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‘Language and culture are the soul of your identity’

NSC News | Wednesday, 24 April 2019 |

David McKnight & Ben Gregory, Wales NSC with Johnny Hodgson during a visit to Llangollen in Wales

David McKnight & Ben Gregory, Wales NSC with Johnny Hodgson during a visit to Llangollen in Wales

Nicaragua: One nation, two histories

Though rich in natural resources, the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua is the most remote and impoverished region of Nicaragua. In sharp contrast to the predominantly Spanish speaking, Mestizo Pacific Coast, the population of the Caribbean side of the country consists of six different ethnic groups speaking four different languages.

In April Johnny Hodgson, a Creole from the Caribbean Coast, visited the UK in April to attend the annual conference of the National Education Union together with Jose Antonio Zepeda, the general secretary of the Nicaraguan teachers union. Johnny works as an advisor on bilingual, multi-ethnic education programme on the Caribbean Coast.

Historically, the Pacific Coast was colonised by the Spanish; the Caribbean Coast by the British.

Wales and the Caribbean Coast: two way solidarity based on mutual respect

During his stay Johnny also visited Llangollen as part of a long standing ongoing link between the Caribbean Coast and Wales.

This link, initiated in the 1980s, is based on mutual solidarity and common interests relating to autonomy and restitution of political, social, economic and cultural rights.

Johnny explained the importance of the links with Wales: ‘Our long standing links are an excellent example of two way mutual solidarity and friendship based on common interests. Although our context is very different from that of Wales the interchange of ideas and solidarity has enriched us all.’

Autonomy and identity

At a public meeting in Llangollen Johnny described the evolution of the autonomy process on the Caribbean Coast. He explained that the Constitution under the Somoza dictatorship defined Nicaragua as a monolingual (Spanish) and mono cultural (Mestizo) country.

This meant that the identity and rights of the indigenous and Afro descendent population of the Caribbean Coast were completely ignored. As Johnny explained: ‘My identity was ignored …I didn’t see myself recognised in this Constitution.’

Education was entirely in Spanish: any other language was marginalised and viewed as having a lesser value and importance.

The 1987 Nicaraguan Constitution approved under the Sandinista government was a major rupture with the past in that for the first time in the country’s history Nicaragua was defined as a multi ethnic nation.

Article 89 of the Constitution guarantees the rights of indigenous peoples to ‘maintain and develop their identity and culture, to have their own forms of social organisation, to define their own forms of land ownership, and administer their local affairs’.

Johnny outlined some of the means established to achieve these goals:

  • Two elected autonomous assemblies have been set up in the North and South regions of the Coast that reflect the ethnic make up of each region
  • An ‘intercultural, community university’ called URRACAN was set up in 1992 to promote all aspects of regional autonomy. http://www.uraccan.edu.ni/
  • A land demarcation programme that has recognised approximately one third of the region’s land as communal land.
  • A bilingual, multi-cultural education programme has been implemented at all levels of the education system.
  • Since 2007, there have been significant improvements in the region’s health care and education, as well as infrastructure advances. These include an extension of the electricity grid, water and sanitation projects, and roads.

On 30 May, a long held dream of the Costenos will come to fruition: the opening of a paved road connecting Bluefields in the southern region of the Coast with the capital Managua.

For Johnny, who grew up facing intense marginalisation and racism under the Somoza dictatorship, this recognition of the political, social and cultural rights is one of the most significant advances of the Sandinista Revolution.

Further information about Wales Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign - Ymgyrch Celnogi Nicaragua Cymru