Coincidental or not, ever since my official departure from Winds of Peace as its leader, I’ve been afflicted by a worsening hip pain. The discomfort did not stop me from my daily workout routines, however, until two weeks ago. The ache in my hip and back became both chronic and intense, resulting in an inability to sleep for more than about 60 minutes at a time. Then I need to get up and walk around for a while before going back to bed for another hour. Multiple medical consults have failed to achieve any relief; I’ll have another intervention later this week. Will this be the initiative to end what, for me, has been a painful nightmare? Time will tell.
I’ve been fortunate throughout my life to have suffered few physical difficulties. I knew that the ravages of age were undoubtedly compounding within me, but I have worked hard to keep them at bay. That likely makes me less patient in light of my current malaise. I don’t have a sense of its rhythm or its source. Medical folks have massaged, medicated, probed and examined X-rays, without reaching conclusion. My pain seemingly worsens every day and I grow a bit panicky.
But it’s not the intensity or even the constancy of the pain that bothers me the most. Rather, it’s the uncertainty about whether it will eventually come to an end. And more importantly, whether that end will be a positive one. It’s the uncertainty that is disabling.
Living with this reality for the past two weeks and analyzing my temperament about it has engulfed me with self-pity from time to time, as I have wondered whether this is the way my life will be from now on, whether the days of freedom of movement and happy expressions of physical capacities are suddenly things of the past. I continue to push myself to the limits of pain tolerance, but that has not been much help.
Then, at 2:14 A.M. last night, as I crawled back into bed after a 10-minute stretch, filled with a self-centered sadness for my plight, I was struck with a sudden clarity of understanding about an event totally unrelated to my own pains. My epiphany concerned the impasse unfolding in Nicaragua over the past twelve months and a new perspective on what I have regarded as my own personal calamity.
For Nicaraguans the pains of death and detention have been intense and continuing; the grief of loss has been compounded by the surprise eruption following long-simmering pains within the civil body. Even as Nicaraguans recognized the country’s issues, they felt, or hoped, that eventual remedies would be peaceful and democratic. But quite suddenly there was this great pain, this great stain, that fell upon Nicaraguan society. It hurt. Relief has been unattainable, no matter what position the ailing have taken. And they wonder whether this is the new normal, the way that future society will function.
As painful as the losses are, it’s the uncertainty of the future that festers in the hearts of Nicaraguans today. They know how they want to feel. They know how they wish to live and move within society. But the current uncertainty robs them of an essential component of well-being: hope. Without faith in some actions or initiatives on which to focus, the future becomes an unknown, dark place. This has been the day-to-day suffering of not just a retired yankee but of an entire Central American population.
That’s perspective. The chances are pretty good that the discomfort that I have experienced for the past several weeks will go away; one way or the other, I’ll likely get over it. For most North Americans, most of our daily aches are inconveniences at worst. But 2:14 A.M. is a good time of the day to reflect upon the source of real pain….
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,
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.
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.
Circumstances continue to become more confrontational and difficult in Nicaragua. In the aftermath of the events referenced in our previous entry here, “Tentative and Fragile,” no resolutions have been reached and neither side in the conflict has backed down. (Does this sound familiar? ) The result at this moment is that university visits have been cancelled, uncertainty prevails and tensions remain very high. In chaotic conditions like this, it’s hard to discover reliable, insightful knowledge of what’s really going on. But WPF has come across an analysis (with names removed) that gives a pretty balanced report, and we offer it here as a sort of informational post for those who seek a reasonable summary of events to the moment.
The writer quoted below is of some significant standing in Nica professional society, possessing some credibility in terms of his/her knowledge of recent events.
“Today in the morning I was invited to an event where people and sectors participated who will be seated in the dialogue, in case we get to the dialogue. I think that it is worthwhile to summarize what I heard and the positions shared:
1. The dialogue has two principal topics and they are not, nor should be, negotiable: Justice and the Democratization of the State (no re-election and departure of the Regime).
2. The Church will be the mediator and the People the guarantor.
3. The dialogue agenda should not be filled with more topics than the principal ones. Afterwards it will deal with this.
4. The dialogue will not be by sectors as the Government wanted, it should be between the Government and Civil Society, understood as all the actors who want a change.
5. The Government cannot nor should not intervene in the selection of the participants who will be in the dialogue. This dialogue is to look for a way out of a crisis, a change of the system, not a meeting of friends.
6. We demand the entry of international Human Rights organizations and others who want to help in this transition.
7. The Students are organized, they are going to continue in the streets fighting for their rights and ask and demand that we join them.
8. The Peasant movement must participate in the dialogue without exception….
9. Mechanisms and serious and competent organizations must be created for the investigations [into the now 45 deaths].
10. The Strike/Stoppage is coming and it will not wait for COSEP [Nica business association friendly with the administration] for this, COSEP does not represent the entire business sector.
11. We are facing a civic revolution and it is up to all of us to learn how to take it to a glorious end.
As I was saying this is a small summary of the position of the sectors that will be in what is today a not so clear and possible dialogue, and I believe that we are seeing some light on a topic that has been unfocused. I leave you with a phrase that Dr. Medina [President of the Autonomous University of Managua, and named by the Church to the dialogue] said today:
“I have never seen in my history such a great opportunity to make a change in Nicaragua.”
For the present there are many conditions being required of an administration which has demonstrated little desire to comply with any demands made of it; indeed, intimidation and control through force has been its central tool. Is it possible that it could capitulate to the protesters’ requirements? Is a Korean-style reconciliation possible? There is a large demonstration called for today (May 9th), and the students have asked private enterprise to let their workers off so they can participate in the demonstration. The Peasant Movement has said that they will attend as well. It will start at the cathedral and follow a route which, in the past, the police did not allow them to take. So it will be interesting to see what happens in response to the demonstration.
As usual, U.S. news sources have provided very little mention of the turmoil in this land. Our country seems to have a boundless supply of disinterest in what happens there. But the outcome bears close monitoring, for the security and safety of Nicaraguans as well as the stability of our Central American neighborhood. The U.S. may be courting isolation, but in reality it does not exist….
I spoke to a university class of business students this past week, citing the universal qualities of the employee-owned business I directed for 16 years and Winds of Peace Foundation, with whom I have worked for the past 13 years. Such work tenures provide me with a reasonably credible basis on which to make comparisons, which are many in number and deep in similarity. Since I have been invited to do this presentation for a number of years, I have to presume that it finds interest among the audiences, and maybe even prompts some new thinking about organizations and the people who co-inhabit them.
Following one presentation early last year, a student caught up with me as I was leaving the building and wanted to share with me her own experience in Nicaragua from the previous year. She had traveled there with her college sports team in an exchange program. She described her love of the beauty of the country and the warmth of its people. She expressed surprise at how safe she felt while there, despite pre-conceived ideas about the dangers of Central American countries. She talked about her surprise at the freedoms that her Nicaraguan university counterparts enjoyed in expressing dissent and opinion on almost any issue. She felt very good about the fact that Winds of Peace was working in Nicaragua and wanted to say so. I acknowledged her impressions and concurred with the part about beauty and warmth.
As to her other observations, regarding safety and societal openness, I was not as quick to concur. Nicaragua has been stressed in recent years with ever-tightening restrictions on political dissension and public demonstrations. That posture, along with government control of many media outlets and police, has led to an increasingly difficult environment for expression of any position other than the prevailing party’s line. Contesting a party line is to risk one’s status and economic opportunity, and even safety. Any sense of openness and free speech are carefully crafted illusions that are as ephemeral as they are potentially dangerous; it is too easy to believe in something that we really want to be true.
Nonetheless, there was no advance warning about the latest eruption to take place in the country. This heat derived not from the awakening volcano, but from the streets. The government announced an increase in the country’s social security withholding, raising it up to 22%. That, coupled with the 7% contributed by the worker directly and an actual decrease in benefits of 5%, makes for a program that was deemed punitive by many, especially the more socially-conscious student population from the universities. Demonstrations occurred. Youth of the ruling Sandinista party pushed back violently, while the police did nothing to intervene. People were injured. Some died. Soon there was panic that the growing demonstrations and confrontations would interrupt everyday activities, such as shopping for groceries and fuel; lines began to form at stores and stations in anticipation of shortages. Semester study students from the U.S. were sent home early. WPF cancelled travel into the northern sector of the country. Overnight, the general peace of Nicaragua had disappeared like a wisp of smoke in the wind, illustrating the fragility that exists between leaders and followers anywhere. Trust and stewardship are delicate elements of leadership.
One week later, some degree of quiet had been restored. President Ortega appeared on television, flanked by business leaders (from outside the country, interestingly) to urge a return to calm, and suggesting a re-visitation of the social security action. Eventually, there was a pull-back on the social security action, for now. The fuel and grocery lines disappeared. In turn, travel into the heart of the country resumed. Citizens desperate for the patterns of normalcy willed the resumption of daily routines. After a week of upheaval, with scores of injured and as many as sixty dead, this spot of global warming had cooled. Or at least for the present.
But what occurred in Nicaragua last week was simply a data point, a current event, In a moment of frustration and anger, citizens protested. The government hit back. Things calmed down. And now we wait for the next storm squall, to measure its power and impact, to gain a further read of citizens’ ire, to forecast future storms to come. For elitism eventually creates a response, whether in Nicaragua, the U.S., Syria or anywhere else. The reaction may come sooner or later, but it will come: when people are marginalized enough, they will rise up. Consider the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. Or the women and men of the MeToo phenomenon. Populace rebellion is a reality that should be well-recognized universally, and perhaps especially in a country like Nicaragua, with its rich history of revolution.
One series of demonstrations does not foretell revolution or even a movement. It is like the difference between weather and climate change. Weather is a data point, a measure of what has occurred recently and may likely occur in the short term, while climate change is the story of all the data points put together over a longer period of history. But they are linked, to be sure. Eventually, enough weather data points have been collected to constitute the case for climate change.
If there is a pending change in social climate in Nicaragua, or the U.S. for that matter, it will be foretold by the individual data points. Those occur every day, sometimes in big ways and sometimes imperceptibly. But they are the early distant warning signs for what may be to come, and ignoring them is governance folly….