Awareness of the problems associated with extreme poverty and others related to underdevelopment in the regions of the Atlantic have made Nicaraguan formal nonprofit organizations and informal Hometown Associations of immigrants from the Atlantic Coast emphasize on projects that could assist certain populations in these areas.
They have usually aimed at projects with a focus on the expansion of the tourist infrastructure to projects encouraging investments in various areas. The name of an organization developed by prominent community activists, entrepreneurs and professionals from the Atlantic Coast in 1998, Costeños Unidos pro-Desarrollo de la Costa Atlántica (CUPROC) (People from the Atlantic Coastal Area United for the Development of the Atlantic Coast), captures the essence of what most groups from the Atlantic Coast united in Hometown Associations and more structured organizations would like to see in their region.
With no significant impact in terms of projects and lacking consensus concerning priorities, CUPROC was eventually disarticulated. However, some of their members have continued their transnational efforts (some of which anteceded the formation of CUPROC) through small groups of Hometown Associations or by articulating them through more established organizations like the Lions’ Club and the alumni associations.
Currently, there are five organizations of immigrants from the Atlantic Coast formally registered as nonprofit in South Florida and non-registered Hometown Associations. These are:
Friends in Action for RAAN (Región Autónoma de la Costa Norte in Spanish)
The Alumni Association of El Colegio Moravo
The Alumni Association of El Colegio Critóbal Colón
The Bluefields Caribbean Lions Club.
Blufields Hometown Association
Corn Islands Hometown Association
The Nicaraguan Nurses Association
All of them with the exception of NANA focus their transnational efforts on population groups and communities of the Atlantic regions.
Having its traditional economy virtually disarticulated by a combination of global trends, natural disasters, and related emigration patterns, the Atlantic Coast faces great obstacles in their efforts to develop their communities and the region.
Some areas of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua, from main cities such as Bluefields to small indigenous towns have become heavily dependent on remittances and other forms of support from the migrants.
Cleveland Webster, mayor of Corn Island (interview, Corn Island, 2010), indicates:
“We have a lot of people living outside Corn Island. When I look around I see only a few of my childhood friends. I see them in Miami and Washington. There is a lot of emigration. They are helping back. They help back with the money. Money is a very important source of income….In addition to money migrants also help in other ways, for example we are working with a group of Costeños who live in Miami to revitalize tourist sites, including sites of great historical interest. …
…We want to begin with the water spring that comes from the hills into the ocean. The families used to bring their cloth to wash and cook using that water and they used to spend days socializing here. We would like to restore that on more modern grounds. We want to build a large plaza by the airport area. We want to restore the rocking chair. It is a chair where the pirates used to seat and we want to restore it. We want to get some archeological sites and we would like to our ancestors, clay black people, tools… we are trying to get together to launch these projects.”
Theo Downs, a Nicaraguan immigrant from Corn Islands is part of the group involved in shaping these projects.
A main source of concern is the risks that young fishermen face when fishing lobsters without having the required equipment. This is a critical situation that has been highlighted by the New York Times. Also, the Corn Islands have become crossing points and trafficking hubs for the vessels moving drugs from South America to the United States.
It comes as no surprise that a major focus of the above-mentioned associations is how to stop loosing young Costeños to these new negative trends by improving their access to education, civic participation through the local Church and community clubs, and other initiatives. Developing a drug rehabilitation center in Corn Island combined with their interest in tourism is a possibility that we discussed given these circumstances.
Friends in Action for RAAN (Región Autónoma de la Costa Norte in Spanish) an immigrant organization whose president is Pablo Guiro, coordinates the transportation and installments of water pumps, basic medicines, and educational materials. They coordinate with a local university in Florida to send student groups to assist communities in Puerto Cabezas.
They are currently involved in creating a computer center for the youth which is expected to be hosted by the Carmelitas nuns. They have taken note of the safe ambiance and
security offered by the Carmelitas in Puerto Cabezas.
A Bluefields hometown association involving a professional couple, Leonardo Greena and Yolanda Bacon Green, leaders of a Bluefields hometown association (he is a Ph.D. and she is a medical doctor) who were former members of CUPROC, have arranged the shipments of medicines and donations of medical equipment such as those used in dialysis procedures.
The Alumni Association of El Colegio Moravo was established in 1988 to maintain the links among graduates and their institution and related ones in Bluefields. It is led by community activist Steve Benedict. The association has a yearly fundraising event which they use to strengthen their links to El Colegio Moravo in Bluefields by rewarding the best students with computers and other incentives and by getting some financial resources to accomplish their goals.
Helping Hand Corporation founded in 1998 and led by Ezra Wagon is an organization formed from a group of costeños also. It targets small communities of around Puerto Cabezas and their donations have been made mainly to specific individuals, including religious leaders not necessarily linked to them by family ties but for whom they feel a sense of obligation given the precarious conditions in which they tend to live.
Immigrant organizations with transnational projects involving donations have always faced barriers and obstacles associated with their transactions. However, several leaders of organizations emphasized that such barriers tend to be more difficult to sort when they either expand their projects to the Atlantic Coast or import their donations there.
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* The author appreciates the interviews granted by the leaders of the organizations and some members during her research in South Florida and Nicaragua and the supporting logistics and materials provided by them