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….
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….