It’s been 57 years since the Rev. Josephinie Robertson was banished from Miskitu, her indigenous kingdom in Nicaragua. Now 70 years old and more than 3,500 miles from home, she still fights.
In her recent book, “The Miskitu Motherland,” Robertson exposes the mistreatment of her native community and the most recent dispute with the Nicaraguan government surrounding the construction of the Nicaraguan Grand Canal through Miskitu territory.
“This is my whole life in this book,” said Robertson, whose Miskitu surname is Hendy Hebbert Twaska. “Everything is true, everything is here. I hope now the world can see what happens to us.”
“Miskitu in Exile” is the name Robertson has given her open forum, which takes place Friday Aug. 15 at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts.
Robertson, who was expelled from Nicaragua in 1957 by the Somocista dictatorship, is a lifelong activist who has championed the sovereignty of the Miskitu nation, which is located in present day Nicaraguan, reaching from Cape Camarón in Honduras to the most southern point in Nicaragua beyond Bluefields.
“We are known to promote activism, that’s our mission,” said Andreina Maldonado, events and media coordinator at the Mission Cultural Center, pointing out that Robertson’s reading will be one of a kind. “She is a very emotional speaker. I hope the community comes to support and understands the situation of this community.”
The book is Robertson’s first work, and although Grin Olsson did the writing, Robertson compiled all the information. Olsson, a screenplay writer, said that writing the book has touched him and has opened his eyes.
“The situation of the Miskitu nation had a great impact on me,” Olsson said. “We want to show that there is a peaceful way to achieve independence, and that the Miskitu people have the right and sovereignty to rule over their land.”
The Miskitu kingdom remained sovereign during the Spanish conquest, thanks to a cooperation agreement Spain had signed with British rule. It wasn’t until 1894, with British indifference assisted by Nicaraguan president José Santos Zelaya, that Nicaragua claimed sovereignty over the kingdom. The Miskitu nation first petitioned the United Nations for decolonization in 1960, yet nothing has changed.
“The Miskitu kingdom has not been respected. Zelaya was one of the greatest murderers of my people. And the Sandinistas and [Daniel] Ortega committed genocide,” said Robertson, a tear rolling down her cheek as she explained that the Miskitu have historically been displaced, murdered and brutally exploited for their natural resources.
Robertson said that the latest great threat to her people and nation is the construction of the Nicaragua Grand Canal, a mega project that the government of Nicaragua has signed with Chinese construction company HKND Group.
According to Robertson, the project directly threatens Miskitu sovereignty: thousands of families face evacuation; about 400,000 acres of wetlands and forests will disappear; and Lake Nicaragua, the largest body of water in Central America and one of the most diverse in the world, will become polluted.
“We’re never going to support that canal,” said Robertson.
Even from San Francisco, Robertson’s presence seems to provide hope and a voice for the 200,000 Miskitu currently residing in Nicaragua. In an email to Robertson, Miskitu Prince José Miguel Handy spoke of his people’s hardship:
“All of us here who live in the Miskitu nation are against the canal, and many people from the Pacific side are also against it. Academics, who study the environment, are also against that canal.”
That email is only one of the countless pleas for help that Robertson has received since her exile.
“The Somocismo called me crazy for believing in my ideas,” Robertson said, with a warm and hopeful smile. “But look where I am now.”
“Miskitu in Exile” is 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15 at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, 2868 Mission St.
Story by: Oscar Palma