MEXICO CITY (AP) — Nicaraguan authorities said Friday they arrested 24 settlers after they allegedly attacked an indigenous community as part of a land dispute.
It was the first large-scale arrest of non-indigenous settlers after several years of invasions and attacks in the territory belonging to the Miskito, Mayangna and other indigenous groups.
Nicaragua’s National Police said the 22 men and two women were detained in the Caribbean coastal region the previous day. Police said indigenous residents told them the attackers were armed with sticks, stones and machetes.
Nicaraguan authorities have been slow to investigate such attacks, and activists said Friday that the settlers had actually been detained by residents, who turned them over to police.
“They didn’t detain the settlers. It was the local residents themselves who caught them,” said María Luisa Acosta, a lawyer who heads the Center for Legal Assistance for Indigenous Peoples.
The arrested settlers were taken to a jail near the capital, Managua, and would be charged with organized crime, land seizure and environmental crimes, officials said.
But activists expressed doubts about whether the government would really follow up on the case, after years in which it has allowed indigenous communities to be attacked.
“This is the first time the government has announced the detention of those who invade indigenous territory,” said environmentalist Amaru Ruiz, director of the Del Río Foundation.
He added that “we have to be extremely cautious” about the arrests. “They have detained these kind of people before and later let them go,” Ruíz said.
The Mayangna and Miskito communities have been hit by a number of attacks in recent years that have been blamed on settlers who invaded indigenous lands. Ruíz has said that at least 28 indigenous leaders and community members have been killed in recent years.
Several attacks in 2021 and 2022 killed Miskito and Mayangna people around Bosawas, a protected area. The reserve has been hit by illegal mining and logging.
Indigenous activists say the government of President Daniel Ortega has not done enough to address the problems in the jungled region, something his administration denies.
Activists say many of the settlers moving onto the lands are former soldiers linked to timber and illegal logging interests.
The Del Río Foundation says about 60% of the Mayangnas’ territory has been invaded by about 5,000 settlers since 2015, displacing some 3,000 indigenous inhabitants.