A strategy to displace the regime through peaceful means and begin a process of democratic change.
At the beginning of the year, the task asserts itself of seeing the prospects that are presented to our country for 2020 in the political, economic and social planes. Logically, the starting point is an assessment of what happened in the year that just ended, since the social and political processes continue their course and dynamics.
I want to clarify that I will not do a detailed recounting of events, but a panoramic review, focusing on what I think is central.
Let us start with the political field. Throughout the first semester, and more specifically between February and July, the dynamic was marked by the negotiations between the leaders of the regime and the representatives of the Civic Alliance. An unexpected encounter between Ortega and prominent businessmen served as the scenario to open the cycle. A notable fact of that stage was the withdrawal of the Catholic hierarchy from the role of mediator that they had played in 2018. They saw it coming and took their hands out of the fire. After the first month some general agreements were signed, that Ortega did not implement. The negotiations stagnated until the bigshot buried the process in the month of July.
What lessons can we draw from the negotiations with Ortega?
The big lesson is that for Ortega the dialogues are simply delaying or diversionary tactics which are part of his war strategy, and not a resource to find agreed upon solutions to the crisis that the country is undergoing. Ortega intends to subject or crush, through deceit, bribery or force. In 2018 he resorted to the first dialogue because of the internal pressure. He took on commitments. He pushed and pulled. And aborted the process when he felt that he had controlled the situation with fire and blood.
In 2019 he ran to call for negotiations when Juan Guaidó erupted in Venezuela, within a strategy combined with threats from the US administration, and actions of the international community, principally the Lima Group. The moment appeared to portend the imminent fall of Madura and Ortega, who tried to take precautions in the face of the risk of being left in the middle of the street, naked and feeble. When the threat dissipated, and he felt the danger exorcised, he started kicking the table again.
It is important to highlight this lesson, because Ortega will use the same ploy again when he feels the water up to his neck again. Let us remember that Maduro has called for eleven dialogues. The corollary is: the only language that Ortega understands is that of the correlation of forces, and therefore the prescription is to not give him breathing room and “squeeze and squeeze” as much as possible.
The positive aspect of this stage was the release from jail of a significant proportion of political prisoners. The way in which the release happened – an absolutist wave of the hand – showed that in reality it was a matter of hostages, which the regime used as a bargaining chip in the give and take, principally in light of the international community.
The second semester was marked predominantly by the expectations and actions of the international community: the opening of the procedure for the application of the Democratic Charter on the part of the OAS; the declarations of condemnation of different bodies of the European Union; the sanctions imposed by Canada and the United States, as well as the suspension of bilateral aid on the part of some European countries; they deepened the international isolation of the regime. To that is added the fall of Evo Morales, which broke a link in the chain with Cuba and Venezuela.
Nevertheless, the most decisive blows were the sanctions imposed on BANCORP, the financial arm of the business conglomerate of the ruling clique, and financial platform for the trafficking and laundering of capital. More than $2.7 billion of Ortega´s capital was under the custody of that bank in the form of trust funds. With its closing, it is a mystery where that capital has taken refuge.
The other blow were the sanctions against DNP, the head of one of the most lucrative, fraudulent businesses of the regime, that is, the company for the import and commercialization of hydrocarbons at onerous prices.
In both cases, BANCORP and DNP, the shameful confusion was made evident between public patrimony and the business interests of the ruling family. With BANCORP the operation was scuttled that intended to transform it into a state bank through a law that Ortega´s deputies approved, but was left non nata. The sanctions arrived before that, and did not leave any option but to proceed with its liquidation. With DNP they nationalized the inventory to ensure its liquidity at prices that would be borne by the backs of the people. But the lucrative business was deflated.
Based on these dynamics two constants occurred: fierce repression and the cancelation of citizen rights and freedoms, as the sole mechanisms for holding onto power. And the progressive economic and social deterioration, that affects families and businesses of every size. Unemployment, business closings, contraction of bank credit, loss of income, migration, impoverishment, indebtedness of families and businesses, economic recession.
In terms of the opposition, there are bright and somber elements. The ruling clique maintains power, but has not been able to re-establish “normality”. At the point of repression it keeps massive expressions of protest contained, but the rejection of most of the population is growing, likewise recurrent demonstrations of resistance leak out, particularly from families of victims and political prisoners.
It is appropriate, likewise, to record the progress in the unification of forces and efforts. We can cite: the publication of proposals for serious changes, on the part of COSEP, the Civic Alliance and the Blue and White Unity, which offer the bases for a substantial strategic agreement; the structuring of a proposal for electoral reforms, in spite of the fact that an electoral scenario is not visible; and the efforts to build a national democratic coalition. Slow and insufficient progress, certainly, but progress in the end.
With this background, the immediate challenge is, beyond the declarations of intentions, to agree upon a strategy that:
Unite different political and social sectors committed to democracy;
Connect the short and medium term
Articulate the international plane, citizen mobilization, political communication, organization and reaching out to the daily problems and anxieties of the population, through the accompaniment of their demand with proposals and actions;
Have the explicit purpose of displacing the regime through peaceful means and beginning a process of democratic change
In light of recent incidents were several parishes supporting mothers of political prisoners on hunger strikes were harassed and attacked by Sandinista supporters, the online news magazine nicaraguainvestiga did this report. Fr. Román and the mothers mentioned at the end of this article were evacuated from his church in Masaya on Nov 22nd, and were taken to the Vivian Pellas Hospital.
The Catholic Church, on Daniel Ortega´s enemies list
Looting, destruction, fires, death threats, physical aggression of priests and exile for others are some of the practices which have been directed against the Catholic Church in Nicaragua since the social conflict exploded in April 2018.
According to the “International Report on Religious Liberty”, published by the United States, the State of Nicaragua does not allow freedom of worship in the country. Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes has stated that the role of the church has been being “on the side of the victims”.
Some Catholic churches functioned as refuges for opposition demonstrators, and the bells of some churches were rung as a sign of warning each time that a city was attacked, above all in the provinces and small towns like Jinotepe and Masaya.
Likewise, some parishes were collection and medical attention centers in the face of the refusal of hospitals to treat wounded demonstrators. This is the case of the Cathedral of Managua that on April 20 sheltered dozens of youth who were fleeing the state repression, and which remained under siege and threatened in the religious compound for more than 20 hours.
In May 2018 the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua (ECN) were witnesses and mediators to the National Dialogue, and one week after starting the National Dialogue, the ECN denounced death threats and the discrediting of bishops and priests, above all against Mons. Silvio José Báez who usually spoke strongly against the government of Ortega.
The ECN stated in their press release that the attacks were “from the Government, orchestrated by anonymous official journalists and communications media on Facebook and Twitter”.
Like the bishops, some priests denounced having individually been the object of threats and aggressions, like the pastor of the Santiago the Apostle Church in Jinotepe, Juan de Dios García, who denounced that in May 2018 he was the victim of death threats on the part of Sandinista sympathizers after having provided refuge to young demonstrators.
Mobs Attacked the Bishops in Diriamba
One of the actions that most caused condemnation among Nicaraguans happened on July 9, 2018 in the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian in Diriamba, when Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes along with Mons. Silvio Báez, the Apostolic Nuncio Waldemar Stanislaw Sommertag and other priests of the Archdiocese of Managua, were attacked by Sandinista mobs.
The religious arrived due to the fact that there was a group of 12 demonstrators in the church who sought refuge inside the Church after Sandinista paramilitaries were found in the city carrying out Operation Cleanup, which consisted in violently removing the roadblocks with firearms. The Catholic authorities showed up there to mediate the departure of the demonstrators, but the paramilitaries along with the FSLN mobs attacked the religious. From the time the priests got out of their vehicles they were insulted by Sandinista mobs who shouted at them “Murderers, coup supporters, pedophiles” and they in turn shouted “we want peace.”
Mons. Báez was wounded in his right arm by a knife. “Attacked by an angry mob that wanted to enter the San Sebastian Basilica in Diriamba, I was wounded, hit in the stomach, they took my episcopal insignia from me, and verbally attacked me. I am fine thanks to God. The Basilica and those who were there were freed”, wrote Bishop Báez in his Twitter account. Days before the event the ex-Sandinista guerrilla Edén Pastora publicly threatened Báez with death, saying on an official television channel that “bullets pass through cassocks.”
After the attack, Cardinal Brenes stated to the communications media, “We have never seen situations like this in Nicaragua. Our word has been proclaimed, we were content in the midst of weaknesses, insults.” That same day in Jinotepe the Santiago Apostle Church was looted by Sandinista mobs who beat the priest Elías Hernández, broke religious statues, threw some objects that are used to celebrate the Eucharist into the street, and some medical items that are used to treat the wounded were set on fire. The priest´s house was also destroyed by the mobs.
For her part, the Vice president Rosario Murillo stated in her midday speech that July 9th that the ECN had notified them of the visit that the bishops would make to Diriamba, and that they would be accompanied by the Nuncio. Likewise, Murillo justified the actions of her mobs and said, “we understand that those emotions and this suffering were expressed. We are sure that the Nuncio understands how they are expressed and precisely how we Christians give witness to how our feelings are expressed.”
According to the Canon Law expert Fr. Camilo Díaz, that action represented part “of the religious persecution whose objective is to silence the church” that has publicly denounced and condemned the repressive actions that the civilian population has suffered during the political crisis.
Armed attack against a parish
On July 13, 2018 the parish Divina Misericordia was attacked for more than 15 hours by officials of the National Police and paramilitaries, who had removed at bullet point the youth who were entrenched in the Autonomous National University of Nicaragua (UNAN) Managua, and decided to take refuge in the parish.
The spray of bullets can still be seen on the walls of the Church and the priest´s residence of the parish located in Villa Fontana, Managua. “It was a devastating attack, with high calibre weapons. Military type bullets that even caused large holes in the walls of the priests´ residence” said the pastor Raúl Zamora, who worked to get wounded youth out of the UNAN and take them to the church in his pickup truck so that they did not end up murdered.
In the early morning of July 14, after mediating with Daniel Ortega, Cardinal Brenes along with other bishops of the ECN were able to get the youth to leave the parish on two buses on route to the Cathedral of Managua. Two young people Gerald Vásquez and Francisco Flores were killed that night as a result of the armed attack.
Ongoing siege of parishes
In 2019, especially starting in April, Catholic Churches have been seen to be constantly under siege and attacked by Sandinista sympathizers every time that masses are celebrated in memory of the demonstrators who died because of the state repression.
The last case occurred on Sunday November 17 in Matagalpa, in a mass in memory of the ex political prisoner Eddy Montes, who died in the Jorge Navarro Penitentiary System known as “La Modelo”, after a guard shot him in the thorax.
During the mass in memory of Montes, Sandinista mobs threw stones and attacked the faithful and some demonstrators who showed up to shout slogans outside of the San Felipe de Molagüina church, which is why a large police presence also arrived to besiege the church.
Likewise this past June 15th, Sandinista mobs along with the National Police attacked and threw stones at the faithful who arrived at the mass in memory of the altar boy Sandor Dolmus in the Cathedral of León.
In the report of the US State Department on the state of religious liberty on the international level, it highlights that in Nicaragua religious leaders find themselves under “threats, intimidation and persecution”, and mentions that the Ortega government accused the Catholic Church of being “terrorist and mentally dangerous”.
On July 19, 2018 in a public speech Daniel Ortega accused the bishops of the ECN of being “committed to the coup supporters. They were part of the plan with the coup supporters” and called them “terrorists”.
“I know clearly who is behind the roadblocks, in other words, encouraging crimes that on principle, as Christians, as pastors they should be completely rejecting, any crime (…) It has nothing to do with Christians and they act with a terrorist, criminal mentality. They happily joined the terrorist and criminal coup”, declared Ortega in another speech in December of last year.
Recently Ortega said in another public speech about the bishops that “there are a few schizophrenic and whitened sepulchers who are part of the conspiracy (…) They want to crucify Nicaragua”.
Another aspect that the US report details is the political manipulation of religious festivals, like the celebration of San Jeronimo in Masaya in 2018, which the Catholic Church refused to celebrate out of respect for the grief of the families of the mortal victims of the repression.
“The clergy cancelled the traditional patron feasts to respect the grief of the families who lost their loved ones during the protests, and announced that in stead they would mark the occasion with a mass. The municipal government officials of the FSLN, along with the local police, ignored the decision of the clergy, and held a parade with a replica of the statue of the original patron saint. At a very loud volume they played a mixture of religious and party music outside of the church during the mass”, detailed the State Department report.
Bishop Abelardo Mata stated that “the government through the institution of the police and other similar groups has intensified the persecution of our faithful, terrorizing them by filming them, taking their pictures, verbal and physical attacks and besieging the churches in the midst of liturgical actions.”
For his part, Fr. Edwin Román, pastor of the San Miguel Arcángel Church of Masaya, said that “coming to the church to surround it and then arrest those who leave is unheard of. The faithful and we priests go to the parishs to celebrate mass, worship God, and the people come to pray for the dead, for those who were murdered. They are not bearing bombs, they do not bear weapons, they go to celebrate mass.”
Today Fr. Román remains detained in his own parish in Masaya along with a group of mothers of political prisoners who have declared themselves to be in a hunger strike to demand the liberation of their prisoners. The San Miguel Church, where the priest is located, remains under siege by the National Police who cordoned off the zone in at least a 2 block radius around it and are not allowing vehicular access.
They have also cut off the potable water and electric energy services. A group of activists approached the night of November 15th to try to leave water for the priest, but the officers prevented them from approaching and detained 13 people who were brought to trial this November 18th.
Meanwhile the priest and the mothers in the hunger strike, remain dehydrated, without electric energy, food, besieged and harassed by the National Police and Sandinista mobs who threaten to “enter at any moment” and make an attempt on the life of the priest and the rest of the people.
Mothers of political prisoners have been holding a hunger strike in a parish in Masaya, and the parish has been besieged by riot police who have closed off access to the church, arrested 13 activists who brought them water. The police are also besieging 6 parishes in Managua, Masaya and Matagalpa, as well as the Jesuit University in Managua (UCA). This letter was issued on Nov 20, 2019.
San Salvador, November 20, 2019
The Conference of Jesuit Provincials of Latin America and the Caribbean – CPAL
The Central American Province of the Society of Jesus, and
The Association of Universities entrusted to the Society of Jesus in Latin America – AUSJAL
Uniting our voices to that of the Bishops of Nicaragua and many other social actors, we make an urgent call to the international community that they show their firm rejection of the way in which the government of Nicaragua, through its security forces, have been disrespectful of the civil rights established in the national constitution:
Repressing demonstrations of peaceful protest
Provoking opposition individuals and groups to justify their own violence
Inhibiting the right to religious freedom and freedom of association
Arresting and disappearing opposition activists
Accusing their opponents of crimes which they did not commit
Preventing humanitarian works and acts of peaceful civil disobedience
Falsely and slanderously accusing authorities of the Catholic Church, among others.
We state our special solidarity for Fr. Edwin Román and all the mothers of families who are fasting in Masaya to ask that their jailed children be freed, as well as for the 13 activists detained recently for taking them water to ease their hunger strike. We condemn the taking of the Cathedral of Managua and the aggressions against Fr. Rodolfo López and Sr. Arelys Guzmán, as well as the siege of several Parishes.
We condemn the provocation of the students of the Central American University (UCA) on the part of anti-riot groups of the government, who once again, yesterday November 19, 2019, suffered their harassment in the installations of the Central American University in Managua. We reject and condemn the attempt of these groups, controlled by the government, to violate the campus of the University.
We ask Mr. Daniel Ortega that he immediately order the end to the harassment, aggression and violation of the human and civil rights of the members of the opposition, and we exhort all those responsible for these harassments to set aside this posture. “The pain that the Nicaraguans have suffered is too much. The families who find themselves harassed bear dual sufferings; the lack of freedom of their jailed family members and now, the state of siege that is an attack against their lives” (press release of the Episcopal Conference).
To the INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY in humanitarian organizations, religious and humanitarian organizations, international organizations, democratic governments of the world, and particularly in Europe and America, we ask you to exercise your best efforts to ensure the return of Nicaragua to the democratic system through:
The public call for immediate respect for the civil rights enshrined in the Nicaraguan national constitution: freedom of worship, freedom of movement, freedom for peaceful protest, freedom of political organization, freedom of the press and information, freedom of research and learning;
The international public condemnation of the methods of repression that have resulted in more than 300 people murdered, more than 2,000 Nicaraguans wounded and more than 700 political prisoners, of whom more than 150 continue in jail;
The activation of the Interamerican Democratic Charter (OAS) to prevent a greater bloodletting of the Nicaraguan people, tired of so much oppression, extreme poverty and manipulation on the part of the regime, as well as to prevent the intervention of foreign powers who might want to benefit at this moment from very severe political crisis.
We send a special greeting and our solidarity to all the victims of violence in Nicaragua. We assure them of our fraternal support and our willingness to continue fighting for a more just and democratic society.
We implore the blessing of God on all, so that we might know how to be agents of reconciliation in justice and truth.
Rolando Alvarado, S.J. Ernesto Cavassa, S.J.
Provincial for Central America President of AUSJAL
by Fabiola Zeledón, Freddy Pérez, Claudio Hernández, Hulda Miranda, Rebeca Espinoza and René Mendoza
Juan, president of the cooperative, got off the bus, and walked like a rooster, with his chest held high.
-Greetings, young lady. I am the president of the cooperative
-Good day, Juan.
-Call me “Mr Juan”. I was born a leader. I am the way, the truth and the money, hahaha.
-Ahh… Who said that…?
Didn´t you hear me…? Tell your Dad to send his contributions. I will give him a loan.
A sparrow that was flying around the area, seeing that was happening, crashed against a tree. The bird couldn´t believe what it was hearing!
When at last there was a restructuring of the organs and administration of a cooperative, winds of change were felt. Among other reasons, the cooperative was founded to be a democratic space and a place for learning for the members. Nevertheless, a short time after the changes, the cooperative tends to return to its old course: hierarchical structure, absence of information, disillusioned members, lack of ownership… How things change so as to not change. Why do we trip over the same stone time and time again? Here, in contrast to the sparrow, we reflect on what is happening. Then we add a second question: How can we avoid this stone and walk along the cooperative path without “crashing” into the first tree? In this article we reflect on these questions based on our own experience of recovering a cooperative.
1. That tripping stone
In Chapter 12 to 16 of the Book of Revelation in the Bible, John, from the island of Patmos, warns about the first beast that shows itself to be powerful. But he warns us that its power comes from another beast, that we should not get confused. That second beast also is powerful, but its power is not its own either, but comes from a third beast. Something similar happens in a good number of cooperatives. See Figure 1.
The manager or president personified in a person tends to appear as the patron. He says: “Aid organizations only write to me”; “I am going to give the members directions because you are like children”; “I give you loans”; “You owe me”. The members resign themselves: “to whatever he says”; “we are small producers”; “I go to him for loans”. The leader or patron who centralizes decisions and concentrates resources, ends up believing that there is no need for assemblies, that he was born a leader and that is sacred. If some institution sees that that cooperative is like a hacienda, the patron shouts to the four winds about “autonomy” and against “third party [outside] actors”. He believes himself to be the general assembly, oversight board, administrative council and manager all rolled into one. The members dream of one day becoming that patron; Fanon said that then in Algeria: “The oppressed dream about being the oppressor”.
But his power is not his own. He or she is the face, generally, of a group that is as global as it is local, who live off the control of the resources that revolve around the cooperative. These include buyers, certifiers, agro-industry, State institutions, financial organizations…Behind these acronyms are individuals who manipulate their own organizations. They say: “information confuses the members”; “Buy coffee or cacao in the street and pass it off organic”. The patron senses that he lacks power, that his power comes from that group, so he goes to church and there whispers to himself: “I am not a bad person, I was tempted by money”.
The power of this group is not its own either. It comes from the patron-fieldhand structure, wedded to capitalism. This structure says: “everything is possible with money”; “more volume, more earnings”; “everything has already been studied”; “even God does not like stupid people”. Any natural force or wealth, economic wealth and friends of the member families remain diluted in the face of this structure.
Now we are able to understand how it is that we trip over the same stone. The saying goes: “human beings are the only animal that trips twice over the same stone”. We started a cooperative, and it is trapped by this harmful group, and this group responds to that hacienda and capitalist structure. If our patron is removed from his post, the new president or administrator takes his place, they make him repeat [his term] and keep him as an errand boy, while they make him believe that he is the top honcho! What happened? That structure awaits the new president or administrator as the “spare tire”, once he arrives, they exchange him for the “flat tire”, while the “vehicle” keeps rolling on. So it is that time and time again we trip over the same stone.
2. Walking on the cooperative path
There were elections in the Reynerio Tijerino cooperative. The members were happy.
-Luis Javier Vargas, a member, quoting the Bible, exclaimed: “When the just rule, the people are happy”
-the recently named president, Justo Rufino Espinoza, responded: “Let´s not be overconfident”.
It was a moment of joy, heart, reason and consciousness.
A hummingbird that was flying by, began to sing of joy.
When we began to get tired of tripping, discovering those three “beasts” woke us up. We refused to be that patron, that “spare tire”. The brief conversation between Luis Javier and Justo Rufino reveals that individual and collective combination, between emotion and reason, between hope and reality. A person makes themselves just, they are not born just. “In an open treasure, even the most just sins”, says an old saying, that is why the new president warned: “Let´s not be overconfident”. In other words, the cooperative has to create mechanisms to build trust and produce justice. How can it do so? Here we list some mechanisms.
The first is preparing for each activity. This means studying each situation and reflecting on the notes that we have taken of past conversations and meetings. Claudio Hernández says: “I have been taking notes for years, I can lose anything in my house, but not my notes”. Freddy Pérez adds: “If I would have known that my notes were important for learning, I would have taken notes sooner”. On the basis of notes and other information, we prepare ourselves for each meeting, negotiation and activity – imagining each detail before doing things. In this way we overcome the old practice of the patron, of doing things impulsively, because you feel safe under the shadow of the second beast, we overcome relying on the patron who says “leave it to me, I will solve it”. The more we prepare ourselves and coordinate as a group, the more our confidence increases and the more we help the cooperative.
The second mechanism is realizing that in the cooperative people have the power that comes from interpreting and applying the rules of the cooperative. These rules are the result of the decisions of the Assembly, wedded to the values of our communities. Our patron are the legitimate rules and processes. We guide ourselves by these rules, and we apply them through the corresponding organs. Our loyalty is not to money, but to the general assembly composed of the members, who produce these rules and who every three years elect other members for the different posts. Money is a means; the end are the members.
So if a member is looking for a loan, he goes to the credit committee, and follows the rules that the assembly of the cooperative approved. No one should take the place of the credit committee in a cooperative; it is not like in the haciendas, where the patron is at the same time the credit committee, general assembly, oversight board and manager. Our statutes tell us that profits are redistributed in the cooperative, therefore we must redistribute the profits of the cooperative. In a cooperative each member has rights, voice and vote, without regard to whether they produce a little or a lot, each member has the right to become president, to their part of the profits, and to have a copy of the statutes of their cooperative. In a cooperative the directions do not come down from above, they are made in the Assembly, and in the other organs of the cooperative. “Oh”, said Freddy Pérez, “I thought that being a board member was solving the problems of the members, rather it is the members who solve their problems through the cooperative”. “It pains me what I experienced, I know that I should not lend the money of the cooperative to the members, but I did it again”, expressed Claudio Hernández, recognizing that those “3 beasts” have formed a nest in our minds, but that our consciousness wrestles with them, and that being a cooperative is gaining more and more terrain. “We do not need credit, we need our profits”, insists Josué Moisés Ruíz.
The third mechanism is connecting the inside forces with the outside ones. Figure 2 shows the harmful leadership style, the patron who believes himself to be the door to the cooperative and to outside the cooperative; while Figure 3 shows the style of leadership that a real cooperative practices. If the cooperative is guided by its statutes, the State will legalize its path. If this process happens making its organs function, external institutions and aid agencies will respect the cooperative; they will treat it as a cooperative, and not as a hacienda arranging everything only with the patron. For example, the credit committee will meet with the institutions or organizations that might provide credit to the cooperative. The commercialization committee will meet with commercial enterprises and organizations that provide processing services for their products.
Internally, the members of the organs visit the members, and encourage them to visit one another as members. Members of the commercialization committee visit a member family, see their product and their wet mill, and at the same time come to understand the family in their multiple interests – most deeply felt needs and dreams; it is on this basis that the committee advances in their work strategies. The members of the oversight board, credit committee, education committee and the Administrative Council all do the same. A visit is a blessing that makes friendship and trust, loyalty and truth blossom. The more informed a member family is, the more it contributes with their ideas and oversight to the cooperative; the more connections are cemented in visits that generate friendship, the more the cooperatives become instruments for the majority of their members.
The fourth mechanism is that organizational improvement must improve our farms and homes. The cooperative is not there to apply agrochemical inputs and then lie, saying that we have organic production. Nor is producing an organic crop leaving it “without applying anything”. If we visit the member families, each family should visit their plants every day as well. The cooperative is not there so that our members might consume the coffee dregs, but to consume the best of their coffee, honey, grains, vegetables, bread and the best of their enchiladas…
3. In conclusion
This article is the product of 5 months of tension, and the pursuit of a cooperative to defend its rights, speak the truth and have the strength to change. This process taught us that a small group, in alliance, is capable of making cooperativism contagious. The biggest changes start in our own minds. The rule that “we will always need a patron” or that “leaders are born” comes from the hacienda institution and capitalism, and has built a nest in our minds. How can we get that idea out of our heads? To the extent that we reflect, demonstrating it, trying mechanisms out and being persistent, we can free ourselves from that idea.
At the beginning of the article we asked ourselves why we were tripping over the same stone. Throughout the article we have discovered the “three beasts”, who have trapped most of the cooperatives in our countries. These “beasts” make us trip time and time again.
The second question was how to avoid tripping again. We listed 4 mechanism that we have experimented with: preparing oneself for each meeting and not moving impulsively, following the rules of the cooperative, being a leader who connects with the members and the external actors, and making organizational improvement go hand in hand with the improvement of our production. Our aspiration is that these four mechanisms might help us to get those harmful norms out of our minds that come from the “3 beasts”. Being a cooperative is path that we peasant families need to hone. If we do it, the hummingbirds will be joyful as well, and the sparrows will not longer crash against any trees!
Let us end this article recalling another rule of the patron: “you should not help members, because they are ungrateful”, the patrons repeat. When Sandino decided to not surrender, General José María Moncada said to him, “The people are ungrateful; what is important is living well”. Sandino did not crack. There is no better gratitude than the members recovering their cooperative and closing the door on the thief, the patron, and the three beasts, and follow their own path.
These translations of two articles in La Prensa are examples of the situation that opponents of the regime continue to face: harassment by the police of a mass for the release of political prisoners, and prisoners held for more than a year without trial. They provide confirmation for the position of Yaser Morazón, when he says “if you demonstrate you are going to suffer, but if you do nothing you are going to live comfortably”.
Mass for the freedom of political prisoners in Masaya offered under the siege of the Orteguista Police
By Cinthya Tórrez García, Aug 28, 2019 in La Prensa
In addition to the Police, mobs aligned with the Ortega regime also showed up and shouted expletives from the park located in front of the church against the families of political prisoners and those released prisoners who attended the mass.
Contrary to what the dictator, Daniel Ortega, proclaims, that in Nicaragua there is religious freedom, Fr. Edwin Román, the pastor of the San Miguel Church in Masaya, this Wednesday had to celebrate mass for the freedom of political prisoners under the harassment of seven squads of the Orteguista Police, each one composed of some 10 policemen who stationed themselves around the church.
The general commissioner and also Assistant Director of the Orteguista Police, Ramón Avellán, was among the officers who monitored the Catholic Church while mass was held, attended by mothers of victims of political violence, prisoners released from jail, and family members of current political prisoners.
Mobs aligned with the Ortega regime joined the harassment of the police force, who shouted expletives from the park located in front of the church against the opponents of the regime.
One of the most tense moments happened almost at the end of the Eucharist. The police got down from the police trucks and formed a blockade with their shields in hand, covering two of the three exits of the church, in clear harassment of the opponents. Once the Eucharist ended, the faithful sang the National Anthem, left and formed a picket line in front of the uniformed officers, and shouted “murderers” at them, “the people united will never be defeated”.
The demonstrators threw out white and blue pieces of paper and balloons, symbols of the civic protest, while in front in the park the zealots of the dictatorship waved a red and black flag, and another white and blue one, without the shield in the middle. Both groups shouted their own slogans related to their convictions. Nevertheless, one of the Ortega sympathizers threw what appeared to be a bag of water at the principal entrance to the church. The Orteguista Police did not react.
For his part, Fr. Edwin Román, stated that the gospel shared this Wednesday addressed the issue of hypocrisy, which reflects what is being experienced in the country: “A government based on lies, hypocrisy, projecting a false image, talks about peace, love, and what it prescribes for us is death, violence, injustice”, he said.
Civic Alliance up to August 8 Counts 126 Political Prisoners of the Dictatorship
The dictatorship of Daniel Ortega is holding 126 political prisoners, one of whom is a woman, for participating in marches and protesting against the regime, reported Álvaro Vargas of the Civic Alliance (AC).
The AC reported that of the 126 political prisoners, 53 have been sentenced, 37 processed and 36 are jailed. Of the total 75 are jailed in some installation of the penitentiary system, 38 are in police stations, and 13 in Judicial assistance installations.
According to Vargas, the list is based on cases of political prisoners collected up to August 8th, but it will be updated next week.
Among the cases of political prisoners there are many who now have spent more than a year detained in the Jorge Navarro Penitentiary System who have not even been tried. An example of this is the student Francisco Javier Jiménez Rayo, who this past July 23 had spent a year being a political prisoner of the regime. This 22 year old university student was abducted by the Orteguista Police in the area of the Bello Horizonte traffic circle, when he was returning to his home in the Cristhian Pérez neighborhood, after participating in a march of the self convened against the dictator Daniel Ortega.
Steadfast in their struggle
Pedro Gutiérrez González, another political prisoner, has been jailed for 14 months without being tried. Verónica Ordoñez, the wife of González, said that the trial has been “suspended indefinitely”, because since October 2018 no hearing has been held again. In addition she added that the Orteguista judge Edgard Altamirano, in charge of the case, had scheduled a hearing for this past July 4, but it did not happen and neither was it rescheduled for another date.
This past Tuesday afternoon, Ordoñez, along with family members of other political prisoners and those released and the AC, denounced in a press conference that her spouse needed a new prosthesis on his leg to be able to get around, but the judge who is responsible for the case has not responded to the request from the defense attorney, who is asking for a specialist to enter the Penitentiary System.
“He has had problems getting around. It just so happens on Friday (August 23) he fell and opened a wound on his left foot, it was bleeding and there was a hematoma. He is having a lot of health problems because of it, because his spinal column hurts, his sternum…and skin diseases have shown up”, said Ordoñez.
In spite of the limited conditions in which Gutiérrez finds himself, he says that he continues steadfast in the struggle – according to Ordoñez –t they will not shut him up even in jail. “They can kill my body but not my heart nor my soul”, the political prisoner said to his wife.
For her part, María Ruiz Briceño, the only woman reported as a political prisoner, was abducted on July 13th, after participating in a protest picket line in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Managua. The young woman, ex-barricade supporter in the UNAN Managua, is 22 years of age and is a student of Banking and Finance and Electronic Engineering.
The mother of the young woman, Dulce Briceño, pointed out that her daughter is sick and is being harassed by prisoners aligned with the Ortega regime. “I demand freedom for my daughter, she is innocent. Freedom for my daughter and the rest of the political prisoners”, said Briceño through a video published by the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
The current FSLN administration promotes itself as a pro-poor government, and rallies its supporters with the threat that the current opposition would not be as beneficial to the poor as the FSLN is. Yet this recent post by a key analyst in exile examines the economic policies that have resulted in ever increasing inequalities in Nicaraguan society after 11 years of FSLN rule. He then goes on to address the current political struggle.
An interesting aside is to note the similarities just between the economic policies as such applied here with the economic policies implemented in the US since the 1980s.
The Strategy of Termites
By Oscar René Vargas, July 30, 2019 published by Las Mesa Redonda, online magazine
The waves of the sea grow gradually, they can be impressive in size, reach a maximum and then they fade away. One wave follows the next and so on. Social and political waves do not have the same regularity as those of the ocean. But in the present and the foreseeable future it is probable that we might have new social and political waves; lived social experiences do not die, they revive.
In spite of being a country with a lot of natural wealth (minerals, water resources, forests, an extensive coastline on both oceans and enough agricultural land to feed its inhabitants), more than 50% of the population is found in conditions of poverty, the problem is that the distribution of wealth is very unequal.
Wealth combines physical assets (buildings, cars, home goods and the other articles that individuals possess), as well as financial assets (bank deposits and financial investments), distributed in an unequal way.
Nicaragua is a society where inequity predominates, with “unfocused” social spending that does not promote equity. The regressivity is the product of fiscal transfers in favor of large capital. Taxes are reduced and the capacity of large capital to evade them is increased.
In Nicaragua the tax system is inefficient, generates a low level of collection – which limits social investment, maintains many subsidies to capital, and to sum it up, is unfair.
In recent decades (1990-2019) the banking and financial sectors established their control over the economy. Transactions and investments were made and are made more and more to the image and likeness of the circulation of financial capital.
The cycle of productive capital was more and more subordinated to the dictates of the interests of the banking sector. And the priorities of macroeconomic policy became a simple reflection of the needs of the banks and other agencies of the financial sector.
Among the measures that constitute the basis for the economic model adopted by the regime is the indiscriminate promotion of large investment, which occupies a privileged place. Reality does its best to debunk the idea that any investment promotes growth and the distribution of wealth.
The regime promotes, authorizes and supports agroindustrial, mining, logging or housing projects without taking into account the negative impact that they can have on the equilibrium of ecosystems, destruction of forests, water pollution, aquifer recharge areas, and the undesirable consequences derived from altering things.
Insecurity, corruption and the repression of the regime are blocking productive investment, which has a negative repercussion on social investment or spending.
Social spending or investment is slanted against the population with less resources, and principally benefits the wealthiest 10% of the population, who need it the least.
Average capital yield in recent years has been higher than the increase in the minimum salary and the median nominal wage per worker. That is why we have growing inequality in income distribution.
There is profound inequity in asset ownership that has a negative impact on income distribution. More wealth implies more income and viceversa, principally among those whose receipts come from income from property.
The Somoza and Ortega-Murillo dictatorships were and are exclusive, and their policies have created strong authoritarian states that, in addition, have interest in keeping the population from knowing one another, communicating with one another, and mixing with one another, and on the contrary, do everything possible to turn their neighbor into a potential enemy.
To organize those who authoritarian society and the dominant ideology do everything possible to keep as isolated individuals opposed to their peers, it is important to start from what is local, where people know one another well and interact, and where they have more security and trust.
The governing caste is systematically destroying the economy of the country; it is wiping out the cream of the population and leading us toward a catastrophe.
The regime promotes the political opportunism of the traditional politicians, which consists in passive adaptation to the regime and the parasitical nomenclature.
It is clear that brutal social justices remain in the country, along with poverty, overabundance, unending increase in inequalities, the independence of institutions is ended, the lives of “those below” did not improve, sectors of the middle class were impoverished, and it is evident that the country exists immersed in a corrupt sea.
The Ortega-Murillo regime did not transform the State, it went backwards in terms of human rights, did not progress in transforming the production model, there is an absence of fiscal transparency, many decisions are concentrated in few hands, the concentration of wealth was promoted, and for this reason it is not possible to provide continuity to the current model, a change in direction is needed.
The democratic struggle against the dictatorship is a labyrinth and complex fight. It is important to begin from the cracks in the Ortega-Murillo regime, widen them, plant seeds in them, directly apply solutions to the small and large difficulties that arise in the fight against the dictatorship.
At this point, the most reliable gamble of the regime aims at wanting to negotiate directly and only with the United States. For now it is only a gamble, a game of representiveness. There is an asymmetry between desire and reality.
The crux of the democratic struggle consists in how to pave the way to defeating the dictatorship, how to find a way that would make the triumph of the social movements easier, how to mobilize the masses at each specific moment that would allow for the end of the regime. Finding the bridge that would allow the ebb tide to move to the second social wave; that is the task.
It cannot be forgotten that one of the keys to politics resides in knowing how to correctly manage different moments. The most important part of a negotiation is listening to what is not said; to do so, an a prior analysis and strategy are needed.
As known, the strategy of termites is based on their collective and coordinated action, which allows them to reach the point of eating up the structure of a house until making it uninhabitable or causing its collapse.
The challenge of the social movements is to act like termites, collective and coordinated action, to defeat the dictatorship.
“The snowball is starting to roll downhill” but still “swimming against the current”
WPF has been involved with farming cooperatives in Nicaragua for over 20 years. In 2011 WPF undertook an extensive study of cooperatives in Nicaragua, and we continue to learn and work with them. When I think about where our work with cooperatives is at now, a couple of mixed metaphors come to mind: we are definitely swimming against the current, but it seems like we are just getting to the point that the snowball might roll downhill.
While Nicaragua is the Central American country with the largest number of cooperatives (5,000+), we have discovered that often those cooperatives were not founded by the initiative of their members, but by an external actor- frequently the State or foreign aid agencies– as a way to channel support to the peasantry. As a result of these origins, most of the members´ commitment to the cooperative is linked to its ability to offer them “projects”, i.e. externally funded benefits.
Furthermore the great majority of them essentially function using management styles more appropriate to single-owner businesses. This type of governance structure does facilitate communication with these external agents. But is not effective in protecting assets held in common, nor does it tap into the rich human resources that the many worker/owners represent. So even though cooperatives have the potential advantage of having dozens of owners all with diverse experiences, connections and talents at their disposal, they typically only rely on the knowledge and abilities of one or two people.
For most of the rural population their unconscious mental model for leadership comes from generations working on the hacienda, where a single owner ensures control over his/her assets through the use of a limited number of foremen. These foremen do have intimate knowledge of all stages of the production process, and thus ensure the process works to protect and enhance the interests of the owner. But in this system the only information the workers need to know is about their specific task. In fact, knowledge of the larger processes by the workers is seen as a negative, a distraction to the “real” work of the field-hands.
However, when this leadership style is used in the structure of a cooperative, it is at best a gross underutilization of the wealth of talent, experience and potential of its multiple members, and not infrequently results in crises linked to corruption. This is because the sole-leader system is not effective in safeguarding the assets when the wealth belongs not to one leader, but to the group.
SWIMMING AGAINST THE CURRENT:
Instead, a structure is needed that provides group control over group wealth, i.e. effective cooperative governance bodies: administrative council, oversight board, credit committee, education committee. In a context where the owners are many and they are also the workers, such a management structure also is capable of unleashing the potential of the many owners to improve their business. But to release that potential, they all need to be informed, not just about their specific task as a worker, but also the processes of their business as the owners that they are, so they can continually improve on those processes.
This is the type of ongoing reflection on the cooperative model that Rene Mendoza, as head of our cooperative initiative, has been facilitating with cooperatives since doing the study mentioned above.
WPF´s history is intimately linked to a transition to a 100% employee owned business. Most of WPF funding came when Harold and Louise Nielsen sold their factory (Foldcraft) to their workers under an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). At that point, it went from having one owner, to having 300+ worker/owners. The first CEO of that 100% ESOP company, Steve Sheppard, realized early on that the traditional single leader structure was not appropriate for a worker-owned business. So he began to seek out methodologies that would empower the Foldcraft worker/owners, and train all of them in the tools needed to enable their effective participation, so that they collectively could manage and continuously improve their business.
On retiring from his post at Foldcraft, Steve became the CEO of WPF.
So in the last several years in Nicaragua, while continuing to nourish ongoing reflection on the cooperative experience among its members, we have also attempted to introduce to the cooperative movement in Nicaragua some of these management tools Foldcraft found useful .
René Mendoza has been the director of the orchestra in this effort. He and his team at COSERPROSS accompany the cooperatives in their ongoing reflection on their situation and problems throughout the year. In addition once a year, in an alliance with the Center for Global Education and Experience at Augsburg University, and The Institute of Development Policy at Antwerp University, he leads a weeklong Certificate Program on Cooperativism for WPF. Some 50 or so cooperative leaders spend a week together reflecting on their reality, sharing experiences, and learning some tools that empower worker/owners, specifically Open Book Management and LEAN. Steve Sheppard has frequently led the training effort himself, and also brought in experienced specialists in the use of these instruments.
Open Book Management (OBM) and LEAN help these governance bodies to be more effective. Instead of one person knowing “the business”, reflecting on the results and looking for improvements, all the members learn the business, reflect on its performance, and seek improvements.
STARTING THE SNOWBALL ROLLING…
But to get to that point in this context requires first breaking with a mentality reinforced over centuries: that only a few have a right to know, and the rest do not have “ideas”, much less ideas worth sharing. It is a quantum leap when the members of cooperatives awaken to the importance and value of their ideas, and then change begins to happen.
This past June 9-15 WPF held the 4th edition of the Certificate Program with a mix of people, some new to the ideas of OBM and LEAN, and others who had participated in previous programs who were able to share their experiences using these tools in their organizations. Others shared their experiences taking specific steps to assert their ownership over the process of their cooperative, the fruit of their ongoing reflections. These steps are difficult and frequently involve conflict, as they collide with how “things have always been done” up to now. But they are beginning to open up previously untapped potential.
Going from a field-hand mentality that relates to the cooperative as an NGO, to becoming an empowered member of a joint enterprise that values the wisdom and experience of each member, is not the kind of change that happens overnight. It is good for organizations who have chosen this path to remind themselves that they are facing a strong counter current, and that without continual effort and reflection, they can easily be swept off the course they have set for themselves. Progress is only possible by taking daily steps toward change. But the reward is that each consciously taken step that builds on the previous one, makes the next step easier, and generates the kind of momentum needed to successfully fight the “current” and open up new horizons for their family, cooperative and community.
People dispossessed for so many years collected their savings and gave them to one of their sons, Solin, for him to pay for the coffee that was collected from their own group. Solin had never had so much money; he was like a deer in the headlights. He paid for the coffee. Some of the same people who had saved, behind the back of the rest, went to him to get him to lend them money. Solin first said no, but these people insisted, and he gave in. More people showed up, also from other parts of the country, and he ceded. Solin felt like a little patrón, “The people trust me”, his chest puffed out like a balloon. This path of giving out other people´s money, saying that it was his, led him to lie and believe his own lie. When other people showed him his mistake, Solin offered them money to shut them up, and if they did not accept it, he would slander them. One day he looked himself in the mirror and was frightened to find that he did not recognize himself.
When the owners of the money asked him to give it back, he had lent it all out. “And where is the money?”, they raised their voices. “You have already eaten it,” the theft reverberated like 10, 100 and 1000 years ago. Solin and several of the savers had betrayed their own path. Both took the path trodden for centuries by the old hacienda owners and fieldhands, by the comandante and those who died, by the manager and those who believed themselves to be cooperative members.
This story illustrates what happens frequently in cooperatives. A group of people save, define their purposes, agreed on their rules and then betray that path. The old path trodden by the patrón where the fieldhands follow for their pay, become indebted and to look for a favor, a path also taken by governments and churches (“Holy Patron Saint”), clouds and blocks any other path. In the story this group of people and Solin look at themselves in the mirror, or ask about their resources, and are surprised to be on the old path of dispossession, moving from being “servers” to “being served”. Their biggest tragedy is not so much the use of the money, but the fact that they have betrayed their path, this is the reason for the bad use of the money and the fact that their lives have taken a 360 degree turn, arriving at the same place. How can people who organize be able to follow their own path?
1. Individual-collective duality and the dilemma of betrayal
In organizations that face corrupt acts, there is finger pointing, accusations and complaints. “He is incorrigible”, “he is guilty of bad administration”, “she is not accountable”, “she uses our money for her benefit and that of her managers”, lash out the members. These
phrases in a cooperative belie an individual perspective, accentuated by the religious conservatism of “personal salvation”, and by the neoliberal doctrine where what is important is the individual and not society–there is no such thing as society, said the first female British Prime Minister M. Thatcher in 1987, during the full eruption of neoliberalism. Reproducing this perspective, nevertheless, is a way of “washing our hands”, of showing oneself to be innocent while pointing out others as the guilty parties.
These same expressions, nevertheless, can be read as “spitting against the wind” from the collective perspective. Because the member who is doing the accusing, with or without a title in some organ of their organization, on seeking a loan directly from the administrator, behind the back of his own cooperative, is not exercising his/her role, and/or violates the rules of their own organization; on the other hand, the corrupt administrator establishes himself reproducing the idea of the patrón;: “With 100 cordobas I keep them happy.” Many times even the State or aid organization officials who support the cooperatives borrow money from the managers, knowing that it is money that belongs to the cooperatives. “The spit” also falls on this member and this official who preaches cooperativism. A systematic act of corruption happens, above all, because of the lack of functioning of the respective organs, because of the lack of compliance with the rules of the organizations, and the accounting norms on the administrative side, as well as because of the acceptance of aid organizations*.
The members know the rules and procedures, but they see them as tedious, “paperwork”, “bureaucracy” – high transaction costs, they would say in economics. The members of the organs also see it in this way: “meeting is a waste of time.” While the patrón “from one big roll” decides to lend to them or not. In this process the members believe the administrator about any version about the source of the money, there is no culture of verifying their versions, because, they think, it would be distrusting and ungrateful; for that very reason, they do not ask for receipts either, the patrón does not do receipts – his word is enough! In addition to believing him, they fear him, “a person with other people´s money is capable of anything”, they whisper, so they keep quiet – do not speak in front of the patrón! This is a rule that is resurrected. From here the “vice” of playing with “other people´s money”, more than individual and exclusive of the manager or some president, is a collective “vice”; a collective act causes individual behavior – of corruption or honesty. See the upper part in Figure 1.
“The law is not being applied to him”, state the members and advisers of the organizations. With this they mean to say that organizations have laws, the State oversees compliance with the law; and that aid organizations have rules, and they do not apply them. This, however, continues to assume an individual perspective, believing that by “applying the law” “the patron is going to self correct”. It ignores what the history of any country tells us, “the patrón makes the laws”, be that with his right hand or his left. So we detect that this individual perspective, clothed in a collective and legal perspective, is moved by structures of dispossession; the “accusing”, the “abusing other people´s money” and “preaching laws” make the path of cooperativism disappear, and accentuate the path of dispossession – it is the dilemma of the betrayal. So we perceive that this structure is like rails for a train, it does not matter who the conductor is that is driving the train, nor how many years of schooling he might have, how many advisers and protectors of the law he has, that train will move along the rails; not matter who the administrators or presidents may be, these structures (“rails”) trap the conductors. In this way cooperatives can go broke, while these structures remain unmoved –“in an open treasure even the just will sin”, goes the saying.
At the same time this structure is being challenged. On the one hand, there are some members who cultivate a contingent awareness, that it is possible to make your own path and walk it; and on the other hand there are administrators who understand their role, respecting accounting rules and the collective perspective of organizations, shunning “inflating themselves” like balloons that run the risk of “bursting.” They do not “spit into the wind”, but recreate that collective perspective which finds itself supported by mechanisms that are coherent with more communitarian structures, and consultancies that study these rural underworlds – this is overcoming the dilemma of betrayal. See the lower part of Figure 1.
2. Innovative mechanisms for cooperatives as the vehicle for repossession
“They do not let us be peasants”, shot off a Costa Rican leader in 1991, recognizing the onslaught of neoliberalism in turning the peasantry into workers and “wetbacks”. The “be peasants” has been more coherent with community structures, in conflict with structures of dispossession. It goes with mechanisms that make an alternative path possible, mechanisms that we have been learning from the exceptional organizations in Central America: see figure 2.
They are mechanisms that “de-commodify” peasant life, they involve awakening and organizing, deepening their roots, improving the organization of the commons, and sharing the path in a glocal alliance- because every space is glocal (global and local).
Mechanism 1: Voluntary genesis of cooperativism congruent with community principles
Nearly two centuries ago a group of textile workers in England saved part of their salaries to start a store, and with that stabilize their income and defend their basic needs. In Germany peasants organized to free themselves from usury. In both cases, the people understood that individually they were not able to overcome structural problems, like the low buying power of their salary and the usury that indebted them for life; organized, they could do so. Thus they defined their path and walked it. Over time cooperativism has expanded throughout the entire world and has become a double edged sword, a means for repossession for its members and communities from whence they come, and a means for dispossession when small elites appropriate it for profit. Read the brief dialogue in the box.
From the angle of the genesis of cooperativism, this dialogue shows the incomprehension of the administrator about what a cooperative is, as well as the wisdom of the younger brother about the social rule of “respecting someone else´s assets”. “The need of the other affects me”, says the administrator; precisely the crude “need” of people led to the fact that cooperativism emerged standing under the principle of respecting collective assets. The error of the administrator in this dialogue is providing a loan from money that is not his, and doing it outside of the rules and organs of the cooperative that named him “administrator”; with that he dispossessed the members of their resources, and full of a short term vision condemned needy people to suffering. Being “proud” is abusing “another´s assets”. This deformation results from the individual perspective derived from structures of dispossession.
The cooperative that originated in the will of its members to overcome structural adversities, and does it with rules based on community principles, like those expressed by the “younger brother” in the dialogue of respect for collective goods, is a long term structural mechanism.
Mechanism 2: Rooted in diversified bases
The market demands a product and does not matter whether the one who produces it comes from one place or another; the State and aid agencies behave in a similar way, they legalize organizations or demand changes like “including women as members” without regard to where they come from. From working with cooperatives we learned that a cooperative that is rooted in its micro-territory has more possibilities of walking their walk, of being inclusive…
How to be rooted? Even though the members of a cooperative come from the same micro-territory, deciding that the administration –and therefore the financial transactions – are done in the territory itself, requires making explicit in a reflective way several beliefs written in stone for centuries: “Here they are going to steal from us, in the town there are Policemen and that is why it is safer there”, “no buyer or certifier is going to come out here to our place, we have to go out to civilization”, “here we are living in the brush, the patrón lives in the town”, “that little girl doesn´t know anything about administration, only men who ride on motorcycles know it.”
When the members of a cooperative come from the same micro-territory, and decide that their building and its administration are going to be in the same space, then we create favorable conditions for a good cooperative. The possibility that corruption might emerge and intensify is reduced. The mobility of the members to the cooperative´s building, as well as the attendance of women and men in the meetings is greater. We say that more women and men go to the meetings, because of the geographic proximity and because they do not have to travel to the municipal capital to attend meetings; the women can go to the meeting with their babies and/or children, something that is difficult if the meeting is in the municipal capital. This contributes to the cementing of trust among the members. Also the coordination between the administration and the organs of the cooperative can improve. The care of the members and board members over their administration increases, which is why the security of the resources of the cooperative in that place increases. Accessing information and asking their questions is also more possible.
The payments that are made in the territory itself to the members, be it for coffee, cacao, sugar cane or another crops, has an impact on the economy of the territory. The storefronts and small businesses sell more, new businesses tend to emerge. The interest of the partner of the member, and their children, in the receipts that their Father or Mother bring from the cooperative is greater. The possibility of having lovers under the argument that “I am going to town for a meeting” is reduced. It is like the butterfly effect in a world as interconnected as today´s world is, even more so is life interconnected in a micro-territory and in families.
Mechanism 3: the functioning of the cooperative organs and administration
The fact that a member might understand that organized they can overcome their structural problems is one step, the fact that they can facilitate that because their cooperative is rooted in their territory is a second big step. Nevertheless, there are cooperatives that in spite of having taken both steps, go broke or turn into a means for dispossession manipulated by small elites. The third mechanism is that each member, with or without a title, function in accordance with the rules and organs of their organization, without going “in secret” to the “real person in charge”, because the “real person in charge” in the cooperatives are its rules and organs.
It is easy to say that the organs of a cooperative function according to its rules. But it is difficult for it to happen. The phrase that is read in laws and management, that they are “management organs” illustrates that they are not “decision making organs”, that the power of making decisions was expropriated by the elites. How can the organs be “decision making” and the administration “management”, the former with a strategic role and the latter with an operational role? Apart from the fact that they know their statutes (rules), meet systematically and cultivate connections with their members and with external actors, the key is in the fact that they become learning organizations. How? First, each member is seen as a leader in their community, understanding that the biggest treasure is in their own social territory; consequently, their first task being multiplying their visits to other people, members or not of the cooperative, so that through conversations, they might understand the problems and opportunities that exist in their territory. Knowing them and sharing them is their fuel for pushing the cooperative to improve, and it is their source of ideas for enlightening cooperativism.
Second, the relationship between the administration and the organs is developed to the extent that they organize information, analyze it and on that basis define their policies and strategies to be followed. This provides work content for each organ. For example, information on loans and arrears is analyzed by each organ, particularly the credit committee; the Oversight Board finds one of its principle follow up tasks in this; the education committee, as a result of this analysis, proposes to work on financial education with the members about how to save, invest better and working with more autonomy, breaking with that old institution of “going into debt” and putting up with any exploitation for being “indebted”.
Third, making decisions based on the visits and the data analysis makes it possible for them to make better decisions. A particular area is diversification. A cooperative, even one with organs functioning acceptably, if it continues embracing mono-cropping, sooner rather than later will go broke; if it continues, it will work to dispossess. Promoting diversification, nevertheless, is difficult because of the atrocious structure of international power. Today to speak about agricultural cooperatives is nearly to talk about mono-cropping. So there are “successful” cooperatives that have credit, marketing and technology services just for one crop; the effect of mono-cropping on the peasant economy and the environment have been horrible for decades and centuries. The attached box illustrates the expansion of mono-cropping even through organic agriculture reduced to its dimension as a commodity, and the fact that people of good will from international organizations work against the peasantry while believing that they are “benefitting” them. Visiting and analyzing data leads us to question the origins of our policies and respond to the millennial strategy of peasant resistance: diversification and environmental sustainability. If the organs and the administration of a cooperative focus their tasks on diversification of the farm and agro-industry, their cooperative will democratize a little more, and will include more youth and women in general.
The geographical proximity facilitates organizational functioning, and this, focused on diversification, makes the cooperative be even more rooted, produces new innovative rules and starts the path of being an organization of repossession – of peasant viability with economic and social diversification, and environmental stability.
Mechanism 4: Glocal alliance for the cooperative path
These three mechanisms facilitate changes in the cooperative and in the economy of the member families and their territories, but they will achieve sustainability to the extent that they take on the attitude of a cooperative member. It is not just organizing voluntarily, looking at their territory, making decisions through their organs, it is feeling themselves to be, and being cooperative members. What does this mean?
For centuries indigenous and peasant families have cultivated a mentality of producing to eat. Then in the 1920s in Central America cash crops came in like coffee, sugar cane, cacao, and cattle. In that process they molded a mentality of being a “seller of coffee”, “seller of sugar cane”, or “seller of milk”. Consequently, they reasserted their territory (“country”) in their plot or farm: “My country ends with my agave fence”, they declared, which means that within this area there is a structure and a person in charge, that outside of that is not his world, that his world ends at the fence where the buyers come to buy his products. They do not even sell, they buy off of him. This mentality was intensified by the markets, “I will buy your coffee sun-dried or wet, the rest does not matter”, “I will buy your sugar cane”; likewise national and international aid organizations, allies of associative organizations, with people trained in universities that taught them that only “Inc.” companies produce profits, say to them: “work on the raw materials and the rest will we take care of”, “you are good for harvesting, industry and trade is our thing”.
What is the problem with this mentality? The peasant receives payment for their coffee or milk, that is their world; the other world is that of the patrón, where the profits are; the peasant never is interested in this other world, knowing what their patrón did with his profits; the very fact of asking him was showing ingratitude, insubordination and social suicide – their own people would treat them as someone trying to be his equal. This institutionality has been reproduced in associative organizations and their allies; a member looks for payment for their coffee, sugar cane or milk, they are not interested in knowing whether their organization generated profits or not; in Fair Trade the use of the premium of US$20/qq of coffee is previously defined in social investment, infrastructure… and $5 for the member family to invest in their farm; the premium for organic coffee of US$30 is perceived like this, “premium”, equal to a “roasted cow” that the patrón would provide for them at the end of the harvest, “premium” of a day of fiesta. In other words, the agave fence of the peasant member is “price of NY + premium” (see box); the member family understands that their profits and premiums are not an expression of their rights, but “a favor” (something “extra”, “charity”) of the local or global patrón, that is why they do not ask about it, do not ask for information, nor keep their receipts nor complain over the distribution of profits. Knowing this reality, the patrón (administrator or fair trade coffee buyer) repeats, “with 100 córdobas I keep them happy”, “with pig rinds and booze they leave happy”, “I buy from them at a good price and I give them a premium, whether that gets to the member´s family or not is their issue.”
Complaining over your profits is like being a “beggar with a club”. It is like a woman subjected by her husband, she feels “kept” and without the right to ask him about the “rest of his money”, and it is the mentality of the citizen who pays taxes and instead of complaining that his government reinvest in public works and provide him “good service”, see these works as the result of the goodness of the government (patrón).
The three mechanisms listed need to be complemented by this fourth one, with which we will move beyond this glocal mentality. How? First, building a mentality where the peasant family has awareness about the fact that their actions create value and have unexpected consequences, which is why they can refine their policies and carry out actions of even greater value and impact. This is possible if they observe and reflect on some details; for example, making sure that through the payment for the harvested coffee in that territory positive aggregate effects are generated in the economy of that territory, beyond their “agave fence”; observing the impact of their diversified organic agriculture on their farms as well as on the territory; reflecting on the effect of violating the agreements of their own cooperative, that leads them to lose resources as a cooperative and as a territory. On observing these positive and negative effects, the members can awaken their awareness of being coop members and of moving from their “agave fence” to understand that regardless of their purposes, their actions have a repercussion on the territory. In a parallel fashion, let also global actors awaken and understand that their actions have repercussions on the lives of the peasant people; if they look at a cooperative just as “coffee” or “cacao”, commodities, and believe that by providing a good price and premium they have already contributed to the families, they should ask themselves if they are sure that they have “contributed”; if one person turns into an elite capturing those premiums, are the buyers contributing to the well being of the peasant families?
Second, making relationships between different glocal actors (global and local) be living alliances that are committed to the formation of associativism, complementing the mechanisms mentioned here. This does not mean improving the prices of raw materials. It means that organizations add up all the income (value of sold product +premiums+incentives for quality and other bonuses), subtract their expenses and costs, and from the gross profits they agree to redistribute according to a certain percentage, let us say 50 or 60%. We repeat, it is not a matter of improving the price of the sugar cane or the coffee, it is not distributing the premiums; it is redistributing the gross profits of your organization.* The remaining 50 or 40%, or other percentage, goes to internal funds, social fund, legal reserves, investment fund in the organization…
Third, all the actors, cooperative, associative enterprises, aid agencies, Universities and State Institutions, we all should commit in an ongoing and systematic way to cooperative formation, based on the lessons and challenges of the organizations themselves. On emphasizing profits we are not reducing ourselves to the economic, we understand with Aristotle that quantity is an element of quality; consequently, the members will move from a mentality of “I am a seller of sugar cane” to “I am a seller of granulated sugar”, from “I am a seller of coffee” to “I am a cooperative member exporter of export quality coffee”. This will mean that each member pushes that their organization generates more profits and redistributes them, they will make an effort to be informed, to be trained, to diversify more. With these elements, the formation will help their cooperative and territory, the board and their members, the cooperatives in the north and the south, to maintain strong ties of collaboration and mutual learning.
3. “Muddy” accompaniment from the underworld of the member families
Most cooperatives have been accompanied, be it by the State, Churches, aid agencies or Universities. Standardized accompaniment has meant providing them trainings, legalizing them, buying products from them and /or providing them with donations; it is an accompaniment that does not cross over toward the communities and the underworld of the cooperatives, which is why it ends up legitimizing corruption, or that cooperatives get turned into a means for dispossession. A new type of accompaniment is required so that these four mechanisms emerge, are adapted and make a difference.
Owen and other associative people inspired the emergence of cooperativism in England, Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen accompanied the first cooperative in Germany. A distinctive accompaniment in Central America has been that of the Catholic Church in the years 1960-1970; that accompaniment helped them to reflect on a God living among them, and a Reign of God that began in those very communities – the “treasure” (God) was in the communities themselves. This accompaniment gave rise to dozens of cooperatives and peasant stores based on their own resources; a good part of them still persist after 40 and 50 years. Consistent with this type of accompaniment, even though not from a religious perspective, we describe here an accompaniment that enters into the cooperative underworld in interaction with the 4 described mechanisms.
What are the distinctive characteristics of this accompaniment? The first is that the accompanying people understand that only by entering the underworld of the cooperatives and their territory will they be able to understand the process in which the cooperative finds itself, awaken reflection and help create mechanisms like those worked on here. The fact that we intellectuals might have the “best” assessment is useless if the members are not reflecting on and walking their own cooperative path. For that reason the accompaniers need to pass beyond the control of the “patroncito”, be that the administrator, manager or president, and through the conversation be exposing the struggle between the path of the patrón and that of the cooperative, as well as the complexity of walking their own path.
Second, accompanying is discerning mindsets from the inside. Along with studying the cooperative underworld, where the old path is imposed based on betrayal and subordination, and where people wander between doubt and intuition, the accompaniers discern the mindsets in the cooperatives, and their own mindset as accompaniers. When the cooperative is trapped in acts of corruption, it is moving under the rules of “the clever one takes advantage of what he administers”, and “we always need a patrón”; these rules conceal actions against their own organization; then the members see the accompaniers as “intruders”, unfurl the banner of “autonomy” to keep the accompaniers from “crossing over the threshold” of the territory, and make up lies in the territory that these accompaniers “are taking advantage of the cooperative.” Discerning their mindsets implies “muddying ourselves” in their beliefs and lies, at the risk that this might erode the legitimacy of the accompanier and drive him/her out of the territory. What distinguishes good accompaniment is the persistent act of overcoming our own mentality that it is “enough to train, legalize and help them to export in order to live better”, “taking their pulse” and innovating with member families to the extent that destructive mentalities that prevent learning are dispelled.
Third, accompanying well is allowing member families to take their own steps, provided that we understand that our actions also have repercussions in the lives of the member families. The accompanier risks the fact that the members might perceive him or her also as a “little patrón”, impairing them from walking their own cooperative path. Let us illustrate this with one experience; in a cooperative, after the second mechanism took place, of rootedness, the results in terms of informational transparency, reduction of corruption and a motivating environment because of its economic and social impact in the territory were admirable. So the board members complained to the accompaniers: see attached box.
In the box the leader sees the accompanier as a “little patrón” with the capacity to stop the corruption and impose decentralized administration on the territory of the cooperative. The response of the accompanier to the first complaint is that having intervened as a “firefighter” to “put out the fire” of corruption, even though this act would have saved them financially, it would have constrained them from building their own cooperative path, which is structural and long term. The response to the second complaint reveals an accompaniment that helps to innovate mechanisms to the extent that it studies and learns from the cooperative itself and its underworld. Even now that we have innovated these four mechanisms they would not be recipes for any organization, they are mechanisms that need to be adapted to each situation, and that each cooperative should experience their processes. These two responses illustrate that accompanying is letting member families walk their path, provided that it studies them and provokes reflection.
Finally, in this process we are getting to know ourselves, re-knowing ourselves in our actions, and we are developing a sense of reasoned compassion. Not the “rational being” of homo economicus. On understanding the mentality of a group of members who “always need a patrón that steals from us”, we understand that for more than 100 years this institution has been deeply etched in their grandparents and parents, reproduced now by this group. At the same time we understand that this institution is not characterized by “being peasants”, but that it is the centuries old path of the patrón-fieldhand. This reflective reasoning envisions this reality for us, and awakens “being peasants” in the lives of cooperative member families and our lives, through respecting the collective good, the rules of the collective and mother earth, the horizon for which we produced the four mechanisms.
Accompaniment makes us remember that the change is in alliance between the peasant families and those of us who accompany them, while we walk together. It is not a stationary accompaniment, but along the road. It is a tense alliance, with stumbles and doubts, but embracing each other for the purpose of creating a vehicle for repossession to the benefit of peasant families.
By way of conclusion
We began this text with the following question: How can people who are organizing follow their own path? First we identified how the colonial patrón-fieldhand path intensified by capitalism that only values merchandise (commodities) erodes the cooperative path, and leads people to betray their own path. This teaches us that individual actions respond to certain perspectives (individual or collective), and they in turn come from structures in conflict, communitarian structures and structures of dispossession; and that this cooperative path is connected with community life, also in resistance for centuries. These two paths clash, for example, in “the good of others”: the colonial and capitalist path is nourished by dispossessing “the good of others” (land, financial resources, labor) from the peasantry, while the cooperative path is connected to community structures which precisely originate in repossessing “the good of others”, which in this case is the “collective good”, material assets (financial resources), as well as alliances and collectively decided arrangements. This “good of others” in the cooperative path is then a “social relationship”, as Federici would say.
Lining ourselves up with this cooperative path, we list four innovative mechanisms that, contrary to the saying that “in an open treasure even the most just sins”, make the cooperative into “a treasure with rules and associative governance where even the biggest sinner becomes just.” These four mechanisms are: voluntarily organizing, rooted in specific micro-territories, making the cooperative organs and administration function, and within a glocal alliance framework help the member families to cultivate an awareness of “being a cooperative member”, that their actions generate changes in their lives and the life of their territory, and making the cooperatives expand their profits and redistribute them with informational transparency and as an expression of respecting “the good of others” (common good, collective good, their own good), in contrast to capitalism that is nourished from dispossessing material assets from peasant families. Then we argued that cooperatives need an accompaniment that makes a difference, that crosses over formal and despotic structures and gets into the underworld of the territories, from which they innovate with the member families, like the mechanisms listed here, and accompany them through thick and thin.
Is this text important only for cooperatives and their allies in their social territories? What happens in the cooperatives and their social territories at the micro level is happening in countries at the macro level. Following the cooperative vision is overcoming the “commodity” vision, the colonial patrón-fieldhand path and the belief that “with money you can even make monkeys dance”, and it is creating a society that cooperates, makes rules and follows them, expands their profits and redistributes them, learns and democratizes. Will it happen?
 A case to illustrate this type of accompaniment is that of the Cooperativa La Esperanza de los Campesinas in Panama. See: R. Mendoza, 2017, “A priest, a cooperative and a peasantry that regulates the elites”, in: ENVIO 425. Managua: IHCA-UCA. http://www.envio.org.ni/articulo/5304
 Lucia Linsalata, 2015, “Three general ideas for thinking about the commons. Notes around the visit of Silvia Federici” in Bajo el Volcán, year 15, number 22. Federici talks about the commons in the community, she says “there is no commons if there is no community”. In this article we present the cooperative as an expression of people from a community who decide to organize, and for them “the commons” is within the cooperative, even though in relation to their communities or social territories.