MSU hosts screening of new Knight Center supported environmental documentary about Nicaragua

Photo credit: Patrol project

The new documentary “Patrol” is about Indigenous Rama and Afro-descendent Kriol communities of Nicaragua fighting illegal cattle ranching in the Indio Maíz Biological Reserve not far from the Costa Rican border.

The film, supported in part by a grant from the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, will be aired on the MSU campus.

“This is the story of them and how they struggle to protect their ancestral territory,” said Tardi, an activist, who decided to stay anonymous for safety reasons.

“I’ve seen other protected areas in Nicaragua get completely deforested because of cattle ranching, which is illegal in these protected areas, but the government does nothing to prevent it,” said Gerald Urquhart, an associate professor at Lyman Briggs College and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at MSU.

Tardi said that approximately half of the reserve territory has been invaded by ranchers.

“If we lose this reserve, we might lose a third of our biodiversity that we still have in the country,” Tardi said.

The Indio Maíz Biological Reserve is a habitat for rare and threatened species such as almond trees, Baird’s tapirs, jaguars and great green macaws.

Cattle ranching is also a threat to local people and their language. 

“It’s like a new era of colonialism in this reality,” Tardi said. Cattle ranchers are usually outsiders who speak Spanish, while Indigenous people in that area speak Rama.

The “Patrol” website says, “As a result of the land grabs, 62 Indigenous rangers and community members have been killed since 2013 and thousands have been displaced from their homes.”

To fight back, local residents are organizing patrols and searching for illegal farms.

“The main issue is that these people are supported by the national government, and they are doing nothing to stop this,” Tardi said.

In April 2018, part of the reserve caught fire. One of the possible causes: people trying to do cattle ranching and burning a large part of the area. 

“This led to national-level protests,” Tardi said.

Shooting the documentary faced several challenges. 

“In Nicaragua, we are currently in a dictatorship, and they don’t really like journalists and filmmakers because they will tell the true stories of what’s going on in there. So when they see the army or the police or any official from the government, they will just stop you,” Tardi said.

The film crew lost a drone that way, Urquhart said 

They encountered a military checkpoint along the river that took their drone and didn’t give it back. The crew also lost all the film they had made with the drone, Urquhart said.

Filmmakers also encountered high humidity, jungles and a hurricane.

“In terms of electronics, this is one of the most humid areas in Central America. So you might have 4 to 6,000 milliliters a year of rain,” Tardi said.

Tardi added, “The jungle is not an easy place to be. There is no road. The only way you can get there is walking or navigating on a river in a canoe or in a small boat.”

Both Tardi and Urquhart say they want the international community to know what is happening in Nicaragua and do something about it.

The Knight Center Journalism covered some travel expenses, providing members of the project with $3,500. The grant came from a Knight Center fund that supports environment-related documentaries made by MSU student-faculty teams.

Other MSU organizations funded the project as well: the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Screening of the movie with the filmmakers’ commentaries will take place in 136 Akers Hal, on Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m.

By Vladislava Sukhanovskaya and Eleanor Pugh for Knight Center

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