PUERTO CABEZAS – The lobster fisherman of Puerto Cabezas don’t take boats out and cast traps in into the sea. Instead they take groups of men out in boats to dive into the sea to catch the lobsters by hand. It may be less efficient than their counterparts in Atlantic Canada, but it employs nearly 5,000 in this municipality of 320,000.
The problem is there are too many divers and the lobsters in the shallow waters have become less bountiful. That has pushed the divers into deeper waters. We were told that 1,400 divers have become ill from decompression illness. Some have died.
At the offices of the regional government we were told they were like to change the way fisherman gather lobster, but setting traps would employ many fewer in a region that already suffers from high unemployment. Like all Nicaraguan problems, this is one that will have to be solved over time. A new form of employment is needed for those that would be displaced by changing the nature of the fishery.
Puerto Cabezas is on the northern end of the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. The colonial powers that have come and gone have left the residents speaking both Spanish and a Creole English in addition to the Miskitu language. It has also influenced the housing, a mix of Caribbean and Spanish styles, that is when the four walls aren’t made up of scrap wood and the roof a hunk of tin. Many of the homes here are up on stilts to avoid the flooding from hurricanes that sweep in from the Caribbean.
Like the other cities we visited, there is smoke in the air as residents burn their garbage in the streets and dogs are either in sly observance or deep in siesta in every street. At night when the temperature cools they begin to bark and snarl at each other.
As we arrived crowds were wandering past our hotel to the baseball stadium where the local coastal team were to take on the visitors from Managua. Outside the stadium stood crowds of mostly men peeking through chain link fences and openings in the stadium wall to avoid paying for a ticket.
As we had lunch at our host organization, you could hear the cheers as the home team took the lead in the game. AMICA is an indigenous women’s group that has high ambitions and a heartfelt commitment to make things better in the region’s communities.
A big part of that mission is changing values around violence against women, including rape. Rape is a big problem here. One woman spoke about coming to the AMICA-linked shelter after her husband tried to sexually assault their two oldest daughters.
The Nicaraguan government passed a landmark law last year dealing with rights of women to be free of violence, including sexual violence. The problem is enforcing it is not a priority in a country of many problems.
AMICA began in the aftermath of the Contra war. This is, after all Contra country. The people here feel they have very significant differences from their counterparts on the Pacific side of the nation. Most are Miskitu, although there other indigenous people here too. Puerto Cabezas is also home to a concentration of Nicaraguans of African descent.
Initially formed to repatriate those who had fled north into Honduras during the fighting, AMICA sees itself in the context of society building, including educating the community on sexual and reproductive health, advocating for sustainable development and offering legal and support services to women and children who are the victims of violence.
To become effective, AMICA has developed a network of Alliances to get its voice heard and to gather support for its mission.
Cobourg Ontario’s Horizons of Friendship has been involved with AMICA for four years, providing funding to a series of projects, most around the issue of community violence. That includes having workers go out into the community and educate both men and women on the implications of law 779.
Demand for AMICA’s help is on the rise by women in crisis. While the new law is a major step forward, it also poses risks as the local men become frightened by the implications of the law. Much work needs to be done in preparing civil society in Nicaragua for the new law.
Like community agencies back home, AMICA is always wondering where the next round of funding will come from. Many of the international development organizations have pulled out of this region altogether. It’s why it’s so important that Horizons remains.
In mid-afternoon we met with several technical advisors at Government House to talk about the region’s troubles. They are not shy about bring forward their complaints about the government in Managua. While the region has about 10 per cent of Nicaragua’s population, they get one per cent of the government’s budget. This, they say, is a sign of discrimination because of who lives here.
They agreed that law 779 needs to have the justice infrastructure to go with it, although for now AMICA is making sure that women pursue their rights so that the law is enforced.
They know that the local economy has to change, although the distance from any major population center is significant. The roads to the Pacific coast are in poor shape, and one can expect to drive all day to get there. That has an impact on both goods coming in and those going out.
Tomorrow: Our visit to Puerto Cabezas continues.