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Cocaine money in Nicaragua changes lives, says UEL lecturer

UEL anthropologist Dr Mark Jamieson has been examining the uses of cocaine money on the Mosquito Coast

University of East London anthropologist Dr Mark Jamieson has been examining the uses of cocaine money by the Miskitu, an indigenous people living on Nicaragua’s Mosquito Coast, showing how this trade and the money that it generates affects local lives in this remote part of Central America.

He reports stories of ordinary fishermen finding bales of cocaine at sea or acquiring them through violence or drug deals in a chapter of a new book edited by Luciano Baracco entitled ‘Indigenous Struggles for Autonomy’, just published by Lexington Books.

Dr Jamieson’s research looks at the role that cocaine money has played in the reinvention of new residence patterns and new styles of sociality and how these are transforming economics and political processes at the local level. This topic is the subject of an application for funding made to the Leverhulme Trust.

Dr Jamieson has lived on and off in Nicaragua over a period of twenty-eight years, is fluent in Miskitu and has immersed himself in the life there. He is currently engaged in the study of the social effects of the trade in narcotics on the Mosquito Coast, examining its influence on local people from early beginnings in the 1980s, when marijuana was the main item of trade, to the present, in which cocaine has come to prominence.

Dr Jamieson explained, “This work considers how once egalitarian hunter-horticulturalist Miskitu fisherfolk now experience greater economic inequalities and political instabilities at the village level, as strong men compete for influence and advantage. Cocaine is found in waterproof bales on the shores of the mainland and of the Cays, the tiny desert islands on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coastline, where they wash up surprisingly often after having been discarded by traffickers fleeing coastguard patrols. 

“By no means all fishermen are fortunate enough to have made opportunistic finds but those who do, find that they can sell a single kilo from around $4,000 to $6,000, an amount exceeding what they normally take a year to earn from fishing. It is the asymmetries between these new ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ and the changes that fall out of these, that I find interesting.”

Dr Jamieson currently lectures in Social Sciences and in Education Studies at the University where his modules focus on research methods and social aspects of language. He is also Honorary Research Associate at the Department of Anthropology, University College London. He has conducted fieldwork-based research on Miskitu, Creole English and Ulwa speaking communities on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast for more than quarter of a century and has published extensively on kinship, gender, political process, economy, language, ritual, death, land rights, and personhood in the region.
The new book, ‘Indigenous Struggles for Autonomy’ is published by Lexington Books.