Category Archives: Finding Voice

Student Interview of Harley Morales of the University Alliance

The massive protests have been led by university students, who also are key players in the National Dialogue. This is an interview of one of those student leaders

University Alliance warns: they want to “advise” us and “impose agendas” June 11, 2018

(translation of article published originally in El Faro, republished in Confidencial:

https://confidencial.com.ni/la-prioridad-ahorita-es-que-no-nos-maten-luego-la-justicia-y-la-democracia/

Harley Morales lives today in a type of cloister. This 26 year old young student of sociology at the Central American University (UCA) in Nicaragua sleeps in a safe house, along with 40 other university student representatives of the student groups that emerged in the current political crisis.

Harley Morales is a member of the political strategy committee of the University Alliance, one of the five student movements that make up the University and Civil Society Coalition, a group that is leading the political struggle that is demanding the departure of the current rulers. NGOs and business groups have joined this coalition.

The crisis started less than two months ago, on April 18th, due to the cut in the social security pensions. The protests turned massive due to the attacks of the National Police and the progovernment forces. When the dead began to be counted, the protests ceased being for the pensions, and were directed against state repression. The university students entrenched themselves in the universities and churches, and a significant sector of the population accompanied them, demanding the resignation of the rulers. This was the beginning of the current political and social crisis in Nicaragua. Barely seven weeks ago. Since then, more tham 130 people have died as a direct consequence of the conflict, and every day that lists gets longer.

More pushed by circumstances that by a deliberate decision to lead a popular revolt, the students had to move in the midst of a full street protest to a new stage: that of organization. “Since April 19th itself committees began to be organized and movements built; we were worried that the protest would dissipate,” said Harley Morales. His University Alliance arose out of what he called “the hijacking of the cathedral”: on April 19 in full retreat, fleeing bullets, hundreds of students and civilian took refuge in the Managua cathedral and had to stay there several days, under siege. Within the church they organized, and the first leaders emerged. In a similar fashion another four groups were formed in several universities.

These students leaders mutated in a few weeks from social agitators to political actors. If before (barely a month ago) you could find them on a street with a megaphone in hand, or organizing logistics on campus, now they are living together, as if they were in confinement, isolated, surrounded by advisers and with tremendous pressure from different sectors to take postures in a very complicated process.

They are, then, a true spontaneous generation, trying to adapt to their prominence in one of those moments that close and open chapters in history. They continue being, along with the church, those who legitimize each step of the process and have won national and international recognition since the moment in which, during the installation of the national dialogue last May 16th, a 20 year old student called Lesther Alemán said to President Ortega that the only thing they were going to negotiate at that table was his departure. That video was seen around the world.

The Ortega government consider them to be part of a “right wing coup conspiracy”, and more than a few suspicions have been caused by the sudden economic capacity of the students to hold press conferences in luxury hotel meeting rooms, or maintaining a new lives without having income.

Harley Morales does not shy away from responding to these questions and clarified the origin of the funds for his support. But they know, he says, that these funds come with a trapdoor from sectors that are trying to move their agenda through the students, who have won legitimacy in the streets. They are young people without experience, at times naïve, who are trying to walk through a forest with a lot of threats, more than a few of them walking right alongside them.

Last week a delegation of these students visited Washington to attend the General Assembly of the OAS, and just afterward they met and were photographed with three of the most extremist US republicans: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ileana Ross-Lehtinen. The photos surprised everyone in Nicaragua and were seen with reservations not just by sympathizers of Ortega, but also by opponents of the regime, liberals and ex Sandinistas. “It was terrible”, he says. “They are the extreme Republican right. We are very unhappy with that trip, that was paid for from the United States, and an agenda was imposed on them. It has given us a terrible image. We are going to have to correct mistakes.”

El Faro has confirmed that the trip to Washington was paid for by the organization Freedom House, based in Washington, who in addition set the agenda for the students, including the polemical visits to Rubio, Cruz and Ross-Lehtinen. Carlos Ponce, director of Latin America for Freedom House, argued that they asked for meetings with other congresspeople and senators, but only those three accepted. “It seems that they are the ones most interested,” he said.

The photos with the Republicans were ill-timed, given the situation in Nicaragua: the government of Ortega accused the students of being instruments of an international right wing conspiracy. The mistake has not discredited them, but it has left them some of their first lessons in politics, as Harley Morales admits. The principal one, probably, is that there are a lot of people around you wanting to impose an agenda that is not theirs.

It is helpful here to put things in context. These young people were children when Daniel Ortega won the presidency in 2006. They are university students without any political experience, who have been under the spotlights for two months and under the weight of leading an important transition in their country. It is not strange, then, that their naivete was revealed in their visit to Washington. But above all it is not strange that there would be so many sectors interested in isolating them, in influencing them, in advancing their own agendas through them. “We know that only we can legitimize this process,” says Harley Morales. Those who prowl around them today also know it.

This conversation took place on Friday June 8 in Managua.

How have you organized in seven weeks?

Since April 19 committees began to be organized and movements built. We were concerned that the protest would dissipate. Five movements were formed and later the University and Civil Society Coalition. When the Bishops Conference called for the dialogue, we held meetings with COSEP (Superior Council of Private Enterprise), with civil society organizations and others who were in favor of articulating this. COSEP is part of the Coalition, also AMCHAM (American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua); there are peasant organizations amd also the representation of the peoples of the Caribbean.

Why did you decide to unite with groups so different from your own?

We know that the way to defeat the regime is making a common agenda. The student movement already transmuted into politics. We are not fighting for scholarships nor for sector agendas.

And who is paying for your new life? Your upkeep, lodging, transportation, security, your trips…

We demanded a minimum of security to go to the dialogue and obviously the government would not give us that. We have to ally ourselves with other sectors, like the private sector and civil society. It is not just the private sector. Oxfam is there, the María Elena Cuadra Movement, agricultural producers and ranchers, etc…

How did the trip to Washington come up?

That trip was something very strange. We are very unhappy with that trip. Even with our representative. When we planned it there were already many actors wanting to intervene in the agenda. That happened from the beginning. I am refering to organizations, opposition politicians, some more from the right… That trip was financed from the US (Freedom House) and an agenda was imposed on them, and that was terrible. They were the ones who decided which students would go.

Why did you accept it then?

We did not accept it. We were going with a clear issue that they would attend the General Assembly of the OAS. It is terrible. We did not know about the meetings with Ted Cruz, Ileana Ross nor with Marco Rubio. We are very unhappy about that. When the young people come back, we are going to talk with them. We cannot cede on what is fundamental.

What are you refering to?

That they did not tell us that they were going to those meetings. It was very strange. All the movements now have advisors. People that get around. Offspring of politicians, businesspeople…They have a very clear political line. Of the three students that went to Washington, two are from the April 19th Movememt and one, Fernando Sanchez, yes is from our alliance.

And he did not tell you where he was going?

In the Coalition they no longer see us as groups. Someone called him and told him: we are going to take you. They did not communicate anything with the rest of us.

What is it that you do not like about the meetings with Rubio, Cruz and Ross?

We do not sell ourselves out! Not even in our own Alliance. We propose our points above the table. We have legitimacy and this alliance exists because of us, not because of the private sector, and we can discredit the alliance and leave. We are not the children of COSEP. I am from the left, I would not have gone.

How have those meetings been received within the University Alliance?

We are going to have to do a plan for correcting mistakes. We have created a terrible image for ourselves. If they were already saying we were children of COSEP; what are they going to say now, that we are the children of the US Republican Party? We have to talk about this when they return.

In your opinion are there actors interested in manipulating you?

Many. I was in the UPOLI (Polytechnical University, one of the first taken over by the students to entrench themselves) on April 22nd, and I remember then how many actors that I recognized were there already looking to talk to someone. There were many groups fighting over student leadership. And many trying “to advise”. That is the key word. The “advisors” that I think are making decisions and there are movements that are letting themselves be advised by certain people.

What is your relationship with COSEP in this situation?

We are very clear. We know that when COSEP does not need us, they are going to throw us away. But we have other plans.

Are you going to reveal them to me now?

Of course. History tells us that we should not submit ourselves to the political and economic agenda of the business sector, and we know that they will leave us in the streets. We know the risk that we run by receiving their support. They believe that they can ask us for something in exchange. We are insisting on justice and democracy, and there are some things that we say that they have not liked.

Is there no contradiction in that you, opponents of the system implanted by Ortega and the large business sector, are being supported by those same business people?

Yes there is. There were two pacts that allowed Ortega to come to power: the one he made with Arnaldo Aleman, and the one he made with big business. When we started to dialogue with the business leaders, we did not do it with (José Adán) Aguerri (Executive Director of COSEP), but with Michael Healy (president of the Union of Agricultural Producers of Nicaragua, UPANIC) and with Álvaro Vargas from FAGANIC (Federation of Associations of Ranchers). We believe that COSEP now is in dispute. Healy´s chamber is the most belligerent. We have the business leaders as allies for the dialogue, but we do not trust them. Once we were very clear with them: we told them that we were afraid that the dialogue would be a show for the media and that the real dialogue would be happening under the table. That is still a fear. We are demanding justice and democracy.

And justice means having all the corrupt people in court? In other words, even the business people who end up being accomplices of the corruption?

Yes, of course! But first those responsible for all these murders have be tried.

If Ortega resigned tomorrow, as you are asking, and there was a call for elections, what would you do?

We are not longer committed to being a student movement, but a change for the corrupt political elite that has always watched out for its own interests. Maybe we might not be the ones who are going to lead the country in the short term, but we are going to be a belligerent force. If there were elections tomorrow, we would have to sit down with a lot of people. “Prepare the field”, as the OAS says. We are not only demanding transparent elections, but profound electoral reforms. We do not want just a change of elites. We do not want traditional parties. The Sandinista Front is not just to blame here, but the entire oligarchy and the political elite of this country, for complicity or for incapacity. We have made it clear to the business people that we did not want elections, but the resignation of the current rulers and the formation of a transitory ruling junta. Our struggle is also against all the traditional political parties.

So, how do you want to do it?

The FSLN right now is in crisis. Our fear is that if we give them more time to call elections, COSEP and the big business sector will make another tripartite pact [that is what they call in Nicaragua the agreement between Ortega, big business, and the unions, that has allowed Ortega to govern without counterweights, pervert state institutions and eliminate the opposition, with the blessing and complicity of big business which, in exchange, dictates the economic measures and benefits from the State]. We need guarantees that neither the political parties nor the business people are those who are going to take this. No one can impose their own interests.

But what would be, for you, the ideal calendar?

Private enterprise has asked for 14 months. That would allow them to pact with the regime or install themselves. We are asking for popular circumscription to participate in elections in alliance with other sectors.

But how, with whom, if you presume to not have leaders?

Every agreement of civil society needs today to be legitimized by us. We have to be pretty wise to know who are those called to exercise public posts. We are not approaching it with the logic of revenge.

Recently representatives of the OAS came and met with you. What did you talk about?

We talked. They did not say much. We clarified for them our positions and the scenario we are in. Ortega would like a pact with less belligerent actors. We know the love relationship between Almagro and this government. They say that the field will be ready for January, but they will have killed us by January. We presented our agenda to them. They told us that they are not accepting anything outside of the constitutional avenues.

And what was your counterproposal?

That in August there could be a call for elections. But first there has to be reforms. We did not accept any early elections.

All of this requires Ortega´s departure?

At the moment in which the dictator accepts our agenda, he would be surrendering. That we know. We would be twisting his arm. That depends on our capacity to get people into the street. Unfortunately we just played a bad role before the international community.

Let us talk a bit about your current conditions, closed in, with security…This has not made you lose your connection with the streets, that was precisely what you were able to win in April?

A lot. It has is cons but also its pros. It has allowed us to organize ourselves better, design strategies, lines of action. We have lost the contact with the barricades and our weakness is the UNAN (Autonomous University of Nicaragua), because it is very big. We are trying to integrate ourselves more into the Coalition. There was a moment when we were in the barricades. Now we are in another phase. It is no longer just entrenching ourselves. We are going to have to be very creative and learn from history.

You mention the word history a lot. Do you see yourselves as actors in a historic moment?

Yes, we know that. The circumstances demand making careful decisions and being disciplined. Calling this a revolution is beautiful, but that means changing structures. The priority now is that they do no kill us. Later, justice and democracy.

The dialogue rountable called by the Bishops Conference has been suspended. What happens if it is ended?

We are planning strategies so that the way of shutting down the country be more coordinated. A network of supplies. The possibility always exists for a shut down or installation of a ruling junta in liberated territory, like Masaya. They are ways of applying pressure.

(published originally in Spanish in El Faro)

Insights from Inside: Student Interview of Enrieth Martínez

The confrontations continue, and with them the growing uncertainty of where it all will end.  Comparisons with the Sandinista Revolution of the 70’s are inevitable, even with the figure of Daniel Ortega front and center as he was all those years ago.  But this time, he finds himself on the other side of the fence, being characterized as this generation’s Somoza.

Is it the same?  North Americans may struggle to understand the basis for the demonstrations and protests, given the relative lack of media coverage in the U.S.  So I include here an interview by La Prensa newspaper with Enrieth Martinez,  a member of the University Coalition who was present at the National Dialogue.  Her perspective provides a more detailed look into what is driving the protest movement in Nicaragua and what might be expected from this period of confrontation and mutually exclusive demands by both sides.

Enrieth Martínez, University Coalition: “This is a Revolution”.

Enrieth Martínez, member of the University Coalition present in the National Dialogue. LA PRENSA / Manuel Esquivel.

She was at the table of the National Dialogue the only day that Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo were present, but before this, she was active at the civil protest on behalf of the Indio Maiz Natural Reserve and against the reforms made to social security. Her name is Enrieth Martínez, she is currently in her 5th year of Sociology, and despite the continuous massacre that has already taken the lives of a hundred people in Nicaragua, the young girl has hope.

“It is a conviction more than it is a certainty”, says Martinez. “There is hope for Nicaragua this year, because I feel we are working for it”

Martinez is co-founder of the University Coordinator for Democracy and Justice, and member of the University Coalition that has been present in the National Dialogue, she analyzes with Revista Domingo the demonstration of 2018, which she calls as a “revolution” with no absolute doubts.

What was the beginning of this so called “Nicaraguan Spring”, was it the fire at Indio Maiz, the beating of the elderly in Leon or the brutal repression that took place at Camino de Oriente?

I believe it was the explosion of social media. For example, I was not in Leon at the moment of the repression, but I felt indignation as I saw the way they attacked the young people that were protesting, the way they attacked the elderly, the way they attacked the feminists who were the ones that led the protests to the reforms to the social security system there. It was all of that together. It was the feeling of impotency. I believe that besides all these events as such, which were immensely violent, it is about the feeling of being attacked, of feeling vulnerable, powerless and at the same time feel the anger, the rage on a system that has always done this. But now there were too many things happening at the same time. And then you realize the spine-chilling reality that this Government does not care if it kills you. These were young people protesting and you knew they were doing it for a just cause, you cannot reform a law that affects all the country in a unilateral way without consulting. There was nothing wrong in what we were doing. But suddenly, they start attacking you, shooting you with rubber bullets, then with real bullets. They start killing you. Then you start seeing the images of murdered young people (chavalos). It was unbelievable, almost.

May ended with a massacre on Mother’s Day… Is this a Revolution?

Yes.

Can we use the word, revolution?

You should not be afraid to use these types of words. They were captured, kidnapped by this Sandinista Front for 10 years. I believe that these protests cry out for justice and democracy but are also reclaiming our history. We need to take it away from their hands and tell them that this history is not owned by the FSLN, it was the people that constructed it. This is a revolution in all senses. It is a revolution that intends to be civic. That tries to recover lost spaces, that tries to recover the historic memory, that tries to recover symbols. It is a revolution.

Is this revolution comparable with the one the overthrew Somoza´s dictatorship?

It is comparable in the way that both look for a process to democratize institutions, to return to a democracy with strong institutions, with zero “caudillismo”. This means it is trying, recovering many of the past slogans, because many of the demands and feelings are still here. These are demands that have never been accomplished.

Although the revolution from the seventies pursued the things you are saying, what came after 1979 did not necessarily guarantee strong institutions, nor a separation of powers, or ended the caudillismo, because in the 80s is when the figure of Daniel Ortega is born…

I cannot give such a direct answer. I believe that the Sandinista Revolution was a daughter of her own era. It was not a perfect revolution. I would never be willing to romanticize a historic and military process that was so tragic for the country. It had significant changes. The idea of the people. How that idea was positioned, the demand of the people, what they were asking for was accomplished through that revolution, and that is something that has had a profound impact in Nicaraguans. The idea of the People, that it is the people that must rule, this is something very important and we are trying to recover it, many of us are defending this, even with our own lives.

Do you not believe that there was a dictatorship during the 80s?

I believe that it was a very complex process. I am not willing to categorize it as a thing only of a dictatorship. It was a different context. It was a cold war, it was economic crisis, it was the attacks from United States through the beginning of the Counter-Revolution, it was a geopolitical game. I am not saying there isn´t a geopolitical game today, but in the past it was very paralyzed. It was a period with authoritarian accents, popular accents, with an amalgam of things…The Sandinista Revolution was a daughter of her own history. And this one is ours, it has been catalogued as a civic revolution, and it is a daughter of its own history.

Do you think it will still be a civic revolution after the hundred deaths?

I think everyone fears this: that it stops being so. They, themselves fear this. The Government fears it. The day before May 29th, we were driving around in the car and we saw how they moved concrete blocks around the perimeter of El Carmen, they were building barricades.

Yes, quarry stones, barricades, “miguelitos” (spikes to punch vehicle tires) …..

I think it is not only because they fear the people or my generation that is a daughter of a revolution that due to internal and external reasons was not able to function. But it is also a fear of themselves. It is important to recognize that the people that are here today, have tried everything. We have even taken the risk to be in the National Dialogue where it is evident that the Government does not have the political will to dialogue. It is more than evident, that during the mixed commission of three and three, while dialoguing at the Episcopal Conference, at the same time they were attacking young people at the UNI (National University of Engineering). It is important to recognize that Civil Society as such, until today, has done all in their power to maintain this as a civic struggle. And I hope that, as I said, we are the children of the revolution, grandchildren as well. We do not want to repeat it because of the human cost. Because of the immense losses. However, I have talked with young people and I know that many of them feel that the pacific revolution, the revolution of protests, sometimes does not satisfy immediate demands. Sometimes it does not provide a response to the massacre that is happening on the part of the Government.

The wealthiest men in Nicaragua ask for anticipated elections, the Civic alliance that is present in the dialogue is also asking for a democratic exit, the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, has made it clear that we have suffered extrajudicial assassinations commanded by the State….Why doesn´t Daniel Ortega leave if everything is against him?

I think they feel that they have an “apparatus” that supports them. For 10 years, they have dynamited the Government apparatus, the State apparatus, in such a way that what is in power today is not an elected president, but a political party led by Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo and their family. This means that, during these 10 years he has destroyed all the Institutional apparatus and has imposed in its place a system that supports him as a person, and not as a figure of leadership, as a post, a role, but specifically, him as a person, as a member of a family. This figure that is Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo and their family, probably gives them the security that despite the killings, they have an apparatus that they feel supports them.

But who is part of this apparatus, its close officials participating in the Dialogue, the Police, the Mobs, the one and a half block of people that they can convoke to their events? Are they willing to rule just a few?

I think I can just speculate on this. It is hard to understand why these people prefer so many killings, but we can´t just see everything in black or white. If this process has done anything it has shown us how fragmented we were and how much we need to consolidate ourselves. They have been very good in all this time of managing crisises. That is why they have lasted so long. But I also feel this will also be unsustainable. The polarized discourse that they used to use for great gatherings is being diluted. They are making their own bases turn against them by the fact that they are using their own sons as cannon fodder to kill other young people. The people from the neighborhoods are the first affected, because neighborhoods are the most vulnerable areas and it is the barrios who they always aim at, thinking that with their miserable programs of social help and assistance they were buying the loyalty of the people. I think that to the extent that we can break that polarized discourse…Who is the people and who is not the people, who is with the Government and who isn’t with the Government, their system of exercising control will lose effect. And as this system of power, control and manipulation decreases, this can have a chance. The reason this has lasted so long is not because of their ability to convoke people, it is precisely the issue that there is control, manipulation of the National Police, the electoral and judicial system. It is an entire apparatus that, being independent, would ensure you that he could leave immediately, but because of their dependency on the executive they are the ones that make him stay.

How do you interpret the massacre of Mother’s Day? What was Ortega looking for with this?

To instill fear, absolutely. We saw this from the first protests, since the 19th. The police firing their shotguns against young people (chavalos). It is a process aiming to install a state of terror. It is through fear that you are able to reach another type of control over the people you can no longer manipulate. Transgress everything that is attempted to be built as a moral statue, any symbol that would represent hope.

Do you think people will be afraid to go out in a massive way again?

No. Would you be afraid of going out on a demonstration that is that massive?

Some people complain that the big demonstrations often repeat the same locations: The Jean Paul Genie circle, Metrocentro, the UCA. What would you tell people who maybe have doubts about always going to the same places?

That they have the right to not have doubts. This is a process that is building itself along the way. These spaces are also symbolic, because of the crosses, because of all that has been put into it. But I would tell them to not be afraid of calling their own gatherings. Right now, it is so easy to do it , you just organize with other people, make an announcement, and you are ready. I am betting on this, on people taking the initiative to take new spaces and not always stay with the same ones.

On social media, Lesther Aleman’s interview to the New York Times has generated a debate on whether he is bringing back to life that “caudillismo” that sometime seems as if its tattooed in Nicaragua’s history…

It is very naive to think that living in a country with a vertical political culture, that is so machista, so racist, these kinds of things don’t decrease. We are people who have been socialized in these systems and through these processes. I saw a publication saying that this was a young man of only 20 years of age, that he is learning. And that is the truth. We are all learning. I believe that the most important aspect of the interview is to realize that those of us who are present here today are young people, we make mistakes, we have many hopes, we have many dreams. I believe that is something that is reflected in Lesther in that interview, the thing about feeling you are an empowered young man, of feeling you are a young man that can confront the world. And that is ok. And sometimes it is not so good because of an issue of vulnerability, for facing a Government that is willing to kill you. I think we would do ourselves a favor if we realized that there are no definite answers here. Nobody here is a figure built for this historical moment. This is a process of construction and reconstruction of ourselves, of what we want, of what we think. And this will be reflected in every triumph, but also in every mistake we make.

It has also been said that men are the ones who appear in public representing the university students. The image of Madelaine Caracas throwing out the names of the murdered student in Ortega’s face is unforgettable, but at least in what is visible it is the only moment you remember of a woman. Do women not have the leadership they deserve in this struggle?

I cannot speak out for others, because each one of them went through an internal process to elect their spokespersons. In the case of the University Coordinator we had a internal process that was democratic, and our spokesperson is Francisco. First, he knows himself to be a spokesperson not a representative. He knows his work is to verbalize our demands in the dialogue, which have been previously agreed in the Coordinator. And that is fine. We try to avoid verticality as much as possible. But it is important to recognize that we are all affected by the machista, sexists and racist issues. That is evident. I think it is important to try and not see things just as white and black. Or to jump and exclaim: “On my God, look, there is machismo!” I mean, obviously there is machismo everywhere. This State, this Government has been built upon that. Our society functions because it is machista, because it is racist and because it is capitalist. And it is class biased too. Micro-machista expressions and machista expressions are things you will see all the time. The important thing now is to be willing to reconstruct ourselves in this process. There are young women that are not showing their faces in the dialogue, but they are in their work groups making substantial contributions to the decision making, that are not the decisions of Victor Cuadras, they are not the decisions of Francisco Martinez; they are the decisions of a collective.

Personal Plane

Enrieth Martinez Palacios, 24 years of age, from Leon. She studies Sociology at the Central American University -UCA and won a research scholarship to which she dedicates time daily. She joined student protests since the Indio Maiz fire and the Social Security Reforms. “With April’s protests, more than being at the protests I got involved in a support network that worked on how to move food supplies. I was in the church of Santa Martha, I was in the Cathedral, delivering supplies to UPOLI”, she says.

A movie, she says she loves is “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson, 2012) Her favorite book is “Never forget I love you” (2008) form French writer Delphine Bertholon.

People that support the Government made a video with a picture of Enrieth Martinez and audio where she supposedly denounces that the University students of the Coalition who are in the National Dialogue have a pact with the MRS to allow civil unions among same sex couples.

“It makes me laugh, that is not me, obviously. I am also not financed by the CIA or the MRS”, Martinez states. “It is campaign to discredit any kind of symbols that represent an alternative for organizing, and an alternative to this Government.”

A song she listens to in these times, because of the reality that Nicaragua is experiencing, is “La Maza” of Silvio Rodriguez.

She speaks Spanish and English.

These comments are not the ramblings of an anarchist or terrorist. They are the deliberate reflections of a young woman convinced of the rightness of her beliefs and representative of those who have come to believe that the government must undergo systemic change, in the same way that a young Sandinista leader named Daniel Ortega felt and spoke decades ago….

 

The power of a shared vision in peasant-indigenous cultures

The power of a shared vision in peasant-indigenous cultures

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

In the film “Spartacus” on the slave rebellion in 71 BC we recognize the strength of a shared vision. After twice defeating the Roman legions, the gladiators/slaves fell before the legion of Marcus Crassus, who says to thousands of survivors: “you were slaves and you will be slaves again, but you can save yourself from crucifixion if you turn Spartacus over to me.” So Spartacus takes a step forward and shouts, “I am Spartacus”. The man by his side also steps forward, “I am Spartacus”. Within a minute all shout that they are Spartacus. Each gladiator/slave choses death. Why? Following Peter Senge (1990, the Fifth Disciplne) they are not expressing loyalty to Sparacus, but to a shared vision of being free in such a profound way that they prefer dying to being slaves again. “A shared vision – says Senge – is not a idea, not even an important idea like freedom. It is a force in the hearts of people.” In this article we lay out some long term visions, show their importance for lasting change, and we take note of the role of organizations related to the peasantry of our millennium.

Millenary Visions

That vision of being free emerged as a profound human aspiration in the face of the slavery system, a fire that neither the cross nor death were able to extinguish. In the movie the lover of Spartacus comes up to him and reveals to him that his vision will be realized, “Your son will be born free!” 2089 years later that powerful vision continues present in the foundation of our societies.

Another vision, one of democracy, emerged even before in the years of 500 BC. Even though it excluded 75% of the population (slaves, women and foreigners), that vision arose based on assemblies, building institutions under the power (cracia) of the people (demo). 2500 years later, in spite of the fact that the elites flipped that vision to where democracy exists only under the control of a minority, that Greek vision based on assemblies continues moving millions of hearts.

The vision of the reign of God was sketched out by Jesus of Nazareth, son of a peasant woman and a carpenter, in 30 AD. In a hierarchical and despotic patriarchal world, Jesus envisions the possibility of a “kingdom” for those who are looked down upon – who might be like children, destitute and who would build peace, a reign that is small and becomes big like the mustard seed. Since then, that vision of the kingdom, in spite of being androcentric (king-dom), has mobilized millions of people. It is a vision that made Luther in the 1500s challenge the institutional church and translate the Bible into vernacular languages so that people might have access to God without religious intermediaries.

In the XVIII century the encyclopedists (1751-1772), living at a time with a minority of educated people, envisioned “putting up a wall against barbarism.” That vision of making “papers speak” has moved humanity with revolutions and fights against racism and extreme poverty. It is enough to see the movie “The Power of One” filmed in 1992, based on Africa in the 1930s, to recognize the vision of the encyclopedists, that learning to read made a difference. It is also the advice that we heard from our grandmothers in the countryside, “study, a pencil weighs less than a shovel.”

Even though the idea of organization and the construction of the State emerged with capitalism in the XVI century, societies envisioned alternative forms of organization to the control and rule of capitalism and the State. Thus the cooperative emerged in England against the textile industry and in Germany against usury, under the conviction of joining forces in line with the ideas of associativity of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet and Owen. Along these lines the agrarian cooperative movement in the United States from 1870-1910 made explicit the cooperative vision of democratizing the economy (L.Goodwin, 1978, The Populist Movement). This alternative vision, of joining forces –“elbow to elbow we are much more than two”, as Mario Benedetti would say – to democratize the economy continues moving millions of people who are organizing.

Finally the non violent vision of M. Gandhi (1869-1948) in order to achieve the independence of India from the British empire, and improve the well being of both. That pacifist movement saw that “humanity cannot free itself from violence except through non violence”, that “eye for an eye will leave everyone blind” and that “there is no path for peace, peace is the way”. His methods in accordance with that vision were the use of hunger strikes, the “salt march” (salt satia graha) that affected the principal source of taxes for England, and being coherent in his actions and ideas (he made his own clothes and was a vegetarian). That movement inspired Martin Luther King in the United States and his vision of a society where people were treated equally, regardless of their race. And Domitila Barrios of Bolivia walked the same route in 1978 with a vision of a country without fear overthrowing the dictatorship of Banzer peacefully, in the words of Eduard Galeano:

I was seated in the principal plaza with 4 other women and a poster that said: “We come from the mines, we are on a hunger strike until the military dictatorship falls.” People made fun of them as they went by. “So just like that 5 women are going to overthrow a military dictatorship! Hahaha, what a great joke!” And the women, unmoved, in solemn silence…After the 5 women they were 50, then 500, then 5,000, then 50,000 and then half a million Bolivians that came together and overthrew the military dictatorship. Why? Because those women were not wrong, fear was what was mistaken.

All these shared visions connect hearts by common aspirations. Yuval Noah Harari (2011, Sapiens: A brief History of humankind) tells that in human evolution homo sapiens differentiated themselves from other species like chimpanzees by their ability to invent myths capable of mobilizing millions of people to cooperate. Visions belong to that genre, they are real, palpable and move incredible forces born from human hearts.

Peasant and indigenous visions

In our days we hear visions that, like those quoted, are mobilizing a good part of humanity. Scrutinizing them, we understand that they are both new and connected to millennial flames. Let us start with the oldest. Our ancestors that lived close to 2 million years ago as hunters and gatherers envisioned human survival based on agriculture, which led them to domesticate plants and animals between 9500 and 3500 BC. Since those years in our DNA is that tense vision of humans subjugating nature or plants like soy beans, wheat, sugar cane and sunflowers multiplying at the cost of “domesticating” humans (Yuval Noah Harari).

Following that vein, the vision of peasant families has been to have land. In the 1970s in Honduras (Azomada, Lempira), the peasants saw idle land taken away from their ancestors and recognizing that fire that came from their grandparents to “recover a piece of land to produce on it”, took those lands as thousands of peasants have done on the face of the earth. In 1985 when the war was raging in Nicaragua, the State moved 74 indigenous families from Cusmapa and San Lucas to Samarcanda (San Juan del Rio Coco), organized them into cooperatives to confront the Nicaraguan Resistance, as had happened in so many places in the country; one of the leaders, Claudio Hernández recalls, “to get land with coffee we risked our lives, and we accepted being treated as fieldhands and soldiers”; the paradox was that many of those involved in the Nicaraguan Resistance also were fighting for land.

In the 1980s Ricardo Falla S.J. put that vision into words: “a peasant without land is like a being without a soul.” In 1993 I went to La Primavera in Ixcan, Guatemala where hundreds of families that returned from Mexico with the signing of the peace agreements were working the land collectively; at one dinner that a woman shared with me, she whispered: “help us, my husband was killed by the military, I want a piece of land to leave to my children, that his death not be in vain!”; it was a vision shared by families of Mesoamerica and beyond.

Being a farmer is more than having land. In Nicaragua Marchetti and Maldidier (1996, El campesino-Finquero y el Potencial Económico del Campesinado Nicaraguense) detected that peasant vision: “I dream of that day in which my friends visit me and say, what a beautiful farm you have!” The land would not just be a plot with annual crops on it, but a diversified farm with permanent crops. In Honduras, Carlos Cantoral from Terreritos (Nueva Frontera) in the 2000s, sketched out what food sovereignty and peasant autonomy is, echoing our ancestors thousands of years ago:”being a peasant is producing what my family eats, without depending on anyone” – without a debt with the usurer, without giving in to the intermediary, and without lowering your head in the presence of the politician and religious leader. And again in Honduras Porfirio Hernández de Trascerros (Nueva Frontera) in 2018 describes those who lose that vision: “even having cattle they walk around money in hand looking for their corn grinder,” unfortunate is that family that does not first ensure their food. These are the families that resist being a clone of mono-cropping, families that grow their corn and produce their food on more and more diversified farms, which gives them the freedom to generate their own thinking and experiments.

Being a farmer and processing what is produced to ensure food “in green and mature times” has been a vision for thousands of years. Humanity learned to dry meat under the sun in its era of hunting and gathering, and in the years of 3000 BC made bread, and the Incas stored potatoes as starch, exposing potatoes to the sun during the day and to the cold at night. In this vein we find the peasantry of the XVII and XVIII centuries envisioning agro industrializing raw material in their communities. That vision, in spite of being squashed by capitalist industry and later by the socialism of Preobrazhensky and Stalin, persisted within Europe itself. That is why there are around 1100 flavors (brands) of beer in Belgium today, or vineyards and wine in Trentino, Italy. And it persists in Latin America. In Honduras in 2008 (Laguna de La Capa, Yoro), in the face of the “vocation” of the agricultural frontier to receive a peasantry whose grandchildren migrated with sugar cane and sugar mills defeated by the slavish rule that “only the rich make sugar”, the COMAL Network and peasant families started to process granulated sugar in the community itself. Cirilo George from the APROCATY Associative Enterprise put that fire into words, “we will not go back”, referring to the fact that individually they fell with their sugar cane into that destiny and that slavish rule, but organizing themselves, they made that vision of agro-industrialization palpable, as the Manduvirá Cooperative of Paraguay has done.

Having land, being a farmer, processing food…and selling! What a chain of visions! Even though the peasantry sees itself at odds with commerce, their aspirations include commercializing in order to cooperate. Within this perspective, in Honduras (Encinos, Intibucá) in the midst of intimidating polices under the Alliance for Progress of the 1960s and 1970s, women and men who would walk for days through mud to buy what they were not producing, envisioned “bringing in a store managed by us the Lenca peasant ourselves, right here.” That community, like the members of the La Unión Store (Taulabé, Honduras), Maquita Cosunchej of Ecuador, or the Hope of the Peasants Cooperative in Panama, overcame the old rule that “peasants and indigenous are no good at selling, only at planting.” Maybe individually it is difficult for a peasant family to sell, they say that it is a “betrayal of a promise” (buying oneself in order to later sell), but organized, it is another story, because “the market is really relationships of people coming together, getting to know one another and trusting one another”– Peter Druckers would say to Peter Schwartz (1996, The Art of the Long View). In the 1990s again in Honduras a dozen leaders of several organizations, among them Auristela Argueta, saw a vision that continues to light up deep Mesoamerica: “we now have land, we are producing our food and something more, a market for selling and exchanging our products.” That aspiration that markets can connect organized people to one another, was the seed that gave rise to the Comal Network of Honduras.

What is distinctive about these visions and the imperative to see them

These visions, far from the current ones that businesses tend to express to generate capital or the blueprint of organizations to find donations and “to put a patch on the problem”, move human determination through time and are like flames that do not go out, in search of a greater good. What distinguishes them? They are born out of crises, when that which should die, does not, and what should sprout, does not, as A. Einstein used to say: “creativity is born from anguish as day from night.” Adversity is overcome by “swimming against the current” and connecting oneself with centennial and millennial human aspirations that, like tectonic plates, shake even the most solid land, like that outrageous belief that a divine being or the market writes your destiny. They are understood by people discontent with the status quo, that question their worlds, see other possible realities, expand their mental horizons and really believe in their capacity to create the future because they experience it daily. They are shared visions that emerge from personal visions, and not from adhering to visions prepared by managers or consultants; they derive their energy and commitment precisely from the fact that they come from personal visions.

These shared visions reorder life. If your vision is that your family eats what you produce, that makes you reorder your farm, the work of your family and your relationships with your neighbors, and if that vision is shared by other people of an organization, this reorients the organization toward that vision. They are concrete visions, here and now, visions that make them encounter the stranger and discover themselves. They are visions that cause changes day to day, brick to brick, seed after seed, the drop of water that breaks stone.

In the face of these visions of future frameworks that we want to create, the challenge for peasant and indigenous organizations is to encourage their members to express their visions, understand them, and embody them in agreements and new rules to support the peasantry, the basis for food and assurance of environmental sustainability for humanity. For that purpose, the more an organization opens itself to learning, the more it tunes its ear to hear the visions, the more it takes out a pencil to take notes and ruminate on them, the more it reinvents itself, breaking rules like “the older one gets, the less one changes”, “the more one studies, the more one forgets about where they came from”, and “the more power one gets, the more farther they get from the people”. A peasantry that organizes itself and awakens to the fact that they can create their future, is more connected to the vision of Jesus, feels more the vision of the gladiators/slaves, seeks to have more democratic assemblies, aspires more the path of non-violence, makes agriculture an art, and weaves more of their own thinking. Shared visions, in the midst of the tensions and adversities of all times, move human mountains and help us to be generators of long term changes that started just yesterday.

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

Toward the Re-Invention of “Fair Trade” (updated edition)

The height of injustice is to be deemed just when you are not. Plato

Even an honest man sins in the face of an open treasure. Saying.

The VII song of the Odyessy tells how the goddess Circe warned Ulysses that the sailors of those waters were so enchanted by the song of the sirens that they went mad, and lost control of their ships. To not succumb to that enchantment, Ulysses asked that he be tied to the mast of the ship, and that the oarsmen have wax put in their ears, and ordered that if he, because of the spell of their song, would ask that they free him, instead they should tighten the knots. So it was that Ulysses and his oarsmen were saved, and the sirens, failing in their objective, threw themselves off the cliff.

Facing unfair commercial relations, Fair Trade (FT) emerged as an alternative so that people who organized might improve their lives and be a space of solidarity among different actors beyond their countries´ borders. Nevertheless, in our case study in Nicaragua and Central America, we show that the institutional structure of power relationships under the market control of elites is like the sirens in the myth, capable of seducing the FT network, turning it against its own principles, and turning solidarity into just a bunch of words, numbers and papers. How can FT tie itself up so as to not succumb to the song of the sirens, and in this way, grow, enhancing its FT alternative principles? To respond to this question we take as a given that there are exceptional cooperatives, organizations, and people who confirm the importance of organizing and cultivating global solidarity, and that there are successful cooperatives, in countries in the south as well as in the north, in FT as well as outside of it. Nevertheless, in this article we study certain practices of the FT framework that seem to indicate its involution, and on that basis we suggest its reinvention. To do so we focus on coffee, which constitutes 70% of the volume of what is sold through FT.

Pull down full article here

 

We Are Like the Frogs

“Frogs were the first in the evolving animal world to develop a true voice.  Pushing air into their pouches, across vocal cords, frogs produce a variety of sounds, from trills and whistles to grunts and chuckles, depending on the species.  Each species actually sings its own unique tune, which has now become an important mechanism for identification.  All of us have our own songs to sing, in the celebration of life.”                   -Linda Jade Fong

I get to hear the frogs for most of the year.  They live on the river banks of the Upper Iowa River, or in the rain garden on the north end of a campus.  I happen to live in a college town.  It’s a small town and a small private college, but the presence of the school nonetheless enriches the lives of the citizens in the community.  At various times of the year, we have opportunities to hear national speakers on current topics, watch athletic events, attend classes, observe whatever is current in the lives of students, attend plays, or enjoy concerts.  Of course, we don’t have to partake in any of these activities, but it’s certainly a nice benefit to have the choice to do so.  And, of course, we have the frogs.

The college is Luther College.  It also happens to be one of the most beautiful campus settings in the entire country, further adding to its value to the community.  And Luther College boasts (appropriately, I think) one of the most accomplished music programs in the country, as well.  Its 600+ member combination of orchestra and vocal choirs annually stages a musical performance that is, by any measure, exquisitely professional.  The crystalline sounds of the voices from each of the six ensemble choirs is an emotional experience worthy of the distances that audiences often travel in order to be swept away to yet another place altogether.

Of course, development of exquisite sounds requires great determination, practice, exceptional teaching and exhaustive coaching.  Members of the choirs work one-on-one with voice coaches to cultivate and extract the very best from themselves, to discover the ranges and tones and expressions that will wring tears of sheer joy from those who have the good fortune to hear them.  A voice coach can “reach inside” of the student to bring forth the unique character of sound residing within.  The result is nothing short of astonishing.

I have thought about the remarkable role that voice coaches play.  When students first arrive on campus, they are, for the most part, only full of potential.  But raw talent requires forming and nurturing, confidence and a calling, a shaping capable of creating not just beautiful expression, but reflecting an essence of life.  Through voice, we have the privilege to glimpse the soul, and to know its most basic self.  In many ways, that peek into the spirit is a great gift.

By truly hearing the voice of another, we are gifted with the opportunity to respond to it, with our own precision and perfection, to that individual’s deepest need.  We are given the chance to fully hear and know that which could confer a greater well-being, a connection between us, a promise of mutual strength.  There may be few gifts so important or precious as those which meet the deepmost needs of another.

It’s a rare skill, this voice-coaching.  To enable others in the full scope of their expression requires more patience and selflessness than most of us possess.  Encouraging others to venture out beyond the boundaries of comfort and reticence calls for the full valuation of one’s own voice.  Only then can there exist a belief in the intrinsic value of others’ voices and an elevation of their self-esteem, sufficient to enable confidence of articulation.  Voice coaches bring vision to sounds.  We need the tonic of their inspiration.

Among our own varied, daily aspirations, being a voice coach should rank somewhere near the top of our lists.  Coaxing others in the practice of their own voice makes us more equal.  It’s enabling.  Voices together, like those which have been coached in ensemble choirs, are more powerful than solos, and capable of achieving more than any one alone.  Not incidentally, releasing the power of voice is one of the coaching jobs most important to WPF in Nicaragua.

We each deserve the release of our own voice.  It’s a little like those frogs I mentioned above.  It’s the music of life and fulfillment, the integral piece of the sound that is full humanity.    And I am especially energized at the realization that we can be, each of us,  voice coaches to others.  Just listen, sometime, to the frogs….