Category Archives: Diversity

Juliet Hooker: “The closer you are to being indigenous, to being black, the lower you are in the racial hierarchy”

The demonstrations in hundreds of cities in the US over the police killing of George Floyd have been followed by Nicaraguans, and have resulted in discussions about race in Nicaragua. This interview appeared in Sunday supplement of La Prensa.

Juliet Hooker: “The closer you are to being indigenous, to being black, the lower you are in the racial hierarchy”

By Amalia del Cid, La Prensa, June 7, 2020

[original Spanish]

Juliet Hooker, professor at Brown University, analyzes and explains the ways in which “racial hierarchy” is reflected, which, in her judgement, exists in Nicaragua.

Juliet Hooker is a Nicaraguan academic who works at Brown University in Rhode Island, and has dedicated many years to the study of race and racism, issues that are on the minds of the world since a violent white policeman killed George Floyd, an Afro-American, in the United States.

Hooker was born in Bluefield 47 years ago and maintains that we live in a racist country. For her, phrases like “the race has to be improved” are not innocent, nor can the word “chele” [common nickname for a white skinned person in Nicaragua] be compared to the words “black” or “Indian”, in spite of the fact that the three are used as nicknames.

In this interview she analyzes and explains the ways in which “racial hierarchy” is reflected, which exists in Nicaragua, according to her. Are you racist?

Are we racist in Nicaragua? Many say we are not.

That is very common in Latin America, that people think that racism is something that happens in the United States, that it occurred in South Africa, that it does not happen in Latin America. But a common pattern throughout the region is that they are societies ordered according to pigmentocracy. In Nicaragua, specifically, there are two ways in which racism happens. One is social hierarchy. If you look at who are the people represented in the upper class, those who are in political positions, those who appear in television dramas, those who have the most visible posts and most of the economic, political and social power, they are the people who are the whitest. And the closer you get to being indigenous, to being black, the lower you are in this racial hierarchy, in terms of access to economic power, political power, to representation. Another way in which racism is manifested in that we think there are no blacks in Nicaragua, or that they are only in the Atlantic Coast, or that the indigenous were something that happened in the colonial times, but that they no longer exist. It is the racialization of space, of the geography of the country.

That which you are mentioning, about the white elite, does it have to do with historical reasons?

Of course! Who were the big families that dominated Nicaraguan politics in the XIX century? They are the families that identified as descendants of the Spanish conquistadores. There is an entire Nicaraguan nationalism that recognizes that there is an indigenous presence, but the legacy that is emphasized is the Spanish. In the XIX century there was a change in the sense that other people began to be part of those political elites, and maybe did not come from those families, but there is a historical legacy of who has had economic and political power in the country, and that is being reproduced.

If it were reversed, if the brown and short people or the Afro-descendants made up that elite, would it be thought that it was better to be brown or black than white?

We do not live in an isolated society, we live in a society inserted in global processes, and on a global level we have the fact that the colonizers have been Europeans and that has an impact. It is possible that in countries like Haiti there might be less racism, but that does not mean that it disappears. These processes and these ideas even have an impact on us Afro-descendent and indigenous peoples ourselves. At times they also value people of their group who have finer features, who have straighter hair. All this is part of that question of colorism that at times is internalized even by the groups who suffer due to racial hierarchies.

Is there a “Europeanized” idea of beauty?

Definitely. I believe that this is clear. Think about Miss Nicaragua. What is the pattern of the women who supposedly are the most beautiful in Nicaragua? It is a person with very European features who, to a certain extent, does not look very much like the typical Nicaraguan woman. The inverse of this is that maybe, for example, black women are appreciated; but in a very exotic way, as a person who is seen as hyper-sexualized, but not valued as someone who can be the ideal of beauty in the country.

But personal preferences also exist, what is the difference between racism and having a personal preference?

Obviously as individuals we make decisions like with whom we want to marry, with whom we want to relate, and so it is true that on an individual level one looks at these matters as if they were simply your personal preferences. But personal preferences are, partly, a reflection of the ideas that exist in society. Your surroundings have an impact on you. One has to think about why I have that preference, is it because I simply like cheles or whatever it is, or because I have internalized that idea about what is more beautiful or desirable. It is also important to look at what impact this has on interpersonal relationships. For example, if your personal preference are cheles and then you get married and have children, are you going to make a preference for the one that is the whitest, because that is simply what you see as more beautiful? This is something that I think many people have seen in their own families, these patterns that are reproduced in who is valued and who is not.

So we should not have preferences?

(Laughs). I do not know what we should do in our personal relationships, what I do think that we can do is think about why we have those preferences. And ask ourselves: “If I do not want to reproduce these racist patterns, how can I do things differently?”

But if, for example, someone likes a Chinese person, they have that right, no?

Well of course! (laughs). The problem is not the fact that you like a Chinese person, it is that you like them for being Chinese, because you have that idea that it is exotic and you might not be able to see them as a person in their totality, beyond the fact that they are Chinese.

Is there racism in phrases like “you are black, and you do not know how to dance?”

I would say that that type of phrases what they reflect are our racial stereotypes. They reflect the way in which we attribute to certain groups certain characteristics, like as if all the members of that group would have them. This is part of racism. Under those phrases is this idea: “Blacks are good in sports, music and dance”, but part of the problem with this is that we do not see them as capable of doing other things, like we are reducing them: “In this yes you are good, but don´t get involved in trying to be a businessman.”

Is racism calling a black person black?

There are a lot of people in Latin America and in Nicaragua who tell you that “black” is used in a supposedly affectionate way. In general people see it as an affectionate term, without a racist intention; but what has to be seen is what is it that you are trying to say. There are many Afro-descendants who do not want to use the work “black” because they perceive it as having a negative connotation, like saying to someone “black” is trying to belittle them. Now people are using the word more and say, “Yes, I am black.” What one has to see is how the word is used in society, what is the intention. The worst thing that can be done is simply say, “No, this word means this for me, and I am going to use it.” If you call a black person black and they tell you that they do not like it, do not use it again and offer an apology. There could be another person who it does not bother who might say, “that word is not an insult, I use it with pride.” The problem is when people who are in a dominant position decide that they can use the word because they “know what it means.”

In Nicaragua it is customary to call your friends “chele” and “black”, why is one thing fine and the other bad? Thinking that the word black has a pejorative meaning is assuming that being black is bad.

This is the difficulty. Because it is not equivalent. Saying to someone “chele” does not have a negative connotation, it can be that people might say, what is bad about being chele? While if you say “Indian” to someone, if you say “black” to someone, there is a history behind that, the fact that those terms were used in a derogatory manner. Maybe what has to be done is to ask, but it is very difficult because it can be uncomfortable and a burden for the person who always has to be explaining what racism is.

A little while ago a white, mestiza woman, told me that once she received insults referring to the color of her skin. Can you talk about racism when whites are discriminated against because of their color?

There are people that perceive this, but we cannot talk about inverse racism when racial hierarchies exist in society where white mestizos are above. You cannot see any country in Latin America where this issue of pigmentocracy does not exist, where these racial inequalities do not exist. It is a mistake to think that we are in societies where there are white, mestizo people who are being oppressed. In none of our societies are these people the ones who have less access to education. In general, they are the most privileged, even though there are always exceptions and differences within these dominant groups. And there are also people from the discriminated groups who have gotten to very high posts, but they are an exception. To talk about inverse racism is to ignore all the historical and contemporaneous inequalities that continue to be reproduced.

But if an insult directed at a white person because of the color of their skin is not racism, then what would it be?

What I can tell you is that there are interpersonal situations where people are going to say things to other people that maybe hurts them. But I am looking at it on the level of society. Who are the groups who have these experiences on a daily basis, routinely? And not only do they have these experiences, but they have material effects on their lives.

Have you suffered personally some form of racism?

Yes.

How has that racism been manifested?

Look… I have suffered racism, but I have also been very lucky, in the sense that I had access to education. But I am going to give you an example. Once returning to Managua, there were other Nicas in that flight, and I do not know whether they knew that I was a Nica or not, but they began to talk, and one of them said that they were going to the Coast, and the others said to him, “Why do you want to go there if it is full of drug traffickers and AIDS?” And what I thought at that moment was, “Well, welcome back to Nicaragua.” Another experience I had was when at the beginning of my career (in the United States) professors and colleagues would tell me that issues of race and racism were not central in the study of political science or the history of Nicaragua or Central America. Obviously, there have been changes in that way of thinking, especially in moments like this one, but it is still true that issues like racism or Afro and Indigenous studies continue being seen as marginal in many academic spaces.

Have you experienced more racism in the United States or in Nicaragua?

(Laughs). I would say that the racism is different, but it exists in both places and I have experienced it in both places.

So, can it be said that we are racist in Nicaragua, even though we deny it?

Unfortunately, yes. It is not something that one wants to say about one´s country, but it simply is a fact.

This global discussion after the death of George Floyd, could it make a change in Nicaragua?

I hope that it also has an effect in Nicaragua. The fact that we are doing this interview suggests that people are thinking about these topics. This is important.

What do you think of the phrase “you have to improve the race?”

That is a way in which racism is manifested, it is the idea that you should marry a whiter person than you are, so that you don´t have brown children, in order to have whiter children. It is one of the most daily ways in which we reproduce racism, within the family.

In the end, is not this a way of disparaging who we are?

Of course. It is a way in which we internalize racism and reproduce it, that racial hierarchy that says that white is better, more attractive, what we have to aspire to. Instead of saying, “most of us Nicaraguans are not white, why don´t we accept ourselves and love ourselves as we are?” There are many white, mestizo Latinos, who do not know that racism exists until they go to the United States and realize that they are not seen as white here. For the first time they experience being seen as a racialized person. That is when they face themselves as being seen as inferior people, especially now that there is a lot of racism against Latinos and immigrants in the United States.

Is it racism to say that you are “proud” of belonging to a race?

I think that it is something positive, because it has always been seen as something negative. It is a revindication. To say, “I am not ashamed” is not racism, because what you are doing is trying to respond to historic racism, saying “I am not going to feel less for being this.” It is an affirmation of an anti-racist feeling. To say I feel proud of being black or Miskito does not mean that I see people who are not as less. It is saying “I am not going to accept that negative concept that they have tried to impose on me.”

Do you feel proud of being Afro-descendent?

Yes, of course. Being a Creole woman has been fundamental for me. A lot of what I have learned, of what is important for me, comes from being part of that community, having that history, those values that have been preserved with a lot of struggle and effort, in spite of everything that we have had to deal with.

Personal Plane

Juliet Hooker is originally from Bluefield and is 47 years old. Currently she works in the Political Science department of Brown University in Rhode Island, United States, as a professor and researcher.

She is the author of Race the Politics of Solidarity (Oxford University Press, 2009) and Theorizing Race in the Americas (Oxford University Press, 2017), works where she juxtaposes stories about race formulated by outstanding academics in the United States in the XIX and XX centuries, and Afro American and Latin American thinkers. This year she is working on a third book.

She likes to cook as a way of reducing stress, and because it is an activity that takes her away from what she normally does as an academic. She also likes to dance reggae, soca and salsa, and above all when she goes out with her friends. She enjoys series and movies about crimes and detectives. But she saw Uncorked not too long ago, about a boy who wants to be a wine expert, and she liked it a lot.

Another of her pastimes is reading. She consumes academic material for her research and then, for balance, reads poetry.

She lives with her partner in Rhode Island and among the two of them are raising a little girl. Her favorite color is red, she has no pets, and misses eating vigorón.

 

Susana Marley: “In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jail, just lead”

It is unusual for a media outlet on the Pacific side of the country to publish a long interview of a community leader from the Atlantic Coast. Her experience on the Coast places in a larger perspective the largely student led uprising of April 2018, as well as recent news stories of attacks on indigenous communities.

Susana Marley: “In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jail, just lead”

By Ana Cruz, in La Prensa, February 22, 2020

[original article in Spanish]

The Miskita leader is recognized in the North Caribbean as “Mama Grande” because of her closeness to the communities of the Río Coco and her hard work of denouncing human rights violations.

Susana Marley Cunningham, sociologist and teacher by profession, has dedicated nearly two decades of her 62 years of age to defending and denouncing violations of the rights of the Mískita communities of the Northern Caribbean of Nicaragua. She was born in Waspam and began her humanitarian work after Hurricane Mitch in communities bordering the Río Coco, through the Civil Foundation for the Unity and Reconstruction of the Atlantic Coast (FURCA).

The work of Marley has left a mark on the Mískita population. The children who she once taught and defended call her “Mama Grande”. But she has not just won affection. Threats as well. In August 2019 she had to leave her native Northern Caribbean to a more urban area of the Pacific for her safety.

In this interview, Marley denounces the increase of violence in the Caribbean, the advance of invasions, the hunger that the communities are experiencing, the fear of the children to go to school, the corruption of communal governments, and the lack of respect for their forms of organization and elections.

When did the situation of insecurity for the indigenous, Mískitos and Afro-descendants begin to get worse?

The situation of violence and human rights violations I have felt personally since all those actions in the year of the 80s began, with the famous Red Christmas, when our people were taken away or murdered in the forest. I was at the point of dying during that so called Red Christmas, they put me in a line, thanks to God that He used one of those soldiers, I saved myself only because one of them made himself pass as if he were my husband and got me out of there.

Who started that wave of violence in the 80s?

The Sandinista Army and Police. We began to live in an environment of a lot of terror, insecurity and fear. You could not go into the countryside alone, so, since the 1980s the defense of life has gotten worse. Life and human rights are not respected. They have treated us as if we were animals that should be hunted,  so they could exploit the land, the minerals, the resources of our territories.

What consequences did the protests of April 2018 have on the Caribbean of Nicaragua?

Our resistance has been historic, and we always denounced that they were killing us, so, after the situation that erupted in April 2018, people began to understand that the same thing that they were doing to us, they were using against the youth, who were unarmed, defenseless and they killed them and they continue killing them. In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jailing, there it is only lead [bullets] , but the situation is pretty similar. It is a terrible, lamentable situation, that has separated families.

In these last weeks, several acts of violence have been registered against indigenous families. What is the current situation of the communities?

December and January are the months for the preparation of the land to harvest rice and beans, but they have not planted this year, because of the violence and the invasion. Famine will be a reality now in our communities. We are experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Classes started and the children go with fear. They are watchful of the forest because now it is not known when someone armed will come out of the forest. The children are psychologically affected in the face of the insecurity, because it is not just what happened this past February 16th, where a girl was wounded. So, in the face of this situation, we think that we are experiencing a serious situation of insecurity, there is no economic stability, there is a lot of poverty and latent lack of respect for our rights.

How did that attack on February 16th happen, where they wounded a minor in the cheek?

That Sunday, around 5:00pm, in the community of Santa Clara, close to a place where there is a creek of the Santa Clara river, the people went to bathe, and while coming a girl resulted wounded. We could not see who were shooting, and it was difficult to be able to get transportation to leave the community. The ambulance was requested at 5:00 pm, and it did not arrive until 11:00pm. It seems that they (the paramilitaries or settlers) were watching those who were bathing, they were stalking them, and at least they did not shoot the girl in the head, but in the cheek. It is not fair that the children also are victims of this type of human rights violations. Minors also suffer this persecution.

How far has the invasion of settlers advanced?

Too far. I want to confide in you that if something happens to me, I hold these murderers responsible, because we are just denouncing this, and we do not have weapons of war. The situation is very bad, and in every testimony we hear, that fear is noticeable, that insecurity. A little while ago a peasant from the community of Santa Clara, who had to leave that territory, commented to me that between the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya and the Li Auhbra territory, that is on the shores of the Río Coco- in between these two – is the Mocó mountain, where there are dozens of settlers or paramilitaries who created a community which is called Araguas. They have large extensions of pastureland and homes, so the advance of the invasion is nearly countless.

What consequences does this invasion of settlers have on the communities?

The encroachment that these people make in our lands has caused the displacement of our people to the Honduran side. Our people are displaced, even people from the community of Santa Clara, located in our Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory, they migrated from the countryside to the city, and others have been displaced toward Waspam, because they can no longer plant. The leaders of Santa Clara and other communities bordering on the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory have had to suffer the deaths of their leaders, so, hunger and insecurity are prompting the forced displacement of our community members.

What is happening with justice in the case of the murders of the leaders?

The murders have been left unpunished. Every time this type of situation happens, we have wanted to denounce it, but we do not have that support, or that contact to denounce each one of these situations of the violation of our human rights. What we are demanding is that the laws that protect us be respected, like Law 28, the Autonomy Law, but these people are organized and willing to continue causing damage.

Some of the communities that you have mentioned are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights. Do you think that the State is observing those measures?

No. The State is not protecting these communities. The State should fully comply, but it is not doing so. Recently, the community of Santa Clara – one of those protected by precautionary measures – received threats from settlers or paramilitaries who told them that they have 200 men, and they will go burn the houses, and they are going to kill them, and we have seen how the threats are being carried out.

How has the Army of Nicaragua behaved with the Mískito Indigenous peoples?

There is no protection, because in years past which have had atrocious murders of peasants and indigenous close to their posts, they did not do anything. They know about it, and are direct accomplices in this type of violations, and they fill their mouths with words saying that they are protecting, but in practice they do not do any enforcement at all.

Do you feel unprotected?

Yes, they have left us completely unprotected. The precautionary measures are not observed, and all the authorities are accomplices of everything that is happening to us. The threats in the zone are constant, the same with the attacks, and they do not do anything to stop them, so the situation is very tense, and the indigenous and Afro-descendent populations are unprotected. The theft of cattle, kidnapping of women and labor exploitation are a reality in our communities.

This lack of protection has been in all governments, or it is something that has intensified with the regime of Daniel Ortega?

Our struggle and our resistance are historic. It is sad to say, but each government that has come to power in the country looks on our land for the purposes of exploitation. This is what we have observed.

How many attacks are registered in the course of this year?

The threat is ongoing. They (the paramilitaries) leave nailed on the stalks of the trees threats to the communities. The terror is constant. Just this year the kidnapping of two boys fishing from Santa Clara, the attack on the community of Alal, and now this attack on an adolescent girl.

What is the feeling of these communities who are constantly threatened?

There is a lot of tension. The people are terrorized after receiving the threats, but they are organized. The men have been out on guard, but they have informed me that the big problem is that now they cannot peacefully go out to gather the harvest in the fields, they tell me that they are experiencing hunger. Some only maintain themselves with fruit or dry coconut. A lot of people cannot even sleep, the children have no peace in order to study. Since the 1980s to now they continue murdering us, and it continues intensifying, we demand that they quit killing us.

And what is happening with the regional councils? They are also part of the territorial governments that should be looking for policies to protect the indigenous.

Living in the territories one realizes that the person in the Government building belongs to the government, so, they work in strict coordination with the Government, and only do what they are ordered to do. They do not work in favor of the communities.

And the local council members [síndicos], do they have the same reputation or are they watching out for the well-being of the communities?

The communal council members work hand in hand with the communal leaders. The people choose their communal council members and leaders, but the problem is that, parallel to this, the ruling party chooses their council members, so the Regional Council only accredits the council members that they elect, but the ones elected by the communities, generally, are not accredited, like what happened in Kamla last year. Just so as to not accredit the council person elected by the people, they ordered the people beaten, wounded and threatened. The denouncements about these cases were made, but since they themselves are the ones, there is no justice for the community members who were victims of these abuses.

What is the role of a community council member [síndico]? Why does the Government see them as an obstacle and prefers not to accredit them?

The community council member who remains is a representative of the communities, and can coordinate the use of resources, always in consultation with the communities, but they leave the councilperson elected by the communities without voice nor vote, so it is only the one elected by them that is accredited, and presents papers as the highest authority. In the end, the reality is that that council person that they put there, only does what the Government wants and not what the communities need. For example, the large extensions of land that are taken and through which the paramilitaries come in, they are the ones that give them passage so that they can register those properties. This invasion and land takeovers are done by those people themselves, and that is where the community members have to go to demand their lands. The council members that Orteguism puts in place do not have land, but they order the invaders to be placed there. Government officials promote the invasion in the communities.

Is this something seen since the 1980s or is it something that non -Sandinista governments have also promoted?

This (invasion and violence) started more forcefully since 2009, even though in the 1980s there was displacement and massacre against the Mïskito people through the so called Red Christmas. In the 80s the people sought to displace themselves into Honduras because of the persecution, but in the 90s – when they returned because of the change in Government – they even found tigers in the communities, and little by little they raised up their houses. It was in 2003 that they approved Law 445, which included titling, we did not appreciate that later these titles would be used by corrupt politicians of our region as well, so , they provided the title to people who were not members of the community, and they negotiated our lands, in addition to the fact that they allied with the council members and they allied in order to invade our lands little by little.

Concerning the legislative work that some are doing in supposed representation of the Caribbean, do you feel represented by these people who are officials within the Assembly? Are they promoting projects to improve the situation of the indigenous, Mískitos and Afro-descendants?

Years back, like in 2016, the corrupt political representation of the region was expelled from the Assembly for the illegal sale of our indigenous lands, so how is it that he returned once again to the National Assembly? Is it real that they are allies then? We do not feel that they represent us, and with this I am referring to the Yatama party. They cannot provide for the freedom of our territories from invasion, when they are the very ones who have been pointed out as promoting the invasion with the provision of titles to people from outside the community members. If they were part of the problem, they are never going to be part of the solution.

How do you assess the coalition building process that the members of the National Unity and the Civic Alliance are working on?

Look, when this situation happened in the Pacific in April 2018, many young people gave their lives to see a free Nicaragua, and many politicians holed themselves up, and now, for money and to give an opportunity to this murderer, are uniting. You have to be realistic, because these old and corrupt politicians are not an opposition. There is no sincerity, they must be more sincere, so, I think that there is a lot of falsehood in these traditional politicians. We as Mískitos demand that there be transparency, that there be unity, that they in truth defend the rights of indigenous peoples, peasants, youth, students. They have to give an opportunity to the new generations, because the corrupt politicians are advanced in age, let them go rest with their millions, let them leave the path open to the youth so that Nicaragua might be free and democratic again. If we truly love Nicaragua, let us leave Nicaragua in the hands of the youth, so that this [country] might be led in peace.

Personal plane

Susana Marley, known as “Mama Grande”, was born May 24, 1957 in the community Cabo Gracias a Dios in Waspam, Northern Caribbean.

She graduated as a teacher in 1970 from the Teacher School in Waspam, but a large part of her childhood she lived in the community of Santa Martha, located close to the Wawa River.

The Mískita leader is also a sociologist. She finished her studies in 1997 in the Central American University (UCA).

She is the daughter of Eduardo Marley (deceased), known in Waspam as a Moravian pastor and one of the first teachers in that municipality, and Benicia Cunningham, 95 years of age, popular for being one of the first midwives of her community.

“Mama Grande” had five children, but she had none of them in a hospital. Her births were assisted solely and exclusively by her mother.

In 1981 during the so called Red Christmas, she was at the point of dying, but she states that her beauty and the favor of God saved her.

 

They’re Coming to America

“Free, only want to be free, We huddle close, Hang on to a dream.” 

America by Neil Diamond

There’s no shortage of patriotic music today, July 4.  From God Bless America sung by Kate Smith to America by Simon and Garfunkle,  America the Beautiful by Ray Charles, God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood, I’ve heard songs all day in honor of our nation’s birthday.  It’s part of the enjoyment that is the 4th of July, the quintessential holiday in our country.  But there was one song that stopped me and caught my breath as I listened to it.   It was America by Neil Diamond.  Both the music and the lyrics are powerful, which is why the song became so popular when originally released.  But today the words hit hard, and rang with an ironic twist that, frankly, pulled some of the energy out of the day.

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again,
They’re coming to America.

Yes, thousands flock to our country on boats and planes, but many also reach our borders for their dreams on foot.  The Mexican border holds thousands in detention at present, and not just in waiting for legal processing for possible admission to the U.S., but in separation from children, spouses, and in cell-like detention for indeterminate periods of time.  Those realities don’t quite match the drama and grandeur of Diamond’s song.  I guess things have changed.

Home
Don’t it seem so far away
Oh, we’re traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

Immigrants coming to America today find themselves in the eye of the storm of a different sort.  The pride of Americans embracing their role as the “melting pot” of the world has faded these days, replaced by a storm of blame, suspicion, racism, and even hatred.  It has not helped to have a political leader who has fanned the flames of those reactions and re-shaped the notion of immigration from a beautiful dream to a horrible nightmare.

Home
To a new and a shiny place
Make our bed and we’ll say our grace
Freedom’s light burning warm
Freedom’s light burning warm

And suddenly it makes a difference to whom you are praying for your suppertime grace.  Some in this land of all faiths now want to know the nature of one’s spirituality so that interpretations can be made and aspersions cast, often in the densest of understanding.  Freedom’s light burning warm becomes ever cooler to the touch.

Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Ev’ry time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America

It’s true that the American dream resonates everywhere in the world, because we have exhibited some of the visions to which all human beings aspire: freedom, choice, participation, pursuit of happiness.  In recent times, though, it would appear as if we vastly preferred those coming from Norway.  Something about looking like more of us than those in detention on the border.

Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America

The dreams driving today’s immigrant populations are no different than those of generations before.  They come for opportunity.  They come to escape persecution.  They come for freedom of thought and expression.  In years past, some even came because they perceived opportunities to lie, cheat, steal and break the law with impunity.  But the U.S. figured that the good that came through our doors far outweighed the inevitable bad that is a part of our human reality.

My country ’tis of thee (today)
Sweet land of liberty (today)
Of thee I sing (today)
Of thee I sing
Today, Today, Today
Today, today, today……

Today, we celebrate our country as we have every year on July 4.  There is much in which we take pride, and rightfully so.  Our stories are mythic and powerful and full of the promise of what our future can be.  I had a joyous day with family.

Or at least until I shed a tear upon hearing Neil Diamond sing about coming to America today….

The alternative path of associativism

The alternative path of associativism

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

The betrayal of their own path

People dispossessed for so many years collected their savings and gave them to one of their sons, Solin, for him to pay for the coffee that was collected from their own group. Solin had never had so much money; he was like a deer in the headlights. He paid for the coffee. Some of the same people who had saved, behind the back of the rest, went to him to get him to lend them money. Solin first said no, but these people insisted, and he gave in. More people showed up, also from other parts of the country, and he ceded. Solin felt like a little patrón, “The people trust me”, his chest puffed out like a balloon. This path of giving out other people´s money, saying that it was his, led him to lie and believe his own lie. When other people showed him his mistake, Solin offered them money to shut them up, and if they did not accept it, he would slander them. One day he looked himself in the mirror and was frightened to find that he did not recognize himself.

When the owners of the money asked him to give it back, he had lent it all out. “And where is the money?”, they raised their voices. “You have already eaten it,” the theft reverberated like 10, 100 and 1000 years ago. Solin and several of the savers had betrayed their own path. Both took the path trodden for centuries by the old hacienda owners and fieldhands, by the comandante and those who died, by the manager and those who believed themselves to be cooperative members.

This story illustrates what happens frequently in cooperatives. A group of people save, define their purposes, agreed on their rules and then betray that path. The old path trodden by the patrón where the fieldhands follow for their pay, become indebted and to look for a favor, a path also taken by governments and churches (“Holy Patron Saint”), clouds and blocks any other path. In the story this group of people and Solin look at themselves in the mirror, or ask about their resources, and are surprised to be on the old path of dispossession, moving from being “servers” to “being served”. Their biggest tragedy is not so much the use of the money, but the fact that they have betrayed their path, this is the reason for the bad use of the money and the fact that their lives have taken a 360 degree turn, arriving at the same place. How can people who organize be able to follow their own path?

1.     Individual-collective duality and the dilemma of betrayal

In organizations that face corrupt acts, there is finger pointing, accusations and complaints. “He is incorrigible”, “he is guilty of bad administration”, “she is not accountable”, “she uses our money for her benefit and that of her managers”, lash out the members. These

 phrases in a cooperative belie an individual perspective, accentuated by the religious conservatism of “personal salvation”, and by the neoliberal doctrine where what is important is the individual and not society–there is no such thing as society, said the first female British Prime Minister M. Thatcher in 1987, during the full eruption of neoliberalism. Reproducing this perspective, nevertheless, is a way of “washing our hands”, of showing oneself to be innocent while pointing out others as the guilty parties.

These same expressions, nevertheless, can be read as “spitting against the wind” from the collective perspective. Because the member who is doing the accusing, with or without a title in some organ of their organization, on seeking a loan directly from the administrator, behind the back of his own cooperative, is not exercising his/her role, and/or violates the rules of their own organization; on the other hand, the corrupt administrator establishes himself reproducing the idea of the patrón;: “With 100 cordobas I keep them happy.” Many times even the State or aid organization officials who support the cooperatives borrow money from the managers, knowing that it is money that belongs to the cooperatives. “The spit” also falls on this member and this official who preaches cooperativism. A systematic act of corruption happens, above all, because of the lack of functioning of the respective organs, because of the lack of compliance with the rules of the organizations, and the accounting norms on the administrative side, as well as because of the acceptance of aid organizations*.

The members know the rules and procedures, but they see them as tedious, “paperwork”, “bureaucracy” – high transaction costs, they would say in economics. The members of the organs also see it in this way: “meeting is a waste of time.” While the patrón “from one big roll” decides to lend to them or not. In this process the members believe the administrator about any version about the source of the money, there is no culture of verifying their versions, because, they think, it would be distrusting and ungrateful; for that very reason, they do not ask for receipts either, the patrón does not do receipts – his word is enough! In addition to believing him, they fear him, “a person with other people´s money is capable of anything”, they whisper, so they keep quiet – do not speak in front of the patrón! This is a rule that is resurrected. From here the “vice” of playing with “other people´s money”, more than individual and exclusive of the manager or some president, is a collective “vice”; a collective act causes individual behavior – of corruption or honesty. See the upper part in Figure 1.

“The law is not being applied to him”, state the members and advisers of the organizations. With this they mean to say that organizations have laws, the State oversees compliance with the law; and that aid organizations have rules, and they do not apply them. This, however, continues to assume an individual perspective, believing that by “applying the law” “the patron is going to self correct”. It ignores what the history of any country tells us, “the patrón makes the laws”, be that with his right hand or his left. So we detect that this individual perspective, clothed in a collective and legal perspective, is moved by structures of dispossession; the “accusing”, the “abusing other people´s money” and “preaching laws” make the path of cooperativism disappear, and accentuate the path of dispossession – it is the dilemma of the betrayal. So we perceive that this structure is like rails for a train, it does not matter who the conductor is that is driving the train, nor how many years of schooling he might have, how many advisers and protectors of the law he has, that train will move along the rails; not matter who the administrators or presidents may be, these structures (“rails”) trap the conductors. In this way cooperatives can go broke, while these structures remain unmoved –“in an open treasure even the just will sin”, goes the saying.

At the same time this structure is being challenged. On the one hand, there are some members who cultivate a contingent awareness, that it is possible to make your own path and walk it; and on the other hand there are administrators who understand their role, respecting accounting rules and the collective perspective of organizations, shunning “inflating themselves” like balloons that run the risk of “bursting.” They do not “spit into the wind”, but recreate that collective perspective which finds itself supported by mechanisms that are coherent with more communitarian structures, and consultancies that study these rural underworlds – this is overcoming the dilemma of betrayal. See the lower part of Figure 1.

2.     Innovative mechanisms for cooperatives as the vehicle for repossession

“They do not let us be peasants”, shot off a Costa Rican leader in 1991, recognizing the onslaught of neoliberalism in turning the peasantry into workers and “wetbacks”. The “be peasants” has been more coherent with community structures, in conflict with structures of dispossession. It goes with mechanisms that make an alternative path possible, mechanisms that we have been learning from the exceptional organizations in Central America: see figure 2.

They are mechanisms that “de-commodify” peasant life, they involve awakening and organizing, deepening their roots, improving the organization of the commons, and sharing the path in a glocal alliance- because every space is glocal (global and local).

Mechanism 1: Voluntary genesis of cooperativism congruent with community principles

Nearly two centuries ago a group of textile workers in England saved part of their salaries to start a store, and with that stabilize their income and defend their basic needs. In Germany peasants organized to free themselves from usury. In both cases, the people understood that individually they were not able to overcome structural problems, like the low buying power of their salary and the usury that indebted them for life; organized, they could do so. Thus they defined their path and walked it. Over time cooperativism has expanded throughout the entire world and has become a double edged sword, a means for repossession for its members and communities from whence they come, and a means for dispossession when small elites appropriate it for profit. Read the brief dialogue in the box.

From the angle of the genesis of cooperativism, this dialogue shows the incomprehension of the administrator about what a cooperative is, as well as the wisdom of the younger brother about the social rule of “respecting someone else´s assets”. “The need of the other affects me”, says the administrator; precisely the crude “need” of people led to the fact that cooperativism emerged standing under the principle of respecting collective assets. The error of the administrator in this dialogue is providing a loan from money that is not his, and doing it outside of the rules and organs of the cooperative that named him “administrator”; with that he dispossessed the members of their resources, and full of a short term vision condemned needy people to suffering. Being “proud” is abusing “another´s assets”. This deformation results from the individual perspective derived from structures of dispossession.

The cooperative that originated in the will of its members to overcome structural adversities, and does it with rules based on community principles, like those expressed by the “younger brother” in the dialogue of respect for collective goods, is a long term structural mechanism.

Mechanism 2:  Rooted in diversified bases

The market demands a product and does not matter whether the one who produces it comes from one place or another; the State and aid agencies behave in a similar way, they legalize organizations or demand changes like “including women as members” without regard to where they come from. From working with cooperatives we learned that a cooperative that is rooted in its micro-territory has more possibilities of walking their walk, of being inclusive…

How to be rooted? Even though the members of a cooperative come from the same micro-territory, deciding that the administration –and therefore the financial transactions – are done in the territory itself, requires making explicit in a reflective way several beliefs written in stone for centuries: “Here they are going to steal from us, in the town there are Policemen and that is why it is safer there”, “no buyer or certifier is going to come out here to our place, we have to go out to civilization”, “here we are living in the brush, the patrón lives in the town”, “that little girl doesn´t know anything about administration, only men who ride on motorcycles know it.”

When the members of a cooperative come from the same micro-territory, and decide that their building and its administration are going to be in the same space, then we create favorable conditions for a good cooperative. The possibility that corruption might emerge and intensify is reduced. The mobility of the members to the cooperative´s building, as well as the attendance of women and men in the meetings is greater. We say that more women and men go to the meetings, because of the geographic proximity and because they do not have to travel to the municipal capital to attend meetings; the women can go to the meeting with their babies and/or children, something that is difficult if the meeting is in the municipal capital. This contributes to the cementing of trust among the members. Also the coordination between the administration and the organs of the cooperative can improve. The care of the members and board members over their administration increases, which is why the security of the resources of the cooperative in that place increases. Accessing information and asking their questions is also more possible.

The payments that are made in the territory itself to the members, be it for coffee, cacao, sugar cane or another crops, has an impact on the economy of the territory. The storefronts and small businesses sell more, new businesses tend to emerge. The interest of the partner of the member, and their children, in the receipts that their Father or Mother bring from the cooperative is greater. The possibility of having lovers under the argument that “I am going to town for a meeting” is reduced. It is like the butterfly effect in a world as interconnected as today´s world is, even more so is life interconnected in a micro-territory and in families.

Mechanism 3: the functioning of the cooperative organs and administration

The fact that a member might understand that organized they can overcome their structural problems is one step, the fact that they can facilitate that because their cooperative is rooted in their territory is a second big step. Nevertheless, there are cooperatives that in spite of having taken both steps, go broke or turn into a means for dispossession manipulated by small elites. The third mechanism is that each member, with or without a title, function in accordance with the rules and organs of their organization, without going “in secret” to the “real person in charge”, because the “real person in charge” in the cooperatives are its rules and organs.

It is easy to say that the organs of a cooperative function according to its rules. But it is difficult for it to happen. The phrase that is read in laws and management, that they are “management organs” illustrates that they are not “decision making organs”, that the power of making decisions was expropriated by the elites. How can the organs be “decision making” and the administration “management”, the former with a strategic role and the latter with an operational role? Apart from the fact that they know their statutes (rules), meet systematically and cultivate connections with their members and with external actors, the key is in the fact that they become learning organizations. How? First, each member is seen as a leader in their community, understanding that the biggest treasure is in their own social territory; consequently, their first task being multiplying their visits to other people, members or not of the cooperative, so that through conversations, they might understand the problems and opportunities that exist in their territory. Knowing them and sharing them is their fuel for pushing the cooperative to improve, and it is their source of ideas for enlightening cooperativism.

Second, the relationship between the administration and the organs is developed to the extent that they organize information, analyze it and on that basis define their policies and strategies to be followed. This provides work content for each organ. For example, information on loans and arrears is analyzed by each organ, particularly the credit committee; the Oversight Board finds one of its principle follow up tasks in this; the education committee, as a result of this analysis, proposes to work on financial education with the members about how to save, invest better and working with more autonomy, breaking with that old institution of “going into debt” and putting up with any exploitation for being “indebted”.

Third, making decisions based on the visits and the data analysis makes it possible for them to make better decisions. A particular area is diversification. A cooperative, even one with organs functioning acceptably, if it continues embracing mono-cropping, sooner rather than later will go broke; if it continues, it will work to dispossess. Promoting diversification, nevertheless, is difficult because of the atrocious structure of international power. Today to speak about agricultural cooperatives is nearly to talk about mono-cropping. So there are “successful” cooperatives that have credit, marketing and technology services just for one crop; the effect of mono-cropping on the peasant economy and the environment have been horrible for decades and centuries. The attached box illustrates the expansion of mono-cropping even through organic agriculture reduced to its dimension as a commodity, and the fact that people of good will from international organizations work against the peasantry while believing that they are “benefitting” them. Visiting and analyzing data leads us to question the origins of our policies and respond to the millennial strategy of peasant resistance: diversification and environmental sustainability. If the organs and the administration of a cooperative focus their tasks on diversification of the farm and agro-industry, their cooperative will democratize a little more, and will include more youth and women in general.

The geographical proximity facilitates organizational functioning, and this, focused on diversification, makes the cooperative be even more rooted, produces new innovative rules and starts the path of being an organization of repossession – of peasant viability with economic and social diversification, and environmental stability.

Mechanism 4: Glocal alliance for the cooperative path

These three mechanisms facilitate changes in the cooperative and in the economy of the member families and their territories, but they will achieve sustainability to the extent that they take on the attitude of a cooperative member. It is not just organizing voluntarily, looking at their territory, making decisions through their organs, it is feeling themselves to be, and being cooperative members. What does this mean?

For centuries indigenous and peasant families have cultivated a mentality of producing to eat. Then in the 1920s in Central America cash crops came in like coffee, sugar cane, cacao, and cattle. In that process they molded a mentality of being a “seller of coffee”, “seller of sugar cane”, or “seller of milk”. Consequently, they reasserted their territory (“country”) in their plot or farm: “My country ends with my agave fence”, they declared, which means that within this area there is a structure and a person in charge, that outside of that is not his world, that his world ends at the fence where the buyers come to buy his products. They do not even sell, they buy off of him. This mentality was intensified by the markets, “I will buy your coffee sun-dried or wet, the rest does not matter”, “I will buy your sugar cane”; likewise national and international aid organizations, allies of associative organizations, with people trained in universities that taught them that only “Inc.” companies produce profits, say to them: “work on the raw materials and the rest will we take care of”, “you are good for harvesting, industry and trade is our thing”.

What is the problem with this mentality? The peasant receives payment for their coffee or milk, that is their world; the other world is that of the patrón, where the profits are; the peasant never is interested in this other world, knowing what their patrón did with his profits; the very fact of asking him was showing ingratitude, insubordination and social suicide – their own people would treat them as someone trying to be his equal. This institutionality has been reproduced in associative organizations and their allies; a member looks for payment for their coffee, sugar cane or milk, they are not interested in knowing whether their organization generated profits or not; in Fair Trade the use of the premium of US$20/qq of coffee is previously defined in social investment, infrastructure… and $5 for the member family to invest in their farm; the premium for organic coffee of US$30 is perceived like this, “premium”, equal to a “roasted cow” that the patrón would provide for them at the end of the harvest, “premium” of a day of fiesta. In other words, the agave fence of the peasant member is “price of NY + premium” (see box); the member family understands that their profits and premiums are not an expression of their rights, but “a favor” (something “extra”, “charity”) of the local or global patrón, that is why they do not ask about it, do not ask for information, nor keep their receipts nor complain over the distribution of profits. Knowing this reality, the patrón (administrator or fair trade coffee buyer) repeats, “with 100 córdobas I keep them happy”, “with pig rinds and booze they leave happy”, “I buy from them at a good price and I give them a premium, whether that gets to the member´s family or not is their issue.”

Complaining over your profits is like being a “beggar with a club”. It is like a woman subjected by her husband, she feels “kept” and without the right to ask him about the “rest of his money”, and it is the mentality of the citizen who pays taxes and instead of complaining that his government reinvest in public works and provide him “good service”, see these works as the result of the goodness of the government (patrón).

The three mechanisms listed need to be complemented by this fourth one, with which we will move beyond this glocal mentality. How? First, building a mentality where the peasant family has awareness about the fact that their actions create value and have unexpected consequences, which is why they can refine their policies and carry out actions of even greater value and impact. This is possible if they observe and reflect on some details; for example, making sure that through the payment for the harvested coffee in that territory positive aggregate effects are generated in the economy of that territory, beyond their “agave fence”; observing the impact of their diversified organic agriculture on their farms as well as on the territory; reflecting on the effect of violating the agreements of their own cooperative, that leads them to lose resources as a cooperative and as a territory. On observing these positive and negative effects, the members can awaken their awareness of being coop members and of moving from their “agave fence” to understand that regardless of their purposes, their actions have a repercussion on the territory. In a parallel fashion, let also global actors awaken and understand that their actions have repercussions on the lives of the peasant people; if they look at a cooperative just as “coffee” or “cacao”, commodities, and believe that by providing a good price and premium they have already contributed to the families, they should ask themselves if they are sure that they have “contributed”; if one person turns into an elite capturing those premiums, are the buyers contributing to the well being of the peasant families?

Second, making relationships between different glocal actors (global and local) be living alliances that are committed to the formation of associativism, complementing the mechanisms mentioned here. This does not mean improving the prices of raw materials. It means that organizations add up all the income (value of sold product +premiums+incentives for quality and other bonuses), subtract their expenses and costs, and from the gross profits they agree to redistribute according to a certain percentage, let us say 50 or 60%. We repeat, it is not a matter of improving the price of the sugar cane or the coffee, it is not distributing the premiums; it is redistributing the gross profits of your organization.* The remaining 50 or 40%, or other percentage, goes to internal funds, social fund, legal reserves, investment fund in the organization…

Third, all the actors, cooperative, associative enterprises, aid agencies, Universities and State Institutions, we all should commit in an ongoing and systematic way to cooperative formation, based on the lessons and challenges of the organizations themselves. On emphasizing profits we are not reducing ourselves to the economic, we understand with Aristotle that quantity is an element of quality; consequently, the members will move from a mentality of “I am a seller of sugar cane” to “I am a seller of granulated sugar”, from “I am a seller of coffee” to “I am a cooperative member exporter of export quality coffee”. This will mean that each member pushes that their organization generates more profits and redistributes them, they will make an effort to be informed, to be trained, to diversify more. With these elements, the formation will help their cooperative and territory, the board and their members, the cooperatives in the north and the south, to maintain strong ties of collaboration and mutual learning.

3.     “Muddy” accompaniment from the underworld of the member families

Most cooperatives have been accompanied, be it by the State, Churches, aid agencies or Universities. Standardized accompaniment has meant providing them trainings, legalizing them, buying products from them and /or providing them with donations; it is an accompaniment that does not cross over toward the communities and the underworld of the cooperatives, which is why it ends up legitimizing corruption, or that cooperatives get turned into a means for dispossession. A new type of accompaniment is required so that these four mechanisms emerge, are adapted and make a difference.

Owen and other associative people inspired the emergence of cooperativism in England, Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen accompanied the first cooperative in Germany. A distinctive accompaniment in Central America has been that of the Catholic Church in the years 1960-1970; that accompaniment helped them to reflect on a God living among them, and a Reign of God that began in those very communities – the “treasure” (God) was in the communities themselves. This accompaniment gave rise to dozens of cooperatives and peasant stores based on their own resources; a good part of them still persist after 40 and 50 years[2]. Consistent with this type of accompaniment, even though not from a religious perspective, we describe here an accompaniment that enters into the cooperative underworld in interaction with the 4 described mechanisms.

What are the distinctive characteristics of this accompaniment? The first is that the accompanying people understand that only by entering the underworld of the cooperatives and their territory will they be able to understand the process in which the cooperative finds itself, awaken reflection and help create mechanisms like those worked on here. The fact that we intellectuals might have the “best” assessment is useless if the members are not reflecting on and walking their own cooperative path. For that reason the accompaniers need to pass beyond the control of the “patroncito”, be that the administrator, manager or president, and through the conversation be exposing the struggle between the path of the patrón and that of the cooperative, as well as the complexity of walking their own path.

Second, accompanying is discerning mindsets from the inside. Along with studying the cooperative underworld, where the old path is imposed based on betrayal and subordination, and where people wander between doubt and intuition, the accompaniers discern the mindsets in the cooperatives, and their own mindset as accompaniers. When the cooperative is trapped in acts of corruption, it is moving under the rules of “the clever one takes advantage of what he administers”, and “we always need a patrón”; these rules conceal actions against their own organization; then the members see the accompaniers as “intruders”, unfurl the banner of “autonomy” to keep the accompaniers from “crossing over the threshold” of the territory, and make up lies in the territory that these accompaniers “are taking advantage of the cooperative.” Discerning their mindsets implies “muddying ourselves” in their beliefs and lies, at the risk that this might erode the legitimacy of the accompanier and drive him/her out of the territory. What distinguishes good accompaniment is the persistent act of overcoming our own mentality that it is “enough to train, legalize and help them to export in order to live better”, “taking their pulse” and innovating with member families to the extent that destructive mentalities that prevent learning are dispelled.

Third, accompanying well is allowing member families to take their own steps, provided that we understand that our actions also have repercussions in the lives of the member families. The accompanier risks the fact that the members might perceive him or her also as a “little patrón”, impairing them from walking their own cooperative path. Let us illustrate this with one experience; in a cooperative, after the second mechanism took place, of rootedness, the results in terms of informational transparency, reduction of corruption and a motivating environment because of its economic and social impact in the territory were admirable. So the board members complained to the accompaniers: see attached box.

In the box the leader sees the accompanier as a “little patrón” with the capacity to stop the corruption and impose decentralized administration on the territory of the cooperative. The response of the accompanier to the first complaint is that having intervened as a “firefighter” to “put out the fire” of corruption, even though this act would have saved them financially, it would have constrained them from building their own cooperative path, which is structural and long term. The response to the second complaint reveals an accompaniment that helps to innovate mechanisms to the extent that it studies and learns from the cooperative itself and its underworld. Even now that we have innovated these four mechanisms they would not be recipes for any organization, they are mechanisms that need to be adapted to each situation, and that each cooperative should experience their processes. These two responses illustrate that accompanying is letting member families walk their path, provided that it studies them and provokes reflection.

Finally, in this process we are getting to know ourselves, re-knowing ourselves in our actions, and we are developing a sense of reasoned compassion. Not the “rational being” of homo economicus. On understanding the mentality of a group of members who “always need a patrón that steals from us”, we understand that for more than 100 years this institution has been deeply etched in their grandparents and parents, reproduced now by this group. At the same time we understand that this institution is not characterized by “being peasants”, but that it is the centuries old path of the patrón-fieldhand. This reflective reasoning envisions this reality for us, and awakens “being peasants” in the lives of cooperative member families and our lives, through respecting the collective good, the rules of the collective and mother earth, the horizon for which we produced the four mechanisms.

Accompaniment makes us remember that the change is in alliance between the peasant families and those of us who accompany them, while we walk together. It is not a stationary accompaniment, but along the road. It is a tense alliance, with stumbles and doubts, but embracing each other for the purpose of creating a vehicle for repossession to the benefit of peasant families.

By way of conclusion

We began this text with the following question: How can people who are organizing follow their own path? First we identified how the colonial patrón-fieldhand path intensified by capitalism that only values merchandise (commodities) erodes the cooperative path, and leads people to betray their own path. This teaches us that individual actions respond to certain perspectives (individual or collective), and they in turn come from structures in conflict, communitarian structures and structures of dispossession; and that this cooperative path is connected with community life, also in resistance for centuries. These two paths clash, for example, in “the good of others”: the colonial and capitalist path is nourished by dispossessing “the good of others” (land, financial resources, labor) from the peasantry, while the cooperative path is connected to community structures which precisely originate in repossessing “the good of others”, which in this case is the “collective good”, material assets (financial resources), as well as alliances and collectively decided arrangements. This “good of others” in the cooperative path is then a “social relationship”, as Federici would say.[3]

Lining ourselves up with this cooperative path, we list four innovative mechanisms that, contrary to the saying that “in an open treasure even the most just sins”, make the cooperative into “a treasure with rules and associative governance where even the biggest sinner becomes just.” These four mechanisms are: voluntarily organizing, rooted in specific micro-territories, making the cooperative organs and administration function, and within a glocal alliance framework help the member families to cultivate an awareness of “being a cooperative member”, that their actions generate changes in their lives and the life of their territory, and making the cooperatives expand their profits and redistribute them with informational transparency and as an expression of respecting “the good of others” (common good, collective good, their own good), in contrast to capitalism that is nourished from dispossessing material assets from peasant families. Then we argued that cooperatives need an accompaniment that makes a difference, that crosses over formal and despotic structures and gets into the underworld of the territories, from which they innovate with the member families, like the mechanisms listed here, and accompany them through thick and thin.

Is this text important only for cooperatives and their allies in their social territories? What happens in the cooperatives and their social territories at the micro level is happening in countries at the macro level. Following the cooperative vision is overcoming the “commodity” vision, the colonial patrón-fieldhand path and the belief that “with money you can even make monkeys dance”, and it is creating a society that cooperates, makes rules and follows them, expands their profits and redistributes them, learns and democratizes. Will it happen?

[1] René has a PhD in development studies, associate researcher of the IOB-University of Antwerp (Belgium), collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/) and member of the COSERPROSS RL. cooperative rmvidaurre@gmail.com.

[2] A case to illustrate this type of accompaniment is that of the Cooperativa La Esperanza de los Campesinas in Panama. See: R. Mendoza, 2017, “A priest, a cooperative and a peasantry that regulates the elites”, in: ENVIO 425. Managua: IHCA-UCA. http://www.envio.org.ni/articulo/5304

[3] Lucia Linsalata, 2015, “Three general ideas for thinking about the commons. Notes around the visit of Silvia Federici” in Bajo el Volcán, year 15, number 22. Federici talks about the commons in the community, she says “there is no commons if there is no community”. In this article we present the cooperative as an expression of people from a community who decide to organize, and for them “the commons” is within the cooperative, even though in relation to their communities or social territories.

Interview of Fidel Narváez: “our struggles cannot be divided by borders”

This interview of a student leader now in exile appeared in an online magazine started by a recently formed organization composed mainly of socialist parties in Europe and Latin America.. The translation of its name is International  Anticapitalists Network.  It is significant in that he addresses two recent proposals made by the opposition for an alternative Nicaragua, and also the need for any alternative to incorporate people who currently are on the other side.

Nicaragua, Interview of Fidel Narváez: “our struggles cannot be divided by borders”

Translated interview by Tito Castillo in “Anticapitalists en Red Internacional”

Oct 11, 2018

News magazine of group founded this past May composed of Europeans and Latin Americans socialist parties

Fidel used to teach classes on Law and Philosophy in different universities in Managua. During the protests of April he actively jointed the student struggle, principally at the National Poly-technical University (UPOLI). After that he was identified by the regime and saw himself forced to leave the country for security reasons. Currently he is in Europe doing political work based on international community, criticism and social theory.

Anticapitalists en Red (AR): More than five months have gone by since the protests began in Nicaragua, what was the Central American context for this?

Central America is a region with similar characteristics, not just in terms of population, work, wealth, but also in terms of resistance. The resistances have been silenced to be able to maintain the status quo and what the business people call “the business climate.” They want to give the image that Central America is a profitable option for investing, because apart from miserable salaries you have a police force and a State that can regulate these social pressures. So after five months this myth has fallen apart not just in Nicaragua but in all of Central America. We have realized that in Central America the population has enough reasons and motives to go out on the street to demand the resignation of the ruler, to be able to demand respect for human rights. Unfortunately the Central America process has not been a joint struggle. If you look closely, this also is the result of the principal tasks of the oligarchic forces, of corporate forces: decoupling the resistances at the borders. If they internationalize corporate power, inequality, repression, we have to break through those borders. Nevertheless, this movement in Nicaragua has not been able to staunchly connect with other resistances that have been happening historically in Central America. So we have seen how at this moment small foci of resistance and struggle have emerged in different countries of the Central American region, but I go back and repeat: it is a weakness because what we should really do and what also has been espoused by some movements, by some activists, by some universities is that the struggle should unite. In other words, that our struggles cannot be divided by borders, because our problems are not problems of borders, they are regional problems.

AR: Comment on the “Blue and White National Collaboration” and the “Route to democratization” proposed from the Articulation of Social Movements and the CSO [Civil Society Organizations].

This national collaboration should not be around the Civic Alliance, the Social Articulation, nor the Blue and White Unity. I am of the criteria, but maybe it could be that I am mistaken, that the national collaboration cannot just be on the basis of movements, figures or acronyms. But that it has to be on the basis of a program that unites around an attractive pole, that pole is a program with concrete points, which is what the Sandinista Front did in 1979 to attract all the different sectors in the fight; workers, peasants, students, women, laborers. Currently in Nicaragua I do not see a historic program, nor a political program…there is a “Route to democratization”, which is different.

I think the appearance of a political program like what “We are Building Nicaragua” proposed, which is basically a political-social movement whose greatest contribution can be on the political-ideological plane. This program makes it evident that not all of us were aware of the fact that there is a structural problem in Nicaragua. We were aware of the fact that Ortega is a dictator and that we want to get rid of him. But without a political program we are not going to realize, or we are not going to recognize the structural problems that the country has. And one of the principal problems is COSEP, in other words, private enterprise, which is wrestling in Ortega´s favor along with some Central American business sectors to maintain their corporate model.

AR: How can you live with Sandinism after this?

That will depend on the exit scenario that there is in Nicaragua. If there is a scenario of a rupture that can be through a constitutional convention process, the re-founding of the State, the process can be a bit longer, yes, but it can bring structural changes in the long term. In other words, ensuring that the same mistakes are not made that have been carried along simply because of putting patches on our problems. I think that Orteguism and Sandinism are two different things, and once this has a solution – be it through early elections or a constitutional convention process – the big burden or the big problem for the future and for co-existence with that part of the population that has opted for sticking with the dictatorship, will be harmonious relations. Because Sandinism for more than five months has had a sufficient margin, gradually, to be able to be disassociating itself ethically and for revolutionary principles from what currently is the government: which has opted for lying, deceit, corruption, repression and annihilation as a form of doing politics. For a radical democratic process to be viable it is going to have to count on these people. This does not mean that the co-existence is going to be easy, because that democratic process indeed is going to be real and is going to be a product of this new revolution.

AR: What is the exit scenario for the Ortega-Murillo regime?

I think that the constitutional convention process to resolve the big structural problems of Nicaragua is the only one that would achieve a true peace. A peace more sustainable over time, even though in the beginning there may be problems of different types of orders. Nevertheless, real participation, the endorsement of that constitution, and the participation in new elections well could provide an opportunity for a real re-founding of the State. If we only put a patch on it, the big structural situations that we have to resolve as a people are going to persist. We are going to continue having a bicephalous dictatorship, but in that case it will no longer be in the terms of Gemini or Plato´s myth on love, which was one body back to the other and that a thunderbolt divided into two, no, in this sense we are going to one dictatorship with the same body but with two faces looking forward: two faces that can communicate with one another, that can openly negotiate between them without shame because that is what is going to happen if by chance cosmetic reforms are obtained, merely esthetic issues in terms of Nicaraguan politics. We are going to have the bicephalous dictatorship of COSEP and Orteguism talking among themselves about all the issues that concern us as a people. Now, the scenario in any sense of reform or rupture is going to be a difficult scenario because there is an unlearning of the caudillo cultures, vertical cultures, that process of unlearning is going to necessarily lead to clashes, confrontations and crises, but they are not crises that are going to have a negative dialectic.

 

Blue and White National Unity Manifesto

A significant announcement was made yesterday of a coalition of some 43 civil society organizations that includes university students, peasants, human rights activists, business sector, feminists, politicians and other movements, including the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, which is organization that represented civil society in the National Dialogue. This manifesto represents another step in addressing the question of what the opposition to the current government is proposing as an alternative.

Blue and White National Unity Manifesto

National Unity for Justice and Democracy

The Ortega Murillo dictatorship, which has led Nicaragua into a grave human rights crisis violating the Constitution and the law, maintains itself only by violence and repression through police, paramilitary and shock forces, who have subjected the people to a massacre that up to now has produced more than 400 people murdered, more than three thousand wounded, an undetermined number of people disappeared, kidnapped, captured, tortured and criminalized, and more than 347,000 jobs lost.

The diverse and plural movements, organizations, social, political and economic forces that throughout the country have led the civic and pacific resistance to this authoritarian, corrupt, nepotistic and criminal government, we make public the establishment of the Blue and White National Unity, with which we begin a new stage of organization and mobilization for the conquest of freedom, justice and democracy.

The unity of all the forces is an imperative to continue and intensify the struggle that would lead to the departure of the dictatorship and the construction of the democracy that we aspire to. This unity marks a progression in the peaceful resistance of the citizenry, enhancing our capacities for planning, coordination, organization and implementation of protest actions, denouncement, as well as clear and resounding expressions about the fact that the majority of the Nicaraguan people reject the dictatorial and repressive regime that has committed crimes against humanity, for which those responsible will be judged.

An economic disaster is being experienced as the result of the repression of the regime, the most affected sectors are commerce, hotel and services (tourism), manufacturing and construction, affecting the weakest base of the pyramid. We take on as our own the commitment to its improvement, its reactivation and to return to grow again in numbers and quality of life. Not one job less, nor the loss of another life.

Objective

The principle objective of this Blue and White Unity is building a Nicaragua with democracy, freedom, justice, institutionality and respect for human rights. To achieve it, the quick departure from power of the Ortega Murillos through democratic means is indispensable.

Principles and Values

  1. The country´s symbols unite us, particularly the blue and white flag.
  2. Our struggle is civil and peaceful.
  3. The peaceful resistance is led by the citizenry.
  4. We maintain the commitment to freedom, justice, democracy, unhindered respect for human rights and the Rule of Law.
  5. Transparency and honesty are the basis for the construction of trust.
  6. Dialogue and negotiation are basic principles for the achievement of the objectives.
  7. We accept respect for diversity and plurality of identities and non-discrimination.
  8. Our relations are horizontal, without caudillos, nor vanguards.
  9. We make use of democratic exercise and consensus in decision making in all areas of our work and at all levels.
  10. Our desire is that Nicaragua might grow economically with equity and freedom.

Urgent demands

  1. A national dialogue to agree on terms and conditions for a democratic transition. We support the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua as mediators and witnesses: and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy as representative of Nicaraguan society in that negotiation. We request the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations (UN) and th European Union (EU) to act as guarantors.
  2. The immediate end to repression: threats, harassment, attacks, forced disappearances and displacements, abductions, captures, sexual violations, torture and murder of the citizenry that defends its rights.
  3. Immediate freedom for the political prisoners, the end of the criminalization and trial of the right to protest, and the annulment of these trials, as well as redress for the victims of the people imprisoned.
  4. Early municipal, regional and national elections in the short term, with a restructured Electoral Branch, and national and international observation that would ensure inclusive, plural, transparent and competitive elections. The legal and institutional changes will have to be done that would ensure this purpose and allow for the broad participation of political parties and electoral alliances with their own identity.
  5. Respect for the freedom of association, mobilization and expression of the citizenry, as well as respect for the free exercise of independent journalism.
  6. End to firings, intimidation and reprisals against the staff of state institutions, and they not be forced to carry out any partisan political activities.
  7. End to government reprisals against police who refuse to carry out orders of repressing the citizenry in peaceful resistance to the dictatorship.
  8. Actions of the Army in accordance with the functions established in the Constitution and respect for human rights.
  9. Promotion of human and sustainable development.
  10. End to aggression against the private sector and civil society organizations that are accused of practicing terrorism.

Commitments

The Blue and White National Unity commits to promote and defend:

  1. That there be no impunity for the crimes committed by the Ortega-Murillo regime, and that transitional justice be applied based on truth, justice, reparation and guaranty of no repetition. To contribute to this purpose the mandate of the International Group of Independent Experts of the IACHR should be expanded.
  2. The implementation of the recommendations contained in the reports of the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, as well as other reports that different organizations of the Interamerican and universal system might release.
  3. Investigation, search for and identification of the forced disappearances, and redress for the victims.
  4. Disarming and dissolution of the paramilitary bodies created by the Ortega-.Murillo regime and the destruction of the confiscated weapons.
  5. Restructuring of the National Police and the purification of its leadership. Sanctions in accordance with the law of those officers and personnel that ordered and executed murders and all types of repressive actions against the citizenry. That the police who refused to repress the population be recognized.
  6. Reinstatement of health and education professionals, and those from other State institutions who were fired for political reasons.

7,. Re-establishment of university autonomy; respect for the autonomy of the Caribbean Coast and indigenous and Afro descendent communities, and the municipalities.

  1. Repeal of all the norms that violate national sovereignty and fundamental rights, like Law 840 for the construction of an interoceanic canal through Nicaragua.
  2. A model of social and economic development that would promote free markets and social well being.
  3. In coordination with diverse sectors, programs for inclusive economic reactivation for all the economic sectors of the country, and not just those allied with the regime.
  4. Respect for private property.
  5. Repatriation of those exiled for political and economic reasons.
  6. Respect for fundamental freedoms and rights.

The history of Nicaragua has demonstrated the courage and the capacity of this people to defend their freedom. We unite under our blue and white flag to achieve the departure of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, and set the bases for a democratic, free and just Nicaragua for present and future generations.

This national unity will take shape in each territory of our geography, in the countryside and the cities, and is open to the diversity of actors that are taking on the principles of this Unity, are willing to contribute to the change that Nicaragua needs.

We recognize the support of the international community for the people of Nicaragua in the search for solutions to the grave social and political crisis. In particular we recognize the efforts made by the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the European Union, and we call them to redouble their efforts for the defense of the human rights of the Nicaraguan people and the establishment of democracy,

Long live Nicaragua!

Blue and White National Unity

October 4, 2018

 

Updated version- The power of a shared vision in peasant-indigenous cultures

The power of a shared vision in peasant-indigenous cultures

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

In the film “Spartacus” on the slave rebellion in 71 BC we recognize the strength of a shared vision. After twice defeating the Roman legions, the gladiators/slaves fell before the legion of Marcus Crassus, who says to thousands of survivors: “you were slaves and you will be slaves again, but you can save yourself from crucifixion if you turn Spartacus over to me.” So Spartacus takes a step forward and shouts, “I am Spartacus”. The man by his side also steps forward, “I am Spartacus”. Within a minute all shout that they are Spartacus. Each gladiator/slave choses death. Why? Following Peter Senge (1990, the Fifth Disciplne) they are not expressing loyalty to Sparacus, but to a shared vision of being free in such a profound way that they prefer dying to being slaves again. “A shared vision – says Senge – is not a idea, not even an important idea like freedom. It is a force in the hearts of people.” In this article we lay out some long term visions, show their importance for lasting change, and we take note of the role of organizations related to the peasantry of our millennium.

Millenary Visions

That vision of being free emerged as a profound human aspiration in the face of the slavery system, a fire that neither the cross nor death were able to extinguish. In the movie the lover of Spartacus comes up to him and reveals to him that his vision will be realized, “Your son will be born free!” 2089 years later that powerful vision continues present in the foundation of our societies.

Another vision, one of democracy, emerged even before in the years of 500 BC. Even though it excluded 75% of the population (slaves, women and foreigners), that vision arose based on assemblies, building institutions under the power (cracia) of the people (demo). 2500 years later, in spite of the fact that the elites flipped that vision to where democracy exists only under the control of a minority, that Greek vision based on assemblies continues moving millions of hearts.

The vision of the reign of God was sketched out by Jesus of Nazareth, son of a peasant woman and a carpenter, in 30 AD. In a hierarchical and despotic patriarchal world, Jesus envisions the possibility of a “kingdom” for those who are looked down upon – who might be like children, destitute and who would build peace, a reign that is small and becomes big like the mustard seed. Since then, that vision of the kingdom, in spite of being androcentric (king-dom), has mobilized millions of people. It is a vision that made Luther in the 1500s challenge the institutional church and translate the Bible into vernacular languages so that people might have access to God without religious intermediaries.

In the XVIII century the encyclopedists (1751-1772), living at a time with a minority of educated people, envisioned “putting up a wall against barbarism.” That vision of making “papers speak” has moved humanity with revolutions and fights against racism and extreme poverty. It is enough to see the movie “The Power of One” filmed in 1992, based on Africa in the 1930s, to recognize the vision of the encyclopedists, that learning to read made a difference. It is also the advice that we heard from our grandmothers in the countryside, “study, a pencil weighs less than a shovel.”

Even though the idea of organization and the construction of the State emerged with capitalism in the XVI century, societies envisioned alternative forms of organization to the control and rule of capitalism and the State. Thus the cooperative emerged in England against the textile industry and in Germany against usury, under the conviction of joining forces in line with the ideas of associativity of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet and Owen. Along these lines the agrarian cooperative movement in the United States from 1870-1910 made explicit the cooperative vision of democratizing the economy (L.Goodwin, 1978, The Populist Movement). This alternative vision, of joining forces –“elbow to elbow we are much more than two”, as Mario Benedetti would say – to democratize the economy continues moving millions of people who are organizing.

Finally the non violent vision of M. Gandhi (1869-1948) in order to achieve the independence of India from the British empire, and improve the well being of both. That pacifist movement saw that “humanity cannot free itself from violence except through non violence”, that “eye for an eye will leave everyone blind” and that “there is no path for peace, peace is the way”. It is a vision in line with Jesus: “you hear that it was said, eye for an eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist the one who is evil; before, to anyone who would hit you on the right cheek, turn to him also the other (Mt 5:38-39). The methods of Gandhi, in accordance with that vision, were the use of hunger strikes, the “salt march” (salt satia graha) that affected the principal source of taxes for England, and being coherent in his actions and ideas (he made his own clothes and was a vegetarian), methods introduced in accordance with the realities and experiences that thehy promoted. That movement inspired Martin Luther King in the United States in the 1960s in his vision of a society where people were treated equally, regardless of their race and color. And Domitila Barrios of Bolivia walked the same route in 1978 with a vision of a country without fear overthrowing the dictatorship of Banzer peacefully, in the words of Eduard Galeano:

I was seated in the principal plaza with 4 other women and a poster that said: “We come from the mines, we are on a hunger strike until the military dictatorship falls.” People made fun of them as they went by. “So just like that 5 women are going to overthrow a military dictatorship! Hahaha, what a great joke!” And the women, unmoved, in solemn silence…After the 5 women they were 50, then 500, then 5,000, then 50,000 and then half a million Bolivians that came together and overthrew the military dictatorship. Why? Because those women were not wrong, fear was what was mistaken.

All these shared visions connect hearts by common aspirations. Yuval Noah Harari (2011, Sapiens: A brief History of humankind) tells that in human evolution homo sapiens differentiated themselves from other species like chimpanzees by their ability to invent myths capable of mobilizing millions of people to cooperate. Visions belong to that genre, they are real, palpable and move incredible forces born from human hearts.

Peasant and indigenous visions

In our days we hear visions that, like those quoted, are mobilizing a good part of humanity. Scrutinizing them, we understand that they are both new and connected to millennial flames. Let us start with the oldest. Our ancestors that lived close to 2 million years ago as hunters and gatherers envisioned human survival based on agriculture, which led them to domesticate plants and animals between 9500 and 3500 BC. Since those years in our DNA is that tense vision of humans subjugating nature or plants like soy beans, wheat, sugar cane and sunflowers multiplying at the cost of “domesticating” humans (Yuval Noah Harari).

Following that vein, the vision of peasant families has been to have land. In the 1970s in Honduras (Azomada, Lempira), the peasants saw idle land taken away from their ancestors and recognizing that fire that came from their grandparents to “recover a piece of land to produce on it”, took those lands as thousands of peasants have done on the face of the earth under the anti-large estate idea that “the land Is for those who work it with their hands” of Emiliano Zapata in 1911. In 1985 when the war was raging in Nicaragua, the State moved 74 indigenous families from Cusmapa and San Lucas to Samarcanda (San Juan del Rio Coco), organized them into cooperatives to confront the Nicaraguan Resistance, as had happened in so many places in the country; one of the leaders, Claudio Hernández recalls, “to get land with coffee we risked our lives, and we accepted being treated as fieldhands and soldiers”; the paradox was that many of those involved in the Nicaraguan Resistance also were fighting for land.

In the 1980s Ricardo Falla S.J. put that vision into words: “a peasant without land is like a being without a soul.” In 1993 I went to La Primavera in Ixcan, Guatemala where hundreds of families that returned from Mexico with the signing of the peace agreements were working the land collectively; at one dinner that a woman shared with me, she whispered: “help us, my husband was killed by the military, I want a piece of land to leave to my children, that his death not be in vain!”; it was a vision shared by families of Mesoamerica and beyond.

Being a farmer is more than having land, as in 9500 BC. In Nicaragua Marchetti and Maldidier (1996, El campesino-Finquero y el Potencial Económico del Campesinado Nicaraguense) detected that peasant vision: “I dream of that day in which my friends visit me and say, what a beautiful farm you have!” The land would not just be a plot with annual crops on it, but a diversified farm with permanent crops – because “tree have value”, said Tupac Barahona and Marcelo Rodríguez with the peasantry of Masaya (Nicaragua) and nourish biodiversity, as Abraham Cruz observed in Peñas Blancas (El Cuá, Nicaragua); “the birds of the forest come to eat on the farms.” In Honduras, Carlos Cantoral from Terreritos (Nueva Frontera) in the 2000s, sketched out what food sovereignty and peasant autonomy is, echoing our ancestors thousands of years ago:”being a peasant is producing what my family eats, without depending on anyone” – without a debt with the usurer, without giving in to the intermediary, and without lowering your head in the presence of the politician and religious leader. And again in Honduras Porfirio Hernández de Trascerros (Nueva Frontera) in 2018 describes those who lose that vision: “even having cattle they walk around money in hand looking for their corn grinder,” unfortunate is that family that does not first ensure their food. These are the families that resist being a clone of monocropping, families that grow their corn and produce their food on more and more diversified farms, which gives them the freedom to generate their own thinking and experiments, and a basis for cultivating their autonomy and resisting proletarization – and much more if it is organic agriculture.

Being a farmer and processing what is produced to ensure food “in green and mature times” has been a vision for thousands of years. Humanity learned to dry meat under the sun in its era of hunting and gathering, and in the years of 3000 BC made bread, and the Incas stored potatoes as starch, exposing potatoes to the sun during the day and to the cold at night. In this vein we find the peasantry of the XVII and XVIII centuries envisioning agro industrializing raw material in their communities. That vision, in spite of being squashed by capitalist industry and later by the socialism of Preobrazhensky and Stalin, persisted within Europe itself. That is why there are around 1100 flavors (brands) of beer in Belgium today, or vineyards and wine in Trentino, Italy. And it persists in Latin America. In Honduras in 2008 (Laguna de La Capa, Yoro), in the face of the “vocation” of the agricultural frontier to receive a peasantry whose grandchildren migrated with sugar cane and sugar mills defeated by the slavish rule that “only the rich make sugar”, the COMAL Network and peasant families started to process granulated sugar in the community itself. Cirilo George from the APROCATY Associative Enterprise put that fire into words, “we will not go back”, referring to the fact that individually they fell with their sugar cane into that destiny and that slavish rule, but organizing themselves, they made that vision of agro-industrialization palpable, as the Manduvirá Cooperative of Paraguay has done. In 2015 Raul Cruz from the Forest Rangers Cooperative (El Cuá, Nicaragua), after years of growing coffee, visiting two roasters, had a vision: “I imagined myself selling roasted, ground coffee”; what he imagined kept him from sleeping and he began to make his roasters from barrels in order to today sell roasted, ground coffee in 1 lb packages. Visions that move human will and show a path for creating living communities.

Having land, being a farmer, processing food…and selling! What a chain of visions! Even though the peasantry sees itself at odds with commerce, their aspirations include commercializing in order to cooperate. Within this perspective, in Honduras (Encinos, Intibucá) in the midst of intimidating polices under the Alliance for Progress of the 1960s and 1970s, women and men who would walk for days through mud to buy what they were not producing, envisioned “bringing in a store managed by us the Lenca peasant ourselves, right here.” That community, like the members of the La Unión Store in Taulabé, Honduras. Maquita Cosunchej of Ecuador, or the Hope of the Peasants Cooperative in Panama, overcame the old rule that “peasants and indigenous are no good at selling, only at planting.” Maybe individually it is difficult for a peasant family to sell, they say that it is a “betrayal of a promise” (buying oneself in order to sell your own product later), but organized is another story, because “the market is really relationships of people coming together, getting to know one another and trusting one another”– Peter Druckers would say to Peter Schwartz (1996, The Art of the Long View). In the 1990s again in Honduras a dozen leaders of several organizations, among them Auristela Argueta, saw a vision that continues to light up deep Mesoamerica: “we now have land, we are producing our food and something more, a market for selling and exchanging our products.” That aspiration that markets can connect organized people to one another, was the seed that gave rise to the Comal Network of Honduras.

What is distinctive about these visions and the imperative to see them

These visions, far from the current ones that businesses tend to express to generate capital or the blueprint of organizations of “being a leader” to find donations and “to put a patch on the problem” (formulate visions as a formality), move human determination through time and are like flames that do not go out, in search of a greater good. What distinguishes them? They are born out of crises, when that which should die, does not, and what should sprout, does not, as A. Einstein used to say: “creativity is born from anguish as day from night.” Adversity is overcome by “swimming against the current” and connecting oneself with centennial and millennial human aspirations that, like tectonic plates, shake even the most solid land, like that outrageous belief that a divine being or the market writes human destiny. They are understood by people discontent with the status quo, geniuses who question their worlds, see other possible realities, expand their mental horizons and really believe in their capacity to create the future because they experience it daily. As Blanca Rios advised her sons Juan, Victorino and Noel Adams, members of the Bosawas Cooperative in El Cuá, Nicaragua, “never feel you are on a horse, even if you are in the stirrups, because many people on a horse can end up on foot.” They are shared visions that emerge from personal visions, and not from adhering to visions prepared by managers or consultants; they derive their energy and commitment precisely from the fact that they come from personal visions.

These shared visions reorder life. If your vision is that your family eats what you produce, that makes you reorder your farm, the work of your family and your relationships with your neighbors, and if that vision is shared by other people of an organization, this reorients the organization toward that vision. They are concrete visions, here and now, visions that make them encounter the stranger and discover themselves. They are visions that cause changes day to day, brick to brick, seed after seed, the drop of water that cracks the stone.

In the face of these visions of future frameworks that we want to create, the challenge for peasant and indigenous organizations is to encourage their members to express their visions, understand them, and embody them in agreements and new rules to support the peasantry, the basis for food and assurance of environmental sustainability for humanity. For that purpose, the more an organization opens itself to learning, the more it tunes its ear to hear the visions, the more it takes out a pencil to take notes and ruminate on them, the more it reinvents itself, breaking rules like “the older one gets, the less one changes”, “the more one studies, the more one forgets about where they came from”, and “the more power one gets, the more farther they get from the people”. A peasantry that organizes itself and awakens to the fact that they can create their future, is more connected to the vision of Jesus, feels more the vision of the gladiators/slaves, seeks to have more democratic assemblies, aspires more the path of non-violence, makes agriculture an art, and weaves more of their own thinking, seed after seed- like constantly falling drops of water that eventually make a hole even in stone. Shared visions, in the midst of the tensions and adversities of all times, move human mountains and help us to be generators of long term change that started just yesterday.

[1] René has a PhD in development studies, is an associate researcher of IOB-University of Antwerp (Belgium), collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/) and member of the COSERPROSS Cooperative RL. rmvidaurre@gmail.com

The power of a shared vision in peasant-indigenous cultures

The power of a shared vision in peasant-indigenous cultures

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

In the film “Spartacus” on the slave rebellion in 71 BC we recognize the strength of a shared vision. After twice defeating the Roman legions, the gladiators/slaves fell before the legion of Marcus Crassus, who says to thousands of survivors: “you were slaves and you will be slaves again, but you can save yourself from crucifixion if you turn Spartacus over to me.” So Spartacus takes a step forward and shouts, “I am Spartacus”. The man by his side also steps forward, “I am Spartacus”. Within a minute all shout that they are Spartacus. Each gladiator/slave choses death. Why? Following Peter Senge (1990, the Fifth Disciplne) they are not expressing loyalty to Sparacus, but to a shared vision of being free in such a profound way that they prefer dying to being slaves again. “A shared vision – says Senge – is not a idea, not even an important idea like freedom. It is a force in the hearts of people.” In this article we lay out some long term visions, show their importance for lasting change, and we take note of the role of organizations related to the peasantry of our millennium.

Millenary Visions

That vision of being free emerged as a profound human aspiration in the face of the slavery system, a fire that neither the cross nor death were able to extinguish. In the movie the lover of Spartacus comes up to him and reveals to him that his vision will be realized, “Your son will be born free!” 2089 years later that powerful vision continues present in the foundation of our societies.

Another vision, one of democracy, emerged even before in the years of 500 BC. Even though it excluded 75% of the population (slaves, women and foreigners), that vision arose based on assemblies, building institutions under the power (cracia) of the people (demo). 2500 years later, in spite of the fact that the elites flipped that vision to where democracy exists only under the control of a minority, that Greek vision based on assemblies continues moving millions of hearts.

The vision of the reign of God was sketched out by Jesus of Nazareth, son of a peasant woman and a carpenter, in 30 AD. In a hierarchical and despotic patriarchal world, Jesus envisions the possibility of a “kingdom” for those who are looked down upon – who might be like children, destitute and who would build peace, a reign that is small and becomes big like the mustard seed. Since then, that vision of the kingdom, in spite of being androcentric (king-dom), has mobilized millions of people. It is a vision that made Luther in the 1500s challenge the institutional church and translate the Bible into vernacular languages so that people might have access to God without religious intermediaries.

In the XVIII century the encyclopedists (1751-1772), living at a time with a minority of educated people, envisioned “putting up a wall against barbarism.” That vision of making “papers speak” has moved humanity with revolutions and fights against racism and extreme poverty. It is enough to see the movie “The Power of One” filmed in 1992, based on Africa in the 1930s, to recognize the vision of the encyclopedists, that learning to read made a difference. It is also the advice that we heard from our grandmothers in the countryside, “study, a pencil weighs less than a shovel.”

Even though the idea of organization and the construction of the State emerged with capitalism in the XVI century, societies envisioned alternative forms of organization to the control and rule of capitalism and the State. Thus the cooperative emerged in England against the textile industry and in Germany against usury, under the conviction of joining forces in line with the ideas of associativity of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet and Owen. Along these lines the agrarian cooperative movement in the United States from 1870-1910 made explicit the cooperative vision of democratizing the economy (L.Goodwin, 1978, The Populist Movement). This alternative vision, of joining forces –“elbow to elbow we are much more than two”, as Mario Benedetti would say – to democratize the economy continues moving millions of people who are organizing.

Finally the non violent vision of M. Gandhi (1869-1948) in order to achieve the independence of India from the British empire, and improve the well being of both. That pacifist movement saw that “humanity cannot free itself from violence except through non violence”, that “eye for an eye will leave everyone blind” and that “there is no path for peace, peace is the way”. His methods in accordance with that vision were the use of hunger strikes, the “salt march” (salt satia graha) that affected the principal source of taxes for England, and being coherent in his actions and ideas (he made his own clothes and was a vegetarian). That movement inspired Martin Luther King in the United States and his vision of a society where people were treated equally, regardless of their race. And Domitila Barrios of Bolivia walked the same route in 1978 with a vision of a country without fear overthrowing the dictatorship of Banzer peacefully, in the words of Eduard Galeano:

I was seated in the principal plaza with 4 other women and a poster that said: “We come from the mines, we are on a hunger strike until the military dictatorship falls.” People made fun of them as they went by. “So just like that 5 women are going to overthrow a military dictatorship! Hahaha, what a great joke!” And the women, unmoved, in solemn silence…After the 5 women they were 50, then 500, then 5,000, then 50,000 and then half a million Bolivians that came together and overthrew the military dictatorship. Why? Because those women were not wrong, fear was what was mistaken.

All these shared visions connect hearts by common aspirations. Yuval Noah Harari (2011, Sapiens: A brief History of humankind) tells that in human evolution homo sapiens differentiated themselves from other species like chimpanzees by their ability to invent myths capable of mobilizing millions of people to cooperate. Visions belong to that genre, they are real, palpable and move incredible forces born from human hearts.

Peasant and indigenous visions

In our days we hear visions that, like those quoted, are mobilizing a good part of humanity. Scrutinizing them, we understand that they are both new and connected to millennial flames. Let us start with the oldest. Our ancestors that lived close to 2 million years ago as hunters and gatherers envisioned human survival based on agriculture, which led them to domesticate plants and animals between 9500 and 3500 BC. Since those years in our DNA is that tense vision of humans subjugating nature or plants like soy beans, wheat, sugar cane and sunflowers multiplying at the cost of “domesticating” humans (Yuval Noah Harari).

Following that vein, the vision of peasant families has been to have land. In the 1970s in Honduras (Azomada, Lempira), the peasants saw idle land taken away from their ancestors and recognizing that fire that came from their grandparents to “recover a piece of land to produce on it”, took those lands as thousands of peasants have done on the face of the earth. In 1985 when the war was raging in Nicaragua, the State moved 74 indigenous families from Cusmapa and San Lucas to Samarcanda (San Juan del Rio Coco), organized them into cooperatives to confront the Nicaraguan Resistance, as had happened in so many places in the country; one of the leaders, Claudio Hernández recalls, “to get land with coffee we risked our lives, and we accepted being treated as fieldhands and soldiers”; the paradox was that many of those involved in the Nicaraguan Resistance also were fighting for land.

In the 1980s Ricardo Falla S.J. put that vision into words: “a peasant without land is like a being without a soul.” In 1993 I went to La Primavera in Ixcan, Guatemala where hundreds of families that returned from Mexico with the signing of the peace agreements were working the land collectively; at one dinner that a woman shared with me, she whispered: “help us, my husband was killed by the military, I want a piece of land to leave to my children, that his death not be in vain!”; it was a vision shared by families of Mesoamerica and beyond.

Being a farmer is more than having land. In Nicaragua Marchetti and Maldidier (1996, El campesino-Finquero y el Potencial Económico del Campesinado Nicaraguense) detected that peasant vision: “I dream of that day in which my friends visit me and say, what a beautiful farm you have!” The land would not just be a plot with annual crops on it, but a diversified farm with permanent crops. In Honduras, Carlos Cantoral from Terreritos (Nueva Frontera) in the 2000s, sketched out what food sovereignty and peasant autonomy is, echoing our ancestors thousands of years ago:”being a peasant is producing what my family eats, without depending on anyone” – without a debt with the usurer, without giving in to the intermediary, and without lowering your head in the presence of the politician and religious leader. And again in Honduras Porfirio Hernández de Trascerros (Nueva Frontera) in 2018 describes those who lose that vision: “even having cattle they walk around money in hand looking for their corn grinder,” unfortunate is that family that does not first ensure their food. These are the families that resist being a clone of mono-cropping, families that grow their corn and produce their food on more and more diversified farms, which gives them the freedom to generate their own thinking and experiments.

Being a farmer and processing what is produced to ensure food “in green and mature times” has been a vision for thousands of years. Humanity learned to dry meat under the sun in its era of hunting and gathering, and in the years of 3000 BC made bread, and the Incas stored potatoes as starch, exposing potatoes to the sun during the day and to the cold at night. In this vein we find the peasantry of the XVII and XVIII centuries envisioning agro industrializing raw material in their communities. That vision, in spite of being squashed by capitalist industry and later by the socialism of Preobrazhensky and Stalin, persisted within Europe itself. That is why there are around 1100 flavors (brands) of beer in Belgium today, or vineyards and wine in Trentino, Italy. And it persists in Latin America. In Honduras in 2008 (Laguna de La Capa, Yoro), in the face of the “vocation” of the agricultural frontier to receive a peasantry whose grandchildren migrated with sugar cane and sugar mills defeated by the slavish rule that “only the rich make sugar”, the COMAL Network and peasant families started to process granulated sugar in the community itself. Cirilo George from the APROCATY Associative Enterprise put that fire into words, “we will not go back”, referring to the fact that individually they fell with their sugar cane into that destiny and that slavish rule, but organizing themselves, they made that vision of agro-industrialization palpable, as the Manduvirá Cooperative of Paraguay has done.

Having land, being a farmer, processing food…and selling! What a chain of visions! Even though the peasantry sees itself at odds with commerce, their aspirations include commercializing in order to cooperate. Within this perspective, in Honduras (Encinos, Intibucá) in the midst of intimidating polices under the Alliance for Progress of the 1960s and 1970s, women and men who would walk for days through mud to buy what they were not producing, envisioned “bringing in a store managed by us the Lenca peasant ourselves, right here.” That community, like the members of the La Unión Store (Taulabé, Honduras), Maquita Cosunchej of Ecuador, or the Hope of the Peasants Cooperative in Panama, overcame the old rule that “peasants and indigenous are no good at selling, only at planting.” Maybe individually it is difficult for a peasant family to sell, they say that it is a “betrayal of a promise” (buying oneself in order to later sell), but organized, it is another story, because “the market is really relationships of people coming together, getting to know one another and trusting one another”– Peter Druckers would say to Peter Schwartz (1996, The Art of the Long View). In the 1990s again in Honduras a dozen leaders of several organizations, among them Auristela Argueta, saw a vision that continues to light up deep Mesoamerica: “we now have land, we are producing our food and something more, a market for selling and exchanging our products.” That aspiration that markets can connect organized people to one another, was the seed that gave rise to the Comal Network of Honduras.

What is distinctive about these visions and the imperative to see them

These visions, far from the current ones that businesses tend to express to generate capital or the blueprint of organizations to find donations and “to put a patch on the problem”, move human determination through time and are like flames that do not go out, in search of a greater good. What distinguishes them? They are born out of crises, when that which should die, does not, and what should sprout, does not, as A. Einstein used to say: “creativity is born from anguish as day from night.” Adversity is overcome by “swimming against the current” and connecting oneself with centennial and millennial human aspirations that, like tectonic plates, shake even the most solid land, like that outrageous belief that a divine being or the market writes your destiny. They are understood by people discontent with the status quo, that question their worlds, see other possible realities, expand their mental horizons and really believe in their capacity to create the future because they experience it daily. They are shared visions that emerge from personal visions, and not from adhering to visions prepared by managers or consultants; they derive their energy and commitment precisely from the fact that they come from personal visions.

These shared visions reorder life. If your vision is that your family eats what you produce, that makes you reorder your farm, the work of your family and your relationships with your neighbors, and if that vision is shared by other people of an organization, this reorients the organization toward that vision. They are concrete visions, here and now, visions that make them encounter the stranger and discover themselves. They are visions that cause changes day to day, brick to brick, seed after seed, the drop of water that breaks stone.

In the face of these visions of future frameworks that we want to create, the challenge for peasant and indigenous organizations is to encourage their members to express their visions, understand them, and embody them in agreements and new rules to support the peasantry, the basis for food and assurance of environmental sustainability for humanity. For that purpose, the more an organization opens itself to learning, the more it tunes its ear to hear the visions, the more it takes out a pencil to take notes and ruminate on them, the more it reinvents itself, breaking rules like “the older one gets, the less one changes”, “the more one studies, the more one forgets about where they came from”, and “the more power one gets, the more farther they get from the people”. A peasantry that organizes itself and awakens to the fact that they can create their future, is more connected to the vision of Jesus, feels more the vision of the gladiators/slaves, seeks to have more democratic assemblies, aspires more the path of non-violence, makes agriculture an art, and weaves more of their own thinking. Shared visions, in the midst of the tensions and adversities of all times, move human mountains and help us to be generators of long term changes that started just yesterday.

[1] René has a PhD in development studies, is an associate researcher of IOB-University of Antwerp (Belgium), collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/) and member of the COSERPROSS Cooperative RL. rmvidaurre@gmail.com