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“The snowball is starting to roll downhill” but still “swimming against the current”

“The snowball is starting to roll downhill” but still “swimming against the current”

WPF has been involved with farming cooperatives in Nicaragua for over 20 years. In 2011 WPF undertook an extensive study of cooperatives in Nicaragua, and we continue to learn and work with them. When I think about where our work with cooperatives is at now, a couple of mixed metaphors come to mind: we are definitely swimming against the current, but it seems like we are just getting to the point that the snowball might roll downhill.

THE CURRENT:

While Nicaragua is the Central American country with the largest number of cooperatives (5,000+), we have discovered that often those cooperatives were not founded by the initiative of their members, but by an external actor- frequently the State or foreign aid agencies– as a way to channel support to the peasantry. As a result of these origins, most of the members´ commitment to the cooperative is linked to its ability to offer them “projects”, i.e. externally funded benefits.

Furthermore the great majority of them essentially function using management styles more appropriate to single-owner businesses. This type of governance structure does facilitate communication with these external agents. But is not effective in protecting assets held in common, nor does it tap into the rich human resources that the many worker/owners represent. So even though cooperatives have the potential advantage of having dozens of owners all with diverse experiences, connections and talents at their disposal, they typically only rely on the knowledge and abilities of one or two people.

For most of the rural population their unconscious mental model for leadership comes from generations working on the hacienda, where a single owner ensures control over his/her assets through the use of a limited number of foremen. These foremen do have intimate knowledge of all stages of the production process, and thus ensure the process works to protect and enhance the interests of the owner. But in this system the only information the workers need to know is about their specific task. In fact, knowledge of the larger processes by the workers is seen as a negative, a distraction to the “real” work of the field-hands.

However, when this leadership style is used in the structure of a cooperative, it is at best a gross underutilization of the wealth of talent, experience and potential of its multiple members, and not infrequently results in crises linked to corruption. This is because the sole-leader system is not effective in safeguarding the assets when the wealth belongs not to one leader, but to the group.

SWIMMING AGAINST THE CURRENT:

Instead, a structure is needed that provides group control over group wealth, i.e. effective cooperative governance bodies: administrative council, oversight board, credit committee, education committee. In a context where the owners are many and they are also the workers, such a management structure also is capable of unleashing the potential of the many owners to improve their business. But to release that potential, they all need to be informed, not just about their specific task as a worker, but also the processes of their business as the owners that they are, so they can continually improve on those processes.

This is the type of ongoing reflection on the cooperative model that Rene Mendoza, as head of our cooperative initiative, has been facilitating with cooperatives since doing the study mentioned above.

WPF´s history is intimately linked to a transition to a 100% employee owned business. Most of WPF funding came when Harold and Louise Nielsen sold their factory (Foldcraft) to their workers under an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). At that point, it went from having one owner, to having 300+ worker/owners. The first CEO of that 100% ESOP company, Steve Sheppard, realized early on that the traditional single leader structure was not appropriate for a worker-owned business. So he began to seek out methodologies that would empower the Foldcraft worker/owners, and train all of them in the tools needed to enable their effective participation, so that they collectively could manage and continuously improve their business.

On retiring from his post at Foldcraft, Steve became the CEO of WPF.

So in the last several years in Nicaragua, while continuing to nourish ongoing reflection on the cooperative experience among its members, we have also attempted to introduce to the cooperative movement in Nicaragua some of these management tools Foldcraft found useful .

René Mendoza has been the director of the orchestra in this effort. He and his team at COSERPROSS accompany the cooperatives in their ongoing reflection on their situation and problems throughout the year. In addition once a year, in an alliance with the Center for Global Education and Experience at Augsburg University, and The Institute of Development Policy at Antwerp University, he leads a weeklong Certificate Program on Cooperativism for WPF. Some 50 or so cooperative leaders spend a week together reflecting on their reality, sharing experiences, and learning some tools that empower worker/owners, specifically Open Book Management and LEAN. Steve Sheppard has frequently led the training effort himself, and also brought in experienced specialists in the use of  these instruments.

 

Open Book Management (OBM) and LEAN help these governance bodies to be more effective. Instead of one person knowing “the business”, reflecting on the results and looking for improvements, all the members learn the business, reflect on its performance, and seek improvements.

STARTING THE SNOWBALL ROLLING…

But to get to that point in this context requires first breaking with a mentality reinforced over centuries: that only a few have a right to know, and the rest do not have “ideas”, much less ideas worth sharing. It is a quantum leap when the members of cooperatives awaken to the importance and value of their ideas, and then change begins to happen.

This past June 9-15 WPF held the 4th edition of the Certificate Program with a mix of people, some new to the ideas of OBM and LEAN, and others who had participated in previous programs who were able to share their experiences using these tools in their organizations. Others shared their experiences taking specific steps to assert their ownership over the process of their cooperative, the fruit of their ongoing reflections. These steps are difficult and frequently involve conflict, as they collide with how “things have always been done” up to now. But they are beginning to open up previously untapped potential.

Going from a field-hand mentality that relates to the cooperative as an NGO, to becoming an empowered member of a joint enterprise that values the wisdom and experience of each member, is not the kind of change that happens overnight. It is good for organizations who have chosen  this path to remind themselves that they are facing a strong counter current, and that without continual effort and reflection, they can easily be swept off the course they have set for themselves. Progress is only possible by taking daily steps toward change. But the reward is that each consciously taken step that builds on the previous one, makes the next step easier, and generates the kind of momentum needed to successfully fight the “current” and open up new horizons for their family, cooperative and community.

 

 

The alternative path of associativism

The alternative path of associativism

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

The betrayal of their own path

People dispossessed for so many years collected their savings and gave them to one of their sons, Solin, for him to pay for the coffee that was collected from their own group. Solin had never had so much money; he was like a deer in the headlights. He paid for the coffee. Some of the same people who had saved, behind the back of the rest, went to him to get him to lend them money. Solin first said no, but these people insisted, and he gave in. More people showed up, also from other parts of the country, and he ceded. Solin felt like a little patrón, “The people trust me”, his chest puffed out like a balloon. This path of giving out other people´s money, saying that it was his, led him to lie and believe his own lie. When other people showed him his mistake, Solin offered them money to shut them up, and if they did not accept it, he would slander them. One day he looked himself in the mirror and was frightened to find that he did not recognize himself.

When the owners of the money asked him to give it back, he had lent it all out. “And where is the money?”, they raised their voices. “You have already eaten it,” the theft reverberated like 10, 100 and 1000 years ago. Solin and several of the savers had betrayed their own path. Both took the path trodden for centuries by the old hacienda owners and fieldhands, by the comandante and those who died, by the manager and those who believed themselves to be cooperative members.

This story illustrates what happens frequently in cooperatives. A group of people save, define their purposes, agreed on their rules and then betray that path. The old path trodden by the patrón where the fieldhands follow for their pay, become indebted and to look for a favor, a path also taken by governments and churches (“Holy Patron Saint”), clouds and blocks any other path. In the story this group of people and Solin look at themselves in the mirror, or ask about their resources, and are surprised to be on the old path of dispossession, moving from being “servers” to “being served”. Their biggest tragedy is not so much the use of the money, but the fact that they have betrayed their path, this is the reason for the bad use of the money and the fact that their lives have taken a 360 degree turn, arriving at the same place. How can people who organize be able to follow their own path?

1.     Individual-collective duality and the dilemma of betrayal

In organizations that face corrupt acts, there is finger pointing, accusations and complaints. “He is incorrigible”, “he is guilty of bad administration”, “she is not accountable”, “she uses our money for her benefit and that of her managers”, lash out the members. These

 phrases in a cooperative belie an individual perspective, accentuated by the religious conservatism of “personal salvation”, and by the neoliberal doctrine where what is important is the individual and not society–there is no such thing as society, said the first female British Prime Minister M. Thatcher in 1987, during the full eruption of neoliberalism. Reproducing this perspective, nevertheless, is a way of “washing our hands”, of showing oneself to be innocent while pointing out others as the guilty parties.

These same expressions, nevertheless, can be read as “spitting against the wind” from the collective perspective. Because the member who is doing the accusing, with or without a title in some organ of their organization, on seeking a loan directly from the administrator, behind the back of his own cooperative, is not exercising his/her role, and/or violates the rules of their own organization; on the other hand, the corrupt administrator establishes himself reproducing the idea of the patrón;: “With 100 cordobas I keep them happy.” Many times even the State or aid organization officials who support the cooperatives borrow money from the managers, knowing that it is money that belongs to the cooperatives. “The spit” also falls on this member and this official who preaches cooperativism. A systematic act of corruption happens, above all, because of the lack of functioning of the respective organs, because of the lack of compliance with the rules of the organizations, and the accounting norms on the administrative side, as well as because of the acceptance of aid organizations*.

The members know the rules and procedures, but they see them as tedious, “paperwork”, “bureaucracy” – high transaction costs, they would say in economics. The members of the organs also see it in this way: “meeting is a waste of time.” While the patrón “from one big roll” decides to lend to them or not. In this process the members believe the administrator about any version about the source of the money, there is no culture of verifying their versions, because, they think, it would be distrusting and ungrateful; for that very reason, they do not ask for receipts either, the patrón does not do receipts – his word is enough! In addition to believing him, they fear him, “a person with other people´s money is capable of anything”, they whisper, so they keep quiet – do not speak in front of the patrón! This is a rule that is resurrected. From here the “vice” of playing with “other people´s money”, more than individual and exclusive of the manager or some president, is a collective “vice”; a collective act causes individual behavior – of corruption or honesty. See the upper part in Figure 1.

“The law is not being applied to him”, state the members and advisers of the organizations. With this they mean to say that organizations have laws, the State oversees compliance with the law; and that aid organizations have rules, and they do not apply them. This, however, continues to assume an individual perspective, believing that by “applying the law” “the patron is going to self correct”. It ignores what the history of any country tells us, “the patrón makes the laws”, be that with his right hand or his left. So we detect that this individual perspective, clothed in a collective and legal perspective, is moved by structures of dispossession; the “accusing”, the “abusing other people´s money” and “preaching laws” make the path of cooperativism disappear, and accentuate the path of dispossession – it is the dilemma of the betrayal. So we perceive that this structure is like rails for a train, it does not matter who the conductor is that is driving the train, nor how many years of schooling he might have, how many advisers and protectors of the law he has, that train will move along the rails; not matter who the administrators or presidents may be, these structures (“rails”) trap the conductors. In this way cooperatives can go broke, while these structures remain unmoved –“in an open treasure even the just will sin”, goes the saying.

At the same time this structure is being challenged. On the one hand, there are some members who cultivate a contingent awareness, that it is possible to make your own path and walk it; and on the other hand there are administrators who understand their role, respecting accounting rules and the collective perspective of organizations, shunning “inflating themselves” like balloons that run the risk of “bursting.” They do not “spit into the wind”, but recreate that collective perspective which finds itself supported by mechanisms that are coherent with more communitarian structures, and consultancies that study these rural underworlds – this is overcoming the dilemma of betrayal. See the lower part of Figure 1.

2.     Innovative mechanisms for cooperatives as the vehicle for repossession

“They do not let us be peasants”, shot off a Costa Rican leader in 1991, recognizing the onslaught of neoliberalism in turning the peasantry into workers and “wetbacks”. The “be peasants” has been more coherent with community structures, in conflict with structures of dispossession. It goes with mechanisms that make an alternative path possible, mechanisms that we have been learning from the exceptional organizations in Central America: see figure 2.

They are mechanisms that “de-commodify” peasant life, they involve awakening and organizing, deepening their roots, improving the organization of the commons, and sharing the path in a glocal alliance- because every space is glocal (global and local).

Mechanism 1: Voluntary genesis of cooperativism congruent with community principles

Nearly two centuries ago a group of textile workers in England saved part of their salaries to start a store, and with that stabilize their income and defend their basic needs. In Germany peasants organized to free themselves from usury. In both cases, the people understood that individually they were not able to overcome structural problems, like the low buying power of their salary and the usury that indebted them for life; organized, they could do so. Thus they defined their path and walked it. Over time cooperativism has expanded throughout the entire world and has become a double edged sword, a means for repossession for its members and communities from whence they come, and a means for dispossession when small elites appropriate it for profit. Read the brief dialogue in the box.

From the angle of the genesis of cooperativism, this dialogue shows the incomprehension of the administrator about what a cooperative is, as well as the wisdom of the younger brother about the social rule of “respecting someone else´s assets”. “The need of the other affects me”, says the administrator; precisely the crude “need” of people led to the fact that cooperativism emerged standing under the principle of respecting collective assets. The error of the administrator in this dialogue is providing a loan from money that is not his, and doing it outside of the rules and organs of the cooperative that named him “administrator”; with that he dispossessed the members of their resources, and full of a short term vision condemned needy people to suffering. Being “proud” is abusing “another´s assets”. This deformation results from the individual perspective derived from structures of dispossession.

The cooperative that originated in the will of its members to overcome structural adversities, and does it with rules based on community principles, like those expressed by the “younger brother” in the dialogue of respect for collective goods, is a long term structural mechanism.

Mechanism 2:  Rooted in diversified bases

The market demands a product and does not matter whether the one who produces it comes from one place or another; the State and aid agencies behave in a similar way, they legalize organizations or demand changes like “including women as members” without regard to where they come from. From working with cooperatives we learned that a cooperative that is rooted in its micro-territory has more possibilities of walking their walk, of being inclusive…

How to be rooted? Even though the members of a cooperative come from the same micro-territory, deciding that the administration –and therefore the financial transactions – are done in the territory itself, requires making explicit in a reflective way several beliefs written in stone for centuries: “Here they are going to steal from us, in the town there are Policemen and that is why it is safer there”, “no buyer or certifier is going to come out here to our place, we have to go out to civilization”, “here we are living in the brush, the patrón lives in the town”, “that little girl doesn´t know anything about administration, only men who ride on motorcycles know it.”

When the members of a cooperative come from the same micro-territory, and decide that their building and its administration are going to be in the same space, then we create favorable conditions for a good cooperative. The possibility that corruption might emerge and intensify is reduced. The mobility of the members to the cooperative´s building, as well as the attendance of women and men in the meetings is greater. We say that more women and men go to the meetings, because of the geographic proximity and because they do not have to travel to the municipal capital to attend meetings; the women can go to the meeting with their babies and/or children, something that is difficult if the meeting is in the municipal capital. This contributes to the cementing of trust among the members. Also the coordination between the administration and the organs of the cooperative can improve. The care of the members and board members over their administration increases, which is why the security of the resources of the cooperative in that place increases. Accessing information and asking their questions is also more possible.

The payments that are made in the territory itself to the members, be it for coffee, cacao, sugar cane or another crops, has an impact on the economy of the territory. The storefronts and small businesses sell more, new businesses tend to emerge. The interest of the partner of the member, and their children, in the receipts that their Father or Mother bring from the cooperative is greater. The possibility of having lovers under the argument that “I am going to town for a meeting” is reduced. It is like the butterfly effect in a world as interconnected as today´s world is, even more so is life interconnected in a micro-territory and in families.

Mechanism 3: the functioning of the cooperative organs and administration

The fact that a member might understand that organized they can overcome their structural problems is one step, the fact that they can facilitate that because their cooperative is rooted in their territory is a second big step. Nevertheless, there are cooperatives that in spite of having taken both steps, go broke or turn into a means for dispossession manipulated by small elites. The third mechanism is that each member, with or without a title, function in accordance with the rules and organs of their organization, without going “in secret” to the “real person in charge”, because the “real person in charge” in the cooperatives are its rules and organs.

It is easy to say that the organs of a cooperative function according to its rules. But it is difficult for it to happen. The phrase that is read in laws and management, that they are “management organs” illustrates that they are not “decision making organs”, that the power of making decisions was expropriated by the elites. How can the organs be “decision making” and the administration “management”, the former with a strategic role and the latter with an operational role? Apart from the fact that they know their statutes (rules), meet systematically and cultivate connections with their members and with external actors, the key is in the fact that they become learning organizations. How? First, each member is seen as a leader in their community, understanding that the biggest treasure is in their own social territory; consequently, their first task being multiplying their visits to other people, members or not of the cooperative, so that through conversations, they might understand the problems and opportunities that exist in their territory. Knowing them and sharing them is their fuel for pushing the cooperative to improve, and it is their source of ideas for enlightening cooperativism.

Second, the relationship between the administration and the organs is developed to the extent that they organize information, analyze it and on that basis define their policies and strategies to be followed. This provides work content for each organ. For example, information on loans and arrears is analyzed by each organ, particularly the credit committee; the Oversight Board finds one of its principle follow up tasks in this; the education committee, as a result of this analysis, proposes to work on financial education with the members about how to save, invest better and working with more autonomy, breaking with that old institution of “going into debt” and putting up with any exploitation for being “indebted”.

Third, making decisions based on the visits and the data analysis makes it possible for them to make better decisions. A particular area is diversification. A cooperative, even one with organs functioning acceptably, if it continues embracing mono-cropping, sooner rather than later will go broke; if it continues, it will work to dispossess. Promoting diversification, nevertheless, is difficult because of the atrocious structure of international power. Today to speak about agricultural cooperatives is nearly to talk about mono-cropping. So there are “successful” cooperatives that have credit, marketing and technology services just for one crop; the effect of mono-cropping on the peasant economy and the environment have been horrible for decades and centuries. The attached box illustrates the expansion of mono-cropping even through organic agriculture reduced to its dimension as a commodity, and the fact that people of good will from international organizations work against the peasantry while believing that they are “benefitting” them. Visiting and analyzing data leads us to question the origins of our policies and respond to the millennial strategy of peasant resistance: diversification and environmental sustainability. If the organs and the administration of a cooperative focus their tasks on diversification of the farm and agro-industry, their cooperative will democratize a little more, and will include more youth and women in general.

The geographical proximity facilitates organizational functioning, and this, focused on diversification, makes the cooperative be even more rooted, produces new innovative rules and starts the path of being an organization of repossession – of peasant viability with economic and social diversification, and environmental stability.

Mechanism 4: Glocal alliance for the cooperative path

These three mechanisms facilitate changes in the cooperative and in the economy of the member families and their territories, but they will achieve sustainability to the extent that they take on the attitude of a cooperative member. It is not just organizing voluntarily, looking at their territory, making decisions through their organs, it is feeling themselves to be, and being cooperative members. What does this mean?

For centuries indigenous and peasant families have cultivated a mentality of producing to eat. Then in the 1920s in Central America cash crops came in like coffee, sugar cane, cacao, and cattle. In that process they molded a mentality of being a “seller of coffee”, “seller of sugar cane”, or “seller of milk”. Consequently, they reasserted their territory (“country”) in their plot or farm: “My country ends with my agave fence”, they declared, which means that within this area there is a structure and a person in charge, that outside of that is not his world, that his world ends at the fence where the buyers come to buy his products. They do not even sell, they buy off of him. This mentality was intensified by the markets, “I will buy your coffee sun-dried or wet, the rest does not matter”, “I will buy your sugar cane”; likewise national and international aid organizations, allies of associative organizations, with people trained in universities that taught them that only “Inc.” companies produce profits, say to them: “work on the raw materials and the rest will we take care of”, “you are good for harvesting, industry and trade is our thing”.

What is the problem with this mentality? The peasant receives payment for their coffee or milk, that is their world; the other world is that of the patrón, where the profits are; the peasant never is interested in this other world, knowing what their patrón did with his profits; the very fact of asking him was showing ingratitude, insubordination and social suicide – their own people would treat them as someone trying to be his equal. This institutionality has been reproduced in associative organizations and their allies; a member looks for payment for their coffee, sugar cane or milk, they are not interested in knowing whether their organization generated profits or not; in Fair Trade the use of the premium of US$20/qq of coffee is previously defined in social investment, infrastructure… and $5 for the member family to invest in their farm; the premium for organic coffee of US$30 is perceived like this, “premium”, equal to a “roasted cow” that the patrón would provide for them at the end of the harvest, “premium” of a day of fiesta. In other words, the agave fence of the peasant member is “price of NY + premium” (see box); the member family understands that their profits and premiums are not an expression of their rights, but “a favor” (something “extra”, “charity”) of the local or global patrón, that is why they do not ask about it, do not ask for information, nor keep their receipts nor complain over the distribution of profits. Knowing this reality, the patrón (administrator or fair trade coffee buyer) repeats, “with 100 córdobas I keep them happy”, “with pig rinds and booze they leave happy”, “I buy from them at a good price and I give them a premium, whether that gets to the member´s family or not is their issue.”

Complaining over your profits is like being a “beggar with a club”. It is like a woman subjected by her husband, she feels “kept” and without the right to ask him about the “rest of his money”, and it is the mentality of the citizen who pays taxes and instead of complaining that his government reinvest in public works and provide him “good service”, see these works as the result of the goodness of the government (patrón).

The three mechanisms listed need to be complemented by this fourth one, with which we will move beyond this glocal mentality. How? First, building a mentality where the peasant family has awareness about the fact that their actions create value and have unexpected consequences, which is why they can refine their policies and carry out actions of even greater value and impact. This is possible if they observe and reflect on some details; for example, making sure that through the payment for the harvested coffee in that territory positive aggregate effects are generated in the economy of that territory, beyond their “agave fence”; observing the impact of their diversified organic agriculture on their farms as well as on the territory; reflecting on the effect of violating the agreements of their own cooperative, that leads them to lose resources as a cooperative and as a territory. On observing these positive and negative effects, the members can awaken their awareness of being coop members and of moving from their “agave fence” to understand that regardless of their purposes, their actions have a repercussion on the territory. In a parallel fashion, let also global actors awaken and understand that their actions have repercussions on the lives of the peasant people; if they look at a cooperative just as “coffee” or “cacao”, commodities, and believe that by providing a good price and premium they have already contributed to the families, they should ask themselves if they are sure that they have “contributed”; if one person turns into an elite capturing those premiums, are the buyers contributing to the well being of the peasant families?

Second, making relationships between different glocal actors (global and local) be living alliances that are committed to the formation of associativism, complementing the mechanisms mentioned here. This does not mean improving the prices of raw materials. It means that organizations add up all the income (value of sold product +premiums+incentives for quality and other bonuses), subtract their expenses and costs, and from the gross profits they agree to redistribute according to a certain percentage, let us say 50 or 60%. We repeat, it is not a matter of improving the price of the sugar cane or the coffee, it is not distributing the premiums; it is redistributing the gross profits of your organization.* The remaining 50 or 40%, or other percentage, goes to internal funds, social fund, legal reserves, investment fund in the organization…

Third, all the actors, cooperative, associative enterprises, aid agencies, Universities and State Institutions, we all should commit in an ongoing and systematic way to cooperative formation, based on the lessons and challenges of the organizations themselves. On emphasizing profits we are not reducing ourselves to the economic, we understand with Aristotle that quantity is an element of quality; consequently, the members will move from a mentality of “I am a seller of sugar cane” to “I am a seller of granulated sugar”, from “I am a seller of coffee” to “I am a cooperative member exporter of export quality coffee”. This will mean that each member pushes that their organization generates more profits and redistributes them, they will make an effort to be informed, to be trained, to diversify more. With these elements, the formation will help their cooperative and territory, the board and their members, the cooperatives in the north and the south, to maintain strong ties of collaboration and mutual learning.

3.     “Muddy” accompaniment from the underworld of the member families

Most cooperatives have been accompanied, be it by the State, Churches, aid agencies or Universities. Standardized accompaniment has meant providing them trainings, legalizing them, buying products from them and /or providing them with donations; it is an accompaniment that does not cross over toward the communities and the underworld of the cooperatives, which is why it ends up legitimizing corruption, or that cooperatives get turned into a means for dispossession. A new type of accompaniment is required so that these four mechanisms emerge, are adapted and make a difference.

Owen and other associative people inspired the emergence of cooperativism in England, Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen accompanied the first cooperative in Germany. A distinctive accompaniment in Central America has been that of the Catholic Church in the years 1960-1970; that accompaniment helped them to reflect on a God living among them, and a Reign of God that began in those very communities – the “treasure” (God) was in the communities themselves. This accompaniment gave rise to dozens of cooperatives and peasant stores based on their own resources; a good part of them still persist after 40 and 50 years[2]. Consistent with this type of accompaniment, even though not from a religious perspective, we describe here an accompaniment that enters into the cooperative underworld in interaction with the 4 described mechanisms.

What are the distinctive characteristics of this accompaniment? The first is that the accompanying people understand that only by entering the underworld of the cooperatives and their territory will they be able to understand the process in which the cooperative finds itself, awaken reflection and help create mechanisms like those worked on here. The fact that we intellectuals might have the “best” assessment is useless if the members are not reflecting on and walking their own cooperative path. For that reason the accompaniers need to pass beyond the control of the “patroncito”, be that the administrator, manager or president, and through the conversation be exposing the struggle between the path of the patrón and that of the cooperative, as well as the complexity of walking their own path.

Second, accompanying is discerning mindsets from the inside. Along with studying the cooperative underworld, where the old path is imposed based on betrayal and subordination, and where people wander between doubt and intuition, the accompaniers discern the mindsets in the cooperatives, and their own mindset as accompaniers. When the cooperative is trapped in acts of corruption, it is moving under the rules of “the clever one takes advantage of what he administers”, and “we always need a patrón”; these rules conceal actions against their own organization; then the members see the accompaniers as “intruders”, unfurl the banner of “autonomy” to keep the accompaniers from “crossing over the threshold” of the territory, and make up lies in the territory that these accompaniers “are taking advantage of the cooperative.” Discerning their mindsets implies “muddying ourselves” in their beliefs and lies, at the risk that this might erode the legitimacy of the accompanier and drive him/her out of the territory. What distinguishes good accompaniment is the persistent act of overcoming our own mentality that it is “enough to train, legalize and help them to export in order to live better”, “taking their pulse” and innovating with member families to the extent that destructive mentalities that prevent learning are dispelled.

Third, accompanying well is allowing member families to take their own steps, provided that we understand that our actions also have repercussions in the lives of the member families. The accompanier risks the fact that the members might perceive him or her also as a “little patrón”, impairing them from walking their own cooperative path. Let us illustrate this with one experience; in a cooperative, after the second mechanism took place, of rootedness, the results in terms of informational transparency, reduction of corruption and a motivating environment because of its economic and social impact in the territory were admirable. So the board members complained to the accompaniers: see attached box.

In the box the leader sees the accompanier as a “little patrón” with the capacity to stop the corruption and impose decentralized administration on the territory of the cooperative. The response of the accompanier to the first complaint is that having intervened as a “firefighter” to “put out the fire” of corruption, even though this act would have saved them financially, it would have constrained them from building their own cooperative path, which is structural and long term. The response to the second complaint reveals an accompaniment that helps to innovate mechanisms to the extent that it studies and learns from the cooperative itself and its underworld. Even now that we have innovated these four mechanisms they would not be recipes for any organization, they are mechanisms that need to be adapted to each situation, and that each cooperative should experience their processes. These two responses illustrate that accompanying is letting member families walk their path, provided that it studies them and provokes reflection.

Finally, in this process we are getting to know ourselves, re-knowing ourselves in our actions, and we are developing a sense of reasoned compassion. Not the “rational being” of homo economicus. On understanding the mentality of a group of members who “always need a patrón that steals from us”, we understand that for more than 100 years this institution has been deeply etched in their grandparents and parents, reproduced now by this group. At the same time we understand that this institution is not characterized by “being peasants”, but that it is the centuries old path of the patrón-fieldhand. This reflective reasoning envisions this reality for us, and awakens “being peasants” in the lives of cooperative member families and our lives, through respecting the collective good, the rules of the collective and mother earth, the horizon for which we produced the four mechanisms.

Accompaniment makes us remember that the change is in alliance between the peasant families and those of us who accompany them, while we walk together. It is not a stationary accompaniment, but along the road. It is a tense alliance, with stumbles and doubts, but embracing each other for the purpose of creating a vehicle for repossession to the benefit of peasant families.

By way of conclusion

We began this text with the following question: How can people who are organizing follow their own path? First we identified how the colonial patrón-fieldhand path intensified by capitalism that only values merchandise (commodities) erodes the cooperative path, and leads people to betray their own path. This teaches us that individual actions respond to certain perspectives (individual or collective), and they in turn come from structures in conflict, communitarian structures and structures of dispossession; and that this cooperative path is connected with community life, also in resistance for centuries. These two paths clash, for example, in “the good of others”: the colonial and capitalist path is nourished by dispossessing “the good of others” (land, financial resources, labor) from the peasantry, while the cooperative path is connected to community structures which precisely originate in repossessing “the good of others”, which in this case is the “collective good”, material assets (financial resources), as well as alliances and collectively decided arrangements. This “good of others” in the cooperative path is then a “social relationship”, as Federici would say.[3]

Lining ourselves up with this cooperative path, we list four innovative mechanisms that, contrary to the saying that “in an open treasure even the most just sins”, make the cooperative into “a treasure with rules and associative governance where even the biggest sinner becomes just.” These four mechanisms are: voluntarily organizing, rooted in specific micro-territories, making the cooperative organs and administration function, and within a glocal alliance framework help the member families to cultivate an awareness of “being a cooperative member”, that their actions generate changes in their lives and the life of their territory, and making the cooperatives expand their profits and redistribute them with informational transparency and as an expression of respecting “the good of others” (common good, collective good, their own good), in contrast to capitalism that is nourished from dispossessing material assets from peasant families. Then we argued that cooperatives need an accompaniment that makes a difference, that crosses over formal and despotic structures and gets into the underworld of the territories, from which they innovate with the member families, like the mechanisms listed here, and accompany them through thick and thin.

Is this text important only for cooperatives and their allies in their social territories? What happens in the cooperatives and their social territories at the micro level is happening in countries at the macro level. Following the cooperative vision is overcoming the “commodity” vision, the colonial patrón-fieldhand path and the belief that “with money you can even make monkeys dance”, and it is creating a society that cooperates, makes rules and follows them, expands their profits and redistributes them, learns and democratizes. Will it happen?

[1] René has a PhD in development studies, associate researcher of the IOB-University of Antwerp (Belgium), collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/) and member of the COSERPROSS RL. cooperative rmvidaurre@gmail.com.

[2] A case to illustrate this type of accompaniment is that of the Cooperativa La Esperanza de los Campesinas in Panama. See: R. Mendoza, 2017, “A priest, a cooperative and a peasantry that regulates the elites”, in: ENVIO 425. Managua: IHCA-UCA. http://www.envio.org.ni/articulo/5304

[3] Lucia Linsalata, 2015, “Three general ideas for thinking about the commons. Notes around the visit of Silvia Federici” in Bajo el Volcán, year 15, number 22. Federici talks about the commons in the community, she says “there is no commons if there is no community”. In this article we present the cooperative as an expression of people from a community who decide to organize, and for them “the commons” is within the cooperative, even though in relation to their communities or social territories.

Specialists point out that there is no trust in the Financial Analysis Unit to oversee transactions

This article published in La Prensa analyzes the possible impacts of new norms issued on money laundering and terrorism financing, overseen by the Financial Analysis Unit, issued April 23, 2019 within the context of a social and economic crisis that the Government has interpreted as a coup attempt on the part of the opposition and  the Catholic church hierarchy.

See Spanish original:

https://www.laprensa.com.ni/2019/04/25/economia/2544726-regimen-aumenta-control-en-transacciones-financieras-y-comerciales-de-los-nicaraguenses]

 Specialists point out that there is no trust in the Financial Analysis Unit for monitoring transactions

In the norms the Financial Analysis Unit stipulates that the people who will be reported to this Unit must not know that their information is being transferred there.

By Wendy Alvarez , Mabel Calero La Prensa, April 25, 2019

The decision this Thursday of the Financial Analysis Unit (FAU) to increase the monitoring of transactions of Nicaraguans over several financial and commercial activities created suspicions among specialists, who pointed out that even though this measure might adhere to international norms, there are fears that these mechanisms might be used to persecute opponents of the Daniel Ortega regime.

This past April 23rd the FAU – making use of the anti-money laundering law (Law 977) – set minimum amounts that will be subject to greater oversight. This supervision will be over several financial and commercial transactions.

As the new norm reads, the obligated subjects, that is to say, those are obligated to comply with the anti-laundering law, will have to report to the FAU suspected operations in transactions related to the entrance of family remittances, purchase of new and used vehicles, operations in currency exchange bureaus, micro-finance institutions, financial cooperatives, pawn shops, purchase and sale of real estate, cattle transactions, sale or export of gold, operations in trusts, as well as national and international transactions, among others.

In each one of these operations minimal amounts were set that will be left subject to greater monitoring and that, in the case that illicit operations are suspected, must be immediately reported to the FAU through an already established electronic system.The same norms of the FAU define suspected operations as “any isolated, repeated, simultaneous or serial act, operation or transaction, regardless of the amount transacted or attempted by any natural or legal person…(that) ends up being unusual, or lacking apparent legal or economic justification.”

Gabriel Álvarez, a constitutional lawyer, who is doing a legal analysis of the new norms to verify that they are not violating any constitutional rights, points out that even though this measure could be in adherence with international norms on the fight against illicit activities, it creates suspicion among Nicaraguans because of the distrust that exists that these legal instruments might be used for purposes of persecution and espionage on the part of the Government against its opponents.

There are political risks

Álvarez explains that standards and parameters already exist for defining when a suspicious operation should be identified, that even operate in democratic countries. But in Nicaragua “the risk is political, that the regulating instruments be used, that are important in any country in the world, because money laundering and other illicit activities of organized crime are pursued, as a mechanism to obtain information on the part of the Government or Government agencies, or of the party in power, about those who they believe are its opponents. This would be terrible”, warns Álvarez.

Along this same lines declared the opposition ex-deputy Eliseo Núñez, who pointed out that the problem is not the norm, the evil is rooted in the distrust that the FAU generates, which is seen as the espionage arm of the dictatorship. “The FAU has not been on the margins, it has become a political organ that has people who were in the Army there, so that generates suspicion, there is no trust, that is the problem”, he indicated. In addition to the lack of trust in the FAU, Núñez points out that the environment of fear about greater control over financial and commercial transactions of Nicaraguans created fear because of the political crisis that continues without solution, “and this norm on face value is seen as a type of control that the regime wants to establish.”

Regime has provided reasons for the fears

In the case of the decision of the FAU to increase controls over income from remittances higher or equal to US$500, Núñez recalled that “in its time the Government said that organizations were receiving money from outside the country to finance weapons and what it called death roadblocks, there is a precedent, and now the control over remittances is coming, so this will generate more distrust.”

In the norms, the FAU alleges that no obligated subject can allege reserve or secrecy of any type at the moment of reporting information on the operations that must be reported to the Unit. The information will be transferred to the FAU through an electronic platform, known as SIREL. If the obligated subjects believe that said transactions of people are suspect, they should report them immediately, or in a term no longer than twenty days. In the case that the transactions are in cash, this information should get to the FAU in a term no longer than ten days.

In the norms it is established that the people who will be reported to this Unit should not know that their information is being transferred. Concerning this, Álvarez said that international norms related to this issue effectively allow that the information would get to the Units of Analysis without the person who is subject of suspicion knowing, so as not to alert him, but insists that in Nicaragua the risk that exists is that global standards are not met for defining a suspicious operation.

Vargas: dictatorship seeks control over money

The sociologist and economist Óscar René Vargas states that there are big interests behind this norm, and one of them is looking at how to control the flow of money that would come in to finance political organizations and parties, in the case of an electoral contest.

“The regime knows that, if an electoral process opens up, political organizations and parties would have the need for money for their electoral work; this disposition allows them to know and control the possible money flows. For example, to do political work vehicles are needed, sound equipment, TV cameras, electoral networks, etc; all this requires money”, he explained. About this, Vargas remembers that the Ortega regime knows that several organizations receive donations from outside the country, and through this mechanism will seek to persecute them within the pretext of fighting corruption.

According to Vargas the dictatorship made “norms that creat a lot of suspicion and distrust among the population in general”, and that this can affect the channels for the operation of financial transactions, and thereby affect the economy.

Discretionality

The economist Alejandro Aráuz pointed out that “it constitutes in effect a discretional tool that the Government could be using not just to exercise influence, extortion and aggravation on those “obligated subjects”, allied or not with the government, in an anormal political situation that our country is currently undergoing.”

Based on the philosophy that currently reigns in Nicaragua concerning terrorism laws and the police state, Aráuz pointed out that this norm “provides an occasion for the Government to strengthen surveillance and terror mechanisms over legal organizations and the citizenry in general. Likewise businesses, associations, professional, political associations, etc. are exposed to this type of impairment.”

What type of information must the obligated subjects send? In the report on suspicious operations a comprehensive client profile must be attached; the account status of the product or service where the suspicious operation was detected; copy of the identification presented by those reported; a report of the analysis that originated the suspicious operation, among others.

The amounts subject to control

According to the norms, the subject obligated to this Unit of Analysis must report operations with the following amounts: in national and international transactions, the amount subject to oversight is equal to or greater than US$5,000; if the entry of remittances is equal or greater than US$500; if a person carries out a transaction with a cooperative that surpasses $3,000 per month.

In the case that a person carries out a transaction with an exchange bureau greater than US$5,000; operations with micro-finance institutions for US$10,000; if a person has earnings from gambling larger than US$1,000.

Also operations from the sale and purchase of real estate larger than US$100,000 must be reported to the FAU; in the case that the purchase is related to cash purchases of new and used vehicles, when the amounts are equal to or higher than US$10,000 and 5,000, respectively.

Likewise, when there are livestock transactions equal to or higher than US$1,000 they must be reported; in the case of national sales or export of gold, if the balance is equal to or greater than US$5,000 in the case of local sales, and if it is exported, if the amount is higher than US$10,000. If the operations are through trusts larger than US$10,000, they must also be reported to the FAU.

 

Agreement to Strengthen Citizen Rights and Guarantees

What follows is a translation of the agreement signed on March 29, 2019 between the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD) and the Government of National Reconciliation and Unity  (GRUN) within the context of the renewed National Dialogue. When sit-ins for the release of political prisoners were held the next day and were attacked by riot police, and a Sandinista Party member fired into the crowd wounding three, the ACJD accused the government of violating the accords the day after their signing. This shows the fragility of the situation in Nicaragua. 

 Agreement to Strengthen Citizen Rights and Guarantees

[See original Spanish at: https://www.alianzacivicanicaragua.com/es/acuerdo-para-fortalecer-los-derechos-y-garantias-ciudadanas/(Note: could not find a copy on GRUN website)

We the parties aware that, within the Democratic State and the Rule of Law, the Governors as well as the Governed are subjected to the rule of Law.

The parties, recognizing that according to Article 27 of the Constitution, “The State respects and guarantees the rights recognized in the current Constitution of all people who are found within its territory and are subject to its jurisdiction.”

Likewise, based on Article 24 of the Constitution, “All people have obligations to the family, community, homeland and humanity…the rights of each person are limited by the rights of others, the security of all and the fair demands of the common good.”

In virtue of this, we the Members of the Negotiating Table, committed to Peace, Justice, Safety, Democracy, Stability and the Progress of Nicaragua, agree on the following points:

Due process and effective legal redress

  1. Urge compliance with due process and that effective judicial recourse be exercised, in administrative as well as judicial procedures, and ensure the fulfillment of the final verdicts. Urge that the corresponding authorities obey the constitutional mandate that establishes that every prisoner has rights. “To be placed in liberty or at the order of the competent authority with a 48 hour period after their detention.”

 

  1. The State ensures that no one can be subjected to arbitrary detention or prison, nor be deprived of their liberty, except by causes set by law and with arrangement for a legal proceeding. Detention will only be carried out by virtue of a written order of the competent judge or from authorities expressly empowered by the law, except in the case of a being caught in the act of a crime, all pursuant to what is set forth in Article 33 of the Constitution and the procedures of the law.

The State ensures that the home can only be searched by written order of a competent judge, must b e done between 6AM and 6PM, with the exceptions that the Constitution establishes and always under the existing legal procedures.

Economic Rights

  1. In accordance with the Constitutional mandate, ensure the unrestricted right to all forms of property, without discrimination for reasons of birth, nationality, political creed, race, sex, language, religion, opinion, origins, economic position or social condition.

Security and National Defense

  1. We urge the authorities to take the necessary measures to ensure the disarmament of those who bear arms without authorization, or of those who organize as armed groups outside of the constitutional and legal order. For the purpose of maintaining Public Order and Citizen Security, stop violent or aggressive actions of any person or authority.

 

  1. We urge the Army of Nicaragua and the National Police to comply with the registration and marking of arms used by each institution, in accordance with the law on this subject.

We urge the National Police to adjust their norms of behavior to their own Organic Law and the “Basic Principles of the United Nations on the use of force and firearms by officials responsible for the application of the law.”

It is especially  recalled that the confiscation or intervention of electronic mechanisms only can be done with the proper judicial order.

Rights of Nicaraguans outside the country

  1. All Nicaraguans outside the country, particularly those who left in the context of the events beginning on April 18, 2018, will be able to return with full personal and family guarantees and security, in accordance with the law, and enjoy the benefits that these laws grant them.

Political rights

  1. Ensure the right to concentration, demonstration and public mobilization, in fulfillment of the Constitution and the Laws on this subject. On meeting the requirements established by the law on this subject , the National Police will authorize the exercise of this right.

Likewise it is recognized that the right to peaceful meeting, that does not affect the free circulation of people or vehicles, and that does not alter the normal co-existence of the population, does not require prior permission.

The unrestricted right of all Nicaraguans to the respectful use of the National Flag is fully recognized, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws on the subject.

  1. Ensure the constitution of organizations of any nature, without any restrictions than those that the Constitution and the laws on the subject establish.

Review the decisions adopted in terms of the cancelation of the legal statuses of non profit associations that have been cancelled in the context of the events occurred since April 18, 2018, in order to achieve the restitution of their legal statuses and the return of their assets, when appropriate.

To this end the competent judicial authorities are urged to expedite the process proposed by the writ of judicial protection introduced against the decree of the National Assembly where the legal status was ordered cancelled of some non profit associations or NGOs in the same context.

Labor rights

  1. Ensure  workers the right to participate in the management of enterprises through their organizations and in accordance with the law.

Ensure that no worker in the public or private sector be fired for reasons of their political preferences, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws on the subject. We urge both sectors to contribute to the generation of new employment opportunities.

Freedom of expression and accurate information

  1. The State ensure the unrestricted right to freedom of expression, the right to inform cannot be subject to censorship, nor can the communications media be the object of prior censorship, nor the use of mechanisms that can violate what is established in the Constitution and the Law, or that can limit the right to accurate and timely information.

The right should be guaranteed by the State to import paper, machinery, equipment, and spare parts for the social, written, radio and television communications media, all in accordance with the Constitution and the Tax Laws of the Nation.

The communications media should contribute to the development of the Nation.

Review the decisions adopted by the State in terms of the assets: installations, assets, equipment, documents, licenses and any other type of material and non material assets belonging to the communications media affected in the context of the events occurred starting on April 18, 2018, in order to achieve the return of those assets when relevant, in accordance with the Constitution and the law.

Consequently the competent judicial authorities are urged to expedite the processes for the purposes of returning to their legitimate owners what legally belongs to them.

Personal Guarantees

  1. We recommend that the competent authorities proceed to processing and expediting the processes for Habeas Corpus, Habeas Data and Constitutional Protection, whose resolutions require unconditional compliance.

University Autonomy

  1. Strengthen the full exercise of University Autonomy.

Right of the Original and Afro-descendent Peoples of the Caribbean Coast

  1. The original and Afro-descendent peoples of the Caribbean Coast, as an inseparable part of the Nicaraguan people, enjoy the same rights and guarantees to which the current accord refers.

Definition of Terrorism and Terrorism Financing

  1. The Delegation of the Civic Alliance asks the GRUN to review the antimony that might exist between the definition of terrorism and terrorism financing in Law 977, the Penal Code and the international instruments signed by the Republic of Nicaragua. The GRUN commits to reviewing the antimony.

Implementation

  1. The parties recognize that the Nicaraguan State, its powers and the rest of its institutions are the principal organs for the implementation of this accord, and that they promise, as it is their constitutional duty according to its article 6, to carry out this implementation in strict compliance with established constitutional principals, and being completely faithful to the spirit of this accord, under the supervision of monitoring of the Follow up Roundtable for the Implementation. If the agreements approved by the negotiation table enter into conflict with existing legislation, the table will take the necessary steps with the authorities for the reform of the legislation concerned, in order to reconcile it with constitutional principles.

 

  1. This accord expresses the political will of the delegations to find the path for reconciliation, peace, security and stability. Its development and impact on the lives of Nicaraguans will be an essential basis to achieve these objectives. Its application will be an integral part of the process that is promoted from the sphere of this negotiation table. We the sectors represented here commit to promoting them with the best disposition. It will be society that appropriates the spirit of this accord and will make it a reality.

 

  1. The parties agree and ensure that the points of this accord that require it will be applied through specific protocols, in accordance with the law. The application will be supervised and monitored by the Followup Table with the accompaniment of National and/or International Guarantors.

 

  1. The implementation of this accord will begin with its signing.

Issued in the city of Managua on the 29th day of March of 2019.

[Signatures by GRUN and by ACJD and witnesses and accompaniers]

 

 

 

A Cry for Nicaragua, a cry from the Caribbean Coast

This article provides an important perspective from the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua on the crisis, especially in light of the National Dialogue as different sectors search for possible “solutions” to the crisis. It was published in Oct 2018, before the current National Dialogue was resumed. 

A Cry for Nicaragua, a cry from the Caribbean Coast

By Shakira Simmons

Regional Liaison for the Autonomous Region of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua for Global Communities

[Translation from document published in LASA Forum 49:4, see original at https://forum.lasaweb.org/files/vol49-issue4/Nicaragua-3.pdf]

 

Summary

Without a doubt it can be stated that there is a different Nicaragua before and after April 18 of this year. That day a series of protests began against polemical reforms to the social security system. Since then, they have grown until turning into a demand for the resignation of president Daniel Ortega and the demand for free, fair and transparent elections. As of today national and international human rights organizations have demonstrated the disproportionate use of force on the part of the police, the presence of para-police elements in different municipalities, as well as hundreds of cases of people killed, wounded, persecuted, disappeared and detained. The situation has created a national humanitarian and social and economic crisis.

In the Caribbean Coast, two Afro-descendent youth, Brandon Lovo and Glen Slate, were accused of the murder of the journalist Ángel Gahona, against what all the audiovisual evidence presented shows. The youth were arrested and transferred to a jail in Managua. The management of the case on the part of the prosecutor and the judge is riddled with systematic irregularities that have been denounced on several occasions. The behavior of the state entities have done nothing more than reveal, even more, the racism and classism with which we the populations of the Caribbean are treated.

In this article I analyze in a first moment how the participation of the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast in the defense of democracy and justice is not limited to the current context, but that it has a long development over time; in a second moment I question how the autonomous regime of the indigenous and Afro-descendent populations of the region have been violated to favor the economic and power interests of some sectors. For this exercise I anchor myself in an intersectional and anti-racist perspective.

Key words: Autonomy, repression, violence, racism, rights.

The Southern Caribbean Coast, Present!

With the protests recently begun in Nicaragua against the government of Daniel Ortega, on April 21, 2018, members of civil society organizations, communications media and the citizenry in general of Bluefields called for and participated in a peaceful demonstration in protest over the reforms to the social security system imposed by presidential decree.

Bluefields is the municipal capital of the Southern Caribbean Coast. Many people, even the political parties, think that its population is politically apathetic. No one expected what happened that April 21st.

The activity took place normally, but at nightfall disturbances were generated that were repressed by the National Police, which left as a result material losses, people wounded and one fatality: the independent journalist Ángel Eduardo Gahona López, who at the moment of his death was transmitting live what was happening through the facebook page of his news program.

In the video, and dozens of other recordings made and disseminated through social media, it can be seen how Gahona, embedded in a police contingent, falls gunned down after a shot in the immediate area of the judicial complex of the city, and is transferred to a hospital by colleagues. At no moment was he assisted by any police official. The audiovisual proof show that the accused were not in the place when the shot occurred, and the family of the victim has denounced threats on the part of the National Police against Gahona for his investigations of cases of corruption.

The murder of Gahona showed that the State would have no limits in terms of repressing the people; it also showed that the Caribbean Coast was not on the margins of what was happening in the other half of Nicaragua, and attracted international attention to the crisis.

Autonomy?

The Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast has the legal status of autonomy[1] which should benefit the inhabitants of the two Autonomous Regions[2] (North and South) into which it is divided. The RACCN and the RACCS were created in 1987, and their first regional governments were elected in 1990.

This status was part of the culmination of a long process in the search for peace, national unity and reconciliation among costal families and communities, through which an intense period marked by armed conflict, political confrontations and historical disagreements was ended.

Institutions and mechanisms were created that, in theory, should promote and ensure the respect, recognition and enforcement of the human rights of the multiethnic populations of both regions. Nevertheless, they have been used politically by the current government in power.

Historically the Caribbean Coast has been subjected to isolation, exclusion and marginalization in terms of the rest of the country. The region has suffered the exploitation and extraction of its natural resources, common, communal and even cultural assets, because successive governments have “folklorized” the customs, traditions and lifestyles of its populations.

The population has not been the subject of the so called social and/or productive investments. In contrast, it has been benefitted by assistance-based programs aimed at sympathizers of the party in power, without responding to the particularities of the communities.

This is attested to by several tourist campaigns that objectify the bodies of indigenous and Afro-descendent women and men, and the actions of the “fight against poverty”, where the ideas of modernization and development erase the practices and forms of community food and life, and that are promoted from an ethnocentric (mestizo) and geocentric view (Managua/Central Pacific), reproducing even more institutional racism, machism and classism.

The productive investments in the regions have responded to the interests of big capital, which has maintained close relations with the government-party-enterprise-family linked to the Ortega-Murillo, and that at no time has shown the intention of placing human beings at the center of development, much less nature or mother earth, as the cosmo-visions of the indigenous and Afro-descendent populations exclaim.

On the other hand, the macroeconomic indicators reveal also the historic and structural violence in the regions, because in 2005 the Human Development Report of the United Nations Development Program pointed out, “In synthesis, the human development index, HDI, 0.466 for the RAAN and 0.454 for the RAAS, both regions present conditions of low human development”, in spite of their wealth of natural, cultural and biodiversity resources.[3]

The ongoing and systematic dispossession never stopped: it only changed its face and mechanism, leaving the indigenous and Afro-descendent populations in a deeper intensification of the conditions of economic, social and cultural insecurity and exploitation. The community leaders of the Caribbean Coast for years have been discussing and denouncing the principal needs, and social and economic problems of their populations, like for example:

  • Unemployment, underemployment and/or insecure jobs
  • Discrimination and exclusion
  • Citizen insecurity
  • Little or null access to quality health and education services
  • Limited access to basic services
  • High rates of early pregnancy
  • High levels of domestic violence
  • Femicides
  • Illiteracy
  • Housing deficit
  • Invasion of land by settler/third parties
  • Advance of the agricultural frontier
  • Militarization of communities
  • Environmental contamination of their territories
  • Illegal concessions on communal and/or reserve lands
  • Land conflicts
  • Forced displacements or migrations
  • Loss of maternal languages

It will not be possible to resolve any of these issues without first determining and assuming a different form of relationship between the central government and the regional governments of the Caribbean Coast. It is important to apply the existing legal framework[4] that supports the economic, social, cultural, political and territorial rights of the populations of the autonomous regions and their communities. Nor will it be possible to achieve them in the heart of a dictatorial government and within an incipient, fragile institutional framework, and with decision makers (inside and outside the territory) that respond to the interests of a caudillo (strongman) and particular economic interests.

Nevertheless, it is important to highlight that for the communities of the Caribbean Coast the situation will not change only by the fact of changing the dictator; it is important to change the form of the relationship between the Central Government and the regions, and promote actions that would promote the change of the colonialist, capitalist, racist and sexist model that, since the time of the colony, during the republic, through the Somocista dictatorship and the revolutionary period, and in these new times, have looted and violated our communities. This would mean, also, that as an autonomous coastal Caribbean society we stress and question the meaning of citizenry in the Afro and indigenous populations, and we continue defending our rights before a national State.

Protagonists?

Before these protests there already existed in the region groups fighting to reclaim human, autonomous, civil, political and ancestral rights in the face of a mestizo, racist, centralist and patronistic State, which has been dismantling the social, political and cultural network of Caribbean society. Many of these demands and protest agendas did not seem to have an echo in the civil society or social movements from the Pacific, being one more proof of the isolation and geocentric vision in regards to the populations of the Caribbean Coast.

The rebellion surfaced last April has been able to mobilize the Coastal population in the demand for a free, just, democratic and inclusive Nicaragua. But more importantly, it has been able to generate public opinion from different sectors of civil society on the different issues that interest and affect the regions and their communities, other voices have emerged and new leaders from a civic and peaceful struggle: men, women, youth and adolescents, organized and unorganized, from different ethnic origins, communications media, human rights activists, pastors of evangelical and Catholic churches, among others.

In addition, it has gotten sympathizers from different political parties with a presence in the region, for the first time in a long time, to work in a coordinated way for the same purpose and in a type of alliance with civil society. All the actions and demonstrations held have been with self-raised funds, individual contributions and donations from some local businesses.

The independent communications media with a presence in the regions have played a fundamental role, not just in the generation and dissemination of true, objective and contextualized information on what is happening in the country – that is not a small thing in a region where most of the communications media is coopted by the party in power, and those who are not, suffer attacks and threats from government institutions and/or sympathizers – but also in the active participation in the demonstrations and generation of public opinion in the demand for justice for the murder of the journalist Ángel Gahona, and the more than 448 fatalities[5] of the governmental repression on the national level: as well as the victims of abduction, torture, illegal detention and forced disappearances. The radio and social networks have been the principal tools of information and communication, above all for the populations of rural communities.

In contrast, in more than 4 months of civic rebellion, the authorities of the only two universities with a presence in the region – the University of the Autonomous Regions of the Nicaragua Caribbean Coast and the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University – have kept silent in the face of such brutality, and at the same time in complicity with the decisions, actions and omissions that the local, regional and national authorities have taken against civil society. Both universities are public and have a communitarian nature, and function with state funds from the national budget, defined by the Autonomy law for Higher Education Institutions. Many of the authorities are also coopted by the party in power and even take on some functions of representation outside the university framework. Their silence and inaction effectively demonstrate how profound is the political and patronistic embrace of the dictatorial regime in the Caribbean Coast, where its allies are not willing to break with the dictatorial mandate.

The loss of university autonomy had already been surfacing, given that for several years the law was not being fully applied, but the violent and armed attacks against the students within the university campuses of the country – like the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua (UNAN), the National Engineering University (UNI), the National Agrarian University (UNA) and the Politechnical University of Nicaragua (UPOLI) – and the massive firings of teachers and professors who openly supported the protests against the government, demonstrated it even more.

Certainly the rebellion has generated changes, crises and tension for Nicaraguans. The government has criminalized protest, and has begun a persecution of the citizenry that does not concord with the guidelines of the party; it has also generated more unemployment, forced migration, higher levels of crime and impunity and a deep drop in investment and national and international tourism. Public institutions have lost the confidence, credibility and legitimacy of most of the population.

Nevertheless, a type of citizen awakening has been generated, the strengthening and/or expansion of solidarity networks and a sense of a common objective. This has strengthened the determination to achieve profound and positive changes for the country, where the Caribbean Coast wants and should be an active participant in the decisions around the path that should be taken as a country in order to improve the conditions of the ENTIRE population, regardless of ethnic group, social class, geographic origins or political party banner.

In other words, regardless of these conditions, but responding to the racist, classist, sexist, and territorial mechanisms that produce and worsen the inequalities. I think that this will be the biggest challenge of all, but in addition we could start by questioning ourselves. Is it possible to think about a national State that would practice an intercultural relationship with integrity with the regions of the Nicaraguan Caribbean? In the present and along the road to an alternative future, can the Caribbean Coast really live in true autonomy? How can the youth be integrated in their plurality of being, thinking and acting? Is it possible to achieve public political agendas and/or programs built in a participatory fashion by, for and with the populations, recognizing, assuming and respecting their particularities, thinking, feeling and realities? This latter point is applicable not just for state entities, but also non governmental organizations and universities.

I close saying that in spite of the brutal repression experienced in this period, it has been hopeful to see how a generation of young people have established a dialogue with adults; how other social actors have emerged in the search to transform the realities and propose the challenge of understanding what raising voices to the current Managua/Pacific centrism has meant, not just in the sphere of the State, but in broad social sectors represented in the “Dialogue Table”, a space where we have not felt represented either as people and/or movement from the Coast, because that representation has been chosen by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, without taking into account the civil society sectors of the region.

[1] Law 28, Autonomy Statute of the Regions of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua.

[2] Its original population is composed of indigenous peoples and ethnic communities with multilingual characteristics (Miskitus, Creoles, Mestizos, Mayangnas, Ramas and Garifunas) located in territories with a strong sense of belonging to their communal lands that they inhabit in the coastal areas and interior zones of high ecological and environmental vulnerability.

[3] United Nations Development Program, Informe de Desarrollo Humano 2005: Las Regiones Autónomas de la Costa Caribe (Managua: PNUD, 2005), 67 (not available in English).

[4] The Constitution of the Republic of Nicaragua; the Autonomy Statute of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (Law 28); The Language Law (Law 162) and the Law of Communal Lands (Law 445) recognize the existence of indigenous peoples and ethnic communities.

[5] Between April 18 and July 25, according to the Report of the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (ANPDH). Elizabeth Romero, “Data of deaths from the repression in Nicaragua rises to 448 according to ANPDH”, La Prensa, July 27, 2018. https://www.laprensa.com.ni/2018/07/27/nacionales/2453364- cifra-de-muertos-por-la-represion-en-nicaragua-sube-a-448- segun-la-anpdh.

 

The Girl Who Survived the War

The Girl Who Survived the War

I visited a family that is a member of a cooperative, and in the conversation they brought up the big battle that happened in their community of Los Cocos [Quilalí] in 1983. It was “the big war”. Doña Moncha related “that day 14 people died from our side, I am sure another several from the other side. A girl crawled into a hole, but the hole was so small that one foot did not fit, and that is where she was shot. It was a hail of bullets from 8am on. Doña Julia was washing clothes in the creek, on hearing the shooting she fled, but left her her 5 year old girl. I believe that girl survived.”

Hours later I visited a younger family, we talked about their new crop, plantains. In the midst of the conversation, Santos said, “My wife Bernarda is quiet, she lost 6 relatives in just one day; she lost 3 brothers, her father, her uncle and her grandfather”.

“When?”, I asked.

“In the war, in the big battle.”

I looked the woman in the eyes, “What is your Mom´s name?”

“Julia”, she said.

“What? Are you the girl that was saved in the big battle?”

“Yes”, she replied humbly.

“How were you saved?”

“I do not remember, I was just 4 years old. My Mom says that my grandmother dragged me out with her wounded hand.”

I was left speechless. “And your Mom?”

“She is here, now elderly”.

My hand quit writing. Not knowing what to do, I gave her a hug.

Humanity can survive the wars imposed on us.