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Squaring Indigenous Circles: The making of Nicaragua’s Indigenous communal property regime.

Arraiza, Jose-Maria
June 4, 2015

Source: (2012) InternationalJournalonM inority and Group Rights. 19:69-103.

International standards on indigenous peoples contain a theoretical promise of spatial empowerment
and traditional governance as part of autonomy which in practice is not absent of conflict and
human rights concerns. Western “square” individual property rights conceptions are confronted
with “circular” communal property relations. Legitimate interests of indigenous communities conflict
with non-indigenous ones. The communal administration of the land is to be balanced with
environmental protection. This article problematizes these dilemmas by analyzing the development
of a communal property system within the Atlantic Coast Autonomy of Nicaragua. It identifies
essentialist and constructivist ideas on indigenous identity and other policy assumptions behind it,
the technical answers given to indigenous claims (de facto restitution, participatory demarcation
and titling, conflict resolution mechanisms) and their consequences. It argues that a set of norms
which is considered legitimate by all communities and which respects the rights of non-indigenous
persons, including a fair dispute resolution mechanism, is needed for its success in protecting environmental
and social stability and preventing violence. To achieve such objective in this or similar
scenarios, an open minded approach to group identities and to available options (inclusive of others
or exclusive to a community, collective or individual rights) in the design of special property regimes
would be useful. (author’s abstract)


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