Under torrential rains, hundreds of Miskito separatists from rural communities in the North Atlantic Autonomous Region (RAAN) trekked through the mud to the regional capital of Bilwi in anticipation of Monday´s march to assert their independence claims as the Communitarian Nation of the Moskitia.
By 5:30 p.m. Sunday an estimated 1,800 separatists had gathered in town and were billeting with local families, according to separatist leader Rev. Héctor Williams, known as the Wihta-Tara, or “Great Judge.” He said he expects that number to grow to around 6,000 by Monday morning around 11 a.m., when the march is scheduled to begin.
“Right now it is raining very hard and lots of people can´t get out, but we hope God will help out and people will be here in time for the march,” Williams told The Nica Times Sunday evening in a phone conversation from Bilwi.
The independence leaders insist they are urging calm, but claim the situation between separatists and local government authorities has become “very tense.”
On Saturday, Guillermo Espinosa, the Miskito nation´s appointed defense minister, denounced an alleged attack by the Nicaraguan Navy on a 12-passenger panga (small boat) filled with indigenous residents from the community of Sandy Bay, north of Bilwi. Espinosa told The Nica Times that one indigenous man was killed and several others injured when the navy boat “intentionally” ran over the panga on the open ocean.
Twenty four hours later, there was still conflicting information about what exactly happened, and whether or not anyone died in the incident. Though Espinosa insists the boat was carrying residents from Sandy Bay to Bilwi to purchase food, local media correspondents suggested it was a navy anti-drug operation that resulted in one serious injury when a man jumped overboard and was hit by the naval vessel´s motor. The navy is reportedly investigating the incident and has not yet offered comment.
Espinosa says the separatist nation is demanding a full explanation from Nicaraguan authorities, and is urging calm.
Sandy Bay is a fiercely independent community that was devastated by Hurricane Felix in 2007. Separatist leaders warn the community, which was once heavily infiltrated by drug dealers whom the local residents protected from the government, is armed (NT, Oct. 16).
The Miskito Council of Elders first declared the rebirth of the Communitarian Nation of the Moskitia last April, and gave the local government a six-month timeframe to hand over power (NT, May 1; June 26). That time has n ow run out.
Starting at 11 a.m. Monday morning, the separatists plan to march on Bilwi and culminate their protest with the takeover of the local government headquarters. In anticipation of violence, local businesses were reportedly closing their shops and boarding up windows over the weekend.
Said the Wihta-Tara on Sunday evening, “Right now we are telling people to eat and rest and trust in God that tomorrow we will continue the struggle.”