Student takes semester off to help indigenous population in Nicaragua

Wes Scarborough

After attending a conference on the construction of the Interoceanic Canal while studying abroad in Nicaragua, Abby Pew decided to take a semester off to help the indigenous population that would be affected in that area. 

Pew, who was a Latin American studies and anthropology sophomore when she left the University, said supervisors have threatened to remove the indigenous population, or Rama, from the land in order to make way for the entrance to the canal. Pew is currently in Bluefields, Nicaragua, working with community leaders to protest, fundraise and organize against the Nicaraguan government. 

The Rama people have populated the Atlantic coastline of Nicaragua for thousands of years and lived off the land by fishing, hunting and farming for their food. Pew said their environment is vital to their way of life.

“The coastal area should be its own nation, and the [Rama] are literally being colonized,” Pew said. 

Pew has been working with the community leader of the Rama to seek legal assistance in fighting the Nicaraguan government. She said she is also raising money to provide the community leader with travel fees for driving to national meetings in order to make the Rama’s voices heard.

In 2012, Nicaragua passed a law giving the Hong Kong Nicaragua Development group, the company in charge of the canal, legal grounds to start building. According to International Business Times, the 172-mile canal, which HKND and the Nicaraguan government unveiled in July, stretches from the mouth of the Brito River on the Pacific Ocean, through Lake Nicaragua and east to Punta Gorda on the Caribbean coast.

Pew said government officials informed residents of Bluefields that the government would be paying for the replacement of their homes. 

“They had no right to do that,” Pew said. “They had no right to make those promises as if they were helping them.” 

Pew said this legislation undermines the Nicaraguan Constitution as well as the indigenous laws of the land. Starting this October, Pew visited with the community of Bluefields to interview the residents.

“I will stay and fight to the last,” said Tyrone Presida, a resident of Bluefields. “We have been through war already, and we are still living. If we have to have to have another war, we will throw it against them.”

The Nicaraguan government hails the project as a economical success, but Pew said it would be at high “human costs.”

“People sounded like they were willing to die and go to war for their land,” Pew said. “Which is a really brave thing considering the population is so minimal.”