of the Avoidance of Discrimination Act of 1957.

        • Keaaukane

          Woo Hoo! 50 Quatloos!

          (Yeah, I know this is way late, but some of us have to work, dammit)

      • LeeEsq

        The Arab states seemed to have dealt relatively well with the Bedouin from what I can tell but that might be because of a lot of warm-fuzzy feeling and ethnic kinship. Indonesia and Malaysia also seem to have done relatively well with the more traditional groups in their country compared to say what happened in the Americas.

        • ajay

          The Arab states seemed to have dealt relatively well with the Bedouin from what I can tell

          This is kind of an odd definition of “indigenous” because most Arab states are mostly made up of indigenous people, viz. Arabs. Bedouin are, or were, nomadic Arabs (often quite recently so) but they aren’t any more indigenous than town Arabs.

          And of course a lot of African states have treated their indigenous people well by dint of expelling their immigrants.

          • J. Otto Pohl

            Well the Berbers claim to be the indigenous people of much of Arab speaking North Africa.

            • DrDick

              Most of the “Arabs” in North Africa are either Arabized Berbers of hybrid groups.

              • Q.E.Dumbass

                My impression is that — at least in northern Africa — “Arab” functions more as a cultural marker than an ethnic one, much like “Hispanic” does in the states (cf. Omar al-Bashir).

                • DrDick

                  They are mostly Berbers who assimilated to Arab society (Arabic speaking Muslims), but with some cultural hold overs, like greater autonomy for women among some groups.

          • djw

            This is kind of an odd definition of “indigenous” because most Arab states are mostly made up of indigenous people, viz. Arabs. Bedouin are, or were, nomadic Arabs (often quite recently so) but they aren’t any more indigenous than town Arabs.

            This characterizes the relationship between national majorities and indigenous minority groups in non-settler states in a great deal of the world. See James Scott’s Art of Not Being Governed the historic relationships and connections between the lowlands kingdoms and indigenous hill peoples of SE Asia. The concept of indigenous peoples hasn’t been restricted to the original residents of settler states for some time.

        • Just_Dropping_By

          Indonesia and Malaysia also seem to have done relatively well with the more traditional groups in their country compared to say what happened in the Americas.

          I guess if you’re using “what happened in the Americas” as the standard, then yes, they’ve done “relatively well.” See, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papua_conflict

        • DrDick

          Indonesia and Malaysia are absolute disasters in this regard and actively marginalize and dispossess tribal people.

      • DrDick

        Actually, I would generally argue that the answer is none, with some caveats.

        • AdamPShort

          In general as a historical/cultural matter “doesn’t slaughter the population” is a pretty high bar for colonial powers. The Germans actually used to be sort of the gold standard for this sort of thing, but then they kind of screwed that up in the 1940’s.

          The Swedes also I seem to remember were pretty reluctant to just openly massacre people, although they did a lot of slaving.

          The picture is bleak. People suck, and powerful people suck absolutely.

  • UnderTheSun

    This was emblematic of how a lot of Marxist groups felt about native peoples, who largely just wanted to be left alone and had no interest in the modernization projects pushed by Marxist ideology.

    It’s not just Marxists who do it or have done it but many other groups including Americans. As for the Miskitos, if they’d stayed out of the terrorist Contras and were to sort out the blatant corruption that currently exists among themselves, I might have more sympathy for them. Otherwise, this looks like an attempt to generate another liberal interventionist R2P scam.

  • CP

    In fact, a lot of Miskitos joined the Contras as a way to resist the Sandinista incursions on their lands.

    Huh. I’m no expert on the region, but from what I do know, this is the first instance I’ve heard of people joining the contras for what I’d actually consider honorable reasons. All the stories I’d heard previously described diehards from Somoza’s National Guard, and mercenary or organized crime types that you might call the Miami Vice crowd. (With a lot of overlap between the first and second categories).

    • jamesepowell

      Is it okay to join a horrible group if one’s reasons are honorable?

      • Murc

        Joining the Democratic Party at any time prior to 1960 or so meant joining up with terrorist murderers. Was it not okay for FDR or LBJ to do so?

      • witlesschum

        It depends.

      • CP

        I suppose the Miskitos could have rejected all associations with horrible groups and fought their own war against the state all by their lonesome, but I suspect that, like most movements representing disenfranchised minorities, they took help wherever they could get it.

    • Woodrowfan

      there were also some of the original revolutionaries that thought the Sandinistas were setting up an authoritarian state. They tended to drop out of the Contras after the first few years due to the ties with the ancien regime. See also “the southern front”. The idea that all opposition to the Sandinista regime were rightwing terrorist sis a bit US-centric because that’s who Reagan backed, but there were other opposition groups that didn’t make Elliott Abrams and Jessie Helms happy.

      I remember lots of arguments at the time in grad school because I thought both the Sandinista AND the Contras were oppressive. But you have to pick one!!!

      • J. Otto Pohl

        Right, Eden Pastora’s group operating out of Costa Rica.

      • CP

        there were also some of the original revolutionaries that thought the Sandinistas were setting up an authoritarian state. They tended to drop out of the Contras after the first few years due to the ties with the ancien regime. See also “the southern front”. The idea that all opposition to the Sandinista regime were rightwing terrorist sis a bit US-centric because that’s who Reagan backed, but there were other opposition groups that didn’t make Elliott Abrams and Jessie Helms happy.

        Well, I always assumed that “contras” referred specifically to the U.S. – backed elements. Though I’m not surprised to learn that there were other opponents to the Sandies.

        I remember lots of arguments at the time in grad school because I thought both the Sandinista AND the Contras were oppressive. But you have to pick one!!!

        I’m inclined to cut the Sandinistas slack just in virtue of the fact that they transitioned to democratic elections less than a decade after coming to power, and later, in the early nineties, actually lost an election and reacted by… transitioning power to the party that beat them, and then running again.

        Which I’m sure doesn’t mean there wasn’t still corruption, autocratic tendencies, and issues like we’re talking about here, but it’s still a remarkable achievement. Both compared with the regime they overthrew (a dynasty that lasted half a century) and the only other case in a left-wing revolution establishing a new system of government in the region (Cuba, where the Castros have clung to power also for half a century).

        • Woodrowfan

          OTOH, Ortega gave up power only after being lobbied heavily by Jimmy Carter. He was very tempted to try to void the election….

          • CP

            That I didn’t know.

            I’d also heard that the transition might not have happened without the pressure of the U.S. embargo and its support for anti-Sandinista terrorists. Which is possible, but… then again, embargos and pro-U.S. terrorists never convinced Castro to democratize his country, so I’ll give Ortega credit all the same.

            Similarly, it’s possible that he needed heavy lobbying by Jimmy Carter to not go the Castro route, but hey: he listened! How often does that happen?

    • cpinva

      “Huh. I’m no expert on the region, but from what I do know, this is the first instance I’ve heard of people joining the contras for what I’d actually consider honorable reasons.”

      same here. before this very moment, I’d always heard the group was mainly old Somoza hands trying to regain power. so yeah, this is a first.

    • djw

      It’s a common enough pattern. Lots of Zomia peoples/hill tribes in SE Asia fought with the Americans and converted to Christianity primarily to stick it to the lowland Kingdom’s embrace of Communism and Buddhism, respectively.

  • IM

    Aren’t the Miskitos also living in an english speaking region of Nicaragua?

    That said todays verion of Ortega isn’t a “marxist”.

    • witlesschum

      The story suggests the Miskitos themselves live in a Miskito-speaking region.

    • lunaticllama

      The area this article talks the British never really bothered with due to the jungle. South in Bluefields and off the coast of Corn Island is where there were British settlements. Even still, when I was in Bluefields a decade ago, I spoke more Spanish than English.

  • witlesschum

    If you read the story, it really is basically similar to everything that happened in say Pennsylvania in the mid-1700s or Ohio in the late 1700s in all its complexity and ugliness. Minus the colonial power politics, I suppose, as the only really significant difference.

  • Brett

    But in a nation as poor and rural as Nicaragua, it’s not too surprising that settlers are moving onto Miskito lands,

    Another sad thing about this is that even if the settlers win this conflict and grab a ton of Miskito lands, they themselves will likely be forced out or marginalized if Ortega or his successor decide they’re okay with giving the land out to politically connected businessmen.

    • DrDick

      Much like what happened in the American South after Indian Removal.

  • e.a.foster

    left, right, centerists it doesn’t matter they all want the land and they want it free and don’t care what happens to those who are already on the land. governments want votes and financial support to get re elected the First nations people aren’t going to upset anything when it comes to the corporate agenda,

  • eselbin

    Lotsa interesting stuff here and I’m too old and tired to comment on most of it, but feel compelled to chime in on a few matters.

    1) Not sure what hostility there was between Miskito, Suma, Rama, and the FSLN during the revolutionary struggle; bearing in mind how few of these folks there were (tens of thousands), many supported the FSLN and some fought with them. Given their support of Sandino, this was not surprising. I interviewed some of them in 1987-8 and again in 1989.

    2) After the triumph, the Sandinistas through a combination of what I would describe as good intentions, (youthful) arrogance, and fear sought to incorporate them into Nicaragua as a whole. If Marxism had anything to do with it, I never encountered it nor heard about it (more interviews, in this case with Sandinistas). Remember, Among the 9 comandantes there were roughly 3-4 different versions of something you might be able to vaguely call Marxism; among the broader group of military and political leaders, another 1/2 dozen. Mostly they were bound by Che and Sandino read through Che’s eyes. Marx, not so much; few had read him–why would they? You could find (way) more Marx in the contemporaneous crowd in Grenada (more interviews) and a whole lot more in Jamaica, which tbh is why the US was hellbent on replacing Manley with Seaga. Tbh, Trinidad & Tobago and Suriname too.

    3) Many of the Atlantic coast folks broke with the government over these policies and some went into opposition internally (Hooker and Rivera)–including fighting–and some were lured away by Contra/US promises of support(Fagoth too a coupla thousand to Honduras, which didn’t go well at all…because the Contras wanted them to speak Spanish..oh, wait, what? But they weren’t even evil Marxists). Sergio Ramirez (Nicaragua’s VP) and Hooker and some others eventually negotiated a deal by 1987.

    4) In the Americas, whatever vile machinations y’all seem to have cooked up (in part in somewhat overheated imaginations) under the guise of evil “Marxism” (clearly a moving target above) don’t just pale in comparison to the havoc wreaked by liberal bourgeois democracy but are difficult to even make any kind of meaningful comparison. The 1/2 million slaughtered in Guatemala alone kinda seals the deal, but, hey, there are tens of thousands more all up and down the continent, mostly courtesy of US tax dollars. So, uh, yeah, those evil Marxist fuckers across the region like Arbenz, Allende, Manley…whoo, boy–glad we took care of them, huh?

    • DrDick

      Thanks for this! Nice to have some perspective from on the ground. It also resonates with what little I know about the region.

  • eselbin

    ps Daniel and his cronies have largely abandoned anything meaningful from the Sandinistas. Some of what’s left, as it were, is around people like Ramirez and Cardenal, neither of whom are young men. There are others, younger–Ivan Aguilar, for example–trying to keep the flame alive.

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