In 1986, during the civil war, the National Assembly of Nicaragua passed a new Constitution. The Constitution broke new ground in Latin America, mandating the establishment of two autonomous regions on the Atlantic Coast: the Región Autónoma Atlántico Norte (RAAN) and the Región Autónoma Atlántico Sur (RAAS). In addition, the Constitution granted social, political, economic, and cultural rights to the indigenous peoples and the ethnic communities of the autonomous regions. Today, nineteen years after ethnic diversity was legally recognised in Nicaraguan, the autonomy arrangement remains controversial.
This thesis is to analyse what kind of institutional design is best suited to meet the requirements of justice, to secure democracy, and to lay the ground for unity among Nicaragua’s ethnically diverse citizens.
The theoretical framework of this thesis is political liberalism. Within this school of thought, it will examine two opposing approaches to the role of ethnicity in the organisation of a democratic state and the possible implications for Nicaraguan society. Will Kymlicka’s theory of multiculturalism defends the idea that ethno-cultural minority groups should be protected through group-differentiated rights. Brian Barry, a spokesman for egalitarian liberalism, uses the principle of equality to argue against special rights for groups.
In the first part of the analysis I discuss how Kymlicka and Barry suggest organising a multiethnic democracy in order to secure justice for all. I find some cracks in the foundations of Kymlicka’s theory on group-differentiated rights.
In the second part of the thesis I discuss which of the two models would have the better prospects for securing democracy in Nicaragua. I examine the mechanisms proposed by Kymlicka to increase minority participation in politics. Although, I recognise that political engagement is important, I argue that there are good reasons to be sceptical of the mechanisms to counter majority rule suggested by Kymlicka. They raise as many questions as they solve.
The final concern of this thesis is how to create some kind of political unity in Nicaragua. Barry’s theory does not offer a viable solution. As a result of history of discrimination against and exclusion of ethnic minorities, I believe that an accommodation of ethnic differences is necessary in Nicaragua.
I conclude by offering a third solution, which I believe has the best prospects for guaranteeing unity within a democratic Nicaragua that allows its citizens to have equal rights and enjoy the right to be different.