The writer of this reflection on the implications today of the 41st anniversary of the revolution is known as one of the few Comandantes of the Revolution, and the author of a 4 volumes of interviews of those who fought against Somoza. Her history gives special relevance to her reflections.
The 41st anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and the fall of the Ortega regime
By Monica Baltodano in Confidencial, July 19, 2020
Thousands of Nicaraguans gave their lives in the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship throughout the forty years of its duration. The biggest quotas of sacrifice were paid in the final phase, when the population, particularly the youth, got massively involved in the insurrections that culminated with the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution, on July 19, 1979. It was a long and painful journey, that we will never forget.
During those decades of Somocism, thousands of peasants were disappeared; dozens of union leaders jailed time and time again; and hundreds of women fighters raped in the Somoza dungeons. The civilian population was massacred by bombs and rockets launched by Somoza aviation in the insurrections of 1978 and 1979.
What objectives moved the fighters from the liberal or conservative ideologies who suffered jailing, exile and death in different stages of the anti-Somoza struggle? What ideals prompted the youth to get involved in the Sandinista armed struggle at the risk of losing their lives? What united an entire people so that, coming from different ideologies, social strata or religious adherence, they would decide to contribute, from different forms of struggle, to the national torrent that put an end to the despotic regime that subjugated us?
In the end we were able to build a consensus, an essential front to the brutal escalation of the repression and the crimes against the population; one of the most abhorrent was the murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro in January of 1978. The people thought, if they killed Pedro Joaquín, who could be saved? So, the national cry was unified: Enough already!
For the construction of the post-Somoza Nicaragua, most of us were committed to our own model, derived from our reality, with its limits and opportunities. From a Nicaraguan reading of Marxism emerged then, the proposal for a mixed economy, the co-existence of a social, cooperative and State economy, with private property and markets. Most of us did not like the single party, we were committed to political pluralism, and we were not interested in aligning ourselves with any of the superpowers. We aspired to an independent and non-aligned foreign policy.
Even though Somoza called us “communists”, most of the militants fought to build a society where democratic voting prevailed, where people could organize to defend their rights and no one was persecuted for their political ideas nor for their religious beliefs. And many of us dreamed, above all, of ending the poverty that afflicted more than 60% of Nicaraguans. In the new Nicaragua there would be progress, education, health care and work for all. This country aspiration explains the involvement in the struggle of thousands of Christian youth and priests, from their convictions in the “God of the poor, human and simple God”, as the Peasant Mass goes.
What I want to emphasize is that the end of the dictatorship and the new national project came to be a banner under which the great majority of the Nicaraguan people got involved, and that on arriving at July 19, 1979 only the central nucleus of Somocism, a clear minority, was with the tyrant. July 19th was then the victory of an unquestionable social majority and a beautiful national celebration.
Unfortunately, our dreams were not able to be realized. This is not the place here to refer in detail to this, but we cannot avoid the fact that the decision of Ronald Reagan to fight the Sandinista Revolution, financing and arming the contra in a war, called a “low intensity war”, explains in part the unique course of the revolution. In that civil war, like in all conflagrations, there were thousands of deaths, human rights violations, cruelty, grief and suffering of families to be regretted, all of that from one side and the other. So it is that the revolutionary government ended up restricting liberties, confiscating its opponents, installing unpopular obligatory military service and, in order to survive, ended up depending on the socialist camp led by the Soviet Union.
It ended up surprising, nevertheless, that in 1990 and in the worst scenario possible, with the economy completely destroyed, nearly inexistent social services, all the warehouses empty, all the attrition imposed by the war, and a precarious military situation, the revolution maintained 40.8% of support expressed by the votes.
During the decade of 1990 Sandinism was fractured. In this way the MRS emerged in 1995. Later on, in 1999, hundreds of us left, denouncing the neoliberal, authoritarian drift and the culture of power sharing in the top leadership of the FSLN, when Ortega made a pact with Arnoldo Alemán to distribute between themselves, and undermine, the institutions of the State. On coming to power in 2007 Ortega did it with new allies: liberals, conservatives, contras, part of the Catholic hierarchy and big capital.
The authoritarian regime of Ortega and Murillo not only did away with the already fragile democratic institutions of Nicaragua, but also put an end to the last accomplishments of the revolution. An organized people who learned to defend their rights moved to nourishing completely submissive organizations whose only currency is the defense of Ortega; critical and autonomous universities, ended up in the absolute control of the department chairs to impose the story of the government; citizen participation was replaced by vertical Orteguista control. The National Police, recognized as professional and apolitical for decades, became a guard of the dictator, highly repressive; and an Army that evolved favorably in the 90s under a patriotic and non-bellicose manner, became a strategic element for keeping Ortega in power. There are no vestiges left for political archaeology of the popular and progressive essence of the revolution.
All the authoritarian and corrupt policies, as well as the crimes committed, have been carried out in the name of Sandinism, the left and a project that Ortega and his followers cynically call “the second stage of the revolution.” Ortega in this way pretends to take over the history of the just anti-Somocista struggle. And at least for now he is achieving it. On the one hand, one sector of the combatants of that feat have been turned into paramilitaries responsible for repression against the citizenry. On the other hand, there are those who, for selfish interests, persist in assimilating the brutal Ortega dictatorship with the 1979 revolution; and the crimes against humanity committed in 2018, they incorrectly assimilate with the casualties of the civil war of the 80s.
In addition, while Ortega shows more and more his reactionary disposition, people from the Trump administration insist on calling him a communist. On the other hand, sectors from the international left take the empty discourse of Ortega as true, instead of examining his policies and actions, thus supporting a conservative, corrupt and criminal dictator.
But history, which puts the facts, motivations and true heroes and heroines in their place, will know how to differentiate between the men and women who gave their lives for freedom throughout the four decades (between the 50s and 80s), from the criminals who, manipulating the symbols and discourse of that time, do just the opposite to the ideals that moved thousands of youth to fight. This the Sandinistas submissive to the regime know well, whose consciences challenge them every day.
The Nicaraguan patriots who got involved in the anti-dictatorial struggle prior to July 19th did so with the best of intentions, like – it has to be said – most of those who fought in the civil war of the 80s, on one side and the other. The examples of the heroes of those campaigns inspired thousands of participants in the uprising of April to rise up against this new dictatorship. Those murdered of 2018 are today the icons of the new generations of fighters and will be fused in history with those of past feats.
A present challenge is learning from our history without subordinating it to prejudices and self- serving ideological stories. And on this anniversary of the revolution, it is important to realize that today, like yesterday, the struggle of the people of Nicaragua continues to be achieving liberty, democracy, justice for the victims, and social justice for all. The relaunching of a true transformative and inclusive project, that would unite the vital forces of Nicaraguans, is needed for that purpose. The new generations and their emerging leaders are committed to this challenge.
This interview of Dora María Tellez, former Minister of Health during the 80s, also founder and past president of the MRS (Sandinista Renovation Movement), is significant for a number of reasons. The questions asked by one of the editors of La Prensa, Fabian Medina, reflect the perspective that sees the FSLN of the 80s composed entirely of human rights abusers, without any redeeming policy initiatives. This echoes a current problem in the ongoing attempts to forge unity among the anti-Ortega opposition. Some, reflective of the questions asked by Medina, are claiming they will not be part of any coalition that includes any group with the name “Sandinista”.
However, since their founding the FSLN has seen the MRS as their principal electoral threat, given that the other parties have not been associated with pro-poor policies, but rather have been seen as exclusively pro-business. This is a significant factor in elections in the second poorest country in Latin America. The animosity of the FSLN reached the point where they revoked the legal status of the MRS just prior to municipal elections of 2008, where some observers thought the MRS could win the race for mayor of Managua (at that time Dora María Tellez was on a hunger strike precisely to protest that measure). This forced the MRS´s participation in electoral processes to be limited to allying with right wing parties, which clouded their reputation, and gave the FSLN a “public monopoly” on commitment to the plight of the poor.
Further complicating the scenario, is the reputation the FSLN has for infiltrating opposition organizations, preventing them from forming a united electoral front. So, while some right-wing groups use this very reason to refuse to ally with the MRS, more frequently in recent political history the FSLN has successfully manipulated “right wing groups” to prevent a united front. This leads others to believe that right-wing attacks against the MRS are actually incited by the FSLN.
All of these dynamics are reflected in Dora María´s responses in this interview.
Dora María Téllez: “The word Sandinista now is repugnant to me”
The former guerrilla recognizes that in these times when someone hears the word Sandinista “what is heard are the crimes committed by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega” and in that sense her party debates whether it is worthwhile to continue using that word in their name.
41 years ago, Dora María Téllez was entering Managua at the head of a large group of guerrillas from the Western Front of the Sandinista Front. She was the leader. She was 23 years old. She was coming to celebrate the fall of the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza and the beginning of the Sandinista revolution. Since then she was always on the stage celebrating that date, year after year, until 1993 when the differences with Daniel Ortega began that led her and other militants of the Sandinista Front to leave, and found in 1995 the Sandinista Renovation Movement party (MRS). Téllez, a guerrilla commander, was Minister of Health in the cabinet of Daniel Ortega in the 80s. If any word has defined her in her life it is “Sandinista”. Nevertheless, she feels that the regime of Daniel Ortega has given that word a different meaning, and she herself questions it now. She addresses in this interview on the 41st anniversary of the defeat of Somoza and the beginning of the Sandinista revolution the controversial MRS and the figure of its old fellow party member, Daniel Ortega.
When was the last time that you were on stage for July 19th?
It must have been like 1993…
Do you feel nostalgia?
Actually no. I am not a person that feels nostalgia for past times. I think about my dead father and mother and I do not have nostalgia. I have good memories, experiences, learnings, but nostalgia is not a feeling of mine.
Is there something to celebrate on July 19th?
Celebration as celebration I do not see in these circumstances. There are commemorations. We, in the MRS, commemorate instead July 17th. The departure of the dictatorship is celebrated, from which we should have learned, but we did not. And in these conditions, the country is not for celebrations.
I was not asking about the moment, but rather about what July 19th means for history.
In historic terms it is like the liberal revolution. They are historical facts. And the celebration depends on each person. It should not be a national holiday. Maybe July 17th, when the dictatorship fell.
Many people do not see just the end of the Somoza dictatorship, but also the beginning of the other dictatorship, that of the 80s.
They are the two events. The fall of the dictatorship of Somoza and the establishment of the regime of the Sandinista revolution that, in effect, was an authoritarian regime, that had the characteristic that it opened the path, in elections, to a peaceful transition, which is exactly the point which we want to reach now.
How would you evaluate Daniel Ortega who appears at this 41st anniversary of the Sandinista revolution?
For me, this is a regime which is dead, in the process of getting its death certificate and burial. It no longer governs. There are no public policies, there is nothing. The only thing that exists is a series of defensive maneuvers for the capital of Ortega Murillo, for the political power of the Ortegas. It is not even a bad government. The pandemic has made this mismanagement more transparent. The country is in the wind. People defend themselves in their homes as best they can, with their medications. Ortega is a ghost, who is there, and is the source of power for an oligarchical machine that wields economic and political power in different spheres.
As a historical figure, where would you place Ortega?
Daniel Ortega has the worst outcome of all. Ortega is going to pass into the same level as Somoza. With the additional characteristic that Ortega is a destructor of the institutional framework. The Somozas built certain institutions that have been long lasting, like social security. Ortega has destroyed it all: Army, Police, even the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, unthinkable things.
The behavior of Ortega now has made a lot of people look backward, and see the revolution as that dark period that he produced. What is your evaluation?
From the political perspective point of view, that was an authoritarian regime. With political intolerance. It oscillated between a single party regime and political pluralism. A very contradictory game, but that finally culminated in elections.
Was it a dictatorship?
From a political point of view, that is what it is. If you are talking about an authoritarian regime, you are talking about a dictatorship. He wields dictatorial power. And from a social point of view, the Sandinista government had a lot of success in establishing some important public policies, creating some institutions and opening space for popular organization, unions, grassroots organizations, etc. Even the 1987 constitution set the pace with some exceptions. The question that I ask myself is, what is it that we did, and what did we not do in 30 years to end up at the same point?
But the eighties are not remembered for those changes that you mention, but rather for its crimes: Red Christmas, Operation Bertha, Military Service, State Security, confiscations… And from there, it is logical that many ask themselves, how can this be celebrated?
That is how it is. It is reasonable. That is why I say that July 19th should quit being a national holiday. Because all that is part of it and is real. Crimes denounced…
What responsibility does Dora María Téllez assume for those crimes?
I assume the responsibility for having been there, but I cannot assume responsibility for crimes that I did not commit. One of the big problems of blaming everyone is that you end up protecting those who are truly guilty. Can I assume blame for Red Christmas? No. if the first information that I had about Red Christmas was through La Prensa.
Complicity could be alleged. You were the leaders, and no one complained about it.
That can be alleged if we would have known.
Operation Bertha which was a huge operation of confiscation, the entire State participated in it.
Yes, it was an operation of change in currency that ended up being harmful. The economic area was not my responsibility. I administered Health in 1988. I can assume responsibility for that, but I cannot for crimes that I did not commit.
And what would be the crimes for which you would assume responsibility?
I did not commit crimes. To begin with, I did not have the power for that. I was in Managua in the organization of the Frente, of unions, from 1980 to 1985, and then in the Ministry of Health. And I am going to tell you, the Ministry of Health never, never was sectarian.
The piñata. When the Sandinista Front lost power an assault on the State took place. The leaders doled out assets. Did you keep some public asset?
No, none. In addition, you can see in the memoirs of Fernanda Cardenal what my position was on that issue. It is not even me saying it. Fernando describes an assembly in El Crucero, a very important one, and you will see clearly what my position was on that.
What was it?
I was completely opposed, and in addition we demanded that that it be rectified. It was compromising the moral capital of Sandinism. And that there had been an illegal appropriation on the part of people who had access to resources. So, they took a peremptory measure on us there. That proof needed to be presented, to be seen. And what proof was going to be presented?
What property do you currently have?
Basically my home. I have set about building a home to rent. I have my home in Matagalpa that I inherited.
Would you submit to scrutiny if it was required?
Absolutely. You say to me, how was this house built? And there are the bank loans. I have my receipts, my bills, my papers.
When the MRS was started in 1995, did it propose to be a new version of the Sandinista Front?
No. The MRS was founded from a profoundly critical position. All this that we are talking about was put forth. The term “Sandinista” was taken from the point of view of identification with the issue of national sovereignty, with Sandino, national independence and social justice.
But it reclaimed the revolution. In the first years there was an ongoing allusion to the revolutionary years.
In the first years, yes, but the critique continued to deepen. The MRS has the characteristic of keeping a strong grounding. Later new generations have come whose reference point is not the Sandinista revolution.
There are members of the MRS, even leaders, who think that the party should no longer bear the word “Sandinista”.
Yes, there is a debate about that. There is a debate about the distinction that would have to be made under these conditions. That includes the name change, change in symbols, etc.
Could the MRS remove the name Sandinista?
It is possible. If the convention decides it, it will be removed.
And what is your position?
It seems to me that in this moment the only thing that the Sandinista name evokes it what is happening with this dictatorship. No matter how much we might say that this has to do with Sandino, with social justice, independence and sovereignty, when someone hears it what they are hearing are the crimes committed by the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega. It is not worth it, for a political party like the MRS, that is looking toward the future of the country, that is committed to a profound democratization process of Nicaraguan society, to keep that name. For me this is a personal opinion, it could be that there are other opinions in the MRS. There is a debate now for several months about this topic. And this has to do with the youth who are currently leading the party.
There is also a debate among political groupings about “Orteguism” and “Sandinism”. There are those who see the word “Orteguism” as a disguise for Sandinism itself.
Orteguism was a larvae that infected Sandinism. Like Somocism was a larvae that infected liberalism. And nearly finished it off. Then there were groups that left Somocism that formed parties, the PLI was one of them, CxL another, let us say, that see themselves as liberals. But if you look in the year 1979 Somocism had completely infected liberalism. I think that Orteguism completely infected the Sandinista Front. Let us not say Sandinism, but the Sandinista Front. In such a way that the institutionality of the Sandinista Front disappeared, and a segment was left there completely and absolutely committed to the Ortega Murillo family, and a segment was left that has an interest in saving the party, for whom the Frente is their party, and they are going to see how to save it. There is a difference there, and that difference is important because it has to do with the effort itself of the deconstruction of the dictatorship.
The party in power comes down hard on the MRS, but the opposition does as well. It is seen as a party that is in everything, always conspiring.
Certainly Orteguism is the mortal enemy of the MRS. That is very true. Because it was not able to break us, because it was not able to make the MRS disappear, because every time that it beat it, it resurged. That is the reality. The MRS is 24 years old and it has been 24 years the object of punches and blows. It has not been easy. The Sandinista Front took on the task of selling to a sector of the business class, a sector, not all, because they did not buy it, that we were the great confiscators of the 80s, and not Daniel Ortega. Imagine, who am I going to confiscate from the Ministry of Health, or who is Victor Hugo Tinoco going to confiscate from the Vice Chancellor´s office.
The thing is that if you were part of the team, you have personal responsibilities. So, you pay for that.
Yes, that is clear, but it is not exactly like that. What one section of La Prensa does, no matter the fact that you might be an editor, if it is not your section, you cannot assume responsibility for that. You can even not be aware of it. You can assume responsibility for everything, but you cannot take on the guilt of others. Ortega unleashed a campaign against us by every path, in every possible way, and there are people who bought it. For what reason? I am not clear, but I imagine that they are the embers of old animosities, without realizing that organizations are evolving.
And there is an apparent contradiction: the MRS is a very famous party, your name appears everywhere, but it does not show up in the surveys.
Maybe it does not show up because people are afraid to say.
There is a stigma on the MRS?
That is how it is. Maybe people say that if they are in favor of the MRS they are going to be repressed. Or they will be fired from their job. That already happened to me with one person. This has to do with a price that you pay, and it can be that for that reason it does not show up in the surveys, because there is a repression completely directed and aimed at the MRS.
In the discussion about the unity in the opposition, the MRS reappears as a figure that creates antibodies.
What antibodies? That depends.
Groups that say that they are not going to be part of a union where the MRS are present.
CxL (Citizen for Liberty Party). But remember that the CxL were our allies. We had an alliance with them for seven years. In addition, an alliance that worked very well in the National Assembly. It began to stop functioning when Ortega told the CxL that in order to ensure their legal status they had to abandon us. And under those circumstances also Violeta Granera and the Liberal United Front left, for considering that to be onerous. But the alliance with the current CxL, and Kitty Monterrey [current president of CxL] was there then, was an alliance for at least seven years.
But the fact that you have been allies does not mean that you can be now, just like you in the MRS were allies with Ortega and now cannot be.
With Ortega we never shared more than a program in some specific circumstances, where there was Antonio Lacayo, Miriam Argúello, Agustín Jarquín, Alexis Argúello, some stayed and the rest of us left, because the course that we already know was followed. But with the CxL we jointly promoted laws, we put to work agreements we had, and we jointly ran electoral campaigns. Kitty Monterrey cannot say to me, “I am not joining with you because you are the same.” Hey, why did you join before? The proposal should be more sincere. She should say the truth. What is the truth about why she does not want to join the National Coalition?
What would be that truth?
You would have to ask them, but it stands out to me the fact that the CxL did not even try to talk about what their terms where to join the Coalition. Everyone has made an effort, the National Unity has made an effort, the people of Saturnino [party linked to evangelical churches] have made an effort, the PLC has made an effort, but the CxL do not want to make any effort. The question that they need to be asked is what is the reason they do not want to join forces in a coalition?
If the MRS would end up being an obstacle for unity, could it rethink its participation?
But what is that measure? Who is going to decide that measure? Is the measure going to be decided by CxL? Who decides what an obstacle is? Up to now the obstacle for unity is the CxL. The MRS instead has tried to aggregate forces.
And whether you see elections in 2021?
I think that we have to fight so there is an electoral outcome. If not, this is going to go from bad to worse. The economic condition of Nicaraguans is getting worse. The regime itself is completely unviable from an economic point of view. We have to do everything at hand to achieve clean, transparent and competitive elections.
And what would you do so that Daniel Ortega would allow that?
He has a large stone on top of him. He does not have one cent, tax income no longer exists, the economy is plummeting again worse than in 2018, and external aid is zero.
But if Ortega faces the dilemma of continuing to govern in that way, under those misfortunes, or losing the elections and going to sit in court to be judged, obviously he will opt for the former.
Daniel Ortega you can be sure is going to do everything possible to stay in power. We cannot count on him saying, “Well, this is as far as I go.” You have to keep pushing. We have pushed it to here, you have to keep pushing until he falls.
Does it cause any sentiments in you the fact that Sandinism, to which you dedicated your life, is ending with this stigma so similar to Somocism?
What makes me sad is the fact that the country is once again at this point. It makes me sad for the youth. Nicaraguan youth should be doing something else, acting in different environments, finishing their majors, contributing in different areas to national development, and politics should be under other conditions. It makes me sad to see that there are generations of young people who are in exile, who said good-by to their majors because they are in exile under some horrible conditions. Those who are in hiding and are harassed every day by the Police, young people who are in prison. It is an awful thing that we are once again facing a dictator.
Does Dora María Téllez continue being Sandinista?
I identify with Sandino. I can no longer tell you that I identify as a Sandinista in the terms that it is understood today. That word now has another connotation. Words have their contexts. I identify with Sandino´s quest, with social justice, national independence, the fight for sovereignty, but it is difficult for me to identify with the word Sandinista, because it now is repugnant to me, because of what we have all experienced.
It is unusual for a media outlet on the Pacific side of the country to publish a long interview of a community leader from the Atlantic Coast. Her experience on the Coast places in a larger perspective the largely student led uprising of April 2018, as well as recent news stories of attacks on indigenous communities.
Susana Marley: “In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jail, just lead”
The Miskita leader is recognized in the North Caribbean as “Mama Grande” because of her closeness to the communities of the Río Coco and her hard work of denouncing human rights violations.
Susana Marley Cunningham, sociologist and teacher by profession, has dedicated nearly two decades of her 62 years of age to defending and denouncing violations of the rights of the Mískita communities of the Northern Caribbean of Nicaragua. She was born in Waspam and began her humanitarian work after Hurricane Mitch in communities bordering the Río Coco, through the Civil Foundation for the Unity and Reconstruction of the Atlantic Coast (FURCA).
The work of Marley has left a mark on the Mískita population. The children who she once taught and defended call her “Mama Grande”. But she has not just won affection. Threats as well. In August 2019 she had to leave her native Northern Caribbean to a more urban area of the Pacific for her safety.
In this interview, Marley denounces the increase of violence in the Caribbean, the advance of invasions, the hunger that the communities are experiencing, the fear of the children to go to school, the corruption of communal governments, and the lack of respect for their forms of organization and elections.
When did the situation of insecurity for the indigenous, Mískitos and Afro-descendants begin to get worse?
The situation of violence and human rights violations I have felt personally since all those actions in the year of the 80s began, with the famous Red Christmas, when our people were taken away or murdered in the forest. I was at the point of dying during that so called Red Christmas, they put me in a line, thanks to God that He used one of those soldiers, I saved myself only because one of them made himself pass as if he were my husband and got me out of there.
Who started that wave of violence in the 80s?
The Sandinista Army and Police. We began to live in an environment of a lot of terror, insecurity and fear. You could not go into the countryside alone, so, since the 1980s the defense of life has gotten worse. Life and human rights are not respected. They have treated us as if we were animals that should be hunted, so they could exploit the land, the minerals, the resources of our territories.
What consequences did the protests of April 2018 have on the Caribbean of Nicaragua?
Our resistance has been historic, and we always denounced that they were killing us, so, after the situation that erupted in April 2018, people began to understand that the same thing that they were doing to us, they were using against the youth, who were unarmed, defenseless and they killed them and they continue killing them. In the Caribbean they do not prescribe jailing, there it is only lead [bullets] , but the situation is pretty similar. It is a terrible, lamentable situation, that has separated families.
In these last weeks, several acts of violence have been registered against indigenous families. What is the current situation of the communities?
December and January are the months for the preparation of the land to harvest rice and beans, but they have not planted this year, because of the violence and the invasion. Famine will be a reality now in our communities. We are experiencing a humanitarian crisis. Classes started and the children go with fear. They are watchful of the forest because now it is not known when someone armed will come out of the forest. The children are psychologically affected in the face of the insecurity, because it is not just what happened this past February 16th, where a girl was wounded. So, in the face of this situation, we think that we are experiencing a serious situation of insecurity, there is no economic stability, there is a lot of poverty and latent lack of respect for our rights.
How did that attack on February 16th happen, where they wounded a minor in the cheek?
That Sunday, around 5:00pm, in the community of Santa Clara, close to a place where there is a creek of the Santa Clara river, the people went to bathe, and while coming a girl resulted wounded. We could not see who were shooting, and it was difficult to be able to get transportation to leave the community. The ambulance was requested at 5:00 pm, and it did not arrive until 11:00pm. It seems that they (the paramilitaries or settlers) were watching those who were bathing, they were stalking them, and at least they did not shoot the girl in the head, but in the cheek. It is not fair that the children also are victims of this type of human rights violations. Minors also suffer this persecution.
How far has the invasion of settlers advanced?
Too far. I want to confide in you that if something happens to me, I hold these murderers responsible, because we are just denouncing this, and we do not have weapons of war. The situation is very bad, and in every testimony we hear, that fear is noticeable, that insecurity. A little while ago a peasant from the community of Santa Clara, who had to leave that territory, commented to me that between the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya and the Li Auhbra territory, that is on the shores of the Río Coco- in between these two – is the Mocó mountain, where there are dozens of settlers or paramilitaries who created a community which is called Araguas. They have large extensions of pastureland and homes, so the advance of the invasion is nearly countless.
What consequences does this invasion of settlers have on the communities?
The encroachment that these people make in our lands has caused the displacement of our people to the Honduran side. Our people are displaced, even people from the community of Santa Clara, located in our Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory, they migrated from the countryside to the city, and others have been displaced toward Waspam, because they can no longer plant. The leaders of Santa Clara and other communities bordering on the Wangki Twi Tasba Raya territory have had to suffer the deaths of their leaders, so, hunger and insecurity are prompting the forced displacement of our community members.
What is happening with justice in the case of the murders of the leaders?
The murders have been left unpunished. Every time this type of situation happens, we have wanted to denounce it, but we do not have that support, or that contact to denounce each one of these situations of the violation of our human rights. What we are demanding is that the laws that protect us be respected, like Law 28, the Autonomy Law, but these people are organized and willing to continue causing damage.
Some of the communities that you have mentioned are beneficiaries of precautionary measures granted by the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights. Do you think that the State is observing those measures?
No. The State is not protecting these communities. The State should fully comply, but it is not doing so. Recently, the community of Santa Clara – one of those protected by precautionary measures – received threats from settlers or paramilitaries who told them that they have 200 men, and they will go burn the houses, and they are going to kill them, and we have seen how the threats are being carried out.
How has the Army of Nicaragua behaved with the Mískito Indigenous peoples?
There is no protection, because in years past which have had atrocious murders of peasants and indigenous close to their posts, they did not do anything. They know about it, and are direct accomplices in this type of violations, and they fill their mouths with words saying that they are protecting, but in practice they do not do any enforcement at all.
Do you feel unprotected?
Yes, they have left us completely unprotected. The precautionary measures are not observed, and all the authorities are accomplices of everything that is happening to us. The threats in the zone are constant, the same with the attacks, and they do not do anything to stop them, so the situation is very tense, and the indigenous and Afro-descendent populations are unprotected. The theft of cattle, kidnapping of women and labor exploitation are a reality in our communities.
This lack of protection has been in all governments, or it is something that has intensified with the regime of Daniel Ortega?
Our struggle and our resistance are historic. It is sad to say, but each government that has come to power in the country looks on our land for the purposes of exploitation. This is what we have observed.
How many attacks are registered in the course of this year?
The threat is ongoing. They (the paramilitaries) leave nailed on the stalks of the trees threats to the communities. The terror is constant. Just this year the kidnapping of two boys fishing from Santa Clara, the attack on the community of Alal, and now this attack on an adolescent girl.
What is the feeling of these communities who are constantly threatened?
There is a lot of tension. The people are terrorized after receiving the threats, but they are organized. The men have been out on guard, but they have informed me that the big problem is that now they cannot peacefully go out to gather the harvest in the fields, they tell me that they are experiencing hunger. Some only maintain themselves with fruit or dry coconut. A lot of people cannot even sleep, the children have no peace in order to study. Since the 1980s to now they continue murdering us, and it continues intensifying, we demand that they quit killing us.
And what is happening with the regional councils? They are also part of the territorial governments that should be looking for policies to protect the indigenous.
Living in the territories one realizes that the person in the Government building belongs to the government, so, they work in strict coordination with the Government, and only do what they are ordered to do. They do not work in favor of the communities.
And the local council members [síndicos], do they have the same reputation or are they watching out for the well-being of the communities?
The communal council members work hand in hand with the communal leaders. The people choose their communal council members and leaders, but the problem is that, parallel to this, the ruling party chooses their council members, so the Regional Council only accredits the council members that they elect, but the ones elected by the communities, generally, are not accredited, like what happened in Kamla last year. Just so as to not accredit the council person elected by the people, they ordered the people beaten, wounded and threatened. The denouncements about these cases were made, but since they themselves are the ones, there is no justice for the community members who were victims of these abuses.
What is the role of a community council member [síndico]? Why does the Government see them as an obstacle and prefers not to accredit them?
The community council member who remains is a representative of the communities, and can coordinate the use of resources, always in consultation with the communities, but they leave the councilperson elected by the communities without voice nor vote, so it is only the one elected by them that is accredited, and presents papers as the highest authority. In the end, the reality is that that council person that they put there, only does what the Government wants and not what the communities need. For example, the large extensions of land that are taken and through which the paramilitaries come in, they are the ones that give them passage so that they can register those properties. This invasion and land takeovers are done by those people themselves, and that is where the community members have to go to demand their lands. The council members that Orteguism puts in place do not have land, but they order the invaders to be placed there. Government officials promote the invasion in the communities.
Is this something seen since the 1980s or is it something that non -Sandinista governments have also promoted?
This (invasion and violence) started more forcefully since 2009, even though in the 1980s there was displacement and massacre against the Mïskito people through the so called Red Christmas. In the 80s the people sought to displace themselves into Honduras because of the persecution, but in the 90s – when they returned because of the change in Government – they even found tigers in the communities, and little by little they raised up their houses. It was in 2003 that they approved Law 445, which included titling, we did not appreciate that later these titles would be used by corrupt politicians of our region as well, so , they provided the title to people who were not members of the community, and they negotiated our lands, in addition to the fact that they allied with the council members and they allied in order to invade our lands little by little.
Concerning the legislative work that some are doing in supposed representation of the Caribbean, do you feel represented by these people who are officials within the Assembly? Are they promoting projects to improve the situation of the indigenous, Mískitos and Afro-descendants?
Years back, like in 2016, the corrupt political representation of the region was expelled from the Assembly for the illegal sale of our indigenous lands, so how is it that he returned once again to the National Assembly? Is it real that they are allies then? We do not feel that they represent us, and with this I am referring to the Yatama party. They cannot provide for the freedom of our territories from invasion, when they are the very ones who have been pointed out as promoting the invasion with the provision of titles to people from outside the community members. If they were part of the problem, they are never going to be part of the solution.
How do you assess the coalition building process that the members of the National Unity and the Civic Alliance are working on?
Look, when this situation happened in the Pacific in April 2018, many young people gave their lives to see a free Nicaragua, and many politicians holed themselves up, and now, for money and to give an opportunity to this murderer, are uniting. You have to be realistic, because these old and corrupt politicians are not an opposition. There is no sincerity, they must be more sincere, so, I think that there is a lot of falsehood in these traditional politicians. We as Mískitos demand that there be transparency, that there be unity, that they in truth defend the rights of indigenous peoples, peasants, youth, students. They have to give an opportunity to the new generations, because the corrupt politicians are advanced in age, let them go rest with their millions, let them leave the path open to the youth so that Nicaragua might be free and democratic again. If we truly love Nicaragua, let us leave Nicaragua in the hands of the youth, so that this [country] might be led in peace.
Susana Marley, known as “Mama Grande”, was born May 24, 1957 in the community Cabo Gracias a Dios in Waspam, Northern Caribbean.
She graduated as a teacher in 1970 from the Teacher School in Waspam, but a large part of her childhood she lived in the community of Santa Martha, located close to the Wawa River.
The Mískita leader is also a sociologist. She finished her studies in 1997 in the Central American University (UCA).
She is the daughter of Eduardo Marley (deceased), known in Waspam as a Moravian pastor and one of the first teachers in that municipality, and Benicia Cunningham, 95 years of age, popular for being one of the first midwives of her community.
“Mama Grande” had five children, but she had none of them in a hospital. Her births were assisted solely and exclusively by her mother.
In 1981 during the so called Red Christmas, she was at the point of dying, but she states that her beauty and the favor of God saved her.
An earlier version of this document was published in September. With minor changes it was inserted in the version of La Prensa on January 14, 2019. This translation includes the minor changes.
We are Building Nicaragua
“We are Building Nicaragua” Program
This document is the draft of the Program of the Social and Political Movement called “WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA” which we submit to the consideration of the readers to open a public discussion among all social sectors on the urgent tasks that we need to promote for a real democratization of Nicaragua.
PROGRAM FOR THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF NICARAGUA: GIVE BACK TO THE PEOPLE THE RIGHT TO DECIDE!
The days of struggle, started in April 2018, are forging and consolidating a strong sense of collective national identity in favor of democratization and justice, as had not occurred in our nearly two centuries of independent history around fundamental symbols and values: the blue and white flag, inextricably linked to republican democracy, public liberties, citizen participation in the State affairs, a strong sense of social equity and true solidarity.
The democratic struggle started by the youth opened the possibility of rebuilding and re-founding our nation on the bases of democracy, justice and social equity. The enjoyment and exercise of public liberties, as well as absolute respect for citizen rights, should not depend ever again on the will or discretion of any government. We all the sectors of the people (youth, students, women, workers, peasants, indigenous, etc) need to recover our popular sovereignty to re-found a new Nicaragua, creating a Social and Democratic Rule of Law on new bases, that imply eradicating forever the use of violence, repression or intimidation by those in power for the purpose of remaining in it, or limiting and blocking the exercise of these freedoms and rights.
The fundamental decisions of Nicaragua should not be made by small oligarchies, but by the broad majorities of men and women through democratic and deliberative processes with all the information on the table, where the broadest sectors can participate.
So that our society might move from the discretional and arbitrary and personalized use of power, to a social interaction more and more regulated by laws, norms and policies that are implemented in a more impartial, transparent and impersonal way possible, that is, with the absence of discrimination and punishment for some, and privileges and “awards” for others.
Currently State institutions have lost their public character by being completely subordinated to partisan control and the discretional management of the rulers. It is urgent to begin the transition toward the new Nicaragua, where national public institutions exist that fulfill their function of providing public goods and services, and that are capable of ensuring confidence, security and certainty to economic agents and all the citizenry.
Nicaragua needs a radical democratic revolution that would build national public institutions that can keep themselves relatively isolated from the pressures of economic groups and those in power, be focused on effective, professional performance and their objectives and responsibilities, establishing mechanisms that would ensure transparency and accountability, and that would make citizen control possible over the institutions that administer power.
Within the framework of this context, we a group of youth, men and women from all social strata, have agreed to launch a new political organization called “WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA”, an inclusive, horizontal, democratic and progressive political movement for the purpose of promoting structural changes for the sustainable development of Nicaragua.
WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA is a social and political movement where all us Nicaraguans find the opportunity to voice our opinions and participate to achieve our political, economic, social, cultural and environmental aspirations.
The mission of WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA is to provide each Nicaraguan the opportunity to promote and defend their rights to achieve a full, just and prosperous life.
We present, then, our proposal for a political program that we submit to the consideration of the citizens for their study, critique and improvement, because only united will we be able to accomplish the immense task of democratizing Nicaragua for the benefit of the great majorities.
16 BASIC POINTS FOR FOUNDING THE NEW NICARAGUA
Free and Sovereign Constituent National Assembly
We men and women of WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA, many of us had not even been born during the time of the revolution, we think that the first thing that we should do is dismantle the status quo of the political power that was established in the last period, and that has roots in the institutions created during the process of the death of the revolution of 1979.
It requires returning sovereignty and decision making capacity to the people, in other words, the citizens. This elemental principle of democracy has been systematically denied in the history of Nicaragua. It requires profoundly reorganizing the State institutions. And this can only be achieved by repealing the Constitution of 1987 and its reforms, discussing and approving a new democratic Constitution, that would minimally bring together the issues that we discuss in what follows and that would bring the Nicaraguan State into the modernity of the XXI Century.
For the will of the majority of the people to be reflected, the call for a free and sovereign National Constitutive Assembly should be preceded by a profound revolution of the electoral system, which would ensure the democratic participation of the people and eradicate the possibility of new electoral fraud.
A new electoral system
A complete reform of the electoral system is needed, approving a new Electoral Law that would do away with the bipartisan system inherited from Somocism, and that served as a cover for installing a new dynastic dictatorship. A new Party and Political Association Law should be approved, which also should have constitutional standing, that would allow for the creation of groups, associations and political parties at the municipal, provincial, regional and national levels.
The obstacles created by the constitutional reform of 2000 should be ended, that demand a minimum of 4% for a party to maintain their legal status, because it limits the right to representation of minorities. The myth of the dictatorships, that only the traditional parties should exist, should be done away with,. Democracy rests on the principle of diversity and the respect and protection of minorities.
But, above all, the monopoly of the political parties should be ended, which are the only ones who can propose candidates. A new emphasis should be placed on the fact that citizens can run as candidates regardless of whether they are party members, in any type of election, including presidential elections, prioritizing the fact that youth, who have traditionally been marginated from political activity, can have a dominant role in the destiny of the country.
The election of deputies should be by provinces or districts, doing away with the election of national deputies. The right to proportional representation of minorities should be ensured, especially of indigenous, in every type of election.
The functions exercised by the Supreme Electoral Council (SEC) should be decentralized in different institutions (identity cards, parties and associations, organization of electoral processes, etc), completely reorganized, not just with the participation of the political parties, but civil society organizations, who should play a role of oversight and control.
The new electoral system should include the partial or total renovation of the deputies of the National Assembly halfway through each presidential period. The dates for legislative elections should coincide with municipal and regional elections which should be held every two years, so that the elected officials might know that their posts will always depend on the assessment of their performance and the will of the electors.
To be a candidate for popular election they should be qualified and honest. In addition the 50/50 Law should be kept and respected that ensures the presence of women on electoral ballots which opens the doors for their participation in political decision making posts.
Finally the new electoral system should ensure the right to vote of the citizenry who, for economic or political reprisal reasons, went into exile and live outside the country.
Limits to re-election for popularly elected officials
Re-election is not a problem of principles in democracy, everything depends on the political culture and the electoral system, whether it is sufficiently democratic to respect the popular will.
Nevertheless, this is a key discussion in Nicaragua, because the emergence of the dictatorships of José Santos Zelaya (1896-1909), Anastasio Somoza and his successors (1937-1979), as well as the new dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo (2007-2018) have been related to presidential re-election.
For this reason, and taking into consideration that a good government is not improvised, presidential re-election should only be permitted for a second period, so the new election becomes a plebiscite on the first mandate. Starting with the second period, there should be an absolute prohibition of presidential re-election, establishing iron clad clauses in the new Constitution that would prevent a third presidential period.
Likewise the deputies should only be elected for two consecutive periods. This same norm should be applied to mayors and council members and the members of regional governments.
System for direct election and renovation of magistrates and of other high officials, under citizen control.
The citizens should be given back the capacity to elect and remove magistrates, as well as other high officials from other branches and institutions of the State. That vicious cycle should be ended where the executive branch proposes candidates for magistrates who end up being approved through agreements and negotiations among the deputies, who generally obey the interests of party leaders, who include them on the electoral lists, annulling the capacity of the citizens who elected them.
On establishing a percentage of votes of deputies to choose the magistrates, the problem is resolved through transactions or political pacts, turning the deputies into the principal electors, annulling the popular will. This type of indirect election makes possible the creation of political rings and castes, which are the negation of democracy.
It should be established that the holders of the executive branch, deputies, mayors, councilpersons, members of the regional governments, all popularly elected officials, are subject to the evaluation of the people through a recall referendum. In this way any popularly elected official, having finished a third of their mandate, and in the face of a petition for their removal signed by a certain number of citizens, those signers should have the capacity to call for elections in that specific case, so that it be the electors who decide if the official continues or not in their post.
Restructuring of the judicial branch
Democracy is, in the last instance, the governance of judges. These officials are the ones who decide on the freedom of people, the future of their assets and settle political conflicts. The one who controls the judicial power, controls the State and political power. That is why a profound reform and restructuring of the judicial system should be done. The magistrates, judges should be directly elected by the people, and submitted every two years, when intermediate elections are held, to the control of the citizenry.
The judicial profession should be submitted to periodic controls. Only the people through their vote can decide whether a judge continues in their post for one more period. The re-election of judges and magistrates should have a limit, no more than three periods, to open the way for the formation of new judges and magistrates.
A commission composed of recognized jurists and national and foreign academics should examine and review the curriculums of the aspirants, and they will be the candidates who would be subject to popular balloting. Political parties cannot campaign in favor of the candidates under pain of disqualification.
The Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) should decentralize their functions, so that the administrative functions are not mixed with jurisdictional ones, and with those of control and sanctioning. Deputies cannot be candidates for judges or magistrates. It is a matter of building a new judicial branch that would supervise jointly with the citizenry the functioning of public administration and democracy.
Amparo [constitutional or administrative protection order] should not be an appeal but a judgement, as happens in Latin America. A Constitutional Tribunal should be created, whose magistrates will not obey political parties, but the mandate of the citizenry.
Ongoing fight against corruption
In Nicaragua corruption is an evil embedded in all the State institutions, and it has become part of the political culture: popularly elected posts and public service have been turned into ladders for illicit enrichment. That is why the fight against corruption should be ongoing and at every level. Corruption is one of the principal causes of the increase in poverty and social inequality. It is not possible to fight poverty without fighting corruption at the same time. Indeed corruption erodes and weakens democratic institutions, annulling existing legality, promoting impunity and social chaos.
The existing laws for fighting corruption are not applied because the State institutions responsible for fighting it, like the Comptroller General of the Republic (CGR), the Attorney General of the Republic and the different tribunals of justice have been victims of the concentration of power phenomenon, which centralizes the mechanisms for the election of magistrates and other high officials solely on the deputies of the National Assembly, who are elected through the lists of the political parties who exercise a monopoly on popular representation.
The anti-corruption legislation should be modernized, administrative processes should be greatly simplified, a new law of State Purchasing and one for Conflict of Interest of Public Officials should be approved, establishing online bidding, so that everyone can see what is happening with prices and technical specifications, taking into consideration citizen participation at all levels, developing to the maximum electronic governance.
Transparency should become a new fundamental right, a key factor for strengthening social confidence and a sense of participation and co-responsibility in the construction of a shared destiny. Public information should never be managed as if it were private. The people have the right to know all the affairs, no matter how complicated they may seem. The officials who violate this principle of access to public information will be submitted to severe penal sanctions.
Likewise, the obligation should be established of all officials to be accountable to the general assembly of workers of the public sector with the participation of the citizenry every three months for spending, investments or purchases made. The result of these reports should be placed on the web page of the respective institutions.
In all State institutions an assembly of public servants should be organized to create citizen control commissions responsible for overseeing the implementation of the budget, plans for purchasing and bidding, with the legal faculties to file the corresponding charges. Those who make any denouncements will not be able to be fired nor will there be any administrative reprisals against them, unless it is shown that they had no basis.
The new constitution should establish the new principle that there is no immunity for crimes related to corruption. All assets obtained through acts of corruption or money laundering are imprescriptible, it is the obligation of the State to pursue them until they are recovered, trying and punishing those who are guilty. The officials punished for acts of corruption through a final judgement will be disbarred for life from running for public posts or providing public service, as well as prohibited from being a supplier of the State or contracting with Public Administration.
Professionalization and dignity of public service
A radical democratization is required so that workers in public administration never again are hired or fired based on their party affiliation or loyalty, but rather on the basis of their capacities and competency, and so that the career of civil service be respected.
The Civil Service Law should be governed by the principle of the merits and capacities of the applicants, we should eradicate the culture of sharing posts by pacts and political arrangements or by electoral quotas. Likewise they should promote reforms so that the youth can make a career in public service in a decent way and with facilities for access.
A fair tax system
The taxes of all Nicaraguans should not be used or diverted to enrich small groups, but should form part of the sacred national patrimony. Tax collection should be based on transparency, social control and the principle that the payment of taxes should be proportional to income. In this way society will have the resources needed to cover social spending and ensure the minimum functioning of democracy and the construction of a medium and long term national development plan that is able to transcend changes in government.
Incorporating new rights in the Constitution
Respect for human rights in Nicaragua will never be limited by any government, placing arguments of “national sovereignty” above the relevancy of international treaties on this matter.
New fundamental rights should be incorporated and applied, like Gender Equity, and other specific rights of women, that should be implemented in all the State institutions and at all levels of social life.
Likewise, basic income should be established in a progressive manner for people who are living in levels of poverty. It is the only way of ending the political patronage that does so much damage to democracy, and so that the State might protect in this way those most in need.
Nicaragua should be proclaimed as a Social and Democratic Rule of Law State, governed by fundamental rights, by the principle of absolute respect and equality under the law, the control of the citizenry in the affairs of the State, and the defense of the environment.
The right to rebellion or insurrection against dictatorial or dynastic governments should be recovered, as a fundamental essential right of Nicaraguans.
Likewise, new procedural guarantees should be reformed or incorporated: the function of the Police should be to investigate crimes and send the accused to the judicial authorities in a term no longer than 24 hours. In their investigations the Police should be subordinated to the Prosecutor´s office, who should be responsible for directing the investigations and the gathering of proof. Detentions can only be done through a judicial order or when catching a crime in progress.
Jury trials should be re-established for all cases, and exceptional jurisdictions should be ended.
In addition, Nicaragua should bring itself into the XXI Century and promote the access of all children and adolescents to information technologies and the internet.
Reorganization of the Army and the Police
The role that the National Police have performed in the current civic insurrection, as a small, very centralized repressive army, forces us to re-examine the role of the police forces. The Police should play a very important role in ensuring citizen security, in a context of the advance of the drug trafficking cartels and organized crime in Central America.
To keep the National Police from being a small, mercenary army at the unconditional service of a dictatorial government, their operation should be decentralized, creating municipal police who will maintain a national coordination or command, but whose members will be recruited from within the community, who will be subject to the local authorities. The naming of the Chief of Police in each municipality, as well as their term in the post, will be done through direct election of the citizens. The monopoly of the control of the president of the republic over the National Police must end, it should be shared with the local authorities.
The National Police should have a Community Policing approach, composed of people from the community on a rotating manner, with a reduced administrative apparatus and permanent officials. More women should be incorporated into the chain of command of this Community Police.
Likewise, the role and conception of the National Army should be re-evaluated. The collective trauma that the implementation of military service had during the civil war (1982-1990) has made it possible, contradictorily, for the evolution of the National Army as an institution ever more separated from the people.
In times of peace, the Army should have a very reduced apparatus, it should be composed of citizens who provide their civil service regularly within the armed forces at certain times. Likewise, more women should be incorporated into the chain of command of the Army.
It should not only defend the national sovereignty against drug trafficking and organized crime, but also exercise a social function in the most vulnerable social sectors, protecting and defending the environment, enabling youth to join as their first job and acquire technical training. This is the only way to prevent having an Army of full time paid soldiers unconnected to the people. The Army should not have, nor its officers, businesses or companies to finance retirement systems different from those that most of the population have, or caste privileges that promote social inequality.
Due to the importance of this issue, a special plebiscite should be promoted on the reorganization of the National Army and the National Police, so that the people might democratically decide the path to follow.
Educational revolution, academic freedom, and university autonomy.
Nicaragua will never come out of poverty without being able to raise the educational level of its population.
Nicaragua is losing the only opportunity from the “demographic dividend” as dozens of thousands of youth do not have the opportunity to study and work. The dichotomy between primary education and higher education is false. Both are complementary. That is why academic freedom and university autonomy should be insisted on for training the technical staff and the professionals that the country requires.
Primary and secondary education should include a class on civic education, so that the students might learn from an early age how the State functions and what the principles of democracy are.
Within the framework of basic income, it should be ensured that all children finish their primary and secondary schooling. For that purpose 15% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should be used for public education. State resources should be used to develop public education, and the businesses of private schools and universities should never be subsidized. The universities should never be submitted to political power and party control.
The teaching profession and scientific research should be encouraged and protected by the State.
Social innovation and entrepreneurship should be encouraged by the State to expand the labor prospects of the recently graduated youth from the Universities so that they can be inserted into the work world. Likewise, the Youth First Job Law should be approved where the universities and companies will coordinate to provide facilities of access to work to recently graduated youth, and so that the relationship between professional majors and market demand might be improved.
The role of the State in the economy
The principal of the social function of property should be rigorously ensured. The State must protect and promote small and medium ,urban and rural producers.
Given the backwardness of the productive forces in Nicaragua, the State should play the role of promoting economic development, the only way of doing away with migration and poverty. Within a social market economy framework, the principal public services (water, health care, education, energy and communications) should be in the hands of the State. The acceptance of mixed enterprises in these areas, and the percentages of private, national or foreign participation, will depend on the needs of each concrete case.
A State bank should exist that would promote financing, at fair interest rates, to the benefit of the peasantry, artisans and small urban and rural producers. To prevent political patronage and corruption that can lead to their bankruptcy, the workers and clients of the state bank should be allowed to form a verification and control commission of the loans, focused on citizen participation.
The profits of the private banks should be regulated, through a policy of fair interest rates, that do not exploit the population.
National or foreign private investment should respect the universal labor rights and gains of the workers. The State should protect with special care worker-owner relationships.
Agrarian reform and the defense of the environment
The agrarian reform that was promoted under the revolution in the 1979-1990 period was reversed in later decades. A process of land concentration functioned and now we have the existence of new large landowners. This process was possible because the peasantry did not have financial and technical assistance that would allow it to develop agriculture or ranching. Not only should the right of the peasantry to land be ensured, but also the right of peasant women to be owners of land. Likewise, a state bank is needed whose principal function would be to develop the peasant economy. The State should ensure a policy of fair prices for peasant products.
The agricultural production of Nicaragua in large measure rests on small and medium producers. It is necessary that these sectors grow through increase in yields and productivity, more than by the expansion of the agricultural frontier, which has degraded hydrological basins, produced sedimentation and the disappearance of water sources, and destroyed biodiversity.
Protected areas should be expanded, like Bosawás and Indio Maíz, and other new ones created. Protecting the national capital of the country should be a priority – water, soils, forests and biodiversity – the State should ensure that they be used in a sustainable manner.
The agrarian reform should have an ecological approach, one of defense of the land, forests, water and the environment. Zones apt for agriculture should be defined, planting should not be done on hills or inclines, what lands are apt for ranching should be pinpointed. Extensive ranching should be eliminated, promoting the creation of modern farms with breeds of cattle that allow production to increase without the need to destroy forests. Peasant or indigenous communities should be the protectors of the forests. A process of reforestation should be promoted and the protection of natural reserves for the purpose of caring for the water of rivers and lakes.
For true autonomy in the Caribbean Coast
Raising the autonomy of the Caribbean Coast to constitutional status in 1995 implied great progress, but the real effects of the Autonomy Statute of the Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua are more formal than real. The principal decisions on the economic resources of the Caribbean Coast, and investment in them, in reality are not up to the Regional Councils, nor the indigenous communities, but the central government, which continues limiting the right to autonomy of the native population.
Not only should the customs, language and culture be preserved, but also the communal forms of organization of the indigenous population, which should administer and protect the natural resources.
Even though it is true that as a result of the struggle of the indigenous communities progress has been made in the titling of communal lands, as long as there is no resettlement of non indigenous on their land, the autonomy of the Caribbean Coast will be a fiction.
Consolidation of municipal autonomy
Municipal autonomy has been enshrined in the Constitution since 1987, but in reality the municipalities are subordinated to the central government, in spite of the existence of the Municipal Law. The role of the State in society should be realized through the municipalities. The national budget should be invested in the municipalities. The role of the central government should be reduced, and the functions decentralized in the municipalities. The structure of the State should rest on the municipalities, who should control education, the supply of potable water, public services, services of police, sewage and the defense of the environment.
The democratization of Nicaragua passes through transferring more national power and resources to the municipal governments.
Reconstructing the Central American nation
In the XXI century the countries of Central America are intimately linked by their economic bases, but not on the level of state superstructure. What happens in some of the countries of Central America has repercussions on the rest. SICA [Spanish acronym for the Central American Integration System] has played a great role as a project for the reunification of the national economies, but it has not achieved the goal. The establishment of PARLACEN was a great step forward on the political plane, but it has very limited functions. We should make more progress. The deputies to PARLACEN should be the same deputies of the national legislative organs, so that there is no separation and ignorance about the regional reality.
We should proceed until achieving the call for a Central American Constituent Assembly that would allow for the creation of a Central American federation or confederacy.
This interview of María Teresa Blandón was done by an Argentinian feminist organization. María is one of the key feminist leaders in Central America, and for years has taught in the graduate program at the UCA in Managua on gender studies. It provides a larger historical and gender perspective on the crisis in Nicaragua today.
Nicaragua: Feminism as an exercise of autonomy and fight for freedom
December 23, 2018
by Claudia Korol
in Marcha: una Mirada Popular y Feminista de la Argentina y El Mundo
We talked with María Teresa Blandón, teacher, activist of the feminist movement in Nicaragua, Director of La Corriente, who reflects on the political moment of this Central American country and tells us, “We Nicaraguan feminists are going to continue denouncing”
Daughter of a peasant and a teacher, María Teresa Blandón joined the Sandinista Revolution at the age of 17, and then the feminist movement. It is she who tells us about the difficult controversies between the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (FSLN), since it was taken over completely by Orteguism, and the women´s movement, feminism, but also the human rights and youth movements, independent journalists and community media.
This is the first of a series of interviews of well known activists in Nicaragua, who give us a closeup on the dilemmas that they are experiencing in the country that gave us one of the most beautiful revolutions.
What was the process that led to the FSLN distancing itself from the revolution that we fell so in love with in Latin America?
The truth is that it was a very long process. From that revolution of the 80s that stirred up so much emotion, so much hope in Latin America, nothing has been left for some time now. Since the Sandinista Front divided, the more authoritarian part, more warlike, more violent part was left with the political control, and usurped the collective Sandinista memory. That part of Sandinism is very compromised by corruption. The “piñata” of the 90s was the kill shot to a marvelous struggle of Sandinism, but it seems that many people did not realize it. (When the FSLN lost the elections of February 25, 1990, it redistributed among the Sandinista leadership state assets that had been confiscated from sectors in power at the moment of the triumph of the Sandinista revolution. From those processes a “Sandinista bourgeoise” was formed, composed of several of the principle leaders of the FSLN. The plundering of the state assets is known as the “Sandinista piñata”).
In 1998 Zoilamerica denounced Daniel Ortega for sexual abuse. (Zoilamerica is the daughter of Rosario Murillo, current spouse of Daniel Ortega and Vice President of the country. Daniel Ortega adopted Zoilamerica, was accused by the young woman of having suffered sexual abuse and sexual violence by him, who was a Sandinista deputy at that time). When Ortega returned to power after having been denounced for sexual violence, there were still people who thought that he was a revolutionary.
We who were here in Nicaragua, and we feminists in particular, said that that was not so. The nearly twelve years since the return of Daniel Ortega to power have been years of a lot of reversals for women, for society as a whole. For democracy, for women´s rights, for citizen participation, for freedom of expression. It is a government that has built its project on populism, while it provided assistance to poor people, maintained a solid covenant with big private enterprise, to the point of turning this state into a corporate state. It is the reality that we have been experiencing in these years, and that starting in April went into crisis, because there was an accumulation of injuries, restrictions on freedom, persecution, corruption and non-transparent public policies.
What was the conflict with the feminists?
We already had problems since the decade of the 80s. In the 90s the feminist movement completely separated itself from the Sandinista Front, over the previously mentioned issues. In the 90s the movement already had the possibility of flying on its own wings, and we needed more. Issues dear to feminism like machista violence, we were not able to address them from Sandinism. We left the Sandinista Front. The “coup de disgrâce” was when Zoilamerica in 1998 denounced Daniel Ortega for sexual abuse. It was a critical point for Nicaraguan feminism. It led us to deepen the debate on machista violence and its structural causes, but also it confirmed for us that Daniel Ortega had not just been an aggressor, but also an accomplice and an abettor of machista violence. This for us explains why his wife, Rosario Murillo, has had so much bad blood toward the feminists from the 80s up to our times.
The policy of alliances of Daniel Ortega with the most corrupt leaders of Nicaragua, the pact that he signed in 2000 with Arnoldo Alemán, who is the iconic figure for corruption in Nicaragua, ended up confirming for us that the Sandinista Front was a machine without a political project, without a policy for the country, that had become an end in itself to return to power. The alliance with Alemán was what allowed Ortega to come to power. He got control over the electoral branch and made changes in electoral justice that allowed him to come to power with 38% of the votes.
In the 2005 campaign the feminist movement of Nicaragua was unanimously against the candidacy of Daniel Ortega. There were differences over who to support, but we were against him riding into office again in the government. The issue about him being a sexual abuser was not a small issue when we were bringing machista violence into discussion. For us it was a terrible blow that a lot of people were quiet about that. Political leaders were silent, the Catholic Church also silent. Only us Nicaraguan feminists were speaking out.
For these 12 years we received blow after blow. The penalization of therapeutic abortion was the work of the Sandinista Front. The naturalization and coverup of sexual abuse, each year the amount of pregnant young girls, the result of abuse. The issue of having dismantled the institutional path for filing charges, the punishment of aggressors. A total space of impunity: the complete rejection of this government of sexual and reproductive rights. Their alliance with the most inflammatory groups of the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Churches. These are some of examples of the treatment that we feminists and defenders of women´s rights have received.
How has that alliance with the churches been, and how is it now?
Even though during these twelve years Daniel Ortega was able to keep most of the evangelical churches on his side, who have a pretty serious history of corruption and opportunism, and he has coopted part of the Catholic Church, above all in the last 5 years sectors of the Catholic church have begun to have a concern – not on the issue of women´s rights, because they were in agreement on that – but on the closing down of spaces for citizen participation, censorship, non transparency of public policies. It also happened that the Ortega-Murillo government competed with the Church even over the Catholic rituals most dear to the Church. Rosario Murillo turned herself into a pretty strange type of priestist. She was the one who read the Bible every day, she celebrates Christmas, spends millions of cordobas of the National Budget to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary. She took charge of buying off a part of the Catholic Church. Part of the hierarchy took a position in favor of the government. Now the relationship is pretty strained.
In April with the outbreak of the crisis, this relationship was broken, even though from below the Ortega-Murillo couple continues having strategies for cooptation and blackmail. Ortega asked the Episcopal Conference to be the mediator in the dialogue, to gain time and stop the citizen protest that was gaining more and more strength. When that dialogue attempt was made, part of the Catholic Church came out to defend the youth who were in the barricades defending rights, and Ortega responded with arrests and murders, this tense relationship was irremediably broken. So at this moment the Ortega-Murillo government has declared the Catholic hierarchy its enemy, and has launched a stigmatization campaign, threatened the bishops of the Episcopal Conference, ordered priests to be persecuted. The precarious connection that they maintained, out of interests on both sides, was broken.
What information is there about political prisoners?
The total universe of prisoners is enormous. We have more than 500 political prisoners. There are currently nearly 50 women prisoners. The situation is terrible, because they have abducted them, there has been no general [legal] process for apprehending these young people. Police and paramilitaries have participated in the detention. In no case has there been an arrest warrant. A group of around 10 judges, who are faithful servants of the Ortega-Murillo regime, have held completely irregular trials, with false witnesses, bringing in police to testify. They accuse them of absurd things: terrorism, possession of powerful weapons. Completely irrational things.
In the case of the women prisoners there is a notable, profound machista misogyny. There are women who were freed, but others continue in prison. What they have denounced is that they have been sexually abused, that they are forced to strip themselves naked, that they have been groped by police officers. There are at least three cases of women who aborted as a result of the bad treatment and torture that they received. Some are imprisoned in the jail in El Chipote, a place where Somoza used to torture political prisoners. There are women prisoners who have serious infirmities. Their relatives have asked that they be seen by some specialist, and that has not been possible. Some months ago at least 16 female political prisoners who are in the La Esperanza jail were savagely beaten by men who were not part of the staff of that jail, because they resisted them taking Irlanda Jérez to some unknown place, an iconic young leader who put herself in front of the protests in the eastern market [mercado oriental], one of the largest markets in Central America. When they wanted to take her out to be interrogated by those men who were not from the prison, the other prisoners defended her. All of them were injured, and the authorities have not allowed doctors to see them after that beating. They have told, in the few moments when they saw their families, that they spy on them, denigrate them, treat them badly, do not allow them their medications many times, they do not allow them the time needed to speak with their families, they do not give them the time established to go out into the yard to get some sun. They have not allowed the female nor the male prisoners effective defense. They have wanted to impose court appointed lawyers on them, that we already know are lawyers chosen by Ortega-Murillo. They have harassed and boycotted the lawyers of the human rights organizations who provide legal advice to the prisoners.
This last week has produced the closure of NGOs that defends human rights, feminists, environmentalists, and independent media [Dec 13-17, 2018]. The reality is that the repression has never ended. After dismantling the barricades and the road blocks at gunpoint, which left us a toll of deaths that we still have not finished counting exactly, came another form of repression that was to prevent at any cost that we Nicaraguans would take to the streets.
What are the figures on the dead that you have since the campaigns of April?
The Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights talks about 325 people murdered since April – which coincides with the data that the IACHR has provided. Another figure is from the Nicaraguan Association for Human Rights (APRODH), that has around 500 murdered and an imprecise figure for the disappeared. The IACHR has had a lot of difficulties in doing its job of investigation. The MESENI (Special Mechanism for Follow up for Nicaragua) also has not had much opportunities. The government had systematically denied providing complete information on those murdered. As long as this regime continues in power we are not going to be able to know the truth. That will happen after they have left.
What were the other forms of repression?
Since we had been having an avalanche of popular demonstrations throughout the country, the Ortega-Murillo regime carried out a strategy of persecuting youth, threatening people, putting up signs on the walls calling them: “coup monger, we are coming for you, we are going to fill you with lead and these things”, etc. In addition to this, each time that we went out to demonstrate, they would send out the anti-riot police on us. So much so that in the last two and a half months each time that we have tried to march, the regime militarized the cities, harassed the people, blockaded us and prevented the demonstration. Even in some marches that we did in the month of September, they sent paramilitaries on us to fire in full view of the police. So people quit taking to the streets because the repression was getting worse and worse. This was another way of repressing us. Even when we went to the churches to try to demonstrate, they waited for us on the way out to pursue us and to stop some of us, especially young people, who were always their principal or preferred objective.
The attack on the NGOs is a new moment of the repression. In spite of the fact that it is already very difficult to go out on the streets to protest, we have continued talking, we have continued being in the media. NGOs, especially those who work in the human rights sphere, have been denouncing human rights violations, and in this new stage, the strategy of repression is going against journalists and the few independent media that are left, against human rights organizations, and against non governmental organizations, including also feminist organizations. This is the stage of repression we are in.
On November 28th they summoned Ana Quiros, a Costa Rican feminist who had become Nicaraguan, who has lived in this country for three decades. They summoned her to the Migration office, without providing any explanation, and there they handcuffed her like a criminal and took her to the border with Costa Rica, her country of origin. Then they raided the offices of her organization (CISAS), a Center that has been working on issues of Community Health for three decades. They took away their equipment. They just now took over the place again and said that their assets are now confiscated.
There are communications media who are being permanently surveilled, there are journalists who have been captured, journalists who have been beaten. Radio Darío was burned down, now they raided it again. There are some radios that have had to close. The most recent one is the River Foundation [Fundación del Río], that works on environmental issues. This happened last weekend. Not only did they cancel the legal status of eight non government organizations, including CENIDH, but without any legal procedure raided their offices and declared that the assets would be confiscated by the State. In addition to this, they raided a communications enterprise that has nothing to do with the NGOs. It is a commercial enterprise, that is called Confidencial, and produces two television programs, owned by Carlos Fernando Chamorro, son of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro, who was murdered by the Somocista dictatorship. They went into this office, raided it, stole everything that was there. When the team of Confidencial went to the police to tell them to explain why they did this to a private enterprise that has nothing to do with the law of non-profit, civil associations, what the police did was to repress, beat, threaten and insult the journalists.
In the case of CENIDH (Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights) which is a very iconic organization in this country, which has accompanied the struggles of women, youth, peasants, the police broke into their office like criminals, destroyed everything, and when Vilma Nuñez, the Director of CENIDH, and the rest of the team tried to enter their offices, the police prevented them. At the height of cruelty, they even prevented the Director from making statements to independent media. As Paulo Abrao from the IACHR said, we are living in a state of exception, that has trampled on all citizen rights. The right to free expression, freedom of movement, civic protest, freedom of organization. It is a state of exception, which has not been legally declared but that has been implemented de facto.
Do you want to say anything more?
One thing that I want to say is that we Nicaraguan feminists from the first moment that this crisis exploded have counted on the support and backing of Latin American feminists, and also feminists from the state of Spain. They have given us a ton of support. We profoundly recognize the level of commitment that they have shown during this entire time. Without them, for example, the Caravan for Solidarity that has toured all of Latin America and a good part of Europe would not have been possible. This enormous effort we owe to them.
On the other hand, I would like to tell you that we Nicaraguan feminists are going to continue denouncing, we are going to continue fighting, we are going to continue defending our freedom, and also that of the entire Nicaraguan society. In this road that lies ahead of us, which we trust will be shorter, we hope to continue counting on the social movements of Latin American and the Caribbean, and continue trusting that men, women journalists, committed to just causes, can continue exposing this terrible situation that Nicaragua is experiencing in these times.
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.
We had an update from the Indigenous youth of the north on my most recent trip to Nicaragua. Meeting with this group is always an excitement. They can be as shy as their parents’ generation can be, especially during first-time encounters, but there is an underlying energy and freshness about the youth. Maybe it just goes with being somewhere between 16 and 30 years of age. (I really hate to even write that suggestion down, because if it’s true, where does it leave someone like me?)
There are lots of things to like about the members of NUMAJI: in addition to the aforementioned energies, they are organized, they take their organizational responsibilities seriously, they are constantly seeking ways in which to grow- both organizationally and personally- and they are undaunted by the societal forces which seem to conspire against their quest for independence and preservation of Indigenous tradition. It’s easy to root for underdogs.
Like their young brethren in most other countries, the members of NUMAJI carry a bias toward “rebellion.” Not physical confrontation, but a desire to go their own ways as compared to their elders. The irony for this Indigenous group of youth is that their rebellion is aimed not at abandonment of past ways but at preservation of their heritage, “the Indigenous patrimony.” It’s in danger of extinction due to passage of time, loss of youth to technology and migration, local and national governments which prefer not having to deal with the reality of Indigenous traditions and rights, and other Indigenous voices which speak about the artifacts of their heritage as being for sale.
This group of young people has been through a lot. They first came together under the recognition that they needed and deserved a structure in which their voices might be heard by their elders; sometimes elders have a difficult time ascribing value to their eventual successors. Next, they waded into the swamp of forming themselves into an association, a process which is as long as it is daunting, and especially for the uninitiated. They face the scorn of many elders who view the association as too inexperienced and too young to be of importance. They battle the entrenched and politics-driven agendas of some Indigenous and municipal community “leaders,” for whom an association of independent thinkers and actors constitutes a threat to established order. In short, there are few resources on which to rely as they defend their heritage and birthright.
Except in the case of their work. As we listened to the issues faced by the youth- many of whom are still in their teens- I was struck by the content of the proposal they made for association work in the coming year. I wonder where else I might hear youth discussing issues like: internal and foreign migration; the need for development of greater emotional intelligence as a personal development strength; the impacts of “adultism;” confronting child abuse; writing the statutes and administration of a legal association; or preserving and protecting archaeological sites when municipal and national authorities demonstrate little interest in doing so. These are not matters of pop culture or social media, but rather, the very real issues of an entire Indigenous people being met head-on by their youth.
It’s an uphill battle, at best. Maybe NUMAJI will be able to sustain itself through sheer force of wills; young people often have that capacity. Alternatively, the obstacles may prove to be more than even an energized group of committed youth can withstand. But either way, this group has educated and experienced itself in ways that will serve its individual members well in the future, whatever that may hold. Good character and personal courage are qualities that are always in demand and short in supply.
When we left the meeting, I noticed that I actually stood a little straighter, taller than when I walked in….