Appendix 2.3 The Atlantic Coast Autonomy Law (Extracts)


Imperialism, the oligarchy and the Somoza dictatorship brought about a divided nation whose people were strangers among themselves and mutually mistrusted one another; while the ruling class kept for itself the right to the enjoyment, use and benefit of the resources of both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Nicaragua.


Only through the war of liberation and the victory of the Sandinista Popular Revolution has Nicaragua been able to dignify the laws of its history, to develop an awareness of its identity and to recognize that it is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural nation.


As a consequence of its interpretation of Nicaraguan history and the recognition of a resulting social dichotomy, as well as its awareness of political, economic, and cultural injustice, the Sandinista Popular Revolution has always set the unification of the nation as one of its main goals.


The Communities of the Atlantic Coast have demanded autonomy as a historical right, in order to achieve genuine national integration based on their cultural characteristics and the use of their national resources, for their own benefit and that of the nation.


Our Political Constitution holds that Nicaragua is a multi-ethnic nation (Art. 8) and recognizes the right of the Atlantic Coast communities to preserve their cultural identity, their languages, art and culture, as well as the right to use and enjoy the waters, forests and communal lands for their own benefit. It also recognizes their rights to the creation of special programmes designed to contribute to their development (Art. 89 and 90), while respecting their right to live and organize themselves according to their legitimate cultural and historical traditions (Art. 180).


Title I Fundamental Principles

CHAPTER 1 About the Autonomous Regions

Article 1

This law establishes an autonomous regime for the Regions where the communities of the Atlantic Coast live, in accordance with the Constitution of the Republic (Art 89, 90, 180 and 181) and establishes specific rights and duties for their inhabitants.

Article 2

Nicaragua is a Unitary State, of which the communities of the Atlantic Coast are an integral part, being entitled and subject to all the rights and duties of Nicaraguans.

Article 3

The Communities of the Atlantic Coast have a common history, and it is a principle of Autonomy to promote unity, fraternity and solidarity among their inhabitants.

Article 4

The regions where the Communities of the Atlantic Coast live will benefit from a regime of Autonomy which, within the framework of national unity and faithful to the principles, policies, and judicial system established in the Constitution of the Republic, will guarantee its inhabitants and the real use of their legitimate historical rights.

Article 5

In order to ensure full use of the autonomy rights of the Atlantic Coast Communities, two Autonomous Regions will be established in what is currently known as the Department of Zelaya.

  1. Autonomous Region “North Atlantic” will exercise jurisdiction over the territory of Special Zone I and the adjacent islands.
  2. Autonomous Region “South Atlantic” will exercise jurisdiction over the territory of Special Zone II and the adjacent islands.
  3. Other zones that have traditionally been considered part of the Atlantic Coast, while remaining at this time under the jurisdiction of other authorities, will be incorporated into their respective Autonomous Regions as soon as the circumstances allow for this incorporation. These circumstances will be defined and determined by the respective Region.

Article 6

The administrative seat for Autonomous Region “North Atlantic” will be Puerto Cabezas, while Bluefields will be the seat for Autonomous Region “South Atlantic”. Under very special circumstances the administrative seat of the Autonomous Regions may be transferred to other locations in their respective territories.

Article 7

Spanish is the official language of the Nicaraguan state. The languages of the Communities of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua will be official within the Autonomous Regions.

Article 8

The Autonomous Regions established by the present law are legal entities and as such, in accordance with national policies, plans and guidelines, will have the following general functions:

  1. To participate effectively in the planning process and programmes of national development within the Region.
  2. To administer in coordination with the corresponding ministries, the programmes related to health, education, culture, basic goods distribution and communal services, as well as the establishment of economic, social, and cultural projects in the Region.
  3. To promote the rational use of the waters, forests, and communal lands for the benefit and enjoyment of their peoples, and the overall preservation of the ecological system.
  4. To promote national culture, as well as the study, preservation, promotion, development, and dissemination of the different cultures and traditions of the Atlantic Coast’s Communities, including their historical, artistic, linguistic, and cultural heritage.
  5. To promote the traditional exchange with the Caribbean countries in accordance with the national laws and established procedures regulated to this matter.
  6. To establish regional taxes in accordance with the established laws related to this matter.

Article 9

The rational exploitation of the mining, forestry, and fishing resources as well as other natural resources in the Autonomous Regions of the Atlantic Coast, must benefit its inhabitants in just proportions, in accordance with agreement between the Regional Government and the Central Government.

CHAPTER TWO About the internal territorial divisions of the Autonomous Regions

Article 10

For administrative purposes, the territory of the Autonomous Regions will be divided into municipalities. These municipalities will be ruled according to established laws concerning this matter. Such administrative subdivisions will be organized and established by the corresponding Regional Councils, in accordance with the traditions of each Autonomous Region.

CHAPTER THREE About the rights and duties of the inhabitants of the Communities in the Auonomous Regions

Article 11

Within the territory of the Autonomous Region, all Nicaraguan citizens will benefit from the rights and guarantees granted by the Constitution and those stated in the present law.

Article 12

The inhabitants of the Atlantic Coast Communities are entitled by law:

  1. To full equality of rights.
  2. To promote and develop their languages, religions and cultures.
  3. To use and benefit from their waters, forests, and communal lands, in accordance with national development plans.
  4. To organize their social and productive activities according to their own values.
  5. To be educated in their own languages, through programmes that take into account their historical heritage, their traditions and the characteristics of their environment, all within the framework of the national education system.
  6. To their own forms of communal, collective, or individual ownership and transfer of land.

Article 13

The members of the Atlantic Coast communities have the right to define and to determine their own ethnic identity.

Article 14

The defence of life, homeland, justice, and peace for the integral development of the nation is an essential duty of the inhabitants of the Communities of the Autonomous Region.

Article 15

In Nicaragua, the defence of the Nation is based on the organized power of the people. In the Autonomous Regions, the Atlantic Coast Communities will hold the main responsibility for the defence of the nation within the framework of the Sandinista Popular Army, the Security Forces, and the Ministry of the Interior.

Title IV Consolidated Chapter About the patrimony of the Autonomous Regions and communal property

Article 34

The patrimony of the Autonomous Regions will be constituted by its possessions, rights and obligations acquired through any legal means as a public legal entity.

Article 35

The Autonomous Regions have the full and legal capacity to obtain, administer, and own the possessions comprising their patrimony, in accordance with the law.

Article 36

Communal property is constituted by the communal lands, waters and forests that have traditionally belonged to the Communities.

Communal property is subject to the following provisions:

  1. Communal lands cannot be sold, seized, or taxed; their communal status cannot expire.
  2. The inhabitants of the Communities will have the right to work on communal plots of land and are entitled to the benefits generated therefrom.

Article 37

The remaining form of property in the region are those recognized by the Constitution and the laws of the Republic.

Title V Consolidated Chapter About Law Reform

Article 38

Two thirds or more members of both Regional Councils may request that the National Assembly reform the present law through the established constitutional channels.

Title VI Consolidated Chapter Final and tentative provisions

Article 39

Once the present law has been passed, the National Assembly will call for the elections of the Regional Council in each Autonomous Region. The Supreme Electoral Council will then proceed to organize and direct the elections, to announce and publicize their results, and to give credentials to the elected Regional representatives.

Article 40

The National Assembly will set the date of investiture for each Regional Council. The President of the Supreme Electoral Council will take the oath of office and invest the regional representatives. He will also preside over the meeting where the President of the Council and the Board of Directors are elected.

Article 41

An especially appointed commission of each Regional Council will organize a solemn inaugural ceremony in the presence of the President of the Republic, or his representatives from the National Assembly and the Supreme Court of Justice.

Article 42

The present law will be widely publicized throughout Nicaragua, both in Spanish and in the languages spoken in Nicaragua’s Atlantic Coast Communities.

Article 43

Those officials who are engaged in their duties at the time this law comes into force will continue in their positions until the newly elected authorities take office, in accordance with the new provisions.

Article 44

The present law will take effect, from the date of its publication in the official newspaper, “La Gaceta”.