In all of history, mankind has too often concluded that truth tends to hurt us. Whether in refusing to face a reality which we don’t wish to acknowledge or bending a reality to serve some other purpose, we are masters of deceit. The continuing deaths of 130 Yemeni children per day is a truth better left unknown. Thousands of immigrants approaching the southern U.S. border are more easily dismissed when seen as criminals. We even bend the truth to our own detriment, as when misrepresenting to our physicians how much we exercise, how much we drink, what we eat. (Really?)
One of the great ironies is that speaking the truth- which is said to set us free- is one of the most difficult tasks of our lives. Which is why we stand in such awed respect of those who summon the will to say the truth, regardless of the cost. One such individual is profiled in the “Nica Update” section of this website. Our most recent entry there presents the testimony of Ligia Gomez, former Manager for Economic Research for the Central Bank in Nicaragua, and Political Secretary of the Sandinista Leadership Council in that State institution. Read her story, an increasingly rare profile in courage and truth-telling. She has given up much in speaking her truth.
In our complex and results-driven existence, we tend to value what we can possibly get done, and think less about how the thing has been done. The current U.S. president likes to heap praise upon himself for the current strength of the U.S. economy. What he will never talk about is the cost of this economy- in terms of debt, environmental degradation and the threat to our very planet- to be born by future generations. In other words, the truth we are unwilling to tell our children is that we are creating future burden for them for our own comforts today. That truth is a painful one; it’s much nicer to contemplate living in excess and comfort today: have you seen the numbers? Simply fantastic!
Of course, truth is rarely an absolute. It is shaped by our life experiences, our feelings of compassion, and ultimately just how willing we may be to live with the discomfort that truth creates. No one owns the market on truth. Maybe the best we can do is to be truthful with ourselves before demanding the truth from others. Self-truth gives us the opportunity to be truthful with others and better qualified in calling out deceit when we hear it….
This article appeared on the website of “Nicaragua investiga” on October 17, 2018. The anonymous author is a victim of sex abuse. While it is similar to the reflection of Daniel Ortega´s stepdaughter, Zoilamerica Narvaez, in drawing a parallel between the dynamics of abusers with their victims and the relationship of Ortega with the country, this reflection goes a step further. She points out the type of change that needs to happen in relationships throughout society, and the need to break the silence of abuse at all levels, for real and lasting change to happen. This is a relevant reflection for any society, as evidenced recently in the US in the Kavanaugh hearing and priest abuse scandals.
“Nothing will be more revolutionary for our new Nicaragua than that the road to the liberation from the dictatorship be accompanied by the liberation of our consciousness”
This is a reflection that will end up being uncomfortable for many, but it is necessary and urgent for those of us who profoundly believe that it is possible to build a different country, because I am not going to settle for getting rid of a political dictator and continuing with the multiple dictatorships that have crushed us girls and women of my country, Nicaragua, for centuries.
To start, I will say that I am one of many girls who have learned too early the horror of the violence in our bodies at the hands of a relative, and who see in the situation of Nicaragua today too many similarities with the multiple violences that we women experience daily in this country.
I was born into a poor, Catholic and Sandinista family, where you could not speak ill about neither the priests nor the Comandantes. In this way I learned that silence could kill, and that a cry is a powerful weapon that all of us carry within us, and that has saved many of us. I am one more of the Zoilamericas who have said no more along with thousands and thousands of us who have rebelled against the Great Abuser.
Daniel Ortega is a sex abuser and also an abuser of the people. He and Rosario Murillo have operated with their victims in the same way that they have done with an entire country. In a sad but clear similarity, what has happened to Nicaragua is the same as the girl that falls into the claws of a predator disguised as a lamb who comes up to offer a piece of candy, sticks his dirty hands inside her clothing, snatches away her freedom and imposes silence on her, believing that she is never going to be capable of rebelling.
To the surprise of the abuser, the girl breaks the infernal pact of silence, begins to speak about it, first in a low voice, and little by little finds support, until one day shouts it in a loud and clear voice, and now no one can shut her up. The abuser has two options, shoulder the blame, or on the contrary, deny his responsibility, say to the entire world that the girl is to blame, and threaten her or, if it is possible, hurt her.
The story is the same in respect to Nicaragua. To the surprise of the dictator, the people broke their silence, we began with small protests, followed by others a little bigger, and others bigger and bigger until the shout of “No more” was deafening. The dictator had two options, and chose the same path that almost all sex abusers choose: deny the facts, blame the victim, threaten and even kill.
What is in play in both cases is not just the ongoing abuse of this girl or Nicaragua, but the possibility to continue hidden behind the mask of the lamb that allows him to continue the hunt without being discovered, continue making use of power, controlling and abusing a country, in the same way as he controls and abuses a body. The analogy is as perverse as it is appalling.
But more perverse is thinking that Nicaragua is one of the countries with the most sex abuse incidents in Latin America (5,000 denouncements per year), in other words that we are in a country full of men of the same calibre as the dictator Ortega. Men who have abused the girls who are around them for believing themselves owners of their bodies, and who have taken advantage of the trust which these victims have in them in order to violate their integrity.
Many of these abusers have been shielded by relatives, neighbors, the community, the authorities, the churches,…we live with these men on a daily basis, and it is even possible that we may be marching in the streets with many of them demanding freedom and justice. It is not by chance that as a society we have tolerated the fact that a man accused of sexual abuse would take power and that we would allow him to submit the country to the same dynamic as his victims. It is not by chance, because in the end sexual violence, and any type of violence practiced by men, does not seem acceptable to us.
Well that tolerance of macho violence ends up being equally despicable as the dictatorship to me. Not only because of all the damage to the lives of girls, boys and women; but because I am convinced that what we are experiencing today is the result of that macho culture that teaches men to control and subdue whatever and whoever it might be: girls, boys, women, nature, their workers, the people that surround them, and in the end an entire people. And then I ask myself, what is the difference between what we are fighting today in the streets, and the social networks from the daily dictatorship that is established and intact in our homes and that is deeply rooted in our social co-existence?
There is no difference between them, they are the same thing, they come from the same roots. The Ortega dictatorship is machista, violent, abusive, disparages life and abuses power, just as the man does who does abuse in the family, who disrupts the intimacy of girls and boys, who harrasses at work, who takes advantage of their investiture and authority as priest, teacher or president of a country.
Surely these reflections will be portrayed as inappropriate divisionism, but I am writing today precisely for that reason, because I am extremely concerned that, as happens to girls who experience abuse, in the name of family unity and to not create divisions, we let any form of macho violence continue occurring and continue saying, “there will be time for that later”. No. The time is now.
It is now when we can give ourselves the right to question everything that has not helped us to be happy as a society and as a people. It is now- not tomorrow, nor at another moment – when we can make way for a profound and serious debate on the society that we want, and it is now when we have to decide whether we are really committed to change in the system, or if we are playing at “changing it all in order to not change anything,” as goes an old premise in politics.
It seem to me that we urgently need to make a personal and collective appeal in our community spaces, and in the social and political organizations that we are strengthening in the face of the dictatorship, on this topic, without fear that conflicting positions might emerge, without fear of questioning ourselves, for example:
How can we rebuild a country in democracy if we are full of real or potential sexual abusers in families, neighborhoods, churches, schools and communities who we do not dare to question in the name of anti-Ortega unity?
How are we going to be different, the generation of rebellious youth of 2018, from those from the 80s who relegated the role of women to lesser positions, and tried to send them back to the kitchen after having fought shoulder to shoulder with them in the mountains?
How can we ensure that the history not be repeated of consecutive and ongoing abuse in all the spheres of our lives as a society, from the smallest, like the family to the most public sphere, like the government, if we do not disrupt the bases of that form of the exercise of power?
I imagine also that these reflections will awaken the typical misogynist comments that I have heard in forums and social networks. Unfortunately the great majority of these comments will come from fellow men and women who are also fighting against the dictatorship with expressions like “a feminazi is the one writing this” or “it is not the moment to talk about these issues because they distract from the principal objective of the struggle” or “to talk about feminism is excluding because not all of us who are in the struggle are feminists”.
I already have a response for you: yes, I am talking about feminism, everything that I write here is from my consciousness as a feminist woman. And even more, I can assure you that a feminist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist, ecological…revolution is the only one that will really be inclusive, and is what we many girls aspire to who have put our lives at risk in these six months, and from long before that.
Even more, I will tell you that it is impossible to think about the word REVOLUTION without feminism, because revolutionize is changing from the roots the bases for an unequal society for another one that is open, inclusive, with social justice and human rights for everyone. And it is a secret to no one that our bases as a society are rotten, and in its rot seethes sexism.
Nothing will be more revolutionary for our new Nicaragua than the road toward the liberation from the dictatorship come accompanied by the liberation of our consciousness. And this implies destabilizing all the powers and backward ideas that we have inherited, exchanging them for ideas of equality between men and women, for social justice, respect for diversity, the right to decide without conditions for women, the right to say no more to any abuse not matter where it comes from, respect for nature…in other words, exchanging them for profoundly feminist ideas and practices. This is the society that I dream about, this is the revolution that I want for my country, and for the girls and boys who are going to inherit this country, so that never more will their voices be quieted in the face of the irrational desires of any predator, sexual nor political.
A significant announcement was made yesterday of a coalition of some 43 civil society organizations that includes university students, peasants, human rights activists, business sector, feminists, politicians and other movements, including the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, which is organization that represented civil society in the National Dialogue. This manifesto represents another step in addressing the question of what the opposition to the current government is proposing as an alternative.
Blue and White National Unity Manifesto
National Unity for Justice and Democracy
The Ortega Murillo dictatorship, which has led Nicaragua into a grave human rights crisis violating the Constitution and the law, maintains itself only by violence and repression through police, paramilitary and shock forces, who have subjected the people to a massacre that up to now has produced more than 400 people murdered, more than three thousand wounded, an undetermined number of people disappeared, kidnapped, captured, tortured and criminalized, and more than 347,000 jobs lost.
The diverse and plural movements, organizations, social, political and economic forces that throughout the country have led the civic and pacific resistance to this authoritarian, corrupt, nepotistic and criminal government, we make public the establishment of the Blue and White National Unity, with which we begin a new stage of organization and mobilization for the conquest of freedom, justice and democracy.
The unity of all the forces is an imperative to continue and intensify the struggle that would lead to the departure of the dictatorship and the construction of the democracy that we aspire to. This unity marks a progression in the peaceful resistance of the citizenry, enhancing our capacities for planning, coordination, organization and implementation of protest actions, denouncement, as well as clear and resounding expressions about the fact that the majority of the Nicaraguan people reject the dictatorial and repressive regime that has committed crimes against humanity, for which those responsible will be judged.
An economic disaster is being experienced as the result of the repression of the regime, the most affected sectors are commerce, hotel and services (tourism), manufacturing and construction, affecting the weakest base of the pyramid. We take on as our own the commitment to its improvement, its reactivation and to return to grow again in numbers and quality of life. Not one job less, nor the loss of another life.
The principle objective of this Blue and White Unity is building a Nicaragua with democracy, freedom, justice, institutionality and respect for human rights. To achieve it, the quick departure from power of the Ortega Murillos through democratic means is indispensable.
Principles and Values
The country´s symbols unite us, particularly the blue and white flag.
Our struggle is civil and peaceful.
The peaceful resistance is led by the citizenry.
We maintain the commitment to freedom, justice, democracy, unhindered respect for human rights and the Rule of Law.
Transparency and honesty are the basis for the construction of trust.
Dialogue and negotiation are basic principles for the achievement of the objectives.
We accept respect for diversity and plurality of identities and non-discrimination.
Our relations are horizontal, without caudillos, nor vanguards.
We make use of democratic exercise and consensus in decision making in all areas of our work and at all levels.
Our desire is that Nicaragua might grow economically with equity and freedom.
A national dialogue to agree on terms and conditions for a democratic transition. We support the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua as mediators and witnesses: and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy as representative of Nicaraguan society in that negotiation. We request the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations (UN) and th European Union (EU) to act as guarantors.
The immediate end to repression: threats, harassment, attacks, forced disappearances and displacements, abductions, captures, sexual violations, torture and murder of the citizenry that defends its rights.
Immediate freedom for the political prisoners, the end of the criminalization and trial of the right to protest, and the annulment of these trials, as well as redress for the victims of the people imprisoned.
Early municipal, regional and national elections in the short term, with a restructured Electoral Branch, and national and international observation that would ensure inclusive, plural, transparent and competitive elections. The legal and institutional changes will have to be done that would ensure this purpose and allow for the broad participation of political parties and electoral alliances with their own identity.
Respect for the freedom of association, mobilization and expression of the citizenry, as well as respect for the free exercise of independent journalism.
End to firings, intimidation and reprisals against the staff of state institutions, and they not be forced to carry out any partisan political activities.
End to government reprisals against police who refuse to carry out orders of repressing the citizenry in peaceful resistance to the dictatorship.
Actions of the Army in accordance with the functions established in the Constitution and respect for human rights.
Promotion of human and sustainable development.
End to aggression against the private sector and civil society organizations that are accused of practicing terrorism.
The Blue and White National Unity commits to promote and defend:
That there be no impunity for the crimes committed by the Ortega-Murillo regime, and that transitional justice be applied based on truth, justice, reparation and guaranty of no repetition. To contribute to this purpose the mandate of the International Group of Independent Experts of the IACHR should be expanded.
The implementation of the recommendations contained in the reports of the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, as well as other reports that different organizations of the Interamerican and universal system might release.
Investigation, search for and identification of the forced disappearances, and redress for the victims.
Disarming and dissolution of the paramilitary bodies created by the Ortega-.Murillo regime and the destruction of the confiscated weapons.
Restructuring of the National Police and the purification of its leadership. Sanctions in accordance with the law of those officers and personnel that ordered and executed murders and all types of repressive actions against the citizenry. That the police who refused to repress the population be recognized.
Reinstatement of health and education professionals, and those from other State institutions who were fired for political reasons.
7,. Re-establishment of university autonomy; respect for the autonomy of the Caribbean Coast and indigenous and Afro descendent communities, and the municipalities.
Repeal of all the norms that violate national sovereignty and fundamental rights, like Law 840 for the construction of an interoceanic canal through Nicaragua.
A model of social and economic development that would promote free markets and social well being.
In coordination with diverse sectors, programs for inclusive economic reactivation for all the economic sectors of the country, and not just those allied with the regime.
Respect for private property.
Repatriation of those exiled for political and economic reasons.
Respect for fundamental freedoms and rights.
The history of Nicaragua has demonstrated the courage and the capacity of this people to defend their freedom. We unite under our blue and white flag to achieve the departure of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, and set the bases for a democratic, free and just Nicaragua for present and future generations.
This national unity will take shape in each territory of our geography, in the countryside and the cities, and is open to the diversity of actors that are taking on the principles of this Unity, are willing to contribute to the change that Nicaragua needs.
We recognize the support of the international community for the people of Nicaragua in the search for solutions to the grave social and political crisis. In particular we recognize the efforts made by the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the European Union, and we call them to redouble their efforts for the defense of the human rights of the Nicaraguan people and the establishment of democracy,
This is an interview done this week of Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo, Rosario Murillo´s daughter, and Daniel Ortega´s step daughter. (She is mentioned by Pinita in the previous post). Here she compares her experience of being an abuse victim of her stepfather and the complicity of her mother, with the current experience the country is undergoing.
Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo
“No one would like to have a murderer as the woman who gave you life”
“Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo no longer have a way out”, stated Zoilamérica, daugher of Murillo in exile in Costa Rica.
By Yamlek Mojica Loásiga, August 21, 2018 in Seminario Universidad
“We are facing a fundamentalist sect”, Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo.
The name of Zoilamérica has been in the collective memory of Nicaraguans now for decades. Daughter of Rosario Murillo, and step-daughter of Daniel Ortega, who in 1998 she denounced for having raped her for more than 20 years, and Murillo for being an accomplice of those crimes. Since then she has been the victim of harassment and intimidation on the part of the presidential couple. Five years ago, due to that same persecution, she went into exile in Costa Rica.
Zoilamérica is a sociologist and currently works as a university professor. She states that what is happening in Nicaragua is a case of a fundamentalist sect similar to the Nazis.
In this interview she analyses her mother´s way of governing, and the persecution of the Nicaraguan state against opposition actors of Ortega even on Costa Rican soil.
Do you think there are similarities between the crisis of Nicaragua and your history of abuse?
There is a sensation that life trained me to experience the first symptoms of the cruelty, manifested in the abuse, as well as in the terrible vengance that my mother undertook in order to get from me a retraction of my denouncement of Daniel Ortega for sex abuse. And to silence and isolate me.
I feel that the most difficult part is not that the brutal and ever more unscrupulous forms of repression against the people be repeated in the scenario, but rather the way in which the exercise of power has been internalized.
I have compared it exactly to the dynamics between sexual abuse and the abuser, in the sense of this first stage that the cycles of abuse have, of manipulation, of the creation of conditions to get one to consider the right of possessing. I feel that unfortunately the revolution has become a great tool for manipulation.
In my case there were the family connections between the abuser and myself: in this case it was the manipulation of the symbols of the revolution, the discourse, the sentiments, all the history. That manipulation worked, I believe, in the same way that it works in sexual abuse. On that basis we give over quotas of our will to that person. In the case of sexual abuse, out of fear, because of the co-dependency, a point arrives where the abuser annihilates all your will. Likewise in Nicaragua we were giving over quotas of power that ended up building this abysmal concentration, that annihilation of will.
Then, I had no other option than remaining isolated for a long time, remaining for a long time under the effects of what the violence then was. But the hardest thing is seeing how this process of manipulation in the violence in Nicaragua, the concentration of power, was also similar in terms of the silence that surrounded me for many years.
In what sense?
I remember that after I made the denouncement, the question most asked of me was whether anyone knew. Now we can ask ourselves: Did no one know that there had been so much electoral fraud? Did no one know about a political pact that was done to distribute among themselves the branches of government? Yes they did know. Why did no one say anything? It is confirmed that complicity does work, and that sexual aggressors clearly choose those they want to convert. We were vulnerable coming from a context of dictatorship, and we thought that we were going to get out of it, fully believing in someone.
It is the same thing that happened with a ten year old girl who came from a world of deprivation and that suddenly the revolution comes, added to that power, and invents for her a world of protection that then turns into a world of abuse. I believe that the most complicated part for me has been that it is being repeated today. The complicity of my mother becomes present again. A complicity with two actors who have as their only purpose in life keeping and sustaining political power. Exactly in the same way in which they stated their alliance around denying the facts about which I accused them, that capacity continues functioning in the same way that they try to disguise and give another version of the facts.
Why do the ranks of the Sandinista Front of National Liberation keep quiet about Ortega?
I think that part of this manipulation has to do with turning loyalty into complicity. On the other hand, if we take that path, denouncing is a synonym of betrayal, thinking differently is also a synonym of betrayal. In this fundamentalist culture that the Sandinista Front has, enough mechanisms have been found to also subdue willpower. This subjugation also is marked by opportunism, because there are also those who have been paid to quit thinking. Nevertheless, I believe that we should not assign the same responsibilities to the leaders, as to people who so far continue expressing to being close to feeling that the FSLN is their option. They are people who, in spite of everything they see, want to try to rewrite history. There are people who will continue saying that they are sandinista, and that they are going to continue supporting a sandinista government, even though they are not allowed to say that Daniel Ortega is not the one. I think that it is important to understand the quota of pain, of sacrifice of many people. Still in Costa Rica there are people who say they have contradictory emotions, of course, because it hurts them to say that they gave everything in exchange for nothing.
You talk about loyalty. Is the FSLN loyal to Rosario Murillo?
I would not call that loyalty, but submission, She has a capacity to exercise leadership in a ruthless manner. Being ruthless implies that everything that is in front of you should be useful to your purposes. Without being able to say no. Loyalty assumes your willingness, but none of these people are asked if they want to be loyal to her, but rather today are trapped in a power dynamic that they cannot get out of. Even this mechanism of turning everyone into murderers so that in the end all are accused is part of the same dynamic. That is not loyalty. It has to do with methods of profound subjugation. This that I am telling you has to do with that Machiavellian capacity for subjugation. She is an expert in creating forms of submission. I do not know if there is another person with the same capaity for impregnating fear. It is very interesting because suddenly in the Nicaraguan imagination, even up to a very short time ago, Daniel was the good one and Rosario was the evil one. This precisely has to do with the fact that his gift is manipulation, and her gift is creating terror.
Why the insistence of Murillo on minimizing people? Why does she need to describe the oppositon as “residue” and “scraps”?
Something that for me was always difficult was the indifference. In other words, with that indifference the message is: “you do not exist”. I did not exist as her daughter for ten years, ten years of not knowing absolutely anything until I withdrew the lawsuit, because I couldn´t do it any longer, because that was being translated into revenge. Where I am getting at, on the one hand, is that profound conviction that “no one is as great as them.” On the other hand, is the mystery of the verbalization in order to be small. I do believe that people have compared the Nazi context and the superiority of the races to them. Here also we are facing a fundamentalist sect, only that it was created tailor-made to the need itself for alienation. It is an act of absolute arrogance and superiority that turns into something very dangerous, because no one is like them. This means that everything that surrounds them should be eliminated, and even more so the smaller they are. In this search for answers they think that they have some type of insanity, and in that way we excuse them because “they do not know what they are doing”, and that is not true. Or we give them the proper title of dictators and we think then this justifies their political logic, but what we have in Nicaragua is worse than that; it is a case of political alienation. They are alienating everything that would justify them as the omnipotent and only ones with the power to lead the country.
What do you feel when you see the name of your mother accused of so many crimes?
In one of the vigils for Nicaragua I had a very intense experience, because seeing a sign of Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega with a big sign of murderers still touches my conscience. I think that no one would want to have a murderer as the woman who gave you life. It is profoundly contradictory. It still is a blow to my humanity. Nevertheless, it is the reality that I have had to live with and about which I continue to learn, above all, trying to understand what this is going to mean for me in the future. This is the most difficult thing. There are people who do not know the difference between them and me; there will be a time at the end of their days that I will have to articulate where their story ended and where mine ended.
You fled from Nicaragua in 2013. Do you identify with this exodus of Nicaraguans who are fleeing out of fear of your family?
There is a principle of refuges status that is interesting, and it is called fleeing out of a well founded fear. I would say that for Nicaraguans you will have to open a chapter that would be called “well founded terror.” If I could express the level of terror that I experienced on knowing that my own mother could be capable of hurting me and hurting my children, I can understand that the situation of fleeing is because they are sowing terror. They want left in Nicaragua those who accept being subjugated, they do not care how many of us leave, as long as those who stay accept being in jail, kidnapped, and that they are not going to accomplish. Definitely those who come from Nicaragua are people who cannot live with that fear that they are sowing. It will have to be seen what it means to have a wave of terrorized immigrants with the conditions that implies. They are designing a country tailor-made for the reign that they need.
Persecution from paramilitaries has been denounced within Costa Rica. Do you believe it?
I think it is very difficult for the government of Costa Rica to admit it, but the geographic closeness would allow one to think that this risk exists. It is a serious situation. Above all because of the possibility that they might have deserters within their own ranks fleeing to Costa Rica, and they can be the people who supply information that can implicate them. It has to be understood that Daniel Ortega above all is going to avoid a trial for crimes against humanity; the family, better said. We have to be careful in not placing in doubt the capacity of the Costa Rican state to protect us; rather, it is recognizing that they can turn any circumstances into circumstances of risk.
What other things have you experienced here? Have you been the victim of xenaphobia?
Costa Rica is a country with highly advanced legislation on all these issues; nevertheless, in the case of xenaphobia, historically it has had to share the country with immigrants. This can generate contradictory feelings. On the one hand, admiting the ethnic diversity of this country, the labor participation that we have. Nevertheless, the level of acceptance of us foreigners can be increased. I think that at times we have very marked cultural differences and this can generate reactions of exclusion and very big distances.
The people mention a lot “the New Nicaragua”. What does this mean for you?
The New Nicaragua for me means an educational process that tries to deal with this legacy. If my family sowed anti-values and perverse practices, I would like to contribute with something, deconstructing that or giving testimony about what I had to do to be less Ortega Murillo and more Zoilamérica. That which is coming also is an unresolved stage. No more leading roles, no more the need to be highlighted as the best option. Every time a person uses the social networks, they are using a mechanism of power that is outside of him. First let us reconnect with our own power.
How do you see the future of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo?
I feel like there is no way out. In the pursuit to build a trap and a jail for all of Nicaragua, they built their own; they are trapped. The problem is that they still have with them all the victims of that spiderweb of power that they wove. Gradually that will be freed up. The stage that we will still have to see will be when their own people turn on them and say: “this is as far as we go.” Surely that moment for them will be the most difficult one. So far, they continue accustomed to the fact that no one objects to their will. The international community is going to have to test out ways, like they did with the peace accords. I am sure that this also is going to imply moving from this type of mechanism to something that might be truly effective, and, if not, it will be up to us Nicaraguans to do it.
Harley Morales lives today in a type of cloister. This 26 year old young student of sociology at the Central American University (UCA) in Nicaragua sleeps in a safe house, along with 40 other university student representatives of the student groups that emerged in the current political crisis.
Harley Morales is a member of the political strategy committee of the University Alliance, one of the five student movements that make up the University and Civil Society Coalition, a group that is leading the political struggle that is demanding the departure of the current rulers. NGOs and business groups have joined this coalition.
The crisis started less than two months ago, on April 18th, due to the cut in the social security pensions. The protests turned massive due to the attacks of the National Police and the progovernment forces. When the dead began to be counted, the protests ceased being for the pensions, and were directed against state repression. The university students entrenched themselves in the universities and churches, and a significant sector of the population accompanied them, demanding the resignation of the rulers. This was the beginning of the current political and social crisis in Nicaragua. Barely seven weeks ago. Since then, more tham 130 people have died as a direct consequence of the conflict, and every day that lists gets longer.
More pushed by circumstances that by a deliberate decision to lead a popular revolt, the students had to move in the midst of a full street protest to a new stage: that of organization. “Since April 19th itself committees began to be organized and movements built; we were worried that the protest would dissipate,” said Harley Morales. His University Alliance arose out of what he called “the hijacking of the cathedral”: on April 19 in full retreat, fleeing bullets, hundreds of students and civilian took refuge in the Managua cathedral and had to stay there several days, under siege. Within the church they organized, and the first leaders emerged. In a similar fashion another four groups were formed in several universities.
These students leaders mutated in a few weeks from social agitators to political actors. If before (barely a month ago) you could find them on a street with a megaphone in hand, or organizing logistics on campus, now they are living together, as if they were in confinement, isolated, surrounded by advisers and with tremendous pressure from different sectors to take postures in a very complicated process.
They are, then, a true spontaneous generation, trying to adapt to their prominence in one of those moments that close and open chapters in history. They continue being, along with the church, those who legitimize each step of the process and have won national and international recognition since the moment in which, during the installation of the national dialogue last May 16th, a 20 year old student called Lesther Alemán said to President Ortega that the only thing they were going to negotiate at that table was his departure. That video was seen around the world.
The Ortega government consider them to be part of a “right wing coup conspiracy”, and more than a few suspicions have been caused by the sudden economic capacity of the students to hold press conferences in luxury hotel meeting rooms, or maintaining a new lives without having income.
Harley Morales does not shy away from responding to these questions and clarified the origin of the funds for his support. But they know, he says, that these funds come with a trapdoor from sectors that are trying to move their agenda through the students, who have won legitimacy in the streets. They are young people without experience, at times naïve, who are trying to walk through a forest with a lot of threats, more than a few of them walking right alongside them.
Last week a delegation of these students visited Washington to attend the General Assembly of the OAS, and just afterward they met and were photographed with three of the most extremist US republicans: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ileana Ross-Lehtinen. The photos surprised everyone in Nicaragua and were seen with reservations not just by sympathizers of Ortega, but also by opponents of the regime, liberals and ex Sandinistas. “It was terrible”, he says. “They are the extreme Republican right. We are very unhappy with that trip, that was paid for from the United States, and an agenda was imposed on them. It has given us a terrible image. We are going to have to correct mistakes.”
El Faro has confirmed that the trip to Washington was paid for by the organization Freedom House, based in Washington, who in addition set the agenda for the students, including the polemical visits to Rubio, Cruz and Ross-Lehtinen. Carlos Ponce, director of Latin America for Freedom House, argued that they asked for meetings with other congresspeople and senators, but only those three accepted. “It seems that they are the ones most interested,” he said.
The photos with the Republicans were ill-timed, given the situation in Nicaragua: the government of Ortega accused the students of being instruments of an international right wing conspiracy. The mistake has not discredited them, but it has left them some of their first lessons in politics, as Harley Morales admits. The principal one, probably, is that there are a lot of people around you wanting to impose an agenda that is not theirs.
It is helpful here to put things in context. These young people were children when Daniel Ortega won the presidency in 2006. They are university students without any political experience, who have been under the spotlights for two months and under the weight of leading an important transition in their country. It is not strange, then, that their naivete was revealed in their visit to Washington. But above all it is not strange that there would be so many sectors interested in isolating them, in influencing them, in advancing their own agendas through them. “We know that only we can legitimize this process,” says Harley Morales. Those who prowl around them today also know it.
This conversation took place on Friday June 8 in Managua.
How have you organized in seven weeks?
Since April 19 committees began to be organized and movements built. We were concerned that the protest would dissipate. Five movements were formed and later the University and Civil Society Coalition. When the Bishops Conference called for the dialogue, we held meetings with COSEP (Superior Council of Private Enterprise), with civil society organizations and others who were in favor of articulating this. COSEP is part of the Coalition, also AMCHAM (American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua); there are peasant organizations amd also the representation of the peoples of the Caribbean.
Why did you decide to unite with groups so different from your own?
We know that the way to defeat the regime is making a common agenda. The student movement already transmuted into politics. We are not fighting for scholarships nor for sector agendas.
And who is paying for your new life? Your upkeep, lodging, transportation, security, your trips…
We demanded a minimum of security to go to the dialogue and obviously the government would not give us that. We have to ally ourselves with other sectors, like the private sector and civil society. It is not just the private sector. Oxfam is there, the María Elena Cuadra Movement, agricultural producers and ranchers, etc…
How did the trip to Washington come up?
That trip was something very strange. We are very unhappy with that trip. Even with our representative. When we planned it there were already many actors wanting to intervene in the agenda. That happened from the beginning. I am refering to organizations, opposition politicians, some more from the right… That trip was financed from the US (Freedom House) and an agenda was imposed on them, and that was terrible. They were the ones who decided which students would go.
Why did you accept it then?
We did not accept it. We were going with a clear issue that they would attend the General Assembly of the OAS. It is terrible. We did not know about the meetings with Ted Cruz, Ileana Ross nor with Marco Rubio. We are very unhappy about that. When the young people come back, we are going to talk with them. We cannot cede on what is fundamental.
What are you refering to?
That they did not tell us that they were going to those meetings. It was very strange. All the movements now have advisors. People that get around. Offspring of politicians, businesspeople…They have a very clear political line. Of the three students that went to Washington, two are from the April 19th Movememt and one, Fernando Sanchez, yes is from our alliance.
And he did not tell you where he was going?
In the Coalition they no longer see us as groups. Someone called him and told him: we are going to take you. They did not communicate anything with the rest of us.
What is it that you do not like about the meetings with Rubio, Cruz and Ross?
We do not sell ourselves out! Not even in our own Alliance. We propose our points above the table. We have legitimacy and this alliance exists because of us, not because of the private sector, and we can discredit the alliance and leave. We are not the children of COSEP. I am from the left, I would not have gone.
How have those meetings been received within the University Alliance?
We are going to have to do a plan for correcting mistakes. We have created a terrible image for ourselves. If they were already saying we were children of COSEP; what are they going to say now, that we are the children of the US Republican Party? We have to talk about this when they return.
In your opinion are there actors interested in manipulating you?
Many. I was in the UPOLI (Polytechnical University, one of the first taken over by the students to entrench themselves) on April 22nd, and I remember then how many actors that I recognized were there already looking to talk to someone. There were many groups fighting over student leadership. And many trying “to advise”. That is the key word. The “advisors” that I think are making decisions and there are movements that are letting themselves be advised by certain people.
What is your relationship with COSEP in this situation?
We are very clear. We know that when COSEP does not need us, they are going to throw us away. But we have other plans.
Are you going to reveal them to me now?
Of course. History tells us that we should not submit ourselves to the political and economic agenda of the business sector, and we know that they will leave us in the streets. We know the risk that we run by receiving their support. They believe that they can ask us for something in exchange. We are insisting on justice and democracy, and there are some things that we say that they have not liked.
Is there no contradiction in that you, opponents of the system implanted by Ortega and the large business sector, are being supported by those same business people?
Yes there is. There were two pacts that allowed Ortega to come to power: the one he made with Arnaldo Aleman, and the one he made with big business. When we started to dialogue with the business leaders, we did not do it with (José Adán) Aguerri (Executive Director of COSEP), but with Michael Healy (president of the Union of Agricultural Producers of Nicaragua, UPANIC) and with Álvaro Vargas from FAGANIC (Federation of Associations of Ranchers). We believe that COSEP now is in dispute. Healy´s chamber is the most belligerent. We have the business leaders as allies for the dialogue, but we do not trust them. Once we were very clear with them: we told them that we were afraid that the dialogue would be a show for the media and that the real dialogue would be happening under the table. That is still a fear. We are demanding justice and democracy.
And justice means having all the corrupt people in court? In other words, even the business people who end up being accomplices of the corruption?
Yes, of course! But first those responsible for all these murders have be tried.
If Ortega resigned tomorrow, as you are asking, and there was a call for elections, what would you do?
We are not longer committed to being a student movement, but a change for the corrupt political elite that has always watched out for its own interests. Maybe we might not be the ones who are going to lead the country in the short term, but we are going to be a belligerent force. If there were elections tomorrow, we would have to sit down with a lot of people. “Prepare the field”, as the OAS says. We are not only demanding transparent elections, but profound electoral reforms. We do not want just a change of elites. We do not want traditional parties. The Sandinista Front is not just to blame here, but the entire oligarchy and the political elite of this country, for complicity or for incapacity. We have made it clear to the business people that we did not want elections, but the resignation of the current rulers and the formation of a transitory ruling junta. Our struggle is also against all the traditional political parties.
So, how do you want to do it?
The FSLN right now is in crisis. Our fear is that if we give them more time to call elections, COSEP and the big business sector will make another tripartite pact [that is what they call in Nicaragua the agreement between Ortega, big business, and the unions, that has allowed Ortega to govern without counterweights, pervert state institutions and eliminate the opposition, with the blessing and complicity of big business which, in exchange, dictates the economic measures and benefits from the State]. We need guarantees that neither the political parties nor the business people are those who are going to take this. No one can impose their own interests.
But what would be, for you, the ideal calendar?
Private enterprise has asked for 14 months. That would allow them to pact with the regime or install themselves. We are asking for popular circumscription to participate in elections in alliance with other sectors.
But how, with whom, if you presume to not have leaders?
Every agreement of civil society needs today to be legitimized by us. We have to be pretty wise to know who are those called to exercise public posts. We are not approaching it with the logic of revenge.
Recently representatives of the OAS came and met with you. What did you talk about?
We talked. They did not say much. We clarified for them our positions and the scenario we are in. Ortega would like a pact with less belligerent actors. We know the love relationship between Almagro and this government. They say that the field will be ready for January, but they will have killed us by January. We presented our agenda to them. They told us that they are not accepting anything outside of the constitutional avenues.
And what was your counterproposal?
That in August there could be a call for elections. But first there has to be reforms. We did not accept any early elections.
All of this requires Ortega´s departure?
At the moment in which the dictator accepts our agenda, he would be surrendering. That we know. We would be twisting his arm. That depends on our capacity to get people into the street. Unfortunately we just played a bad role before the international community.
Let us talk a bit about your current conditions, closed in, with security…This has not made you lose your connection with the streets, that was precisely what you were able to win in April?
A lot. It has is cons but also its pros. It has allowed us to organize ourselves better, design strategies, lines of action. We have lost the contact with the barricades and our weakness is the UNAN (Autonomous University of Nicaragua), because it is very big. We are trying to integrate ourselves more into the Coalition. There was a moment when we were in the barricades. Now we are in another phase. It is no longer just entrenching ourselves. We are going to have to be very creative and learn from history.
You mention the word history a lot. Do you see yourselves as actors in a historic moment?
Yes, we know that. The circumstances demand making careful decisions and being disciplined. Calling this a revolution is beautiful, but that means changing structures. The priority now is that they do no kill us. Later, justice and democracy.
The dialogue rountable called by the Bishops Conference has been suspended. What happens if it is ended?
We are planning strategies so that the way of shutting down the country be more coordinated. A network of supplies. The possibility always exists for a shut down or installation of a ruling junta in liberated territory, like Masaya. They are ways of applying pressure.
The confrontations continue, and with them the growing uncertainty of where it all will end. Comparisons with the Sandinista Revolution of the 70’s are inevitable, even with the figure of Daniel Ortega front and center as he was all those years ago. But this time, he finds himself on the other side of the fence, being characterized as this generation’s Somoza.
Is it the same? North Americans may struggle to understand the basis for the demonstrations and protests, given the relative lack of media coverage in the U.S. So I include here an interview by La Prensa newspaper with Enrieth Martinez, a member of the University Coalition who was present at the National Dialogue. Her perspective provides a more detailed look into what is driving the protest movement in Nicaragua and what might be expected from this period of confrontation and mutually exclusive demands by both sides.
Enrieth Martínez, University Coalition: “This is a Revolution”.
Enrieth Martínez, member of the University Coalition present in the National Dialogue. LA PRENSA / Manuel Esquivel.
She was at the table of the National Dialogue the only day that Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo were present, but before this, she was active at the civil protest on behalf of the Indio Maiz Natural Reserve and against the reforms made to social security. Her name is Enrieth Martínez, she is currently in her 5th year of Sociology, and despite the continuous massacre that has already taken the lives of a hundred people in Nicaragua, the young girl has hope.
“It is a conviction more than it is a certainty”, says Martinez. “There is hope for Nicaragua this year, because I feel we are working for it”
Martinez is co-founder of the University Coordinator for Democracy and Justice, and member of the University Coalition that has been present in the National Dialogue, she analyzes with Revista Domingo the demonstration of 2018, which she calls as a “revolution” with no absolute doubts.
What was the beginning of this so called “Nicaraguan Spring”, was it the fire at Indio Maiz, the beating of the elderly in Leon or the brutal repression that took place at Camino de Oriente?
I believe it was the explosion of social media. For example, I was not in Leon at the moment of the repression, but I felt indignation as I saw the way they attacked the young people that were protesting, the way they attacked the elderly, the way they attacked the feminists who were the ones that led the protests to the reforms to the social security system there. It was all of that together. It was the feeling of impotency. I believe that besides all these events as such, which were immensely violent, it is about the feeling of being attacked, of feeling vulnerable, powerless and at the same time feel the anger, the rage on a system that has always done this. But now there were too many things happening at the same time. And then you realize the spine-chilling reality that this Government does not care if it kills you. These were young people protesting and you knew they were doing it for a just cause, you cannot reform a law that affects all the country in a unilateral way without consulting. There was nothing wrong in what we were doing. But suddenly, they start attacking you, shooting you with rubber bullets, then with real bullets. They start killing you. Then you start seeing the images of murdered young people (chavalos). It was unbelievable, almost.
May ended with a massacre on Mother’s Day… Is this a Revolution?
Can we use the word, revolution?
You should not be afraid to use these types of words. They were captured, kidnapped by this Sandinista Front for 10 years. I believe that these protests cry out for justice and democracy but are also reclaiming our history. We need to take it away from their hands and tell them that this history is not owned by the FSLN, it was the people that constructed it. This is a revolution in all senses. It is a revolution that intends to be civic. That tries to recover lost spaces, that tries to recover the historic memory, that tries to recover symbols. It is a revolution.
Is this revolution comparable with the one the overthrew Somoza´s dictatorship?
It is comparable in the way that both look for a process to democratize institutions, to return to a democracy with strong institutions, with zero “caudillismo”. This means it is trying, recovering many of the past slogans, because many of the demands and feelings are still here. These are demands that have never been accomplished.
Although the revolution from the seventies pursued the things you are saying, what came after 1979 did not necessarily guarantee strong institutions, nor a separation of powers, or ended the caudillismo, because in the 80s is when the figure of Daniel Ortega is born…
I cannot give such a direct answer. I believe that the Sandinista Revolution was a daughter of her own era. It was not a perfect revolution. I would never be willing to romanticize a historic and military process that was so tragic for the country. It had significant changes. The idea of the people. How that idea was positioned, the demand of the people, what they were asking for was accomplished through that revolution, and that is something that has had a profound impact in Nicaraguans. The idea of the People, that it is the people that must rule, this is something very important and we are trying to recover it, many of us are defending this, even with our own lives.
Do you not believe that there was a dictatorship during the 80s?
I believe that it was a very complex process. I am not willing to categorize it as a thing only of a dictatorship. It was a different context. It was a cold war, it was economic crisis, it was the attacks from United States through the beginning of the Counter-Revolution, it was a geopolitical game. I am not saying there isn´t a geopolitical game today, but in the past it was very paralyzed. It was a period with authoritarian accents, popular accents, with an amalgam of things…The Sandinista Revolution was a daughter of her own history. And this one is ours, it has been catalogued as a civic revolution, and it is a daughter of its own history.
Do you think it will still be a civic revolution after the hundred deaths?
I think everyone fears this: that it stops being so. They, themselves fear this. The Government fears it. The day before May 29th, we were driving around in the car and we saw how they moved concrete blocks around the perimeter of El Carmen, they were building barricades.
I think it is not only because they fear the people or my generation that is a daughter of a revolution that due to internal and external reasons was not able to function. But it is also a fear of themselves. It is important to recognize that the people that are here today, have tried everything. We have even taken the risk to be in the National Dialogue where it is evident that the Government does not have the political will to dialogue. It is more than evident, that during the mixed commission of three and three, while dialoguing at the Episcopal Conference, at the same time they were attacking young people at the UNI (National University of Engineering). It is important to recognize that Civil Society as such, until today, has done all in their power to maintain this as a civic struggle. And I hope that, as I said, we are the children of the revolution, grandchildren as well. We do not want to repeat it because of the human cost. Because of the immense losses. However, I have talked with young people and I know that many of them feel that the pacific revolution, the revolution of protests, sometimes does not satisfy immediate demands. Sometimes it does not provide a response to the massacre that is happening on the part of the Government.
The wealthiest men in Nicaragua ask for anticipated elections, the Civic alliance that is present in the dialogue is also asking for a democratic exit, the Interamerican Court of Human Rights, has made it clear that we have suffered extrajudicial assassinations commanded by the State….Why doesn´t Daniel Ortega leave if everything is against him?
I think they feel that they have an “apparatus” that supports them. For 10 years, they have dynamited the Government apparatus, the State apparatus, in such a way that what is in power today is not an elected president, but a political party led by Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo and their family. This means that, during these 10 years he has destroyed all the Institutional apparatus and has imposed in its place a system that supports him as a person, and not as a figure of leadership, as a post, a role, but specifically, him as a person, as a member of a family. This figure that is Daniel Ortega, Rosario Murillo and their family, probably gives them the security that despite the killings, they have an apparatus that they feel supports them.
But who is part of this apparatus, its close officials participating in the Dialogue, the Police, the Mobs, the one and a half block of people that they can convoke to their events? Are they willing to rule just a few?
I think I can just speculate on this. It is hard to understand why these people prefer so many killings, but we can´t just see everything in black or white. If this process has done anything it has shown us how fragmented we were and how much we need to consolidate ourselves. They have been very good in all this time of managing crisises. That is why they have lasted so long. But I also feel this will also be unsustainable. The polarized discourse that they used to use for great gatherings is being diluted. They are making their own bases turn against them by the fact that they are using their own sons as cannon fodder to kill other young people. The people from the neighborhoods are the first affected, because neighborhoods are the most vulnerable areas and it is the barrios who they always aim at, thinking that with their miserable programs of social help and assistance they were buying the loyalty of the people. I think that to the extent that we can break that polarized discourse…Who is the people and who is not the people, who is with the Government and who isn’t with the Government, their system of exercising control will lose effect. And as this system of power, control and manipulation decreases, this can have a chance. The reason this has lasted so long is not because of their ability to convoke people, it is precisely the issue that there is control, manipulation of the National Police, the electoral and judicial system. It is an entire apparatus that, being independent, would ensure you that he could leave immediately, but because of their dependency on the executive they are the ones that make him stay.
How do you interpret the massacre of Mother’s Day? What was Ortega looking for with this?
To instill fear, absolutely. We saw this from the first protests, since the 19th. The police firing their shotguns against young people (chavalos). It is a process aiming to install a state of terror. It is through fear that you are able to reach another type of control over the people you can no longer manipulate. Transgress everything that is attempted to be built as a moral statue, any symbol that would represent hope.
Do you think people will be afraid to go out in a massive way again?
No. Would you be afraid of going out on a demonstration that is that massive?
Some people complain that the big demonstrations often repeat the same locations: The Jean Paul Genie circle, Metrocentro, the UCA. What would you tell people who maybe have doubts about always going to the same places?
That they have the right to not have doubts. This is a process that is building itself along the way. These spaces are also symbolic, because of the crosses, because of all that has been put into it. But I would tell them to not be afraid of calling their own gatherings. Right now, it is so easy to do it , you just organize with other people, make an announcement, and you are ready. I am betting on this, on people taking the initiative to take new spaces and not always stay with the same ones.
On social media, Lesther Aleman’s interview to the New York Times has generated a debate on whether he is bringing back to life that “caudillismo” that sometime seems as if its tattooed in Nicaragua’s history…
It is very naive to think that living in a country with a vertical political culture, that is so machista, so racist, these kinds of things don’t decrease. We are people who have been socialized in these systems and through these processes. I saw a publication saying that this was a young man of only 20 years of age, that he is learning. And that is the truth. We are all learning. I believe that the most important aspect of the interview is to realize that those of us who are present here today are young people, we make mistakes, we have many hopes, we have many dreams. I believe that is something that is reflected in Lesther in that interview, the thing about feeling you are an empowered young man, of feeling you are a young man that can confront the world. And that is ok. And sometimes it is not so good because of an issue of vulnerability, for facing a Government that is willing to kill you. I think we would do ourselves a favor if we realized that there are no definite answers here. Nobody here is a figure built for this historical moment. This is a process of construction and reconstruction of ourselves, of what we want, of what we think. And this will be reflected in every triumph, but also in every mistake we make.
It has also been said that men are the ones who appear in public representing the university students. The image of Madelaine Caracas throwing out the names of the murdered student in Ortega’s face is unforgettable, but at least in what is visible it is the only moment you remember of a woman. Do women not have the leadership they deserve in this struggle?
I cannot speak out for others, because each one of them went through an internal process to elect their spokespersons. In the case of the University Coordinator we had a internal process that was democratic, and our spokesperson is Francisco. First, he knows himself to be a spokesperson not a representative. He knows his work is to verbalize our demands in the dialogue, which have been previously agreed in the Coordinator. And that is fine. We try to avoid verticality as much as possible. But it is important to recognize that we are all affected by the machista, sexists and racist issues. That is evident. I think it is important to try and not see things just as white and black. Or to jump and exclaim: “On my God, look, there is machismo!” I mean, obviously there is machismo everywhere. This State, this Government has been built upon that. Our society functions because it is machista, because it is racist and because it is capitalist. And it is class biased too. Micro-machista expressions and machista expressions are things you will see all the time. The important thing now is to be willing to reconstruct ourselves in this process. There are young women that are not showing their faces in the dialogue, but they are in their work groups making substantial contributions to the decision making, that are not the decisions of Victor Cuadras, they are not the decisions of Francisco Martinez; they are the decisions of a collective.
Enrieth Martinez Palacios, 24 years of age, from Leon. She studies Sociology at the Central American University -UCA and won a research scholarship to which she dedicates time daily. She joined student protests since the Indio Maiz fire and the Social Security Reforms. “With April’s protests, more than being at the protests I got involved in a support network that worked on how to move food supplies. I was in the church of Santa Martha, I was in the Cathedral, delivering supplies to UPOLI”, she says.
A movie, she says she loves is “Moonrise Kingdom” (Wes Anderson, 2012) Her favorite book is “Never forget I love you” (2008) form French writer Delphine Bertholon.
People that support the Government made a video with a picture of Enrieth Martinez and audio where she supposedly denounces that the University students of the Coalition who are in the National Dialogue have a pact with the MRS to allow civil unions among same sex couples.
“It makes me laugh, that is not me, obviously. I am also not financed by the CIA or the MRS”, Martinez states. “It is campaign to discredit any kind of symbols that represent an alternative for organizing, and an alternative to this Government.”
A song she listens to in these times, because of the reality that Nicaragua is experiencing, is “La Maza” of Silvio Rodriguez.
She speaks Spanish and English.
These comments are not the ramblings of an anarchist or terrorist. They are the deliberate reflections of a young woman convinced of the rightness of her beliefs and representative of those who have come to believe that the government must undergo systemic change, in the same way that a young Sandinista leader named Daniel Ortega felt and spoke decades ago….
In the film “Spartacus” on the slave rebellion in 71 BC we recognize the strength of a shared vision. After twice defeating the Roman legions, the gladiators/slaves fell before the legion of Marcus Crassus, who says to thousands of survivors: “you were slaves and you will be slaves again, but you can save yourself from crucifixion if you turn Spartacus over to me.” So Spartacus takes a step forward and shouts, “I am Spartacus”. The man by his side also steps forward, “I am Spartacus”. Within a minute all shout that they are Spartacus. Each gladiator/slave choses death. Why? Following Peter Senge (1990, the Fifth Disciplne) they are not expressing loyalty to Sparacus, but to a shared vision of being free in such a profound way that they prefer dying to being slaves again. “A shared vision – says Senge – is not a idea, not even an important idea like freedom. It is a force in the hearts of people.” In this article we lay out some long term visions, show their importance for lasting change, and we take note of the role of organizations related to the peasantry of our millennium.
That vision of being free emerged as a profound human aspiration in the face of the slavery system, a fire that neither the cross nor death were able to extinguish. In the movie the lover of Spartacus comes up to him and reveals to him that his vision will be realized, “Your son will be born free!” 2089 years later that powerful vision continues present in the foundation of our societies.
Another vision, one of democracy, emerged even before in the years of 500 BC. Even though it excluded 75% of the population (slaves, women and foreigners), that vision arose based on assemblies, building institutions under the power (cracia) of the people (demo). 2500 years later, in spite of the fact that the elites flipped that vision to where democracy exists only under the control of a minority, that Greek vision based on assemblies continues moving millions of hearts.
The vision of the reign of God was sketched out by Jesus of Nazareth, son of a peasant woman and a carpenter, in 30 AD. In a hierarchical and despotic patriarchal world, Jesus envisions the possibility of a “kingdom” for those who are looked down upon – who might be like children, destitute and who would build peace, a reign that is small and becomes big like the mustard seed. Since then, that vision of the kingdom, in spite of being androcentric (king-dom), has mobilized millions of people. It is a vision that made Luther in the 1500s challenge the institutional church and translate the Bible into vernacular languages so that people might have access to God without religious intermediaries.
In the XVIII century the encyclopedists (1751-1772), living at a time with a minority of educated people, envisioned “putting up a wall against barbarism.” That vision of making “papers speak” has moved humanity with revolutions and fights against racism and extreme poverty. It is enough to see the movie “The Power of One” filmed in 1992, based on Africa in the 1930s, to recognize the vision of the encyclopedists, that learning to read made a difference. It is also the advice that we heard from our grandmothers in the countryside, “study, a pencil weighs less than a shovel.”
Even though the idea of organization and the construction of the State emerged with capitalism in the XVI century, societies envisioned alternative forms of organization to the control and rule of capitalism and the State. Thus the cooperative emerged in England against the textile industry and in Germany against usury, under the conviction of joining forces in line with the ideas of associativity of Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet and Owen. Along these lines the agrarian cooperative movement in the United States from 1870-1910 made explicit the cooperative vision of democratizing the economy (L.Goodwin, 1978, The Populist Movement). This alternative vision, of joining forces –“elbow to elbow we are much more than two”, as Mario Benedetti would say – to democratize the economy continues moving millions of people who are organizing.
Finally the non violent vision of M. Gandhi (1869-1948) in order to achieve the independence of India from the British empire, and improve the well being of both. That pacifist movement saw that “humanity cannot free itself from violence except through non violence”, that “eye for an eye will leave everyone blind” and that “there is no path for peace, peace is the way”. His methods in accordance with that vision were the use of hunger strikes, the “salt march” (salt satia graha) that affected the principal source of taxes for England, and being coherent in his actions and ideas (he made his own clothes and was a vegetarian). That movement inspired Martin Luther King in the United States and his vision of a society where people were treated equally, regardless of their race. And Domitila Barrios of Bolivia walked the same route in 1978 with a vision of a country without fear overthrowing the dictatorship of Banzer peacefully, in the words of Eduard Galeano:
I was seated in the principal plaza with 4 other women and a poster that said: “We come from the mines, we are on a hunger strike until the military dictatorship falls.” People made fun of them as they went by. “So just like that 5 women are going to overthrow a military dictatorship! Hahaha, what a great joke!” And the women, unmoved, in solemn silence…After the 5 women they were 50, then 500, then 5,000, then 50,000 and then half a million Bolivians that came together and overthrew the military dictatorship. Why? Because those women were not wrong, fear was what was mistaken.
All these shared visions connect hearts by common aspirations. Yuval Noah Harari (2011, Sapiens: A brief History of humankind) tells that in human evolution homo sapiens differentiated themselves from other species like chimpanzees by their ability to invent myths capable of mobilizing millions of people to cooperate. Visions belong to that genre, they are real, palpable and move incredible forces born from human hearts.
Peasant and indigenous visions
In our days we hear visions that, like those quoted, are mobilizing a good part of humanity. Scrutinizing them, we understand that they are both new and connected to millennial flames. Let us start with the oldest. Our ancestors that lived close to 2 million years ago as hunters and gatherers envisioned human survival based on agriculture, which led them to domesticate plants and animals between 9500 and 3500 BC. Since those years in our DNA is that tense vision of humans subjugating nature or plants like soy beans, wheat, sugar cane and sunflowers multiplying at the cost of “domesticating” humans (Yuval Noah Harari).
Following that vein, the vision of peasant families has been to have land. In the 1970s in Honduras (Azomada, Lempira), the peasants saw idle land taken away from their ancestors and recognizing that fire that came from their grandparents to “recover a piece of land to produce on it”, took those lands as thousands of peasants have done on the face of the earth. In 1985 when the war was raging in Nicaragua, the State moved 74 indigenous families from Cusmapa and San Lucas to Samarcanda (San Juan del Rio Coco), organized them into cooperatives to confront the Nicaraguan Resistance, as had happened in so many places in the country; one of the leaders, Claudio Hernández recalls, “to get land with coffee we risked our lives, and we accepted being treated as fieldhands and soldiers”; the paradox was that many of those involved in the Nicaraguan Resistance also were fighting for land.
In the 1980s Ricardo Falla S.J. put that vision into words: “a peasant without land is like a being without a soul.” In 1993 I went to La Primavera in Ixcan, Guatemala where hundreds of families that returned from Mexico with the signing of the peace agreements were working the land collectively; at one dinner that a woman shared with me, she whispered: “help us, my husband was killed by the military, I want a piece of land to leave to my children, that his death not be in vain!”; it was a vision shared by families of Mesoamerica and beyond.
Being a farmer is more than having land. In Nicaragua Marchetti and Maldidier (1996, El campesino-Finquero y el Potencial Económico del Campesinado Nicaraguense) detected that peasant vision: “I dream of that day in which my friends visit me and say, what a beautiful farm you have!” The land would not just be a plot with annual crops on it, but a diversified farm with permanent crops. In Honduras, Carlos Cantoral from Terreritos (Nueva Frontera) in the 2000s, sketched out what food sovereignty and peasant autonomy is, echoing our ancestors thousands of years ago:”being a peasant is producing what my family eats, without depending on anyone” – without a debt with the usurer, without giving in to the intermediary, and without lowering your head in the presence of the politician and religious leader. And again in Honduras Porfirio Hernández de Trascerros (Nueva Frontera) in 2018 describes those who lose that vision: “even having cattle they walk around money in hand looking for their corn grinder,” unfortunate is that family that does not first ensure their food. These are the families that resist being a clone of mono-cropping, families that grow their corn and produce their food on more and more diversified farms, which gives them the freedom to generate their own thinking and experiments.
Being a farmer and processing what is produced to ensure food “in green and mature times” has been a vision for thousands of years. Humanity learned to dry meat under the sun in its era of hunting and gathering, and in the years of 3000 BC made bread, and the Incas stored potatoes as starch, exposing potatoes to the sun during the day and to the cold at night. In this vein we find the peasantry of the XVII and XVIII centuries envisioning agro industrializing raw material in their communities. That vision, in spite of being squashed by capitalist industry and later by the socialism of Preobrazhensky and Stalin, persisted within Europe itself. That is why there are around 1100 flavors (brands) of beer in Belgium today, or vineyards and wine in Trentino, Italy. And it persists in Latin America. In Honduras in 2008 (Laguna de La Capa, Yoro), in the face of the “vocation” of the agricultural frontier to receive a peasantry whose grandchildren migrated with sugar cane and sugar mills defeated by the slavish rule that “only the rich make sugar”, the COMAL Network and peasant families started to process granulated sugar in the community itself. Cirilo George from the APROCATY Associative Enterprise put that fire into words, “we will not go back”, referring to the fact that individually they fell with their sugar cane into that destiny and that slavish rule, but organizing themselves, they made that vision of agro-industrialization palpable, as the Manduvirá Cooperative of Paraguay has done.
Having land, being a farmer, processing food…and selling! What a chain of visions! Even though the peasantry sees itself at odds with commerce, their aspirations include commercializing in order to cooperate. Within this perspective, in Honduras (Encinos, Intibucá) in the midst of intimidating polices under the Alliance for Progress of the 1960s and 1970s, women and men who would walk for days through mud to buy what they were not producing, envisioned “bringing in a store managed by us the Lenca peasant ourselves, right here.” That community, like the members of the La Unión Store (Taulabé, Honduras), Maquita Cosunchej of Ecuador, or the Hope of the Peasants Cooperative in Panama, overcame the old rule that “peasants and indigenous are no good at selling, only at planting.” Maybe individually it is difficult for a peasant family to sell, they say that it is a “betrayal of a promise” (buying oneself in order to later sell), but organized, it is another story, because “the market is really relationships of people coming together, getting to know one another and trusting one another”– Peter Druckers would say to Peter Schwartz (1996, The Art of the Long View). In the 1990s again in Honduras a dozen leaders of several organizations, among them Auristela Argueta, saw a vision that continues to light up deep Mesoamerica: “we now have land, we are producing our food and something more, a market for selling and exchanging our products.” That aspiration that markets can connect organized people to one another, was the seed that gave rise to the Comal Network of Honduras.
What is distinctive about these visions and the imperative to see them
These visions, far from the current ones that businesses tend to express to generate capital or the blueprint of organizations to find donations and “to put a patch on the problem”, move human determination through time and are like flames that do not go out, in search of a greater good. What distinguishes them? They are born out of crises, when that which should die, does not, and what should sprout, does not, as A. Einstein used to say: “creativity is born from anguish as day from night.” Adversity is overcome by “swimming against the current” and connecting oneself with centennial and millennial human aspirations that, like tectonic plates, shake even the most solid land, like that outrageous belief that a divine being or the market writes your destiny. They are understood by people discontent with the status quo, that question their worlds, see other possible realities, expand their mental horizons and really believe in their capacity to create the future because they experience it daily. They are shared visions that emerge from personal visions, and not from adhering to visions prepared by managers or consultants; they derive their energy and commitment precisely from the fact that they come from personal visions.
These shared visions reorder life. If your vision is that your family eats what you produce, that makes you reorder your farm, the work of your family and your relationships with your neighbors, and if that vision is shared by other people of an organization, this reorients the organization toward that vision. They are concrete visions, here and now, visions that make them encounter the stranger and discover themselves. They are visions that cause changes day to day, brick to brick, seed after seed, the drop of water that breaks stone.
In the face of these visions of future frameworks that we want to create, the challenge for peasant and indigenous organizations is to encourage their members to express their visions, understand them, and embody them in agreements and new rules to support the peasantry, the basis for food and assurance of environmental sustainability for humanity. For that purpose, the more an organization opens itself to learning, the more it tunes its ear to hear the visions, the more it takes out a pencil to take notes and ruminate on them, the more it reinvents itself, breaking rules like “the older one gets, the less one changes”, “the more one studies, the more one forgets about where they came from”, and “the more power one gets, the more farther they get from the people”. A peasantry that organizes itself and awakens to the fact that they can create their future, is more connected to the vision of Jesus, feels more the vision of the gladiators/slaves, seeks to have more democratic assemblies, aspires more the path of non-violence, makes agriculture an art, and weaves more of their own thinking. Shared visions, in the midst of the tensions and adversities of all times, move human mountains and help us to be generators of long term changes that started just yesterday.
The height of injustice is to be deemed just when you are not. Plato
Even an honest man sins in the face of an open treasure. Saying.
The VII song of the Odyessy tells how the goddess Circe warned Ulysses that the sailors of those waters were so enchanted by the song of the sirens that they went mad, and lost control of their ships. To not succumb to that enchantment, Ulysses asked that he be tied to the mast of the ship, and that the oarsmen have wax put in their ears, and ordered that if he, because of the spell of their song, would ask that they free him, instead they should tighten the knots. So it was that Ulysses and his oarsmen were saved, and the sirens, failing in their objective, threw themselves off the cliff.
Facing unfair commercial relations, Fair Trade (FT) emerged as an alternative so that people who organized might improve their lives and be a space of solidarity among different actors beyond their countries´ borders. Nevertheless, in our case study in Nicaragua and Central America, we show that the institutional structure of power relationships under the market control of elites is like the sirens in the myth, capable of seducing the FT network, turning it against its own principles, and turning solidarity into just a bunch of words, numbers and papers. How can FT tie itself up so as to not succumb to the song of the sirens, and in this way, grow, enhancing its FT alternative principles? To respond to this question we take as a given that there are exceptional cooperatives, organizations, and people who confirm the importance of organizing and cultivating global solidarity, and that there are successful cooperatives, in countries in the south as well as in the north, in FT as well as outside of it. Nevertheless, in this article we study certain practices of the FT framework that seem to indicate its involution, and on that basis we suggest its reinvention. To do so we focus on coffee, which constitutes 70% of the volume of what is sold through FT.