On the political front the key issue has been the dispute revolving around the National Coalition, an initial attempt for forge a united front among all opponents to the Sandinistas. The scandal last week was the definitive withdrawal of student and youth organizations, because what they saw as the dominance of the traditional parties in the decision making within that Coalition. This week the Civic Alliance and Blue and White National Unity have also announced temporary withdrawals, in support of the youth. This article by a well-known political analyst and former president of the MRS addresses the crux of the current status of the National Coalition.
The Civic Alliance and the National Unity Should Make a Correction
The crisis of the National Coalition, is it time to collect the bats and turn off the lights?
To defeat the Ortega regime and promote a process of democratic transformations, with justice, respect for the law, citizen rights and freedoms, and promote measures to get over the social and economic crisis, a political alliance is needed that brings together the forces really committed to democratic change. We all know this.
But what are the forces really committed to democracy?
When the willingness to build the National Coalition was announced on February 25,2020, a document was signed there that said the following in one of its paragraphs:
“In this Coalition we have a purpose, a shared country vision, with ethical principles and values that commit its members to lay aside particular interests and work for a Nicaragua with freedom, justice, security, prosperity and in democracy. A National Coalition that practices a new form of doing politics…”
Since then nearly six months have gone by and one can ask, and at the same time respond, ethical values? Shared country vision? Have the members of the Coalition fulfilled their promise of laying aside particular interests? They did exactly the opposite.
One can ask, and at the same time respond, have they practiced a new form of doing politics? No. They have repeated exactly the same tainted forms of doing politics.
The declaration of February closed with a hopeful phrase. The signers proclaimed, “It is time for Nicaragua first, here and now.”
Just around six months the result is that they neither placed Nicaragua above their group interests, and “here and now”, they changed that for “who knows when”. Quite simply they did not honor their word.
Obviously, if after six months they have not reached an agreement not even on how they are going to reach agreements, it is easy to imagine what would happen when the moment arrived to discuss candidacies, selection of the legal figure under which they will run, the administration of campaign funds, the red lines that separate democratic elections from an electoral farce, or the decision to participate or not, in a circus put on by Ortega…to mention some upcoming issues.
If “the eve indicates what the day will bring”, common sense leads to the conclusion that the National Coalition, in its current configuration, simply is not the alliance that expresses the interests of the majority of Nicaragua, nor the political force with the capacity to contest and wrest power from Ortega.
Recognizing these facts does not mean being against anyone in particular. Even less, being against the unity of democratic forces. Just the opposite. At this point in the game, continuing with half measures, covering up realities, is falling into webs of complicity.
There is a well-known saying that advises against confusing fat with lard. In the end it is neither fat nor lard, but an undigestible mixture.
This is what has happened by mixing parties and people characterized by making politics into a competition of artful tricks, with social or sector organizations new to political work.
In this way we have entered into a type of political schizophrenia. Those who are, do not want to be, and those who are not, strive to impose that they are.
So, while the Civic Alliance and the Blue and White Unity do not consider themselves as options for power, the traditional political parties, including partners of Ortega, who lack all legitimacy, came out of the garbage dump to sit in the parlor, with sass and bluster.
If the consequences of these games and schemes will only affect the members of the organizations, well they could continue the time they desire. The problem is that there are millions of Nicaraguans who suffer daily the havoc of the social and economic crisis, aggravated by the pandemic, added to which are dozens of thousands among those exiled, persecuted or jailed.
By repeating the same curses of the past, they are shredding the hopes of building a better future.
The following question that we have to ask ourselves is whether there is a solution.
The response is yes. We still have time. We have talked these weeks with many people and listened to many voices, in general there is a basic agreement: the Civic Alliance and the Blue and White Unity made a critical mistake by precipitously getting involved with traditional political parties. Rectifying this is a matter of life or death, literally. And rectifying it means leaving the traditional parties with the empty box that the National Coalition still is, and both organizations building the basic nucleus from which the process can be promoted of gathering the social and political forces really committed to democratic change.
And the international community? Let us be clear: governments primarily are moved by interests, by realities, not by sympathy or antipathy. If a coherent force is able to be established, with respectable and capable leaders, with the willingness to contest the power of the regime, and backed by the majority of the population, that force will receive the wholehearted support of governments and international organizations.
The Civic Alliance and the Blue and White National Unity, that for now continue as trustees of the legacy of the banners of April, can and should, as quickly as possible, reach agreements on the following points.
The electoral conditions needed for democratic elections
A strategy to pressure Ortega on national and international levels, so that these conditions might materialize.
A programmatic platform that would synthesize the basic consensus on the economic, political and social transformations indispensable to put the country on the path of democracy and prosperity.
A plan that would connect the current anguish of the population in economic and social matters with aspirations for political change.
Democratic mechanisms for decision making.
If they are not capable of making and applying these decisions, the path that is left for us is to shut off the lights, gather the bats, and look at starting another team.
The writer of this reflection on the implications today of the 41st anniversary of the revolution is known as one of the few Comandantes of the Revolution, and the author of a 4 volumes of interviews of those who fought against Somoza. Her history gives special relevance to her reflections.
The 41st anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and the fall of the Ortega regime
By Monica Baltodano in Confidencial, July 19, 2020
Thousands of Nicaraguans gave their lives in the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship throughout the forty years of its duration. The biggest quotas of sacrifice were paid in the final phase, when the population, particularly the youth, got massively involved in the insurrections that culminated with the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution, on July 19, 1979. It was a long and painful journey, that we will never forget.
During those decades of Somocism, thousands of peasants were disappeared; dozens of union leaders jailed time and time again; and hundreds of women fighters raped in the Somoza dungeons. The civilian population was massacred by bombs and rockets launched by Somoza aviation in the insurrections of 1978 and 1979.
What objectives moved the fighters from the liberal or conservative ideologies who suffered jailing, exile and death in different stages of the anti-Somoza struggle? What ideals prompted the youth to get involved in the Sandinista armed struggle at the risk of losing their lives? What united an entire people so that, coming from different ideologies, social strata or religious adherence, they would decide to contribute, from different forms of struggle, to the national torrent that put an end to the despotic regime that subjugated us?
In the end we were able to build a consensus, an essential front to the brutal escalation of the repression and the crimes against the population; one of the most abhorrent was the murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro in January of 1978. The people thought, if they killed Pedro Joaquín, who could be saved? So, the national cry was unified: Enough already!
For the construction of the post-Somoza Nicaragua, most of us were committed to our own model, derived from our reality, with its limits and opportunities. From a Nicaraguan reading of Marxism emerged then, the proposal for a mixed economy, the co-existence of a social, cooperative and State economy, with private property and markets. Most of us did not like the single party, we were committed to political pluralism, and we were not interested in aligning ourselves with any of the superpowers. We aspired to an independent and non-aligned foreign policy.
Even though Somoza called us “communists”, most of the militants fought to build a society where democratic voting prevailed, where people could organize to defend their rights and no one was persecuted for their political ideas nor for their religious beliefs. And many of us dreamed, above all, of ending the poverty that afflicted more than 60% of Nicaraguans. In the new Nicaragua there would be progress, education, health care and work for all. This country aspiration explains the involvement in the struggle of thousands of Christian youth and priests, from their convictions in the “God of the poor, human and simple God”, as the Peasant Mass goes.
What I want to emphasize is that the end of the dictatorship and the new national project came to be a banner under which the great majority of the Nicaraguan people got involved, and that on arriving at July 19, 1979 only the central nucleus of Somocism, a clear minority, was with the tyrant. July 19th was then the victory of an unquestionable social majority and a beautiful national celebration.
Unfortunately, our dreams were not able to be realized. This is not the place here to refer in detail to this, but we cannot avoid the fact that the decision of Ronald Reagan to fight the Sandinista Revolution, financing and arming the contra in a war, called a “low intensity war”, explains in part the unique course of the revolution. In that civil war, like in all conflagrations, there were thousands of deaths, human rights violations, cruelty, grief and suffering of families to be regretted, all of that from one side and the other. So it is that the revolutionary government ended up restricting liberties, confiscating its opponents, installing unpopular obligatory military service and, in order to survive, ended up depending on the socialist camp led by the Soviet Union.
It ended up surprising, nevertheless, that in 1990 and in the worst scenario possible, with the economy completely destroyed, nearly inexistent social services, all the warehouses empty, all the attrition imposed by the war, and a precarious military situation, the revolution maintained 40.8% of support expressed by the votes.
During the decade of 1990 Sandinism was fractured. In this way the MRS emerged in 1995. Later on, in 1999, hundreds of us left, denouncing the neoliberal, authoritarian drift and the culture of power sharing in the top leadership of the FSLN, when Ortega made a pact with Arnoldo Alemán to distribute between themselves, and undermine, the institutions of the State. On coming to power in 2007 Ortega did it with new allies: liberals, conservatives, contras, part of the Catholic hierarchy and big capital.
The authoritarian regime of Ortega and Murillo not only did away with the already fragile democratic institutions of Nicaragua, but also put an end to the last accomplishments of the revolution. An organized people who learned to defend their rights moved to nourishing completely submissive organizations whose only currency is the defense of Ortega; critical and autonomous universities, ended up in the absolute control of the department chairs to impose the story of the government; citizen participation was replaced by vertical Orteguista control. The National Police, recognized as professional and apolitical for decades, became a guard of the dictator, highly repressive; and an Army that evolved favorably in the 90s under a patriotic and non-bellicose manner, became a strategic element for keeping Ortega in power. There are no vestiges left for political archaeology of the popular and progressive essence of the revolution.
All the authoritarian and corrupt policies, as well as the crimes committed, have been carried out in the name of Sandinism, the left and a project that Ortega and his followers cynically call “the second stage of the revolution.” Ortega in this way pretends to take over the history of the just anti-Somocista struggle. And at least for now he is achieving it. On the one hand, one sector of the combatants of that feat have been turned into paramilitaries responsible for repression against the citizenry. On the other hand, there are those who, for selfish interests, persist in assimilating the brutal Ortega dictatorship with the 1979 revolution; and the crimes against humanity committed in 2018, they incorrectly assimilate with the casualties of the civil war of the 80s.
In addition, while Ortega shows more and more his reactionary disposition, people from the Trump administration insist on calling him a communist. On the other hand, sectors from the international left take the empty discourse of Ortega as true, instead of examining his policies and actions, thus supporting a conservative, corrupt and criminal dictator.
But history, which puts the facts, motivations and true heroes and heroines in their place, will know how to differentiate between the men and women who gave their lives for freedom throughout the four decades (between the 50s and 80s), from the criminals who, manipulating the symbols and discourse of that time, do just the opposite to the ideals that moved thousands of youth to fight. This the Sandinistas submissive to the regime know well, whose consciences challenge them every day.
The Nicaraguan patriots who got involved in the anti-dictatorial struggle prior to July 19th did so with the best of intentions, like – it has to be said – most of those who fought in the civil war of the 80s, on one side and the other. The examples of the heroes of those campaigns inspired thousands of participants in the uprising of April to rise up against this new dictatorship. Those murdered of 2018 are today the icons of the new generations of fighters and will be fused in history with those of past feats.
A present challenge is learning from our history without subordinating it to prejudices and self- serving ideological stories. And on this anniversary of the revolution, it is important to realize that today, like yesterday, the struggle of the people of Nicaragua continues to be achieving liberty, democracy, justice for the victims, and social justice for all. The relaunching of a true transformative and inclusive project, that would unite the vital forces of Nicaraguans, is needed for that purpose. The new generations and their emerging leaders are committed to this challenge.
This interview of Dora María Tellez, former Minister of Health during the 80s, also founder and past president of the MRS (Sandinista Renovation Movement), is significant for a number of reasons. The questions asked by one of the editors of La Prensa, Fabian Medina, reflect the perspective that sees the FSLN of the 80s composed entirely of human rights abusers, without any redeeming policy initiatives. This echoes a current problem in the ongoing attempts to forge unity among the anti-Ortega opposition. Some, reflective of the questions asked by Medina, are claiming they will not be part of any coalition that includes any group with the name “Sandinista”.
However, since their founding the FSLN has seen the MRS as their principal electoral threat, given that the other parties have not been associated with pro-poor policies, but rather have been seen as exclusively pro-business. This is a significant factor in elections in the second poorest country in Latin America. The animosity of the FSLN reached the point where they revoked the legal status of the MRS just prior to municipal elections of 2008, where some observers thought the MRS could win the race for mayor of Managua (at that time Dora María Tellez was on a hunger strike precisely to protest that measure). This forced the MRS´s participation in electoral processes to be limited to allying with right wing parties, which clouded their reputation, and gave the FSLN a “public monopoly” on commitment to the plight of the poor.
Further complicating the scenario, is the reputation the FSLN has for infiltrating opposition organizations, preventing them from forming a united electoral front. So, while some right-wing groups use this very reason to refuse to ally with the MRS, more frequently in recent political history the FSLN has successfully manipulated “right wing groups” to prevent a united front. This leads others to believe that right-wing attacks against the MRS are actually incited by the FSLN.
All of these dynamics are reflected in Dora María´s responses in this interview.
Dora María Téllez: “The word Sandinista now is repugnant to me”
The former guerrilla recognizes that in these times when someone hears the word Sandinista “what is heard are the crimes committed by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega” and in that sense her party debates whether it is worthwhile to continue using that word in their name.
41 years ago, Dora María Téllez was entering Managua at the head of a large group of guerrillas from the Western Front of the Sandinista Front. She was the leader. She was 23 years old. She was coming to celebrate the fall of the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza and the beginning of the Sandinista revolution. Since then she was always on the stage celebrating that date, year after year, until 1993 when the differences with Daniel Ortega began that led her and other militants of the Sandinista Front to leave, and found in 1995 the Sandinista Renovation Movement party (MRS). Téllez, a guerrilla commander, was Minister of Health in the cabinet of Daniel Ortega in the 80s. If any word has defined her in her life it is “Sandinista”. Nevertheless, she feels that the regime of Daniel Ortega has given that word a different meaning, and she herself questions it now. She addresses in this interview on the 41st anniversary of the defeat of Somoza and the beginning of the Sandinista revolution the controversial MRS and the figure of its old fellow party member, Daniel Ortega.
When was the last time that you were on stage for July 19th?
It must have been like 1993…
Do you feel nostalgia?
Actually no. I am not a person that feels nostalgia for past times. I think about my dead father and mother and I do not have nostalgia. I have good memories, experiences, learnings, but nostalgia is not a feeling of mine.
Is there something to celebrate on July 19th?
Celebration as celebration I do not see in these circumstances. There are commemorations. We, in the MRS, commemorate instead July 17th. The departure of the dictatorship is celebrated, from which we should have learned, but we did not. And in these conditions, the country is not for celebrations.
I was not asking about the moment, but rather about what July 19th means for history.
In historic terms it is like the liberal revolution. They are historical facts. And the celebration depends on each person. It should not be a national holiday. Maybe July 17th, when the dictatorship fell.
Many people do not see just the end of the Somoza dictatorship, but also the beginning of the other dictatorship, that of the 80s.
They are the two events. The fall of the dictatorship of Somoza and the establishment of the regime of the Sandinista revolution that, in effect, was an authoritarian regime, that had the characteristic that it opened the path, in elections, to a peaceful transition, which is exactly the point which we want to reach now.
How would you evaluate Daniel Ortega who appears at this 41st anniversary of the Sandinista revolution?
For me, this is a regime which is dead, in the process of getting its death certificate and burial. It no longer governs. There are no public policies, there is nothing. The only thing that exists is a series of defensive maneuvers for the capital of Ortega Murillo, for the political power of the Ortegas. It is not even a bad government. The pandemic has made this mismanagement more transparent. The country is in the wind. People defend themselves in their homes as best they can, with their medications. Ortega is a ghost, who is there, and is the source of power for an oligarchical machine that wields economic and political power in different spheres.
As a historical figure, where would you place Ortega?
Daniel Ortega has the worst outcome of all. Ortega is going to pass into the same level as Somoza. With the additional characteristic that Ortega is a destructor of the institutional framework. The Somozas built certain institutions that have been long lasting, like social security. Ortega has destroyed it all: Army, Police, even the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, unthinkable things.
The behavior of Ortega now has made a lot of people look backward, and see the revolution as that dark period that he produced. What is your evaluation?
From the political perspective point of view, that was an authoritarian regime. With political intolerance. It oscillated between a single party regime and political pluralism. A very contradictory game, but that finally culminated in elections.
Was it a dictatorship?
From a political point of view, that is what it is. If you are talking about an authoritarian regime, you are talking about a dictatorship. He wields dictatorial power. And from a social point of view, the Sandinista government had a lot of success in establishing some important public policies, creating some institutions and opening space for popular organization, unions, grassroots organizations, etc. Even the 1987 constitution set the pace with some exceptions. The question that I ask myself is, what is it that we did, and what did we not do in 30 years to end up at the same point?
But the eighties are not remembered for those changes that you mention, but rather for its crimes: Red Christmas, Operation Bertha, Military Service, State Security, confiscations… And from there, it is logical that many ask themselves, how can this be celebrated?
That is how it is. It is reasonable. That is why I say that July 19th should quit being a national holiday. Because all that is part of it and is real. Crimes denounced…
What responsibility does Dora María Téllez assume for those crimes?
I assume the responsibility for having been there, but I cannot assume responsibility for crimes that I did not commit. One of the big problems of blaming everyone is that you end up protecting those who are truly guilty. Can I assume blame for Red Christmas? No. if the first information that I had about Red Christmas was through La Prensa.
Complicity could be alleged. You were the leaders, and no one complained about it.
That can be alleged if we would have known.
Operation Bertha which was a huge operation of confiscation, the entire State participated in it.
Yes, it was an operation of change in currency that ended up being harmful. The economic area was not my responsibility. I administered Health in 1988. I can assume responsibility for that, but I cannot for crimes that I did not commit.
And what would be the crimes for which you would assume responsibility?
I did not commit crimes. To begin with, I did not have the power for that. I was in Managua in the organization of the Frente, of unions, from 1980 to 1985, and then in the Ministry of Health. And I am going to tell you, the Ministry of Health never, never was sectarian.
The piñata. When the Sandinista Front lost power an assault on the State took place. The leaders doled out assets. Did you keep some public asset?
No, none. In addition, you can see in the memoirs of Fernanda Cardenal what my position was on that issue. It is not even me saying it. Fernando describes an assembly in El Crucero, a very important one, and you will see clearly what my position was on that.
What was it?
I was completely opposed, and in addition we demanded that that it be rectified. It was compromising the moral capital of Sandinism. And that there had been an illegal appropriation on the part of people who had access to resources. So, they took a peremptory measure on us there. That proof needed to be presented, to be seen. And what proof was going to be presented?
What property do you currently have?
Basically my home. I have set about building a home to rent. I have my home in Matagalpa that I inherited.
Would you submit to scrutiny if it was required?
Absolutely. You say to me, how was this house built? And there are the bank loans. I have my receipts, my bills, my papers.
When the MRS was started in 1995, did it propose to be a new version of the Sandinista Front?
No. The MRS was founded from a profoundly critical position. All this that we are talking about was put forth. The term “Sandinista” was taken from the point of view of identification with the issue of national sovereignty, with Sandino, national independence and social justice.
But it reclaimed the revolution. In the first years there was an ongoing allusion to the revolutionary years.
In the first years, yes, but the critique continued to deepen. The MRS has the characteristic of keeping a strong grounding. Later new generations have come whose reference point is not the Sandinista revolution.
There are members of the MRS, even leaders, who think that the party should no longer bear the word “Sandinista”.
Yes, there is a debate about that. There is a debate about the distinction that would have to be made under these conditions. That includes the name change, change in symbols, etc.
Could the MRS remove the name Sandinista?
It is possible. If the convention decides it, it will be removed.
And what is your position?
It seems to me that in this moment the only thing that the Sandinista name evokes it what is happening with this dictatorship. No matter how much we might say that this has to do with Sandino, with social justice, independence and sovereignty, when someone hears it what they are hearing are the crimes committed by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega. It is not worth it, for a political party like the MRS, that is looking toward the future of the country, that is committed to a profound democratization process of Nicaraguan society, to keep that name. For me this is a personal opinion, it could be that there are other opinions in the MRS. There is a debate now for several months about this topic. And this has to do with the youth who are currently leading the party.
There is also a debate among political groupings about “Orteguism” and “Sandinism”. There are those who see the word “Orteguism” as a disguise for Sandinism itself.
Orteguism was a larvae that infected Sandinism. Like Somocism was a larvae that infected liberalism. And nearly finished it off. Then there were groups that left Somocism that formed parties, the PLI was one of them, CxL another, let us say, that see themselves as liberals. But if you look in the year 1979 Somocism had completely infected liberalism. I think that Orteguism completely infected the Sandinista Front. Let us not say Sandinism, but the Sandinista Front. In such a way that the institutionality of the Sandinista Front disappeared, and a segment was left there completely and absolutely committed to the Ortega Murillo family, and a segment was left that has an interest in saving the party, for whom the Frente is their party, and they are going to see how to save it. There is a difference there, and that difference is important because it has to do with the effort itself of the deconstruction of the dictatorship.
The party in power comes down hard on the MRS, but the opposition does as well. It is seen as a party that is in everything, always conspiring.
Certainly Orteguism is the mortal enemy of the MRS. That is very true. Because it was not able to break us, because it was not able to make the MRS disappear, because every time that it beat it, it resurged. That is the reality. The MRS is 24 years old and it has been 24 years the object of punches and blows. It has not been easy. The Sandinista Front took on the task of selling to a sector of the business class, a sector, not all, because they did not buy it, that we were the great confiscators of the 80s, and not Daniel Ortega. Imagine, who am I going to confiscate from the Ministry of Health, or who is Victor Hugo Tinoco going to confiscate from the Vice Chancellor´s office.
The thing is that if you were part of the team, you have personal responsibilities. So, you pay for that.
Yes, that is clear, but it is not exactly like that. What one section of La Prensa does, no matter the fact that you might be an editor, if it is not your section, you cannot assume responsibility for that. You can even not be aware of it. You can assume responsibility for everything, but you cannot take on the guilt of others. Ortega unleashed a campaign against us by every path, in every possible way, and there are people who bought it. For what reason? I am not clear, but I imagine that they are the embers of old animosities, without realizing that organizations are evolving.
And there is an apparent contradiction: the MRS is a very famous party, your name appears everywhere, but it does not show up in the surveys.
Maybe it does not show up because people are afraid to say.
There is a stigma on the MRS?
That is how it is. Maybe people say that if they are in favor of the MRS they are going to be repressed. Or they will be fired from their job. That already happened to me with one person. This has to do with a price that you pay, and it can be that for that reason it does not show up in the surveys, because there is a repression completely directed and aimed at the MRS.
In the discussion about the unity in the opposition, the MRS reappears as a figure that creates antibodies.
What antibodies? That depends.
Groups that say that they are not going to be part of a union where the MRS are present.
CxL (Citizen for Liberty Party). But remember that the CxL were our allies. We had an alliance with them for seven years. In addition, an alliance that worked very well in the National Assembly. It began to stop functioning when Ortega told the CxL that in order to ensure their legal status they had to abandon us. And under those circumstances also Violeta Granera and the Liberal United Front left, for considering that to be onerous. But the alliance with the current CxL, and Kitty Monterrey [current president of CxL] was there then, was an alliance for at least seven years.
But the fact that you have been allies does not mean that you can be now, just like you in the MRS were allies with Ortega and now cannot be.
With Ortega we never shared more than a program in some specific circumstances, where there was Antonio Lacayo, Miriam Argúello, Agustín Jarquín, Alexis Argúello, some stayed and the rest of us left, because the course that we already know was followed. But with the CxL we jointly promoted laws, we put to work agreements we had, and we jointly ran electoral campaigns. Kitty Monterrey cannot say to me, “I am not joining with you because you are the same.” Hey, why did you join before? The proposal should be more sincere. She should say the truth. What is the truth about why she does not want to join the National Coalition?
What would be that truth?
You would have to ask them, but it stands out to me the fact that the CxL did not even try to talk about what their terms where to join the Coalition. Everyone has made an effort, the National Unity has made an effort, the people of Saturnino [party linked to evangelical churches] have made an effort, the PLC has made an effort, but the CxL do not want to make any effort. The question that they need to be asked is what is the reason they do not want to join forces in a coalition?
If the MRS would end up being an obstacle for unity, could it rethink its participation?
But what is that measure? Who is going to decide that measure? Is the measure going to be decided by CxL? Who decides what an obstacle is? Up to now the obstacle for unity is the CxL. The MRS instead has tried to aggregate forces.
And whether you see elections in 2021?
I think that we have to fight so there is an electoral outcome. If not, this is going to go from bad to worse. The economic condition of Nicaraguans is getting worse. The regime itself is completely unviable from an economic point of view. We have to do everything at hand to achieve clean, transparent and competitive elections.
And what would you do so that Daniel Ortega would allow that?
He has a large stone on top of him. He does not have one cent, tax income no longer exists, the economy is plummeting again worse than in 2018, and external aid is zero.
But if Ortega faces the dilemma of continuing to govern in that way, under those misfortunes, or losing the elections and going to sit in court to be judged, obviously he will opt for the former.
Daniel Ortega you can be sure is going to do everything possible to stay in power. We cannot count on him saying, “Well, this is as far as I go.” You have to keep pushing. We have pushed it to here, you have to keep pushing until he falls.
Does it cause any sentiments in you the fact that Sandinism, to which you dedicated your life, is ending with this stigma so similar to Somocism?
What makes me sad is the fact that the country is once again at this point. It makes me sad for the youth. Nicaraguan youth should be doing something else, acting in different environments, finishing their majors, contributing in different areas to national development, and politics should be under other conditions. It makes me sad to see that there are generations of young people who are in exile, who said good-by to their majors because they are in exile under some horrible conditions. Those who are in hiding and are harassed every day by the Police, young people who are in prison. It is an awful thing that we are once again facing a dictator.
Does Dora María Téllez continue being Sandinista?
I identify with Sandino. I can no longer tell you that I identify as a Sandinista in the terms that it is understood today. That word now has another connotation. Words have their contexts. I identify with Sandino´s quest, with social justice, national independence, the fight for sovereignty, but it is difficult for me to identify with the word Sandinista, because it now is repugnant to me, because of what we have all experienced.
-the big producers increase their coffee areas, the small ones produce less, and we are all from the same cooperative–María observed in the assembly
-we are on different steps of the ladder –responded Claudio.
-The small producers should not hold offices, being “bit players” is their fault- adjudged their administrator.
– If we looked at one another and helped one another, maybe our cooperative would be a cooperative- María shot back, while the big producers smiled.
Claudio Hernandez, a peasant cooperative member, by saying that “we are on different steps” in the cooperative, referred to the social inequality in his cooperative. In this article we want to study the hierarchical side of this phrase, and how to move beyond it in the communities.
The force of structures
In the story the administrator presupposes a vertical structure, classifies the small producers as “bit players”, and puts them outside the range of officers. This image of the “ladder” is the structure of hierarchical power that comes from societies, families and absorbs any organization or institution. Figure 1 shows people going up the ladder, there is no other way up. On that ladder it is not possible for a group of people to be on the same rung; they would fall. Most aspire to go up the ladder, even though they are not able to get close to it. If someone makes a bid to go up, they alert the one on top, “ he is going to get ahead of you”. The one who reaches the top unseats him: “get down so I can get up.” Only the “one in charge” is on the top of the hill, “the more authoritarian he is, the more he does for us”, “I am nothing without him”. Even though those who generally reach the top are men, if a woman reaches the top, the ladder does not change.
This structure defines the position of big and small, of those who have, and do not have rights in a society. It names people to the offices of organizations or institutions, turns leaders into politicians or technocrats. Likewise, the age structure in families defines their members: those who “are good” for doing physical tasks, like “a load” for those who no longer can carry one because of their age; the spouse “discarded”, replaced by a young woman. It is a structure that is reinforced by animalizing human relations: “he is going to better you”, assumes that the person left below is an animal, which is worse if the person “bettered” is a woman. If someone praises a boy it is because “he is looking at his shoulders” – for carrying, labor, an object of exploitation. It is a language that defines, “she is female, I am male” – but using words in Spanish that generally are used to designate the sex of animals. A male, a macho is, as the writer Octavio Paz said, “awesome, the father who has abandoned his wife and children”, and who feels proud of it.
It is a structure that takes voice and agency away from people and reproduces rules contrary to good humanity. It says to the impoverished, “we will always need a patron”; to the abused woman, “he is my husband, he has the right to beat me”; to the Evangelical pastor, “I am the anointed one, I speak in the name of God”; to the priest, “only I can celebrate the Eucharist”; to people in communities and neighborhoods, “God has a plan for us”, “the leader has a plan for us”. As the Spanish saying goes, “no one goes to heaven without a ladder”.
There can be a peaceful or violent revolution in a country, church or any organization, be it school, sports club or communal organization, that revolution is basically “get rid of you to put in me”, “getting ahead”, and repeating “I am the anointed one”/”leader, direct us!”/ “spouse in pants or skirt, direct us!” They can sing that they are “new men” or dress in habits, the ladder is the same. Everything changes, so as not to change. We see cooperatives like this whose members, men and women, rebel against their presidents or managers, replace them with other people, and in a short period of time, the chosen person turns into the “top man” or “top woman”.
From within these structures the slogan of many international organizations “leave no one behind” can be understood as pulling the impoverished person to the “ladder”, so that they are not left behind, while the ladder continues being the “ladder”.
Change of structures
How can we change to really change? If we ignore the ladder, it will be like the sun, it will keep us from seeing the stars and will make us repeat the rule of elites: “without the leader, there is nothing”, “without legality and office in the town, there is no organization”. We need to distinguish between the ladder (structure; sun) from what is outside of it (stars). Identifying the ladder to reveal that it was made by human beings, that its reproduction is not automatic but mediated by human interpretation, which is why it can be undone or redone. Let us recall what Max Weber said, it is not the rule of courtesy that makes one tip the hat, but the interpretation by people of that rule. Understanding this helps us to create conditions to awaken and recreate our identities, to recognize those structures and then look for other paths.
María in the above story says, “If we looked at one another and helped one another, maybe our cooperative would be a cooperative.” There is a new interpretation there, which is the awareness of looking for alternative options to the ladder, seeing the stars. How?
From communitarian perspectives we can put on the shoes of different people, even though first we need to take off those we have on. From those “soles” it is not possible to put the “ladder” to one side, because in the end it is in our own minds and feet. Hmmmm! After identifying it, how can we proceed?
Following Figure 2, we propose three steps. First, forming organizations with membership in just one community, and limiting their size: that it not have more than 50 members, nor that it only grow economically. This will keep a leader from becoming the “big chief”, because his organization will be relatively small, and its membership will be more informed about their organization from living in the same community or micro-territory. This will reduce the size of the ladder and pull it toward the community.
Second, multiplying organizations in the same community: forming more cooperatives and facilitating the emergence of new forms of organization – stores, roasters, bee keepers, bakeries and poultry farms of groups of people. At the same time, recognize that there are organizations in the same community: water committees, parent teacher organizations, representatives of municipal government, road committees. This multiplication of organizations, in addition to their economic and social impact, also contribute to the democracy of the organizations in the same community. In this, there tend to be two or three people who control organizations in a community: e.g. a “chief” as mayor´s representative, and president of the water committee and the cooperative. If in a community a second and third cooperative are formed, that “chief” can only be the member of one cooperative. If in that community a community store and/or roaster emerges, their administration requires full time work, which means it would be difficult for that “chief” to be the administrator of a community store. The characteristic of the “chiefs” is that their two or three organizations tend to be long ladders, financed and controlled from outside; while the organizations that are multiplying are smaller, from the same micro-territory and move more with their own resources. Multiplying organizations is like opening more windows and doors for the community.
Third, expanding and generating connections between different organizations on the basis of already existing and emerging relationships of collaboration is a challenge. For example, the delegates of the word of the Catholic Church tend to be part of dense relationships. If a good part of that social base are also members of an organization, they contribute to trust, which is a basic asset for building connections; for that reason it is necessary to show those dense relationships. When a new organization emerges, it is like opening a new channel for previously dammed water to flow; and if that organization, in contrast to traditional ones, is composed of women and/or young people, fresher and cleaner water flows through that channel uniting more lives.
In these connections we are not talking about alliances. So far, we are not aware of interesting and lasting alliances. We see that when organizations multiply, collective and community actions also multiply; e.g. road repair, disease prevention actions, like the current COVID-19. We do envision the possibility of forming second tier organizations in the same micro-territory, which would be practically the opposite of the “big headed dwarf” model of the second-tier cooperatives that exist today – something to discuss in another article.
The change of structure that we are proposing is discovering the “ladder” which we ourselves are part of, and move beyond it by reducing its size, multiplying ladders, and expanding their connections in the same community or micro-territory. These perspectives in the long term can democratize our societies and offer better conditions where the voice of people is heard and listened to, shared leadership flourishes, and collective innovations are possible.
This process, no matter how praiseworthy it might be, requires hard work for hours beyond “the work day” on the part of some people in the communities and those who accompany them. Because that “ladder” is like the roots of a bad weed that lives in our minds, resists being discovered, and on being discovered fights to persist and intensifies its domination in old and new organizations.
From community perspectives, it is not a matter of “not leaving anyone behind.” It is a matter of each person getting closer to others, and on doing so, they draw closer to their own capacity and potential. Then the community will be more than the sum of its parts.
René Mendoza Vidaurre with Fabiola Zeledón and Esmelda Suazo
The drunkard´s curse
-Why are you selling your land?
-I have debts, I have no money…I no longer know what to do.
-Ahh, you have the drunkard´s curse.
-The drunk sells what he has and keeps the craving for alcohol, returns to look for what he can sell or steal, and it increases his urge to drink.
-I am not a drunk! What does this drunkard´s curse have to do with me?
There have been hundreds of innovations that, on the death of the “boss”, have fallen apart like a house of cards. In good measure due to the “drunkard´s curse”. The drunk who wakes up with a hangover, looks to see if he can find even a little bit of alcohol, and there is nothing that can stop him from getting that drink, he will get it by begging, selling what is within his reach or stealing it.
In terms of this article, those “cravings” are the social rules of families that push or pull people to get rid of any initiative with potential for success, on the condition of getting “a drink” (short term earnings). These families, nevertheless, are unaware of these social rules, those “cravings” as in the story: “I am not a drunk! What does this drunkard´s curse have to do with me?” It is like, literally, the initiative “got drunk”, whose owners end up selling “the cow that provides the milk” instead of selling “the milk”; or better still, instead of making cheese, cream and cream cheese with “the milk.”
RSEs analyze these realities. They are not isolated from them. They study them, they study themselves, correct and catalyze transformational actions. In fact, SREs emerged while analyzing these realities, looking at how to chart a different path and at the same time contribute to the community. How do the SREs catalyze good changes in communities? In this booklet we try to respond to this question, while we invite those who read it to reflect on their own responses. Here we describe some of those harmful social rules, we identify other rules with which initiatives can pave the way, we denote the role of these types of initiatives for generating good changes in communities, and we conclude that this path deserves being tested.
1. The strength of social rules
While studying the commercialization of products, the way that families decide on inheritances, production systems, how women become single mothers, how sharecropping relationship work, being a day worker, or how cooperatives work, time and time again structural conditions appear that leave people or organizations like hobbled hens in terms of their growth, obstacles appear to trip the feet of those who are walking. What is this common pattern? Figure 1 shows three rules, individual opportunism, men as the law, and the big payoff culture; it is a triangle that like the “cravings” in the drunkard´s curse makes people end up selling “the cow.”
If a couple puts up a storefront, sew shop or makes rosquillas [corn cookies] to sell, their own relatives and friends trip them up. How? They buy on credit, buy on credit, and continue to buy on credit. It is the drunkard´s curse, they promise to pay, they pay and buy on credit again, and on and on. When the amount that they put on their tab surpasses their financial capacities, they get upset when they are asked to pay, and they are resentful if they are not given more credit on top of what they already owe, it is like they earned the right to buy on credit, or that they end up believing that the store belongs to them- this is what we call the opportunism of drunks. The consequence of these practices is that the initiative, on having more than 15% of their capital in the “on the tab” portfolio, begins to fall apart, and families get stressed on being charged and promising payments, and it is like a wound exposed to the sun, gets swollen and is difficult to heal. The rules that lead to failure are: being a relative gives me the right to buy on credit, not necessarily to pay – it is like “what is yours is mine, and what is mine is mine”; no one from the community, individually, should stand out (be successful). Both rules come from the indigenous-peasant family that emerged in a context of bartering (in kind exchanges) and on communal lands, if you do a favor, the other family at some time will return the favor; now, nevertheless, the context is practically the opposite, in addition to the fact that the element of time in a store is a matter of days, and the fact that a basis of common food does not exist.
There are families that, just as they grow quickly, also fall apart quickly. It could be that they buy and accumulate land, or as lenders, accumulate money. The drunkard´s curse is that, even though they try to improve their work, for example, intensifying the use of the soil, they go back to buying more land, and become extensive again in their use of the soil; in this way they have coffee farms where they get 8 loads per manzana, or grazing land where they have 1 cow on 2 manzanas. Then their children trip them up: Dad divides up the land, one part he sells and the other part he divides up into an inheritance for his children. Once the land is received, most of the children begin to sell their part, or borrow money putting it up as collateral, prisoners of the drunkard´s curse. The rule that pulls them toward failure is: only the man (Father/husband) makes decisions and he is the law for the family. With this rule, the man wants to administer and make decisions about any initiative, decisions are made under the culture of “leave it to me”- “I will work it out, this is a man´s issue.” This rule comes from patriarchy, it is a rule that prevents his daughters and sons from learning, which disempowers women (Mothers/wives) and it is a rule that ruins communities.
Raising coffee or sugar cane as a monocrop has meant that families receive payment only once with the harvest, on which income depends the food and clothing of the family. We call this custom the big payoff culture: wanting to receive payment in one bit hit, not getting smaller amounts throughout the year, nor cultivating food for each month. Correspondingly, when a family administers a new initiative, this initiative tends to naturally be trapped by this big payoff culture; they want to have earnings in a few days and in larger amounts, if they are not able to get that, they shout to the four winds for more product, their frustration traps them. They lose sight of the need to learn to administer the RSEs, build up clientele, study their environment, plan; what is important to them is to “win the lottery”; the big payoff, because they believe that there is nothing to learn, or that they already know it. The rule that pulls them to failure is: earn money right now however possible, that tomorrow may be too late. It is a rule that comes from capitalism – like usury or heartless commercial mediation – and that rule is like the sun during the daytime, it keeps you from seeing the stars.
2. Collective actions that make a difference
A RSE can reduce – and avoid – the risk of following the fate of that ton of initiatives and organizations that tend to fall apart. For that purpose, we introduce a RSE as a new seed that grows between the land of the community and the winds that blow from outside the community. This RSE needs the virtuous triangle of figure 2. It is from this virtuous triangle that RSEs can catalyze small but good changes in the community. We use the word “catalyze” to indicate that SREs can cause unexpected changes, without generating or expanding them directly, allowing people in the community to observe, digest, reflect on their realities in the face of this mirror of the SRE, and be correcting, expanding and generating new practices and rules.
The first element is distinguishing collective assets from individual assets. For that purpose let us read about Blanca Victoria from El Cua, as told by her son, Juan Adams:
Rogelio worked for his aunt, Blanca Victoria. On pay day he would say, “Aunt, don´t pay me now, just give me this much.” His aunt saved his money. One day Blanca Victoria needed some money to buy something, and she went running to her nephew, “Rogelio, lend me some money.” “Sure, aunt, just use it,” responded Rogelio. The aunt returned home and took the money from Rogelio´s savings which she kept for him.
The family that administers a RSE is like Aunt Blanca Victoria, and the resources in the store, roaster or bakery are like the resources of Rogelio, and the two dozen shareholders who own the RSE are like Rogelio. The family has those resources in their hands, as the Aunt did, but they are the resources of others; even though they are in their hands, they cannot use them as if they were theirs. They are a collective asset.
Within this framework, a RSE can navigate better. If a relative or a family friend of the person who administers a RSE comes looking to start a tab, they cannot demand that they be given credit under the rule that “we are part of the family”, because the products or the roaster do not belong to the family, they belong to two dozen shareholders; the administrator will be able to say, “If it were mine I would start a tab for you, but this is not mine.” Not even the administrator herself can start her own tab, she cannot take products and “just write it down”, she has to buy them like any other customer.
The second element is that each RSE must be guided by written rules and the numbers. The rules will emerge based on studying and testing policies, which are later approved by all the shareholders. In the RSEs we tested them, and now we have written rules that we all recognize and must follow, which are in booklet 2. They are rules that can be changed in assemblies.
In terms of the numbers, each administrator records data in a timely and trustworthy manner. The payment of the administrator depends on the quality of this record. The improvement of a RSE depends on the quality of this data, analyzing the data and making improvements based on that analysis. For example, for the case of providing products on credit, the numbers and the rules are very indicative of good practice:
Products on credit in a story cannot surpass 5% of the working capital of the store. So, the administrator must register and add up each day the data recorded to apply this rule.
The amount on credit cannot surpass 50% of the monthly income of the person who gets credit. So, before putting it on the tab of the person, that person needs to be studied.
Only products that are shared in the family can be sold on credit. For example, cigarettes are not shared in the family, so do not make up part of the products that can be taken on credit.
Products considered “for pleasure” (e.g. chicken, soda pop…) cannot be given on credit. Only basic need products (oil, salt, sugar, rice, beans).
The third element is the culture of small and staggered payoffs. Grain by grain the hen fills her stomach, our grandmothers used to say. Each RSE is designed for families to generate and save income every day of the year. Each day that they sell or provide roasting services generates income; each day they record data and analyze that data; each day they communicate with customers and take the pulse of the community. A RSE is a university in the home and the community.
3. How RSEs catalyze change in the community
If an RSE operates based on the virtuous triangle, in itself it becomes an oil lamp in the community. It catalyzes change. How? The distinction between collective assets and individual assets will have an impact in the community. People will understand that the land is not an individual asset either, only belonging to the man (husband/father), it also belongs to the mother and the children; in other words, it is a family asset; this will help the family to democratize, be more equitable and the land be better used. The same thing will happen in cooperatives, churches…In this framework Dad and Mom will have a guide for raising their children in a different, better way.
Following rules approved by an assembly is, paradoxically, a new practice. This will have an impact in the community, more and more they will question rules that only the patron sets, only the man who believes he is the law, or rules that come from outside. The source of the rules will slowly be left exposed.
The culture of the small payoff will help people to remember the old practices, of first ensuring the food of the family for the year. Of maybe diversifying production. Processing food and saving it. Generating work in so many things that have to be done every day. Saving for lean times. Having patience.
In this way a RSE, in addition to energizing the economy of a community, buying products from one and selling products to others, becomes a lamp. It helps the community to move from moment 1 to moment 2. The figure of the pyramid captures this realistic aspiration, the community does not cease to be vertical, but it is more inclusive, it becomes wider.
We have conceived of a RSE different from conventional businesses like storefronts, cheesemakers, farms, honey producers…that would be managed by families or associative organizations. Now we understand how RSEs, and any associative organization if it proposes and works as we have shown in these booklets, can avoid reproducing the drunkard´s curse, the big payoff, or “leave it to me” culture.
The role of RSEs seems to be getting clearer day by day, as when fog dissipates and allows us to see farms, houses and roads up ahead. A RSE is not just to get income, not limited just to finances or just for making money; nor is it to reproduce the culture of the big payoff nor the drunkard´s curse. RSEs can have a transformational role in rural societies, becoming an antidote to the drunkard´s curse and despotism, to the extent that it draw a distinction with collective assets, develops a written and number culture, and daily works on what is tangible (service of store and roasting), and what is intangible (social relations with customers, new knowledge for innovating).
Each person should work for RSEs to be a means that help us revive our communities, make it possible for a person to discover their drunkard´s curse (“I am not a drunk!”), and get back on track, and together we get the entire community back on track.
Scaling up and circular movement in Rural Social Enterprises
René Mendoza with Fabiola Zeledón and Esmelda Suazo
Jesús told his disciples a parable (Mt 25: 14-30). A farmer, before traveling, entrusted his farm to them: to one he gave 5 talents, to another 2 and another 1, according to their capacities. On his return he asked for an accounting. The ones who received 5 and 2 had doubled them, the farmer was happy and rewarded them. The third had saved the talent and gave it back to him, the farmer was upset, told him that at least he could have placed it with bankers so it would earn interest, so he took the talent away from him and gave it to the one who had 10. “Because to everyone who has, more will be given and he will have abundance; but the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.”
This parable is not about avarice or despotism. It is about the fruit that comes from talents received. It is responding to the confidence received, deploying all capacities in order to bear fruit. The parable shows us that discouragement, fear or resentment should not keep us from feeling that confidence received, making us hide the talent. The fruit gives joy to the entire community.
So it is as well in Rural Social Enterprises (RSE). Two dozen people have placed their resources and entrusted a family to administer a community store or a coffee roaster, and another family to administer another store, and so on. The families received resources and trust in accordance with their abilities, they are left the challenge of responding with all their energy and multiplying their fruit. As an effect of those actions, the entire community will be happy.
On multiplying it, like the one who received 5 talents and doubled it to 10, they can receive more resources and trust. How? For the stores, Figure 1 shows us the path in the form of a staircase. But first let us recall that in the previous booklet Claudio Hernández warned us that we are “at different rungs of the ladder”. We address this challenge here: if we scale up collectively with clear rules, we move beyond the individual “ranking”. Even more, our vision is that they scaling up should not be indefinite, ever higher and higher, but it should be circular, that this is what figure 2 will show.
In figure 1, illustrated for a community store, we make a distinction between a conventional (or traditional) storefront, and the community stores that we are organizing. They scale up to the extent that they respond to the trust deposited in them, and in accordance with the energy and mindset that they apply to the talents received. How?
A community store starts on step 1 with a set amount of working capital. If it is managed well, keeping the amount on credit under 5% of total working capital, orders the inventory and orders, attracts customers and the administrator is able to get their earnings (30% of gross profits of the store) above 1500 córdobas, then that store can go up to the next step. As a consequence, SREs take 20% of the net earnings of the store to increase the initial working capital of the store. This step means moving from a conventional storefront to a community store, which means freeing itself from falling into the family rules of “give it to me on credit because we are family”, understanding that working capital is a collective asset, and cultivating an awareness that what benefits the family and the community is the fact that the stores continues to exist.
On step 2, in addition to meeting the challenges of step 1, they do a good job of recording the data, increase the clientele by 10%; process 1-2 products (e.g. popsicles, nacatamales) and form 1 to 2 local alliances (e.g. with bakers, seamstresses, people that make piñatas, raise chickens and have eggs, people who raise chickens, slaughter pigs or sell basic grains). It is a step where the administrator is able to get their gross profits of the store above 2,000 córdobas. If they are able to do all that, then they move to step 3 and they are assigned 20% of the social fund to work with.
On step 3, in addition to meeting the challenges of steps 1 & 2, and increasing clients by 10%, it processes more than 2 products and cultivates more than 2 alliances; lists products and necessary technology to be introduced into the community, such as rice cookers and thermoses, that have the potential of freeing up time for women depending on the conditions in the communities (e.g. if they have electric, water…). It is a step where the administrator can get their 30% of gross profits to be more than 3,000 córdobas. If the administrator is able to do all that, then the store moves to step 4, and their working capital is increased from between 5 to 20% from additional funds coming from new shareholders.
On step 4, in addition to meeting the challenges of steps 1, 2 and 3, and increasing customers by 10%, the store processes more than 3 products and weaves more than 3 alliances; the administrator gets their 30% of gross profits from sales to be more than 4,000 córdobas. As a consequence, this store is a candidate for the annual prize that the Assembly of shareholders grants to the best initiative. In a parallel fashion, the administrator can become initiative supervisor, after accompanying (organizing and advising) other stores, creating new initiatives.
In this way, the staircase (Figure 1) does not add more steps, it becomes a circle of synergy among several stores, roasters, bakers and other initiatives (Figure 2), while people continue being trained and taking on new responsibilities. It is trust which like pickled nancite becomes more dense and increases its flavor and energy.
So the wheel of community improvement turns, turns and turns. It does not go up. It does not go down. It revolves.
 This article is also for cooperatives and any other associative expression. The members contribute resources and ideas. They deposit them in the administration and organs of the cooperative. In doing so, they really are depositing their trust. In return, the administration and organs of the cooperative have the obligation that those resources and trust deposited in them bear fruit in accordance with the rules of their assemblies.
The fifth month of the year is called “May” in honor of Maya, one of the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione from Greek mythology; “Maia”, goddess of abundance. People who dig into history also tell us that it was a month for the elderly, the word “elderly” in Latin is “maiorum”. In Central America May means the first rains of the year, with which agriculture begins, and all the pallid landscape of April turns green and pulses with life; the popular expression is “the rain showers of May”, the month most anticipated. This article is about the force of community, that when we discover it, is like the month of May: abundant, alive, ever changing and very much anticipated. RSEs respond to their community, and have building that community as their reference point or horizon, it is their umbilical cord, their brand and love.
1. What people in the communities see and think
Those who live in a village or hamlet watch the movement of people. They see buyers come in to buy coffee, beans, or agoutis; for the buyers the community is a place to buy things. They see people who have diplomas arrive, and board members of organizations, who greet them from the road, estimate the harvest, fill out paperwork, and leave promises behind; for them the community is a stone paved road. They see people arrive in cassocks, lab coats, or wearing glasses, who enter the church, school or health center; for them, the community is a bunch of cement blocks with tin roof sheeting, and “poor people.”
Among those people who are watching, Elder Lagos, from the community of San Antonio, observes, “The cooperatives collect the coffee harvest in the towns, while the buyers collect it here in the community”. The “town” is the municipal capital, and “the community” is a rural locality. The logical thing would be the reverse: that the cooperatives would collect the harvest in the community itself, but no, no. The upside down world.
From another community, Ocote Tuma, in the municipality of Waslala, Rodrigo López observes: “There are two cooperatives from town with members here, those cooperatives are in the town; they never meet here.” What? And what does it mean to be a cooperative member? “The two cooperatives only want cacao, no matter where it comes from, people are not of value to them.” As we said before, it seems like the world is upside down.
People also look at their own community. There were good times when by growing just coffee, cacao or cattle people bought their vehicles, took on positions of responsibility and went to live in town. Those who have stayed, see and feel that for having clung to just one crop their water sources have dried up, and the soil has become weary, while the prices of those products have dropped, and the prices of agro-chemicals have risen. But even though betting on only one crop is affecting them more and more, people are hanging onto that crop, like the Koala bear hugs the eucalyptus tree! But there are people who open their eyes: Daniel Meneces remembers the words of his uncle Toño, “A lot of people are like the dog who barks at the squirrel believing that it is in the tree, when the squirrel has already left.” Betting on only one crop is like barking at the tree, when “the squirrel has already left.”
Other people open their eyes to see more: they discover the inequality in the community itself, reproduced by the cooperative itself. “We are at different places on the staircase,” said Claudio Hernández from the community of Samarkanda. That expression assumes that everyone rises using that staircase, there is no other, some are higher up and others are lower, there is no way of changing where you are. But the mere fact of recognizing it makes you think differently.
2. What people do when they discover their strengths
These observations awaken three, five, ten and thirty people. So, in this way, awakening, a group of people in the community of San Antonio formed a cooperative. They met to look for ways different from how traditional cooperatives operate; they decided to collect coffee and paid for it in the community itself. They did it. The result: families saved the cost of transporting the coffee to town. It is like they made a different “half staircase”.
Another cooperative was formed in Ocote Tuma, composed mostly of youth. In that cooperative, with their fingernails and the friendship of their neighbors, they bought cacao to dry it in the community itself, and pooled their earnings to invest in a chicken farm. They are beginning to crawl.
There are other people who turn their focus to the land, water, the farm and to processing foodstuffs. They got into making bread, honey…”The cents that it costs us make them more delicious”, concludes Doña Justina Meneces.
When the cooperatives are from the community itself, they help to repair the country road, they are members of the water committee, and look to protect water sources, and organize other committees so that each family might have access to water in their homes. Land and water are valuable and are worth more than money!
And they take more steps. In the face of the custom that has become law of “exporting the best and leaving the worst”, they roast coffee in the communities. In the face of the rule that “organization and projects come from outside”, they talk with one another so that there is water in the community. In the face of the wealthy who say that “only money moves people”, they visit one another, and the affection that they cultivate moves them even more. In the face of the storefronts which make people go into debt and then end up going broke themselves, new community stores emerge that when they let people make purchases on credit, they only allow it for “products that you share with your family” – products like beans or oil, but not cigarettes. This community spirit is like your first love, it has unimaginable flavors.
3. Good changes are done in alliances
Marx, a century and a half ago, said that peasants were like “a sack of potatoes”, meaning that they were similar, and that they lived closed off from society. Some 20 years ago in the Nitlapan Institute, on finding communities that resisted mono-cropping, that generally expelled people and disappeared communities, we used to call them “peasant pockets”. Now we realize that they are neither a “sack of potatoes” nor “peasant pockets” they are people so united and face to face with one another, and with so many connections that their friendships and relatives cross over communities and countries.
So it is difficult for one community to organize itself on its own. It is difficult for outside aid agencies to be able to organize a community, whether they arrive with a sword, the Bible or dollars – they can build their church, company or military post as enclaves. With the RSEs we have learned a different path: a community can organize if people from inside and out connect with one another, not just link, but connect! When people connect, they do magical things. This is how community stores and roasters are emerging.
When this happens, when they connect, the force of communities is like “the rains of May”, which makes good changes sprout. This is the process in which we find ourselves.
Each organization and institution has “rules of the game”. In a family, church, soccer, baseball, school, in a cooperative…there are rules. For example, in soccer 3 rules mean that it ca be played anywhere, in a field, on the street or a soccer stadium; these three rules are: only the goalie can touch the ball with his hands, out of bounds and foul (pushing or kicking another player). Generally, organizations that follow their rules run better.
RSEs also have a few rules: 21. Pretty well tested. Subject to being changed partially by the assembly of shareholders. They are applicable to any RSE. We list these rules in what follows:
The investors can be from inside or outside the community. The family that operates the initiative can also be a shareholder (be it a store, roaster or other initiative)
1 share = C$ 1000 (1,000 Córdobas)
A person becomes a “shareholder” with 1 share or more, and with that share or shares becomes an investor in all the initiatives.
In the case that the family that runs it invests, they will have a dual role, investor and at the same time the family that operates the initiative.
If the shareholder dies, automatically that person´s spouse and children are left as the owners of those shares. In case the shareholder does not have a spouse or children, then the closest relative is left as owner of the shares.
No shareholder will have more than 35% of total shares.
On the work of the family that runs an RSE
Each family that operates it is creative and responsible for making the initiative more successful, so that they can include any other way of buying new products or adding new services, always in function of the “company.”
If the family that operates an initiative decides to no longer continue with the initiative, they will completely withdraw all the products or assets, without those products or assets being provided on credit.
The shareholder group can close an initiative and recover the products and assets if that initiative ceases to be profitable.
On earnings, reinvestment and expenses
From gross profits (sale or service price minus costs and expenses), 30% is for the family that runs it (store, roaster or other initiative).
From net profits (gross profits minus 30%), 20% is for reinvestment, 20% is for a social fund, 10% for equipment repair and 50% is to be distributed among the shareholders in accordance with their number of shares.
In the distribution of shares, for the person who has more than100 shares, each share over that 100 will have the right to 50% of the amount of each share held by those who have 100 or less shares.
The reinvestment done (that 20%) will be added as part of the shares of all the shareholders. In other words, if that 20% comes in as additional products for sale or as a piece of equipment for the roaster, the value of that 20% is added as part of the shares of all the shareholders. Operation: the amount of the reinvestment divided by the total number of shares; that amount is added in accordance with the number of shares held by each shareholder.
If a shareholder decides to withdraw or recover part of their shares, those shares will be bought by any person or shareholder.
On losses or damaged products or assets
If products or assets are lost through theft, it is the responsibility of the family that runs it. The value lost is deducted from their 30%.
If some product is damaged in the store, it must be reported in the monthly audit. The corresponding measure will be taken from a mutual agreement. In any case, the value of the loss will be assumed equally, 50% by the family operating the initiative and 50% by the investors.
On Follow up/ audit/ transparency
The family that operates the initiative will register each operation and have all information up to date.
The supervisor and the operating family will provide followup/audit every 30 days. In doing so, they will audit the numbers, together analyze the month by its results and, taking into account the results from the previous month, will make decisions guided by the rules.
The 30% of gross profit that goes to the family operating the initiative will be paid at the end of each month.
The distribution of surplus based on net profits will be done every 3 months.
On the 10th of each month each shareholder will receive information on the financial results of the previous month from all the initiatives.