An emerging crisis in one of the last remaining rainforests in Central America ignites a heroic mission in PATROL. When illegal cattle ranchers decimate large swaths of rainforest, indigenous rangers join forces with an American conservationist and undercover journalists to expose the dark world of conflict beef.

The Film

The Story

PATROL is a character-driven documentary that follows communities on the frontlines of an intensifying environmental conflict in Nicaragua. On one side, the Rama Indians, in alliance with the Afro-descendent Kriol community, are fighting to stop illegal cattle ranchers from destroying the virgin rainforests of the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve.

ARMANDO JOHN, a quiet but brave young man, MARGARITO, a philosophical father of six, and RUPERT ALLEN CLAIR DUNCAN, one of the most recognized leaders within the territory, form part of a Forest Ranger squad. They have teamed up with CHRISTOPHER JORDAN, an American conservationist.

Christopher came to the Indio Maíz Reserve to study how local cultures interact with wildlife and quickly fell in love with the generosity of the Rama and Kriol people and the incredible beauty of the Reserve.

Interwoven into the narrative is the story of CARMEN and CHACALIN – illegal cattle ranchers who have moved deep into the jungle. They have deforested a large parcel of land in order to bring in cattle and are helping other families invade the Reserve. While on an expedition to confront illegal ranchers, the Rangers discover a large cattle farm deep inside their territory. An unknown but wealthy rancher has deforested 400 acres and moved in 80 young bulls, all with ear tags and branding. Teaming up with undercover Nicaraguan journalists, the Rama and Kriol discover the rancher's identity—and his connection to the government—and launch a coordinated campaign to remove him.

The Rama and Kriol

The Rama People are one of three main Indigenous groups native to the east coast of Nicaragua, consisting of about 2,800 men, women and children. Their primary settlement is on the small island of Rama Cay, with the remainder spread across the mainland between Bluefields and Greytown. They are one of the smallest Indigenous groups in the world. The Kriol people are an Afro-descendent group of approximately 43,000 living primarily in the Bluefields area and along the coast. The Kriol share similar cultural characteristics with the Rama.

The Rama and Kriol hold joint land title to the Rama-Kriol Territory, which lays over 80% of the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve. The autonomous Rama-Kriol Territorial Government governs the land. To address the growing threats to their territory being posed by illegal cattle ranchers, miners and others, they have created a Forest Ranger Patrol program to fight back. PATROL is their story.

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Directors' Statement

portrait of

Camilo de Castro Belli

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 Nicaraguaone 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.

portrait of

Brad Allgood

Growing up in rural Georgia, I spent nearly every moment of my childhood outdoors. I would wander endlessly through the dense pine forests, exploring creeks, hilltops and ravineschasing turkeys and deer—and developing a relationship with nature that informs nearly every decision I make.

When I think about how fortunate I am to have enjoyed such a rich childhood—free and full of adventure—my heart overflows with gratitude. I love the wilderness. I love the outdoors. The natural world forms the core of who I am, and it remains my passion and purpose in life.

And it tears me apart to see how we are destroying the remaining wild places on this planet.

Roughly a decade ago, I embarked on an adventure into the rainforests of northern Nicaragua to film a documentary about the music and culture of the Mayangna Indians. The Mayangna are a small Indigenous group who live in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve—the 3rd largest forest reserve in the world. I partnered with Nicaraguan filmmaker Camilo de Castro on the documentary project, called El Canto de Bosawas. 

At the time, I was unaware of the rate at which primary forests like those in Bosawas were being decimated. I was also ignorant of the complexity of factors leading to tropical forest loss. I had become desensitized from years of doom and gloom media about deforestation in the Amazon, full of abstract numbers and statistics about a land far, far away. A tired narrative generating few positive outcomes. 

As we traveled upriver into the heart of Bosawas, I anticipated an awe-inspiring encounter with nature’s untouched beauty. However, I was struck by a disheartening sight: along the riverbank, cattle grazed on vast stretches of open pasture. I was confused. Where was the dense jungle full of howler monkeys, great green macaws, and the elusive Quetzal? Where were the towering Ceiba and giant fig trees with their massive buttress roots? 

After two grueling days of travel in dugout canoe—over countless rapids and in torrential downpours—we did reach the core area of the reserve. There, rays of sunlight filtered through the dense canopy. An assortment of bird calls punctuated the rhythmic hum of cicadas. And the early morning mist created the breathtaking tableau I had envisioned.

Reflecting on my journey into the Bosawas reserve, I realized the barren landscape that we traversed was part of the ever-expanding agricultural frontier—the transition zone where wilderness is converted into farmland. And the engine driving the expansion? Cattle ranching.

Beef is Nicaragua’s second-largest export, and cattle ranching is the primary cause of deforestation in the country. Over the past 40 years, Nicaragua has lost nearly 60% of its forests - one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. Unfortunately, with so much of the country already converted into farmland, the remaining intact forests are found within indigenous territories like Bosawas. Now, indigenous groups are on the frontlines of the fight to preserve what remains of these critical biodiversity hotspots. 

In 2014, we screened El Canto de Bosawas in theaters, schools and communities all over Nicaragua. It was a hit. People loved it. In fact, it became the most successful documentary ever made and released in Nicaragua. Audiences were transported to a part of the country they had never seen before, and they were inspired to take action via a youth environmental movement called Misión Bosawas

Encouraged by the film’s reception, Camilo and I decided to make a more ambitious film with more depth, information and scope with the potential for even greater impact.

In 2016, we began filming PATROL, a character-driven documentary that follows the Indigenous Rama and Afro-descendent Kriol communities in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve who are fighting to protect their ancestral lands - and way of life - from the increasing threat of illegal cattle ranching. 

We embedded with Rama and Kriol forest rangers on patrols in the reserve as they confronted illegal settlers, documented illegal cattle farms, demarcated their territorial boundary, and constructed ranger outposts. We explored and documented hidden corners of the forest that had never been captured before. Over the course of several years working together, we developed a very close friendship — and a love for the reserve. 

In order to tell a complete story, Camilo and I wanted to show the rancher way of life along the agricultural frontier. We were fortunate to gain the trust of a family of illegal cattle ranchers who live several miles inside the reserve’s western boundary. In their small community, farmers raise and fatten cows, and then take them to nearby towns where they are sold at “auction houses.” In these communities - and at the auction houses - there is no government regulation or oversight. Ranchers operate with full impunity, and the cows raised illegally in protected areas and on indigenous lands enter the supply chain. The beef is eventually exported to countries like the United States and ends up on the dinner plates of unsuspecting consumers.

With this film and impact campaign, we hope to bring awareness to the plight of the Rama and Kriol, as well as stop the sale of commodities affiliated with deforestation. We must hold the Nicaraguan government and the beef industry accountable for their complicity in human rights and environmental abuses. And above all, we must join the fight to protect the last wild places on this planet.

When I look back at those verdant pine forests of my childhood, I am filled with hope. Eighty years ago, they too were barren fields of sunbaked clay, the soil depleted from aggressive agricultural practices. Today, the forests have rebounded, and there is more forest cover now than a century ago. Before we can allow the Earth to heal itself, we must first stop the disease. Those childhood forests will always be a reminder that change is possible. And it’s possible in our lifetime. For that reason, I am filled with hope for Bosawas, I am filled with hope for Indio Maíz, and I am filled with hope for the other great forests on this planet.