Category Archives: Poverty

“We are Building Nicaragua” Program

An important issue in the current crisis in Nicaragua is the question of what would Nicaragua look like should Ortega leave, as the opposition demands. In recent weeks some important proposals have been developed to begin to respond to this question. The following was developed by mostly student groups calling themselves “Construimos Nicaragua” and was posted shortly after the independence holidays in Nicaragua, Sept 14-15.

We are Building Nicaragua

 “We are Building Nicaragua” Program

This document is the draft of the Program of the Social and Political Movement called “WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA” which we submit to the consideration of the readers to open a public discussion among all social sectors on the urgent tasks that we need to promote for a real democratization of Nicaragua.

PROGRAM FOR THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF NICARAGUA: GIVE BACK TO THE PEOPLE THE RIGHT TO DECIDE!

Introduction

The days of struggle, started in April 2018, are forging and consolidating a strong sense of collective national identity in favor of democratization and justice, as had not occurred in our nearly two centuries of independent history around fundamental symbols and values: the blue and white flag, inextricably linked to republican democracy, public liberties, citizen participation in the State affairs, a strong sense of social equity and true solidarity.

The democratic struggle started by the youth opened the possibility of rebuilding and re-founding our nation on the bases of democracy, justice and social equity. The enjoyment and exercise of public liberties, as well as absolute respect for citizen rights, should not depend ever again on the will or discretion of any government. We all the sectors of the people (youth, students, women, workers, peasants, indigenous, etc) need to recover our popular sovereignty to re-found a new Nicaragua, creating a Social and Democratic Rule of Law on new bases, that imply eradicating forever the use of violence, repression or intimidation by those in power for the purpose of remaining in it, or limiting and blocking the exercise of these freedoms and rights.

The fundamental decisions of Nicaragua should not be made by small oligarchies, but by the broad majorities of men and women through democratic and deliberative processes with all the information on the table, where the broadest sectors can participate.

So that our society might move from discretion and the arbitrary and personalized use of power, to a social interaction more and more regulated by laws, norms and policies that are implemented in a more impartial, transparent and impersonal way possible, that is, with the absence of discrimination and punishment for some, and privileges and “awards” for others.

Currently State institutions have lost their public character by being completely subordinated to partisan control and the discretional management of the rulers. It is urgent to begin the transition toward the new Nicaragua, where national public institutions exist that fulfill their function of providing public goods and services, and that are capable of ensuring confidence, security and certainty to economic agents and all the citizenry.

Nicaragua needs a radical democratic revolution that would build national public institutions that can keep themselves relatively isolated from the pressures of economic groups and those in power, be focused on effective, professional performance and their objectives and responsibilities, establishing mechanisms that would ensure transparency and accountability, and that would make citizen control possible over the institutions that administer power.

Within the framework of this context, we a group of youth, men and women from all social strata, have agreed to launch a new political organization called “WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA”, an inclusive, horizontal, democratic and progressive political movement for the purpose of promoting structural changes for the sustainable development of Nicaragua.

WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA is a social and political movement where all us Nicaraguans find the opportunity to voice our opinions and participate to achieve our political, economic, social, cultural and environmental aspirations.

The mission of WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA is to provide each Nicaraguan the opportunity to promote and defend their rights to achieve a full, just and prosperous life.

We present, then, our proposal for a political program that we submit to the consideration of the citizens for their study, critique and improvement, because only united will we be able to accomplish the immense task of democratizing Nicaragua for the benefit of the great majorities.

16 BASIC POINTS FOR FOUNDING THE NEW NICARAGUA

  1. Free and Sovereign Constituent National Assembly

We men and women of WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA, many of us had not even been born during the time of the revolution, we think that the first thing that we should do is dismantle the status quo of the political power that was established in the last period, and that has roots in the institutions created during the process of the death of the revolution of 1979.

It requires returning sovereignty and decision making capacity to the people, in other words, the citizens. This elemental principle of democracy has been systematically denied in the history of Nicaragua. It requires profoundly reorganizing the State institutions. And this can only be achieved by repealing the Constitution of 1987 and its reforms, discussing and approving a new democratic Constitution, that would minimally bring together the issues that we discuss in what follows and that would bring the Nicaraguan State into the modernity of the XXI Century.

  1. Limits to re-election for popularly elected officials

Re-election is not a problem of principles in democracy, everything depends on the political culture and the electoral system, whether it is sufficiently democratic to respect the popular will.

Nevertheless, this is a key discussion in Nicaragua, because the emergence of the dictatorships of José Santos Zelaya (1896-1909), Anastasio Somoza and his successors (1937-1979), as well as the new dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo (2007-2018) have been related to presidential re-election.

For this reason, and taking into consideration that a good government is not improvised, presidential re-election should only be permitted for a second period, so the new election becomes a plebiscite on the first mandate. Starting with the second period, there should be an absolute prohibition of presidential re-election, establishing iron clad clauses in the new Constitution that would prevent a third presidential period.

Likewise the deputies should only be elected for two consecutive periods. This same norm should be applied to mayors and council-members and the members of regional governments.

  1. A new electoral system

A complete reform of the electoral system is needed, approving a new Electoral Law that would do away with the bipartisan system inherited from Somocism, and that served as a cover for installing a new dynastic dictatorship. A new Party and Political Association Law should be approved, which also should have constitutional standing, that would allow for the creation of groups, associations and political parties at the municipal, provincial, regional and national levels.

The obstacles created by the constitutional reform of 2000 should be ended, that demand a minimum of 4% for a party to maintain their legal status, because it limits the right to representation of minorities. The myth of dictatorships should be done away with, that only the traditional parties should exist. Democracy rests on the principle of diversity and the respect and protection of minorities.

But, above all, the monopoly of the political parties should be ended, that they are the only ones who can propose candidates. A new emphasis should be placed on the fact that citizens can run as candidates regardless of whether they are party members, in any type of election, including presidential elections, prioritizing the fact that youth, who have traditionally been marginated from political activity, might have a dominant role in the destiny of the country.

The election of deputies should be by provinces or districts, doing away with the election of national deputies. The right to proportional representation of minorities should be ensured, especially of indigenous, in every type of election.

The functions exercised by the Supreme Electoral Council (SEC) should be decentralized in different institutions (identity cards, parties and associations, organization of electoral processes, etc), completely reorganized, not just with the participation of the political parties, but civil society organizations, who should play a role of oversight and control.

Tbe new electoral system should include the partial or total renovation of the deputies of the National Assembly halfway through each presidential period. The dates for legislative elections should coincide with municipal and regional elections which should be held every two years, so that the elected officials might know that their posts will always depend on the assessment of their performance and the will of the electors.

To be a candidate for popular election they should be qualified and honest. In addition the 50/50 Law should be kept and respected that ensures the presence of women on electoral ballots which opens the doors for their participation in political decision making posts.

  1. System for direct election and renovation of magistrates and of other high officials, under citizen control.

The citizens should be given back the capacity to elect and remove magistrates, as well as other high officials from other branches and institutions of the State. That vicious cycle should be ended where the executive branch proposes candidates for magistrates who end up being approved through agreements and negotiations among the deputies, who generally obey the interests of party leaders, who include them on the electoral lists, annulling the capacity of the citizens who elected them.

On establishing a percentage of votes of deputies to choose the magistrates, the problem is resolved through transactions or political pacts, turning the deputies into the principal electors, annulling the popular will. This type of indirect election makes possible the creation of political rings and castes, which are the negation of democracy.

It should be established that the holders of the executive branch, deputies, mayors, councilpersons, members of the regional governments, all popularly elected officials, are subject to the evaluation of the people through a recall referendum. In this way any popularly elected official, having finished a third of their mandate, and in the face of a petition for their removal signed by a certain number of citizens, those signers should have the capacity to call for elections in that specific case, so that it be the electors who decide if the official continues or not in their post.

  1. Restructuring of the judicial branch

Democracy is, in the last instance, the governance of judges. These officials are the ones who decide on the freedom of people, the future of their assets and settle political conflicts. The one who controls the judicial power, controls the State and political power. That is why a profound reform and restructuring of the judicial system should be done. The magistrates, judges should be directly elected by the people, and submitted every two years, when intermediate elections are held, to the control of the citizenry.

The judicial profession should be submitted to periodic controls. Only the people through their vote can decide whether a judge continues in their post for one more period. The re-election of judges and magistrates should have a limit, no more than three periods, to open the way for the formation of new judges and magistrates.

A commission composed of recognized jurists and national and foreign academics should examine and review the curriculums of the aspirants, and they will be the candidates who would be subject to popular balloting. Political parties cannot campaign in favor of the candidates under pain of disqualification.

The Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) should decentralize their functions, so that the administrative functions are not mixed with jurisdictional ones, and with those of control and sanctioning. Deputies cannot be candidates for judges or magistrates. It is a matter of building a new judicial branch that would supervise jointly with the citizenry the functioning of public administration and democracy.

Amparo [constitutional or administrative protection order] should not be an appeal but a judgement, as happens in Latin America. A Constitutional Tribunal should be created, whose magistrates will not obey political parties, but the mandate of the citizenry.

  1. Ongoing fight against corruption

In Nicaragua corruption is an evil embedded in all the State institutions, and it has become part of the political culture: popularly elected posts and public service have been turned into ladders for illicit enrichment. That is why the fight against corruption should be ongoing and at every level. Corruption is one of the principal causes of the increase in poverty and social inequality. It is not possible to fight poverty without fighting corruption at the same time. Indeed corruption erodes and weakens democratic institutionality, annulling existing legality, promoting impunity and social chaos.

The existing laws for fighting corruption are not applied because the State institutions responsible for fighting it, like the Comptroller General of the Republic (CGR), the Attorney General of the Republic and the different tribunals of justice have been victims of the concentration of power phenomenon, which centralizes the mechanisms for the election of magistrates and other high officials solely on the deputies of the National Assembly, who are elected through the lists of the political parties who exercise a monopoly on popular representation.

The anti-corruption legislation should be modernized, administrative processes should be greatly simplified, a new law of State Purchasing and one for Conflict of Interest of Public Officials should be approved, establishing online bidding, so that everyone can see what is happening with prices and technical specifications, taking into consideration citizen participation at all levels, developing to the maximum electronic governance.

Transparency should become a new fundamental right, a key factor for strengthening social confidence and a sense of participation and co-responsibility in the construction of a shared destiny. Public information should never be managed as if it were private. The people have the right to know all the affairs, no matter how complicated they may seem. The officials who violate this principle of access to public information will be submitted to severe penal sanctions.

Likewise, the obligation should be established of all officials to be accountable to the general assembly of workers of the public sector with the participation of the citizenry every three months for spending, investments or purchases made. The result of these reports should be placed on the web page of the respective institutions.

In all State institutions an assembly of public servants should be organized to create citizen control commissions responsible for overseeing the implementation of the budget, plans for purchasing and bidding, with the legal faculties to file the corresponding charges. Those who make any denouncements will not be able to be fired nor will there be any administrative reprisals against them, unless it is shown that they had no basis.

The new constitution should establish the new principle that there is no immunity for crimes related to corruption. All assets obtained through acts of corruption or money laundering are imprescriptible, it is the obligation of the State to pursue them until they are recovered, trying and punishing those who are guilty. The officials punished for acts of corruption through a final judgement will be disbarred for life from running for public posts or providing public service, as well as prohibited from being a supplier of the State or contracting with Public Administration.

  1. Professionalization and dignity of public service

A radical democratization is required so that workers in public administration never again are hired or fired based on their party affiliation or loyalty, but rather on the basis of their capacities and competency, and so that the career of civil service be respected.

The Civil Service Law should be governed by the principle of the merits and capacities of the applicants, we should eradicate the culture of sharing posts by pacts and political arrangements or by electoral quotas. Likewise they should promote reforms so that the youth can make a career in public service in a decent way and with facilities for access.

  1. A fair tax system

The taxes of all Nicaraguans should not be used or diverted to enrich small groups, but should form part of the sacred national patrimony. Tax collection should be based on transparency, social control and the principle that the payment of taxes should be proportional to income. In this way society will have the resources needed to cover social spending and ensure the minimum functioning of democracy and the construction of a medium and long term national development plan that is able to transcend changes in government.

  1. Incorporating new rights in the Constitution

Respect for human rights in Nicaragua will never be limited by any government, placing arguments of “national sovereignty” above the relevancy of international treaties on this matter.

New fundamental rights should be incorporated and applied, like Gender Equity, and other specific rights of women, that should be implemented in all the State institutions and at all levels of social life.

Likewise, basic income should be established in a progressive manner for people who are living in levels of poverty. It is the only way of ending the political patronage that does so much damage to democracy, and so that the State might protect in this way those most in need.

Nicaragua should be proclaimed as a Social and Democratic Rule of Law State, governed by fundamental rights, by the principle of absolute respect and equality under the law, the control of the citizenry in the affairs of the State, and the defense of the environment.

The right to rebellion or insurrection against dictatorial or dynastic governments should be recovered, as a fundamental essential right of Nicaraguans.

Likewise, new procedural guarantees should be reformed or incorporated: the function of the Police should be to investigate crimes and send the accused to the judicial authorities in a term no longer than 24 hours. In their investigations the Police should be subordinated to the Prosecutor´s office, who should be responsible for directing the investigations and the gathering of proof. Detentions can only be done through a judicial order or when catching a crime in progress.

Jury trials should be re-established for all cases, and exceptional jurisdictions should be ended.

In addition, Nicaragua should bring itself into the XXI Century and promote the access of all children and adolescents to information technologies and the internet.

  1. Reorganization of the Army and the Police

The role that the National Police have performed in the current civic insurrection, as a small, very centralized repressive army, forces us to re-examine the role of the police forces. The Police should play a very important role in ensuring citizen security, in a context of the advance of the drug trafficking cartels and organized crime in Central America.

To keep the National Police from being a small, mercenary army at the unconditional service of a dictatorial government, their operation should be decentralized, creating municipal police who will maintain a national coordination or command, but whose members will be recruited from within the community, who will be subject to the local authorities. The naming of the Chief of Police in each municipality, as well as their term in the post, will be done through direct election of the citizens. The monopoly of the control of the president of the republic over the National Police must end, it should be shared with the local authorities.

The National Police should have a Community Policing approach, composed of people from the community on a rotating manner, with a reduced administrative apparatus and permanent officials. More women should be incorporated into the chain of command of this Community Police.

Likewise, the role and conception of the National Army should be re-evaluated. The collective trauma that the implementation of military service had during the civil war (1982-1990) has made it possible, contradictorily, for the evolution of the National Army as an institution ever more separated from the people.

In times of peace, the Army should have a very reduced apparatus, it should be composed of citizens who provide their civil service regularly within the armed forces at certain times. Likewise, more women should be incorporated into the chain of command of the Army.

It should not only defend the national sovereignty against drug trafficking and organized crime, but also exercise a social function in the most vulnerable social sectors, protecting and defending the environment, enabling youth to join as their first job and acquire technical training. This is the only way to prevent having an Army of full time paid soldiers unconnected to the people. The Army should not have, nor its officers, businesses or companies to finance retirement systems different from those that most of the population have, or caste privileges that promote social inequality.

Due to the importance of this issue, a special plebiscite should be promoted on the reorganization of the National Army and the National Police, so that the people might democratically decide the path to follow.

  1. Educational revolution, academic freedom, and university autonomy.

Nicaragua will never come out of poverty without being able to raise the educational level of its population.

Nicaragua is losing the only opportunity from the “demographic dividend” as dozens of thousands of youth do not have the opportunity to study and work. The dichotomy between primary education and higher education is false. Both are complementary. That is why academic freedom and university autonomy should be insisted on for training the technical staff and the professionals that the country requires.

Primary and secondary education should include a class on civic education, so that the students might learn from an early age how the State functions and what the principles of democracy are.

Within the framework of basic income, it should be ensured that all children finish their primary and secondary schooling. For that purpose 15% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should be used for public education. State resources should be used to develop public education, and the businesses of private schools and universities should never be subsidized. The universities should never be submitted to political power and party control.

The teaching profession and scientific research should be encouraged and protected by the State.

Social innovation and entrepreneurship should be encouraged by the State to expand the labor prospects of the recently graduated youth from the Universities so that they can be inserted into the work world. Likewise, the Youth First Job Law should be approved where the universities and companies will coordinate to provide facilities of access to work to recently graduated youth, and so that the relationship between professional majors and market demand might be improved.

  1. The role of the State in the economy

Given the backwardness of the productive forces in Nicaragua, the State should play the role of promoting economic development, the only way of doing away with migration and poverty. Within a scheme of the social market economy, the principal public services (water, health care, education, energy and communications) should be in the hands of the State. The acceptance of mixed enterprises in these areas, and the percentages of private, national or foreign participation, will depend on the needs of each concrete case.

A State bank should exist that would promote financing, at fair interest rates, to the benefit of the peasantry, artisans and small urban and rural producers. To prevent political patronage and corruption that can lead to their bankruptcy, the workers and clients of the state bank should be allowed to form a verification and control commission of the loans, focused on citizen participation.

The profits of the private banks should be regulated, through a policy of fair interest rates, that do not exploit the population.

  1. Agrarian reform and the defense of the environment

The agrarian reform that was promoted under the revolution in the 1979-1990 period was reversed in later decades. A process of land concentration functioned and now we have the existence of new large landowners. This process was possible because the peasantry did not have financial and technical assistance that would allow it to develop agriculture or ranching. Not only should the right of the peasantry to land be ensured, but also the right of peasant women to be owners of land. Likewise, a state bank is needed whose principal function would be to develop the peasant economy. The State should ensure a policy of fair prices for peasant products.

The agricultural production of Nicaragua in large measure rests on small and medium producers. It is necessary that these sectors grow through increase in yields and productivity, more than by the expansion of the agricultural frontier, which has degraded hydrological basins, produced sedimentation and the disappearance of water sources, and destroyed biodiversity.

Protected areas should be expanded, like Bosawás and Indio Maíz, and other new ones created. Protecting the national capital of the country should be a priority – water, soils, forests and biodiversity – the State should ensure that they be used in a sustainable manner.

The agrarian reform should have an ecological approach, one of defense of the land, forests, water and the environment. Zones apt for agriculture should be defined, planting should not be done on hills or inclines, what lands are apt for ranching should be pinpointed. Extensive ranching should be eliminated, promoting the creation of modern farms with breeds of cattle that allow production to increase without the need to destroy forests. Peasant or indigenous communities should be the protectors of the forests. A process of reforestation should be promoted and the protection of natural reserves for the purpose of caring for the water of rivers and lakes.

  1. For true autonomy in the Caribbean Coast

Raising the autonomy of the Caribbean Coast to constitutional status in 1995 implied great progress, but the real effects of the Autonomy Statute of the Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua are more formal than real. The principal decisions on the economic resources of the Caribbean Coast, and investment in them, in reality are not up to the Regional Councils, nor the indigenous communities, but the central government, which continues limiting the right to autonomy of the native population.

Not only should the customs, language and culture be preserved, but also the communal forms of organization of the indigenous population, which should administer and protect the natural resources.

Even though it is true that as a result of the struggle of the indigenous communities progress has been made in the titling of communal lands, as long as there is no resettlement of non indigenous on their land, the autonomy of the Caribbean Coast will be a fiction.

  1. Consolidation of municipal autonomy

Municipal autonomy has been enshrined in the Constitution since 1987, but in reality the municipalities are subordinated to the central government, in spite of the existence of the Municipal Law. The role of the State in society should be realized through the municipalities. The national budget should be invested in the municipalities. The role of the central government should be reduced, and the functions decentralized in the municipalities. The structure of the State should rest on the municipalities, who should control education, the supply of potable water, public services, services of police, sewage and the defense of the environment.

The democratization of Nicaragua passes through transferring more national power and resources to the municipal governments.

  1. Reconstructing the Central American nation

In the XXI century the countries of Central America are intimately linked by their economic bases, but not on the level of state superstructure. What happens in some of the countries of Central America has repercussions on the rest. SICA [Spanish acronym for the Central American Integration System] has played a great role as a project for the reunification of the national economies, but it has not achieved the goal. The establishment of PARLACEN was a great step forward on the political plane, but it has very limited functions. We should make more progress. The deputies to PARLACEN should be the same deputies of the national legislative organs, so that there is no separation and ignorance about the regional reality.

We should proceed until achieving the call for a Central American Constituent Assembly that would allow for the creation of a Central American federation or confederacy.

Managua, Nicaragua, September 14 & 15, 2018.

 

Updated version- 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”. It is a vision in line with Jesus: “you hear that it was said, eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist the one who is evil; before, to anyone who would hit you on the right cheek, turn to him also the other (Mt 5:38-39). The methods of Gandhi, 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), methods introduced in accordance with the realities and experiences that thehy promoted. That movement inspired Martin Luther King in the United States in the 1960s in his vision of a society where people were treated equally, regardless of their race and color. 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 under the anti-large estate idea that “the land Is for those who work it with their hands” of Emiliano Zapata in 1911. 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, as in 9500 BC. 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 – because “tree have value”, said Tupac Barahona and Marcelo Rodríguez with the peasantry of Masaya (Nicaragua) and nourish biodiversity, as Abraham Cruz observed in Peñas Blancas (El Cuá, Nicaragua); “the birds of the forest come to eat on the farms.” 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 monocropping, 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, and a basis for cultivating their autonomy and resisting proletarization – and much more if it is organic agriculture.

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. In 2015 Raul Cruz from the Forest Rangers Cooperative (El Cuá, Nicaragua), after years of growing coffee, visiting two roasters, had a vision: “I imagined myself selling roasted, ground coffee”; what he imagined kept him from sleeping and he began to make his roasters from barrels in order to today sell roasted, ground coffee in 1 lb packages. Visions that move human will and show a path for creating living communities.

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 in 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 sell your own product later), but organized 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 of “being a leader” to find donations and “to put a patch on the problem” (formulate visions as a formality), 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 human destiny. They are understood by people discontent with the status quo, geniuses who 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. As Blanca Rios advised her sons Juan, Victorino and Noel Adams, members of the Bosawas Cooperative in El Cuá, Nicaragua, “never feel you are on a horse, even if you are in the stirrups, because many people on a horse can end up on foot.” 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 cracks the 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, seed after seed- like constantly falling drops of water that eventually make a hole even in stone. 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 change 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

 

Chicken Feed

This Easter has been a sweet deal for candy manufacturers: more than $2 billion was spent on candy alone this season, and the overall spending on all Easter-related purchases figures to be the second-highest in U.S. history.  (I know that I didn’t receive any chocolate bunnies on Easter Sunday, so somebody else has been taking more than their share. ) But it started me thinking about wants and needs and central Easter messages.

That candy cost isn’t exactly chicken feed.  By comparison, the total amount of all U.S. aid to Nicaragua in 2017 was $31.3 million, 15% of all that candy.  I only offer the comparison here for contrast; neither I nor most Nicaraguans would argue for greater aid dependency on the U.S.  But it’s quite a difference in sums when one considers the two categories: resources for basic human living standards in Nica versus Easter candy consumption in the U.S.   Setting aside such notions as national boundaries, something seems inequitable in all of that, no matter to what political or economic perspective one may subscribe.  Let me elaborate.

I spent a week with my colleague Mark in Nicaragua last month, visiting with rural partners, hearing about their struggles with various harvests, understanding the need for late repayments in several cases, and attending a two-day workshop designed to teach information analysis, so that these producers might go about their work on a more data-driven basis.

Our week did not represent some kind of hight-level financial development.  We lunched with them on rice and beans.  We spoke with some, in impromptu huddles, about small loans and the most basic tenets of our partnerships: accompaniment, transparency, functioning bodies of governance, broad-based participation, and collaboration within the coops.  We described the nature of goals and goal-setting.  They asked us about work processes.  We laughed some.  The interactions may have been at their most basic level, but they were important and appreciated.  Basic stuff usually is.

What does any of that have to do with Easter candy sales?  Simply this: the sweet taste in the mouth from a dissolving Peep or jelly bean is both artificial and temporary.  And it can never take away the bad taste in the mouth from the recognition that we spend more on candy than on the very lives of others who are in significant need for their basic survival.  That bad taste comes from recognition that our own lives are made up of moments, moments of priority and precedence, wherein we have the free will to decide how we will spend our time and our money and our spirit.  Those decisions impact the impoverished in profound ways, and as importantly, paint the portrait of who we truly are.   And they do leave a taste in the mouth, one kind or another.

Last month in Nicaragua I heard the observation of a producer who was considering the raising of a few chickens as a supplement to his coffee-growing efforts.  His words of hesitation were like a fist to the gut.  “The corn that my hens eat,” he observed, “could be food for my family.”  He was not speaking about candy corn.

Easter is a season of resurrection and salvation, of new beginnings and new chances.  It is a time of reflection for many about the life and example of Jesus and the basis of those who claim followership of his teaching.  It also gives me pause to think about the price of candy and the value of corn….

 

 

 

The Virtue of Virtues

A long-time friend of mine recently bestowed a gift on me, one that has intrigued, perplexed and annoyed all at the same time.  It may seem strange that one small gift could accomplish all of this, but given the nature of the giver, I would expect no less.

George is an octogenarian, and one who has stuffed a great many experiences into his years, whether in vocation, family, service to others or contemplation of self.  For these reasons, as well as the fact that he is simply a very nice man, I enjoy meeting with him every so often for excellent conversation.  Neither one of us will ever be able to recount the winners and losers at The Academy Awards, but both of us like to expound upon what is right and what is wrong with the world today.  We both pretend to have the answers, if not the questions.

The gift he brought to me is no less than a presentation of life’s virtues.  One hundred thoughtful descriptions of moral excellence and goodness of character are printed on 4X5 cards, along with certain actions which embody the particular virtue.  They are a product of The Virtues Project, an international initiative to inspire the practice of virtues in everyday life.  Each day at breakfast, I’m confronted with a new aspect of right action and thinking which may or may not be attributable to myself.  But they’re good triggers for thought and conversation with my wife, as I either claim ownership of a virtue or confess my weakness of it.  (I am too afraid to keep track of whether I have more “hits” than “misses.”)  The object is not keeping score, but reflecting on one’s personal posture.

The experience is stimulating.  I mean, how often do most of us have the questions posed about our daily existence and how we have chosen to live it?  Consider matters of integrity.  Honesty.  Humanity.  Commitment. Honor.  Gratitude.  Faith.  Empathy.  Grace.  Generosity.  Love.  Peacefulness.  Responsibility. Sacrifice.  Tolerance.  Truth.   The list is as long as it is deep.  Serious reflection of virtue is sobering, affirming and complex, all at the same time.

Yet there is a sort of elitist quality about contemplation of such things.  My past week in Nicaragua reminds me that consideration of manners and philosophies often becomes subjugated in light of the daily grind of feeding one’s family or securing the particulars of suitable shelter.   In some cases, circumstances tend to bend absolute virtues, or at least place them in conflict with other virtuous aims.

I do not imply that Nicaraguan peasants are without virtuous living; in fact, the reality is quite the opposite.  My experiences with rural Nica farmers often have been object lessons about living with dignity and hope despite enormously difficult circumstances.  Virtuous behaviors come from within, cultivated from generations of living in concert with their faith, the earth and one another, rather than from a conscious deliberation of what “ought to be.”

What occurs to me in the understanding of living against great odds is that the opportunity for meditation on matters of virtue and how to cultivate such behaviors is almost non-existent.  The conscious deliberation of what “ought to be” is too often a luxury afforded to those who are well off enough to indulge in contemplation of 4X5 cards.

Perhaps the observations are of no note.  Certainly, those who have been blessed with opportunity for musing on such matters have brought about only a modest degree of change and equity in the world: children still starve against the virtues of  Generosity, Humanity, Justice, Mercy and Sacrifice.  In my own reading of the virtues, I long for the recognition of them inherent within myself, regardless of the words on the cards.  But it is not always so, and the gentle reminders of what I could be are blessings to embrace.

There’s still time.  The questions are not complete, the answers not finished, our lives are not done, our legacies are not written and our virtues are not known until the end of our days….

 

 

Dismantling the large estate with cooperativism

Dismantling the large estate with cooperativism

René Mendoza Vidaurre with Edgar Fernandez[1]

You have to look at coffee like the fingers on a hand; the first year we plant, the second year the coffee develops, The third year we harvest, the fourth we harvest more and the fifth year the coffee begins to decline       R. Mairena, President

The cooperative works for me: it sells my coffee at a better price, it gives me credit. And it guides me in growing coffee. M.D. Gómez, Member

Plato in his book “The Republic” tells the story of the cave. A group of prisoners remained chained in a cave since their birth. They cannot turn their heads, they can only see the wall in the back. Behind them is a corridor and a bonfire. Men are passing through the corridor with different objects which project shadows on the wall because of the light. The prisoners believe that the shadows of the objects are real. One day one of the prisoners is freed and seeing the light from the fire, the people, trees, lakes and the sun, realizes the origin of the shadows and that they are only shadows. He returns to the cave to free his fellow prisoners, who on hearing that the shadows were only shadows, do not believe him, make fun of him and treat him as if he were crazy. This allegory reveals the strength of mindsets (tacit beliefs that rule the lives of people).

What is this kind of mindset in a cooperative? How can a cooperative free itself and build its own way? We explain this mindset, study it seeking to change it: we do it from the experience of the Solidaridad Cooperative in Nicaragua[2].

1.     Mental frameworks and their origins

“The large estate provides, and the farm is a drain”, “we always need a patron”, “the patron knows and decides, the rest obey”, “only one crop, more inputs, more production”, “the dumber the fieldhand, the more hardworking they are”, “ the cheaper you pay the fieldhand, and the cheaper the land is, the more money can be made”. These beliefs sustain a hierarchical and discriminating framework, internalized by a good part of our society.

This mentality was refined over centuries all over. By 1880 Matagalpa had an indigenous population with more than 200,000 mzas of mountainous land, most of it was expropriated by the State for coffee; the mindset was in line with the myth of mestizo Nicaragua (J. Gould): “coffee, a civilized crop, indigenous an obstacle for civilization.” Thus between 1889 and 1895 there were more than 200 foreigners in Matagalpa. In time, in the zone of Arenal, Thomas, Manning, Crespi, Harrison and Vita formed large estates. Vita founded the Aranjuez estate (hacienda), later bought by Potter, then by De Savigny, later on turned into the first mountain hotel and later Somoza turned it into a Sanatarium for people with tuberculosis. From the start of the XX century up to now, temporarily interrupted by the war in the 1980s, the following haciendas were formed: El Quetzal, Marsellesa, Monimbo, La Aurora, El Paraíso, El Paraisito, Los Helechos, Santa Ana, La Esperanza and La Minita. The Solidaridad cooperative is in Aranjuez and El Arenal, has an indigenous past and is now surrounded by haciendas.

The hacienda system was imposed with State backing. Racism and dispossession mechanisms went hand in hand, which is the origin of that mentality that persists even in our times. In the 1990s a hacienda closed the road on 62 members of the Carlos Rodríguez cooperative, forcing them to sell their lands at the price that the hacienda had set. Currently the El Quetzal hacienda closes the road after 6pm, thus leaving the communities “closed in”, communities where its own workers live, as well as some families who are members of the cooperative. After 2010 several haciendas of the area have been facing a drop in the production of their coffee, the soils are exhausted, the exploited environment no longer produces: more inputs, more dead soil, the more coffee is exposed to full sunlight, the more the soil is washed away with the rainfall.

The very act of explaining the origin of that mentality awakens people. The hacienda has built itself by taking. More inputs and mono-cropping has led to greater soil deterioration. Closing roads no longer leads to cheaper land, nor does it force the hand of producer families. The “stupid” fieldhand, leaving the hacienda, has become a farmer.

2.     A check on the hacienda: the cooperative

The 63 members of the cooperative have more than 300 mzs of land and produce about 7,000 qq of export coffee. The cooperative collects and exports 60% of the coffee of its members, 30% of that as quality coffee. 20 years ago most of these 63 members were fieldhands – some of them foremen – of the haciendas, they were families with little or no land, some of them producing some flowers and vegetables. Of the 63, some 25 members produce between 30-100qq export coffee per manzana, producing more than some haciendas. A small producer of Aranjuez, who is not a member of the cooperative, with 5 mzs of coffee, won the 2017 Cup of Excellence Award with 91.16 points. That is quality coffee! Diversified coffee farms with bananas and citrus, and not mono-cropping haciendas, produce quality coffee, not just standard coffee. All of this makes the land increase in value, puts a check on the hacienda, and in addition the hacienda sees its earnings decreasing.

It is easy to find examples to illustrate these results. There is a member who is a single mother who lives off her 2 mzs of coffee and bananas, that produces enough for her to support her mother and married daughters. Another member of the cooperative was able to intensify his coffee with bananas and citrus through the cooperative, and left his job as a fieldhand of the hacienda. There is a foreman who became a member of the cooperative and ended up being president of the cooperative.

What has generated this change? Well, the cooperative! Its strategy? First, it understood the importance of regularity in the application of inputs (urea and leaf sprayed fertilizer) that coffee needs in order to produce more, which is why the cooperative provides in-kind credit so that, under technical supervision, each member family applies it and pays for it with that same coffee, for which the cooperative finds markets. Secondly, they got past the biannual nature of coffee (one good year of production and the next year low production), pruning 25% of the coffee each year, and systematically renovating their old coffee plants. Third, the member families are concentrated in a microterritory and receive credit services, technical assistance and collect the harvest right there, which reduces their transaction costs and facilitates a close relationship between members-leaders and members-administration. Fourth, strong leadership pushing the cooperative in new challenges in a calm, gradual way; “directed credit”, “piloting direct exporting with a small amount”, and “getting into milling with low volume”; they do it as they establish relationships with the social banking sector, coffee buyers and chemical input companies.

Seen from the results, organized small scale production provides more and better farms, good for the people and good for the environment. Nevertheless, seen from the processes, following a different path from that of the hacienda, the response is two pronged: increasing family ownership over their production, but not over their organization. On the one hand, the discipline of applying inputs every 30-35 days on their coffee, and selectively pruning 25% of the plants has become a custom, and thereby a tacit law; as well as turning their coffee in to the cooperative, paying their loans and waiting for a better price. On the other hand, the mindset planted by the hacienda persists: “more inputs, more production”, “without the president we would fall”, “information is not up to date and does not get to the members”, “decisions about credit and who can have a better price for their coffee are not made in the organs of the cooperative”, “a buyer even chooses 10 members to buy their coffee”, “we members rely on the president, we only come in to get our loans and our payments”, “the members who do not increase their production will not increase it no matter what we give them”, “if we apply the rules of the cooperative we would be left without members”, “let the member with the most volume of coffee set the price”. A good part of the cooperative and some of its allies breathe in this mindset.

The benefits of the cooperative for the member families and the environment, for Aranjuez and el Arenal are visible, but their durability depends on changes in their mentality. As Saint-Exupéry said in his novel The Little Prince, what is most important is what is invisible. Taking your own path involves getting off the path of the hacienda.

3.     Transformation of  mental models

In addition to increasing production, the cooperative proposes increasing coffee quality, diversified farms with environmental sustainability, stronger relationships with the social banks and buyers, members who study their farms, and good relations between members, leaders and workers. And they are on that path. One member who studies and experiments: “I make a selective leaf spray, because I am watching over my plants, I recognize the coffee bore or rust, I observe it daily, if it progresses, I spray it, if it does not progress, I enclose it”; “I spray the entire coffee field, for prevention”; “ before putting a chemical on it I test it a little”, “what I learned when I had organic coffee I continue applying, I spend less and it goes further”, “I have coffee trees for repopulating and to sell”. The member/leader, the one that asks questions, accepts positions of responsibility and exercises them, complies with the rules of the cooperative and the decisions of its respective bodies, is still a subject under construction. Relationships with the workers, encouraged by a coffee buying organization, are making progress: “Coffee with a union aroma” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SD3QBJ7r_U&feature=share)

For that the cooperative is refining its strategy. First, it is strengthening the observation and study that led them to determine the regularity in the application of inputs, this time to get beyond the belief of “more inputs, more production” to “more observation and management, more quality production”, including mixtures of coffee in micro-lots. Second, it is keeping its decision to have an office and services in the same territory, trying to get their sons and daughters to participate in the life of the cooperative – as members and personnel-staff. Third, it is making the policies and rules of the cooperative be applied, that decisions come from the organs of the cooperative, that members, board and administrative staff be subject to those agreements, and that the international allies respect and strengthen that institutionality. Fourth, the distribution of earnings based on updated information be posted on the wall- information on loans, financial statement, balance statement, volume of coffee collected, services of processing and exporting – so that the member families might come in to be informed, because informing is forming.

The Solidarity cooperative has taken a giant step: it stopped the hacienda. But even though it is at a standstill; it is still intact; the member families, even though are progressing in production and organization, are dividing up their land through inheritances, and their cooperative instrument continues being a challenge. The myth of the cave could change in the cooperative framework if the 4 elements of the strategy – observation, territory, institutionality and transparency – are carried out as the origin of its “light”, that would let them dismantle the mindset of the hacienda (“shadows”) and discern a new path. Their challenge is also the challenge of the entire world.

[1] René has a PhD in development studies, is an 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 Edgar is also a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation.

[2] We talked with the member families, their leaders and staff and we facilitated workshops in Aranjuez. This article is the result of that collective learning with the member families that observed their farms and reflected on their cooperative. We are grateful to J. Koldegaard for his comments on the draft of this article.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

I’m preparing for another visit to Nicaragua next week, the first since last August.  I’m excited to be going again, but the length of time between visits has caused me to forget my usual routines for getting ready and the result is that I’m already feeling like I’m behind.  To further compress things, I was supposed to be headed to Minnesota earlier this week,  but a winter storm and prudence dictated that, after I shoveled out the driveway, I stay “hunkered down” for the next 24 hours.  I’ll need to re-schedule that meeting for the second time!  On top of that, we’re working on some WPF transitions, preparing for the retirement of our office manager, hiring a Nica consultant following another retirement, and interviewing several new Board candidates.  Where’s the time going to come from?

In addition to the immediate travel logistics, there are family matters, as well.  Our twin daughters’ birthday is rapidly approaching and we need to pick a date for celebrating.  Another daughter is participating in a body-building competition and we’ll absolutely be in attendance for it.  We have income taxes to complete and file, a dentist appointment is just ahead, there’s a fix to some flooring that needs to be made, we’ve got to schedule the furnace guy for a mechanical issue, and Katie’s sister is about to move from our house into her own place.  Time’s up!

One of the maxims about growing older is the reality that time seems to speed up.  For many, some of the same old routines take longer, there seem to be more things to accomplish than ever before, and the need for rest each night tends to move up ever so slightly.  The result is a feeling that things are moving faster.  There’s nothing new in any of this: it’s simply the cycle of life as it moves inexorably from start to finish, except for those to whom it is happening, of course.  There just never seems to be enough time and the window of availability just keeps getting smaller every day.

In preparing for my travels, I naturally re-orient myself to Nicaragua as I prepare to adjust from a U.S. lifestyle to a Central American one.  I think about how things will be different next week, from the language to the food to the evening accommodations, from an environment of material excess to one of a perpetual search for basic needs.  And I couldn’t help but reflect on another notable difference: the passage of time.

Our anxieties about time are a product of a society that needs to run with precision.  It doesn’t provide much allowance for delays and its tolerance for being late is thin.  A case in point is my inability to drive 160 miles to the Twin Cities for a long-planned meeting, due to ice and snow.  My luncheon partner was fully understanding and my decision was absolutely the right one to make, but all day long I suffered with guilt and a sense of letting people down.  You may attribute those feelings to an overly-sensitive psyche, but it’s the product of a culture which expects timely completion of plans, no matter what the circumstances.  Snow?  Drive through it.  12-hour days to finish a project?  Just do it, as Nike ads admonish us.

In contrast, my meetings within the rural sectors of Nicaragua next week will not have such expectations.  Sessions to be held with governing bodies of the cooperatives may or may not begin at 2:00 P.M.  as scheduled.  It may take some participants longer to arrive at a central meeting location, as they travel long distances- often by foot-  from their farms in order to attend.  Where available, transportation is unreliable.  The demand of the farm is sometimes a priority that just can’t be denied, even against the obligation to attend a meeting on behalf of the coop.  A weather event might wash away a bridge.  There are not many clocks.  And sometimes it is the North Americans who arrive late, having encountered other delays in the day or on the roads.  2:00 in Nica means, “as close to 2:00 as you can make it.”

Does casualness with regard to time irritate people in Nica the way it most certainly does in the U.S.?  Not in an apparent way.  Rural peasants evince an acceptance of the informality of time that is part of their lives; people subject to systemic indigence learn to cultivate a tolerance to all sorts of inconvenience and oppression. Of course, there are some sectors of society for whom time is a tyrant, but in the rural sectors where our work is accomplished, there is neither luxury nor tyranny of the clock.

In the countryside, matters are attended to as people are able.  The demands of small farm production and subsistence living conspire to direct peasants in their work, not according to the clock, but according to what circumstances allow.  It’s not that time is disrespected, but that it, too, must fall victim to the injustice of poverty.  Poverty is not selective of its prey.

Time.  I’m not sure whether there is greater health in the Nicaraguan’s acceptance of its limitations or in the tight expectations of it in U.S. life.  Maybe the truth is somewhere in between.  What I do know is that having the choice of one circumstance over the other is a far greater advantage than having to tolerate one which is imposed.  Nicaraguans seek a reality that provides the choice.  And it’s about time they have it….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Choices

My wife and I were looking at some photos of ourselves the other day, marveling at how young we once looked and subsequently commiserating at how old we appear today.  I stared for some time at one photo in particular, one that seemed to capture the relative innocence and naivete of the young man in question.  I tried to recall his state of mind at the time of the photo, what issues weighed heavily upon him, and the decisions with which he would be confronted in the days and years ahead.  Hindsight is a wonderful perspective to play with; when you already know the result, the journey becomes an interesting study of choices.

Each of us is, after all, the sum total of choices we have been permitted to make throughout our journey of life.  Our choices reflect not only preferences but, more importantly, our values, our principles, our character.  They serve as articulations of who we wish to be and of who we actually are.  And they are the milestones of our journey, marking the signal events of our lives.

Choices are the acts of bringing to life our beliefs.  They are the expressions of our innermost feelings about lifestyles, about the type of vocation to which we aspire.  Choices reflect our most intimate feelings about having a family and what is important in our personal and spiritual lives.  Choices are dynamic portraits of who we are.  I reflected long and lovingly about the choices that the young man in the photograph made over his coming years, with a sense of satisfaction that his decisions had been, for the most part, the right ones for his own unique psyche.

But what if I had not had the luxury of choice?  What might my portrait look like if my life, instead, had been channeled at every turn. if the circumstances of my being were such that I had no choice?

I might never have been introduced to and courted by music.  Maybe I would not have encountered the opportunity to know sports and fitness, the elements of my physical well-being.  Perhaps I would never have known the centering peace of my spirituality.  What if there had been no option for education?  Possibly I’d have served in the military during the Viet Nam war.  What if Katie and I had never met?  Our adopted children would have been raised in different homes; our mutual, familial love for one another would never have come to be.  Maybe our beautiful grandchildren would never have been born.  What if circumstance had dictated that I spend my days in search of food instead of organizational strengthening?  The list of choice-based outcomes is nearly endless.  How might you own life have evolved differently if you had not had the blessing of choice?

The luxury of choice stems, in part, from political philosophies which recognize and value human independence.  It also arises from circumstances that allow the human spirit to envision new aspirations and realities for itself.  In the absence of these elements, choice is minimized.  And outcomes are dramatically different.  It’s true everywhere.  In the U.S.  In Nicaragua.

Winds of Peace Foundation works with many organizations and individuals in Nicaragua who have few choices.  They are moved in directions dictated by their realities and their histories, in the former cases often motivated by need for survival, in the latter cases motivated only by what they know from previous generations.  And when motivation stems from either absolute need or limited knowledge, then choice is often a forgotten, impractical dream.  The nature of the Foundation’s work is to create the environments for more choice, with the certain knowledge that, over time,  greater choice invariably leads to better outcomes.  I wonder what Nicaragua might look like today if their history was populated with greater choice and fewer outside impositions that eliminated it.

In the years ahead, I expect to make lots of choices about things.  Perhaps the Foundation will adopt some new methodologies. Maybe I’ll move into a new vocation altogether.  I might do some more writing.  My wife and I will make some determinations about eventual retirement.  We’ll think about travel that might be important to us.  I’ll even continue to choose the kinds of food I want to eat, whether for my health or for my enjoyment.  But whatever the issue, I’ll have in mind my gratitude for having the opportunity to choose, and a hope to be a resource to those who do not….