Nicaraguan beef, found in many American burgers, tastes of ecocide and blood: That’s the message of a new documentary, which exposes industry-led deforestation and theft of indigenous lands beef from this Central American country.
The film plunges the viewer into the tropical forest of the Indio-Maiz Biological Reserve, a haven of biodiversity and sacred land of the Rama indigenous people, desecrated by unapologetic herders.
“When I arrived here, I knew it was a reserve. I just stole the land. I didn’t pay for it,” Chacalin says to the camera, watching his cows surrounded by fallen trees.
“If they drive me out of here, they can take the land away from me, but I don’t lose any money,” the settler quietly adds.
Presented Friday in preview at the Mountainfilm festival in Colorado, this feature film is co-directed by Camilo de Castro, an investigative journalist who fled the repression organized for several years by the government of Daniel Ortega.
With the American documentary filmmaker Brad Allgood, he has ventured several times since 2016 into this reserve which borders Costa Rica over approximately 2,600 square kilometers, to bear witness to the tragedy that is taking place there.
– “Colonisation” –
Their camera follows the indigenous Rama and the Creoles of Nicaragua, in this jungle as luxuriant as it is treacherous.
By canoe or on foot, they patrol in spite of leeches and avoiding jaguars. But they face other adversaries: settlers who illegally appropriate the forest. Many of them are in the pay of wealthy herders, who pay them to cut down trees before sending their cows.
In the documentary, a native patrol discovers a ranch in the middle of the jungle. Despite a report sent to the police and the government, the case is ignored: the police want to be paid to investigate, and a requested meeting with a minister never materializes.
Since the filming, the conflict has taken a violent turn. Several indigenous people have recently been killed by settlers in Nicaragua, and many murders go unpunished.
“There is a lot of racism at play,” Mr. de Castro told AFP. “I would say that we are filming the last stage of 500 years of colonization in Nicaragua.”
The galloping deforestation of the reserve is however far from being irremediable, according to his colleague Mr. Allgood. Because unlike the sprawling forests of the Amazon, Indio-Maiz is a “small area” where “it would not be difficult to erect a barrier to keep people out”.
The government “closes its eyes”, he believes.
– Exports to the United States –
Nicaragua has been in crisis for several years. In the spring of 2018, the repression of demonstrations demanding the departure of President Daniel Ortega left more than 300 dead, according to the UN. This challenge was partly motivated by the inability of the executive to fight against a gigantic fire on the Indio-Maiz reservation, started by a settler.
“The corruption of the government allows them to steal and deforest the land without consequences”, denounces in the documentary Christopher Jordan, a leader of the association of nature protection Re: wild. According to him, 90% of deforestation in the region is due to illegal cattle ranching.
This meat has a good chance of ending up in American hamburgers: despite its size, comparable to that of Mississippi, Nicaragua is the sixth largest supplier of beef to the United States.
American consumers are in the dark. A law requiring the labeling of beef to mention its origin has been abandoned since 2015. And according to the directors of the documentary, any traceability is made impossible by the opacity of the industry in Nicaragua.
“We are talking about oil, mining (…), but the food industry is not yet attracting enough attention,” deplores Mr. de Castro, hoping “that consumers are more wary.”
The journalist also calls on the Nicaraguan government to show “political will”. The authorities must “throw in prison” certain breeders for the “example”, he believes.
But this activist, who was stripped of his nationality and now lives in exile in Costa Rica, has few illusions.
“It’s probably the last independent documentary to be released on Nicaragua for I don’t know how long,” he sighs. “The government has erected a wall around the country.”
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