Category Archives: Fear

Getting off the old path and getting on the cooperative path

Getting off the old path and getting on the cooperative path

[for pdf version]

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

I was a fieldhand. I was a foreman. I knew how to become a patron. That is what I wanted. That is what I was doing when one day in 1968, on returning home, I ran into an unknown person on a mule. He extended his hand to me, greeting me:

  • I am the priest of Santa Fe- he told me.
  • I do not believe you, priests only greet the rich – I responded.
  • There is always a first time for everything, I invite you to a meeting this Thursday – he surprised me.
  • I do not have time for meetings- I reacted, turning my head back to the path.
  • No? Those are the people I am looking for, people who do not have time – he said good-by and left me without a foot to stand on.

I went to the meeting. I saw him greeting people, even the children, that shook me. We sat in a circle. What I saw that day, what I heard that day, made me think differently. That day changed me forever”.

Jacinto Peña, founder of the Esperanza de los Campesinos Cooperative, Santa Fé, Panamá

In this story there are three moments. In the first, Jacinto knows the patron-fieldhand path and dreams about becoming a patron, who priests greet. In the second, the encounter happens on a muddy path, a moment of awakening between the clash of events and words; the priest goes to people and shakes the sweaty and calloused hands of peasants, exchanging words, where two mentalities confront one another and at the same time coincide in “people who do not have time” (people involved in initiatives), and the possibility of change appears: “there is always a first time for everything”. In the third moment, the meeting takes place, and a new path takes shape in which what stands out is what happened before and during the meeting: greeting people, including the littlest, time to reflect in a circle and listening to one another, causes “thinking differently”. A year later they would organize their cooperative, and with that they would channel this awakening and new path in a sustainable way.

In this article we describe that old path, its reproduction in coopted cooperatives, and the appropriate path of the cooperative that, connected to peasant and indigenous roots, guides the centenary dreams of people. In the wrap up we leave open ended conclusions.

1.    The old path

The old path is a dominant perspective and seen as the only one; it is a structure defined with rules honed over centuries. See figure 1.

It is a relationship of power over the labor force, peasant products, female bodies and nature. The perspective is that what is important is what comes from above; if someone has a pressing need or emergency, they look upward, and go to the person considered to be the “top honcho”. In this structure each person knows their place. This is where the expression “know your place”, fieldhands or peasants understand “their place” and consider themselves “brutes” and “powerless”, that is why the cook on a farm or hacienda works twice the amount of time than the men, and earn less than one day of work of a man, and in addition is sexually harassed as her daughters are – “whatever moves in my hacienda is mine”. The patron believes he owns the land, the cattle and the truth: while the fieldhand or peasant dreams about becoming a patron (see in the story of Jacinto Peña how he dreams of becoming a patron) on the basis of impoverishing the most vulnerable and nature, or resigns himself to his current condition under the belief that “the corncob, even though there is a good rainy season, will always be a just a corncob” (if you are born mediocre you will always be mediocre), ashamed of being “small” and believing that his current position is by “the will – or punishment – from above (God).”

Fear and subordination are generated on this path, while “going to the top honcho” is glorified: being “close to a tree with shade”.

“By your side I am safe”, repeats the woman. The foreman moves about safely because he answers to the patron and walks under his “shade”, he protects that door and is afraid that others might go pass through it. Fieldhands and peasants, including technicians from the haciendas or farms and the State itself, do not ask about the origins of the profits, it is considered that the economic distribution (wages for work, payment for product and earnings for the patron) is natural and divinely fair. Asking about these topics is considered a sin. Only technical and de-politicized questions are asked: where to weed or whether to use more agrochemicals. Meanwhile, whoever dares to ask about the accumulation of capital or its redistribution, do so because they “have lost their mind”, are drunk or are not controlling their anger, and when that happens, that person is accused of “equalizing himself” by his fellow workers and the “shade” of the patron fails to cover him. There are people, nevertheless, who awaken up to how unjust this path is, but since they cannot see another path, express their disagreement by cutting down a plant, stealing bananas, using more agrochemicals, or putting stones in the bag of coffee that he has sold. There is no absolute power of the patron (or trader-broker) over the peasantry, there are always cracks for rebellion, but they are channeled–even armed rebellions– without moving outside this path or structure.

From several rules that exist along this path, in addition to “profits belong to the patron”, and “profits organize the economy”, let us highlight the rule that “without money there is no work” or better said “if I am not in debt I do not work”. As they say in Brazil “the pig squeals for its crossbar[2]”, if you take the crossbar off of the pig, after a while the pig will squeal. Peasants reproduce this same rule: “I will provide product based on what you lend me”; peasants await the “crop lien loan” in the “months of silence” to commit their coffee for the next cycle; they harvest a product that “is already paid for”. In this way they are not able to get out of the cycle of dispossession, because the crop lien loan means that they sell their product or work at less than half its price several months before the harvest (see Mendoza et al, 2012[3]); they do not work without being “lent to”; and the distribution of the wealth is the decision of the patron. This circle of iron squeezes the peasant or fieldhand, who see that their only way out is sticking to this structure, and it squeezes the patron or merchant who understands it as their only way to accumulate wealth. See Figure 2, the iron circles under which the economy is organized (see green arrow showing where value is pulled upwards), inequality moves and people and nature are impoverished.

This patrón-foreman-fieldhand or peasant unit is so durable and has become so natural that, following the history of different countries, we see them together even in war itself, some fighting as soldiers and others as captains and generals.

This millennial path crushes any possibility of a different path or rules that oppose it from the family, the farm (diversified) or the community. These perspectives of virtuous rules and a different path, nevertheless, still persist –“there are still embers where there was fire”, we would say with a phrase used about people in love.

2.    Cooperatives that reproduce the old path

The boss and his hen house

Maria was making tortillas when Reymundo arrived upset. “They tell me that you are organizing a cooperative. Why do you want another hen house? Shot off Reymundo, the eternal president of a cooperative.

“Ahh we were talking…”, stammered Maria.

“Cooperatives are made with money, and there is no money”, he interrupted her.

“For that very reason, a cooperative is for thinking and helping one another; in your hen house the members do not think nor is their vote respected”, Maria responded more strongly.

Reymundo raised his index finger: “you are deluded, leaders are born, not made …”

“Do you think you were born from the Virgin Mary?”, María laughed heartily.

“Chicken brain! –shouted Reymundo– a leader is sacred, the people at the grassroots get confused …”

“Do you see a hen´s beak on me?” –Maria laughed again.

“You can´t talk to women!” Reymundo left in a huff.

María, flipping the tortilla, ruefully watched him leave: “He thinks he is the little boss, king of the world! He treats people like chickens, he never understood what a cooperative is”.[4]

In this story the president of a cooperative is a captive of the old path. He understands the cooperative as a “hen house”, and the members as chickens without agency (decision and vote) who follow the rooster each time he crows when he finds some worms. He understands that “nothing is done without money”. In contrast to a cooperative where leaders are made, he believes that “leaders are born”, that he “is sacred”, that those who are “confused” are the members, and that insubordinate women have “chicken brains”; he thinks exactly like the traditional patron.

2.1  Ceremonial glocal cooptation

The presidents are products of structures where the coopted cooperatives reproduce the old path[5].

Following figure 3, compared with figure 1 and how it is described, essentially it is the same structure with two differences. It is more glocal (global and local) which includes international actors, and it is more ceremonial in that hundreds of rules appear (e.g. fair trade rules and those of several types of certifications), and documents signed (buy and sell contracts, financing contracts, forms filled out, written reports and minutes). These two elements contribute to the fact that the role of the management/administration becomes more important (“professional”), becomes the hinge or the entity that has the key to the inside and  outside of organizations. By outside we are referring to international market actors (buyers, financiers, certifiers, aid organizations) and the State. This ceremonial and glocal differences, in addition, expressed in more bureaucratized ways, shape the entire structure with impersonalized relationships.

In this structure the buyers are interested in making money, and therefore are interested in the coffee, cacao or sesame seed product; the private banks and social banks are interested in recovering their capital; the aid organizations want financial reports; and the certifiers want their formats filled out; all of them are interested in arranging things with one person in the cooperative. On the side of the cooperative, the manager or president understands those interests, and respond with product, payment of loans and reports –“whatever the papers can stand”. If the buyers want to hear the song about the “poor producers”, “women members” and “democratic cooperative”, that intermediate layer learns to satisfy them, sings that song for them. Thus business is done in that small “club” of external actors (buyers, financiers and/or aid organizations), and the manager or president of the cooperative. It is a deal around goods – coffee or cacao – based on formal agreements. The role of the State there is to legally provide legitimacy to the existence of the cooperative; this involves confirming that the documents (official minutes) of the cooperative are done well as the state wants them, regardless of whether those documents are pure inventions of the manager or president of the cooperative.

A common characteristic is that, apart from speeches with good intentions, none of them are interested in the origins of the product, nor how the cooperative is functioning, much less whether the members have access to the profits of their organization, whether they received the loan, whether the members benefitted from the project, whether the members meet and there is rotation in the leadership, or whether the organic product really is organic. It is assumed that the fieldhands or peasants have nothing to do with that product, because any product “is made with money” that comes from outside. They are interested in the papers that conceal the expropriation of profits.

This structure makes the associative side of the cooperative disappear (see Figure 4). The external actors connect only with the business foot. The cooperative moves only on that foot. The manager and/or president is seen to be on the old path, with the difference that the control of the “patron” (external actors) is not ongoing, but ceremonial. This structure pulls them from their roots: the president “becomes independent” from the members who elected him, they put the statutes in a drawer; the staff on the business side “become independent” from the associative side which gave birth to it. From that business foot where the old glocalized and bureaucratized path takes over, the manager and/or president present themselves as indispensable to the members: “Those above only receive and send messages to me, only I can negotiate resources – not even God loves you”, “without me, the cooperative would fall apart”; in other words, they mention the external actors as their backing (“their patron”) and their work is rather a favor so that the cooperative does not go broke. They (manager or president) centralize relationships with the actors, they see them as their connections, instead of contacts and/or alliances of the cooperative. In this way the manager or president remain in their posts eternally and deadlock the cooperative; so, when a person enters the cooperative, they understand that there is no possibility to scale up on the associative foot, nor on the business foot, because the president or manager change “on the death of a bishop”.

2.2  The subsumption of the members

Under this framework of cooptation, the cooperative subsumes the members. The notion of subsumption we take ¡from Dussel (1990: 353)[6] who, rereading Marx in the context of industrial capitalism, understood that the worker (living work) and the machine (objectified work) are subsumed by capital; it is a secret way of creating surplus value for the capitalist. Here the member loses control over their product beyond their “picket fence,” and loses their organization while breaking away from their associative foot (figure 4), left as a producer of raw materials and encapsulated as a “member”, while the global chain appropriates the surplus value. How does this happen?

Figure 5 shows the same logic of figure 2 of the old path. The three rules that move the members are the abduction of the profits (surplus value), the fact that the cooperative is to “provide credit” and that the business foot might “manage the yield of the product and buy wherever what is needed to meet the market demand”. These three rules make the members turn in (“sell”) their coffee, and resign themselves to letting the business side run them.

The global chain pulls up the value of the product, those who do not produce the coffee capture 88% or more of the total value of the coffee, while the members get less than 12% (Mendoza, 2012: 159)[7]. From this global chain framework, the cooperative assumes the role of “not distributing the profits of the cooperative” and the mentality of the member is that of being a producer of raw materials – and nothing more. How does this work? The cooperatives that sell organic coffee or cacao turn over the “organic premium” as an effort of the manager and the technicians, as a “favor”, and not as the effort and right of the members. It is like some political parties who when they get to power in a country, redistribute something of the wealth without changing the capitalist path nor model; it is the trickle down economics of neoliberalism, of the assumption that ‘the more the capitalist accumulates wealth, the more it spills over´. They redistribute as a good patron would, who instead of providing grilled meat once a year, gives it to them three times a year, reinforcing that old path even more. The managers who run these cooperatives, tacitly assuming that the cooperatives are like “their properties”, justify it: “we do not redistribute the profits because we are consolidating the future of the cooperative by investing in assets”; they are cooperatives that are more than 20 years old, that continue investing in assets vetoing the redistribution of profits. The paradox is that the redistribution of profits is in the statutes of the cooperatives, something that the State tends to ignore.

The members do not ask about the profits (or earnings), because they believe that it is not their right nor the fruit of their effort as members. By not conceiving the cooperative and its efforts as their own, they do not do the calculations for the conversion of coffee in cherry to export coffee, nor cacao in pulp to dry cacao, nor the value formation of their product, nor do they calculate to the amount to be paid from the loan received, nor the expenses and income of the cooperative. Many producers do the calculations of their farms: ”I calculate how much I am going to harvest, what I am going to sell it at; and from there I go down, what I am going to pay the workers, the food, and I spend accordingly” (Rufino Espinoza); but they do not do the same with their cooperative, because they see it as “someone else´s”. The mentality of the members is: “I am a seller of raw materials, the rest is not of my interest”; “they lent me money and they said how much I am going to pay, the rest is up to them”. It is like borrowing money from the patron, whose earnings are unquestionable because he is “doing you a favor”. In the cooperative the money of the members is read from the lens of the old path, they say “it is money from the cooperative, not our money, the money of the members”; and even worse, “the manager lent me the money, I owe him” – the paradox is that it is a resource of the members themselves.

Now let us look at the second rule: “I do not work if they do not give me credit (crop lien loan)” (Figure 3). The members appear to doubt that their farm is theirs and disengage from it; correspondingly, it is common to find ourselves in coffee fields in bad shape, particularly in the case of organic crops. The members have the idea that the cooperative (manager and/or president) is there to “bring them credit” and to “buy their production”, which is why they do not work their farm if there is no credit. It would seem that to become a member is to neglect your own farm, because the “foreman” (manager or president) does not come in to supervise them. If the manager or the president shows up to visit them, they do not see it as a visit, but as “credit”, that he is coming to “provide credit”, “to collect”, or to “supervise”. The board members behave like “foremen”. “If we redistribute the profits, the members are going to feel free, without a commitment to the cooperative; if we give out earnings as credit, they are going to assure coffee for the cooperative” (a president of a coffee cooperative); “If we are going to visit the members they are going to believe that we already are bringing loans, and then they are only going to want to talk about that” (Idem).

The third rule refers to the yield of the product, and the fact that products from non-members comes in as if it were from the members. The yield refers to the processing of the product and its production on the farm. The former happens from the harvest collection to its sale (be it exported or sent to the national market): from sun dried coffee to dried, warehoused, hulled, selected and bagged; from cacao pulp to fermented, dried, bagged and warehoused; from sugar cane to the extraction of juice, boiled in cauldrons, granulated and bagged. This phase is carried out under the leadership of the business foot of the cooperatives, which is interpreted by the members as “not my job”, which is why they do not demand the earnings referred to in the first rule, and do not access information about that yield. This is what leads them to say, “I am a seller of sun-dried coffee, of cacao pulp, of sugar cane…” and not of “export coffee, or granulated sugar”.

Another rule emerges for the yield of the organic produce on the farm: “an organic farm is not applying anything”. It means zero agrochemicals. It has been extended from there to “zero organic inputs”. A good number of the members, except those who apply agrochemicals in secret, let their coffee field produce what natures provides it, that organic fertilizer “is nature itself”, as if they were in the agricultural frontier areas where the virgin soils are fertile. Behind this is the idea that growing coffee or sugar cane is applying agrochemicals under the order of the patron, and that nature “just responds to the mandate of the patron”. In other words, the cooperative reproduces the old path, but in a feeble way: the “foreman” does not supervise the production nor determines how to manage nature. This gets worse when the organic certifiers  prohibit them from planting other crops in the same area as the organic crop, pushing them towards monocropping, intensifying this feeling that these organic areas are “someone else´s”, that they belong to the technicians and the buyers who give them the “organic premium”. It is probable that the reaction by some members to not work these organic areas is also a form of protest, “well they manage that part, so I am not going to apply anything”; or that the rule of “if there is no credit I do not work” is even more true in the case of organic producers, because they work less, when they would have to work triple the amount of time in organics, because if a conventional coffee area requires 10qq of urea, a similar area of organic coffee requires 30qq of organic fertilizer, which implies more family labor. Consequently, production drops, families get more impoverished[8] and managers or presidents, responding to the market (global chain of actors), buy conventional products from non-members, and pass them off as organic coffee from the members, without the members realizing it.

Some members and leaders hear rumors about these practices, and are tempted to ask about them. But the business foot reacts strongly: “You owe me”, says the manager or the president to the member, as if the cooperative were the manager or president, or as if the resources of the members belonged to the manager and/or president. “The cooperative spends more on you who only turns in 500 lbs”, they accuse the smaller producers of coffee or cacao, reproducing the ideas of the old path, where the one who has more materials resources rules the rest. The accusations escalate: they throw in their face that they are small producers, that they had to buy produce from outside to cover administrative costs. On one hand, the members are afraid of the manager, president or technical trainer; they do not demand their rights out of fear that they will not give them loans, exclude them from some project, collect what they owe in front of the other members; the women are doubly afraid, afraid of their husbands and the manager or president. In this way the members end up believing that they are “small” and that is something to be ashamed of (“we do not make demands because we are small producers”), that the cooperative “is someone else´s”, and therefore their actions are not connected to the results of the cooperative. In other words, the members also are disengaged from their cooperative.

In this process there are people who wake up, but they are not able to get beyond this structure, they thought that by joining a cooperative they would leave that old path. They discover this reality, awaken, when they realize that the rules that they are following are not their own, nor do they come from their community nor from the cooperative, but from those who exploit and oppress them, that they do so clothed as cooperatives, democracy, revolution or fair trade. They understand what is happening, they abhor it, and see their relatives moving under these pernicious “exogenous” rules, believing that they are “their own”. It is when they feel disgusted, that their mind is conflicted, they do not know whether to believe in what woke them up, they become schizophrenic, wander on paths like sleepwalkers, while dragging along pieces of humanity. If they share their meditations, they are accused of being crazy, so with the look of someone lost, they murmur “I am disoriented” or “I am confused”. This happens to them because they have awoken to their condition, but the cooperative through which they thought they could leave that situation, ends up being the same structure, more global, more formal and offering more training, but it is the same structure. Of course, there is no absolute power over the members, they divert their coffee or their cacao, avoid paying their debts, wait…

2.3  Advice or assistance to, and from, the business foot

In these cooperatives the accompaniment on the part of allied organizations, or on the part of the technical area of the second-tier cooperatives, is linked to the logic of the business foot of the cooperative. Consequently the trainings and consultancies do not cover the entire glocal chain of actors, nor deal with the redistribution of profits, analysis of the financial information, nor the real traceability of the product – about whether it comes from the members, about whether it really is organic, whether it really comes from women members, whether it is or not a cooperative.

Let us look at two examples. The first, seeing the depressing situation of the coffee field, the aid organizations easily deduce – along the lines of monocropping .- that the members need to be trained, which is convincing or evangelizing the peasant about something that it is assumed he does not know, and that the trainer assumes he/she does, something like “not putting anything on organic cacao”, or pruning, or crop varieties. Nevertheless, in previous pages we have seen that the low production has to do with technical aspects connected to the rules of the old path, something that the accompaniment does not tend to include. The second element is about training in gender, it tends to be about the habits of the couple, that the husband cooks as a favor to his wife, that women work in agriculture, that the cooperative incorporate women to make it look like they are more equitable (husband signs over a piece of his property so it be in the name of his wife); they are trainings that reduce patriarchal relationships to technical responses.

It is a consultancy that does not start from studying the pernicious and virtuous rules on gender or production. They are consultancies that assume that they know them already, because everything has already been “studied”. How can women join cooperatives when their own rules (“having land”) excludes them, in addition to the fact that they tend toward monocropping? Other consultancies insist that the members not be afraid of criticizing their board members and managers, but that can be an act of suicide, if the members themselves do not move beyond the patron-fieldhand structure, and if they are not accompanied by their advisers in that effort. Understanding the problems and opportunities of the member families is also understanding that these problems are also the problems of consultants.

3.    The cooperative path

Is it possible to wake up and take another path? The fact that most of the cooperatives reproduce the old path makes this possibility more difficult, like what happens when a political revolution reproduces the same hierarchical structure that it apparently fought. We say “apparently” because in reality it was “get rid of you to install me”. But of course another path is possible! Here we present the conditions that create a cooperative path, its results in terms of the 3 rules, and the appropriate accompaniment.

3.1  Mechanisms needed for an associative path

We begin with the first mechanism, awakening and envisioning an alternative path.

Louise convinced her husband, Harold, to take a vacation. In 1983 they went to Mexico, El Salvador and Nicaragua, the last two countries in civil wars in those years. One night Harold awoke with a start, sat up in bed, and began to sob. “This is crazy” – he said to himself – “I have not cried as an adult, and now I am crying.” Why was he crying? The previous day while walking through the streets of Managua, a naked child ran up to him and hugged his legs. He looked down at the child, and the child looked up at him. He never saw that child again. That event stayed in his mind. So talking with Louise they decided to make more money with his business, Foldcraft, in the United States to organize a foundation that would provide support in Nicaragua. In 1986 they established the foundation. The couple has since died, and that Foundation continues supporting dozens of peasant families through their rural organizations in Nicaragua.

Harold and Louise as a young couple began to make furniture in the garage of Harold´s mother´s house, a business that over the years became a million-dollar enterprise. That daily effort made the couple believe that the rules under which they moved were the rules of the rest of the world. Nevertheless, that night when Harold woke up crying, he realized that it is NOT true; that his rules in his business were not the same rules in countries like Nicaragua. According to what people close to the family tell us, Harold was a very conservative member of the Republican party, and Louise was from the Democratic party. Being so conservative, how did they realize that the rules were not the same? The couple were mentally open to understanding that their rules and the rules in Nicaragua were not the same, that so there was injustice. That small, naked boy had shaken their hearts and their minds. Harold and Louise did not become cooperative members, but they found a path to make their awakening effective. They sold their business to their own workers, and they understood that the biggest challenge was that the workers would become owners, and that that also was the challenge of the members of cooperatives. So they left behind their resources for this new path of justice.

Now let us consider the awakening of Jacinto Peñas, described at the beginning of this text. He awoke and envisioned another path based on “thinking differently”. That path took shape in a matter of months. He and other founders remembered it.

We awoke to the injustice of the wages, the cheating that the stores did to us through the weighing, and the prices for what we produced, and what we bought from them. We decided to form a cooperative. But how could we do that if we had no money nor anything? So Fr. Hector threw a nickel in the middle of where we were sitting and asked, “How many pieces of candy can we buy with this coin?” “Five!” we responded. Another person among us looked then for a nickel in his pocket. And others threw in more coins. Father picked up ten coins and told us that it was enough to buy 50 pieces of candy. He asked a boy to go out and buy them. It was noon and we were hungry.

The boy shared the candy with the fifty of us peasants who were there, and Father asked us again. “What does it taste like”” Someone said, “It tastes like glory!” We laughed. “This is how cooperativism is done”, concluded the priest.

The next week a group from Pantanal bought a hundred-pound sack of salt to resell as retail, and in El Carmen each person began to save 10 cents per week. In this way la esperanza de los campesinos [the hope of the peasants] was started, that is how our cooperative got started.

So started the Esperanza de los Campesinos[9] [Hope of the Peasants] Cooperative. Surely after several visits and group reflections they were awoken. They realized that the old path produced injustice, that money was made by lowering salaries and on the basis of cheating in the weight and the price. They understood that together they could solve these structural problems, like the weighing and pricing, that that was possible with the accompaniment of the priest Gallego, taking another path. Hope begins for them, and they propose forming a cooperative. At the very beginning a rule of the old path, and a belief about themselves, pop up: “without money nothing can be done”; (we have) “nothing”. They have a collective awakening there about the cooperative path, where they discover their own capacities: their own resources to contribute, initiatives for generating resources (in El Pantanal with a “hundred-pound bag of salt”); it is a collective awakening that frees up their energies to start their cooperative path in their own territory; and a reflective process, accompanied by the priest Gallego, who in our language “throws the ball back to them” – it is a type of accompaniment that we espouse in each one of these mechanisms.

Figure 6 shows the second mechanism, cooperative functioning in a circular path. Instead of elites sending directions down from above, like in figure 3, reproducing the old path expressed in figure 1, now the international actors are part of a triangulated relationship, where buyers and financiers are interested in the product and in their capital in so far as the cooperative improves as a resource for the members, and in so far as the international organizations themselves are freed from the NY price for different products. On this path the most important product is not the coffee, cacao or granulated sugar, but the organization itself, and the chain of organizations with the allies.

The third mechanism is that the cooperative walk on two feet, the associative foot and the business foot (see Figure 7). It is the interaction of both feet that makes it move forward, as the song days “there is no path, you make the path by walking”. The associative foot defends redistribution, democratic exercise, and informational transparency; the society side. And the business foot defends the increase in wealth, efficiency (more income and less expenses) and effectiveness in economic transactions; it is the market side. One foot dominating the other is the termination of this cooperative path. An organization that only walks on the associative foot shares its wealth and is left with unsustainable democratic methods. Likewise, an organization only with the business foot is left as a means of dispossession subject to the market.

Within this framework a cacao buyer wants to negotiate, talk and reflect with people from both feet of the cooperative; the same with a financial or academic institution. There are no followers there, but leaders, there are no small nor large producers; one person, one vote; all the members have the right to elect and be elected, which is why the rotation of leadership is a principle on the associative side as well as on the business side. New members or a new worker in the cooperative will see from the beginning that, regardless of their level of schooling, they can scale up in title and learning.

The fourth mechanism is about values. On the old path values are talked about, but those values are turned into fetishes – words (values) that hide their commodification, and separate human actions from their economic, social and political results. The cooperatives that reproduce those old values repeat the laws, cooperation and solidarity, but their meaning comes from the old path, it means subjecting themselves and using the law for individual interest at the cost of the collective and its processes. In cooperatives that depart from the old path, values like honesty, solidarity or cooperation are connected to the origins of cooperativism, the roots of their members, and communities where they come from – see Figure 8. These values are connected with our childhood and with fair norms and equity in our families and communities: “equal inheritance”, “respecting collective assets”, sharecropping”, “shared labor”. These values, said figuratively, we have buried under layers of soil and we have to dig them up; on this path doubts about whether we are on the right path assail us. Swimming against the current is rare and difficult; the question guides us.

The fifth mechanism is the rootedness of the organization in its communities and in the diversified nature of its production. The old path makes society subject itself to the market, and with that promotes the extinction of the peasantry through monocropping, a colonial strategy for dispossession, now intensified by capitalism. This old path expressed through cooperatives coopted by the market follow that same strategy, even promoting organic production, just as we saw previously. This path leads us to serve the market, adopt monocropping, turns us into enemies of nature, disconnects us from other people and from ourselves. On the cooperative path, we deepen the horizontal and vertical diversification, it connects us to nature and our roots. The more diversified we are, the more we energize our communities, the more we connect ourselves to different markets. The more agroecological practices we adopt, the greater autonomy that we attain, and the more we pull our cooperatives to function in our own territories. It is in this context that we talk about improving production, the quality of what we produce, to the extent that we improve the land.

Finally the mechanism that reinforces a contingent awareness. The old path makes the worker disconnect from the wealth that is produced on the farm, hacienda or factory, makes the producer family believe that their country ends at their own hedgerow, makes the member believe that it only means calling yourself a member, while always being a “seller of raw materials”. This old path makes the accompanying NGO or technician believe that their advice does not have to do with the results of the cooperative or the family. This act of believing that our actions have nothing to do with the situation of a country, the environmental situation, and the democratic system or not of our countries, is an act of alienation that intensifies climate change and social inequality. The cooperative path is precisely reconnecting our actions and their aggregated effects of unintended consequences.

On throwing in 10 nickels, 50 members saw how that act was turned into candy, into their redistribution, in a collective act that started a cooperative, a space for learning and created a living community. In the story “the little boss and his henhouse”, contrary to the mentality of the president Reymundo, Maria connects the actions of people, that “a cooperative is for thinking and helping one another.” The mental openness of Harold and Louise led them to think that there were unjust rules that generated results like that “naked boy”. It is Jacinto in the story at the beginning of this article that connects processes and “thinking differently”. The redistribution of profits is one of greatest expressions for members to connect their actions with the results of their organization.  It is the connection between individual ideas and actions, and their collective aggregated effects (results), that gives us the possibility of awakening, and consequently of changing. This is the basis for cultivating a contingent awareness, that there is nothing that is given, that we humans transform realities; that there is no “above”, only the circle of Figure 6.

3.2  Elements of repossession

Ownership is the biggest result of the mechanisms just mentioned. This ownership is expressed in three rules: redistributing profits, providing credit that breaks with the crop lien system, and horizontally and vertically diversifying in a way connected to nature. The three rules are interdependent on one another. See Figure 9.

Redistributing is the first rule. On the old path, the member summarizes their identity as “I am a seller of sugar cane”, “seller of sun-dried coffee”, “seller of cacao pulp”, or “seller of my labor”. On this old path, reproduced by the coopted cooperatives, that mentality of treating the members as “hens” is intensified, giving them “the organic premium”, or improving the price for their sugar cane, coffee or cacao. These cooperatives do not allow discussing the profits of the cooperative, nor do their global actor allies bring up these topics. In contrast, on the cooperative path that notion of redistribution* is inherent to being a cooperative.

In the story about the emergence of the “Esperanza de los Campesinos” cooperative, 10 peasants contributed 5 cents, and 50 candies were redistributed among 50 peasants; the object of that meeting was not to buy candy and distribute them, but that act of re-distributing them (“multiplication of the loaves”) gave them the sense of ownership of being a cooperative from the very beginning. This is what Harold and Louise experienced after that night of tears, that ownership was the biggest challenge for the workers to become the owners of the business, and likewise in the case of members with their cooperatives. Redistribution is a means of ownership over your organization, which makes profits, information and rotation in leadership be shared. This is what wakes up the member, generates in the member interest in being informed, occupying positions of leadership, and keeping watch over their organization. In this way, Rufino Espinoza who calculates his income and costs for his farm, could ask for information and calculate the income and expenses of the cooperative; the members can calculate the yield of their coffee from cherry form to export coffee, and even roasted and ground coffee. Because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be” (Mt 6:21); a (economic, social, political and environmental) treasure that is the result of collective effort.

Contrary to “giving credit to go into debt” or “providing credit as payment for your produce at less than half its market price”, the second rule of change is: credit that frees the members from indebtedness and the crop lien system. This is possible coupled to the rule of redistribution of the cooperative´s profits, as well as receiving part of the loan in kind (farm inputs), making the relationships and information transparent in the heart of the family, that leads them to savings in times of  “fat cows” for the lean times, and stagger income throughout the year.

This takes us to a third rule: diversifying connected to nature. It is not possible to stagger income without breaking with colonial mono-cropping; nor to save if a family and their cooperative are not promoting diversification in its various expressions. Staggering income comes from horizontally diversifying on the farm and vertically in forms of forward agro-industrialization (e.g. roasting coffee, making chocolate, making marmalade from fruit on the farm) and backward industrialization (making organic fertilizer and natural fungicide, protecting water sources). This rule fights that pernicious rule of “not putting anything on it”, connected to the lack of ownership over their own farm and cooperative; let us recall the old Spanish proverb “what nature does not bestow, Salamanca cannot provide[10]. That relationship between production and nature must be rethought from the idea of holistic ecology, proposed in Laudato Si. There Pope Francis urges recognizing one common cry from the most impoverished people and degraded nature; not seeing nature are something isolated nor much less as a thing, but connected, people with the environment, with God, with oneself and with other people; it is a notion that starts from the fact that there is an interconnection between society and nature, politics, economics and the environment, personal dignity and the common good, generational justice, culture and lifestyles. In other words, diversifying linked to nature is something that you connect with multiple and different areas.

These three rules are interconnected within a glocal framework. Composting is not done, in spite of hundreds of trainings received, because doing composting is a technical matter connected to policy, ownership of the farm and the cooperative. Credit can be a means for freeing the members from their debts and keeping the business foot from subjecting the cooperative to its interests, if that loan is connected to the redistribution of surpluses, if the financial organizations support this purpose, and if the member families improve their capacity for savings in so far as they diversify their activities.

3.3  Transformational accompaniment

This glocal cooperative path requires an accompaniment coherent with, and in the interest of, the aforementioned mechanisms (3.1) and results (3.2). It requires that we be in the home of the member family, and at the same time connected to the entire chain of global actors, in other words, working in networks, in teams, moving as part of the circle in figure 6. “Staying on top of the pulse”, and “being in the game”.

The priest Gallego is a source of inspiration in this. He had his religious network for working with the peasantry, he moved in the communities themselves, reflected in a circle with the peasant families, and contributed to the fact that the peasant families organized; his idea of church went beyond the temple in the municipal capitals. Pope Francis would add: listening to the cry of those most impoverished and the cry of nature as one cry. And we add the compelling need to conceptualize what we learn from the cooperative and from ourselves as accompaniers. We are not looking to do the impossible, but to break down our limits.

Open ended conclusions

Few rules move the world, even though below that “bridge” there might be a lot of running water. What this article dealt with should not be seen as a prescription. It is only a small door to multiple realities in which it must be reinterpreted, corrected, expanded and added to. How to wake up and build cooperatives that would channel the dreams of peasant and indigenous families? How to accompany them breaking through our limits which the traditional academy imposed on us?

In this article we showed that sustained changes are possible if a specific cooperative in a certain community decides to do it. Even more so, if the global actors awaken and join the circle of change. Will global actors have the courage to awaken and change?

What is seen here is not exclusive to cooperatives and the chain of actors linked to them. We find the same structures in any organization or institution, be it grassroots, on the national or international level, the academy or the church. Nevertheless, the hope for change is present even in the most pernicious and inhumane organization or institution that has existed on the face of the earth. Can these organizations dig into their history and that of humanity to re-encounter their real mission in our common home?

[1] Collaborator of Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/), associate researcher of IOB- University of Antwerp (Belgium) and member of Coserpross (http://coserpross.org). rmvidaurre@gmail.com

[2] Crossbar refers to two stick tied to its neck to keep it from digging under a fence.

[3] R. Mendoza, E. Fernandez y K. Kuhnekath, 2012, “¿Institución patrón-dependiente o indeterminación social? Genealogía crítica del sistema de habilitación en el café”, en: Revista ENCUENTRO, No. 92. Managua: UCA

http://www.lamjol.info/index.php/ENCUENTRO/article/view/787  In English at: https://peacewinds.org/patron-dependent-institution-or-social-indetermination-critical-geneology-of-the-crop-lien-system-in-coffee/

[4] This parable is inspired by a visit that a colleague had. I changed the names to protect them.

[5]The old path exists in an infinity of types of organizations: political parties, NGOs, Universities, Churches or sports organizations. “If a teacher misses a class, he does not let us know that he is going to miss, and later decides when to make up that class without consulting the students; that is the order in the University”. I was told this by a student in the fourth year of Oriental medicine studies.

[6] Enrique Dussel, 1990, La producción teórica de Marx, un comentario a los Grundrisse. México: s. XXI.

[7] R. Mendoza, 2012, Gatekeeping and the struggle over development in the Nicaraguan Segovias. PhD tesis. Belgium: University of Antwerp.

[8] Several studies have now found this correlation between organic production for markets and poverty. See: Joni Valkila, 2009, “Fair Trade organic coffee production in Nicaragua — Sustainable development or a poverty trap?” in: Ecological Economics.

[9] In an article we pulled together the genesis of this cooperative, see: R. Mendoza, 2017, “A priest, a coop and a peasantry that regulates the elites”, in: ENVIO 425. Managua: IHCA-UCA. This year the cooperative celebrates its 50th anniversary, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5v9aKUIecuw

[10] This expression probably refers to the fact that one of the most prestigious universities of Europe is in Salamanca, and the first to receive the title of university. It is a saying that indicates nothing is a given, your genes do not ensure your success, rather it is sustained effort that is required.

Ideologues of the coup created a 7 handed monster, carrier of the deadly poison of lies

This editorial appeared on the official media site of the FSLN, El 19 Digital on Oct 19, 2018. Written by the President of the Church and Society Evangelical Coordinator (CEPRES), it again is an example of the extreme polarization in the country. Even more serious when the polarization is fueled by a religious leader using religious language and imagery, in light of the fact that even Nicaraguan history tells us that any viable post-crisis government  will have to incorporate people with very different perspectives on society.

However it does confirm what many of the opposition leaders – picked up on Sunday Oct 14th and released on Monday Oct 15th – said about the perspective of their police interrogators  while in El Chipote. They reported that their interrogators insisted that these demonstrations were being centrally controlled and financed, and found it hard to believe that people could be spontaneously gathering in demonstrations, organizing through the use of social media. This model of organization is not believable for people immersed in the  Sandinista model, where everything is centrally planned and directed. Furthermore, those leaders are promoting the idea that  the driving force behind the opposition is US imperialism.

Ideologues of the coup created a 7 handed monster, carrier of the deadly poison of lies

Editorial for Friday October 19, 2018 on El 19 Digital, Official online media of the FSLN

By Miguel Ángel Casco González

(Original Spanish at: https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:82887-ideologos-del-golpe-crearon-un-monstruo-de-7-manos-portador-del-veneno-mortal-de-la-mentira)

The industry of falsehoods, like all industries, needs several components that ensure the success of its product. The industry of falsehoods has a framework, a design, a label, a communication platform and a marketing strategy. To achieve the desired success they place special emphasis on the product presentation, they work so that it be credible, attractive, pleasing to the eyes of the consumer, even though its content might be a farce. As part of the marketing, people and personalities are sought out so that they might be the “image” drivers and promoters of the product. It is not equally believable what a drunk says than what a priest might say, likewise what a prostitute says is not as equally credible as what a journalist might say. So the strategists of the industry of falsehoods select people and personalities so that they might be the image that seduces and convinces the consumer of that product.

In Nicaragua for several years now the strategists of the failed coup started the installation of small, allied and interconnected factories to build an industry producing lies and false scenarios which would serve as the basis and support for the overthrow of the government of the Sandinista Front. The ideologues of the failed coup established factories and laboratories to produce falsehoods in universities, communications media, Catholic parishes, civil organizations, peasant and human rights centers with a specific design that included drama courses to create scenarios, pretend false tragedies and publicize them in Nicaragua and the world as sacrosanct truths. The designers of the industry of falsehood located in Miami, Washington and other US cities, as in all their interventions, previously select, prepare and train their native representatives to carry out the strategy, they finance and sponsor the actions, they become the protectors of their agents who they present as “angels of light, defenseless children, heroes of peace” and in this way they make it seem that the only thing that they are doing is defending democracy and supporting the Nicaraguan people, attempting to hide their true role of strategists and financiers of the coup with their internal allies as promoter and implementers.

Each one of the native actors would play a specific role, following the pre-established script set by the ideologues of the northern empire, who in the end would form a heartless monster, devoid of conscience, capable of carrying out the most perverse actions that the spawners of evil could imagine. What they did not foresee is that this perverse monster would get out of their control and within the coup promoters would turn into their own destroyer.

The strategists of the coup created a 7 handed monster to carry out their macabre plan. These 7 hands were selected, trained, financed and directed from a brain that from outside the country made each hand fulfill their assigned role as faithful puppets. These are the 7 hands of the coup monster that now is on its deathbed , the victims of their own poison.

  1. The Universities

The role of the universities involved was to project the criminals as students who were fighting for the social demands of the elderly benefitted by INSS (elderly who never appeared protesting). These “students” should be astutely creating false scenarios, torture and other evil things. In pursuit of this some “students” got off script and began to fight among themselves over jealously, interests, publicity, control over the assets stolen, drugs, money and the donations received. To the extent that big fights broke out just over deciding who of the “students” were going to read a press release. This monster suckled by universities like the UPOLI in their debauchery destroyed their own nest, stealing from and destroying the installations of the formerly Baptist university which was turned into their base of operations, den of thieves in complicity with some of their authorities and functionaries.

  1. The NGOs

The NGOs involved in the failed coup, in addition to being the link for the financing of the organized groups, had the task to present the actors of the vandalic actions as peaceful, civic groups, without stones and weapons, defenseless youth, heroes of peace and democracy. They in turn must play the role of catalysts and promoters of the plan.

  1. Human Rights centers and commissions

On their part the centers and commissions of supposedly human rights defenders fulfilled their task in a specific way which consisted in doubling and tripling the figures of the dead and wounded, putting on the list of the dead people who died of natural causes or accidents, to victimize the coup mongers and finally present the criminals who had stolen, set fires, kidnapped, tortured and murdered as political prisoners. Those representatives were prohibited from defending tortured Sandinistas, mothers of murdered police, and all the Sandinista people, for them only the criminals and coup mongers have human rights. But that was the role that they were assigned and fully carried out.

  1. The business leaders of COSEP and AMCHAM

The business people part of COSEP and AMCHAM at first had to break all connection with the government and attack the economy of the country. Pretending that they were the ones who were financing the “civic struggle” and that they would be the guarantor for the establishment of a new government. In this desire for visibility some figures of the business sector began to be projected as future members of a government junta, which began to generate jealousy and contradictions between the “students” and the groups entrenched in the NGOs who fancied themselves to be the representatives of civil society. The business leaders of this country destroyed the spaces that the government and the workers had opened and ceded the policy of economic consensus and now have hung in their very comfortable offices a new title that reads: “Honor to coup mongers.”

  1. Peasant groups

In another of the scenarios the peasant banner is raised, where some women and men repeated the format from Managua, adapting to it the ingredient that “they are being dispossessed of the land” by the government, and presenting themselves as victims of the big canal project. They were assigned the task of raising barricades and blocking the principal access routes to goods and products from the countryside and from outside the country. As a reward or compensation for their “civic labor” they authorized them to be able to charge a toll on all the transport workers and people with vehicles, so that in order to pass through a death lock they had to pay hundreds and thousands of córdobas.

  1. Catholic bishops

All this network of lies, all this platform of hate and perversity needed robes, a packaging that would make the lies appear as truth, hate as love, perversity as a holy attribute and it is there where the Catholic hierarchy comes in with their nefarious role, taking on and fulfilling several roles like that of an accessory after the fact, and protector of criminals, defender of the infernal blockades, the tip of the spear of the coup monger strategy, inspirer, promoter, and “sanctifier” of violent actions (it was evident that the criminals felt represented and protected by several bishops of the Nicaraguan Episcopal Conference). They put the priestly identity and robes at the service of hate and lies, several Catholic churches were provided to store weapons and torture Sandinistas. Every day they repeated and invented lies. One of those big lies was to say to President Daniel to his own face that “the people has already abandoned him, that they condemned him and that it would be better for him to resign.” Another bigger lie was that the cathedral was to try to protect the barricades as a civic weapon of a peaceful resistance, knowing that those barricades were places for the rape of girls, places of torture, death and burning people alive, they being the first to oppose that those barricades be removed. The Catholic hierarchy with many of their priests not only “sanctified” the lies and perversity, but they themselves became a factory of lies, which made them not only lose credibility with thousands of their Catholic faithful who will never more return to their parishes, but that knowingly became a energizing structure of the coup, and in biblical terms showed themselves as sons of darkness, sons of Satan, who if they do not repent from their wickedness, will have to appear before the judgement of God. “You are from your father the devil. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has not remained in the truth because there is no truth in him. When he speaks lies, he speaks out of his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies” (John8:44).

7: Journalists and the communications media

And finally in the chess game of the coup mongers the platform of communication was conceived and assessed as the essential element in the strategy of the failed coup. That is why thousands of dollars have been invested in oxygenating and sustaining journalists and activists located in magazines, newspapers, radios, television channels and virtual networks. As faithful agents of the evil empire they promoted a ferocious disinformation campaign and lies, blaming the government for everything, presenting it as a criminal dictatorship, while the criminals they promoted as democratic youth, defenseless, as little angels. Given their eagerness there was a journalist who had the audacity to compare their actions with the civic struggle of Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Creating panic, collective hysteria, insecurity, anarchy, spreading rumors and lies, making and disseminating staged images and photographs, making threats to Sandinistas and creating the sensation that the President would resign and abandon the country, was among others the focus that the journalists hired to be promoters and drivers of the coup actions were tirelessly disseminating. I believe that, in the entire history of our country, this has been the period where a group of the communications media in an orchestrated and systematic way have spread the biggest number of lies and falsehoods ever seen, that if someone took on the task of counting all the lies spread the list would be very long.

Even though each one of these 7 hands of the monster named had specific tasks and functions, through all of them there was a crosscutting common denominator: lies, confirming that wickedness is never separated from lies. Lies and wickedness form an infernal binomial.

IN THE TONGUE LIVES A DEADLY POISON, IT POSSESSES THE POWER OF DEATH AND LIFE.

The Bible warns us that the tongue of the impious is full of deadly venom (James 3:8) and that in it is found the power of death and life (Proverbs 18:21). The creative power of the word rests on the tongue. The tongue is a very powerful instrument, but unfortunately on many occasions we are not aware of the power that we possess. It is dangerous to handle dynamite when one does not know what one has in their hands – it can kill you. Many people have died through their own tongues, we almost never measure the consequences of our words. The apostle James points out that the tongue is an evil that cannot be stopped, full of deadly venom. Because in the same way that a serpent bites you and poisons all your body and you can die, so the tongue of the liar poisons an entire family or an entire people, and they can die, if there is not a quick intervention of the truth as the only antidote to counteract the deadly venom of the lie. That is why that, if someone wants to live from lies, love them and even believe in them and spread them, that person needs to understand that they have given a place in their heart to Satan who is the prince of darkness and lies come from darkness.

According to the Bible no one can master their tongue on their own, to achieve it they need the help of the Holy Spirit.

The lying tongue that exudes venom produces damaging effects. One of those effects is that it cauterizes the conscience of the liar. These people with their consciences cauterized are capable of committing any crime and perversity. A person without a conscience is like a city without police, there is nothing nor anyone who can make one stop, pull over, they run like unbridled beasts. Seducing “with the hypocrisy of liars, who having their conscience cauterized, commit abominable acts.” (1 Timothy 4:2).

Another of the pernicious effects of lies is that they harden the hearts of the liar. From the stage of self deceit, the liars move to the deadly condition known as “bearers of hardened hearts” (James 1:22). “The weapons of the cheat are evil; they hatch wicked plots to confuse the simple with lying words” (Isaiah 32:7). Therefore the lie is an instrument that the devil uses to do evil. Wickedness does not operate alone, it counts on three powerful allies, hate, lies and deceit. That is why there are six things that Jehovah abhors, within them is the lying tongue. “The abominable and homicidal, the sorcerers and all liars will have their place in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur” (Apocalypses 21:8).

The coup monster referred to here is a child of Satan, because it makes lying its principal weapon, many were turned into multiplying agents of the lies and deceit, allies of evil to kill, steal, burn and destroy. We have waged a spiritual battle taking up the weapon of the truth, applying the truth as the only antidote that can counteract and conquer the venom of lies. And this should be an every day task, applying love and truth in an ongoing campaign of spiritual healing to rescue thousands from death. So far already an important number of Nicaraguans who were victims of lies, and who on learning the truth of the facts have been withdrawing from the lies, and if they look for God sincerely, he will have mercy on them and will heal their souls, because lying is a cancer that corrodes the soul and corrupts society, while the truth heals us and sets us free. But there are others whose every day food and oxygen is lying, they cannot live in the light, only in the darkness, they have made lying their permanent ally and their weapon to damage and destroy others; because the liar does not only lie to others, but also lies to himself. “They in the end, like all liars, will be the victims of their own lies. Because the payment for lies is death—“ (Romans 6:23)

Therefore no more lies and wickedness. “Leaving aside all lies and falsehoods, speak the truth each person with their neighbor” (Ephesians 4:25). Being sure and convinced that, just as light conquers the darkness, just as love conquers hate, just as life conquers death, also the TRUTH conquers and triumphs over lies.

Rev. Miguel Ángel Casco González

Words of Eloquence and Meaning

For the past several weeks I have struggled to come up with the right means of expression to describe how I feel about circumstances in Nicaragua.  In the shadow of killings and abductions and fear, Nicaragua would seem to be quite unlike the country in which Winds of Peace has worked over the past 35 years.  Pictures of massive protests in the places I know, photos of masked shooters in the neighborhoods where I’ve been, blood in the streets where I’ve walked: these are surreal images that choke the words I should say.  I have not traveled to Nicaragua since February, and I feel as though I’ve been away even longer.

The development continues, nonetheless.  Loans are being made:  last week, two women’s cooperatives received small, initial funding for local agriculture.  Grants are being given: despite the vastly reduced attendance in schools over recent months, elementary-age reading initiatives are being redirected through community sites and churches  Repayments are being made: even where full repayment might be delayed, partners are reworking payment plans to honor their obligations as best they can.  There may be few causes of great joy within the current turmoil of Nicaragua, but there are hopeful moments.

Of course, what matters in this crisis time is not the impact upon a small U.S. foundation; Winds of Peace is just fine.  Of importance is the real-life upheaval being lived out daily by Nicaraguans who struggled for daily survival long before the first protests were launched, and who now find themselves threatened with even greater hardships than before.  Most North Americans would have a difficult time fully comprehending Nicaraguan poverty prior to April 18 of this year.  We have even less likelihood of  understanding their realities given the way things are today.  And my words are simply insufficient to the cause.

So I invite readers to shift their attentions to the “Nica Update” entries at this site.  They are frequent updates on the status of the confrontation and the contain the observations and experiences of men and women caught up in current struggle.  They are words of passion.  They are expressions of the most deeply-held beliefs of Nicaraguan people yearning once again for peace and equity.  They are the fluent articulations of a people’s soul, in a time of deep distress.

Over the din of bullets and bulldozers, emerge words of eloquence and meaning….

 

Deja Vu

Conditions in the country we serve, Nicaragua, continue to hearken back to a generation ago, when the administration in power faced enormous protests and demands for a new government.  The confrontations continue today, just as they did all those years ago,  leading to violence and deaths, denials, accusations, reprisals and lots of pain.  It’s tough to watch in a country of such charm and character.

Two recent documents, written by The University of Central America and the Episcopal Church, provide both a news update as well as perspectives about how at least part of the population places its support.  The following is a statement provided by the UCA following a Wednesday night demonstration:

The University of Central America (UCA) reports that this Wednesday, May 30, at around 4:30 PM, there was an attack by the “shock troops” against the defenseless population participating in a civic march that had the UCA as its final destination.

The attacks took place in the vicinity of the gate closest to the National University of Engineering (UNI). In support of the people, the UCA security guards opened the gates so that the protesters could take refuge in the campus. Fleeing the attacks, more than 5,000 people managed to enter, while many fled in other directions. Countless injured people were treated by volunteers immediately on campus and ambulances took all of the injured to medical centers.

After 8:30 PM, volunteers and drivers from the UCA had managed to evacuate the majority of the refugees to different parts of the capital and, at the time of publication of this message, continue in this process. Despite the shooting, the refugees did not want to stay on campus because of threats received about attacks on the university.

The UCA, which stands on the side of the people in their struggle for justice, denounces this new criminal attack and demands from the authorities the immediate cessation of the repression that uses shock troops to assassinate with impunity, protected by the current misrule.

We urge human rights organizations, national and foreign, to take note of this situation that seriously affects the lives of citizens and to use mechanisms for the protection of human rights such as the Inter-American Human Rights System and the United Nations.

We urge the international community to stand in solidarity with the people of Nicaragua and to apply mechanisms which can help resolve this crisis, which has reached the level of a massacre against a defenseless population.”

The document quoted below was generated by the Bishops Conference of the Episcopal Church in Nicaragua:

PRESS RELEASE

To the People of God and men and women of good will:

  1. We the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua have experienced with profound pain the violent events carried out last night by armed groups allied with the government against the civilian population. We energetically condemn all these violent acts against the exercise of peaceful free demonstrations and we absolutely reject this organized and systemic aggression against the people, which has left dozens of wounded and some people dead.
  2. We cannot continue allowig this inhumane violence “that destroys the lives of the innocent, that teaches to kill and equally disrupts the lives of those who kill, that leaves behind a trail of resentment and hate, and makes more difficult the just solution of the very problems that caused it” (Centesimus Annus, 52).
  3. We the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference condemn these acts of repression on the part of groups close to the government, and we want to leave clear that the National Dialogue cannot be renewed as long as the people of Nicaragua continue being denied the right to freely demonstrate and continue being repressed and murdered.
  4. At this moment in which the history of our country continues being stained with blood, we cry out to Jesus Crucified, who on resurrecting from the dead conquered evil and death with the strength of his infinite love. “Oh, Cross of Christ, we teach that the dawn of the sun is stronger than the darkness of night. Oh Cross of Christ, we teach that the apparent victory of evil fades in the face of the empty tomb and in the face of the certainty of the Resurrection and the love of God, which nothing can defeat or darken or weaken” (Pope Francis, Holy Friday 2016). That Mary, the grieving Virgin, whose heart was pierced by a sword in the face of the pain of her Son on the Cross (Lk 2:35), consoles so many Nicaraguan mothers who suffer over the murder of their sons and watch over all our people with maternal love.

Issued in the city of Managua on the thirty first day of the month of May of the the two thousand eighteenth year of the Lord.

 Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua

This communique was signed by the ten bishops of the conference.

(For those interested in tracking developments in Nicaragua, one source is La Prensa.  The daily newspaper provides very current coverage of events in Nicaragua, as well as perspective on events elsewhere in the world.)

For those who know and love Nicaragua and the people there, this is a painful and sad time.  It’s made even more so by how little the U.S. news media writes about it.  Their lack of attention does not diminish the anguish and tragedy of what is occurring in the land of our neighbor to the south….

                                                   

 

 

 

Redistribution

First, a couple of caveats.  (Though this is never a wise practice in one’s writing.)  I normally try to steer clear of political party or opinion in these posts, because that’s not what Winds of Peace is about and political opinion is like pollution of all sorts: it’s everywhere.  Second, my intention is not to sway anyone’s beliefs when it comes to politics.  If something that I write makes a reader reconsider an opinion that he/she holds, that’s entirely up to them.  But every once in a while, someone from the political ranks says or does something that, in my view, merits response.  That’s what this posting is about.

I read that former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, has called for the deportation of all people of the Muslim faith who profess belief in Sharia law– not engaged in illegal activities, but merely believing in a certain religious philosophy.  It’s the latest in a series of xenophobic ideas to emerge from so-called political “leaders” in this country, but an idea which is both unconstitutional and logistically impossible.  Gingrich, who has often promoted unconventional ideas, has clearly exceeded even the boundaries of his own narrow perspectives.  But his concept of extreme prejudice got me to thinking, “what if?”

Gingrich seems to desire a return of Muslim immigrants to their  countries of origin due to the fear that, based upon their beliefs and the violent actions of some constituents of the faith, they will undermine the security and safety of U.S. society.  For the sake of argument, let’s go along with Mr. Gingrich’s postulate and see where it leads.

First, it might be helpful to know where Mr. Gingrich stands with regard to his own religious faith.  He was raised in a Lutheran home environment, though the denomination never seemed to resonate with him.  Later, in graduate school, he became a Southern Baptist convert and most recently he converted to Roman Catholicism.

In any case, it seems as though he may have unwittingly and retrospectively condemned himself and his entire family to deportation from the U.S.   For the annals of criminal justice are brimming over with convicted murderers of all three of the faiths followed by Newt Gingrich.  In his proposal for Muslim deportation, he has condemned all Muslims based upon the actions of some who have killed or vowed to kill U.S. citizens.  If that suggestion has rationale, then we certainly must be prepared to deport Lutherans, Southern Baptists as Roman Catholics, since like some Muslims, their followers have presented threats to the peace and security of this country.

Perhaps it should also be pointed out that during World War II, the Nazi regime was led by a number of “staunch Christians,” including their maddened leader, Adolph Hitler.  There is no argument about the threat which Adolph Hitler posed to the U.S. during his reign of terror, but I doubt that Mr. Gingrich would opine retrospectively about the propriety of expelling Christians from the U.S.

If we go back in history far enough, he might even consider the external threat posed to the original inhabitants of this land and the deadly, culture-destroying invasion of Europeans here.  They, too, were driven by a divine faith which clashed with established religious practice of our earliest ancestors.  They, too, (or their descendants) perhaps warrant deportation.

Taken to its logical conclusion, Mr. Gingrich seems to have set the table for all people to be sent back to the land of their earliest discernible ancestry.   For many Nicaraguans, that might be Spain.  For many inhabitants of the Americas, it’s Europe.  We all might find ourselves asking one another, “where did your people come from?”  Because under Mr. Gingrich’s logic, we should be sent back.

The constitutional tenets of this country provide for each of us to read and believe whatever we may choose, as long as we do not violate laws or the rights of others.  Mr. Gingrich has put forward an idea that utterly rejects that freedom and thus, the U.S. Constitution itself.

The analogies here might seem stretched.  But no more so than the panicky abdication of legal and moral rights expressed by a man who, until this week, was apparently under consideration for the vice-presidency of the United States.  We are always but one voice removed from another human tragedy….

 

The “Poverty” Here at Home

 Most folks with whom I talk about Nicaragua know very little about it, neither its history with the U.S. nor its current status.  The country is seemingly just too small and insignificant to bother about. But every once in a while, I encounter someone who has read about it or traveled there, or perhaps completed some sort of service work among the poor.

When acknowledging my own work with Winds of Peace Foundation, it’s among that latter group that I might detect a certain condescension about the plight of Nicaraguans, and especially their government.  The general impression of many is that the poverty in Nicaragua is the by-product of a corrupt and self-serving government, and that if more democratic principles were followed, Nicaraguans could be better off than they are today.  To that view, I most often respond with, “It’s complicated.”

So when I read the following article, I immediately thought about those who would over-simplify political realities anywhere, and maybe especially is a land called the United States of America.

Recently, I’ve been rereading “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” In this political season, William L. Shirer’s mammoth history of Hitler’s Germany seems a useful guide to how a skilled demagogue can seize and destroy a great nation.

Hitler’s rise, as narrated by Shirer, was the triumph of an unlikely messiah — “the man with the Charlie Chaplin mustache, who had been a down-and-out tramp in Vienna in his youth, an unknown soldier, the somewhat comical leader of the Beer Hall Putsch, this spellbinder.” How did this preposterous upstart bend one of the most cultured of nations to his will?

He did it partly through the ballot box. In the early 1930s, Hitler’s National Socialist Party, the Nazis, rose through a series of free elections. It never won a majority in any of them, but emerged as the strongest of several parties in the Reichstag, or parliament. Hitler then connived his way to the office of chancellor, or prime minister, playing on the vanity, foolishness, ambition and greed of non-Nazis to outmaneuver them all.

“No class or group or party in Germany could escape its share of responsibility for the abandonment of the democratic Republic and the advent of Adolf Hitler,” Shirer wrote. “The cardinal error of the Germans who opposed Nazism was their failure to unite against it.”

Hitler never got more than 37 percent of the vote. “But the 63 percent of the German people who expressed their opposition to Hitler were much too divided and shortsighted to combine against a common danger which they must have known would overwhelm them unless they united, however temporarily, to stamp it out.”

 Hitler’s rise owed everything to the 1929 stock market crash and the global Depression that followed it. Under the Republic, Germany had begun to recover from its defeat in World War I. Then, suddenly, “millions were thrown out of work. Thousands of small business enterprises went under.”

According to Shirer, Hitler “was both ignorant of and uninterested in economics. But he was not uninterested in or ignorant of the opportunities which the Depression suddenly gave him. The suffering of his fellow Germans was not something to waste time sympathizing with, but rather to transform, cold-bloodedly and immediately, into political support for his own ambition.”

Hitler played on this in the 1930 election, when the Nazis became the second biggest party. “To all the millions of discontented, Hitler in a whirlwind campaign offered what seemed to them, in their misery, some measure of hope. He would make Germany strong again … stamp out corruption, bring the money barons to heel (especially if they were Jews), and see to it that every German had a job and bread. To hopeless, hungry men seeking not only relief but new faith and new gods, the appeal was not without effect.”

Hitler needed money and he turned his charm on the “politically childish men of the business world.” Communists and socialists were strong and feared by business leaders. “They may not like the party’s demagoguery and its vulgarity, but on the other hand it was arousing the old feelings of German patriotism and nationalism. It promised to lead the German people away from communism, socialism, trade-unionism and the futilities of democracy.”

One of these “futilities,” Shirer wrote, was a polarized and paralyzed parliament, “breaking down at a moment when the economic crisis made strong government imperative.” Even the democratic government had begun ruling by decree.

 Actually, the Republic had pampered the businessmen, bankers and landowners. Despite this, “with a narrowness, a prejudice, a blindness which seems inconceivable, they hammered away at the foundations of the Republic until, in alliance with Hitler, they brought it down.”

Hitler also courted the army, still stung by its defeat in the war, and promised it new power in exchange for its support.

In this way, Shirer wrote, Hitler, “a leader of the lower-middle-class masses, rallied, in addition to his own followers, the support of the upper-class Protestants of the north, the conservative Junker agrarians and a number of monarchists.”

In 1932, Hitler ran for president against the octogenarian Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg. “He flew from one end of Germany to the other. In the first campaign, he had harped on the misery of the people, the impotence of the Republic. Now he depicted a happy future for all Germans if he were elected: jobs for the workers, higher prices for the farmers, more business for the businessmen.”

“In the Third Reich,” he promised, “every German girl will find a husband.”

 He finished a strong second in a three-man race. Then, in a parliamentary election, the Nazis became the largest party, with 230 out of 608 seats. From this base, he played his enemies against each other and then persuaded the weary Hindenburg to make him chancellor.

Shirer wrote: “In this way, by way of the back door, by means of a shabby political deal with the old-school reactionaries he privately detested, the former tramp … became chancellor of a great nation.”

Shirer, who published his book in 1960, was a Chicagoan and former foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. He was writing about Germany, not his own country. Because, as we all know, it can’t happen here.

(Richard C. Longworth, a former chief European correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, is a fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He wrote this article for the Chicago Tribune.)

It’s an article worthy of our undivided attention, a perspective reflective of the truth that there is more than just material poverty that can infect the human condition….

 

For Whom Do You Speak?

Whether consciously or not, we all speak for someone.  Of course, we speak for ourselves.  But even what we speak in our own self-interest most often represents others; we live in a pluralistic place which guarantees that what we say likely echoes someone else’s views.  Over the past months I have listened- sometimes intentionally, other times involuntarily- to a host of political voices seeking to speak on my behalf.  Despite the fact that I would be quite uncomfortable having any of them speak for me, each seems to lay claim to the privilege of speaking for a majority of the electorate, including me.  And as I have wrestled with the reality of someone purporting to represent my thoughts and feelings, it got me to thinking about the rest of us.  Who do we speak for?

I thought about the people I know best.  One of my close friends, passionate about the outdoors his entire life, has come to teach environmentalism to college students at a time when most of his peers have retired.  Another has devoted his energies to the cultivation of the arts, and on a broad scale, in a manner that embraces not only accomplished artists but also the most fledgling efforts of the virtually unknown.  A third has ended a career of pastoring his congregations with a voice for social justice,  even when doing so might have generated unrest and personal discomfort.  Each has chosen a cause, a purpose for his voice, a deliberate act of representation.

A lot of people attempt to speak for others but miss the mark. Government officials are notorious for speaking what the constituents want to hear, or what the officials want them to hear.  Religious leaders for centuries have tried to tell their followers how they should behave, only to be challenged by shifting societal norms.  CEOs everywhere adopt the role of corporate spokespersons, but the perspectives of employees are often far different from the company line: ask a CEO about his/her company’s culture and then interview an employee or two.

Others of us are much less overt-  quieter types for whom introversion is a safer form of existence and who are far less likely to mount a figurative soapbox of any kind.  Who or what do we represent in our relative silence?  For assuredly, not to speak is still a statement of one kind or another.

One of the lessons I learned long ago during my earliest years in business was that “silence is acceptance.”  If I was not willing to challenge an idea, then the fair presumption was that the concept was acceptable to me and that I would support it.  While the wisdom served as a potentially liberating management tool, more broadly the notion described the societal reality in which we live.  Just as in the truth of “not to decide is to decide,” there is truth in “not to speak is to speak.”  And there is potential danger in words that are never spoken.

For instance, an article in The Minneapolis StarTribune describes the growing number of “speakers” fomenting anti-Muslim sentiment in rural towns of the Upper Midwest.  The self-appointed proselytizers, whose expertise ranges from used car sales to conspiracy theory, possess an understanding about how to use their words to stoke the fears of the unknown in the minds of their audiences.  Of course, there are many unbiased residents in small-town America.  But the silence of their voices provides amplification to those who portray all Muslims as like-minded, radical jihadists.  The “preachers” speak only for themselves, I hope.

Then there is the case of words spoken out of the side of the mouth. The same political candidates referenced above, with choruses from their legislative colleagues, have all decried the disappearance of the middle-class in the U.S. in the most recent case of a near-extinction.  But while each has accentuated the importance of the species and pledged to save it, their words belie their true loyalties.  While the middle-class faces utter disappearance, the top 1% of the population continues to amass unprecedented wealth. The reality begs the question about who truly speaks for the vanishing strength of America, its middle class.

For whom do we speak?  Whether we dedicate our words and actions to the natural world, the creativity of the arts, the circumstances of marginalized people, a political ideology or something else, our words leave a legacy.  That legacy will be a fingerprint of our lifetimes, a precise identification of who we were in our time, a picture of what was important to us, an identification of our stewardship, the depth of our love, and whether we left the world in any better shape than we found it….

 

 

 

 

To Not Speak

For the most part, I like to reserve comments here for topics which are specific to Nicaragua and the people and organizations with whom we work.  But occasionally, I come across something written by someone else, something which has profound meaning for any of us, whether in Nicaragua, the U.S. or another place.  One of those important stories appeared in the Opinion Pages of The Minneapolis StarTribune newspaper.  I invite you to read this important recounting of one man’s encounter with ignorance and bigotry, in an unlikely venue.

It was my first Minnesota Vikings game and my first NFL game. I am not new to football, though. As an undergrad at Boston College, I went to many Eagles games, and I played junior varsity football. I knew what to expect on the field. I was excited, and, as I found my seat, I thought about bringing my family to a game in the new stadium.

What I didn’t expect was for a man to push aside other people and point his finger in my face, demanding to know if I was a refugee. He needed to make sure I wasn’t a refugee, he said. There was anger in his face and vehemence in his accusation.

I was stunned. He didn’t know anything about me. We were complete strangers. But somewhere in his mind, all he saw was a terrorist, based on nothing more than the color of my skin. He was white, and I wasn’t. He didn’t see anything else.

He didn’t know that I have lived in Minnesota for the past four years, that I was born and raised in New York and that the words “Never Forget” may mean more to me than to him. He didn’t know that when I went home and my children jumped on top of me and asked “How was the game?” that I’d be holding back tears as I told them about racism instead of touchdowns. He didn’t know that I am an attorney and the director of the Refugee and Immigrant Program at the Advocates for Human Rights.

It was also abundantly clear that he didn’t know about refugees, dignity or freedom. He didn’t know that if he were speaking to a refugee, he’d be speaking to someone who feared persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or social group. He didn’t know that many refugees are victims of some of the worst human-rights abuses occurring on the planet, ranging from being sold into sexual slavery to being killed in mass executions. He didn’t know that being a refugee is a badge of resilience and honor, not danger.

In that moment, I was terrified. But what scared me the most was the silence surrounding me. As I looked around, I didn’t know who was an ally or an enemy. In those hushed whispers, I felt like I was alone, unsafe and surrounded. It was the type of silence that emboldens a man to play inquisitor. I thought about our national climate, in which some presidential candidates spew demagoguery and lies while others play politics and offer soft rebukes. It is the same species of silence that emboldened white supremacists to shoot five unarmed protesters recently in Minneapolis.

The man eventually moved on. I found security staff, and with a guard and friend at my side, I confronted the man on the concessions level. I told him that what he said was racist and that what he did scared me. I told him that I was afraid to return to my seat and that I was afraid that people were going to hurt me. I told him that what he did makes me afraid for my children.

Somewhere during that second confrontation there was a change. Maybe some humanity crept inside him. Maybe he felt the presence of the security guard. While he said he was sorry, his apology was uttered in an adolescent way that demonstrated that he felt entitled to reconciliation as much as he felt entitled to hurl hatred. He wanted to move on and enjoy the game. I told him that I didn’t want his apology. Rather, I wanted him ejected from the stadium because he made me feel unsafe.

The security staff talked with him privately. I don’t know what was said. He was not removed. Apparently, the Vikings do not think that hate speech and racism are removable offenses. My gameday experience was ruined. I tried to focus on the players, but I continued to take glances at the man who sat just a few yards away. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder, wondering if he had inspired someone else. It was clear that I would not be bringing my family to a Vikings game.

I am deeply troubled by what happened to me. Hate speech is a warning for us all. It is like smoke. Imagine your office, church or stadium filling with smoke, while everyone acted like nothing was wrong. That smoke eventually becomes an unstoppable fire, the type of fire that has consumed people around the world to commit horrendous crimes, the type of fire that can bring down the entire building. As President Obama stated in his address from the Oval Office on Sunday evening: “[I]t is the responsibility of all Americans — of every faith — to reject discrimination.” It is up to us all, from individual bystanders to institutions as big as the Vikings, to respond to and to stop the spread of racism and hate.

(Deepinder Mayell is an attorney and director of the Advocates for Human Rights’ Refugee and Immigrant Program.)

This tale caused me to shiver, literally.  I shook from both anger and fear.  I was angry at the baseless, insulting assault on a man attending an afternoon football game.  The assailant might have just as well pummeled Mr. Mayell with a club.  I was angry at the recognition that, even in the presumably well-mannered Midwest, episodes of irrational prejudice can be manifest anywhere.    I was angry at the stadium security people for tolerating such behavior.  (I have seen them less tolerant on far lesser behaviors.)

But mostly, I shivered at the silence exhibited by those seated amidst the confrontation.  Their silence permitted and even sanctioned the assault.  Their failure to defend an innocent spectator might even be seen as a more egregious disregard than the actions of the attacker; he acted on the basis of blind hatred, while the others displayed a silent and collective cowardice which tacitly condoned the bullying abuse.

We often wonder to ourselves how we might respond to emergencies such as at an accident scene or a fire.  Would we have the courage to act?  In the case of the silent seat mates at the Vikings football game, I’m afraid the answer to that introspection would be a resounding “no.”  I pray that I might never be guilty of such indifference….