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Articulation between representative and participatory democracy from the perspective of rural communities who organize.

Articulation between representative and participatory democracy from the perspective of rural communities who organize.

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

Being plugged in

“How can I live more than 90 years,” Claudio asked himself on seeing his friend die at the age of 93. His question echoed in the universe and his ancestors came to him in his sleep.  “Gossip and daydreams connect people to good purposes, making their lives longer”, said one who was his grandmother Chepa. “And what does it mean to be connected?”, Claudio asked in his sleep.

-“Having values which like landmarks guide you,” he heard a  melodious voice, which was his grandfather Chepón.

– “If a lever can move the world, a word which awakens can move minds dominated by demons that make you look upwards,” – was his great grandmother Mincha.

-“Reaching agreements, living up to them, making efforts and being loyal to the community,” was his grandmother Neca.

– “Speaking with adversaries, seeing their paths and building bridges with them,” was his great-grandmother Licha.

Claudio rolled over in his bed and his ancestors, shining in an aura of light, continued.

– “Do not give up hope, the one who despairs is unjust and sees their own end,” was his great-grandfather Juan.

– “Know how to brake and stop, and remember that to arrive you have to walk,” said his uncle Chindo

– “I went out more frequently and move about in more communities,” said the one who was his wife, she looked radiant

– “Be guided by your curiosity; the best bricklayer is the apprentice who does the plumb line several times, while the one with experience trusts himself and dies before really dying,” was the advice from the one who was his first love.

– ¡Grandfather! –Yiye ran into the room and Claudio woke with a start. “Get up, grandfather!” ordered his granddaughter. Claudio got up, wrote down what he dreamed and left to walk on the arm of his granddaughter.

Noah Harari (2011:26-27) states that gossip among human beings made homo sapiens different from the rest of the animals, particularly gossip about inexistent things that come to us through legends, myths and religions. Fiction makes us imagine and consequently act collectively as dozens, thousands and millions of people. The previous story itself  is a fiction where the ancestors come together (transcend) with Claudio through his dreams and show him how to be connected in order to live more: be plugged in with people through “landmarks”, “words”, “agreements”, and “bridges”, for which purpose each person must act “without despairing,” “knowing to brake and stop”, “getting out” and “being curious”. We argue that these collective actions in movement emerge and develop more strongly when they are plugged into (connected to) a framework of participatory and representative democracy.

How can participatory and representative democracy be connected as an expression and at the same time pillar for the transformation of societies? In this article we approach this question based on our involvement in processes of community clusters.

1.    Introduction

Democracy in the world has been in crisis, particularly in the last 20 years: increasingly governments chosen through elections, be they on the right or the left, have turned authoritarian, autocratic and even reveal dictatorial characteristics. What is characteristic of representative democracy is the separation of the executive, legislative, judicial and electoral branches. This seems to be disappearing, even their functions of being counterweights. A reflection of this crisis is the criminalization of protests, restriction of freedoms, decisions decreed by the executive branch without those decisions being deliberated on by parliament, and the intensification of what Harvey (2006) calls “accumulation by dispossession” under the umbrella of corporations and multinational enterprises. In particular in the current millennium, the spirit of Hobbes prevails, that people have the right to be selfish and to self-preservation, and that they renounce those rights and deposit them in the monarchy so that he might give them security and well-being: there is no spirit of Rousseau, that each person is good by nature, that society corrupts them and that a social contract is needed where the individual partially cedes their rights, power and property, and in exchange receives greater benefits, that each person is ruler and subject at the same time, and that they support the one who makes reasonable decisions.

This crisis also has meant a reduction in global democratic space: international human rights, health, peace and governance organizations have weakened, their resolutions are not obeyed. Countries like Putin´s Russia, Trump´s United States, and Jinping´s China coincide on this purpose of reducing the influence of international organizations, the former through the military, and the second and third through the economy.

What are the causes of this crisis? One, the structure of economic, political and religious mediation has become more and more hierarchical, authoritarian and exclusionary, moving under the principal of “survival of those who have” (capital + weapons) and individually (“personal salvation” and “there are only individuals”). Second, greed for capital[2]and the power to impose oneself on others through force at any cost, like the 185 interventions of the United States in Latin America and the Caribbean (ALC) in the name of democracy[3], or the quest for oil which has led to wars and military interventions in the name of progress[4]. Three, societies in the state of anomie (absence of just social norms) which reproduce ideologies of that mediation, societies which spontaneously react (rebel with a vengeful spirit) and then subordinate themselves to the emerging power which, in a short period of time, end up reproducing the same structures that it confronted. This crisis of democracy is experienced on a global, national, community and neighborhood levels.

We assume that democracy is a virtue for societies and that we should recover it intensifying its content and rooting it in societies which at the global level are moving from unipolarity to multipolarity. Consequently, we argue that representative democracy has come loose – autonomized – from societies, as it has taken root in elites who manipulate it to maximize their profits and appropriate natural resources in the world. We extend this argument to cooperative and associative organizations and to social movements, that tend to experience a first phase of participatory democracy and then move to authoritarian structures responding to what Polanyi called “market societies.” We also argue that, if democracy is a good mechanism for building societies in peace with justice, the representative and participatory system must be articulated with each other on the community, national and global levels, channeling the different worlds or paths which societies express (See Figure 1). How?

In this article we respond to that possibility based on concrete experiences in rural communities that are organizing. After this introduction, we prepare a historical reference, then we lay out what is happening in cooperatives, we show how this democratic articulation plugged into social processes can happen, and finally we list some conclusions.

2.    Frame of reference

Here we offer a broad national and global framework with which we might dialogue from the perspective of rural organizations. We start basing ourselves on the Latin American philosopher and historian, Enrique Dussel (2007, 2009, 2020 and 2022), who in 3 volumes studied the origins of democracy, criticized the democratic system and looked at the construction of new democratic systems.

2.1  Origins

The origin marks a perspective, which is why we are interested in knowing the origins of democracy and the region that we inhabit, Latin America and the Caribbean, where the democratic system is also experienced.

Dussel argues that the origin of democracy is oriental, that Greece took the political system of Egypt and the sailing people of the eastern Mediterranean who had cities in the Mediterranean and went even to Morocco in the Atlantic. “Demos” in Ancient Greek means “citizens”, who were nobles with property titles in the polis (city). Most of the population who were women, peasants, foreigners and slaves, were not “demos”, but “laos”, which in Greek means “people.” There never existed a “laocracy” in those places.

The first democracy happened in Venice, whose origins were eastern; those 1200 parents of families exercised power, chose a duke who united them and subjected himself to the Assembly, and had a council of 10 people. England is the first country that in the XV and XVI centuries established their democracy imitating Venice: a parliament equivalent to the assembly, monarchy equivalent to the duke, and chamber of the lords (medieval nobles) equivalent to the council of the 10.

Political systems were legitimated by the gods and gave authority to the “demos”. On moving to Europe with Venice and Genoa, and from there to England, democracy secularized, modernized, and in a certain way moved from “demos” to “laos” (people), even though in schools they continue teaching “demo-cracy” as if “demo” were people – a pending challenge of decolonialization.

Latin America and the Caribbean also have a diverse origin. It comes from a Europe father/mother which is Eurocentric and colonial, and Eurasia which bred with the 30,000 year old Amerindian culture. Latin America and the Caribbean come from the clash between the west and the east. During Spanish and Portuguese colonialization, law legitimated by the monarchy ruled, so the movement led by the Creoles (of Spanish descendance) rejected that colonial law, that rejection was an illegal act, they did it counting on the legitimacy of the Creole community, then independence happened and they made new laws and organized institutions. Overtime this Eurocentrism was inherited by the United States as a neocolonial expression and defined Latin America and the Caribbean as its “back yard”; before that, from Mariátegui and Martí, there was talk about the need for a second independence which, in contrast to the first one which was led by Creoles, the people (laos) would do.

From here, the democratic system is the institutional organization of the legitimacy which comes from the agreement of most of the participants of a pluralistic community with equal rights and accepted by all people.

2.2  Representative democracy and its crisis

With this idea about the origins of democracy and of Latin America and the Caribbean, representative democracy has prevailed. It has consisted in the separation of the executive, legislative, judicial and electoral branches, and in which the representatives of the members of the executive and legislative branches are chosen through elections. These elections confirm that democracy is a mechanism of legitimation of the majorities. This system of democracy is in line with colonial and patriarchal capitalism, where elites manipulate the State to intensify their strategy of “accumulation by dispossession”, appropriating natural resources and public and common goods in a systematic way, which is why that apparent “separation” of powers is stripped naked.[5]

This system has been questioned and has entered a crisis in the current millennium.[6] Its problem is that it is a formal democracy where the representatives believe themselves to be the source of power, instead of the fact that it is the people, they believe themselves to be the “saviors”[7], while they operate at the service of capital which does not have a country –“It has its origins but no country”, said the writer and television presenter Jaime Bayly; they are not even in the service of the Creoles as in the first independence. These representatives breathe in the spirit of the white elite, they are racist, machista and Eurocentric, and rule in favor of multinational corporations. It is that 1% of the world population, economic elites, who name the candidates, and people through elections confirm them as representatives. That system, through educational institutions and mediation structures, has shaped the attitudes of 99% of society to believe that “change comes down from above”, and that “a boss in heaven and thousands on the earth” is natural law.

This control, nevertheless, is not absolute, the system has cracks through which the people can see that manipulation. That system has been losing legitimacy. On the one hand, governments of the right and left, pressured by multinational corporations which have been questioned in their market essence, and seeking their own political and economic interests, are converting this formal democracy into an authoritarian, autocratic system, and even one with dictatorial characteristics for the purpose of controlling the “tiger on the loose” (people), at the same time that they restrict freedoms, weaken the rule of law and diminish the role of international human rights organizations, nature rights organizations, the world health organization…On the other hand, pandemics, social inequality[8] and climate change call into question the principles of capitalism and (representative) democracy, the belief that “the market is more capable than the State to solve social and environmental problems”, and that “with more market there is more social justice.”

This loss of legitimacy erodes the system of representative democracy and intensifies the dispossession of the rest of the planet. In the face of this crisis of capitalism, elites argue that the solution is “more market;” in the face of the crisis of (representative) democracy, elites argue for a direct democracy without the State, even in its “libertarian” version state that they do not even need the Police and the Army, that everything should be privatized so that private enterprise might represent societies and lead them toward progress (see footnote number 2)[9]. They think that this “more market” and “direct democracy” should happen soon; the notion of time for capitalism is enriching themselves today, because as Keynes said “tomorrow we will all be dead”.

2.3  Articulation

Recovering democracy is essential, no longer the representative system wedded to what Pope Francis described as “savage capitalism”, but recovering that representative system connected to the participatory system, responding to the people (laos) as the source of power and cultivating a long-term perspective (time). We argue that representative democracy without participatory democracy is empty, while participatory democracy without representative democracy is blind. The revolution of the XXI Century is in the articulation between both systems along with a second independence process, not just from being the “back yard”, but self-determination in processes of justice and liberty[10].

It is not a matter of replacing representative democracy with participatory democracy, as the anarchists argue[11], reducing it to its minimal expression as the libertarians advocate, nor turning them into repressive apparatuses clothed in “sovereignty”. A participatory democracy where all the citizens govern their country is not possible, it is a matter of organizing a democratic system which articulates a representative State from the top down and a participatory democracy of the people from the bottom up. For that purpose, it is important to organize the participation of people in direct democracy from neighborhoods and rural communities and create a new power, the participatory power capable of making the different perspectives and challenges to transformation visible, as well as auditing the executive, legislative, judicial, and electoral branches to measure their degree of correspondence with the mandate of the people. What would the path for this be?

Participatory democracy, beyond plebiscites, should be institutionalized, have mechanisms for oversight and control over representative democracy – an audit of the branches. This would strengthen the State whose function is not to dominate nor domesticate the people, but to defend it in the face of external forces which embrace “savage capitalism” or “accumulation by dispossession”. State institutions would function with ethical principles, and not responding to capital nor any supernatural being, a State of well-being which thinks about the common good.

Societies reach consensus agreements based on each person participating with equal rights and without pressure from violence which would oblige them to accept one argument over another. This gives it legitimacy[12] and consequently the coercive institutions of the State help them follow those agreements, including penalizing those who do not. In contrast with Max Weber, who said that the State has a monopoly on violence, Dussel argues that the State has the monopoly of legitimate coercion, and that what is legitimate is not violent, violence is acting against the rights of others and against the decision of the community. Part of those agreements of the community, argues Dussel, is defining what they need to solve as a community, and then asking political parties to tell them how they are going to resolve it.

This process would be accompanied by decolonizing science and teaching which continue reproducing countries as dependent on the United States. Central America and Mexico, like South America, let them think with freedom understanding their own millennial culture; that in schools and universities they decolonialize science and teach based not on Hobbes, but on an anti-colonialist like Bartolomé de las Casas who denounced the injustices of colonialism, and educate the representatives that the source of power is the people, and that they should be at their service. This articulation would express what the Zapatistas of Chiapas propose, “instead of a democracy where those who rule, rule by giving orders, to one where those who rule, rule by obeying,” this is the power of obedient service to the people. Participatory power, now institutionalized, can corroborate whether the State is following agreements of society and whether those who “rule, rule by obeying” the people.

2.4  Framework for our work

What is written so far provides us a reference point. Now we need to reread it from the perspective of and for organizational and community processes, and in pursuit of a second independence.

We take on the idea of Dussel about what a democratic system is, an institutional organization of legitimacy coming from the people (laos). It is a process which is not legitimated by the gods (religions), nor by weapons or donor organizations, but by the people who organize and reach agreements of mandatory compliance. These consensus agreements have ethical validity which means political legitimacy, there are agreements which can be surpassed with new agreements which result from the analysis of these processes. In contrast to Dussel, who refers more to the political sphere, we understand that the structures of political, economic, and religious mediation coopt representative democracy and the people. Also, in contrast with Dussel who conceives the people as conscious subjects who know their needs so that political parties might solve them, we understand the people as subjects who move between an alienated mindset and their cultures with good values and mechanisms for transformation.

Now, the challenge to recover democracy is the articulation of representative and participatory democracy, deepening the notion of counterweights and counterpower within a context of actors expressing different perspectives (Figure 1), and generating changes over time and space.

Concerning the articulation of representative and participatory democracy, it can be carried out if organizations have assembly level decisions where the source of power resides, which, based on this process, transforms the system of representation. If organizations are governed by their administrative apparatus which was not chosen by their assemblies, they must revolutionize the organization as expressed in Figure 2, and with that legitimacy, revise their statutes to follow them and institutionalize new rules for the common good. A cooperative, association or community organization should not emerge to intensify the structure of mediation, subordinate itself to capital and turn its back on the land; it emerges responding to its community with a long term perspective (notion of time) and rooted in society (space), so that its membership might reconnect with the earth, seek the common good, and put in practice the principles of equity, loyalty, solidarity and voluntarism.

The source of legitimacy resides in their assemblies, there they need to reach agreements which, because of their consensus character and principles, have an ethical dimension, and evaluate the progress there. In contrast with Dussel, who proposes that societies should ask for what they need and that political parties address them, we observe that these ideas lead to organizations asking for donations and seeking solutions “from above” without dealing with their own disputes and demons (beliefs), which is a trap, it makes them fall into the claws of the structure of mediation. When organizations start from analyzing their realities and processes, and discover their own tangible (e.g. financial) and intangible resources (e.g. voluntarism expressed in days of work or collective actions) to contribute, articulation sprouts like a plant in good soil.

Concerning counterweights and counterpower, the former is inside an organization or institution, “balancing forces”, in which one power ensures that the other power does not fall into arbitrariness, for example, in the State between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, that the other branches function in accordance with the law. The latter, counter power, is outside an organization or institution, it is watching from the margins of power, from communities with other perspectives and development paths, and from the rule of law, having empathy, so that the State, organizations and private sector be guided by fair laws and practices and not dispossess societies nor the earth of its resources (fertility, oil, gold, trees); that private enterprise as an association and through its chambers be a counterpower to the State and cooperatives. A democracy needs the State and different organizations to be articulated: the State looking for organizations to follow its laws, and organizations so that the State respond – guided by the law – to societies and not to capital, see Figure 3.

Concerning time and space, two key notions for democratic articulation. Time is a notion and a perspective; in the previously mentioned television series, Yellowstone, the indigenous representative says, “We understand time in a different way, we have time, they do not”; part of the indigenous culture is depicted in that television series, as well as ranching society which maintains its legacy (inheritance: ranch) and corporations which rule over the State and have their own armed groups to appropriate resources at the cost of the lives of people and nature; the capitalist corporation does not have time, it wants to make capital today; indigenous wait; ranchers move with the cycle of cattle (raising-fattening/rodeo-sale). Space also influences these perspectives: corporations do not have countries, they fly from one place to another making capital, ranching families remain on a hacienda, and indigenous populations see their historic territories (and reservations). With these latter two groups place is connected to what they are and their history.

All this makes us see in our countries, broadly speaking, three actors within their particular contexts: indigenous populations, peasant-farmer populations and companies-corporations-traders. There are more forces, but here we highlight these three at odds with one another, with different perspectives in terms of time, space and legacy (inheritance), and with differentiated degrees of influence on the State, markets and societies. The capitalist (commercial and usurer) passes down wealth and are not concerned with words (agreements), the peasant farmer passes down property and their word has value (“I give you my word”), and the indigenous passes down a culture connected to nature and their word is a mission. For each actor the notion of progress has different understandings, for the capitalist capital is everything, for the peasant-farmer it is family food, and for indigenous people it is their land, nature.

Peasants organize into cooperatives, or in other forms of organization, for having a long-term perspective and infusing in their members production which also is long term, thinking about the impact that their current decisions will have on the following generations. In cooperatives it is fundamental that they move spatially from the towns (municipal capitals) to the communities where the membership live, which facilitates meetings, transparency, plural participation of members and the fact that decisions be decentralized – therein lies the essence of participatory democracy articulated with representative democracy.

So, an organization does not exist to intensify the commercial-usury and political mediation, nor to expand monocropping agriculture, it is a means for its members to innovate in a systematic way in their relationship with the earth, recreate their cultural identity, refine their strategy for self-sufficiency and design their connection with other organizations based on their strengths and virtues. The stronger an organization is on the community level, based on assemblies as sources of decision, the more it combines representative and participatory democracy, the more counterweights, the more it articulates with other organizations and institutions, the more it influences multinational companies to rethink their role in terms of rural organizations. This is a new necessary and possible path for the common good.

3.    The crisis of democracy in organizations

The crisis of democracy in a country is also happening on the organizational level, let us look at it in the case of cooperatives. Their analysis is useful for reading other political, economic, and religious organizations and institutions.

Figure 4 illustrates this crisis in its political and economic expression. Seen in its entirety, the arrows indicate the hegemony of capital(ism) through a hierarchical structure whose veins are greed and political patronage. In this process, cooperatives are pulled from the peasant and community space (circle with dots) toward the space of economic and political mediation (oval with lines). This step or turn from one space to another expresses the passage from participatory democracy to representative democracy, in the State as well as in cooperatives, embedded in capitalism with a logic of “accumulation through dispossession.”

Reading the figure from bottom up, the members respond more to the administrative staff of the cooperative, whose offices generally are located in municipal or provincial capitals (“towns”). The members respond less to the associative side, where the organs and their leaders are, located generally in rural communities – see black line as symbol of division in the community where the members are from. This is due in good measure to the fact that they make moves for economic interests, negotiating a loan or selling their commodity in the “other” space, in the town; in other words, people act with their cooperative like they act with buyers, and see their board members not as leaders but as support to administration-management.

What does this mean? Members go where decisions are made about their demands, and they perceive that it is the area of administration which makes decisions about prices, credit, agrochemical inputs and travel expenses, which is why they proceed ignoring the rules that they approved in assembly about credit or commercialization. Those who are the source of power do not see themselves as the assembly or as the cooperative, they see themselves as individuals with individual interests where opportunism prevails, and from there see cooperatives as equivalent to the private sector, as something foreign to their interests. In other words, the cooperative as representative democracy lacks legitimacy, its own members do not recognize it as a democratic cooperative; they see it as “foreign.”

On the associative side, the organs (administrative council, oversight board, education committee and credit or production committee) in a good number of cooperatives are non-functional; they do not tend to meet regularly, and when they do meet the management tends to prepare their meeting agenda and lead their sessions. They, the members of the organs, do not examine what the administrative side is doing, they do not analyze the financial reports and do not assign the administrative side tasks to carry out and account for, rather, outside of the agreements and rules of their organization, individually they seek favors in administration-management to get loans, travel allowances or some other benefit, and tend to wait for tasks that the management might give them, like signing checks, calling in members to give some information about certifications or signing official minutes of assemblies which were not actually held, or for assemblies which they did not attend. Many of the members of the organs attend a meeting out of interest in the travel allowance, and some financial favors which they might get, this makes many want to be re-elected, or continue in another post if the law prohibits remaining in the one they have. In this way, we see how the board members do not behave as leaders, but use their post so that, ignoring their role and the mandate which the assembly gave them, they might beg for favors from the manager from the administrative area, and in compensation for those favors, act to the rest of the members as a foreman of the administrative area. Like what happens on the national level with the State, there is also a crisis of counterweights in organizations like cooperatives.

The administrative area has staff with a lot of stability, who do not move with changes in the organs of the cooperative. It is the area that manages the financial resources and administers the assets. If the person in management is immovable, that person becomes a “stopper” which keeps staff from moving up in accordance with their merits – because of capacities developed and good work. If the cooperative is reduced to only the financial and/or commercial aspects, obviously that area becomes very powerful in terms of control of resources, not in terms of their professional formation with a cooperative spirit. Consequently, partly because the members in general and even the members of the different organs go to them to beg favors, violating the rules, and partly because companies, the State and donor organizations seek them out for any deal, they end up believing that they are the source of power, consequently appear as the saviors of the cooperatives, and have the capacity to control any member, whether they are part of the organs or not. If a member, or a member of the Administrative Council, criticizes the manager or opposes some decision of the manager that he is violating the rules, the manager orders that his pending debts with the cooperative be collected, or removes him from the list of beneficiaries of some project, thereupon that person who was criticizing the administrative area is left tamed, because he would not be able to survive being sidelined by the all-powerful one (“cooperative squire”). In this way, the cooperative represented by the administrative area, distances itself from the members, organs and laws of the cooperative.

What happens? A certain amount of deification is created of the CEO or manager[13], who in turn feel themselves to be kings or queens who do not tolerate the counterweights nor feel the lack of counterpowers, they are free to create family businesses to exploit the advantages that cooperatives generate, for example, organizing the private transportation of cargo for the products which the cooperative harvests, and having access to commissions of buyers because of the economic transactions which the cooperative does and which are not registered in the cooperative´s accounting. If no organ follows the rules of the cooperative, the administrative area does follow them either, it feels comfortable moving under the rules of the market and their own laws, surrounded by organizations who have abandoned the role of counterpowers[14], and out of that framework, many times they choose docile candidates for the assembly to confirm[15]. The following expressions reveal this logic: “The cooperative is an enterprise and only we professionals can manage it”; “in order to distributem you first have to grow”; “the oversight board does not know accounting, why are they going to review our accounting reports!”; “let the members sell us their commodities, we will take care of the rest”; “we write up the minutes for the secretary and we write up the reports for the president and the coordinator of the oversight board so they are read in the assembly”; “the assembly is led by the manager”, “shoemaker stick to making shoes” (idea of autonomy or “sovereignty” so that no organization questions them about anything)…

This relationship of dependency on the administrative area paints a type of cooperative disconnected from its organs, its assembly, membership and its community. The same happens with 2nd tier and 3rd tier cooperatives, that not only “disconnect themselves”, but tend to centralize the decisions of the 1st tier cooperatives, and concentrate investments in their own area; and the same thing happens with the ICA (International Cooperative Alliance) which represents cooperatives on the international level, which acts “disconnected” from their grassroots and well connected with capital. Cooperativism is ruled by the spirit of “everyman for himself.”

External actors intensify this line of seeing the cooperative like a private enterprise, or part of the structure of economic mediation. The State, praticed by governments of the left or the right, have conceived of cooperatives as politically counterinsurgent organizations, and as a way to dispossess the peasantry and indigenous communities from their assets. It is common to find the State concerned about the legality of organizations, generally motivated by their interest in political patronage, and not because it wants organizations to follow their rules; consequently it is rare to find any cooperative to which the State has given legal standing every year, and which follows its rule for the distribution of profits, or that its membership receive financial information.[16] The State centralizes decisions about the existence of cooperatives, it does it through legal procedures and fiscal policies; if a cooperative does not fall in line with the policies of the government in power it runs the risk of being left without legal standing or being intervened by the State; the State fine tunes its fiscal policies to charge cooperatives the same amount of taxes or more than any private enterprise. Both paths are closely connected, without legal standing a cooperative cannot have a bank account nor sign donation agreements with international organizations, and in order to have legal standing year after year the State demands that they are up to date with the taxes which are more than those applied to private enterprises. The interest of governments is taxes + votes, not the proper functioning of cooperatives.

How does the State fine tune its policies? “Travel allowances the State counts as salary and make us deduct social security and taxes, the staff has to make the minimum salary and pay into social security, while it does not demand anything of private enterprises, this limits them from being competitive with private enterprise; “if a cooperative has a surplus it is charged taxes,” “if a cooperative buys inputs for its members, it pays taxes on purchasing those inputs,  and it pays taxes when providing them on credit to its members.” The State demands that the financial reports of cooperatives be done and signed by an accountant recognized by the State, and that the official minutes follow a format of the State. If the cooperative has the certification of some brand (seal), it must provide detailed information to the certifying company, including field inspections. These demands of the State and the certifiers mean that cooperatives  must employ business administrators, technicians and lawyers, which means having high permanent fixed costs. Governments running the State have become more demanding with cooperatives and associations in terms of finances, but not with other rules which are fundamental for cooperatives: transparency, democracy (functioning of their organs), distribution of profits; instead the State is opposed to the fact that cooperatives having their assets weighted in certifications in favor of their members, probably to facilitate taking over those assets when cooperatives go broke or the State makes them go broke[17]. All of this indicates that the State, as an expression of representative democracy, responds to the interest of capital, pushes cooperatives to also express representative democracy, devote themselves to business activities (of monocropping agriculture, or just to credit) while it limits them in their financial capacity to compete with private enterprises. The signs are that governments, regardless of their ideologies, prefer unorganized societies, they prefer Inc (incorporated businesses) and not LLC (limited liability corporations), they want to mold cooperatives “privatized” by a technocracy functional for the State and international organizations. Or perhaps to see cooperatives with peasant lawyers and accountants in offices in the towns, outside of their farms and communities?

Behind the State is capital or colonial and patriarchal capitalism which molds cooperatives under its spirit. Corporations, through their market mechanism, have made cooperatives become organizations dedicated to commerce or finance, be it as part of its structure of mediation, be it as specializing in monocropping agriculture (sugar cane, coffee, cacao, sesame seed, rice, bananas), for which reason it prioritizes masculine membership[18], and allows itself to be governed by market forces. They use this market language from economic elites in the cooperative, almost like any private enterprise: “to grow it is important to not distribute”, “a cooperative no matter what is an enterprise, otherwise it will disappear”, “all work is paid, voluntarism is out of style”, “men to the farm and women to the kitchen”, “grandmothers are for raising their grandchildren”, “it takes money to make money”, “agrochemicals produce harvests”, “reports confuse the members”, “you cannot produce if you do not take on debt”. This market speech has made peasant speech disappear: “diversifying to stagger income and ensure food for the family”, “feeding the soil with waste and chopped weeds”, “shared labor”, “sharecropping”, “exchange and reciprocity”, “we are cousins, in-laws and godparents”. A cooperative that does not speak the language of its membership, no longer dreams of a membership which would ensure its own food and improve their lives and that of their communities, and thus the self-esteem of the people is being thrown in the mud, like a lemon which a bartender continues squeezing and squeezing even though it has no more juice, and capital dispossesses them from their cooperative, turns them against the peasantry itself.

From this section we see that cooperatives are being privatized through its representative democracy – when everything is private, we will be deprived of everything. Cooperatives are making the dispossession of their members worse, while as an organization they privatize assets achieved on the basis of the efforts of their members, these cooperatives become prisoners of technocracies at the service of capital; the same happens with any type of organization, even sports clubs, they likewise are being privatized as if they were commodities disconnected from societies and their cultures.[19] The administrative staff of cooperatives, government officials and representatives of corporations naturally connect with one another subordinated to capital; they are white men who discriminate against peasants, machistas who exclude women and capitalists devoted to monocropping agriculture. In this type of capitalist cooperative run by the manager as a taskmaster for capital, what content is an education committee going to use for training? This model of a cooperative has lost legitimacy in its members and in the communities; its membership and communities see it as the “cooperative of Juan”, or the “cooperative of Doris”, as individual traders concerned about money, who do not contribute to reducing social inequality, mitigating climate change, nor that their members can ensure their family food. They are interested in generating profits to maintain the administrative technocracy. They are cooperatives without counterweights nor counterpowers, cooperatives taken over by one or two people, who devote themselves to collecting and selling products. Consequently, this cooperative model with representative democracy is not for peasants nor for rural communities concerned about their land and water, it is not for impoverished people nor for women in a situation of vulnerability who are striving to get out of their misfortunes; nor is it for people who diversify their economy and add value in the search for family and community self-sufficiency, unless they have already reluctantly embraced monocropping agriculture to accelerate that process with the cooperative.

In this cooperative model they can change the members of their organs, even change the manager, and nothing will happen. Everything will continue the same under the aegis of the market. It is like a hacienda where they can change the foreman, the steward, the supervisor of the commissary and frontrunners, even the large estate owner can die, but the structure of the hacienda will continue being the same. The structure of representative democracy drawn in Figure 4 is invariable.

4.    Democratic articulation as organizational reinvention

In this section we offer a proposal for articulation based on experiences of communities in Central America who are organizing into cooperatives and struggling to reinvent them to make them a means for their wellbeing.

4.1  Awareness to overcome the jacobine syndrome

To think through representative democracy (top down) and participatory democracy (bottom up), a first challenge is overcoming the jacobine syndrome. What is this? The French Revolution of 1798 did away with the “top” (the monarchy) and the Renaissance eroded the belief that supernatural forces explained everything and determined the lives of people, including the monarchical system itself. In the face of this change, the French revolutionary asked herself, “if God is not going to explain social events, who will explain them?” “We, society,” they responded.[20] But what society? In that revolution there were several forces or political currents, one of the most notable ones was a republican group called the Jacobines. They touted the mobilization of people “led from above,” they defended universal suffrage and the idea of the indivisibility of the nation, which led them to defend a strong and centralized State. That is the “Jacobine syndrome”: mobilizing people who are below, but led from above; in other words, the people cannot mobilize on their own, they always need those above – no longer the monarchy or God, but an illuminated elite; the paradox of this perspective is that the revolution shattered “those above” (monarchy + supernatural forces) and immediately an illuminated elite appeared as the new ones “from above.”

How can this jacobine syndrome be overcome? In Germany when they opened a door to the masses, they chose Hitler, or when the international community through the United Nations backed the creation of Israel, this people, controlled by Zionism, reproduced what Nazi Germany did to them, now against the Palestinians. During the French Revolution the people mobilized from below but were led from above. During the Sandinista and Cuban revolutions, it was assumed that there was mobilization from below (guerrillas and popular support from all social sectors), but it is recognized that it was led by a small group “from above” (the National Directorate or the Comandante en jefe).

This also happens on a country level, even though with variations; the United State and “old Europe” conceived themselves as guides of the 195 countries of the world, they intervene militarily in any country and impose dictatorships to protect their interests; the so-called socialism in the Soviet Union was authoritarianism, forced industrialization and rural collectivization. At the heart we perceive a millennial social rule: a minority rules the majority by hook or by crook; this happens at a world level, at the level of each country, in organizations or in families (“head of the family, says the Lord”).

The Catholic Church has a relatively mixed structure: from above, the Pope names Cardinals and Bishops, the Bishops ordain priests, priests name the zone and pastoral coordinators; from below, that designation of zone and pastoral coordinators is on the basis of a slate proposed by the delegates of the Word, communities name the delegates of the word who are confirmed by the priest, small communities (groups of 12-20 people) name their boards and in common agreement save resources; it is a vertical structure up to the parish level and with a combined structure at the community level – maybe in that combination resides its durability over time, because it is the oldest institution of the world.

This syndrome also exists in cooperatives, where people mobilize to build their organization, then the cooperative structure itself leads them to name people to different posts in the organs, who end up leading from above, or an administrative technocracy, the State, donors or corporations do. The social institutional framework pushes them in that direction: “We have now named the president, let him do everything.” The members do not call for accountability; “If we are not a business we are nothing.” The market leads them to monocropping agriculture. In other words, to a certain extent it is the members themselves who produce their authoritarian structures or the authoritarian structures create a paper membership, which they generate “from above.”

Challenging the jacobine syndrome supposes understanding these structures, these societies, those members, and overcoming the assumption of “the holy people”, who it is believed live in harmony and that everything that they do is good. In the case of Nicaragua, Vargas (1999) argues that the country is a prisoner of the “Pedrarias Syndrome”, a people condemned to depend on chiefs. Along this same line, the political scientist Álvarez Montalván (2006) observed that all the ideologies in the country have produced dictatorships: conservatives, liberals and leftists, and so he argues that the problem of Nicaraguans has to do with their need to find the strong man, depositing in that strong man the solution to their problems and the adjudication of their conflicts; in other words, there is a desire in the masses to being led “from above”, they more they hate “those above” the more they seek – oppressing or exploiting – to resemble that which they detest. Applied to cooperatives, we would say it is their own members who produce authoritarian structures in cooperatives, who name their representatives who become “top down” or become the foremen of those “higher ups,” leading those members to alien territories, like monocropping agriculture, one sole commercial and/or financial activity, and excluding women from cooperatives under the argument that “she is not a coffee grower” or “is not a cacao producer”. It is like the people themselves refuse to change, like internally they are divided (re)producing “the iron law of oligarchy” of economic, political and religious mediation, and at the same time expressing their values and life paths, which like coal have the potential to sudden catch fire.

It also implies overcoming the assumption of “enlightened saints.” We are not referring to elites or governments who kill for their supposed interests, we are referring to intellectuals who move in academic circles, international organizations, churches and the posts of different social and economic organizations. Their principal characteristic is the opposite of the axiom of Socrates, “I only know that I know everything”, for which they train, preach and provide prescriptions. Without studying the people or the members, they assume that they know them based on the theory of modernization, where the underdeveloped countries in a linear way follow the path of the developed countries, where there is nothing to learn from the “underdeveloped countries”, which is why they believe they have the solution for their ills: offices in the cities (municipal or provincial capitals) where the herd goes seeking “pasture”; monocropping agriculture dependent on agrochemicals; indebtedness; production of only commodities. Overcoming this syndrome requires that these enlightened people get down off their pedestals, in some cases (e.g. board members of cooperatives) that they go back to their community, recognize that outside resources are not more valuable than the community´s, and get involved – and study – with the members their processes of change in their communities and move forward together, overcoming their assumptions of “sanctity.”

Something that can inspire us in this is the role of the prophets referred to in the Bible. Luke 4:24

puts in the mouth of Jesus the following phrase: “No prophet is accepted in his own land.” What does this mean? Our interpretation is that a prophet studies the people and finds their divisions, disputes and harmful practices and beliefs, and based on those findings, challenges them to change, to find their way again, but the people with their authorities refuse that change or re-encounter, prefer to appear that they are going “to wash their dirty laundry at home,” do not do it, make themselves out to be the victims, blaming external factors on their situations, which is why they attack the prophet and banish him, in this way losing their most strategic ally from within their own ranks. The theologian Hurtado[21] analyzes the fact that the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezequiel dress down the pastors of Israel for manipulating God, closing him in a temple (Is 66:1-3), for establishing businesses and taxes in the name of God, and for keeping God from accompanying his people; Jesus recovers this prophetic dimension and distances himself from the temple and the synagogue, in their place he proposes impoverished people as the way, a place for following, faith and manifestation of God. This led the political, religious, and economic mediation of that time to conspire against Jesus and murder him.

What do we learn from this for overcoming the jacobine syndrome? First, being aware of the jacobine syndrome in the very organizations where we work. Second, people called intellectuals should be inspired by the role of the prophets, only that in contrast to them, they should get involved in organizations and together organize their collective actions, and self-study their processes, following the axiom of Socrates, “I only know that I know nothing”, in order to correct, generate, expand and catalyze good practices of mobilization overcoming the above/below duality; we argue that this involvement (rootedness) can break that fate of “there is no prophet in their own land” and prevent their banishment. Third, people with positions, leaders in cooperatives, communities and rural organizations, also inspired by the prophets, but embedded in their organizations and on a rotating basis, as they respond to their assemblies and rules agreed upon by consensus, will be able to resist being co-opted by the structures of mediation which have abducted God in the temples (cooperatives in urban offices, leaders who turn into foremen of buyers, land turned into a commodity), will not conceal harmful practices – even though popular – in their communities of “not washing their dirty laundry in public” (divisions, violent confrontations, making themselves into victims and blaming external forces for their failures, disloyal to their organization and disinterest in vitalizing their assemblies); these board members, leaders shake up the mindsets of their members, of  “getting revenge”, “you can make me sign, but I will never comply”, “living pay check to pay check”, “blaming the dry spell for the bad harvest”, and “every man for himself”. Fourth, to make the previous points viable, intellectuals, boards members, leaders and members should decentralize rural organizations in a systematic way: from urban offices to the cooperative building located in the community, from monocropping agriculture to diversifying the farm and adding value to its products, from going into debt to saving, from seeing solutions above to see them in the community, from burning weeds to planting basic grains, to not burning and taking advantage of the plant waste so that it retains moisture and feeds the crops, from instead of subjecting themselves to the market, to making the associative and the administrative-business sides interact guided by its statutes and agreements, from shutting themselves up with the membership itself, to opening up and forming new organizations with more impoverished people and communities…

4.2  Democratic articulation under counterweight mechanisms

Now let’s see what this organization is like when above and below is diluted: see Figure 5. There we seek to draw a cooperative with a community horizon, which moves under agreed upon rules, counterweight organs and in a network of counterpower relations (different tiers of cooperatives, communities, State, private sector, social movements). The arrows indicate several triangles where the influence of capital and hierarchical structures is diminished, while the influence of the dynamics of cooperation grow. It is a cooperative pulled from the space of economic and political mediation (semi-circle with lines), where greed and the cult of growth prevail, and drawn to the community space (circle with dots), where growth with equity is the air breathed; in other words, it moves from the urban space (municipal or provincial capital) controlled by technocracy and the market, toward the communities which facilitate members having more possibilities of controlling and using their organization. This implies cultivating a long-term perspective, thinking about the fact that their decisions have an impact on future generations, like for example investing in the soil, in farms, organizing or adding value to what we produce.

In what follows let us read Figure 5 from the bottom up. The members interact with their cooperative, be that in its associative or administrative-business expression. Members negotiate any demand following the agreements and rules which they approved by consensus in the assembly. This implies that if they are looking for a loan, they go to the credit committee (associative side) following the procedure defined for that purpose, and the credit committee heightens their relations with the administrative area to resolve these requests, sharing information and making their decisions be executed as reflected in the official minutes; the same thing happens for using any service which they carry out as a cooperative, including possible external donations which they may receive, whose distribution is carried out according to rules and agreements worked on in the assembly, and not in accordance with discretional decisions of the manager in the administrative area.

On the associative foot are the organs: assembly, administrative council, oversight board, education committee and any other committee (production, credit and/or commercialization). This structure of organs functions with counterweight mechanisms in a systematic way guided by consensus rules and agreements. The organ of the assembly, the highest expression of participatory democracy, deliberates (analyzes reports that the administrative area prepares and studies their opportunities and possibilities) and makes consensus decisions, decisions which the rest of the organs and administrative area carry out – govern by obeying. Each organ has their defined functions in their statutes: Administrative council governs (coordinates) and legally represents the cooperative; oversight board audits the administrative area and the other organs in the fulfillment of their tasks, following the rules and agreements of the cooperative; education committee forms and trains the members in the spirit of cooperativism (cooperating). This process, nevertheless, moves under constant risks, like the fact that an assembly can be manipulated, because one voice with economic power can get more votes[22], or the strength of one speech can achieve more votes than reasoned processes, which is why an assembly must be conceived as a space for systematic reflection, shared analysis and prepared in advance in visits and group reflections – walks, analysis workshops on specific topics, rereading the statutes.

The administrative area is composed of the manager, accounting staff, technicians, operators and quality control. This structure also functions with counterweights: cashier pays following a payment order prepared by the accounting area, authorized by the manager; they cannot pay anything with just the order of payment coming from the manager; credit is given based on the official minutes signed by the credit committee, which has previously reviewed the list of members with debts, following the rule that one loan cannot be made on top of another, etc; this process of counterweights is a path for professional formation with a cooperative spirit. Internally, given that they are learning, this staff aspires to new posts as they scale up along the path of jobs and training: cashier, accounting, vice manager and manager. This path should not be blocked by an unmovable manager; that path should instead nourish the interest of each functionary and working person, that the more they scale up in their career the more they serve the members and their communities; the person in the post of manager, after some years, can take on the undertaking of another initiative in the same cooperative. Then, since the administrative area is the counterweight of the associative area and vice versa, if the president requests a loan without following the rules and ignoring the credit committee, the cashier, accounting or management area would point out to him the path to be followed; in this way people are formed in line with the rule of law, forming leaders, without the administrative staff or manager taking the place of the organs in their roles under the absolutist rule that “I am the cooperative.” Likewise, the technical staff like the agronomists, facilitate reflective processes in people, so that they are concerned not about the crop but the soil, agricultural and non-agricultural diversification, work with the family…The administrative area, with its manager, reports with transparency to the organs of the cooperative about the activities and results which they have[23]; is accountable and presents proposals about how to proceed with new services, valuing the assets of the cooperative like the contributions of each member, the rules for the sustainable use of the social fund, so that the different organs might analyze that information and make decisions. Their role includes informing the members of each organ and carrying out the operational decisions which they are assigned.

This form of functioning on two feet, the associative and the business-administrative, with their respective organs or posts, shows that a 1st tier cooperative is a school of learning based on its counterweights. Leaders and professionals are formed there with a shared spirit. In the associative area, a member learns what it is to analyze and decide in the assembly, scale up to some committee, then to the administrative council, then to the oversight board, next they can advise their organization or create a new service in the cooperative. In the case of a cashier, they can scale up to the accounting area, to vice manager and manager, and after that can lead new services; all of them can become exceptional professionals, with more skills and a cooperative vision. Each organ plays the role of counterweight to the others, and there is also a counterweight between the associative and the administrative areas.

This articulation of participatory and representative democracy, based on counterweights and on being a school of shared leadership formation[24], is embedded in peasant strategies of diversifying their activities, achieving family and community self-sufficiency, connecting with land and water, and developing different services, including finance and commercialization, this time as a function of peasant and community economies, and not as a function of capital. This makes the associative side have a strategic role, and the administrative-business side have an operational role. Consequently, a cooperative contributes to their members awakening and systematically innovating in their activities, adding value to their products, while as a cooperative they create different services to respond to these diverse peasant activities. This cooperative model follows its historic mandate of distributing its profits, that the value of each asset that it possesses be expressed in contribution certificates in the name of its members, an action which prevents corruption and governments from taking over the assets of the cooperative as a function of capital – privatize it, expropriate it. This is governing themselves, self-determination, not allowing the market to govern them.

4.3  Democratic articulation under counterpower mechanisms

Having strong organizations thanks to the exercise of their counterweights, let us take a third step, this time let us study the surroundings expressed in the relationships between organizations, which we define as counterpower relations: see Figure 6. There is the 1st tier cooperative, which, based on its counterweights, stands with legitimate force; we assume that the same happens in the other tiers of cooperatives and in the other actors, church, State, private sector and community, who also are mediated by counterpower relations.

Each cooperative tier, including the ICA, cultivate, in terms of the others, counterpower relations, no one is superior or inferior. The 2nd tier cooperative is constituted to strengthen the 1st tiers and not to centralize decisions and concentrate resources which correspond to the 1st tier; the same with the 3rd tier cooperative in terms of the 2nd tier. In this sense, the relationship between different tiers of cooperatives is one of counterpower, the same as ICA with the different tiers of cooperatives.

Cooperatives of any tier, and especially cooperatives of different tiers taken together, coordinating among themselves, become a counterpower to the State, the private sector, churches and communities. In turn, those actors legitimized by the exercise of their counterweights, also become counterpower to cooperatives. In this way, cooperatives pressure the State so that it be guided by the constitution and recognize the positive externalities which cooperatives generate for societies; in turn the State makes sure that the rules of cooperatives are followed, including transparency, equity and democracy. Cooperatives can be a counterpower to the private sector, reveal their mechanisms of dispossession and demand to be treated as cooperatives and not as private enterprises. Likewise with the Church.

Communities which organize also must exercise counterpower relations. For that purpose, the first thing that a community must learn is to speak their own language: pasanaku, minka [community labor] , sharecropping, shared labor; exchange, reciprocity, diversification, family self-sufficiency, living soil, water, green fertilizer; its rationality is in this language, admittedly buried under several layers of soil, because, as K. Marx said, “the dominant ideas of each epoch have always been the ideas of its dominant class” – resisting, above all seeking its own path, implies that communities speak first of all their own language. These communities, to the extent that they recover their language, can audit organizations in the fulfillment of the policies referring to social equity and their connection with the earth, making sure that they respond to their principles and not to the laws of the market imposed by elites. Communities can be a counterpower to corporations, the State and Churches, to grow with equity and long-term sustainability. The State itself needs strong organizations, communities and corporations, which prevent the State from making discretional decisions outside the law of the republic.

Under these relations of counterpower each actor watches over the other, so that there is no abuse of power, that the assembly might deliberate and make decisions, and that decisions be made in consensus and completely implemented; in a coordinated way they seek to expel patriarchy from the heart of organizations and institutions, question the centralization of power of decision over resources which are the collective good of specific groups or of entire humanity, and fight to reduce social inequality[25] –because the reduction in inequality goes hand in hand with participatory and representative democracy. It is under this spirit of counterpower that alliances are made, which is governance not based on donations or subordinated to the market, but on joining efforts for a common goal of benefitting communities to expand their capacities and keeping colonial and patriarchal “savage capitalism” from taking hold.

In this sense any person is formed as a citizen by getting involved in the process depicted in Figure 6. There members determine their good practices in order to expand them, and cooperatives are conceived to be a vehicle for their members and their community. The rules and agreements are to be implemented, while at the same time surpassed by better rules and agreements which express systematic innovations in the organizations. This development of the interest of people is a sign that they have a living organization, because stagnating is only following the rules, a cooperative must follow and surpass the rules as the fruit of new innovations.

From this section we targeted elements which lead us to overcome the jacobine syndrome. Having awareness about the scope of this syndrome, and involving ourselves in collective processes to systematically innovate, is the first element. A cooperative which cultivates its legitimacy based on its counterweights, rooted in communities, and following its rules, will make a member process their demands in accordance with the rules of the cooperative – this is the second element. This cooperative connected with the private sector, the State, communities, and churches will build a network which turns into a school of learning and innovation, growth with equity and good treatment for each person- this is the third element. We are then facing a real possibility of democratic articulation which can overcome the jacobine syndrome.

5.    Conclusions

Sharing the definition which Dussel has about what a democratic system is, an institutional organization of legitimacy coming from the people (laos), legitimacy which ultimately is trust, the question for this article was, how can participatory and representative democracy be articulated as expression and at the same time pillar for the transformation of our societies? Now into the topic and to prepare a proposal we introduced the challenge of how to overcome the jacobine syndrome.  That question alludes to a topic traditionally located in the political sphere, and almost exclusively at the national and international levels. In this article we expand it and reread it from the perspective of communities who are organizing and that, even though they are not proven processes or models, their experimentation provokes reflection and makes this article be more propositional and not something conclusive.

In response to the question we found that representative democracy is connected with colonial and patriarchal capitalism, where the winners are concerned about getting the trophy (capital, land, mining concessions, patents, State and the power of violence) at any cost, ignoring counterweights and counterpower relationships. Based on this finding, the lessons in an alternative path follow:

  • Participatory democracy (from below) and representative democracy (from above) walk together with inclusive, just, and free economies as a function of societies (or communities). That democracy is assembly-based, they follow their rules and agreements (“our word has value”) under organizational structure; it is laocracy where women, workers, peasants, indigenous, business people and all people are subjects of this process.
  • They articulate with one another creating awareness about the jacobine syndrome in the life of each organization and institution, and overcoming it based on being involved in collective processes and making each organization be a space of learning, with which they overcome the law of “there is no prophet in their own land”; resurrecting the counterweight mechanisms inside each organization, and having counterpower relations with different actors.
  • For this articulation, they generate the appropriate conditions with a long-term perspective and spatially move to communities where the cooperative subjects are – the citizenry with or without property.
  • They are rooted in decolonializing dynamics which start from the origins of democracy, in laocracy, and from the origins in Latin America and the Caribbean of the multicultural clash/encounter, now in pursuit of its second independence, more connected to the world and with more self-determination, and which overcome the dualisms of collective actions and their celebration (works and faith), economy and religion, the social and political.

The story at the beginning of the text talked to us about how to get plugged in. In the article we see that these elements of being plugged in or connected happen, precisely, with a profound democracy which articulates the mobilization of the people overcoming the below/above duality, combining equality of rights and voice, where democracy and the reduction of inequality go hand in hand, like peace with justice.

What we learn in this article, reflecting from the reality of cooperatives and rural organizations, is worthwhile for any national and international organization and institution. In fact, there cannot be democracy if it is not built from the communities themselves who organize. We are reflecting on this and pursuing it just as we dreamt, like in the story, and we strive to create the democratic conditions which would make us live more and better.

6.    References

Ahmed, Nabil, 2022, Informe Oxfam Las Desigualdades Matan. Oxfam

Alvarez Montalvan, Emilio, 2006, Cultura Política Nicaraguense. Managua: Colección Presidencial Enrique Bolaños

Apel, Karl-Otto, 2004 “La ética del discurso como ética de la responsabilidad: una transformación postmetafísica de la ética de Kant”, en: Dussel, Enrique y Apel, Karl-Otto, Etica del Discursoy  Etica de la Liberación, Madrid: Trotta

Chancel, Lucas, Piketty, Thomas, Saez, Emmanuel and Zucman Gabriel et al. World Inequality Report 2022. In: Population and Development Review 49.1 UNDP

Dussel, Enrique, 2020, “La democracia en el mundo no occidentalizado”, second session in a series of conferences “(Re)pensando la democracia en el mundo actual: una visión histórica, global e interdisciplinaria”, México: UNAM. Ver:

Dussel, Enrique, 2007, Política de la Liberación: Historia mundial y crítica, Madrid: Trotta, vol. I,

Dussel, Enrique, 2009, Política de la liberación: Arquitectónica Madrid: Trotta, vol. II

Dussel, Enrique, 2022, Política de la liberación: Crítica creadora, Madrid: Trotta, vol III

Graeber, David y Wengrow, David, 2021, The Dawn of Everything, A New History of Humanity, England: Penguin Books

Habermas, Jürgen, 2000, Facticidad y validez .Sobre el derecho y el Estado democrdtico de derecho en términos de teoría del discurso. Madrid: Trottta

Harari, Noah, 2011, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, London: Vintage Books

Harvey, David, 2006, “Neo-liberalism as creative destruction”, in: Geografiska Annaler Series B: Human Geography 88:145-158.

Hinkelammert, Franz, 1981, Las Armas Ideológicas de la Muerte. San José: DEI

Ibáñez, Ana María, 2024, “Una mirada diferente a la desigualdad latinoamericana”, en: Project Syndicate.

Mendoza, René, 2014, “Liderazgos colectivos y compartidos. Antídoto para una sociedad dependiente de patrones y jefes” en: Revista ENCUENTRO, 99

Oxfam Internacional, 2024, Desigualdad S.A., El poder empresarial y la fractura global: la urgencia de una acción pública transformadora. Inglaterra: Oxfam

Pistor, Katharina, 2022, El Código del Capital: Cómo la ley crea riqueza y desigualdad. España: Capitán Swing

Vargas, Oscar René, 1999, El síndrome de pedrarias: cultura política en Nicaragua. Managua: Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Nacional,

[1] René has a PhD in development studies, is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation, and an advisor of rural organizations in Central America.

[2] The desire to grow and grow leads to the unending search for productivity (volume per hectare and per person), and from there competitiveness and consequently a stress filled and desperate life, as if the world is going to end today and as if only one way of living existed.

[3] In February 2024, the Secretary of State of the United States, defined his policy: “Across the board, we’ve seen our comparative advantage as having a strong network of voluntary alliances, voluntary partnerships. And if you’re not at the table in the international system, you’re going to be on the menu.” In other words, if you do not follow the will of the United States, you are going to be eaten.

[4] There is a television series, Yellowstone, in the United States created by Taylor Sheridan and John Linson in 2018, which follows the conflicts which happen on the frontier of the Yellowstone ranch, in the Broken Rock Indian area of the Yellowstone National Park and on farmland and other ranches. In this series a corporation decides to build an airport on a property which was part of the Indian territory and then had belonged to a family for seven generations. The corporation asks the governor to expropriate it by decree, because “the airport will generate millions of dollars in earnings and taxes; Progress has costs!” It is the same argument that is used in Latin America or any corner of the world to expropriate peasants and indigenous peoples, or all of humanity: progress without concern for human and natural life.

[5] Under neoliberalism, governments ruled by the market have been dismantling organizations like unions and the few laws that in some way defended the working class. A corporation can invest in a country in Latin America without concern that a worker would sue them or that a union would pressure them about certain policies around work hours or salaries, because governments ensure them a free path for their business decisions.

[6] Latinobarómetro 2023, a survey which is done of 18 countries in Latin America, revealed that 54% of the population is indifferent about democracy; it does not matter to this part of the population whether a non-democratic government comes in to solve the problems. The report highlights this decline in interest for democracy in the last 13 years.

[7] This can be called a fetish. In Liberation Theology, Hinkelammert (1981) defines fetishism in the economy. In this case, fetishism is when elites, ignoring the people as the source of power, manipulate the representatives, making them believe that they are the source of power, when in reality the elites wield power and manipulate the State in favor of their own interests.

[8] Chancel, Piketty, Saez and Zucman (2021), directing a UNDP study, found that 10% of the richest homes of the region had more than three quarters of total wealth, and the half of the poorest homes had only 1%. The Oxfam report (Nabil, 2022) shows another inequality, which contrasts the countries of the Global South with developed countries, where 69% of private global wealth is concentrated despite the fact that it has just 21% of the world´s population, and where 1% of the wealthiest of the planet have as much wealth as the remaining 99%. Oxfam International (2024) finds that the concentration of business and market power of the principal global corporations of the developed countries reflects the concentration of capital and wealth; this is monopolistic power which disincentivizes businesses to compete with one another, and that, in turn, intensifies even more the monopolistic power, which is a machine producing inequality; that monopolistic power at the cost of economic, social, environmental and political rights of millions of people, reflect the impact of neoliberalism on a large part of the world.

[9] Libertarians believe in individual freedom as the supreme political value, they distrust the State and want to abolish it. The source of their ideas come from the well-known Austrian School of Economics and Ideas of Liberty. Among its intellectuals are Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek.

[10] We distinguish self-determination from autonomy, because many governments seek to control their citizens in the name of “sovereignty”, their interest being keeping international organizations from questioning their human rights violations of their people. Self-determination, we would say, is a process in which societies make their own destiny, connected to values and just laws which international organizations also express.

[11] Anarchists (see Bakunin, Russian philosopher, and politician XIX century) propose that the institution of the State is a system of domination and is corrupt per sé, which is why they advocate for its dissolution. In its place they propose organizing federations which would be coordinated by confederations, and that the basis of that organization is labor.

[12] Apel (2004) and Habermas (2000) demonstrate what validity is, valid is that which ends up being an irrefutable agreement within a community. That agreement is valid, therefore it is ethical, an act is good when it has been valid. Along the same lines, Kant would say that what is valid in ethics is legitimate in politics.

[13] Many cooperatives who have a certain amount of capital hire managers who have studied in business schools; “we cooperatives need managers who have studied in INCAE, business experts” –cooperative boards repeat. Institutions that train administrative personnel with a cooperative spirit for the entire region of Central America, like the case of the Interamerican Cooperative Institute (ICI), have practically disappeared.

[14] The same logic of “every man for himself” which prevails in people on an individual level, under the spirit of capitalism, or “personal salvation”, which prevails in the churches, also prevails between organizations and institutions. The institution of the State, instead of being a counterpower, wants to subordinate cooperatives to the interests of the government of the moment, the same happens with an NGO and second tier cooperatives in relation to the 1st tier ones, or with the 3rd tier cooperative in their relation to the 2nd tier, or between 1st tier cooperatives. No one wants anyone to review their processes, it is difficult for there to be alliances between cooperatives or for there to be relationships of counterpower between different organizations. There is a counterpower crisis.

[15] King Louis XIV in France, when parliament limited his powers in 1655, rejected it saying, “I am the State” (L’État, c’est moi); absolutism in France only ended in 1789 with the French revolution. In the last 30 years, managers (CEOs) of corporations reincarnated the spirit of Louis XIV, they behave like absolute kings, and are seen as such by societies; consequently, the legal system of the United States defends the idea that the private sector can choose the law according to which they want to be governed, without facing limitations on their capacity to make deals wherever they want. Let us look at this with a case: The Equity Court of Delaware annulled the compensation agreement with Tesla of 56 billion dollars in favor of the CEO Elon Musk, he did not tolerate that resolution, like the reincarnation of Louis XIV he now wants to locate the company in Texas where he believes there are more favorable courts. Following Pistor (2022), corporations practically are legislating, the law is what they want it to be, they can enter or leave a legal system on their own. This monarchical spirit connects managers of any organization. In this way, a manager of a cooperative appears to say, “I am the cooperative.”

[16] This issue of following rules and agreements should be analyzed. We now observe that agreements are not important to corporations, they have lawyers to find legal loopholes in order to accumulate capital at whatever cost; while peasant-farmers value agreements (“I give you my word”) because they stay in the same community for generations; indigenous populations respect their word with their ancestors. In the Yellowstone series, when they propose buying the rancher´s property which has been in his family for seven generations, and they warn him, that if he does not sell it, he is going to lose everything in a matter of days, he responds, “I prefer that you take the property away from me, but I will not break my promise” (read “my word” = agreement or promise to his parents). Consequently, when we talk about following agreements, it is important to analyze the perspectives at play in the organization and reflect how even corporations might be able to contribute to the common good – if reflected upon, it can change.


[17] In some countries the governments, in addition to improving their control mechanisms over cooperatives and associations, are closing civil society organizations (NGOs, foundations, unions) and are confiscating their assets, including the assets and bank accounts of churches. The idea of many governments is that they represent society which they conceive as “children”, which is why any decision of the “parents” (government) about the “children” is good for “the children” (societies), even confiscating their “toys” (assets).

[18] We estimate female membership in agriculture cooperatives to be 25%. Who are they? When their husbands died, they were left as members; when their husbands divorced them and left, they remained as members; male members who included their wives as members due to pressure from donor organizations to approve projects, some women who are members in their own right work on monocropping agriculture.

[19] César Luis Menotti, technical director of the 1978 world champion Argentinian all-star team, about the intention of President Milei to privatize the clubs, “It would seem that everyone wants to sell Argentina: they want to sell the clubs, the companies. Argentina has ceased to belong to Argentinians. If they allow clubs to belong to companies, the members are finished, and soccer is a cultural event. Privatizing a club is like stealing money from workers. The members made the clubs with a lot of sacrifice from a lot of people who passed through the club. It is not a matter of inventing things…This thing about privatizing the clubs and turning them into a business only serves those who do business.” In digital newspaper La Verdad, February 10, 2024,

[20] The Renaissance reflects western thought. Nevertheless, Graeber and Wengrow (2021) say that the ideas of the Renaissance came from indigenous peoples, which is why maybe it is not entirely western.

[21] Roberto Hurtado is a theologian and an artesan, like the biblical figures Paul, Aquila and Priscila: Roberto writes short biblical analyses on Facebook. What is referenced here is reflected in his article “El camino, el templo sin muros”, from July 17, 2020.

[22] An assembly can be easily manipulated by managers and board members with a absolutist spirit (“leave it to me, I will take care of it”), even more if the members lacks interest in their organization, only want credit and better prices for their products, without making contributions nor exercising their rights to profits, to being informed and being part of the decisions which govern the life of their organization.

[23]Information is a collective good of the organization and a common good of humanity.

[24] In Mendoza (2014) we develop this notion of shared leadership, which a learning organization needs to develop not so much as leaders as individuals and heroes, but in a role of coordinators where each member becomes a leader within a team framework.

[25] There are two harmful beliefs about inequality: one, that all the region is affected by the evil of a structural inequality immune from political intervention; two, that inequality is a fixed and unmovable characteristic of societies of Latin America and the Caribbean – in other words, nothing can be done.  Studies, nevertheless, show that inequality varies from country to country, increased in most countries in the decade of the 1970s and reached its peak in 1990, then began to decrease until 2014, and since that year in which the region stagnated economically, inequality has not varied. There is an improvement in inequality in income above all due to the progress in access to education and social welfare policies of many governments. It is recognized that it is more difficult to achieve improvements in inequality based on wealth. For a brief analysis, see Ibañez (2024).

Building community clusters based on coffee

Building community clusters based on coffee

René Mendoza Vidaurre [1]

Con Freddy Pérez, Noelia Falcón, Axel Zelaya, Yesenia Hernández and Yeiling Hernández [2]

Be prepared

– “I already sold my coffee, or better said, badly sold it,” said Chepe throwing down the baskets and sacks

– “What? Again? You pay them to screw you,” reacted Sara, as if throwing more logs on the fire.

– “You are to blame, you did not remind me to buy the scales when we had money, today I did not even have a notebook to write down the weight, they cheated me!” He gasped and sat down, wishing the earth would swallow him.

– “Calm down man! We got `vultured¨”…


– “In the rainy season a vulture cannot even fly because of the cold rain and treeless areas, wet and hurting, he promises to build his house in the dry season; the dry season comes, and he is fresh, flies off and forgets about his promise, until the cold rains return, then he regrets not having built his home.”

– “Ah, mind of a vulture is what I have”–growled Chepe

– “Shut up and get ready for tomorrow!” –ordered Sara and turned around to rake the coffee in the drying racks, while Chepe quit complaining, picked up the basket and sacks, and with notebook in hand left for his coffee field….

The vulture mentality is a vicious cycle of not being prepared for– or forgetting about – what is coming: suffering the effects of hard times, promising to not suffer it again, forgetting about your promise absorbed by the good moment that then passes, suffering again, blaming others, getting depressed, making promises again…It is when the person accepts that the past might become the future. That mentality we see reproduced in any area where we people live; for example, in a good part of our realities, we bet only on money and for the short term and knowingly – or forgetting – that we are eroding the soil and harming our diet. The same thing happens in the churches, they fall over themselves in adoration and neglect to invest in the wholeness of life.

How can we connect those moments of suffering and happiness to not accept or rather change that future? What can we do to make short term and long-term perspectives not be either/or in our minds? These general questions help us to reflect on how to free ourselves from the structure of intermediation and build community clusters based on coffee. Sara and Chepe in the parable suggest a path for us: be prepared, imagine the future and make it a reality.

1.    Introduction

A concept which we are working on is the community cluster.

There are two definitions of clusters, the version of the American School with Porter (1990), and the European one with Schmitz (1995). Porter defines it as a “geographical set of interconnected businesses and associated institutions in a specific field and which compete and cooperate with one another.” Schmitz, for his part, defines it as “a set of enterprises and institutions that focus their production and services on a set of similar final goods and which are located in a delimited geographic environment.” Although they differ in their geographic scope, both focus on a final homogeneous product and the generation of financial surpluses. Parrilli (2011) observes that both concepts have been successful, and that in the last 20 years there has been an enormous variation of clusters: they have become multisectoral “around the client and the principal sources of demand,” surpassing those mono-sectoral clusters which come together in a final homogeneous product.

In this notion of clusters which is becoming more diverse and result in several final products, economic logic and the fact that their products have destinations outside of those geographical spaces continues being important. We take on part of that perspective, that of being interconnected in a multisectoral sphere, and we add the community aspect, which is specific to a territory (like the European version of cluster) and it is also broad (like the American notion of cluster), but its purpose is to produce life in the communities themselves. They are clusters which move as constellations of people, initiatives, information, and services, moved by perspectives of social and environmental equity, freedom and values of justice and loyalty, and with a long-term view, over several generations[3].

A second concept is strategies. This concept emerged within a military context with Sun Tzu (V century BC), in his book The Art of War as the continuation of politics by other means; then Niccoló Machiavelli (1469-1527) worked on it in politics in his book The Prince; in recent decades businesses have used it in the sphere of the economy: the challenge is not beating the competition but responding to the needs of the market, and above all to the needs of the future; “the most successful strategy is vision” (Mintzberg); it is “obsession” (strategic intent) (Hamel and Prahalad); and it is “the capacity to learn more quickly than competitors” (Arie de Geus). We reread this: strategies in function of community spirit, not in function of the market; vision in – and healthy obsession for – the community cluster, and a perspective as holistic as possible among the economic, social, political, cultural and environmental aspects, as well as connecting the needs of humans, animals and nature.

This article emerges at the height of the coffee harvest where we are immersed in collecting a container of coffee (412 qq export quality) to export, and 50qq of coffee to roast for rural communities. Amid this urgency to collect the harvest, we are building an organization which would deal with export quality coffee, add value to it, sell it and do everything with a sense of community. The abrasive dialogue which happens between Sara and Chepe in the parable grabs our attention: “get ready for the next pass[4]”. And how is Chepe going to prepare? Reflecting on what happens to the vulture to overcome his “vulture mindset,” he begins to listen to his advisor Sara, gather the things that he himself had thrown down, and draw out his future. This is what we are doing in this article.

For this reason, we have talked with people who move around coffee and with other living beings who also move around coffee. We talked with people who are connected to the soil and different products to transform energy into new products. It is not the person who is the producer or farmer of coffee or soil, but rather it is a constellation of living beings who contribute to the transformation of energy through birds, cattle, crops…which later are called products, which on being consumed continue the transformation of energy into other expressions of life[5]: See Figure 1. This way of conversing goes beyond generalities like greeting one another and asking one another about what has happened to them and to other people, we reflect asking ourselves about why what happens has occurred, and what would happen if we changed this or that; for example, about coffee quality, the harvest collection, imagining new commercialization structures where markets begin in the communities themselves. They are conversations where we are tacitly reflecting on this transformation of energy in its different expressions.

The second type of conversation is with the soil, water and animals. We converse observing their behavior, detecting their interaction with plants[6] and learning how nature is generating life: where there are forests producing its fertility; living beings consume and at the same time feed the soil itself…


The perspective of colonial and patriarchal capitalism makes it seem that only producers, businesses, and consumers feed the world or move the economy, that it is the farmer who produces the coffee, beans or meat, that he does it disconnected from that transformation of infinite energy which is manifested in different expressions of life, and that “everything is done with money.” This transpires a vision in which only the individual person is the producer, business person, or consumer. The influence of this perspective has made cooperatives and other associative expressions fail or end up being absorbed by colonial and patriarchal capitalism, because they organize only around product commodities, ignoring the infinity of elements which happen in the transformation of energy through trees, soil, cattle, crops, people, and water, elements where organizing really is necessary.

We want to build a decolonizing perspective, which is the diversity of elements in different phases which are transforming energy and that can be infinitely taken advantage of, particularly if people organize. The vision of community clusters is the promotion of that transformation of energy into thousands of expressions of life: seed, soil and water – leaves of plants which animals consume, adding value to products that pass from one hand to another – products which humans consume – manure which feeds the soil and bones which are used for arrows or musical instruments…This perspective makes these multiple concatenations of different expressions of life visible, and makes us reflect on how to energize that movement of the transformation of energy.

Within this framework, Figure 2 illustrates the strategies. Our vision is building community clusters through a weaving which is as local as it is global, but with the humility of learning from that infinite transformation of energy. For that purpose, we are designing an inclusive and living community organization. We are concerned about building an organization from and with the people. To structure teams. We connect it in alliances among diverse actors around a diversity of initiatives which gradually are including one and another element of these expressions of life through which energy is being transformed. The figure has the form of an onion, it is composed of several layers which express autonomy (freedom) and at the same time make up the onion as a whole, like a cycle or like our common home, the earth. In the figure there are strategies (or layers) which are interconnected, stuck to one another, constituting a type of “natural antibiotic” which protects and makes living beings protect themselves, while at the same time they grow in unity.

In what follows we are going to describe those “layers” (strategies), in order to, in the end, provide a view of the whole of the “onion.”

2.    Strategy of synergy of initiatives, efforts and actions

  • One initiative on its own can be highly profitable, but at the cost of the human and natural community. In contrast, an initiative can be profitable, sustainable, and beneficial for its membership and for communities, if it is connected with other initiatives which express well-thought-out efforts and actions. What is profitable and sustainable, then, is that connection and that energy which catalyze good multiplier effects. By that synergy more resources are left in the community itself, and the flow of those resources helps to energize the community; by that synergy they catalyze entrepreneurial undertakings with values of justice and loyalty; and by that synergy they illuminate different routes or make people see new opportunities where their capacities can take advantage.

 Figure 3 shows that synergy and interdependence between initiatives. From humanity we learn that the greatest innovation was fire, and that that fire emerged from striking stones. So it is also for the synergy between initiatives, which on striking (connecting, tensing up and coordinating with one another) produce new ideas, generate profits with social and individual equity. It is a synergy behind which people coordinate; synergy of things in reality is an encounter of people with their respective worlds. In the figure, those with the broken line are initiatives which we are currently designing.

Working on coffee is working on that synergy. And starting with synergy is building the entirety of the organization.

The next step is, supported by the idea of energy transformation through different elements, to make visible a number of elements which that synergy of initiatives, reflected in the Figure, hides, and consequently to make the organization able to create the conditions for its membership to work on them. Like which ones?

  • Roasting, raising chickens and pigs, and the harvest of beans and corn, leave important elements for making organic fertilizer which feeds the soil: the roaster leaves coffee husks, chickens their manure and beans and corn leave chaff and dirt which are full of nutrients, and damaged grains which serve as feed for the chickens, turkeys and pigs.
  • A community store which, in addition to demanding products produced in the community itself, adds more and more value to the products it buys: for example, making nacatamales which require peasant products like plantain leaves, plantains, corn, pork or turkey meat.
  • Manure from pig raising is fertilizer and also an input for making kitchen biodigesters, which saves people from money spent on firewood, lessens the pressure on energy trees, and saves time for people who cook.
  • The roaster also could be used to process other products: roasted corn…

Organizing initiatives like the roaster or the nurseries which are in Figure 3 are important, while the real challenge is detecting other elements that those initiatives generate tacitly and make visible, like raising poultry, the production of fertilizer or food processing, and so organizing ourselves around them to take advantage of them. There is where organizing makes sense and where we can make a difference.

3.    Strategy of alliances

In coffee there is an alliance of actors who make up an important part of the value chain: from production to the sale of roasted coffee in the US and in the communities of Nicaragua; it is an alliance for producing ideas.

Figure 4 shows the Community Social Enterprises (CSE) – Solidaridad Cooperative and Winds of Peace Foundation (WPF) alliance, behind which is the connection between the human community which even in an incipient way is finding its way of organizing, and the natural community. The basis of this alliance are local and global communities (from Nicaragua to the United States and from the United States to Nicaragua). The figure of the rhombus replaces the linear drawings of production-processing-commercialization which tend to be done in value chain studies. The rhombus is due to the fact that WPF has connections with the Solidaridad Cooperative and with the CSEs, the CSEs with WPF and the Solidaridad Cooperative; it is a relationship between different actors located on different links of the coffee chain and impacting the entirety of those links. It is a privileged alliance in financing, commercialization, production, processing, design and thought. It is an alliance under construction with a community focus.

This alliance we are watering like a recently sprouted plant is watered, the way to “water it” is: carefully recording the data which result from the transactions, and that they be reported by the supervisor every week; feeding transparent information to the alliance; increasing the frequency of communication between different actors, coordinating actions to get and transport coffee; and producing ideas, like this article, to organize different actions and make them viable.

Behind the alliance is the community which organizes, a community that is watching over equity and sustainability – the half-moon in Figure 4. It is responsible for seeing the alliance from the perspective of the soil, water, all human and natural populations. It is the domain that watches over the spiritual dimension.

In this chain a key point is the harvest collection. Traditionally, harvest collection is “accumulation, storage and stockpiling.” In this alliance of organizations, we are reconceptualizing the idea of harvest collection.

  • Harvest collection commonly understood is a place where the product goes, the person who collects it waits for it, receives it, weighs it, and pays for it. In the CSE harvest collection is mobile, it receives, weighs, and pays for the coffee, at the same time the person who collects the harvest goes out to visit selected producers. What are we looking for? If we build good and lasting relations with producers, they will bring in the coffee or we will collect it.
  • Harvest collection is not just a place where coffee is stored, it is also a place where it is dried, beans are selected and several types of coffee result: washed coffee, honey coffee, natural coffee. In this cycle we are going to mobilize ourselves around washed and natural coffee, for drying this latter coffee see Notebook No. 1.[7]Harvest collection is where the weight is recorded with each action: when paying the producer and spreading it out on drying beds, when gathered from the drying beds to store in the warehouse, when moved to the dry mill, and when in the mill it is moved from the patio to the warehouse, from the warehouse to the huller, and from the huller to the ship or to be roasted in the communities.
  • It is a mobile harvest collection, where each step which is taken is reflected upon; it is also a collector of ideas and patience, of love based on empathy for the people who come in from experiencing different “storms”.[8]
  • Businesses tend to have their central and sole harvest collection center in the town (municipal capital), the CSEs have several small harvest centers in different communities, centers which are in the homes of producers. In the medium term we want each producer family to also be a place for harvest collection, with all the previously mentioned elements, having a common place only for hulling the coffee, the roaster and the principal warehouse.

Another key point in this alliance is commerce. Buying and selling happens when there is trust between buyer and seller, it is not something technical, just weighing, paying and providing the receipt. Trust is the basis for economic transactions under lasting relationships, otherwise we would be left trapped in the vulture mindset.

  • Traditionally, selling is understood as buying, transporting, selling + trickery – playing with prices (“I pay 4000 the load…but this coffee is dirty, has coffee bore holes, I will pay you 3600”) and playing with weights where the scale is calibrated to take off between 2-5 lbs for every 100lbs. There the objective is making money with deceitful methods (trickery). In the CSE making money is a means using fair and honest ways, the goal is to build trust in a network of people, it is not convincing them, it is informing them so that each producer might compare, reflect and make their own decision to sell their coffee to whoever they want.
  • In traditional commerce, the producer feels humiliated when his coffee is bought, feels like they were not respected: “they cheated me!” they shout like a child who is looking for solace from their mother. In the CSE the producer feels respected, feels that they were taken into account, and recovers their self-esteem. Why? Because a fair weighing is done, the street price is published in a transparent way, the rules include the fact that a readjustment will be made: if coffee is bought at a time of low prices, after the season the price is readjusted to the highest price that it was bought during the harvest season, in other words they are paid the difference. The treatment is more important than the price: while the buyer mistreats the producer, in the CSE the treatment is fair, honest and caring; in each harvest collection center of the CSE there is free hot coffee so that each farmer who comes in might start their conversation drinking coffee.
  • Buyers act on informal rules (“to get profits you have to steal from the poor”), while in the CSE the rules are written down and the farmers can read and reread them. The farmer can sell their coffee to the CSE guided by the rules, through which they avoid being the object of discrimination or the victim of discretional decisions.
  • The buyer is subservient to capital and deceives producers to get more profits. In the CSE we build loyalty: the CSEs are loyal to the producers, and the producers are loyal to the CSE collective. All their coffee is transacted by the CSE and the CSEs follow everything that is indicated in the rules. For that reason, all the people of the alliance comply with the agreements and the rules, bringing in the best coffee possible, making their maximum effort, making the readjustment, sharing international profits…That is loyalty to the community and not subordination to capital.
  • In the CSE we also seek to be loyal to our common home: investing in the soil and water quality (free from agrochemical pollution). This is a process which we are working on.

An important notion, coherent with what was done in the synergy strategy, is crop lien lending. Traditionally it is understood as “purchase of future harvest”: paying for coffee in advance during non-harvest months. We understand it in the sense that a farmer family turns in (sells) their coffee to the CSE knowing that the CSE is going to  roast and sell it in the communities, and will share in those profits, or knowing that the CSE is going to turn it into the dry mill of the Solidaridad Cooperative where they will dry it well in order to improve its quality, and from there export it to the US where WPF is going to roast and sell that coffee, whose profits the CSE and each farmer family will benefit from. This idea differentiates the fact of being an alliance: the farmer family knowing what we just wrote will make an effort to improve their coffee, the CSE, Solidaridad Cooperative and WPF, knowing what we just wrote, will also strive to make their best effort. In other words, the coffee comes from the hands of a farmer family, passes into the hands of the CSE, then passes into the hands of Solidaridad and then into the hands of WPF, and everyone knows they need to make an effort, act with justice and distribute the profits. A farmer family empowers the CSE to add value to their coffee, it is not like in traditional commerce, where the farmer family on selling their parchment sun-dried coffee says good bye to that product, not ever knowing anything more about that product.

4.    Strategy of forming a team

 Selecting and organizing a team and an alliance of teams is vital, it is as a team that we become subjects of the local-global community improvement. In this the fundamental tool is the methodology of reflection.

4.1  Construction of a team

A talented person can win games, and a team can win championships, the basketball player Michael Jordan used to say. We would add: a team can win championships if there is a good organization which builds that team – building a club parallel to the team is the key to success over time.

The merchant buys coffee from whoever; he is not interested in forming a team with farmers; on making the purchase-sale transaction it all ends there: the farmer will not know anything more about their coffee, nor will the buyer want to know about the producer. In  the CSEs we are interested in forming a team with the different sized producers, that is why we win them over in their homes, we do not wait for them, we go out and look for them; we do it based on a list that we build based on conversations and analysis along with honorable people from the communities; to form a good team we must know what type of people we are looking for and above all study the capacities of people so that they complement one another. In a parallel fashion, we are building the organization in its entirety. Figure 5 shows the actors that make up the team: farmers (medium and small ones in size of property and coffee area), hired staff, advisors, directors of drying and hulling, and reseller of coffee in the United States. Regardless of the geographical distance which separates us, these actors move about and communicate in an ongoing way and consult with one another so that, together, they might push the cart forward.

In the case of the farmers, we are not looking for any farmer. The objective is not coffee at any cost, it is a person who can be part of the group, which slowly might become an innovative team and that would obtain an increasingly better-quality coffee. Coffee quality because of its variety, good crop management, investment in soil, studying the coffee field and efficiently administering their resources as a family.[9]Consequently, we are looking for honorable people who follow the written rules as a way of increasingly organizing themselves better and that they might contribute to the fact that the organization responds to its communities. These people are:

  • Medium scale honorable farmers who live on their farms, tend to have economic and social leadership in the micro territories where they live and move about.
  • Enlightened peasants tend to be those people with a discipline of saving, not going into debt, not having vices, who visit and cultivate values of honesty, loyalty, solidarity and voluntarism, they have the conditions for making leaps of improvement within the framework of the organization. See Box 1
  • Staff who come from the communities themselves, work there, and are more and more paid by the initiatives themselves, are a clear sign of the sustainability of the organization.
  • Staff who in the drying and hulling of the coffee rescue coffee affected by mold and ensure good coffee yield.
  • Advisors who push for the study of these processes and that each person innovate.
  • Resellers of coffee who buy inside the country and resell in the United States, adding value to the coffee.

This team is committed to good yield and good coffee quality.

These four actors tend to have cell phones, know how to read, have skills so that when we gather, we produce an innovative team, embody a motivating spirit, something alive, a team that makes magical plays (thinking) and passes the ball (ideas, information, contacts, products, resources) to others. It is a team committed to making the organization grow for the good of their communities.

4.2  Methodology of reflective conversations

Based on the reality of the people and rethinking the strategies of the CSE in the face of these realities, there are two rules of thumb which guide us.

The team cultivates this methodology of reflectively conversing, holding rationally and emotionally advantageous dialogues. Let us remember, we are not just looking for coffee, we are looking for people who think, we are looking for willpower incarnated in people, and we are looking to make visible other elements where people are organizing in a unique and effective way.

Before looking at the steps, let us go back to remember the treatment. When we go to a home looking for somebody, there we will not commit the mistake of leaving if the person we are looking for is not there. If we are looking for Juan and he is not there, but his wife Juana is there, let us talk with her. The same thing in reverse, if we are looking for Juana and she is not there, but Juan is, let us talk with him. It is not just respect; it is the fact that she is his spouse and bears another perspective on the same topic that we want to talk about.

Now let us look at the steps for conversing.

  • Step 1. Starting with the situation which producers are in, ask them certain things depending on what we know about them or what we observe. In the case of the Cornejo family who we visited, we asked about their grandparents, and we did a genealogical tree, because we know their cousin and we knew that their grandparents had a lot of land. When they gave us enough data, we could imagine a dialogue with their grandparents Marciano and Jerónimo: see Box 2, to provoke reflection. This dialogue dramatized the situation in order to clarify that even the medium scale producers are close to disappearing: a “being without a soul” is just a “lying in state”.
  • Step 2. Look for explanations for those facts. In the case of the Cornejos we saw that the causes had to do with the fact that year after year they turned their farms into monocropping and depended more and more on coffee; their mentality is changing almost without them realizing it, they are transiting from self-sufficiency producing what they eat, to depending on money to buy food; also, almost without realizing it, their subordination to hierarchical structures is intensifying.
  • Step 3. Reread the strategies worked on up to now. Say out loud how it is that the CSEs can respond to these challenges and the challenges we have found, which is why we have been designing the CSEs; this is the why, the how, and the what for. Here we can use the strategies worked on up to now, adapting them to each conversation and taking advantage of that conversation to improve our strategies. In this way we are reflecting and inviting people to reflect.
  • Step 4. Leave them the rules and booklets so they read them, express to them that they are completely free to make their own decisions. Let us remember, if they do not join now, they will do so next year, “precisely because we are in a hurry we are moving slowly.” If they do not join for years, they will have their reasons, while they will have a good concept of the CSEs.

With these steps we are provoking reflection with producers and ourselves. Let us recall that there is a difference between farmers and the harvest collection advising team, where the farmers do not know that they do not know the situation of subordination in which they find themselves, while we know that we do not know. This is the engine that moves us in this process, the road on which we must combine several elements, which we can explain through the following images: thorn, flower, tortilla, hot coffee and a breath.

  • Thorn: we tell them that the mentality of the elites has penetrated their mind set, and that monocropping agriculture and their de-peasantization has intensified from within them. This is like a thorn in farmers; they feel hurt and react.
  • Flower: we speak highly of their work and the fact that they are a reference point for many people, despite the dividing up of their land. This is a rose, it makes them smile, they feel valued.
  • Tortilla: we talk to them about the profits and the readjustment which they can have within the framework of the organization, and that the better the quality of the coffee, the more profits they will have. This is the opportunity that they can have, something which they have never had before.
  • Hot coffee: we ask them to invite us for coffee, which is like the fact that they must demonstrate interest in the organization by leaving 10% of their coffee on deposit, make an effort to improve the quality of their coffee, visit their neighbors, add more value to our products….
  • Taking a breath: we remind ourselves that we know that we do not know, which leads us to listen more, observe more and at the same time think more.

With this methodology of reflective conversations, we are studying the people with whom we talk, and based on that, discovering their capacities, looking to integrate them in the process. We are not working with a preconceived approach, we seek change based on the very forces for change which each person and the network has, and which bloom during the conversations. It is like a soccer team, the technical director should not impose an approach to the game but study each player that he has in order to organize the team.

5.    Strategy for building the organization.

An organization is the sum of wills in which each member moves as its representative, no longer individually. Here is the issue of the distinction between your interests and that of the group.

All the strategies listed above (synergy, alliances, team) are found and make more sense within the construction of an organization. Let us begin distinguishing what is properly organizational.

What is individual and what is organizational

– “Aren´t you the one who was picking coffee? And now you are out buying coffee?” –a well-known producer in the community reacted on recognizing Freddy

– “Yes, I am” – responded Freddy with half a smile.

– “We come now on the part of an organization where we are buying coffee” I intervened

-“Ohhh,” he responded.

– “Aren´t you the one who was in Dora´s house? And now you are out buying coffee?”, said another well-known producer recognizing Freddy.

– “Yes, I am, now we come in the name of an organization” –responded Freddy.

–“Ohhh,” he responded.

 “My clothes were covered in dirt at that time and now they were surprised in seeing me,” Freddy said to me as we left both places.

-“Just your presence provokes reflection,” I responded.

Fragments of these conversations happened during visits to farmers 2023.

Farmers know us. They know Axel, Freddy, Yesenia, Yeiling and Noelia. Without the organization they continue seeing him as “covered in dirt” and “coffee pickers”; if Axel, Yeiling…would turn into buyers, they would be seen as buyers; if they would become leaders, they would also be seen as leaders, always as individual people.  On seeing them in that way they place themselves socially “higher” and make it understood that they were already higher when people like Freddy walked around “dirty” and as “coffee pickers”. Now when they see them, they see them as individuals and want to continue seeing as they did in the past. “Aren´t you the one…?” Here the challenge is distinguishing between the interests of the individual and the interests of the organization: it is the same Freddy or Yeiling, but now they represent an organization and a group of actors who have their rules, values, goals, alliances, resources… Through the organization Freddy, Axel, Yeiling, Noelia as well as Yesenia, are on a plane of relative equality with farmers of different economic sizes and social statuses. The individual and the organizational are present, they are roles that we must distinguish, explain and in this way make it be felt that in this organizational space all of us can be a part of it and grow together.

This makes us even more committed, Each one of our actions and words is also as an organization. If Axel weighs the coffee fairly, it is the organization which is weighing it fairly. If Freddy pays the published price, it is the organization which is complying with the published price. If Noelia takes care of the coffee quality at the moment of receiving coffee from a producer, it is the organization which is taking care of the coffee quality. If every day they share a report on coffee purchases, they strengthen trust. If Yeiling processes the data to publish a report, it is the organization which is organizing the information.

This is the organization which we are building:

  • As something decentered (several mini collection centers) and decentralized (decisions made in each collection center) and at the same time coordinated, connected and synchronized.
  • The coffee leaves the farm, arrives at the center, we take it to the dry mill, it goes by ship and then in the United States to the city which is awaiting it.
  • It is a path of self-determination, not of autonomy. Autonomy would be: “I set the price and you do not interfere with me.” Self-determination is coordinating, being guided by rules, it is cultivating multiple connections
  • It is organizing information and sharing it with transparency.

This organization has rules, values and direction which we review constantly.

  • Values: justice, honesty, loyalty, effort and commitment. We reflect on these values, and we see them as our boundary markers.
  • Loyalty is being loyal to the neighbor and not the buyer, being loyal to the family and not to a commercial mediation structure.
  • Honesty and justice are values where we can fall into traps; someone can throw a banana peel in our path without us realizing it, and we can slip on that banana peel; for example, a passenger says to the bus collector that he has no money and that he will pay him later that night. The bus collector accepts, but the passenger goes to the owner of the bus in the afternoon and tells him that his bus collector is careless and did not collect his fare, and pays the owner; a similar thing can happen in our work, maybe in the weighing we let pass 1 or 2 pounds for our friend, but that person can tell his neighbor that the harvest collector saved him two pounds and surely he is doing the same thing for other people and that maligns the organization.
  • There are times that we say, “I am only going to work a few hours, just to comply with my job;” there we are not showing commitment and a vocation for service. This is a sign that the structure of mediation is alive within us and governs us. In the CSEs there is mutual commitment, the organization is a means for the people to contribute, show commitment, think and revolutionize their actions.

We are forming an organization with identity, values and financial sustainability, betting on young people, the identity of a social, democratic and communitarian innovator with equity. It is an organization which we are building so that it might be decentered with a synergy of initiatives which would transcend even the organization itself. In this organization people become enamored with fair things and people, and not money.

Box 3. Distinction between team, organization and community
Bodies Content
Team -harvest collectors


-directors of drying and hulling

-resale of coffee in the US

Organization -CSE: Coffee-CSE, Beans-CSE and Stores-CSE

-Alliances with WPF, Cooperative Solidaridad, Coasmaot…

-Physical investments

-Rules, philosophy, policies

Community clusters -Enviromental: soil, water, biodiversity, agroforestry systems

-human: responsible for democracy, equity and transparency of organizations

-is a geographic space in a place and it is also on a global level

-transformation of energy into several expressions of life: grazing land, coffee, soil, water…

Finally, for greater clarity. In sports, let´s say soccer, there are dozens of teams like Barcelona, Dortmund, Saprissa, Inter Miami, Boca Juniors, Flamenco, etc; in soccer a distinction is made between the team and the club, the team are the 22 players, 11 of whom play in a particular game; while the club is the organization, which includes different sports divisions, several sports including soccer and basketball, as organizations they generate income with different actions, they have a sports office, board members, group of legal advisers, shareholders. Do you see? The CSE is like a club, it is the organization, within whose framework we have a synergy of initiatives, alliances, team, a methodology of reflective conversations. It is with this organization that we promote community clusters. See Box 3.

6.    Strategy of Community Clusters

 Radius of action: San José, San Antonio, Estrechura, Cerro Blanco and Samarkanda, communities which will become community clusters.

 It is a defined geography which we want to turn into a cluster where diversity, diversification and value-adding make innovations flow. Point 3 deals with the construction of a living team, point 4 is the construction of an organization, and this point is making an innovative, just and democratic community, a community cluster: see blue circle on the light blue map which is the municipality of San Juan del Rio Coco.

 Enormously valuable people will come from the communities mentioned: better teachers, doctors, producers, bakers, mechanics, advisors, accountants, police, and better leaders. In Box 4 we list the different actors with whom we need to communicate, talk with these people, the contribution of each actor can be redirected to add to the purpose of forming community clusters. In the case of cooperatives, it is important to talk with their boards, historic leaders, and current members, doing it just with their boards can be a mistake, because let us recall that they tend to reproduce the despotic structure of commercial mediation. In the case of buyers, far from seeing them as competitors and even enemies, we should talk with them so they might improve their services, many of them might join on learning that there are other more just ways which are more beneficial for the community for selling products that even might generate more profits for them – for example, buying quality coffee, natural and honey coffee.

From this perspective, when we talk about collecting the coffee harvest, for example, it really is that the entire community might become coffee harvest collectors, add value to it, collect ideas…In talking about commercialization, it is that the community might sell, exchange products. As a community cluster, that people might diversify products and social relations. Being in just one crop or doing less of the processing of products, we depend more on the buyer, and on the worst buyers who limit themselves to only buying the product and selling it without adding value. On the other hand, people have now gotten accustomed to the machete and do not want to do anything else, changing that mind set is not a matter of convincing them, it is that they themselves will join as innovations increase in the community. Catalyzing entrepreneurial initiatives in the community without caring whether that initiative is or is not linked to the CSE, the important thing is that they be generated. The more innovations there are, the more will information and good practices flow, the more collaboration there will be, the more trust and self-esteem will be produced in the community itself, the more they will take care of one another.

When we talk about a synergy of initiatives, it is that they really might be generated in the community, be corrected there and catalyze innovation. The organization at first will contribute improving the conditions for these innovations, later in the long term it will be the community as a cluster which will contribute with better conditions. An innovation is like expanding initiatives in Figure 1 and the fact that technological and organizational innovations result; technological ones are for example improving coffee quality and yield, picking coffee in less time given that there is a scarcity of labor; in other words, innovations can emerge following a crop like coffee, they can emerge combining different initiatives like Figure 1or being concentrated in areas like the soil, water; the CSEs can, in this sense, contribute to the fact that people systematically and continuously innovate, each on the basis of the previous innovation.[10]

The organization produces these community clusters, at the same time these clusters produce the organizations. The community sphere is the biggest counterweight and pressure for the organization to be democratic, transparent and equitable. The community is for the peasantry what corporations are for the wealthy classes; it is the community which can prevent, for example, the fact that they might sell their land to the elites, thus protecting their human and natural populations.[11]

7.    Conclusions

“What the herd most hates is the one who thinks differently. It is not so much the opinion as such, but the audacity of wanting to think for themselves, something that they do not know how to do”, said Arthur Schopenhauer, (1788 – 1860), a German philosopher who took on the philosophy of India like asceticism, negating the self, and the notion of the world as it appears. From the CSEs we say that we are cultivating that audacity in a group that seeks to become a team, it is a collective audacity creating the conditions that lead people to think differently and, in this way, overcome the vulture mentality.

Under that spirit in this article we have reconceptualized the community cluster and its strategies, along with being inspired in a perspective in which energy is transformed into different expressions of life. Let us recall that we are children of the stars, 97% of our body is formed of stellar dust. Consequently, we organize overcoming the perspective of colonial and patriarchal capitalism which only sees the commodities of producers and businesses for consumers, it is a new path of innovation.

The strategies described in this article respond to that vision of community cluster in communion with animals and nature, seeking to capture new elements around which we might organize ourselves, mediated by that perspective of infinite transformation.

8.    References

Altraide, Dagogo, 2019, New Thinking, US: Mango Publishing.

Haslett-Marroquin, Reginaldo, 2016, In the Shadow of Green Man: My Journey from Poverty and Hunger to Food Security and Hope. United States: Acres

Mendoza, R., 2022, “Principio de mayordomía en las cooperativas” en: Revista Iberoamericana, número 5. México

Parrilli, M. Davide, 2011, The new complexity: new dynamics in clusters and districts. 51st Congress of the European Regional Science Association: “New Challenges for European Regions and Urban Areas in a Globalised World”, 30 August – 3 September 2011, Barcelona, Spain.

Porter M., 1990, The wealth of the nations, Harvard

Schmitz H., 1995, Collective efficiency: growth path for small-scale industry, Journal of Development Studies, Vol. 31.

[1] René has a PhD in development studies, is a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation and an advisor of rural organizations in Central America.

[2] Freddy is a community leader, coffee roaster and advisor to communities that organize. Noelia and Axel are harvest collectors. Yesenia is the administrator of a community store. And Yeiling is a supervisor of community stores and the coffee collection center.

[3] In an article (See Mendoza, 2022), we have identified the long-term perspective of an indigenous group in the United States, a perspective of 7 generations: making decisions and actions thinking about how those decisions and actions will impact the seventh generation.

[4] Coffee does not ripen homogeneously, on one branch with let´s say 50 beans, some 3 beans ripen first, their harvesting is called the graniteo [spot harvesting], then 15 beans ripen whose harvesting is called “the first pass”, then some 20 beans whose harvesting is called “the second pass”, the “third pass” and finally the last pass. The spot harvest and the final harvest have lesser quality coffee.

[5] Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, an experimenter on raising poultry within the framework of regenerative agriculture, says, “We are made from the same energy as fish, water, soil and trees. As farmers we see a process of the transformation of energy in an extreme which is not edible, and through what we do it becomes converted into different expressions of energy. You add nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, etc. It becomes thousands of expressions of life. For CO2 to be converted in the atmosphere, the methane and nitrogen which fall from storms is converted into sugar, from there into grazing land and then cattle eat it and turns it into meat, fur, or hooves, all this is a process of energy transformation.” For a perspective of regenerative agriculture, see Haslett-Marroquin (2016).

[6] Delegate of the Word, Dámaso Aguilar, remembers that Fr. Evaristo used to greet animals, “good day, brother dog”, he would say. This anecdote shows that that priest had that perspective of conversing with people and also with other living beings.

[7] This is a step-by-step guide for drying natural coffee.

[8] Each person experiences joy and conflict in the heart of their family, conflicts and hopes, which in most cases are true storms.

[9]Cooperatives, like buyers, do not make a distinction over where the coffee comes from, whether it comes from members or not does not concern them; nor does it concern them whether the coffee is improving its quality nor are they interested in the farmer families adding value to their coffee. In the CSE we are concerned about where it comes from because we are committed to coffee quality: if we buy coffee “on the street” from people who are not part of the CSE group, we are not doing follow up; in contrast, we do provide follow up on the people who are committed to the organization, to the quality of their coffee, their geographic origin and social sector, thus we learn about them and we can share with them good crop management, ways of studying their farm and sharing profits, etc.

[10] Altraide (2019) describes dozens of innovations which have emerged since the time of Einstein with the industrial revolution. He notes there that an innovation emerges based on a previous innovation.  The same can happen in agriculture, not in the direction of mechanizing it nor making it dependent on agrochemicals, but that responds to its productivity, quality and which would benefit the community itself first of all.

[11] This is a topic which we are beginning to work on, a topic to reflect on profoundly. From the focus of this article, for example, community is broader, inlcudes WPF as well, therefore we should reconceptualize the notion of community.

An awakening, a dare and what is distinctive about reinventing a cooperative

An awakening, a dare and what is distinctive about reinventing a cooperative

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

The how

Claudio migrated to El Salvador in search of work. The farmer in El Salvador, while chatting, realized that Claudio has 50 acres of land in his own country, Nicaragua. At times he would tease him about this, “hey Nica, how is it that I with 5 acres am giving work to you with 50 acres?” Claudio felt it rang true, he did not know how to respond.

– On hearing his story, I asked him, “why do you think that the Salvadoran is more successful?”

– “He and his wife work together all the time, they work alongside their workers and do not waste anything,” he answered.

-“Have you tried to work like the Salvadoran on your 50 acres?”

– “Yes, I tried and I wasn´t able to make it work.”

– “Why?”

-“The neighbors and even family members made fun of me, they would tell me that I was working for nothing, that God gives food to even ants, that when I died I was not going to take anything with me.”

-“What would the Salvadoran say hearing your neighbors and relatives?”

-“He would not pay attention to them.”


Leaving the country woke him up and allowed him to discover the how: working in a disciplined way together with his wife (overcoming the division of roles, even though only partially), working alongside the workers (not feeling you are the patrón, ordering them around without mixing with the workers) and not wasting anything (recycling residue and waste no matter what it is, and taking advantage of even the smallest piece of land). But Claudio, because he carries around an individualistic mentality as neoliberalism teaches, missed what is unspoken: the Salvadoran has cultivated that spirit of work on his farm, his family, as well as in his neighborhood within a social network in which he moves like a fish in water, coordinating and mutually supporting one another; this is a fundamental part of the how. For that reason, when Claudio works on his 50 acres of land and is not working in his family and social surroundings, his efforts are like putting salt in water; the pre-existing network accustomed to continue, subsist, without much effort and governed by sharp-toothed beliefs, end up killing that “Salvadoran” spirit that Claudio brought with him. In this way, his individual efforts do not have a good launching pad.

To make this awakening viable, to venture out and generate different actions on returning to his 50 acres, Claudio needs to be accompanied by an invigorating network, like a cooperative that reinvents itself, and needs to reflect with his wife, family and friends, where he can quit subsisting and live better if they mutually support one another. What cooperative can, like fertile soil, facilitate an approach of cooperation which would catalyze the energy of dozens of people like Claudio? In this section we show how members in a cooperative discover their worlds, the fact that their cooperatives were co-opted by global capitalism, and how these cooperatives, connecting these worlds, can reinvent themselves.

1.    A cooperative emerges that turns its back on its members

Part of the collective awakening is revealing the internal world of cooperatives and their communities. There, the view of production is diversified agriculture which resists mono-crop farming, it is agriculture that is combined with small and/or large livestock and with patches of forest with springs of water. Families deal with different systems including different degrees of processing their food (corn in tortillas and pinol, roasted coffee or pork in nacatamales), they exchange products and labor among neighbors and communities, and move about within a sea of beliefs like those that the neighbors and relatives of Claudio convey in the story. In these spaces the roles of men and women are in tension, their rights are contested (e.g. right to inheritance and education), and silently endogenous institutions and their values, like solidarity and loyalty, appear to step back in the face of the avalanche of colonial and patriarchal capitalism under the values of “market justice” and the maxim from Spanish colonialism of “heed but do not comply.”[2] It is the community space of family and neighbor networks which, densely or weakly connected with the network of economic, religious and political mediation, struggle with one another, encourage and discourage one another, and it is the space of natural life that complains to the mirror that it is only seen as a resource (commodity). It is the internal side of cooperatives, its associative foot, that fights over policies of equity, democracy (counterweights) and transparency, amid despotic and alienating structures. It is the sphere for value creation. It is the side of social structures of majorities in any part of the world.

Awakening to this internal world, in turn, makes one discover that most cooperatives are organized for the outside world, and that their perspective is to see their internal reality with the eyes of a trader or a private bank, with market eyes. Figure 1 shows the sphere of the community (internal) and the sphere of the market (capital) which finds itself unrooted from the community and instead erodes it. What does this mean? Most cooperatives provide credit and sell products for the market, outside the community; with credit they finance the purchase of agro-chemicals and assume that “the chemicals are what make them produce.” They are loans exclusively for mono-cropping activities.

From that angle, the internal part of the cooperative is seen as merchandise: products, land, nature, money, labor and organization are valued for being merchandise; the members are seen as functional to that merchandise. For example, they see nature as a carbon sink, wood or oil. To commodify is to separate (uproot) products from their sources or bases (roots) and make these commodity products appear as if they were “free”, separate from the people and nature that produced them; it is seeing the cooperative itself as “free” and “independent” from the members that compose it, “free” from their rules to subject it to the rules of the market.

This commodification only includes products of mono-cropping or “natural resources” directed outside the community. On the one hand, it is taking out the best of the product and leaving behind “the worst”: for example, exporting first quality coffee and leaving the worst for local consumption.  On the other hand, it is imposing products from outside to empty them of their diversified production: vegetables instead of gardens, GMO seed instead of native seed, agrochemicals on the crop instead of feeding the soil, soft drinks instead of their citrus drinks… Box 1 shows the avalanche of products from outside that come into communities, along with devaluing the products that they have in their own communities, and lowering their personal and social self-esteem. It is a pair of pliers capable of severing human and natural lives: they extract value through mono-crop farming and impose products from outside nullifying the products from the communities themselves.

They are types of cooperatives that, on dedicating themselves only to the domain of the market and commodifying what is internal, extract value and generate wealth which is not distributed to the members – this is the beginning of the uprootedness. They justify this fact from the domain of the market: “The profits of the cooperative are thanks to our effort”, repeat the technocrats of the cooperative. On the side of the members, they tend to not question that technocratic belief, they tend to not understand that their efforts produce and organize the cooperatives, naturally they tend to repeat the belief that “God makes it produce, we do not, God does everything; without God there is nothing”; at the same time, the idea of rights is foreign to the peasantry, they assume that they were born and grow without rights or obligations, the institution prevails that only the patrón has the right to profits and information, the rest just have to work – “God made my destiny.” Given this confluence of attitudes where peasant effort is effaced, they feed the belief that “money can make even a monkey dance”, they assume that the loan provided by the cooperative makes it produce coffee, cacao or sugar cane: “It is the chemical inputs that we have financed  that make it produce, the producer only applies them and harvests,” they repeat without batting an eye, playing to the pocket of the large corporations like Bayer, Corteva and Syngenta.

These co-opted cooperatives ignore the fact that the products which are traded belong to the members, that they are the ones who organized the cooperative and manage it through their organs – at least according to the law. By ignoring these processes, that technocratic layer convinces themselves that the profits generated in the cooperative are the effect of their efforts, more clearly the efforts of the market. Correspondingly, they see as normal the disconnection between the inside world and the outside world, the sphere of the community and that of the market; more than disconnection and more than that outside/inside duality, from the domain of the market they see that the inside world depends on the outside, they conceive that the motor of development is capital, it is the global market. Therefore, the mentality that prevails is that there is no relationship between the effort of the members and their right to profits and information on the part of the cooperative, rather – they think – that this peasantry should be “grateful” to those from outside for extracting from them (dispossessing them) of the values that they are creating.

These cooperatives are characterized by functioning only with their business foot, because they tend to centralize decisions in the management (if they do not have a manager, in the presidency), ensconced in their posts. It is like the populism of the XXI century, there is a deified leader and there are masses, without institutions that might mediate or without their being counterweights. “It is organized from above” (“direct democracy”) and “everything comes from above:” God, capital, command, explanation, justification, rewards, and punishment. The head of the government is the head of State, likewise the presidency and/or that technocratic layer in the cooperative takes the place of its organs (administrative council, oversight board and assembly), while they follow the previously mentioned Spanish colonial maxim “heed but do not comply”. The assembly of the cooperative can issue agreements, the manager or the president heeds them but do not apply them; the members themselves who agree on some credit policy, for example, heed it but do not follow it – they go directly to the manager or the president to request a loan, they do not follow the procedure approved in the assembly to go to the credit committee and meet certain requirements. Likewise, international aid agencies, buyers and social banks, they know the rules of the cooperative, they heed them but they do not follow them; they reach agreements only with the manager or, if the cooperative does not have a manager, they meet only with the president, as if the cooperative were a hacienda, and continue swimming exclusively in the financial world (“ we pay a good price,  with that the cooperative is better off”, “we give credit to cooperatives that have buyers that pay us, that benefits them”) where human and natural communities only have value if they turn into a ton of resources valued by capital.

2.    The magic of connecting the inside world with the outside world

Members discover these two worlds where global capitalism extracts value from them, they realize that their cooperative got away from them and got on that truck from where they extract value from them, they perceive that as members their own mentality adopted from the elites made them see that the effort attributed to God in reality was their own effort, and that one of the keys to improving their lives is connecting their efforts with their right to the distribution of profits…So, suddenly they see the wall in Figure 1, that wall which had remained invisible; they wake up with a start. It is like they sharpened a machete, and that machete is getting close to their heart: a peasantry organizes their cooperative, a cooperative which is co-opted by the market and then is “freed” from the members and is dispossessing them[3]. In this process the members discover that they themselves are trapped in beliefs, they understand that they create value and that there is a relationship between their effort and their right to receive profits and to be informed, to analyze that information…Rights begin to become familiar to them, cease feeling like something foreign. They relook at the soil, they begin to see it as a product of humans and nature, of centuries of effort, that it has life and it has rights – like rivers, the forest…They realize that recognizing their efforts and the effort of the soil makes them re-perceive also their relationship with God, it deepens their faith in a God who loves those who exert themselves in a group.

This collective awakening and its dare to explain what is happening leads them to outline a change about their organization, the fact that their cooperative organizes itself internally and externally, that it connects both worlds to root itself in the communities: see Figure 2. There in that figure the duality is diluted, particularly subjecting itself to the global market, an interaction appears between different elements. To the extent that they connect, something magical happens: the wall disappears, they innovate, and they reinvent their cooperative under a horizon that refers to their community, no longer to the market. And in this process, the people themselves “are born again.”[4].

How is it that the cooperative connects both worlds? In this cooperative the members reinvent themselves, following the triad of awakening, daring and taking differentiating actions, they glimpse a community horizon for which they use capital and markets. To do so, the members, their leadership and their membership synchronize their actions, coordinate, function as a team, deepen their profit-sharing policies, transparency and democracy and generate aggregate results of well-being. Each member is like a piece of a puzzle that, on being connected, generates an image of new futures, and an image of organization where members, by being part of it, feel like they are something more than themselves.

Acting as a team, the magic is in connecting both worlds, communicating between one and the other, and facilitating innovation, using markets in the service of people. Communicating means that each world interacts through the mediation of the cooperative, which, like Mascarita in the novel of Vargas Llosa “El Hablador” serves the role of mediator because of understanding and speaking the languages of the different worlds, and making them communicate between one another, that they recognize the existence of the other; in this sense, the cooperative seeks that both worlds be transformed in the service of people and their surroundings[5]. Then, the cooperative facilitates their reorganization; the cooperative, in the end, realizes that what is “outside” the cooperative does not organize it, it is the market that organized them, while reorganizing what is inside is what is truly difficult, and doing it pulling what is outside to be enrooted in what is inside is really something magical.

The cooperative, in this dynamic of reorganizing, becomes a space for learning which facilitates innovation, which is why, understanding the why and having a horizon of community which is transformed for the common good, it is concerned with the how.

  • The story of Claudio about what he learned in El Salvador and the unspoken part that we showed, illustrates how the social element matters. Claudio, to carry out what he learned and what awoke him, needs to function as a group, a cooperative, where they coordinate and complement their actions.
  • The cooperative redirects credit to diversified systems and several crops (farming, livestock and non-farming activities); it pushes members to combine agriculture and ranching, and innovate with credit rules: for example, not by area of production, but by loyalty to the agreements of the cooperative (e.g. amount of credit in accordance with the volume of cacao that they have turned in during the last year); it finances women who are raising pigs and who, due to their financial needs from a sickness or some emergency, want to sell them between 1-3 months before they finish fattening, the rule would be: “Amount of loan is equivalent to 70% of what the pig weighs at that moment, that pig, when it finishes fattening up, would be sold to the cooperative at the street price”; in this way, the person will be able to finish fattening their pig and sell it at a better price, and the cooperative would be ensured the purchase of a pig.
  • The cooperative provides services for processing products and selling them in the community market, and selling raw materials in the international market; for example, exporting coffee and roasting first and second quality coffee to sell it in the communities; the same with cacao, sesame seed and any other product.
  • The cooperative provides services for producing organic inputs, with the goal being not the productive yield of one crop per se, but improving the soil from a perspective of community and sustainability in the long term; this service is carried out by the members, because producing organic fertilizer requires coordinating with one another to collect small and large livestock manure, using the waste from farm products, buying ingredients like zinc, boron, sulphur; it also implies doing soil analyses and resulting fertilizer analyses to apply what the soil needs and in an appropriate volume; it is also recording data, observing the effects on the soil and on plants, analyzing this data in a group and consequently innovating new ways of making organic inputs and applying them on their farms.
  • The cooperative organizes a store when increasingly the products to be sold come from the communities themselves, which implies innovating in initiatives that catalyze the entrepreneurship of people in their communities.
  • The cooperative captures profits, innovates in the rules for their use, and redistributes them with equity to the members and the agreed upon activities; part of the profits goes to a social fund which requires innovative rules to respond to deeply felt needs, and so that this fund be sustainable as well; part of the profits are redistributed individually according to criteria of member contributions to the cooperative, loyalty or other criteria worked on and agreed upon in the assemblies.

These elements illustrate how a cooperative which reinvents itself, first is grounded in the interior world, the members run their cooperative, and then facilitate the grounding of markets in the community social structure with potential for good transformation. This is how the effort of the members connects to their rights, likewise to the rights of nature.

This type of cooperative ceases to be a branch of colonial and patriarchal capitalism and does not subject itself to pre-existing rules. This cooperative turns into a mediator between the outside world and the inside world, in an organizer of services for the common good and in an innovator of social rules (e.g. the rule with women in raising pigs), which in turn leads them to negotiate initiatives and their knowledge with different social sectors of the communities.

3.    By way of final reflection

What is seen up to now could be understood as something micro. Nevertheless, these micro elements reflect what is global and are reflected in what is global and reveal to us concrete ways of how to deal with the challenges of today´s world. In the last three decades, globalization expressed as markets in service of big corporative capital, rooted in less than 1% of the world´s elite, are wiping out all social, cultural and environmental structures of humanity. It dispossesses them of the value they create, being part of the consequences of the ecological holocaust that is coming and the social inequality which we are experiencing as never before in the history of humanity, along with the military conflagrations.

This global capitalism, nevertheless, is resisted in different ways in every part of the world, including the United States, with the paradoxical movement of Trump. This tectonic clash is expressed in the Russia/Uranian war, the fight between Muslim countries and the west, and in the tensions that exist in Latin America between societies and their governments and markets, for example, in the Amazon under the government of Bolsonaro, or communities of the agricultural frontier in Central America confronting corporation extractors of natural sources converted into resources and value that the peasantry and indigenous populations produce.  Unrooted global capitalism, as happened in Europe before the Second World War, described by Polanyi, that produced authoritarian fascism and the world war, today is also producing that authoritarianism and rampant violence.

Here we show not just a way of fighting rampant capitalism uprooted from societies, but a way of connecting them with community social structures, a connection in pursuit of the common good, of their grounding, that they be “societies with markets.” Cooperatives, like States, churches and organizations like the United Nations, connecting different rules, can contribute to a greater grounding of processes that prevent the emergence of future wars and authoritarian systems.

[1] Rene has PhD in development studies, is a collaborator with the Winds of Peace Foundation ( and an associate researcher at the IOB-Antwerp University (Belgium). This article is possible because of our accompaniment of a dozen cooperatives in Central America, a collective accompaniment which includes the participation of many people. This article is part of a book that we are writing about cooperatives.

[2] This maxim goes back to the emission of the laws of the crown of the king of Spain in the time of colonialization and conquest. These laws were heeded, but because they were not viable to the interested parties, the conquistadores did not follow them. They did not challenge these laws of the king, but they questioned the validity of applying them. That maxim persisted through the centuries, enhanced in their societies and institutions. It became an unspoken law, many times reformulated as “you can make me sign, but I will never comply.”


[3] It is like a couple that forms a family, and which, through the husband who seeks out lovers “outside” their marriage, turns against its members, “consumes” them and impoverishes them financially and emotionally. It is like a person who migrates to another country looking for money and does not see the value there is “within”, like the Salvadoran who “teases” him over his 50 acres. And it is like a group of people who organize a church, which is reduced to the liturgical act and whose pastor extracts value from them in tithes and first fruits for his own benefit, a church that keeps them from seeing God in their own efforts for the common good.

[4] In John 3:1-10, in response to the question from the rich man Nicodemus, Jesus said: “Amen I say to you that he who is not born again cannot enter the kingdom of God”. How? “To be born again” is to be like children (Mt 18:3) who, within the context of Mediterranean culture, was to be “no one”, abandoned and dependent. An adult would not want to be compared to a child, they would understand it as an insult in that society of honor and shame. But Jesus sees the innocence and humility of the child. From the context of cooperatives we interpret this biblical passage in the following way: in this social context of honor and shame where being compared with a child is an “insult”, precisely being a child is valued, someone who is a “nobody”, who at the same time is free from beliefs that in their youth and adulthood will permeate and govern them, tell them what to do and what not to do, far from social justice and equity. Correspondingly, to be born again is to free oneself from those beliefs, free themselves from being “someone”, unlearn, it is to become a child, to make your own way.

[5] To a certain extent, the experience of awakening that Mons. Romero in El Salvador had, described by María López Vigil in her book, Monseñor: Pieces of a Mosaic”, expressed the connection between two worlds, just in religious terms. Romero describes the world of his origins born into social surroundings of poverty, and describes the global religion that uprooted him from the communities where God lives and immersed him in contradiction with his own origins. In the face of the murders of his fellow priests who accompanied people born into poverty in their faith and struggles, Romero reconnected with his origins and awoke and changed forever. In this sense, the cooperative is like the murdered priests and like Romero himself, who recognize both worlds and are startled by their disconnection and the power asymmetry that mediates between them, and work at the cost of their lives for the transformation of both worlds.


Reinventing Cooperativism The art of organizing and re-organizing with those at the bottom

This is the English translation to the introduction to a book on cooperatives which reflects some of the learning accumulated from the work of accompanying cooperatives in Central America.

Reinventing Cooperativism

The art of organizing and re-organizing with those at the bottom

The biggest challenges that we have had in at least the last 50 years,  and even for the next 50 years, are: saving the planet and humanity, mitigating climate change, reducing social and gender inequality, and building a culture of peace with justice. Who will face these challenges in a decisive way? Will big business do it, when we have seen that in each world crisis, they have captured public resources to feed their greed? Will States do it, when today´s world is governed by the market and not by politics? Will cooperatives and associations do it, when we have seen them dance to the music of the market?


We argue that an articulation between the peasantry and indigenous peoples with States, companies and churches can confront those challenges. This articulation requires shared leadership of organized peasant and indigenous peoples. In this process of organizing themselves it is important to reinvent cooperativism. That is what this book addresses.

1.    Situation

According to the World Bank (2020a[1]) rural population around the world has dropped. Between 1960 and 2020 rural population went from representing 66% of total world population to 44%. In this same period, in Latin America and the Caribbean it dropped from 52% to 19%; while in Central America the rural population continues to have considerable weight: 48% in Guatemala, 42% in Honduras and 41% in Nicaragua.

Poverty is concentrated in rural areas. According to the ECLAC (2020[2]) poverty in the rural area is 45.7%, and extreme poverty is 21.7%, while in the urban area it is 26.9% ad 9%, respectively. According to the World Bank (2020a) the rural population is concentrated in “low income” and “less developed” countries (classification of the United Nations), 67% and 65% of total population, respectively.

The peasant-indigenous or family agriculture population continues to be important in the rural area. According to the FAO (2014[3]) in Latin America 81.3% of all agricultural exploitations are family farms; in Central America and Mexico they are 78.6%. Behind these data looms inequality: family farming has access to just 23.4% of all farming land; the average area in the continent is 57.6 hectares per exploitation, while it is 13.6 for family farming, and in Central America and Mexico it is 3.13 hectares per exploitation of family farms.

The prospects for the peasantry and indigenous populations are perceived to be limited. According to the World Bank (2020b[4]) forest area by country (land with planted or natural trees concentrated in at least 5 meters in one place, excluding fruit trees and agroforestry systems) dropped between 1990 and 2020. In Guatemala it went from 44.3% to 32.9%, in Honduras from 72.7% to 56.8%, and in Nicaragua from 37.5% to 28.3%. Empirical observation tells us that the situation is worse, that there is almost no forest area left. In other words, there no longer are any “national lands” left to move into, as happened prior to the XXI Century, while mono-cropping and ranching continue to expand at the cost of family and community farming, and at the cost of forest areas.

What will humanity do if this diversity of cultures connected with the production of food and nature disappears? These peasant-indigenous cultures were lost in Europe and the United States, and agribusiness was imposed. The risk that the peasantry might disappear in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and that the vision of nature as a “dead resource” might be imposed, with its corresponding privatization of common assets and generation of plagues, is real. That is why, following Vandana Shiva (2016[5]), it is urgent to revitalize the peasantry and these indigenous peoples who feed the world while connected to nature.

Revitalizing them, nevertheless, is a difficult challenge. Because they reproduce millennial rules of hierarchical, colonial, patriarchal and capitalist structures, just like we, the so-called advisers of cooperatives, even though at the same time this peasantry and these indigenous peoples cling to a form of diversified agriculture with active female participation and “excavate” endogenous institutions of collective actions.

These populations can persist and overcome their adversities if they organize in associative forms, particularly in cooperatives. If the wealthy, in order to accumulate financial wealth, found the formula of Corporations (Inc), the peasant indigenous sector can overcome their challenges with the cooperative formula of Limited Liability (LLC).

2.    The cooperative model and the imperative to reinvent itself

In Latin America and the Caribbean the number of cooperatives and their membership has increased: in 1963 there were 17,581 cooperatives with 6 million members (Martí, 2014[6]),and in 2010 there were 110,503 cooperatives with 33 million members. The largest number of cooperatives is in the “Southern Cone” (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Paraguay), they are countries with larger agricultural land area, and within that, larger land for family agriculture, but with a smaller rural population (Chile with 12%, Brazil with 13%, Argentina 8% and Paraguay with 28%). The smallest number of cooperatives is in Central America, countries with smaller agricultural land area. In general, there are less cooperatives in “low income” and “less developed” countries. In other words, the more rural poverty there is, the fewer cooperatives there are.

The cooperative model is in crisis. It is estimated that 20% of the membership of agricultural cooperatives are women. Most cooperatives are co-opted by colonial and patriarchal capitalism: in the rural area cooperatives embrace mono-cropping agriculture, which partly explains the low inclusion of women; they function as private enterprises, leaving out their associative side, inhale the spirit of “the law of the jungle” capitalism, have the logic of growing without distributing profits, and reproduce hierarchical structures in their practice and decision making.

Despite these deficiencies, the peasantry and indigenous people can face the challenges proposed organizing themselves into cooperatives. To do so cooperatives need to reinvent themselves.

3.    The book

This book focuses on how cooperatives can reinvent themselves. It is the result of accompanying cooperatives in Central America for 20 years. One form of this accompaniment has been allowing the reality to challenge our beliefs; for example, I used to believe in cooperatives with collective land ownership, but the peasant realitiy showed me that one thing is having collective property, and another is working on collective actions.

A second form has been the fact that we have studied ourselves while accompanying the cooperatives. Going to the countryside, we realized that on the highway we ran into people from universities, governments and donors and we communicated more with one another than with the communities: we saw the communities from the speed of the highways we moved on. We observed that we all would go to the manager, and we moved about on “approved territory”; they had us hear what they wanted us to hear. When we finally were able to walk on footpaths, then we were able to enter communities and their cooperatives and see ourselves in their “mirror”, “they got out of a 4-wheel drive vehicles for the meeting and then left” and “they recommend clearing land that has already been cleared.” There I learned that we advisers were the first obstacle to cooperatives reinventing themselves, and that with cooperatives you have to walk on the footpaths and not on the highways.

A third way was discovering and knocking down walls. We, the beliefs that we accompaniers bring, was the first and hardest wall. Management was the second, then the board, community leaders, men with the status of “heads of household”…Cooperative members and we were able to recognize the walls and experience the changes. Cooperatives could reinvent themselves to the extent that, together, we were able to get beyond those walls.

The fourth way is moving in circles. We realized that innovative forces move in a circle: Sandino and his army in the 1930s in Nicaragua moved in circles; Jesus 2,000 years ago moved among the towns in the hills, the towns of fishermen and in the end in Jerusalem; the Maya culture functions in  a circle for production (mandala) and conceives that life turns in cycles, not in a linear fashion. We learned that to advise cooperatives we had to open ourselves so that the peasantry might teach us how to advise them, to move in community circles.

These ways of learning showed us a different cooperative. One that moves under the logic of knocking down walls, on rules challenging the rules of the market. A cooperative that moves in a circular perspective between the exclusionary and inclusionary rules of communities and where the cooperative is a means for this circular transformation. Combining these ways showed us a cooperative that is a school of learning and democracy, and a cooperative that reinvents itself in this circle deals with the walls, repoliticizes processes and considers the perspective from the “highway” as one perspective, not as THE perspective.

In this book a living cooperative emerges that reconquests spaces and becomes a school of peasant-indigenous thought and is a mechanism for building citizenry – based on agreed-upon rules and not on the authoritarianism of the economic, political and religious patrón. A cooperative emerges capable of catalyzing changes in the state and in companies, while learning from this articulation.

4.    A cooperative model that rereads its origins

The urban cooperatives emerged in England (1844) in conflict with industrial capitalism, and a peasant cooperative in Germany (1864) emerged in conflict with usury, and a cooperative emerged in Canada (1861) in defense of agriculture, their cultures and to stop migration. In time cooperatives were co-opted, controlled by the State and subsumed by the Market. A way of reinventing cooperatives is understanding their origins and analyzing capitalism currently, so that cooperatives might find their path, which is like cleaning a window, which is cleaned on both sides: understanding the origins of cooperatives in their context, and then understanding the current context iin which cooperatives move and must be reinvented.

The laws that govern cooperatives are similar in each country, they are like McDonalds in the United States, Nicaragua, or Tanzania. This capitalist, colonial and patriarchal “clothing” is imposed on the peasantry. A way of reinventing cooperatives is doing the reverse: that the human capacities for collective actions be expanded through cooperatives, which is why they should be “tailor made.”

In the Cooperative Congress in Manchester in 1995, the word “enterprise” entered into the identity and principles of cooperatives for the first time. It says “a cooperative is an autonomous association of people who have voluntarily come together to deal with their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.” We accept that cooperative identity, walking on two feet, a business foot and an associative foot. But under current realities most cooperatives are walking on just one foot, the business foot; there the process of democracy goes in a direction contrary to the Greek philosophy that provided the origins of democracy, which is consistent with what President Madison, gathered in the Constitution of the United States, established that democracy was only possible if directed by a minority. Cooperatives that reinvent themselves are those that overcome that perspective by combining representative and participatory democracy, which is based on assemblies and is decentralized, for that reason: interconnected. Reinventing the cooperative is that it walk on both of its feet: the business foot, which is concerned about its capital growing, and the associative foot, which is concerned about equity, transparency and democratic practice.

This reinvention is possible with “self-tying” mechanisms, unique for fulfilling their rules under their cooperative spirit, and internal and external counter-balancing power relations. Internal counter-balancing power: youth push for innovation; women take on leadership in diversification, processing and commercialization (and trade) of their products, and challenge exclusionary policies of cooperatives (e.g. that “you have to have land” to be a member); and communities provide a horizon for cooperatives and root them in their communities. External counter-balancing power: financial organizations, businesses and donors relate to the cooperative, NOT JUST with the business side, as if it were a private enterprise, but also with their associative side. The fact is that cooperativism from its origins is an alternative to capitalism.

The combination of advising cooperatives in Central America, so that they change in accordance with the spirit and letter of their rules, facilitating another cooperative emerging from communities, and the act of self-studying ourselves in this process of the reinvention of cooperatives are the bases of this art of organizing and reorganizing with those at the bottom.

This book is being written in Central America and is for cooperative members and scholars of cooperativism and rural development.

5.    Content of the book


Part I. The dynamics of transformation

Chapter 1. New emerging structures

Chapter 2. Mechanisms for changing structures

Chapter 3. Conditions that facilitate the persistance of innovative structures

Chapter 4. Differentiating processes

Part II. Endogenous alliances

Chapter 5. Youth: conditions and processes for cooperative innovation

Chapter 6. Women in cooperatives: diversifying their economy and addiung value to their products

Chapter 7. The Community: horizon and roots for cooperatives

Part III. National and global articulations

Chapter 8. Cooperatives as an articulating axis with the State, business sector and the church, embedded in national and international arenas.



René Mendoza Vidaurre, PhD

+505 85100007

[1] See: Wrold Bank 2020a, Data. h

[2] Cepal, 2020, Panorama social de América Latina. Santiago: Naciones Unidas.

[3] FAO, 2014, Agricultura Familiar en América Latina y el Caribe. Santiago: FAO.

[4] See: World Bank, 2020b, Data.

[5] Shiva, Vandana, 2016, Who Really Feeds the World? USA: North Atlantic Books

[6] Martí, 2014, “Notas para la construcción de una historia del cooperativismo en América Latina” en: Albuquerque, P., Economía social y solidaria. Praxis, vivencias e intenciones

Corn, a reflection for the community of Ubú

“Development” organizations have tended to emphasize export crops as key for the development of small producer communities. Our research shows that focussing on export crops to the detriment of traditional diversity of indigenous-peasant production results in loss of family land and food insecurity. People also need to analyze and improve the local market for essential goods. This article is an example of just such a reflection around the staple crop of corn in Nicaragua.

Corn, a reflection for the community of Ubú

In group

If you kill a bee, the rest of the bees react, they bury their stinger in you and die while fleeing; individual life does not matter to them, they defend the life of the hive. If you kill a wild boar, the pack pursues you risking their lives. Wolves, buffalo, geese…They survive and live in a group. And human beings?

“When I look at history I get depressed…but when I look at prehistory I am optimistic”, said Jan Christian Smuts (1870-1950), a South African politician and soldier. The historian Yuval Noah Harari, in his book, Sapiens, tells us that humanity developed thanks to its collective actions. This makes us discover that all living beings in our planet survive and live coordinating with one another in a group. We are collective products.

In Central America women and men say they are “children of corn”. After going around and around with this crop, with the leader Feliciano Cantarero from the community of Ocote Dudú, we bought future corn. After this small step, we took further steps. These pages deal with this and are open to anyone who dares to think and question.

1.    Corn in Nicaragua

This graph shows that importing corn starting in 2005 has grown exponentially. The importation of GMO corn and corn meal (maceca and harimasa) in order to make tortillas has grown so much that we no longer find pino corn for making homemade bread, pinol, pinolillo, rosquetas or gofio. From being children of our own corn we are becoming “children of GMO corn”. And since corn is more than corn, peasant autonomy and the peasant cultural foundation is being eroded.

2.    Reflecting is our first step

If you have 2 children between the ages of 8-10, in 5 years that pair of adolescents are going to be 15 or 16 years old. They will eat more tortillas and you will need more corn in the house. When your son or daughter finds their own partner, they will need at least 1 manzana of land to plant their corn. So, you are going to have to divide up the land to give some to them, there will be more mouths to feed and less corn per person; this is a crisis. You probably will go into debt, pay the debt year by year, and later you will have difficulties to pay those debts which will be increasing over time. You will end up selling the land. Some will go further into the forest, others will cross the river to enter the US. In any event it seems that in 10 years the family is going to become workers – to become fieldhands and embrace the rule of “survival of the fittest”. How can more income be generated throughout the year, ensuring your family food and even expanding your social “beehive”.

One way is that we might be able to organize ourselves in a way in which through the years we might ensure that income, food and social “beehive”. This is the effort in which we find ourselves, which will be possible if you join us and among all of us we think about how to do it.

3.    Selling and exchanging corn

We have started by buying 49 quintals of corn from the community of Ubú. With this start, we describe here the possible steps to be taken.

Brokers buy it in sacks and that is where the world of the producer ends. We will never be able to get a better price for corn if we continue selling it in a sack as a raw material. That is why producers prefer to plants less corn, planting only enough for their food, and up quite planting corn – because the soil is no longer fertile, because cattle pays better…Remember, maceca and harimasa will continue increasing in price and so we will call ourselves “children of imported maceca” and no longer “children of pinolero corn.”

Our goal should be to sell and trade corn turned into tortillas, bread, rosqueta, gofio, pinol, pinolillo, tibio, nacatamal, tamal, wirila… This we cannot do individually nor will we be able to do it in just one year. It is with several people in the community and from outside the community, year by year, that we can achieve it. It is breaking down several walls that we can do it, for example, we have to break down the wall of just selling by the sack, of just selling the raw material (corn is corn), and the wall that “money solves everything.” Alongside of overcoming these walls, we must get into processing and selling these products; and in parallel fashion recover the rule of our ancestors like the practice of the exchange of products (e.g. organizing an annual fiesta in the community of Ubú to share roasted pork with tortilla and pinolillo).

How are we going to do this? We list 4 steps in what follows.

With the corn, a first step would be working on an alliance with the Community Social Enterprises (CSE) of San Juan del Río Coco (SJRC). The CSEs are going to set the price based on calculating their profits in 10% (even though they have another way of calculating: 30% of the difference between the sale price and money invested). The rest of the money (C$199) they will send to Waslala. In the table we make the assumption that the CSEs in SJRC are going to sell at C$800, but it could be that they are able to sell it at a higher price or a little less, in which case the numbers would vary.

Table. Calculation of corn by quintal
Córdobas Explanation
Sale to consumer 800 If in SJRC they sell it at a better price, they will correct the rest of the calculations
Profits of CSE  (10%) 80 The CSES calculate it differently, but the amount is similar: 800-530= 170 x 30% /100% =81.
Future corn 350 5 months; if it was a loan at 5 – 10% interest rate, it would be between C$87.5 and C$175.
Transportation to 4 Esquinas – SJRC 170 From 4 Esquinas to Matagalpa C$90, from there to San Juan 50,  and from there to the communities an average of C$30. Total 170
Balance 199
50% for funds (community, innovation) 99.5 In 2022 with this fund we are going to organize a health fiesta in the community.
50% for individual profit sharing 99.5 Distributed in accordance with corn delivered

This step surpasses the model of traditional trade: 1) it is sold to a grassroots organization that is going to use the corn for the benefit of the peasantry; 2) the CSEs will have 10% of the profits and are going to send us the balance, which implies transparency; 3) the CSEs pay C$350/qq as an advance, and are not charging interest like usurers who charge between 5-10% monthly interest for the C$350 which from November to March in 5 months is between C$87.5 and C$175 per qq. See table.

The profit sharing is 50% for the producers and 50% for the “grain by grain” organization  (see box). Each year the volume that they turn into the organization is going to be added up. For example, if total profits are C$18,000 and the total corn accumulated in 3 years is 200qq, the profits would be C$90/qq (C$18,000/200qq). If producer Juancho in the first year turned in 3 qq, in the second year 10qq and the third year 1 qq, adds up to 14 qq, so in that third year Juancho will receive C$630 (C$45x14qq) which is 50%, while the remaining 50% (C$630) will stay with the organization.

A second step is that in Waslala we organize the initiative of making and selling tortillas. In this case we are going to save part of the cost of transportation and the total profits will be for the “grain by grain” organization, we will be able to share a larger amount. Also the CSEs in SJRC will organize other initiatives with corn, their profits will be distributed among the peasantry. This is great right?

A third step is that we buy pinol corn and we provide it in a 1 x2 basis under the conditions that the producer sells the harvest to our organization at the street price. We are interested in human health and pinol corn is important for that.

A fourth step is that we buy green fertilizer (velvet beans) to provide at 1×2 under the condition that the producer sell the harvest to our “grain by grain” organization, at the street price. We are interested in recovering the soil to be able to continue growing corn.

In the third and fourth step, after 2 or 3 years, probably we will have enough volume for pinol corn and green fertilizer, so there will be profits also to be shared. We are progressing little by little: the hen fills her craw grain by grain.

4.    How can we organize ourselves?

We have been understanding that we need to organize 3 groups: group of corn producers (cornfield) and green fertilizer group, group of women who make tortillas, and group of women who make pinolillo and pinol.

The producer group is already on its way, at least in its version of native corn. To them are added the producers with pinol corn seed and green fertilizer. The initial idea is that the stores would buy the pinol corn and provide it to the producers at 1 x 2 under the condition that we buy the harvest at the street price. 50% of the fund that the organization gets is going to be used for these purchases, even if insufficient. Something to keep thinking about.

The women´s group around pinol and pinollillo is something to think about. It is processing the pinol corn with cacao. It is pinolillo, pinol, bread…We need to think more about how we can carry it out.

Then there is the women´s group around tortillas. We are still thinking about this. It could be that is be linked to the sale of fried pork and cooked beans. We already have a team for making tortillas.

All these points are open to what you think. If we all think from our homes, communities and farms, we will be able to build strong communities. If we are successful, there will be no need for our people to migrate crossing the Rio Grande nor to sell their land. Like the bees, wild boars, wolves or geese, we humans should move as a group.

5.    Who has the right to share in the profits

When you sell your corn to traders, they will never share their profits with you. Our “grain by grain” organizations is being formed so that, among other things, it might share profits from the very beginning. There are two ways of having the rights to profits.

First way: producers who follow the corn agreement, providing the volume that they promised, have the right to profit sharing. Likewise people who promise to provide 1 x2 for pinol corn and 1 x 2 with green fertilizer. Likewise the women who participate in the tortilla group, and in the pinol and pinolillo group. All of them have the right to share in the profits.

Second way: free contribution. Those who did not participate in the corn agreement but who want to be part of the organization and have the right to profit sharing, can contribute in corn or in cash (equivalent to the street price for corn); they can do it once of they can do it year after year; what they contribute will be cumulative. Also producers who want to have more profits can contribute corn or an amount equivalent to the street price for corn.

6.    And if this initiative fails?

If this initiative fails, that 50% or what is left of that 50% of the funds in the organization is going to be distributed among all the people who have the right to profit sharing.

All of us can act so that it does not fail. So that in a few years we might be able to say to the spirit of Jan Christian Smuts, making history among several people we are cultivating optimism

Descentralization of the CSEs: deepening their connections

Community Social Enterprises have been a key focus of the WPF work these past two years. This brief document was written for  people participating in these innovative entities to set up key meetings for the coming year. We make it available here because it also provides a good summary of what has been accomplished and what lies ahead this coming year, 

Descentralization of the CSE deepening their connections

Windshield wipers are bigger than rearview mirrors, because the road ahead is larger than the road you leave behind.

This is the draft of a text in light of the assembly to be held on January 7th. It is a text written with a lot of anticipation. Improving the CSEs in the service of communities is what motivates us. For that purpose we are reading the context, the progress made, we are looking “through the rearview mirror” at other organizations. On that basis we are looking at where to go and how to build new futures.

1.    The seeds of death and life

Dawn tells you what the day will be like, goes the saying in Spanish.  An organization tends to be what it was in its beginnings. That genesis lasts between 3-5 years during which period a group organizes and approves their rules.

There are organizations that begin with enthusiasm, but do not set their rules, do not analyze their processes, and do not innovate their actions in the face of harsh realities. These organizations turn hierarchical, where the people who hold titles tend to take advantage of other people´s resources and the network itself for personal benefit. They are organizations that after reaching a certain level, do not grow any more and begin to fall apart. This happens for several reasons, some of which are:

  • The vertical and authoritarian structures on which our societies move, from the family, State, Church and any other organization, which are all absorbing.
  • The prevalence of the law of the jungle which penetrates  any new organization
  • The spirit of capitalism where everything is money and money in the short term, at the cost of human life and nature, which blurs our vision
  • The weakness of indigenous and peasant institutions which are not able to find their own wellsprings, which is why they are susceptible to being coopted.

Community Social Enterprises (CSEs) in San Juan del Río Coco (SJRC) are our concern. They are in the genesis phase. We started with a store, we added other stores, the distributor and the peasant market, we moved into coffee and beans. We did it with resources of people from the communities themselves and from outside the communities. Even though the store and roaster are in one community, at least in three of them, both are supervised separately. Looking at Figure 1, what do we see?

  • Certain degree of centralization in functions, decisions and resources in the distributor/supervision in the town.
  • Because of the strength of the communities with their stores and the fact that the administrators participate in the bean and coffee trade, there is a certain degree of counterweight from the communities
  • Through the resources of their shareholders there is distribution of earnings and this is a decentralizing force, which is why an accounting is done to the shareholders
  • There is dependency on a few people, even though this has gradually improved, step by step, with a strong role on the part of Freddy, Elix, the store administrators, the superviser and the person in charge of the distributor. The CSEs have a base of 10 people[1].

What is most distinctive of the CSEs is the fact that we have tried to constantly do self study  in order to innovate in terms of actions and rules. Also the CSEs have made progress in having a group of administrators who combine technical, administrative skills, honesty and effort.

Excessive centralization or excessive decentralization leads to the death of an organization. A balance is needed depending on the circumstances in which it moves, which is like getting “the perfect soup”: neither too salty nor too bland, neither too much fat nor not enough bone stock…

2.    Reasons to look for “the perfect soup”

Why the turn to a more decentralized form of organization? We need to read the context that we are living in Central America and the world. The brutal inequality in which we live is essentially the result of centralizing decisions and concentrating wealth. The destruction of the planet is the effect of the domination of the market where “money attracts more money”. The CSEs need to show a different path.

First, what most concerns us is the sustainability of the CSEs. In the history of organizations, we see that the great majority of them are sustainable based on centralizing themselves, but they are like spiders, once their heads are crushed (“ the leader”), they fall apart like a deck of cards. We are looking for sustainability inspired in the starfish, which has no known head and when it is cut in half turns into two starfish.

Secondly, we want each part of the CSEs to be autonomous, understanding autonomy to be having more connections. Autonomy is not separating oneself and isolating oneself. Organizations that centralize instead separate from and isolate their member organizations, we see this in some second tier cooperatives where the first tier cooperatives function in an isolated way and dependent on one or two people. The CSEs should deepen their connections with communities, their members, and organizations that go beyond country borders, and that connection should be mediated by accepted rules arrived at through consensus.

Third, it is important that communities have more ownership over their organizations, make them their own and use them as theirs. Centralist organizations have their own expressions: “The company of Fabiola”, “organizations of WPF” and “company with a lot of money” – it is like when they say “the cooperative of Mundito”, or the “cooperative of Luisa”, this shows the strength of the elites reproduced by all these people, and at the same time reveals the fact that people detect it and describe it as such, as elitist organizations. These expressions make the CSEs appear as if they were spiders, and this can carry risks for the CSEs. If the communities take ownership over their organizations, “the money will be attracted” by the communities and not the reverse.

3.    Path of decentralization as more connections

The idea of decentralization in the CSEs is not isolating nor separating themselves. It is deepening the connections among the different parts and building a better future. It is awakening and cultivating an awareness that small stones and big stones are equally important to build a pyramid, a house or a bridge.

In these two years we have a dozen people who understand and move the CSEs. We also have stores, roasters and services like harvest collection and drying the harvest in the communities themselves. How is it possible to decentralize in the sense of deepening connections?

  • That people get more interested in their initiatives. That there be more connection in a community between shareholders and clients (store and roaster), and from there communities connect more through the distributor, coffee-bean processing mill. Horizontal connection.
  • That each community administer their store, roaster and other services that they organize. That in each community their surplus be distributed in accordance with the actions of their shareholders. That each community analyze their possibility of growth based on their own efforts and make the decisions that are theirs to make, including the investments to be made. And that each community work on their strategy about how to attract more shareholders.
  • That the communities be the owners of services like the coffee harvest collection-processing-commercialization, and  the distributor for the stores.

Sounds good. How do we organize it?

3.1  Organization

Figure 2 shows the initiatives which we are working on.

  • Communities with their initatives (store, roaster) have shareholders, shareholder assemblies and their respective supervisors.
  • The two services, coffee commerce (CC) and the Distributor, Store and Peasant Market (DSPM) are also governed by their assemblies, whose members are representatives of the communities that are the owners of those services: see purple arrows going in one direction in Figure 2. In the case of CC it is in alliance with WPF and through that we reach the US – an alliance which is working on a new model for commerce in coffee.
  • The percentage of the distribution for the social fund, maintenance-investment and individual profit sharing will be similar for all the communities and services. It is the basis of the connection.
  • Every 3 months, prior to the quarterly distribution of profits, the advising team will supervise each community and each service, basically to review the good work of the supervisors.

Let us get a little more specific. Let´s begin with the communities.

  • Community is a geographic place represented by its shareholders who invest in stores and roasters who are in their geographic space, and who invest in the DSPM and the CC.
  • Each community with their store and roaster is supported by its shareholders and their respective assemblies. In their first assembly (March 2022) in each community with their shareholders they must choose outside shareholders who have requested buying shares in that community and set the amount of their shares, as well as name their supervisor (see Box 1). For that purpose, the supervisor of the CSEs on March 10, 2022 will provide the data on the value of the store and the roaster, the amount that they must reach with the shares. The supervisor will also provide a table with the social fund and the maintenance fund in proportion to their shares.
  • A community can have shares in other communities; also people from other communities can have shares in another community, their acceptance is decided by each community. This avoids social inbreeding.
  • The shareholders of the community where the store and the roaster are will have a minimum of 51% of the shares. If they do not reach this amount in the beginning, they must define in their assembly a strategy to achieve it in year 1.
  • Monthly supervision will be carried out by people that are named by the assembly for each store. Each administrator records data on paper and on the laptop, does their respective cash count. This monthly supervision will be published on the CSE whatsapp.
  • Communities will be the shareholders of the DSPM and the CC
  • Each community will name their representative of the DSPM and CC for a two year term. Once that period has ended they cannot be re-elected so that they might scale up to other forms of organization.

Distributor, Store and Peasant Market

  • Communities hold 100% of the shares of the DSPM.
  • One or two supervisors from the communities supervise the DSPM
  • There will be 2 people responsible for the DSPM: one person in the distributor and bringing in products, and another person dealing with the store and the peasant market. Payment will be a fixed amount until DSPM is able to achieve profits where 30% of those profits is equal to or greater than the fixed amount.
  • All products from the communities will come through the community stores, except for those people who take their product directly to SJRC. The profits between the store and the DSPM for products that go through the stores will be shared 50-50.
  • The beans that are the object of the alliance between SJRC and Waslala will be under the responsibility of the supervisor of the distributor, at least in its first phase.
  • The amount of the salary for both people will be defined by the new assembly of the DSPM (March 2022).

Coffee Commerce

  • Communities hold 100% of the shares.
  • One or two of the supervisors of the communities will supervise the service of the CC.
  • There will be one person in charge with a fixed salary or will earn 30% of the profits, something yet to be studied. It would seem that we need a person who would organize the distribution of roasted, ground coffee in the country, starting in the communities and who would organize a network of coffee shops including other investors. Maybe the best market is in the country itself.

3.2  Rules

The rules already approved in the CSEs are essentially the same rules that are going to govern each community.

We will only have to add some referring to:

  • The fact that the communities are the owners of the DSPM and CC
  • The payment of the people who coordinate the DSPM and CC
  •  50% of earnings for the store and 50% for DSPM with peasant products that the stores send to the peasant market
  • Things that involve the CC…,

4.    Prospects

Shaping this decentralization process understood as a deepening of connections, we will have:

  • Every 3 months 7 assemblies will be held (5 in communities and 2 around the DSPM and CC) – assemblies are learning spaces, in their time we will work on guides about how we can grow in these spaces. Let us note that the CSEs will be very assembly focused, something that it is important to encourage and make happen.
  • Each community will be interested in knowing how they are doing with the distribution of profits, the progress in each community.
  • Every 6 months we will organize an Encounter of Board members from the 7 assemblies, an important space for building a common vision, to learn from  experiences and to work on common challenges – the idea of exchange as the other face of trade, we should be thinking about it, in some communities in Honduras they hold a “corn festival” or “corn cob festival” where the entire community comes together once a year.
  • Certificate programs which will be very important, we might organize them jointly with Waslala. Throughout this year we have held a series of Encounters.

5.    Calendar-plan

Calendar of activities in the process of the reorganization of the CSEs
Date Activities People responsible
Nov 23 to Dec 7 Explain to people the rules around coffee Freddy, Fabiola, Elix, and administrators of Samarkanda, SJ Ojoche & San Antonio
Dec 8 Report on volume of coffee collected and notes on visits made Fabiola, Elix & Freddy
Dec 9 Decision with WPF René
Dec 10 Reaction of CSE Fabiola, Freddy & Elix
Dec 11 First draft of decentralization proposal of the CSEs René
Dec 11 – Jan 7 First draft on calculation of shares by communities * Fabiola
Jan 7 Assembly Board
Jan 7 – Feb 7 Supervisors are chosen Each community
March 1-4 2 days Encounter of administrators, candidates to be supervisors participate; 2 day formation of supervisors Fabiola & René
March 7-11 Internship of supervisors in stores and roasters Store administrators
March 10 Send refined version of report on shares, in addition to the financial report to CSEs Fabiola
March 14 – 28 Each community holds their assembly and defines their shares and amount that fits with the amount of assigned shares Coordination of communities
April 8 CSE Assembly: results of assemblies in each community and the DSPM are reviewed Board
* For each community: 1) value of the roaster (what it cost plus investments) and the store; 2) value of DSPM shares; 3) social fund and maintenance fund that depend on number of shares

Final note:

Please write with any comments. Remember that your ideas have enormous value.

René Mendoza

San Juan Rio Coco, November 30, 2021


[1] Really there are more people, like  Claudio, Ernesto-Cristina, Toño, Carmensa-Flavio, Uriel, Aura…They are leaders with enormous capacities in different areas:  Toño-Ernesto-Chango in coffee, Carmensa-Cristina in providing follow up on processes, Claudio in organization. We need to take better advantage of them. Now with the decentralization all these people will be able to participate a lot more effectively.

“The snail” strategy in the face of climate change and the coffee price bubble

“The snail” strategy in the face of climate changeand the bubble of coffee prices

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

Snail´s path

-Everything that goes up, must come down, said a woman

-But roasted, ground coffee goes up in price but does not come down, responded her daughter.

-That is because those who earn more are few and are higher up, reacted the mother.

-Maybe the path of the snail needs to replace the ladder, where we do not go up at the cost of…stuttered the daughter and she bit her tongue, while her mother listened.

Between the months of October and November of 2021 was a peculiar moment. While the price for coffee “went up” and the COVID-19 pandemic “came down”, adding the “Omicron” variant, affecting human health, in Glasgow (Scotland) the 26th edition of the annual United Nations Conference on Climate Change , COP 26[2] was being held, looking to reach an agreement between those “from above” to save the planet from a catastrophic climate. This coincidence of events calls us to reflect: the price of roasted and ground coffee goes up and does not tend to go down, climate change also “goes up” (gets worse) and the elite of humanity, the “cherry on the pumpkin” as Bauman (2014)[3]  describes them, continue believing – and make all of us believe – that “anything can be done with money.”

Discerning a larger horizon during a volatile and uncertain moment seems to be an important light for our times.

In this article we argue that coffee expresses that reality of climate change, the “trickle down” world economy of social inequality, and that urgently needs a glocal strategy to take advantage of prices, mitigate climate change and deepen relationships of cooperation, crossing oceans. More “along a snail´s path”, as the daughter says in the story, which does get the attention of her mother.

1.    Coffee prices

Coffee prices have been on the rise since the month of October: US$ 2.30/lb (November 2021). It is estimated that they can break US3.00/lb and even US$4.00/lb. The two graphs which follow reveal its evolution with contradictory messages.

The first graph shows constant change in prices where in 2001-02 was the worst year and 2011 the best in a space of 100 years. The graph shows us that these price changes are normal, that they go up and go down, good years and bad years, it even reminds us that “whatever goes up must come down.” All this appears to be something natural.

The second graph shows prices adjusted for inflation: it starts from 1977, a year of high prices. That 1977 price is 1,000% higher than prices for 2020-21. The adjustment for inflation has as a principal determining factor cost increases which include inputs, labor force and expenses, which generally are outside the control of coffee producers. From there, prices can go up, but if costs go up more, that “rise” in prices really is not a rise, but rather the prices for export coffee (raw material) are systematically falling. In other words, the “rise” in coffee prices which are happening in the last three months of 2021 are like a “fleeting joy.”

2.    Causes or coincidence of elements that create waves

Without losing sight of graph 2, let us focus on the causes of the rise in prices in this second semester of the current year, 2021. More than causes, we see that there are several elements that are happening simultaneously, and that tacitly are interconnected causing this “rise” in prices.

There is price speculation, because there is a lot of money “in the streets”, while there is coffee in warehouses and on coffee plants. Even though in the month of November importers (roasters) began to see the coffee in their warehouses reduced.

That price speculation is due to the fact that the coffee harvest in Brazil, generally plantations under the open sun and monocropping systems, plummeted in the current cycle by at least 20% (some estimate that the loss of the coffee harvest will be as high as 60%), first because of a drought, and later because of a freeze, including snow, in the month of July caused by a cold wave from the Antarctic; both, drought and freeze, are clear effects of climate change, in turn caused by human actions, forewarned by scientists (see Kurmelovs)[4]. The situation of Brazil, which under President E. Bolsonaro in the last three years razed the Amazon to impose monocropping agriculture and ranching, means a lot because it produces 35% of the total volume of world coffee. If Brazil drops its production by half, no importer, roaster or distributor of roasted and ground coffee wants to take the risk of being left without coffee for tomorrow morning – or for 2022 – which is why they are running to buy coffee at whatever the price.

In parallel fashion, the cost of logistics has shot up for all products. In contrast to merchandise like grains which are transported in cargo ships, with coffee marine transportation is in containers. The price of marine transport of 1 container of coffee rose from $2,000 (US$4.80/quintal) to $4,000, then to $7,000 and now there is talk of it reaching $15,000 (US$36/quintal)[5]. The cost of trucking from customs to the warehouses has also gone up, and it is reported that in the United States there are not enough trucks, which is why customs is charging fines for those who do not pick up their coffee in the stipulated time frame.  It is also reported that there is a certain amount of chaos in exporting from countries, particularly Brazil, because they do not have enough containers for maritime transport in a timely fashion, which is why the importers in England or the United States are waiting for more than 2 months for their coffee.

This has to do with the recovery of the world demand for goods and services promoted by the policies of fiscal stimulus on the part of governments of the developed countries – e.g. $1.9 trillion dollars equal to 10% of US GDP which the government of the United States injected into its economy at the beginning of 2021, as well as the $1 trillion for infrastructure in November 2021. This demand surpassed the supply of goods and services in the market. Companies expected that because of the pandemic there was going to be a period of prolonged stagnation and reduced their production and inventory, and the flow of world transport of merchandise dropped.  Warehouses were full of coffee. But things turned out just the reverse because of the strong demand, which is why there is not enough capacity to supply the market. 

This imbalance between world supply and demand for merchandise is what is causing the inflation in developed and emerging countries. Last October the IMF estimated that inflation will reach its peak at the end of 2021 of 3.6%, much higher than what was expected this past July of 2.4%, which means that all prices for products are rising and will continue to rise.

3.    Tendencies

What situation awaits us in the immediate future and in the medium term? Given that the only thing certain is uncertainty, here we note some tendencies about coffee, relationships between importers and exporters, fair trade organizations, coffee producer families and their organizations, and the value of roasted ground coffee in the United States and Europe.

If coffee plants in Brazil were severely damaged, their renovation will take 3 years, at least assuming that in those 3 years there is not another drought or freeze. If it takes 3 years, coffee prices are doing to remain high for the next 3 years. Consequently, some scholars believe that the price of coffee may go beyond US$3 and even reach US$4/lb[6]. This would appear to be good income for producer families. Even though climate change might even make the situation worse: a producer in Central America could receive $250 for 1 quintal of export coffee. And if his coffee field, despite being associated with fruit and forest trees in contrast to the plantations in Brazil, is damaged by climate change? They could be left holding the bag.

We foresee a possible deterioration in the relationships between importers and exporters of export quality coffee. Compliance of agreements between importers (buyers) and exporters of coffee will be seen in accordance with the rise and fall in prices. Both can agree to set a defined price in advance, let us say they agree on 220 + a differential of 20 and requiring a cupping score of 81; but if prices begin to drop after February or March 2022 before the agreed upon coffee is sent, that importer or roaster will want to economize and therefore free themselves from the previously signed contract. If market prices have already dropped to 180, the importer-roaster could decide that the cupping of the coffee resulted in a score of 79 and send the coffee back, or offer to buy it at 190 as “a favor.” Consequently, in that transaction the exporters lose US$50/quintal, unless they look for another neutral cupping, but that requires more time, and with that more expenses and tensions will emerge. The reverse can also happen, if the price “on the street” is above the agreed upon price, coffee exporters will seek to break the contract. Let us say that they signed a contract at 190 at the beginning of the 2021-22 harvest, given the rise in price to $230, the exporters will seek to sell it at that “street price”, which is why at the moment to fulfill their prior contract they will no longer have coffee in their warehouse. These are shenanigans from both sides that affect the long-term relationships; because of this, importers (buyers) currently are resisting setting prices in these months of November and December, and if they do so, they want to be sure that there is coffee in the warehouse of those who are offering the coffee. With more price variation, there is more prevalence of shenanigans on both sides, more opportunism.

Fair trade organizations can lose a lot in this context of high prices. Some have contracts set at $160, $190, $225 and others at $230 per quintal. Most of the cooperatives do not distribute their profits, nor do they deduct just $25 or $35 for costs of harvest collection, dry milling and export services; they are accustomed to deducting larger amounts for whatever reason. Consequently, when the members see that their cooperative is paying them $140 or $160 per quintal, when “on the street” they are offered $180 or $190, they tend to go for the higher price. This happens because the members are the owners of their coffee and want to sell it wherever they can when the price is high, and they are going to turn their coffee in to their cooperative when the price “in the street” is lower than what their cooperative tends to pay them. In turn, many cooperatives, on not receiving coffee from its members, buy coffee “from the street” from traditional intermediaries, coffee for which they will not pay the organic nor social premium to anyone. In other cases, the members deliver on the volume of coffee committed to their cooperative, but they turn in their lesser quality coffee, the best coffee they sell to traditional intermediaries. So, if most of the members divert their coffee to “the street”, fair trade organizations will be left with a volume of coffee less than their goals, will be compensated by coffee from “the street” and probably will take lesser quality coffee; this shows a structural weakness in the fair trade chain, from the producers to the fair trade stores, there is no mutual loyalty for the reasons that exist, they continue being governed by opportunism where “making a quick buck” is the focus.

Within this environment of prices and opportunism, organic coffee producers will tend to turn toward conventional coffee, producers with traditional coffee who do not apply neither chemical nor organic inputs will look for agrochemical inputs, and those who already use agrochemical inputs will tend to increase them. The spirit of increasing volume for more money will gain ground. The motor which pushes this is the culture of “making a quick buck”, and its effects can be disastrous for the peasantry, their organizations and the salvation of the planet. Commercial intermediaries will insist on buying future coffee with money in hand, providing credit under terms of usury and offering agrochemical inputs to be paid with coffee, which will lead the peasantry to go into debt, depend more on the market for coffee production and commit their coffee to those commercial intermediaries. Organizations of producers, for having responded with “street prices” will be left without funds to provide credit to their members, which will limit their harvest collection in the next coffee cycle, and therefore become a disadvantage for continuing their alliances with importing organizations in the United States and Europe, unless they embrace commercial intermediation. With the turn towards agrochemical inputs and monocropping agriculture, as well as the cooptation of producer organizations by market forces, the damage to soil and water will intensify; something of this has happened in Brazil on a larger scale: coffee producers in the state of Paraná suffered freezes 40 years ago, which is why they moved to Minas Gerais in search of a more stable climate, but they did not learn their lesson, they planted coffee in the open sun, highly technified and based on agrochemicals, which are propitious conditions for a freeze to hit them even harder.

At the same time, the price of roasted ground coffee and the price of a cup of coffee in coffee shops for consumers in Europe and the United States tends to rise, in fact it was already rising in October 2021. Many studies show that the price of roasted ground coffee, as well as a cup of coffee in Starbucks or different coffee shops, centuries ago broke with the saying that “what goes up, must come down”, the price of roasted ground coffee sold in retail goes up and does not come down, like agrochemicals, they go up without limit; only peasant products like export coffee, beans in sacks or pigs on the hoof go up and down, while their price adjusted for inflation go down and down, systematically. This means that social inequality within a glocal framework will intensify, including environmental deterioration.

4.    Long term strategies

In general, not speculating and increasing one’s own efficiency is what is most recommended. Immediately selling coffee that one has at the New York market price; not speculating, thinking that prices are going to rise even more. At the same time, increasing efficiency in harvest collection and dry milling which means reducing costs and taking advantage of the “waste”, protecting coffee from possible theft and being concerned that the coffee be good quality; also increasing efficiency on the other side of the ocean.

In the case of cooperative organizations that are working in alliance with importers, be they fair trade ones or importers with a sense of social justice, that alliance has to go beyond the price for export coffee – which goes up and down – where the parties live together “in separate beds”, one in raw materials and the other in processed products; it should go toward the price of roasted ground coffee that goes up and up, contributing in this way to social equity; working on forms of mitigating climate change; and that each chain of actors improve their capacities for economic and social investment in rural communities. This is how to begin to “exchange the ladder for the snail´s path.” In what follows we break down these points.

Even though market prices are above $220, a price of $190 defined (and agreed upon) for this and the next five years is a good price. This agreement should move under the principal of sharing risks and profits in terms of the price of roasted ground coffee within a framework of informational transparency between the participating actors: producer organizations in countries of the south and importers from the United States and Europe. In this alliance they set as a base price $190, and share profits or losses from the sale of roasted ground coffee; in other words, producer organizations and their membership would also have the possibility of assuming losses, a scenario for which they should increase their levels of efficiency which would allow them to continue lowering their costs, even though we doubt that they might be losses in the sale of roasted ground coffee, because that would mean that the importers would accept that prices to consumers would drop. This base agreement is possible under the principal of mutual loyalty, where the importer would not break their contract when the NY price of coffee is low and where the producer organization, like their membership, would honor their commitments regardless of the up and down movement of the price; where no actor of the alliance would go out running to “the street” after money. This agreement would demonstrate that, despite so much uncertainty and speculation, the best continues to be establishing long term relationships based on a reasonable price, sharing profits and losses in terms of the price of roasted ground coffee, and being committed to human and natural communities. 

By setting the price at $190 the producer organization should adhere to that: adopting the readjustment. Those producers, who sold coffee to their organization at a lower street price to the average of the season paid by the organization, would be paid the difference. This is part of equity with consequences for two-way loyalty, from the producer to their organization and from that organization to its members, and from both to the importer.

Producer organizations should innovate in an ongoing way. Collecting the harvest in the community itself and paying the couple for the coffee received – paying the husband and the wife for the coffee reduces the poor use that possibly the husband might do if only he is paid. Buying coffee also in cherry form in case the producer family does not have a wet mill. Not sticking to just parchment coffee, where “coffee belongs to men”, but adding value to the coffee in the community itself, drying it to the point of hulling, selecting the beans and hulling it, taking advantage of the coffee hull as fertilizer or as an energy source, activities where women take center stage; not centralizing coffee milling, nor turn it into something technologically intensive in environments with high unemployment. Finding meaning to each activity: drying coffee on the farm itself instead of throwing water on it 2 Km prior to delivering the coffee to their cooperative, believing that they will “earn more”; selecting the coffee beans instead of pressuring that they deduct whatever they want so long as they pay you immediately. Organizing coffee shops in country as well, as a window on the rural world. Helping producers to also see into the distance under “high beams”, that they harvest what they sow: in the next cycle, let us say 2022-23, the member would turn in the same – or proportional to – the volume of coffee that was turned in the previous cycle, let us say 2021-22, so that if the price of coffee drops in that cycle, that producer will not be able to turn in more than the volume that was delivered in the previous cycle; that the organization might be a space so that the owners of coffee might analyze why they turn in a certain volume to their cooperative and to traditional intermediaries, about what limits or empowers them to embrace their organization.[7] Likewise importers in the United States and Europe, improving their social networks through universities, churches and cooperatives; improving their coordination for importing, transporting, storing and distributing roasted ground coffee for consumers; selling coffee on line; organizing coffee shops where they have murals with information about the entire coffee chain; enable the willinglness of people who seek to support a just glocal chain; analyze the coffee chain from the context of the United States or Europe. North-South organizations, intertwined with one another, are like the piece of tortilla that accompanies a fried egg, like honey on pancakes, the ideal complement to people who organize and move the coffee world while contributing to social and environmental equity.

Organizations and their membership must avoid wasting resources, a practice that harms the family and worsens climate change. Instead of poorly spending the good income from coffee, they should take on a commitment about how to mitigate climate change and how to use their income well to the benefit of their families. What happened in Brazil with the freeze caused by the cold wave from the Antarctic can also happen in Colombia, in Central American countries and in other parts of the world; in fact, they are already happening in several regions of the world. Consequently, members and their organizations should invest more in the soil and water, reducing the amount of coffee trees per hectare, diversifying more, combining agriculture and smaller livestock (poultry), producing ecological fertilizer and depending less on agrochemicals, and adding value to different products from the farm. More than drought resistant crops, like casava, pitahaya or pineapple, investing in agroforestry systems that capture carbon dioxide, contribute to biodiversity, soil and water. More than merchandise and money, that organizations build dense social relationships of cooperation, also with working people, to strengthen communities.[8]

It is a time in which we need more common sense. Avoid that reality where “the higher you go the harder the fall.” Instead, the more you cooperate with people and nature, the more “cushion”

you build that will soften any “fall”, and that instead that “cushion” pushes you in a collective way to scale up with equity along the snail´s path.

Long term alliances that embrace these strategies can be like a red t-shirt in a washer full of white clothes, its mission is to bleed so that producers, cooperatives and associations, importers and coffee retail sites might learn to be linked together and then connect with one another to earn with equity, caring for the common home and cultivating a decent living. 

Concluding, “the snail´s path” is building an alliance based on the entire chain of actors that add value to coffee, their organizations, and communities. It is an alliance where profits and losses are shared from the sale of roasted ground coffee. It is building processes where roasted ground coffee is sold in the United States and Europe, and in countries in the South as well. It is an alliance where the emphasis on money “drops” and spaces for learning in organizations is emphasized, where we do not just look at coffee but at the ecosystem where that coffee is produced, and where there is a commitment for dense intracommunity social networks, networks between communities and in alliance with international organizations. This path, in the end, expresses the profound sense of egalitarianism, an idea associated with democratic traditions, which is not to give to each what each deserves, but give to each what is needed to develop as people, going beyond opportunism. This is the idea that the alliance of glocal organizations seeks to cultivate.

[1] René has a PhD in Development Studies, is an associate researcher for the IOB at Antwerp University, a member of OSERPROSS and a collaborator of the Wind of Peace Foundation. This article has benefitted from information and ideas from Warren Armstrong, Anne Loewisch, Kleber Cruz, Arturo Grigsby, Gisele Henriques, Paz Redondo, Mark Lester, Daniel Ehrlich, Freddy Pérez, Fabiola Zeledón and Elix Meneses.

[2] COP is the acronym for the Conference of the Parties in English, the signers of the Framework Convention of the United Nations on Climate Change, a treaty of 197 agents ( 196 countries and the European Union) reached in 1994.

[3] See: ZygmuntBauman, 2014, ¿La riqueza de unos pocos nos beneficia a todos? Barcelona: Paidós.

[4] Royce Kurmelovs, 2021 (September 30), “Coffee bean price spike just a taste of what’s to come with climate change” in: The Guardian.

[5] Now in September a disruption was experienced in the supply chain due to COVID-19. Some importers from England warned that the costs of a simple shipment rose from $3,300 to $10,000 (Kurmelovs, 2021). See also: Nigel Hunt, Jonathan Saul and Marcelo Teixeira, 2021 (August), “Analysis: Retail coffee prices to climb as frost and freight costs bite”, in: Reuters.

[6] Jonathan Morris, 2021 (September 30) “Coffee bean prices have doubled in the past year and may double again – what’s going on?”, in: The Conversation.

[7] Just applying the rules, as fair as it may appear, can “kill” the spirit of growing organizationally. In the space of the organization the people who are owners of the coffee can express their perspectives and reasons, listen to other perspectives and reasons, support one another, and in this way make better decisions. The risk of only emphasizing the rules is that one might fall into meritocracy, that those who have privileges have them because they deserve them or that God blessed them for fasting, which are some ideas that come from the elites and are reproduced also by the peasantry; about this, César Rendueles (2020, Contra la igualdad de oportunidades. Un panfleto igualitarista. Barcelona: Editorial Seix Barral) argues that “equal opportunity” is a reformulation of meritocracy, which is a “way of justifying the privileges of the elites “. Organizations should help to understand the context that leads people to make one or another decision; in this way the organization is a medium for learning, more than a medium for making money. 

[8] In WFTO (World Fair Trade Organization) and in FLO (Fairtrade Labelling Organization) they are discussing a price of coffee that would ensure a basic and decent living income. As producer organizations based in communities, we can contribute to that reflection analyzing production costs, cooperation and community service.

Accompaniment on terrain-where-things-get- complicated

Accompaniment on terrain-where-things-get-complicated

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

Joining hands

The midwife arrived just in time. The mother writhed in pain. Her husband grabbed her hand and the future grandmother massaged her forehead. “Is my baby alive?” asked the mother. The midwife kneaded her slowly and seemed to move her baby and…”there are two”- revealed the midwife. Corina and Manolo were astonished. “Breathe deeply, push,” repeated the midwife. Shortly after a girl and a boy were born. The moment was sublime. On leaving the midwife said to them, “A great day, life is born when several hands work together.”

Socrates, 2400 years ago, said that philosophers were like midwives. We say that people who accompany organizations are like midwives: we help life flourish. In the story we see that in the midst of the pain the mother loses consciousness and no one knows what to do; it is when the midwife arrives and connects with the grandmother, father, mother and the pair of babies still in the mother´s womb; makes them feel that connection and know what to do and recover the dream that something very important is about to begin to happen, and is going to make them rethink their relationship with this world. This life has surprises, one is expected, and “there are two.” Accompaniment is like this, it reconnects, moves in a team, leaves and sees the day; it helps babies be born who do not belong to the people doing the accompaniment, but to their Mother and Father and that in time that life will walk on its own where “several hands will come together.” It is the connection that generates life.  Nevertheless, there are also situations where the baby is stillborn, the mother loses her life, and the midwife washes her hands of it, the disconnection generates death. 

What makes an accompaniment help open a path to life instead of passing through death? In this article we reflect on that question, and to do so we get into those terrains-where-things-get-complicated. On getting involved in them, in different places in Central America, the first wall tends to be the accompanying organization itself, its members or more precisely its attitudes. From there, from these walls and crossing over these walls we argue that accompaniment generally is the first obstacle to processes of change, but they can become the midwife of those changes, so that these changes can become lasting.

1.    Introduction

There have been NGOS, churches, States and producer organizations who have taken on a role of consultants, technical assistance, pastoral support, training or tutoring. Women and men “change agents”, “technicians”, “trainers”, “project supervisors”, “delegates of ministers”, academics” or “facilitators” do it. What has this role consisted in? How can processes of real change be accompanied? In this article we deal with these questions. We argue that a consultancy or accompaniment can intensify the status quo, or it can promote changes, which is why it is essential to make the distinction in order to have an intentional accompaniment.

Figure 1 shows there are two ways of advising or accompanying which take two paths, one of formality embedded in authoritarian structures and one of cooperation embedded in collective actions. In the first modality, the “take, add and repeat” means that the policies or ideas of change come “from above” and do not improve the lives and paths of the people, rather intensifies them in their worst expressions. The advisers are absorbed by this path or adapt to it. It is a way of moving under an individual logic of “leave it to me” and “why should I care”, blaming people for the processes that fail and working for the formality of complying with predefined tasks. In the lingo of this modality one hears “organization”, “solidarity”, “change”, “democracy”, “participation”, “equity” and “inclusion,” but they are like “flashes in the pan”, changing in order to not change. 

In the second modality, the “take, process and connect talents wherever you go”, we talk properly about accompaniment. Here, those who accompany realize that they are muddied by path 1 (see purple arrows in figure 1) and that on their own they cannot generate change, because it is like a midwife giving birth when she is not pregnant. This starting point makes them un-learn (realize that as accompaniers we also carry a mentality of path1), a virtue that pushes them to the second modality and to contribute to the fact that that formality and hierarchical structures of path 1 are transformed, like water into wine – the social relations of people, their farms and their behavior in the cooperative and in their alliances. In the second modality, liturgy is ordering and analyzing deeds, their practice is innovating under a collective logic, the logic of the team, complementing one another in actions and in being disciplined to follow agreements, and being aware that path 1 will return again and again into our lives and our work modality.

In the second and third section we describe both paths. Then, in the fourth and fifth section we reconceive reflective accompaniment with a collective sense of contributing to the transformation of path 1. In the conclusion we summarize the principal findings. 

2.    The path of formality which conceals hierarchical structures

Through the centuries hierarchical structures which have imprisoned the majorities have intensified. They have done so backed by those who present themselves as their pastors, libertarian leaders, intellectuals or their advisers.

2.1  Structures which imprison the peasantry

Formality happens in any area. In the religious sphere it is the liturgy in church: songs, prayers, tithing, offerings, supplication, penitence, at times even self-flagellation; a formality that only requires believing and where prayer is reduced to a discursive appeal. In cooperatives, their liturgy is the routine of meetings, official minutes, doing financial reports, in some cases inspection of organic products and praying to the holy buyer of their products. In NGOs their liturgy is managing projects, channeling donations, technical assistance, trainings and praying to the donor. In the State it is training, certifying organizations, providing titles, channeling donations, telling people how to vote and wearing the bandanna of the official party. In these spheres it is common to find that the advisors or technicians reach an agreement with the managers or presidents of rural organizations to coordinate their actions in harmony with those rituals or liturgies. Of all of them, the fact that they prioritize trainings is highlighted – training assumes that the other person is not capable- overlooking the liturgy the peasants themselves have. 

This described formality seems to be legalistic, harmonious or operational, but conceals authoritarian and hierarchical structures, legitimizes them, moves along those rails and is derived from those structures. They are seen as the only path to “progress” or “heaven.” In the church the pastor or the priest are the highest authority to whom the faithful or believers owe devotion, because they are presented as if they were “the anointed one” of a supernatural being, and of being the intermediary capable of sending people to heaven or hell. In the community the politician and the merchant are seen as powerful wizards without whose favor one cannot survive. In organizations the people who are the beneficiaries of projects (donations) look on the technicians as the “Virgin Mary”, whose intercession they seek so that they might receive more aid, donations through which the elites coopt the producer organizations to induce them to subject themselves to the market. In families women are subjected to their husbands, who are considered the heads of their household and “with rights” (to violence and to having lovers). They are structures that sow and sustain “save yourselves those who have” and “get ahead by stealing from the poor”, rules that at the same time are defended by impoverished people as if they were from their ancestors – peasant and indigenous values and mentality. It is this hierarchical and authoritarian structure which makes one read the Bible as if Jesus and Yahweh were universal chiefs and miracle workers drunken by the liturgy of each structure, and legitimizing not just the elites, but these unfair structures as something natural and the fruit of divine will, and from that structure read the context as a predetermined destiny where individualism and subordination are combined. It is that structure that leaves “hobbled” the very relatives of the woman whose husband mistreats her, relatives who allege -following these structures – that “they cannot get involved” because that woman is “a different kettle of fish.” 

Figure 2 draws the existing structures. Horizontally, you see the levels of elites, foremen and people, passing through families which are mediation institutions of each structure. Vertically, each structure appears to be sections unconnected to one another, characterized by zealously protecting certain information that they consider “sacred.” The head of State, officials and party activists, each protects their information, except for slogans or orders for actions; the large estate owner protects information about his earnings and contacts, without sharing them with his administrators, they protect the information about the land without sharing it with the workers nor their bosses, the workers protect information about the work or the inputs to be applied to the plantation; the religious protects information, in fact confession is sacred. An informal rule here is: protecting information confers power and not revealing it to the “enemy” is honoring the family.[2]

When certain information is revealed, let us say by some state official to opposition parties, the government accuses that functionary of being a snitch. If a worker goes to tell the business owner what his administrator is doing on the estate, the administrator accuses the worker of being a “snitch.”  In a couple, the person who lets the wife know that her husband is with another woman is accused of being a “snitch.” In an organic coffee cooperative that certifies conventional coffee as if it were organic, the person who denounces this fact will be considered a “snitch”. Being a “snitch” is synonymous with traitor and is punished by jail time (Government-State), unemployment, expulsion from the church, exclusion for the list of project beneficiaries. An informal rule here is: whoever reveals information to the adversary is a traitor and should be punished.

The above shows us that each structure is separated vertically and horizontally – a community in a certain human geography is crisscrossed by these structures and at the same time moves under local despotism. At the same time, all these structures, in addition to being hierarchical and authoritarian and that reward local despotism, breathe the culture of secrecy which keeps peasant people isolated and disconnected from one another.

2.2  Consultancy which intensifies that unjust social order

Consultancy, tutoring, technical assistance, pastoral work or those who coordinate projects, restrict themselves to this sphere of formality of path 1. Each structure has its own consultancy in light of its interests and goals, from there they are located along the row of elites: “The State knows more about the needs of the people”,” “the market knows what people need”, “God knows the needs of man” and “we donors come from the future, we know what you need.” Consultancy along the row of people comes generally from the structures of international aid: see the green circle. That consultancy, nevertheless, “is muddied” with each religious, business or State structure to provide its technical recommendations. On passing through a structure and moving along its rails, the content of the consultancy is molded by that structure, which is why it is a form and content that responds to that structure and is disconnected from the aspirations of the people and their communities or specific territories. It is a content that could “come down” from heaven, from the heights, “from above”, is derived from hierarchical structures. 

Consequently, people who advise and are advised, follow the liturgies to the letter, listen to and give sermons, trainings or technical assistance. The content of that preaching or training is not based on studies of the people who are the object of that preaching, because each structure believes it knows what their subordinates need, for example, the church believes that their faithful or believers need to follow the liturgy in church to go to heaven, the business person believes that the market knows better, that the workers understand that if they work the day as indicated to them they will earn their day´s pay. The content of the trainings comes from standard material for any place and audience – like the religious whose preaching is standard, decontextualized – and generally squash the processes that people who are organizing follow.[3] It is a consultancy that is measured by the number of training sessions (or sermons) or by physical investments (harvest collection centers, roasters, classrooms, reservoirs, bio-digestors) carried out, and not by the degree of coordination among people around specific collective actions. The same happens with consultancy or technical assistance for a crop; they recommend what to do and that is the end. Most representative are the people who exercise the role of management, supervision or accounting tasks, they stick to the administrative sphere, ignore their environment and the mission of the people who are organizing; consequently, they supplant the organs of the organization with their own decisions and submit the organization to their administrative approach, it is the bureaucratic expression of capitalism where they argue that “informing people who are organizing is to confuse them and even make them fight among themselves.”

In fact, consultants submit themselves to the previously mentioned code of silence and avoid being accused of being “snitches”. They do not study the people and their realities; they do not access information that can help them understand those worlds. Not getting that information to analyze, they do not produce ideas that they might be able to reflect on in the organization´s collective spaces. The projects of aid organizations, in general, contribute to this code of silence and the accusations of “”snitch” derived from the hierarchical structures: in that sense the voices that are heard are: “they reported to their donors that the project was done well and had a great impact, when we families remained the same”, “we malnourished a child so that they would give us aid”, “we wrote projects so that they would give us roasters, harvesters, selectors, tractors…and all are in the barn, when the project ended we all lied saying that we were using all that machinery”, and obviously, if anyone tried to say that it had not been implemented well, he was accosted as a “snitch.” 

This consultancy or technical assistance can be interpreted in two ways. First, a consultancy like buying a suit without measuring the body of the person who is going to use it; there it is assumed that there is no need to “measure” (study) people at all; within this framework it is believed that people do not have agency (make decisions) and that they do what they are told to do. The second, in each structure they believe that they already have the measure of the people – beneficiaries, workers, clients, party activists-; that training is provided so that they might produce the products that the market demands; or that “you don´t look a gift horse in the mouth.” People who organize tend to correspond to that perception of the elites, repeating that they are waiting for “directions from above” and seeing technicians as part of those structures.

Conversation with the coordinator of an NGO –

Technical coordinator: “We have advised cooperatives for three years, before that we worked in those communities as advisors”-Author: How did your work change now that you are advising cooperatives?-Technical coordinator: “It has not changed at all; the technician continues doing the same as before, collects loans, harvests and gives them technical recommendations for their crops; there is the State for training on cooperatives”

There are two indicators of this type of consultancy: when that consultancy does not cause changes in the habitual work of people and organizations doing the consultancy, nor causes changes in the people being advised. For the first indicator see the conversation in the adjoining box. The responses there from the coordinator of an NGO may be similar to those of a religious or state official.  This lack of change happens because it is assumed that the market is the great organizer, that it is a matter of lowering costs to increase income; consequently, they do not study the realities where they are working, except superficially, the so-called “viability or feasibility studies of x entrepreneurial crop or activity[4],” they do not understand that the cooperative space implies cooperating on collective actions and that implies the active involvement of the people and that this process makes any way of working change.

The second indicator is when advisers ignore the agreements and decisions of cooperatives and their boards, believe that they do not analyze and do not know how to make decisions, and that they are poor because of their ignorance. This practice and belief induce people who organize and their leaders to feel discriminated against, and  feel they are inferior to their technical advisers. Consequently, people who organize have low self-esteem, feel guilty for not improving their lives and see nothing good in their lives and communities.

3.    The path of cooperation in democratic spaces

The second path is cooperation around collective actions, be they economic, social or cultural, actions where consultancy turns into accompaniment. 

3.1.        An alternative path emerges from the old path

We realize that the adversities generated by those power structures live in our minds, put us to sleep and make us legitimize violence, inequality, environmental degradation and discrimination, and make us believe that we have nothing good in our lives. On bringing these adversities to light, we awaken and create an environment which encourages us to innovate collective actions, which include using our own resources, reaching agreements, following them and later deepening them.

In other words, path 2 begins on path 1, enters through the formality of path 1 and muddied by the hierarchical structures of this path emerges as path 2. From there eventually this path 2 produces its own formality. How does it emerge from the very bowels of what is harmful? People detect these asymmetric power structures dressed in formality and harmonious liturgy and move beyond them to the extent that they produce their own rules and formality in the process of the alternative path. Let us give some examples. In a country with a military dictatorship the people recover their democracy, in which context the citizens discover that the rules of the dictatorship live in their own minds and rule in their own family, church or sports club, this awakening makes them reject those rules and pushes them to look to the rule of law (just laws) to guide them. In a family, husband and wife discover that they are the prisoners of authoritarian despotism, this awakening unites them and they work as a team of oxen, supporting one another and creating different rules. In a community people discover that they can improve their lives if they free themselves from commercial mediation and usury which is why they diversify their production. This leads them to exchange products in their own community, this effort makes them discover new actions along a different path. In practice, it is not that path 1 disappears, no, it persists, but a new path appears; the principle of “live within your possibilities” cedes, because those possibilities expand with path 2.

On becoming aware of this alternative path, adversities grow and those “demons” (beliefs) expelled from the minds of people, return again and attack even harder. Some friends and relatives add to the adversities: “Your husband has the right to hit you, why are you going out to meetings?” Religion lashes out, “only faith will save you”, they understand faith to be reduced to liturgy without actions for justice. Elites through their hierarchical structures smother us: “Peasants are ingrates and are not going to change” (“the people are not grateful, what is important is living well, “ Moncada said to Sandino in 1927). The answer to detecting this counterattack is to deepen the alternative path, uniting ourselves even more on the basis of revising our vision and rules. The rules of redistribution, transparency and democracy, for example, are not enduring under an authoritarian system, they need the new path to expand with its institutional structure on the family, cooperative and community levels, it is essential that it expand its democratic spaces and deepen its logic of growth with equity.

Let us illustrate this process from the context of the bible. In the alternative path we read the Bible from its context, which shows us that people build the reign of God following its rule of loving (serving) others (Mt 22:39), without being reduced to just one liturgy (path 1) embedded in authoritarianism. Let us recall that the Hebrew people left slavery in Egypt with a vision of a promised land; in other words, they are on path 2. Being on that path those people are counterattacked, adversities revive in their minds and hit them hard; the danger of division appears and they prefer to return to slavery and even to follow other gods. “There we sat by pots of food and ate all the food that we wanted, but you have brought us into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death” (Ex 16:3). To overcome this counterattack and not step backwards, the people unite refining their vision and producing their 10 commandments. Those who accompanied the Hebrew people, Moises, Aaron and later Isaiah and other prophets, help to detect these adversities, even when the people fall down before other gods and are dragged by the monster of slavery which was burrowed into their minds, their accompaniers do not blame them, do not give up, rather they reinforce and facilitate the deepening of the alternative path. They do it from the logic of groups, networks and specific territories – not following an individualistic logic. Within this context, prayer is discerning, making an effort and serving, it is liturgy which expresses joy as a reward for just collective actions – it is not singing or praying while they go back into slavery.

3.2  From consultancy to accompaniment

Consultancy begins to emerge as accompaniment in this process. Figure 3 shows the same structures as Figure 2, but with an intense role of accompaniment and mutual influence between the people accompanied and those doing the accompaniment (see green arrows in the figure) within the context of the adversities of each structure (see orange arrows). Within this framework accompaniment responds more and more to the communities, listens to their voice buried under dozens of layers of beliefs imposed by the elites of each structure, taking ever more into account the decisions of the boards of directors, particularly if they are made within the framework of the organs of those organizations (board of directors, oversight board, assembly), does not judge them as being correct or incorrect, and analyzes them based on their circumstances.

The first voices of the people with titles in cooperatives and community leadership tend not to be their own voices, generally they are the voices of elites expressed through these structures which have burrowed into their minds. For example, accompaniers, while moving about without a technological recipe, and being guided by their strategic conversations, are challenged to face old demons: “If you do not bring answers you are not a technician;” “Did you study in the university  in order to come and learn from illiterate people?” “The people who did not study earn more”… The mutual interaction and reflection between those accompanying and those being accompanied leads them to unravel those ideas and uncover the voices of their ancestors. 

Correspondingly, to the extent that those actors awaken and organize in their communities, they also begin to have an impact on the faithful and believing people, on workers and producers, on the activists of political parties (see purple arrows in the Figure). When this happens, the borders of those structures tend to cede to the pressure of the communities, those barriers (blue arrows) persist, but are thinner. This is when the force of the communities makes itself felt, their voice is heard and it is when the accompaniers understand that the reference point for their work comes from the communities and not from hierarchical and authoritarian structures. 

In the long term this accompaniment will no longer come from the sphere of international aid, but from rural organizations themselves controlled by the communities.

4.   Reflective accompaniment

Having looked at the two paths, let us conceptualize section 1 with the notion of reflective accompaniment which daily intensifies the alternative path. To do so we are going to make problematic what it means to accompany, and distinguish it, in addition from the typical type of accompaniment of path 1, from the type of accompaniment  capable of combining collective and individual elements: see Figure 4.

In activism it is customary to also denominate a facilitator. Nevertheless, that word “facilitator” tends to refer more to “facilitating workshops” or sometimes “facilitating processes.” In contrast, the word accompanier seems to be broader: the person accompanies in good and bad times, is involved in the procsses, exercises the role of facilitation be that in workshops or processes, and also is accompanied by the people who organize as they achieve their sustainability. 

4.1  Problematizing in order to awaken and change

“I do not find meaning in the work that I am doing,” said an adviser of rural organizations, as if she wanted to quit. This act of feeling oneself “lost” and even a “failure” can be a sign that one is realizing that they are on path 1.

We need to question ourselves when “we are good”, when we believe that “others are the problem” and when we persist in earning a windfall (the consultancy) in the short term. What is surprising is that these three elements we also find in the mentality of people who organize, they believe “they are good”, that “the problem is the technician” and that monocropping is “earning a windfall” in the short term without concern about its effects on water, soil and long- term income. Both mentalities fit together, they are made for one another and intensify the status quo of path 1.

This situation is made worse when as advisers we are – literally – possessed by 4 damaging beliefs. “Having a title” of adviser or technician swells our chests, makes us feel that we know some recipe or some secret that others do not, that we are experts, that therefore we are superior.[5] If in addition to being advisors or technicians we have the responsibility of “administering resources”, we begin to walk like peacocks, the temptation of acting outside the margins of the rules of the cooperative increases our power and from that height we look down on the backs of others as “chickens.” These two beliefs give birth to a third belief,  that those who are advisers “do not change”, this demon whispers to us that those who generate changes should not even be asked about experiencing changes in their attitudes, because if learning is changing our mentality, we refuse to study peasant realities, we prefer to import information and breathe the spirit of Nathanael, who said “nothing good can come” from rural communities like Nazareth. Finally, there is the belief that on forming a cooperative or any organizational expression the rest is a matter of administering services and that there is nothing more to innovate, which is why the leadership of the organization ends up being centralized by one or two people who tend to include their consultant[6]

These 4 beliefs strengthen us moving within imposed rules, but which we believe are our own, rules which are discriminatory and undermine the efforts of organizations taking collective actions, and conceal with more layers of soil the good ideas (“good soil”) that communities have. These harmful rules can be understood in the following phrases expressed by people doing accompaniment or advising : “I work in my own way”, “I am going to respond to this peasant  woman until she respects me”, “I have studied, they have not”, “they make decisions without analyzing”, “I am doing them a favor with my work”, “without me, nothing is going to happen,” “ we are equal and that is why they get upset with me and I also get upset with them.” Let us study this last phrase. A person who is advising or accompanying is right to say that they are equal to a producer, they are in terms of rights, but they have distinct attitudes produced in different contexts. In other words, a producer argues and verbally fights with their neighbor, but arguing and fighting with an adviser who has accompanied them for years hurts them more, and for longer than having argued with their neighbor: while for the adviser that argument and verbal fight is a mistake in their role of accompanier, because that role tells him/her that instead of falling into an aggressive back and forth exchange, the adviser should discern the causes and underlying elements to the anger of the producer, so that the organization might grow more.  In other words, the producer could be demanding their individual rights while the adviser should keep their attention on the importance of consolidating the organization, improving its rules, whose fragility maybe causing this type of complaint, which is why this complaint is rather an opportunity for deepening the organizational process. We people are equal but different.

In this context, the fact that a person feels “lost” can be a sign that they are awakening, that their way of seeing things is counterproductive to the objectives that they are seeking. This means that the person is questioning, in other words digging into their own mentality, and realizing that they are in “center stage” where the status quo is intensifying and functions to the benefit of authoritarian and hierarchical structures- we see ourselves as people “doing errands,” as “operators”. Nevertheless, the deeper the person digs, the more they find their own talents, as the saying goes “the harsher the crisis, the closer the solution”, so in this process the person realizes that they are on A path when they thought they were on the ONLY path. This leads them to discover that another path can be opened in the midst of the dense jungle, full of surprises and in darkness, even though this means placing oneself “on the edge of the stage” where there is the risk of falling. On seeing the beginnings of this other path, nothing will be the same again. The attached box shows the accompanying person as a “facilitator” who in their formative role questions, because the most difficult part in the new person to be contracted is not their technical ability but that they un-learn and detect for themselves that they are in a democratic organization and identify their role in it. Without this awakening they will end up reproducing the part of being a “foreman”, “auditor”, locating themselves in a professor-student relationship, acquiring an arrogant character discriminatory to the peasantry. 

Awakening –       Metanoia in Greek is learning and changing. It means mental change or shift. Meta = beyond. Noia = the mind.-       Learning is more than being informed. By learning we recreate ourselves and we do things that we have never done.-       An organization that learns is one that expands its capacities to create their future.

From here we realize that to problematize is something cognitive, a means to awaken again and again, to shift or change our own attitudes: see the attached box[7]. It is feeling that “something does not fit” in what we are seeing and doing, and it is seeing something greater than ourselves, scrutinizing and producing knowledge, which interests us more than static knowledge as identified in footnote number 4. It is to doubt and question (dig into) the things that seem to be natural in reality, or are presented as something given. It is discovering that the idea that we were following about not learning from peasant realities, that everything was already “canned” (processed and reprocessed) is not our idea, that it was imposed by the structures depicted in figure 2, to not see the reflection of our ancestors, and so experience that sensation of being lost or feeling ourselves “orphaned”. It is following this path of doubt and realizing that we are on the “edge of the stage” and that we could fall off. It is providing them instruments (taking notes and analyzing them, experimenting and analyzing it, creating rules, following them and analyzing them) which are used by them. It is accepting that the people who organize also accompany us. Bringing in the image of the midwife, accompanying is detecting the situation (“2 babies”), connecting, visioning and awakening to the fact that people who organize take their steps.

4.2  Digging into our attitudes in mutual accompaniment

If we problematize, we can awaken – turn around or change our mental frameworks. Nevertheless, even so we must locate ourselves in one type of accompaniment, to then move to another. Generally we start as traditional advisers, as people doing ”tasks”; later as traditional accompaniers, as activists moved by oral culture; there we develop ideas of change and we express empathy with people who organize. Over time we can overcome that traditional accompaniment and move into uncomfortable accompaniment, cultivating mental openness, having empathy with people who organize, delving into mutual attitudes, combining oral and written culture to systematically dig into and wrap ourselves in the processes, weaving a network of relationships where accompaniers and those accompanied mutually accompany one another and grow. 

An accompanier trapped in her family

Mariaa rural intellectual, is seen in her family as synonymous with money, because she has a better salary that than of her brothers who are teachers. If she does not provide them resources, they say she is bad, if she does give them resources, they want more and they rely on her. María is trapped in a circle she cannot get out of; the rules are “he who has, gives” and “he who does not have, has the right to receive.” In the end, the entire family is trapped.How can she get out of it? Recognizing their habits, hers and those of her family, as habits imposed by hierarchical structures; on recognizing this, the entire family can awaken to the fact that one day when she does not have resources everyone will be left in a worse situation. Then they can organize around collective actions: having a savings fund for the university studies of her nieces or nephews, the production of basic grains under strict rules of sharecropping, ect.What difference does a change in their habits make? An intellectual who contributes to change in her family will also generate changes in communities.


Apart from the traditional consultant, two types of accompaniment can be found on path 2. The first type connects to the actors, helps them in their activities, seeks to convince them (“create awareness”), “is a doer”, but is susceptible  – because of sticking to the oral tradition – of accommodating itself to processes that get bogged down and even adapt to processes that go backwards, dressing them up as “grassroots or change processes,” and in general this type of accompanier reproduces hierarchical structures in their own family, which they are fighting in the people who are organizing: see attached box. The accompanier changes and influences change within their family; without this change, their work as facilitator fails, because you cannot facilitate changes in communities if you do not experience systematically that change in your home. 

The risk is that this type of accompaniment forgets about preventing the counterattacks of the “demons” who are awaiting their opportunity, and that within the family as well as in the people who are organizing, latch on to those being accompanied, lowering their watchfulness and defenses. These “demons” once back, tend to be even more devastating, like in the case of the Hebrew people making them return to slavery, when they make us continue as a cooperative while the cooperative becomes functional for capitalism, reduced to just the financial aspect and monocropping agriculture; when people resign from cooperatives promising to not organize again into cooperatives; or when even these “demons” lead us to act under the law of an “eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth” [8], responding to violence with violence, as happened between the 1960s and 1980s when young people from the urban middle class and religious people who entered into rural communities and neighborhoods to accompany them ended up joining the guerrillas of the time.

The second type of accompaniment works in tandem with the actors, helps them to analyze events, pushes them to refine their vision and rules as the actors innovate, clarifying their path 2 even more. It is a person who accompanies the collective to follow their rules: if the administrative staff does not wait for the decisions of the board of an organization to make an investment, for example, the person doing the accompaniment sees this situation and tracks it, they do not join the request nor take the position of the board, but warns them and explains that both parties should follow organizational procedures – this is strategic formation. A threat to the sustainability of the organization is the accompanying person making decisions that violate the rules of the organization. In that sense, the role of the person doing the accompanying is rather to be a counterweight to the organization at the very moment when decisions are being made[9], they are a counterweight in so far as they connect the administrative staff and the board, and connect the decisions with the rules of the organization, like Moses connecting the Hebrew people to the 10 commandments, in as much as he is aware that if the rules are violated it divides the people: this is connecting and distinguishing themselves in their role in relation to the administrative staff and board members of an organization (see Figure 5).  This requires an ongoing strategic perspective on the part of the person accompanying, to understand that appropriate decisions in accordance with the rules of the collective are what make an organization sustainable and lasting, not the urgency of investments, no matter how profitable they may be, made at the cost of organizational processes; the investments of buying a refrigerator or constructing a building are passing, while decisions following the rules of a collective shed light on a path or a direction, and that light remains and tends to illuminate even more. It is the method or the how that matters more in the long term, not so much the short-term results.

This type of accompaniment includes written culture and is mentally open to question any new innovation, as it analyzes its own conversations and observations, makes a difference and makes it possible to not be happy with any situation no matter how good it might appear to be, and continually helping to innovate. The key for this is in conversation as the means for digging into our attitudes – that of the people doing the accompanying and that of peasants– to find “the good soil” in which the seed of a new life might germinate.

This strategic conversation of un-learning and seeing new paths (innovations, changes, improvements) leads us to differentiate the two types of accompaniment in Table 1. The traditional, static one, which hears but does not listen, declares itself to be in favor of change, but isolates itself and tends to do every activity which appears at the risk of falling into path 1 and behaving as the “new boss.” Organic accompaniment listens and helps to discern the path, sounds out how to deepen the changes in an ongoing way, while at the same time changing their own perspectives. 

With this distinction we start to experiment, and that leads us to the interaction between the collective and the individual under a logic of cooperation. Table 2 shows the two sides of that accompaniment. The column of “individual actions” and that of “collective actions” interact and are in harmony. In the end, the improvements that we achieve are expressed in the lives of people, their freedom, their autonomy and their life in community. It is the dimension of being a candle in the street and in the home. 

5.    Accompanying with a collective sense

This accompaniment makes a difference by connecting and responding to forms of organization with collective and communitarian meaning.

5.1  Accompanying within a circular synergy framework

When we now believe we are doing accompaniment well along path 2, the harsh realities of path 1 which we experience in our countries can absorb path 2. The more stones we pick up along our path, the more scorpions are uncovered along with fertile soil. Sometimes those scorpions bite us while good soil also gives life.

These realities make us argue that the biggest challenge is moving from pure activism to a reflective activism – the “uncomfortable” or “organic activism”. Pure activism can go back to path 1, even under protest and rejecting that path. It is a level in which the person doing the accompanying moves like on “the waves of the ocean”, moving in that framework of discourse one can experience loving harmony, and at times be confronted and get caught up in an aggressive back and forth discussion, even to the point of mutually offending one another. This shows that we have returned to path 1 where the discourse of love, the ritual of the liturgy and rules without spirit dominate, behind which there is subordination. Probably this activism is seen reflected more in religious people and university students, sons and daughters of the middle and upper classes, who in the 1960s and 1980s, under the impulse of liberation theology, Freire´s popular education, and the dependency theory, went into rural communities and urban neighborhoods moved by a social commitment to change the political and economic system. They did commendable work, discovered extreme poverty and solidarity, changed and generated changes, but over the years that process devolved, in many cases they even added to the violence against institutionalized violence. The church itself insisted on sticking to its old path 1, closed in on itself and guarding its orthodoxy incarcerated God behind the walls of the churches, which is why those offspring of the middle and upper classes who went into the communities began to express in the 1990s a “commitment to (economic) prosperity.” Political revolutions became entrenched in the hierarchical and authoritarian structures from which they emerged, and the base Christian communities themselves who discovered their capacities went back to incarnate that ghost of the old patron-client relationship. 

Now most of the people doing the accompanying are sons and daughters of the peasantry themselves. To the naked eye this can seem that it would generate more collaboration and synergy for sharing a similar origin. Realities and its processes are more complicated. Peasant sons and daughters with university studies, mostly, tend to distance themselves from their origins for three reasons: because of the education that they received focused on monocropping agriculture, large enterprises and financial profitability, where the peasantry appears as a backward population, because between 1990 and 2010 projects proliferated where these daughters and sons of peasants returned  as international aid project technicians, reiterating that idea that “nothing good can come from Nazareth”, and because they were pushed to study by their Fathers and Mothers under the idea that “you study in order to not be peasants” (mix of self loathing of your own culture and avoiding the hard work of the countryside). At the same time, the peasantry thinks – armed with beliefs and their own experiences[10]– that they are experts in agriculture, an experience with which they show indifference to technical people of peasant origins; Jesus said that “no one is a prophet in their own town.”

Passing over into reflective activism is like moving about in the current of water under the waves of the ocean where the actions of solidarity and conflict are, and where rules prevail with their spirit. It is studying the adversities that mill about in the minds of people and in our minds, and do it along with leaders, board members, technicians, teachers and people who organize.[11] It is reading other studies about those adversities in other contexts. Following Figure 6, necessary accompaniment is being like the midwife, whose action is connecting in a circular effect, is not reduced only to the relationship between the midwife and the pregnant woman; in our case the person doing the accompanying is connected to the actors of the figure and beyond (including allied organizations, not just accompanier/president or accompanier/manager), and in addition connects humanity, nature and life between them, generating new perspectives.[12] In organizations it is typical to find a disconnection between board members, members, administrative staff, between the technicians themselves or between the board members themselves; in this, the person doing the accompanying looks for ways to connect them, be it through meetings or activating new collective actions mediated by reflection processes where the causes of the disconnection are made evident.

It is not a matter of convincing people but awakening with them within processes of collective actions; the people accompanied are also doing the accompanying, for example, women leaders accompanying their advisers in their contradictions and doubts. In this circular process, each action is like an orchestra where the people with different instruments connect with one another, have a common score, and with discipline do what they have collectively agreed upon. It is forming an interconnected network and team, with a shared vision, which produces social innovation in an ongoing way. 

It is a circular accompaniment, one of rotation among the different functions, there is no one static exclusive role of a technician or a board member. It is respecting one another as people, but challenging our ideas and questioning the rules in which we move. Respecting ourselves means that the people doing the accompanying should have more patience than the people who are organizing, because the people doing the accompanying have more comparative information, quantitative as well as qualitative, about organizations and their processes, and because it is with people from the communities where we can generate changes, which is why we seek to build a sense of human equality in recognition that “no one knows more” and that jointly we are taking on the challenge of producing new knowledge which reconnects us to one another. We say challenging ideas because generally the ideas of the people who organize and the ideas of the people doing the accompanying tend to be the ideas of elites, ideas imposed to dispossess us of all humanity; at the same time, in this process of discerning ideas, finding common causes that impoverish people and limit the people doing the accompanying to working with them with a sense of honesty and integrity: in this way, in the end we discover that their problem is also our problem, the causes of the problem are also the causes of our problems, from here a monumental reason why we need to connect with one another to work in a coordinated way of accompanying and being accompanied. The first mistake would be to respect ideas and rules believing that they are our own and not respecting one another, discriminating against people mutually. And the second mistake would be believing that accompanying is just a unilateral action, when precisely the fact that people who organize also accompany those who are accompanying them, which would show the soundness of that accompaniment and the organization which the members as well as their accompaniers seek to consolidate. 

5.2  Discovering organizational bases for facilitating collective actions

From this circular synergy we discern the path for making organizations of collective learning. Correspondingly, people who organize do so to the extent that they are following the 7 elements which we developed in another article (see: Mendoza, 2021[13]). These elements are: awaken in the face of specific realities that corner us, connect to one another and with actors around collective actions, discipline ourselves to follow the agreements of the group, cultivate a sense of service, reflect in collective spaces, make a distinction between our role as a person and our role as part of a social group, and be transparent with information in order to innovate.

Within this framework, accompaniment consists in emphasizing two forms of organizational work. The first is understanding that a person while belonging to an organization does not feel a difference in their lives, this happens when the existing rules and the organs of an organization are not followed by that person and its accompaniers. The people who organize follow those rules if they participate in their preparation and in their approval, understanding and recalling their significance (letter with spirit); they participate in this process if they awaken to collective actions and if, on the basis of analyzing their notes and data to create new ideas and test them out, they break that curse of secrecy. The people who accompany will contribute to that collective dimension and that transparency of breaking the secrecy that divides communities to the extent that they help people to analyze their experiences and observations, and to the extent that they help develop the rules and agreements that organizations are defining. People cooperate and build their path 2 if they jointly are formed in collective spaces. This is connecting with one another in the space of the organization. 

 The second is taking one other step. It is connecting a diversity of actors around specific actions and identifying their respective roles – or discerning talents which are deployed with their use. If in one community we are working on the product of slaughtering pigs, as accompanying facilitators we can help to prepare its costs and income, as well as its rules and how to do it operationally so that it might scale up in its actions – so far there is not much novelty there. The novelty begins when, using the image of the orchestra, we catalyze a connection capable of brightening the universe. In an orchestra there is a group of people with a diversity of instruments who by coordinating their notes offer a great musical orchestra. With this image, the pig slaughtering is like the “guitar player”, the owner of the pig is like the “saxophonist”, the sharecropper is like the “piano player”, the customers who are going to buy the meat are like the “violin players”, the person who is going to be responsible for the sale of the meat is like the person who plays the harp, the person who is going to supervise is like the flute player, the board members are like the director of the orchestra…Each one has different skills and interests, but when they play in harmony produce a “great orchestra” that alone, individually, they would never be able to achieve. 

It is not a matter of deepening just a relationship between the person doing the facilitating and the guitar player, or between the facilitator and the pianist. It is a question of the facilitator connecting the guitarist to the flutist, and these two people to the pianist, and those three people to the saxophone player…To do so it is important to visit them thinking about the “orchestra”, identifying their roles (preparing the “score”) and connecting them and synchronizing their actions, thinking about the “orchestra”. In each product there is an “orchestra”, likewise in a community or in an alliance with a chain of actors. In that sense, the relationship of the facilitator is with the group of the orchestra around a specific score, where each one looks around themselves in the orchestra, the members of the group no longer look at the person doing the facilitating, because the relationship facilitator-provider of products is no longer so important, what is more important is that the people are in harmony with one another, like in a musical orchestra. This connection is what is going to make the slaughtering of pigs, like any other product, a collective fruit, a musical orchestra where the facilitating person no longer appears – like the “midwife”.

This connecting or reconnecting generally implies working with a small group.

Figure 7 shows 2 rings with people to be connected: the first ring includes the last names of five people from a micro-territory (3-4 communities) with whom to push the process; the second ring includes other extra-community actors but who have something to do with the micro-territory in question: buyers, ranchers, pastors or priests, school teachers, healers. Using the language of boxing, establishing a group of the first ring is like like “landing a blow” on unjust mechanisms, while the second ring is like “a tie-up”, keeping the State or buyers from affecting organizational processes, but rather that they support the efforts with which the communities are organizing.

6.    Conclusions

We started this article comparing the person doing the accompanying with a midwife, We asked ourselves what it is that makes an accompaniment help life prevail instead of intersecting with death. In the article we determined that consultancy can conceal unjust mechanisms of hierarchical and authoritarian structures, and disclosed the paradox that the alternative path emerges from that very unjust reality – the new emerges from the entrails of the monster. In this process we have discovered three ways of working with rural organizations, the first is a consultancy that accommodates itself to the old path “of death”, it is the exercise of being “foremen” of vertical structures and that talk about “sharing knowledge”, assuming that they “have knowledge” or the prescriptions and that the peasantry “does not know”; the second is an activist accompaniment like in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s under the influence of liberation theology, dependency theory and liberating education of Freire, they seek to “convince” and get involved as one more member of the organizations; and the third is reflective accompaniment, mutual and ongoing accompaniment, digging into what is “ancestral” of both mentalities and helping life to emerge and pave the way as “several hands come together”. This third accompaniment responds to the question laid out. Those of us who work with peasant and indigenous people are awakening from the first way, to the second, to the third and we perceive that the three ways continue prevailing in an unending fight in our minds and our daily actions.

Consistent with this first question, we also ask ourselves what this role of reflective accompaniment consists in and how is it that processes of change are accompanied. We have four responses, as accompaniers we should 1) learn-change in an ongoing way; 2) converse and experiment with forms of accompaniment; 3) add ourselves to the circular synergy of connections; and 4) discover the organizational bases for innovating collective actions. 

Concerning the first, ongoing learning, we who work with rural organizations start as technicians or as advisers, as “foremen” of hierarchical structures, and even though we have progressive political, economic or religious ideas, the tacit idea that guides us, without our realizing it, is that “the market knows more” – be that the market which is expressed through religion, the State, institutions of formal education or through commercial and financial mediation. Added to that tacit belief that “the market knows more” is believing that “the advisers know more than the people who are organizing” and that therefore “they do not need to change”, this belief was injected over time by the educational system. When our love for seeing that people are improving warns us that people are not improving, and that their relationship of being imprisoned in hierarchical structures is intensifying, we begin to question ourselves whether we really know more, and question the source of that knowledge that we believe we have. In this way we discover that the first obstacle to awakening for peasant and indigenous peoples is the mentality of the people advising, facilitating or accompanying them. Correspondingly, what characterizes reflective accompaniment is that the person doing the accompanying seeks to change as peasant people discover and create new realities through their organizations.

Concerning the second, strategic conversation and experimentation are our method in this process. We cultivate this art of conversing in mutual accompaniment, examining ourselves, digging into our mentalities to find “good soil” and on that basis make life germinate. We realize that neither the people who organize nor we “know it all”, and that even what we know is an obstacle to knowing and innovating. Listening leads us to take the community into account, to follow it. It is when we begin to experiment (innovate), and like goats, we quit walking on the principal path, we barge in wherever it may be, and we end up contributing to making a new path. This experimentation of new ideas makes new “demons” emerge which is why we go back to digging into our attitudes, our practice is contextualizing the genesis of those “demons” and the “new soil” in us and in the people who organize, and in the light of that meaning contextualize the current experiment in which we are involved, and from there generating new ideas that can be experimented with again…[14] Without discerning the context again and again the risk is to end up obeying the hierarchical structures and then with those lenses, read our practices and consequently de-evolve to the type of adviser of path 1[15]. One criteria of good accompaniment is that the people doing the accompanying do not repeat the same thing every year, sounding like a broken record, but talk about their findings (learnings) year by year as if we were peeling an onion, layer by layer, because as the philosopher Heraclitus said (540 BC), nothing is permanent except for change, no one bathes twice in the same river, because it is no longer the same river, “its elements, riverbed, the water that runs through it, have changed.” Accompanying is a pedagogical action that does not try to fill the mind of the people but help them to free themselves from impediments for thinking and creating.

Concerning the third, joining and energizing the circular synergy of actors, actions and purposes. Accompaniment reconnects doing and feeling. As part of that reconnection, the people who organize see in the people accompanying them a mirror of their future, they are inspired by their way of acting, behaving and generating thinking, and even try to replicate it. In this circular framework, the image of the person doing the accompanying as a midwife returns to help us. Through her questions and strategic view of the organizations she makes new realities emerge, joyful as well as contradictory ones, which make them take steps and at the same time warns about backtracking that like “the pig that mourns its neck collar” people who organize experience. It is also a reconnection with nature and which leads us to re-encounter ourselves in our common home, the earth.

Concerning the fourth, this circular synergy makes us understand that accompaniment is part of the organizational network, its bases, part of the elements that give meaning to the fact that people discover that being connected with people gives them back their individual freedom, and that the more connections they have the more they generate autonomy and transparency. Organizing is finding new meaning to life and seeing a vision that makes us rewrite our purpose every day outside of hierarchical and authoritarian structures. And accompanying in this process of organization is helping people to study their own experiences and surroundings, take notes and analyze them, generate their knowledge, look around themselves to reconnect and be in sync as in a musical orchestra, recreating their ancestral institutions like sharecropping[16] and recreating new institutions of cooperation, and above all the fact that they follow rules, ensuring that the spirit of the rules prevails. This is cultivating awareness about forming organizations that lengthen human life for hundreds of years.

Finally, we are discovering that processes of collective action require reflective accompaniment. Every person has talents, but they have to rediscover them, learn to use them and expand them within a framework of circular synergy. A talent which is not used nor expanded is a lost talent. Rumi, the Persian poet 8 centuries ago said “those who do not want to change, allow them to continue asleep,” or Jesus, “let the dead bury their dead”. We say, those who do not want to change it is because they are trapped in even harsher structures, and because even though they are surrounded by people, they are alone; we have to dig with them and change together while connecting to one another, because if we leave them “sleeping” we also will “fall asleep” and we will be part of the “dead who bury their dead”. As accompaniers it is up to us to study the attitudes of the people along with them and at the same time study our own attitudes expressed in decisions, ideas, and actions, doing it through immersion and for long periods of time. These are the sources for change to the extent that we are learning.

[1] René has a PhD in Development Studies, an Associate Researcher of IOB-Antwerp University, member of COSERPROSS and collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation. This article is based on the accompaniment that we are doing with rural organizations in Central America.

[2] Remember the code of silence known as Omerta, used by the Sicilian mafia: The Cosa Nostra. A code which for centuries guided those societies in Italy.

[3] It is common to find new cooperatives where the State or donor organizations fill them with trainings and donations, cooperatives that when those projects end, they also cease to operate. It is like wanting a baby to run before learning how to crawl and walk, this damages their bones and affects their sense of balance and reflexes. Amartya Sen defined development as “the expansion of human capacities”; this implies; identifying what the capacities of the cooperatives or their members are, and then looking at how to expand those capacities. It seems simple. If it were, why is it not done in this way? Ask donors, governments, religious and business leaders.

[4] The culture of donor organizations and business culture think that they must do a technical and economic analysis of the viability of any initiative. Given that they have the resources, they are going to direct the organization of those initiatives under their predetermined rules, this type of study is what is useful to them. The mistake is in wanting to do the same for initiatives that are going to be managed by communities and their organizations, under imported rules and resources. 

[5] It is heard and written that “an educator is someone who shares knowledge”. This assumes that the educator or adviser has knowledge, this tends to refer to information about some experience or technical skill. From there it is believed that the adviser has “the stone” (knowledge, key information, or the key to success) which that person can “share.” Note that the tacit idea in this perspective is that knowledge is static, a recipe or a secret which someone has.

[6] When people from the communities as well as the advisers themselves coincide in the belief that advisers “were born changed and do not need to change”, they create conditions which erode the sustainability of the organization. 

[7] One important source for change in mentality, applied to people who work in companies and corporations, is Peter M. Senge, 1990, The Fifth Discipline, the art and practice of learning Organizations. New York: Doubleday

[8] This law has its origins in the Code of Hammurabi (1760 BC); if a son hit his father, his hands would be cut off (Law 195) and if a man took out the eye of another person, his eye would be removed in return (Law 196). In Rome the Law of an Eye for an Eye was consecrated in the Table VIII of the Law of the XII Tables (year 450BC) but in Roman Law, whose origins had the principle of the re-establishment of justice, that law disappeared. In the Old Testament that Law of an eye for an eye appears in Ex 21:23-25 and in Lev 24:18-20; but Jesus in his sermon on the mount (Mt 5:38-39) left it obsolete. The paradox is that this Law of an Eye for an Eye continues to be relevant in our societies. 

[9] This role of being a counterweight is different from the role of the oversight board or the overseer of an organization. Those bodies are a-posteriori, ensure that actions and decisions are carried out in accordance with the rules. While the role of the accompanier is at the very moment of making decisions and taking actions, they warn both parties and challenge them.

[10] A good part of the peasantry have explanations about agriculture based on beliefs (raising chickens or planting depends on the hand or on the good luck of children – they refer to the temperature of the person or supernatural forces), but also they have knowledge because of their practices of testing seed before planting it, of rotating or associating crops, and of studying their concrete situations (see Rene Mendoza, 2017,”Can the youth fall in love with the countryside again?” at

[11] To some extent the work of reflective accompaniment has a certain similarity to intellectuals who committed in theory and practice to historical processes of change:  advocates of associations like Owen, promoters of cooperatives like Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen, promoters of social and political changes like Rosa Luxemburg or Antonio Gramsci. 

[12] Connecting is relational. From the religious perspective, the theologian Leonardo Boff (2014, The Holy Spirit: interior fire, giver of life and father of the poor, Managua: Pavsa), argues that under a different paradigm of the Spirit “everything is dynamism, innovation…God is dynamism of three divine people in eternal communication with one another and with creation, involving everything, God, human beings, life, the universe.” See

[13] René Mendoza, 2021, “The meaning of organizing in areas of the agricultural frontier”. Soon to be published. 

[14] On reading the prophets of the Bible we picked up their method. God does not speak his message in their ears nor does he send them written papayrus. A prophet reads the letter in their historical context to understand its meaning for that time, with that sense he reads the laws of the moment in which the prophets is living and reads it in its proper context, thus understands a meaning. This is the interpretation that he is going to share with his people as if “God spoke to him”; it is that effort of analysis which is divine. When one reads without context, the hierarchical and authoritarian structure returns in the framework and imposes a message, generally puritan and with its back to justice, this is how many religious people intensify the inequality and injustice in our communities – and they do it “in the name of God”. In our case, the path is: listening, observing, analyzing, conceptualizing and consequently innovating collective actions. 

[15] In the academy reading the rules without their context is called functionalism. But if in addition to reading rules without their context, when we do not recognize that we are reading it from the approach of hierarchical and authoritarian structures, then our abilities to think are seriously distorted.

[16] In the chapter on sharecropping in the book “Frontiers of Hope” we study processes where sharecropping with pigs and basic grains can become a network of sharecropping, with which this old institution can be reconnected and create organizational synergies.