CONSTRUCTING A MULTI-ETHNIC STATE: CHALLENGES TO NATIONALISM AND POLITICAL AUTONOMY IN THE ATLANTIC COAST OF NICARAGUA
Baltodano, Bruno Martin
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On the surface, Nicaragua looks like a nation-state. But, upon closer examination, it behaves like a core-community, non-nation-state trying to unify two political entities: on one hand we have the core-community of Mestizos of the Pacific Coast and Central region, on the other the indigenous peoples of the Atlantic Coast. Minority groups in the two autonomous Atlantic regions, particularly the Mískitu-Nani, strongly resist assimilation into the Mestizo culture and preserve primary political loyalty to their indigenous group. Drawing upon political psychology, this works considers the viability of creating a superordinate identity common to all citizens of Nicaragua. It examines the rise of indigenous identity following the Sandinista Revolution, political alliances during the Contra War and the drafting of the Law of Autonomy of 1987. This study focuses on the perception of opportunity for both self-determination (from the perspective of the peoples of the Caribbean Coast) and for national unity (from the perspective of the Mestizo core-community), opportunities that did not fully exist before the drafting of the Law of Autonomy.This research contributes to the growing body of knowledge addressing nationalism, indigenous political identity and political participation in indigenous communities. This has important implications for the behavior of political actors in Nicaragua, for the preservation of cultural and biological diversity in the region and for the wider international community interested in indigenous political autonomy. Based on field and archival data, this works posits three conclusions: First, the indigenous peoples of Nicaragua are adept in recognizing risks and opportunities to their group. Second, alliances can be deliberately formed or abandoned based primarily on perceived utility to the group - thus it’s erroneous to view the actions of indigenous peoples simply as those of “pawns in a chess board,� controlled by the central government or by a foreign actor. Finally, even as the development of political autonomy in the Coast is oftentimes portrayed by conservative Mestizo political leaders as an imminent risk of disintegration to the nation-state and as the peoples of the Coast have a long history of distrusting Mestizos, the interactions between the core-community and the indigenous peoples of Nicaragua is not purely antagonistic and, therefore, the development of a national community is not improbable.
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