Indigenous communities in Nicaragua are facing a silent war. Protected by a corrupt government, land traffickers, gold miners and cattle ranchers are violently taking communal lands, destroying the rainforest and terrorizing local communities. In the last 10 years, thousands have been displaced from their land and over 70 indigenous people, including women and children, have been killed.
I began reporting on the plundering of indigenous lands nearly 20 years ago, when I traveled the country as a national television reporter. As a descendent of an Italian immigrant topographer, who measured and confiscated indigenous lands in the late 19th century, the plight of the communities’ weighed heavily on me. As I spoke with indigenous and religious leaders, I learned of past atrocities which were erased from the history books. Back in the capital city of Managua, now as before, the powerful ignored the cries coming from the mountains, choosing instead to praise the opening of new markets and the rise of commodity prices.
Today the logging, coffee and rubber companies of the past have been replaced by thriving gold and beef industries, whose profits have grown by over 400 percent in the last 10 years. Most of the beef from Nicaragua goes to the United States, where companies turn a blind eye to the egregious human rights violations in the country.
Despite the risks, I chose to act and speak out. In 2012, I co-founded Mision Bosawas, an environmental movement that worked closely with indigenous leaders and youth to raise awareness about their struggle and their role in protecting the last remaining tracts of rainforest in Nicaragua. We took university students to indigenous communities deep in the jungle and also harnessed the power of film to bring the voices of the indigenous people to every corner of the country. El canto de Bosawas, a full-length documentary I co-directed with Brad Allgood, became the most watched national documentary in the history of Nicaraguan film, drawing tens of thousands of people to movie theaters and public showings throughout the country.
In the heels of El canto de Bosawas, Brad and I choose to take on a larger project with the aim of telling the story of the Rama and Kriol people and to bring light to the government’s systemic failures—including its complicity in allowing human rights violations against indigenous populations, illegal settlement and destruction of protected rainforests, and the sale of conflict beef under false pretenses. This is the subject of my latest film, PATROL.
PATROL tells the eye-opening story of indigenous Rama and Kriol forest rangers fighting to protect their land and way of life as they lead dangerous patrols into the virgin forests of the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve in Nicaragua—one of the largest tracts of rainforest north of the Amazon.
Their goal is to stop the growing influx of illegal cattle ranchers who are razing the rainforest at an alarming rate. These settlers are sometimes linked to powerful cattle, logging and land trafficking networks, and they operate with full impunity, thanks to the government willfully ignoring their activities.
Over the course of 6 years filming PATROL, I’ve gotten to know intimately the brave men and women who are at the forefront of the fight to save their ancestral lands. Their work is treacherous, and death isn’t uncommon. But they forge ahead, with a love of nature and community driving their actions. They are strong, admirable people, and for many reasons, the world needs to know their story.
I care deeply about my country and its people, just as I care for the environment. What’s happening in Nicaragua is a microcosm of the larger fight to save the world’s rainforests and protect indigenous communities. The work of the rangers offers a path forward for other indigenous communities around the world.
The film and our impact campaign also bring light to the fact that cattle raised illegally pass through "legal" channels for sale and export, thanks to Nicaragua’s non-viable and corrupt traceability programs. The lack of enforcement furthers demand for the beef while lining the government’s pockets and fueling ever-more illegal encroachment of the rainforest.
The situation has worsened since 2018, when a citizen uprising was violently put down by the government leading to the killing of 355 people and the jailing of thousands of protesters. Due to the violence and economic hardship, over 250,000 Nicaraguans have fled the country and dozens of activists and environmentalists like myself have been forced into exile. In February 2023, the Ortega regime stripped me of my citizenship, confiscated my home and accused me of treason, along with 93 other Nicaraguans.
Despite the risks, I will continue to act and speak out. My hope with PATROL is to spur outrage and action—to motivate people to become engaged in efforts to protect the Indio Maíz and bring transparency to opaque supply chains to stop this preventable destruction.