Environmental rights and defence of biodiversity and sustainable growth
Fundación del Río
He is a Nicaraguan human rights activist. He is a biologist, researcher and environmentalist, and the president of Fundación del Río, an institution founded in 1990 focused on conservation and sustainable development in South East Nicaragua. The Indio Maíz Biological Reserve, one of the most important preserved areas in the country, falls within the foundation’s working area.
In addition to fostering the preservation of the protected areas in the South East of the country, Fundación del Río also promotes economical sustainable models, gives support to indigenous communities Rama and Kriol, offers environmental education via local radio stations and carries out research. The organisation is joining forces with farm and indigenous families in their fight against the Grand Interoceanic Canal megaproject and gives support to independent surveys on this controversial plan.
Amaru Ruiz was born in Managua and at 6 years old he moved to San Carlos, in the Río San Juan department. He graduated in Biology, has been awarded various postgraduate studies and also received a Masters’ degree on Social Corporate Responsibility, specialising on Human Rights.
After attending university, he moved back to South East Nicaragua and joined Fundación del Río.
In addition to holding the presidency of the above-mentioned foundation, he is a member of Grupo Cocibolca, Articulación de Movimientos Sociales y Organizaciones de la Sociedad Civil and Unidad Nacional Azul y Blanco. He is a long-time activist, researcher and teacher, and is a former organizer of Federación Red Nicaragüense por la Democracia y el Desarrollo Local.
Ruiz’s critical voice has been targeted many times since April 2018, together with other members of Fundación del Río. At the end of last year, Nicaragua’s National Assembly cancelled the foundation’s legal entity and occupied its premises (including Radio Humedales, a local radio station established in partnership with Associació d’Amistat San Miguelito-Sant Boi).
At the end of 2018, Ruiz left Nicaragua after receiving numerous threats, being attacked in his own house and having received intel from different sources that the government was planning to arrest and process him. Now in Costa Rica, he is awaiting his right of asylum.
> Fundación del Río have been heavily repressed by the government during the last year.
Fundación del Río have been involved in the environmentalist fight and giving support to the most vulnerable for 30 years in South East Nicaragua. We are a government’s target due to our stance on the Grand Interoceanic Canal megaproject and condemning the authorities’ negligence in protecting the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve (IMBR). The government have been negligent because they have not applied the environmental legal frame and they did not properly fight the fire started on April 2018, which led to the first protests.
> What is the current situation of the foundation and its members? *
It’s difficult. Some collaborators are in Costa Rica because they have lost their job at the foundation. Most members are still in the country and they are in a precarious situation. However, our organisation will carry on its work as far as possible. We will keep fighting for justice and to gain back our assets and legal entity. We will report the violation of our freedom of association to the top international institutions.
> What are the main challenges faced by the IMBR?
Firstly, the core area is under threat of invasion: the agricultural limits are advancing and the soil use is changing, moving from forest use to agriculture and livestock. In addition, the protected natural resources are suffering from pollution and deforestation. Secondly, there is land trafficking in the core area of the reserve. Thirdly, the authorities are not complying with the environmental legal frame to protect the IMBR. In addition to this, extractive companies and single-crop farming put pressure on the buffer zone, which leads to local families having to move away.
Furthermore, the indigenous communities Rama and Kriol governance over their own territory, which accounts for 80% of the IMBR, is not being recognised. Finally, I would like to point out that there are not many organisations and resources aimed at the conservation of protected areas in South East Nicaragua.
> Fundación del Río is part of Grupo Cocibolca.
Yes, it is a coordination and action platform between civil society environmental organisations. It was created to confront the Grand Interoceanic Canal megaproject, but nowadays is an environmental reference. Beyond the Grand Interoceanic Canal, it addresses the national environmental issues.
> On April 2018, rural and urban fights in Nicaragua joined forces. How did this occur?
Different social demands that had not manifested until then converged and connected to the rural world movement against the Canal, the mining industry and single-crop farming companies. The negligence in the IMBR fire awoke college students, who organised social protests in Managua and León, which in turn spread to other cities.
The repression against these protests and the social security system reform, affecting the eldest and the tax-paying workers, led to a civic social insurrection. The regime committed crimes against humanity to repress it and supressed our democratic system. Many groups joined the protests and others emerged in April, with the common demands of respecting human rights and protecting democracy, justice and freedom.
* This interview took place on July 2nd, 2019.