The Center for Investigative Reporting, in collaboration with PBS NewsHour, has uncovered serious land thefts and killings of Indigenous communities in Nicaragua to feed the demand for beef in the U.S.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. has faced massive meat shortages due to the swift spread of the virus among meat packers.

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At the end of Sept. 2020, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, which represents 250,000 U.S. meatpacking and food-processing workers, reported at least 122 meatpacking workers have died of COVID-19 and more than 18,000 had missed work because they were infected or potentially exposed.

In the spring of this year, large meat companies including JBS, Tyson Foods, and Smithfield Foods had to close their slaughterhouses after COVID-19 outbreaks. President Trump and meat industry leaders ordered the plants to stay open which only exacerbated the virus’s impact on the meat industry.

Imports of frozen beef are up nearly 20 percent since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, The Center for Investigative Reporting and PBS NewsHour reported. And Nicaragua has filled the gap, becoming the third-largest supplier of frozen beef to the U.S.

Nate Halverson of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal spoke with Anuradha Mittal who runs the Oakland Institute, an independent policy think tank that investigates land thefts around the world.

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“People are dying from violent land invasions, their lands taken away for cattle ranching, cattle, which then turns into beef, which comes into United States. Yes, people are being killed,” Mittal said in an interview with Halverson.

Specifically, Indigenous communities are being targeted by cattle ranchers in the small Central American nation.

According to a United Nations report, dozens of armed men stormed an Indigenous village in northeast Nicaragua in January, killing four people in the Mayangna community, injuring two others, and burning down 16 homes.

Land invasions have increased since the pandemic began in order to meet the demand for beef in the U.S. Indigenous people are being forced from their ancestral homes so cattle ranchers can clear their lands for cattle farming.

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As Halverson explains, the Nicaraguan government is legally obligated to protect the Indigenous people from land invasions, but President Daniel Ortega’s government has pushed for increased cattle operations across the country at the expense of Indigenous communities.

“In this year, we have more than 10 people in less than seven months murdered already. The settlers, them shot with a gun one girl of 14 years,” Lottie Cunningham, a leader in the Indigenous community, said in an interview.

It can be difficult for U.S. consumers to identify Nicaraguan beef since the imported beef can be labeled as a “product of the USA” as long as it is processed and repackaged in the U.S, Halverson explained.

According to Halverson’s investigations, Thomas Foods International USA is one of the major importers of Nicaraguan beef and sells beef raised on stolen land to Target, Safeway, Walmart, and Yale University, among others.

Years before the COVID-19 pandemic, global cattle farming has targeted and destroyed Indigenous communities. In Nicaragua, about five years ago, cattle ranchers began ramping up efforts to clear and burn jungles and forests in order to raise cattle. Cattle farming is the main driver of illegal land seizures in Indigenous territories in Brazil’s Amazon according to a report from Amnesty International.

Massive deforestation and destruction of Indigenous communities have been driven by the demand for meat in other countries, namely the U.S. By buying imported beef, U.S. consumers are contributing to the exploitation of Indigenous land in Central and South America.

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Source: PBS NewsHour/YouTube

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