Category Archives: Reflections

“No one would like to have a murderer as the woman who gave you life”

This is an interview done this week of Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo,  Rosario Murillo´s daughter, and Daniel Ortega´s step daughter. (She is mentioned by Pinita in the previous post). Here she compares her experience of being an abuse victim of her stepfather and the complicity of her mother, with the current experience the country is undergoing.

Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo

“No one would like to have a murderer as the woman who gave you life”

“Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo no longer have a way out”, stated Zoilamérica, daugher of Murillo in exile in Costa Rica.

By Yamlek Mojica Loásiga, August 21, 2018 in Seminario Universidad

“We are facing a fundamentalist sect”, Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo.

The name of Zoilamérica has been in the collective memory of Nicaraguans now for decades. Daughter of Rosario Murillo, and step-daughter of Daniel Ortega, who in 1998 she denounced for having raped her for more than 20 years, and Murillo for being an accomplice of those crimes. Since then she has been the victim of harassment and intimidation on the part of the presidential couple. Five years ago, due to that same persecution, she went into exile in Costa Rica.

Zoilamérica is a sociologist and currently works as a university professor. She states that what is happening in Nicaragua is a case of a fundamentalist sect similar to the Nazis.

In this interview she analyses her mother´s way of governing, and the persecution of the Nicaraguan state against opposition actors of Ortega even on Costa Rican soil.

Do you think there are similarities between the crisis of Nicaragua and your history of abuse?

There is a sensation that life trained me to experience the first symptoms of the cruelty, manifested in the abuse, as well as in the terrible vengance that my mother undertook in order to get from me a retraction of my denouncement of Daniel Ortega for sex abuse. And to silence and isolate me.

I feel that the most difficult part is not that the brutal and ever more unscrupulous forms of repression against the people be repeated in the scenario, but rather the way in which the exercise of power has been internalized.

I have compared it exactly to the dynamics between sexual abuse and the abuser, in the sense of this first stage that the cycles of abuse have, of manipulation, of the creation of conditions to get one to consider the right of possessing. I feel that unfortunately the revolution has become a great tool for manipulation.

In my case there were the family connections between the abuser and myself: in this case it was the manipulation of the symbols of the revolution, the discourse, the sentiments, all the history. That manipulation worked, I believe, in the same way that it works in sexual abuse. On that basis we give over quotas of our will to that person. In the case of sexual abuse, out of fear, because of the co-dependency, a point arrives where the abuser annihilates all your will. Likewise in Nicaragua we were giving over quotas of power that ended up building this abysmal concentration, that annihilation of will.

Then, I had no other option than remaining isolated for a long time, remaining for a long time under the effects of what the violence then was. But the hardest thing is seeing how this process of manipulation in the violence in Nicaragua, the concentration of power, was also similar in terms of the silence that surrounded me for many years.

In what sense?

I remember that after I made the denouncement, the question most asked of me was whether anyone knew. Now we can ask ourselves: Did no one know that there had been so much electoral fraud? Did no one know about a political pact that was done to distribute among themselves the branches of government? Yes they did know. Why did no one say anything? It is confirmed that complicity does work, and that sexual aggressors clearly choose those they want to convert. We were vulnerable coming from a context of dictatorship, and we thought that we were going to get out of it, fully believing in someone.

It is the same thing that happened with a ten year old girl who came from a world of deprivation and that suddenly the revolution comes, added to that power, and invents for her a world of protection that then turns into a world of abuse. I believe that the most complicated part for me has been that it is being repeated today. The complicity of my mother becomes present again. A complicity with two actors who have as their only purpose in life keeping and sustaining political power. Exactly in the same way in which they stated their alliance around denying the facts about which I accused them, that capacity continues functioning in the same way that they try to disguise and give another version of the facts.

Why do the ranks of the Sandinista Front of National Liberation keep quiet about Ortega?

I think that part of this manipulation has to do with turning loyalty into complicity. On the other hand, if we take that path, denouncing is a synonym of betrayal, thinking differently is also a synonym of betrayal. In this fundamentalist culture that the Sandinista Front has, enough mechanisms have been found to also subdue willpower. This subjugation also is marked by opportunism, because there are also those who have been paid to quit thinking. Nevertheless, I believe that we should not assign the same responsibilities to the leaders, as to people who so far continue expressing to being close to feeling that the FSLN is their option. They are people who, in spite of everything they see, want to try to rewrite history. There are people who will continue saying that they are sandinista, and that they are going to continue supporting a sandinista government, even though they are not allowed to say that Daniel Ortega is not the one. I think that it is important to understand the quota of pain, of sacrifice of many people. Still in Costa Rica there are people who say they have contradictory emotions, of course, because it hurts them to say that they gave everything in exchange for nothing.

You talk about loyalty. Is the FSLN loyal to Rosario Murillo?

I would not call that loyalty, but submission, She has a capacity to exercise leadership in a ruthless manner. Being ruthless implies that everything that is in front of you should be useful to your purposes. Without being able to say no. Loyalty assumes your willingness, but none of these people are asked if they want to be loyal to her, but rather today are trapped in a power dynamic that they cannot get out of. Even this mechanism of turning everyone into murderers so that in the end all are accused is part of the same dynamic. That is not loyalty. It has to do with methods of profound subjugation. This that I am telling you has to do with that Machiavellian capacity for subjugation. She is an expert in creating forms of submission. I do not know if there is another person with the same capaity for impregnating fear. It is very interesting because suddenly in the Nicaraguan imagination, even up to a very short time ago, Daniel was the good one and Rosario was the evil one. This precisely has to do with the fact that his gift is manipulation, and her gift is creating terror.

Why the insistence of Murillo on minimizing people? Why does she need to describe the oppositon as “residue” and “scraps”?

Something that for me was always difficult was the indifference. In other words, with that indifference the message is: “you do not exist”. I did not exist as her daughter for ten years, ten years of not knowing absolutely anything until I withdrew the lawsuit, because I couldn´t do it any longer, because that was being translated into revenge. Where I am getting at, on the one hand, is that profound conviction that “no one is as great as them.” On the other hand, is the mystery of the verbalization in order to be small. I do believe that people have compared the Nazi context and the superiority of the races to them. Here also we are facing a fundamentalist sect, only that it was created tailor-made to the need itself for alienation. It is an act of absolute arrogance and superiority that turns into something very dangerous, because no one is like them. This means that everything that surrounds them should be eliminated, and even more so the smaller they are. In this search for answers they think that they have some type of insanity, and in that way we excuse them because “they do not know what they are doing”, and that is not true. Or we give them the proper title of dictators and we think then this justifies their political logic, but what we have in Nicaragua is worse than that; it is a case of political alienation. They are alienating everything that would justify them as the omnipotent and only ones with the power to lead the country.

What do you feel when you see the name of your mother accused of so many crimes?

In one of the vigils for Nicaragua I had a very intense experience, because seeing a sign of Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega with a big sign of murderers still touches my conscience. I think that no one would want to have a murderer as the woman who gave you life. It is profoundly contradictory. It still is a blow to my humanity. Nevertheless, it is the reality that I have had to live with and about which I continue to learn, above all, trying to understand what this is going to mean for me in the future. This is the most difficult thing. There are people who do not know the difference between them and me; there will be a time at the end of their days that I will have to articulate where their story ended and where mine ended.

You fled from Nicaragua in 2013. Do you identify with this exodus of Nicaraguans who are fleeing out of fear of your family?

There is a principle of refuges status that is interesting, and it is called fleeing out of a well founded fear. I would say that for Nicaraguans you will have to open a chapter that would be called “well founded terror.” If I could express the level of terror that I experienced on knowing that my own mother could be capable of hurting me and hurting my children, I can understand that the situation of fleeing is because they are sowing terror. They want left in Nicaragua those who accept being subjugated, they do not care how many of us leave, as long as those who stay accept being in jail, kidnapped, and that they are not going to accomplish. Definitely those who come from Nicaragua are people who cannot live with that fear that they are sowing. It will have to be seen what it means to have a wave of terrorized immigrants with the conditions that implies. They are designing a country tailor-made for the reign that they need.

Persecution from paramilitaries has been denounced within Costa Rica. Do you believe it?

I think it is very difficult for the government of Costa Rica to admit it, but the geographic closeness would allow one to think that this risk exists. It is a serious situation. Above all because of the possibility that they might have deserters within their own ranks fleeing to Costa Rica, and they can be the people who supply information that can implicate them. It has to be understood that Daniel Ortega above all is going to avoid a trial for crimes against humanity; the family, better said. We have to be careful in not placing in doubt the capacity of the Costa Rican state to protect us; rather, it is recognizing that they can turn any circumstances into circumstances of risk.

What other things have you experienced here? Have you been the victim of xenaphobia?

Costa Rica is a country with highly advanced legislation on all these issues; nevertheless, in the case of xenaphobia, historically it has had to share the country with immigrants. This can generate contradictory feelings. On the one hand, admiting the ethnic diversity of this country, the labor participation that we have. Nevertheless, the level of acceptance of us foreigners can be increased. I think that at times we have very marked cultural differences and this can generate reactions of exclusion and very big distances.

The people mention a lot “the New Nicaragua”. What does this mean for you?

The New Nicaragua for me means an educational process that tries to deal with this legacy. If my family sowed anti-values and perverse practices, I would like to contribute with something, deconstructing that or giving testimony about what I had to do to be less Ortega Murillo and more Zoilamérica. That which is coming also is an unresolved stage. No more leading roles, no more the need to be highlighted as the best option. Every time a person uses the social networks, they are using a mechanism of power that is outside of him. First let us reconnect with our own power.

How do you see the future of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo?

I feel like there is no way out. In the pursuit to build a trap and a jail for all of Nicaragua, they built their own; they are trapped. The problem is that they still have with them all the victims of that spiderweb of power that they wove. Gradually that will be freed up. The stage that we will still have to see will be when their own people turn on them and say: “this is as far as we go.” Surely that moment for them will be the most difficult one. So far, they continue accustomed to the fact that no one objects to their will. The international community is going to have to test out ways, like they did with the peace accords. I am sure that this also is going to imply moving from this type of mechanism to something that might be truly effective, and, if not, it will be up to us Nicaraguans to do it.

 

Letter from a Christian in Nicaragua to a priest in Spain

The following is a letter written by Pinita Gurdian, a well known member of the Christians in the Revolution movement in the 80s, in response to a letter from a Spanish priest friend. It is a witness to how she – and her family – lived their faith in response to the events of the day. In the 70´s and 80´s, that faith led them to sacrifice for the Revolution.  They continue to risk themselves  for a revolution, but one that she feels is being prevented by those  in government today.

August 16, 2018

Dear Benjamin,

Since I received your first letter about what is happening in these times in Nicaragua I wanted to write to you. I have thought a lot about what I wanted to say to you, because, even though we met for a short time, those years of dreams and utopias connected us as so many people who dreamed and worked for justice. Since that time, your name was always on the list of friends that offered so much solidarity during the Revolution, who I continued to tell about the process that little by little was developing and that later deteriorated over the years.

Our family, as you know, was fully committed to the revolutionary process through our Christian commitment. We completely abandoned all our goods and privileges to join this process, in which we believed all our dreams would be fulfilled of a more just society, and more in accordance with the faith that we said we professed. Our children committed to all the tasks that the moment required, many times putting their lives ar risk, to such an extent that in 1987 one of my sons was seriously wounded in combat, whose result left him with permanent lesions in various parts of his body, among them a cerebral lesion, and he had to undergo seven later surgeries.

At the beginning of the process everything was going well and our enthusiasm grew with each accomplishment. I do not question the intentions of those who led us to victory. This is shown in a paragraph in the first proclamation of the FSLN in 1979:

“Corruption and crime will be left behind forever: the use of the State as the patrimony of a family; the use of the Army as the personal guard of a tyrant and the prostitution of Public Institutions. The Government of National Reconstruction will direct its best efforts to promote and organize popular participation in the solution of the major national problems: hunger, unemployment, malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, illiteracy, lack of housing, the vicious legacy of fifty years of Somocism.” Proclamation issued on June 18, 1979, when the Government Junta for National Reconstruction was formed in Costa Rica, one month before the triumph.

We joined this project with our hearts, bodies and souls. But slowly that was changing, and even though we heard about abuses, luxuries when there was rationing, when authoritarianism began to be heard, we were blind and deaf. We did not want to see nor hear about what was right in front of us. Not all the leaders were in that line, but everything was changing, and criticisms were not permitted, with the excuse that we were suffering a war of aggression. Our guide and friend, and the person who was the inspiration of our commitment, the Jesuit Fernando Cardenal, member of the Sandinista Assembly, once had the courage to stand up and make a criticism about the lack of austerity of the leaders. One member of that Assembly responded to him, also publicly, saying, “You took a vow of poverty but we did not.” No one got up to support Fernando.

In spite of everything we continued forward because, even though many errors were made, we also saw the accomplishments to the benefit of the people, that can happen only within a Revolution. We were faithful to the end, and the day that the elections were lost I remember as one of the saddest days of my life. All those lives sacrificed, all those efforts to improve the lives of the poorest. And they, the poor, voted against us. The Revolution of that time had an independent and honest Supreme Electoral Council and they did not change the data, resulting in a loss for the FSLN. Everything has its cause and effect. The people, with their vote, expressed their discontent.

In 1994 the FSLN organized a congress where there was an attempt to change their leadership and provide opportunities for an entire generation that had been formed in the revolutionary work with strict discipline, but without renouncing their own criteria and thinking. A renovation was needed. The group that was led by the Ortegas and some others, like Tomás Borge and Bayardo Arce, denied any change, and another group of high level leaders, led by Sergio Ramírez, Dora María Tellez, Luís Carrión, Victor Tirado left and formed another party, The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). The first group was left with the symbols of the FSLN.

Since then the MRS became for them traitors, and they accused them of everything that tends to happen in Nicaragua, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. Very soon this party was stripped of their legal status. Nevertheless its members have always continued to be very active in politics, fighting and working for Nicaragua.

But the biggest betrayal of the FSLN was in 1998 when a shameful pact was made with the President of that time, Arnoldo Alemán, accused and sentenced as a thief. The FSLN pardoned his sentence, leaving him with with his booty and free from punishment. In exchange, the percentage needed to win the elections was lowered, and key posts in the branches of government were divided up, and since then they lost all their independence.

The most scandalous thing that they were able to cover up with the pact was the denouncement of sexual abuse from his adopted daughter, Zoilamerica Ortega Murillo, perpetrated by Daniel since she was eleven years old, before the triumph, when they were exiled in Costa Rica, and it continued on after the triumph of the Revolution. This was denounced in detail by she herself also in 1998. Rosario Murillo, her mother, also negotiated her power in exchange for protecting Daniel, accusing her daughter of lying and refusing her daughter all the support she needed. She currently lives in Costa Rica, because in Nicaragua she is denied opportunities to work and her partner was expelled from the country. In a speech Rosario said that she was ashamed of her daughter.

Daniel allied with the Catholic Church and penalized therapeutic abortion, a resource that had existed in the country for more than 100 years, for the purpose of ensuring the support of the Church. This has led to the death of hundreds of women. Doctors go to jail if they attend an abortion, even though the woman is in danger of death.

Thanks to these pacts Daniel returned to power in 2006. Likewise the history continued of abuses, ruses and electoral fraud, also changing the constitution to allow for re-election. Following later with a pact with private enterprise, with freedom to do all deals without state intervention and providing them with perks in taxes, etc. Everything, as long as they left him, Daniel, to do and undo whatever he wanted. In this way he was able to fulfill his objectives of illicit enrichment with every type of business managed by his children, and employing populism, giving handouts to poor people to get votes. He was doing all this using millions of dollars, aroud 500 million per year, that he was receiving from Venezuela. That money never came into the coffers of the state, forming a separate company for the exclusive use of the President, and leaving Nicaragua with a debt of millions of dollars.

In full view and knowledge of the Nicaraguan people, he sold the sovereignty of Nicaragua to a Chinese shell company for the construction of an interoceanic canal in Lake Cocibolca, the greatest reserve of fresh water in Central America. The purpose of this was to buy the lands that surround the lake at their property registry value, which are the most valuable tourist reserves of Nicaragua. Their owners are peasants who refuse to sell their lands, where they were born and were raised, and who intelligently know that they are the future for their children. Here is where the true rebellion began. They are not accepting selling at any price. This story began five years ago. International water experts have come in to give conferences on the ecological damage this would cause. The protest marches that the peasant have been doing with great frequency have prevented the beginning of the construction work.

It has to be noted that the policies that the IMF imposes have been strictly implemented by this government that calls itself, socialist, Christian and in solidarity, impoverishing with adjustment policies the poorest and benefitting the richest. Even though it is true that according to the World Bank poverty has been reduced in Nicaragua, it established a patronage model, and Venezuelan money was used to do big business deals. Nicaragua is considered as one of the countries with the most number of millionaires of Central America according to Global Watch Report 2014. At the same time Nicaragua today continues to be the second poorest country of Latin America and the third most corrupt (Infobae). The government that calls itself anti-imperialist needs the resources of the empire and depends on them. The only thing leftist it has left is the discourse.

We are experiencing exactly the opposite of what the first proclamation of the FSLN said, which this long letter began by citing. We have returned to repeat the same and painful history of abuse, repression, murder, jail, torture and persecution. I am not exaggerating if I tell you that our lives are in danger, above all those of us who really are fighting without weapons, more with words and denouncements. We are waging a civic struggle. We have against us a police force that responds only to Daniel, and an illegal group with weapons of war and faces covered, para police forces that shoot lead bullets mercilessly and without feeling against defenseless people, be they civilians, youth, priests or children. Since April 18th we have more than 400 people killed with shots directed at the chest, thorax, back or head. Unfortunately we have a good amount of youth whose lives have been changed forever, because of the impact received they have been left paraplegic or without an eye, because of the rubber bullets they received. Several hundred political prisoners, many of them savagely tortured. Hundreds of disappeared. Large amounts of youth who have had to migrate illegally through the borders to save their lives. Thousands who are in hiding for being on the list with death threats. As an example, Carlos Mejía Godoy saw himself forced to seek exile in Costa Rica. What I tell you is not an exaggeration. These are moments of terror. Everyone in the country closes their doors at 6pm. During the entire day one is exposed to being stopped, without any type of order or reason, even by para police, because if not, one runs the risk of receiving one or several bullets. They get you out of the vehicle, ask for your cell phone and review your contacts. They can go through what you have because they suspect that it can be food for people who are in hiding out of fear of being jailed. Very similar to what was experienced in Chile with Pinochet. We are waging a civic struggle, self convened, the only flags that wave in our marches are the blue and white of the Country and we encourage one another with slogans like “They were students, not murderers” and protest music.

The Catholic Church has played a role of prophet and the defense of human rights, exposing their bodies to the murderous bullets to stop attacks against the population. They have been beaten and insulted. Their word has been inspired in denouncement and in defense of justice. Just as I am critical with the behavior of the church in everything related to abortion, on this occasion I feel proud of being Church. I believe that I am not mistaken if I tell you that this behavior of the church is unprecedented. Two bishops were those who set the standard for this very extraordinary twist: The auxiliary Bishop of Managua, Mons. Silvio Báez, and the Bishop of Matagalpa, Mons. Rolando Álvarez, both Nicaraguans and have received serious death threats. In general all the bishops, priests, delegates of the word, catequists have been risen to the challenge, opening the doors of the churches to provide refuge to those who are persecuted and curing the wounded. The hospitals have fired from their jobs all the doctors and medical staff who tended the wounded. Several of the wounded died for being denied medical attention in the public hospitals.

The protest marches are massive and I participate in all with my blue and white flag, with the danger of receiving a bullet. But it is what I can do. Making statements with my face uncovered, demonstrating and helping, visiting and consoling. The day of the march that we called “The March of the Mothers”, in addition to being impressively huge, was May 30th, Mother´s day in Nicaragua. That day we remembered the mothers who had lost their children in the previous month and a half. The government put sharpshooters stationed in the high point of the new recently inaugurated baseball stadium, ready to kill at the end of the march. The result- 18 young people killed, many with bullets to the head from Dragunov weapons. As you can see the Police obey Daniel, and the Army, called to prevent armed groups outside the law, has declared itself to be impartial. A clear form of support to this government. One more sign about how Daniel and Rosario were able to coopt the Police, the Army and all branches of government to their benefit,.

The purpose of this letter is to share my vision from my Christian commitment and from the analysis of a heart-wrenching reality. The blood that has run in Nicaragua in the last four months of so many young people motivates me to share this letter with you, someone who I sincerely esteem.

My family continue seriously committed, but for a change that would benefit the great majority. Like in 1979, when our lives took a turn to work and achieve the utopia that our faith feeds. A change that would bring justice and democracy. The God of life, who is Father and Mother, will listen to our voices and will console our tears. I cry out to Him and in He I hope and trust.

A big hug with the usual affection,

Pinita

 

 

 

Boys Will Be Boys

We didn’t know their names.  We hadn’t seen their faces.  We really didn’t know much of anything about them, except that there were twelve soccer players altogether, accompanied by their coach.  They had crawled up into the inner reaches of a cave, exploring with the excitement and energy that 12-year old boys seem to have, when outside rains created rising waters inside the cave, submerging the very passages that the boys had used hours before.  They became trapped.

We all know the story by now, as it became a topic of international attention.  News sources from around the world featured daily updates about the fate of the boys; indeed, nine days elapsed before rescuers even discovered the boys still alive, but each and every day we received updates about rescuers’ progress.  It was no less than a miracle that the team survived so long underground.  And then we waited and watched as rescue teams- made up of Thai, U.S. and other international support- completed the meticulous planning and execution of the rescue itself.  In the end, there was a universal sigh of relief from all corners of the globe that these young lives had been saved.  Maybe the world needed a unified success in something, anything, at this time of extreme nationalism and name-calling.

The international interest and support puzzles me.  I readily understand the empathy and emotional attachment that we feel: imagining one’s own children in such dire circumstances is a nightmare that most parents have, and to which even non-parents can relate.  The anguish and outrage expressed in the U.S. on behalf of children separated from their parents at the border with Mexico demonstrated our ability to activate on behalf of kids.  But the capture of the entire international conscience over the fate of 12 boys astounds me.  There have been and continue to be almost daily events which threaten the lives of children, in many cases far more than a dozen young lives, and for which we show almost casual interest at best.  Sometimes the young lives are lost, and the world takes little note.  Middle East violence has destroyed young lives as a matter of policy.  Syrian war has made no distinctions between use of nerve gas on adults or children.  In Nicaragua, young people are being killed or “disappeared” each day during the current political turmoil, and the world barely knows of it.  What made the Thai soccer team so different for us?

Was it the uniforms?  Was there something about the context of a boys’ athletic team?  Perhaps the difference was due to the nature of the threat: not imposed by politics or other man-made conventions, but rather from Nature herself.  Maybe it’s easier to root for people confronting the forces of natural calamity than to be forced to choose sides in a conflict.  Someone suggested to me that we have a limited capacity for empathy in crises, and that we are more capable of emotion for smaller numbers of victims: we can handle our fears and grief for 12, but it’s much more difficult for, say, 1,000.  For whatever the reason, we seem to pick and choose the victims who we will care about.  It baffles me.  And I feel badly for those other victims who wait for the caress of human accompaniment, prayers and support, even when it never comes.

My reflections over this brought to mind a scene from the movie, “Schindler’s List,” where Schindler is in despair over Jews he could not ultimately help away from Nazi danger, despite his urgent desire to save them:

“I could have got more out.  I could have got more.  I don’t know.  If I’d just…  I could have got more….  If I’d made more money.  I threw away so much money.  You have no idea.  If I’d just….

I didn’t do enough!  This car.  Someone would have bought this car.  Why did I keep the car?  Ten people right there.  Ten people.  Ten more people.  This pin.  Two people.  This is gold.  Two more people.  He would have given me two for it, at least one.  One more person.  I could have gotten one more person… and I didn’t.  And I… didn’t.” 

Sometimes conscience is too slow, or too selective, and becomes numbed by the happy drama of boys being boys….

 

 

 

Father’s Day

Yesterday was Father’s Day in the U.S. , that commercial innovation designed to sell goods and greeting cards and, oh yes, to recognize the important role of dads in our society.  The date also happens to be my wedding anniversary, that moment in time forty-six years ago when Katie and I formed our official Sheppard partnership.  It’s a nice overlap.  Certainly, the marital partnership led to the four children who called their father yesterday with thanks and good wishes.  Marriage and fatherhood.  It was a good day.

It seems conventional and predictable, to celebrate these kinds of events in our lives.  That does not diminish their enjoyment, but it recognizes the expectation that celebrations of family are meant to happen, and often.  I felt a special gratitude yesterday, maybe because I keep getting older, with an increasing awareness that, despite their regularity, these special days are finite in life.  Or maybe there was a nagging awareness in the back of my mind about children elsewhere in our country being separated from their fathers and mothers in the name of the law.  And that is disturbing.

My intention here is not to wade into the great immigration debate within our country; there are enough voices disagreeing about that already.  But there is a distinction between enforcing border security versus tearing families apart as a punishment for border violation.  The practice is not only philosophically reprehensible, even as a deterrent to illegal immigration, but carries an eerie similarity to the separation of Jewish children from their parents at Nazi concentration camps.  Our nation’s posture on this matter is an expression of our values and our morality; I wonder whether this is truly a reflection of who we have become as a people.

The U.S. Attorney General has responded to the criticisms of this policy of separation by observing, “Well, we are not putting them in jail.”  To excuse an abusive and inhumane practice by comparing it to something even worse is no excuse at all.  At the end of the day, after all the explanations and defenses and rationalizations, children are being taken from their parents. In some cases, according to government personnel, they are taken under the pretext of taking them for a bath, and with no guarantee of ever being reunited with mom and dad.  It’s a punishment which the children do not deserve in any context.  But here in the U.S.?

Further defense of the practice falls along the lines of “the law,” that the law requires that this practice be carried out, and that if the practice is to end, it must be the U.S. Congress (noted these days for its inability to pass any kind of meaningful legislation) which takes the responsibility.  But it must be noted that the immigration law being referenced in this defense was also the law under at least two previous administrations.  In neither case was the separation of families used as a means of torture.

We are at an immigration crossroads in our country.  The topic has been discussed and debated, leveraged and used, with words couched in sympathy and actions devoid of empathy: more than 1300 children have been separated from their families thus far.  The untruths about which political party is more to blame is meaningless.  On Father’s Day, 2018, children are being separated from their families.  That’s all we need to know.

I had a memorable Father’s Day and anniversary yesterday.  It was a good day.  But it could have been a lot better….

 

 

The Way We Look

On a particularly dark and blustery day in January, I hiked across campus, a briefcase in hand, though I wanted desperately to put my hand in my deep coat pocket.  I came upon the only other human being I could see, looking out from the narrowest of openings in the hood of my storm coat.  In fact, I recognized the man and I offered a “good morning,” though he could not possibly have known who I was.  The day was too cold for me to stop and identify myself and his hurried passage let me know that he felt the same.

Once inside the building, I shed my high-tech barriers to the cold and stepped into the rest room to shake off the cold and un-bunch my sweater (something that cold weather people do as a matter of course).   While I was there, the professor hosting my appearance in class came in, too, and remarked about my heavy Filson sweater..  “Wow,” he exclaimed, “nice look! You always have such great sweaters.”

After the class, I mentioned to my host that I was headed for the athletic center to run indoors, since there was no way I was even thinking about an outdoor jog.  He said that he was headed for the center, as well,  and we braved the winter once more to the lower campus.  As we changed into running clothes,  a handball friend of mine stopped by to chat.  We regularly berate and tease one another to maintain our healthy competitive relationship, and this day he  said, with a mixture of derision and compliment, “Wow, you really are in shape!  I wouldn’t have expected an old guy to still have such pins. Too bad they don’t help you on the court.  But at least your legs look strong!”

I laughed him off.  I ran the indoor oval by myself, glad for the run and the chance to burn off some nervous energy.  I was scheduled for a small but uncomfortable surgical procedure that afternoon at the local clinic, and the exercise provided good preparation:  I was tired enough that the discomfort was minimal and the process short.  Better yet, the news that afternoon was good: the doctor came back into the exam room to say that the results were excellent.  “The pictures we got from inside were even better than what we could tell outside,” he offered.  “You look good.”

I felt some relief at my prognosis, so much so that I actually stopped by the church to offer a few thoughts of gratitude inside the quiet sanctuary.  As I sat alone, however, the senior pastor happened to walk in and saw me sitting alone.  He tentatively approached, not wishing to intrude but not daring to ignore.  I assured him that my visit was one of thanks and not petitioning.  He smiled at that, and replied,  “I’m available in any case, if you like.  I’d never presume to know what anyone’s thinking to bring them here late on a weekday.”

By the time I reached home, the events of the day had worked their way deep into my energy reserves.  I flopped into a recliner chair and allowed the footrest to lift my feet.  I lay there for several minutes, replaying the events and the people of the day.  I hoped that my next opportunity to speak with a class might allow a focus on layers, from parkas to physiques, from anatomy to the content of my character….

 

 

 

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….

 

 

 

Grant-Making in Nicaragua

The following reflection was written during my recent week in Nicaragua.  I had the unusual experience of writing it on paper, with a pencil, no less.  It was composed in nearly “real time,” as if for a journal, and only minutes after the experience occurred.  Maybe that’s partly how it came to be such a personal, emotional record.  (And for the record, writing with paper and pencil still works.)

The time is 8:35.  We are overnighting in the municipality of El Cua, in the department of Jinotega.   The mountains of Peñas Blancas are just behind us; indeed, the road from the mountains to El Cua features some of the most beautiful kms anywhere on earth.  The vistas around each corner are filled with valleys and peaks that truly steal the breath away.  Hotel El Chepita is arguably one of the more modern accommodation in the town,  though in order to flush the toilet in my bathroom, I am required to lift up on the back of the toilet until the stopper, which is somehow attached to the tank lid, is pulled up and the flush can commence.

We are a little late getting in.  We arrive to an empty registration desk and even the desk bell fails to summon anyone to receive us.  Mark calls the phone number for the hotel and we can hear the distant ringing of a phone, but it has no more effect than the bell.  A guest from the lobby, impatiently waiting to retrieve her room key,  comes to the desk and bangs on that desk bell with a fury.  But the assault proves to be no more effective than the other summons, so we simply wait and discuss other lodging options.

After maybe 15 minutes, a young woman comes running to the desk with profuse apologies and a promise to get us registered immediately.  She defends herself by explaining that she is the only person working at the hotel in that moment and she is having understandable difficulty covering all bases.  As she records our identities, she does inquire whether it would be acceptable if one of the rooms has no TV.  Since I still do not speak Spanish with any skill even approaching “just getting by,” a TV is of no import to me so the registration continues.

The room, not unexpectedly, is sparse in its appointments.  There is no chair.  No table.  No clothing hooks adorn the walls, the bathroom has no counters, my room looks directly across the narrow street to a discotheque (yes, even in this era) and the music there is only drowned out by the persistent roar of motorcycle and truck engines racing down our street.  I can shut my slat-style windows, but I need the air in my air-conditioner-free room.  Besides, two of the glass louvers are missing from my windows, so the effectiveness in shutting out noise is highly suspect.  But the barking dogs in the property next to ours do take a break every half-hour or so to rest their voices.

My room is dark and hot.  (Oh-oh, there go the dogs again.)  I keep the single overhead light turned off, to reduce the heat and the depressing feeling that overhead lights always convey to me.  The overhead fan tries hard to keep up with the heat in this upstairs room, but the blades cannot turn fast enough to generate any meaningful cooling.  All I can do is to lie on my bed in the dark and read by the light of my Kindle.  I keep the bathroom light on, though, because the 8 o’clock hour is too early to fall asleep for the night, even in weary Nicaragua.

Staring across the room into that dimly-lit WC gives me pause to wonder to myself how I possibly came to be in a place like this on a Tuesday in March.  It is certainly unlike any place I ever experience in the course of my “normal” life.

And that is precisely the point.  The sounds, the smells, the conditions reveal the life of rural Nicaragua in ways that words or even photographs cannot.  At this moment, I would not choose to be in any other place but this.  In a single, isolated moment I am confronted with gratitude for the good fortune of my life, the shame of my self-centeredness, a humility at my recognition of being the most fortunate of men, an anger that I have not shown the strength and wisdom to have accomplished more, a thankfulness for the men and women here who have taught me even as I posed as the teacher, and gratefulness at being permitted to be among people who are at war with the injustice of their poverty.  Ironically, this place and time represents privilege: my privilege at the opportunity to become a part of their lives, if only for a short time.

To be sure, this evening I miss my wife and the comforts of our Iowa home, as I always do when I travel.  But I am filled up tonight in ways that I could not at home.  In this moment, it turns out that the most important grant during this trip is the one made to me….