Category Archives: Indigenous

2ND UPDATE – Building different futures overcoming intellectual apartheid

Building different futures overcoming intellectual apartheid

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

                                                                                                Article dedicated to Fr. Jack Moynihan and Sr. Maria Alicia McCabe[2]

Visit

-Why are you coming to visit us? María Jesús asked, the grandmother of the community. Not even the priests visit us now–she took charge of the conversation.

-The world is getting more difficult. Without us, it will be difficult for you to improve; and without you, we don´t even know where we are going- I responded.

-Is that right? Whispered the grandmother, inviting me to coffee.

Thirty years ago in most of Central America corn and beans were planted without using glyphosate nor gramoxone; now gramoxone is used even for harvesting beans, in part to keep the rain from making the beans “sprout”. Not to mention vegetables, coffee and cacao. Much less sugar cane, peanuts or sesame. Probably beef and pork meat is more organic than carrots or beans. Where did this come from? The costs of production of a peasant family have increased drastically, but not the prices they are paid for their products; this makes desperation spread, tension and violence intensify, biodiversity erode, and climate variability proliferate.

There are many explanations for these realities. In this article I focus on intellectuals, who dedicate themselves to meditating and studying the realities, preparing projects and/or policies, teaching or preaching; they are writers, scientists, artists, scholars; they are “people of culture” who move in different circles from most people on our planet, a separation which at times is concealed by words, an abysmal separation. We use the word “apartheid” to denote this invidious separation. By way of hypothesis we say that the separation between intellectuals and the communities where most people live has impaired humanity for at least five centuries, when friars (intellectuals), soldiers, tax collectors and traders burst upon these lands. How can they work together and write a new history? I reflect on this question from the heterogeneity of the rural world.

That wall of intellectual apartheid

We read articles in newspapers and magazines about political issues where generally the rural reality or life in neighborhoods do not appear, and if they do, they are reduced to topics of violence where their structural causes are ignored. There are NGOs with rural agendas whose intellectuals respond to the market expressed in donors or business associations, who sporadically show up in rural communities to do surveys or interviews, they show up once and never return. These people are governed by the market mentality which deforms intellectuals themselves into field technicians, who go out with donations and prescriptions in hand, enlarge their wall to not listen to the people, and allow arrogance and discrimination guide them along their path. In fact, in the last 20-30 years, there are practically no intellectuals who write about the rural realities of Central America in a systematic way.

At the same time there are young rural women and men who have studied different majors. Finishing their studies, their dream does not tend to be to work with rural populations. They work for companies, the government, donors, or they migrate to other countries to work in what they can. If they stay, they go back to agriculture or to being housewives, leaving aside their intellectual role that could give them the possibility of writing peasant and indigenous histories in plural, from their perspectives, and tracing out new futures.

What happened to us? The Fordist and Taylorist colonial mentality that separates experts from workers has nested in our minds, regardless of the political ideology that we might exude. This mental model makes one believe that there is nothing to be learned from rural communities, like some two thousand years ago: “Nazareth! –exclaimed Nathanael. Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). This mental model makes intellectuals believe that they are superior: “I am an accountant”, “I am an engineer”, “I am a professor”, “I am a pastor, anointed by God”, “I am a doctor” or “I am an economist”. This intellectual arrogance means that we do not mingle with peasant or indigenous people, that that hidden or submerged population lives in the “middle ages” – a Eurocentric reading, as if Latin America had an “ancient age”, “middle age” and “modern age” like Europe.

This mentality adds cement to the millennial wall of intellectual apartheid of a “Latin America” where indigenous and peasant people are absent. Peasant and indigenous people are moving on one rail, and intellectuals on another, going in different directions.

I have learned a lesson working for decades with rural populations. Alone, it will be difficult for peasant and indigenous peoples to innovate with their economies and societies; alone, intellectuals will continue exuding Eurocentrism and allowing the spirit of Nathanael to control them.

Experiences that seem to knock this wall down

Fortunately, there are experiences in which that wall is knocked down, even though just a part of it, and even though just for a time. The most well-known came in the 1960s and 1970s when several lines of thinking coincided. The opening of the Catholic Church with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Medellin (1968) and Puebla (1979), a church open to the poor; the momentum of the Cuban revolution (1959); popular education under the influence of Pablo Freire; and the dependency theory of Singer and Prebisch. It was a period in which public universities were spaces of debate, where majors in sociology, philosophy and political science prevailed.

Under this framework, university students and professors, priests, sisters and politicians, went into communities and neighborhoods accompanying indigenous, peasant and impoverished people from urban neighborhoods. Churches, classrooms, auditoriums and offices broke down their walls and let their intellectuals leave. In Central America the experience of the community of Solentiname (Nicaragua) stands out with Ernesto Cardenal, where they produced the Gospel of Solentiname; the experience of the community of Aguilares (El Salvador), the experience of hundreds of Base Christian Communities. One outstanding regional experience is that of the Radiophonic Schools, where intellectuals (religious and lay) promoted literacy, health care and agriculture, a framework in which many people organized into cooperatives and peasant stores, which – though very much in a diminished form – still exist today. Those were good seeds!

It is a period in which part of that wall was knocked down. The mentality was that God and freedom were in the impoverished people who seek justice, that people can organize with their own resources, that honesty and solidarity are values that are also found in humble people. To a large extent, with this process all the military dictatorships were brought down, and democracy was installed throughout Latin America.

But this harmful wall was repaired and enlarged after the years of the 1980s. The institutional church closed itself back up in church buildings and persecuted those religious who refused to leave the communities that were building the Reign of God on earth. Banking style education returned to the classrooms. Political revolutions and democracies took over the military bases and offices, feeling at home under hierarchical and authoritarian structures. Studies in business administration, accounting and law led public and private universities with the dream of making money. Teachings and training put learning to one side. The spirit of Nathanael returned to the minds of intellectuals, separating them from people with calloused hands who paid for the studies of a good part of those intellectuals. This is the reality that made María ask Jesús, “Why are you coming to visit us?”

 Breaking the wall and combining ideas and efforts

 Visiting people like María Jesús, we jump over that wall of apartheid – we just “jump”- and only “for a time.” Here we list four ways of knocking the wall down, which, like a constellation of stars could show us one of the paths: getting involved in the real lives of the majorities, experiencing changes, co-investing in initiatives and recognizing several languages.

Intellectuals need to get involved in the real lives of the majorities, combine being in churches, classrooms, auditoriums, offices and conference rooms, with living in rural communities, organizing however they may be, experiencing what it means to generate collective actions beyond one´s own family, and outside of their own “synagogue” (church, office…. ). If it is a matter of improving agriculture and the lives of human and natural communities, food not being poisoned, it is unacceptable that the rural population walk along the rail that the market pulls them on, and that intellectuals walk along another rail, also pulled by the market. Separated but kneeling before the market!

The topic of beans involves technology, soils, climate, property, institutions like sharecropping, sharing labor, and land rental, it is intermediation and crop lien lending, it is weighing and quality, it is official data and real data, it is new bean soup and refried beans; all of this varies from year to year. The same with coffee, cacao, corn, squash or lemongrass, gardens, cornfields and farms. It is ethically and scientifically questionable to make proposals without being involved in that world, without studying them and studying ourselves to free us from the control of the market over our minds. We need to re-understand commercial relationships, not as commodities subjected to the totalitarianism of the market, but as the means for “good living”, as they say in the Andean countries, or the “I am because you are”, as one of the inspiring perspectives from Africa expresses it.

The topic of violence, specifically violence against women, is an issue of millennial social and religious rules, laws, power relationships, production systems that expelled women from agriculture and its processing, it is family and structures embedded in religious, political and economic institutions, it is the law of the jungle and human dispositions. It is not possible to reduce and terminate that violence if we do not identify its causes and do not accompany women in their non-violent paths in their own communities.

On the topic of rural organizations, it is cooperation in the midst of conflict, democracy in authoritarian societies, distribution of profits within a context of “trickle-down economics”, it is transparency in the midst of secretive mafias, it is accounting for peasant stores and cooperatives when universities are teaching accounting for companies and corporations…One can advise organizations only if they teach us how to advise them. What is learned in universities is how to subject rural organizations to the market, not how people can cooperate and overcome problems that individually they cannot resolve.

All this shows us that intellectuals should visit the most marginalized and “discarded” people to understand their virtues, capacities and human spirit, help to build favorable conditions (collective actions, networks) so that people connect to one another and others. All this requires time and dedication, like all good things, and requires that peasants and intellectuals conceptualize their processes in order to take new steps.

Intellectuals need to experience the changes along with rural people. An idea that is tested, adapted, adjusted, redone, finds legitimacy, motivates, is corrected and polished, is an idea that takes on life, that changes even the details or precisely because of the details. Experimenting in the organization of cooperatives, associations, associative enterprises, community stores or rural banks, helps to establish different processes. Experimenting is digging into decolonializing ourselves, and getting ourselves out of the orbit of Eurocentrism, which is presented as the measure of all things. The same thing happens on the side of rural populations, there are peasant and indigenous people who become pastors, delegates of the word, healers and agricultural and community advisors, many of them also dig into and realize that what is happening and what has happened to them is not natural nor determined by some supernatural being, in this way putting a crack in the wall of apartheid.

As we dig further, we run into powerful beliefs that support the wall, but we also find people who find their source of motivation in those depths in unimaginable ways. After administering a community store for one year, Yesenia Hernández expressed in an assembly: “I used to sell and I did not understand the numbers, because they say “women are for the kitchen and men for documents”; I set myself to understand the numbers, now they don´t make my head hurt, I am also a “woman of documents”. It is not just accounting, it is an issue of beliefs and ways of getting into the numbers, it is working together to adjust those audits of cash and inventory each month. When these improvements happen, other colonial “demons” emerge from political, economic and religious intermediation, and from within ourselves, intellectuals and peasant and indigenous people. It is not just focusing on the community store, it is also studying those surroundings and adjusting and polishing the changes.

In many cases it is co-investing in initiatives like community stores. If intellectuals and people from the communities invest in these initiatives, they will be concerned about their resources and will study them, because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” In addition to the financial element, co-investing is training in generating initiatives, capacities for empathy and a sense of mission in peasant people intellectualizing, and in intellectuals “peasantizing.” It is combining oral and written traditions that reveal the paths to follow or showing the pedagogy of associativism where three or more people cooperate. In this way, in the midst of tensions and disagreements that collective actions imply, they will produce new ideas, far from just kneeling down before the market of products and knowledge. This interaction or alliance are part of the basic conditions for freedom of thought, in order to decolonialize ourselves.

Finally, breaking down the wall is recognizing several “languages”. The language of accounting talks about “liabilities”, “assets”, “equity”, “expenses”, “cash out” and “inventory”; likewise economics or law have their own language…Peasant language talks about “payment adjustment”, “piglet” (savings), “scraping by” (look for earnings and savings, like a chicken that scrapes the ground looking for food), “snug” (balance without debt), “cornsilk” (small earnings)…These words underly different rationalities, they are communication vehicles for walking together over long distances and times, be it co-investing, experiencing changes or getting ourselves involved in the real lives of peasant and indigenous people.

Concluding

We began the article alluding to the fact that in Central America there are practically no beans without the application of agrochemicals prohibited in Europe like glyphosate. Out of several responses that there might be, we have focused on the separation between intellectuals and peasant and indigenous people, as an explanation that has led to the imposition of capitalism expressed in monocropping, dependency on agrochemicals, environmental degradation, violence and authoritarianism. From the beginning of the article we asked ourselves, how can these two groups work together and write a new history. What follows are the answers encountered.

Good changes walk on two feet, intellectuals and peasants/indigenous who organize. With two feet one can re-perceive commercial relationships governed by societies, and rethink ideas from a perspective of decolonialization from the south. No foot can believe itself to be superior and take leaps without the other foot. As the Italian writer, Luciano de Crescenzo says, “we are all angels with only one wing, and we can only fly if we embrace someone else”; in our case, peasant individuals can fly through associative organizations, but only in an embrace with intellectuals, and intellectuals can only fly in an embrace with peasants who organize.

In this we need to have a long-term perspective of histories, changes that last and deepen over centuries; it is like planting and not restricting ourselves to just one crop. Seen in this way, the innovative experience of the 1960s and 1970s that I mentioned just lasted 20-30 years, after which neoliberalism and religious and political conservatism absorbed them, or as Franz Hinkelammert would say, the totalitarianism of the market controlled the state and societies; even though some flashes of that brief period of knocking down walls persist. In contrast, European enlightenment broke down that wall and lasted 74 years (1715-1789), and its impact lasted for centuries in Europe. The same with the Protestant Reformation that smashed into pieces the Catholic wall that had abducted the Bible, it lasted 144 years (1454-1598) and its effect continues today. But the wall of the apartheid of “culture” and “ignorance” is a long wall that is rebuilt and has lasted for thousands of years.

Having these two feet and this long-term perspective, we want intellectuals to “peasantize” themselves and indigenous and peasant people to intellectualize themselves. How? Let both organize and rewrite the histories of our peoples, on paper, in our minds and in our futures. In this way they would conceptualize, synthesize ongoing processes, study themselves, analyze in the light of different approaches, create parables like Jesus to communicate and provoke reflection, and do it in an ongoing way. These different futures can be written or designed to the extent that “the other” is rescued; indigenous and peasant people who emerge from way down below where they were condemned for centuries, fighting with so many imposed demons (beliefs and rules of elites); intellectuals who also fight against so many other demons (beliefs and rules of elites) which have led them to stay on the opposite side of the street. It is a matter of mutually rescuing one another, keeping their organizations from falling into neoliberalism reduced to maximizing their earnings, or the colonialism of “we always need a patron”. It is a matter of decolonializing rural organizations, churches, classrooms, auditoriums, offices, conferences and farms. Doing it day after day, year after year.

If we take this step, it could make María de Jesús, the grandmother with the long view, whisper to us, “is that right?” And we will share coffee with rosquillas, even though at that time, like the stardust that we are, we will then be within the energies of the universe.

[1] René has a PhD in development studies and accompanies rural organizations in Central America. He is a member of Coserpross (http://coserpross.org/es/home/), associate researcher of IOB-Antwerp University and a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/).

[2] Jack learned how to accompany grassroots communities from an African American evangelical pastor in a neighborhood in New York– according to what our friend Mark Lester tells us. With this knowledge, Jack accompanied rural communities in Bolivia and Central America, and now accompanies marginalized people in the United States. Maria Alicia accompanied communities in Brazil and communities in Nicaragua, now accompanies migrants from Latin America who struggle to enter the United States. Both are living examples of how to break this wall of apartheid.

Lottie Cunningham: “They want to exterminate us, create ethnocide”

Lottie Cunningham: “They want to exterminate us, create ethnocide”

By Fabián Medina in La Prensa, Oct 11, 2020

[original Spanish]

Lottie Cunningham abandoned her Rio Coco in 1982 with “Red Christmas” studied four professional careers and has become the voice of the indigenous who are being exterminated in the Caribbean Coast.

Lottie Cunningham wanted to end her days along the shore of the Rio Coco that saw her grow up. She has a house in Bilwaskarma for her retirement. “I would like this struggle to end soon to be able to go to my community,” she says hopefully. Even though she thinks it will be difficult for her to live long enough to see “the end of the struggle.”

As a child she ran around the crystal-clear creeks, fishing in the river, or participating in “pana-pana”, an activity where the entire community joyfully harvests what was planted. “The planting is done collectively, and the harvest is done collectively,” she says.

Returning to where she was happy. The life of that girl in the stilt house of her grandmother Elvida Cunningham Davis, a woman who “talked to the trees”, complained to them when they did not produce and taught little Lottie, and another 11 grandchildren, the principles that would lead her today to be one of the most recognized defenders of indigenous rights. So much so that a few days ago she was awarded the 2020 Right Livelihood Award, the prize popularly known as the “Alternative Nobel”.

Cunningham studied Nursing to serve her community, and when she felt that as a nurse her claims were not being heard, she studied Law.

“I identify myself as a Mískita indigenous person,” says this 61 year old woman who abandoned her river in 1982 with the forced displacement operations known as Red Christmas, carried out by the Sandinista government. She studied four professional careers and has become the voice of the indigenous from the Caribbean Coast who are being exterminated.

You abandoned your community with Red Christmas. How was that?

I was then working as a nurse in Bluefields. I was not there at the moment that it started, nevertheless, I was transferred there and personally experienced the displacement of my communities as a nurse. When I was in the south (Bluefields) the Ministry of Health was looking for nurses who spoke Mískito and I signed up as a volunteer.

What happened with your family?

My grandmother lost her house, her animals, they took her to Puerto Cabezas and she stayed in the home of a cousin. I went to the settlements where all the people the government had removed were found. More than 200 communities. Four settlements known as Tasba Pri (Free Land): Wasminona, Sahsa, Sumubila, and Columbus. For me it was devastating.

Was life very difficult there?

Of course, we lived in tents. I built the clinics with the community from bamboo. I worked 29 communities with a mobile brigade that I organized and prepared within nine months. In the Wasminona settlement, it was just Mískitos, and another, Españolina, Mayangna people. I also treated poor peasants who lived there.

Did you support the Sandinista Revolution?

In my youth I did, because I felt that they were talking about a progressive philosophy. I felt that they were going to improve the conditions of the indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples. That we were no longer going to be excluded from national development. But when I began to see all the destruction that they did, the human rights violations, then in 1988 I made the decision to resign. At that time a professional who resigned  was persecuted. I said that I was going to study. But I was never a member of the party.

At what time did you begin to get interested in human rights?

When I saw that they forcibly displaced people without their consent. I remember the grandmothers asking the members of the Army that at least they should let them take a sheet or a pot, and they said no, that for national sovereignty they had to remove them from there. Even though I felt that I was helping my community through my profession, I felt that as a nurse they were not listening to my opinion, and at that moment I could not choose a profession that subordinated me to the State. So, I chose Law.

Do you believe that there is a confrontation between the Pacific and the indigenous communities of the Caribbean?

What exists is institutionalized discrimination on the part of the State of Nicaragua. It is not a matter of Northern Pacific – Costal Pacific, but rather that there are different types of discrimination or racism that the system has been creating.

Cultural racism.

Of course. When I was studying Law in the UCA and spoke Mískito with other young women, they would tell me, “hey, don´t speak that here, here we are in Nicaragua”. But they were not to blame, when you analyze properly that pyramid of colonialization. Making some believe that they are better than others. I have felt discrimination since my childhood. In the legislation in the time of Somoza they spoke about bastard children. Children within marriage had more privileges than ones outside of marriage, like myself.

Is that racism also manifested among different indigenous ethnic groups? For example, between Miskitos and Mayangnas…

There are different forms of racism, but internal colonialization and external colonialization have been promoting it. The person who has power and economic resources is the person from the Pacific, who speaks Spanish, to whom the bank can make loans, and then when he works that loan in the Coast, he goes to look for someone who is fluid in Spanish, and then the Spanish person is going to look for an Afro-Descendent person because he speaks English and can have a relationship with an export business, and then comes the Mískito, and then the Mayangna, and so on. And the State, instead of establishing equality, has promoted it (racism). There you see it, most of the people who are in power right now are Afro-descendent. Of course, this has created racism between Mískitos and Mayangnas or between Mískitos and Afro-descendents and vice versa.

What does the figure of the settler mean for you at this time?

This word settler we did not start using. It came from the communities. Law 445, the Law of Communal Property, talks about “third parties”, and a third party is a natural or legal entity that has come to occupy their land without their consent and without any document. The law says that those people who are third parties who have an agrarian reform title from before 1987 will be recognized, will be respected. There are other people who have come but did not have any type of title and have occupied the land in an illegal way, but continue being third parties. When the massive invasion began, I began to hear “settlers” in some assemblies. Settlers and third parties. What is a settler for you? I asked in an assembly with approximately 200 indigenous. For us, they told me, third parties are those who the law mentions, but settlers are the people who have come to occupy our lands after the government gave us land titles. The government wants to take over everything and is sending these people to our land to settle it. They [the indigenous] call “third parties” those poor peasants who already were living with them and who have been respectful of the traditional norms. The settlers are not respectful. They are people who are armed, who do not respect neither the ancestors nor the traditional authorities, they have carried out kidnapping and murders.

Do they see the settlers as enemies?

They see them as people who they cannot live with.

Is there a war?

I would not say that it is a war. The State of Nicaragua has promoted the invasion of the settlers through concessions and permits to usurp the ownership of the land. They do not believe in communal property. The municipal governments themselves order that taxes be collected on the felling of the forests and extractive activities. It is not a declared war, but institutionalized discrimination. The State of Nicaragua has never protected communal property as it protects private property. It is a form of racial discrimination.

Is the survival of the indigenous in Nicaragua in danger?

Of course it is. Just like it happened to the indigenous brothers and sisters in the Pacific, Center and Northern Nicaragua. What they tell is something very similar. They left them without land and have denied them their autonomy. They want to exterminate us, create ethnocide, because by uprooting [indigenous[ where there is a greater population of settlers within indigenous lands, they are going to try to dominate the other population. Ethnocide is that in addition to losing our territory, this generation loses their cultural identity. You should see the letters from the settlers. They murder and leave letters with a stake in the body of a Mískito, or they leave letters in plastic bags tied to a tree where the indigenous pass by. They tell them, “You the Mískitos – they use a very degrading word, they call them “flies”[1]– must understand that you have no government. The government protects us. And as Nicaraguans that we are, we have rights to these lands. You are never going to get rid of us”. We have several notes. They are harsh messages.

Have you gone to the Police or the Army to seek protection? Do you have any backing from these institutions?

At no time. When the communities call me to advise them, we tell them, “First go to the closest military post and tell them to accompany you.” Example, when there is a kidnapping. The Army and the Police have told them that they have no authorization from their hierarchy to provide them accompaniment. But if we go in our boats and we go to meet with them, then we are stopped and seized by the Army.

It could be said that this State does not respect the rights of other citizens as well. Let us say that it is more egalitarian in its abuse.

The crisis of the indigenous is not from 2018. We were already experiencing it and it was getting worse, from intimidation, death threats to murders, kidnappings and disappeared indigenous. The Nicaragua society was not sensitive to the fact that they were killing us. It was in 2018, with the human right crisis which got worse in the country, that many of the civil society organizations have recognized it. The students even have apologized, “We would hear about that, but we didn´t pay attention to it.” And we continue struggling within this crisis because in the midst of the struggle of the country, the struggle of the indigenous and Afro-descendent people can be made invisible.

What does the prize that you just received mean for you?

I have accepted this recognition with a lot of humility, because first of all I am not taking it on in my personal capacity. I have accepted it in the name of the indigenous peoples of Nicaragua. And in particular for those people who have given their lives defending the land. I could not do what I do without those human rights defenders within the communities. This prize comes to make visible this crucial context of the people of Nicaragua. It is not the same to say it, the humanitarian, the food crisis that exists. You hear mothers say that they only have food for one meal and that meal is just bananas with salt.

Personal plane

Lottie Cunningham Wren was born 61 years ago in Bilwaskarma, a community along the shore of the Rio Coco, bordering on Honduras, which is known as the Nicaraguan Mosquitia.

She was born outside of marriage but was raised since the age of four months by her paternal grandmother, Elvida Cunningham Davis, a fundamental person in her life. She did not meet her mother until she was 20 years old.

She decided to study Nursing, influenced by an aunt who was a nurse, and because in Bilwaskarma there was a nursing school administered by the Moravian Church. In 1979 when she was one semester short of finishing her major, the Sandinistas closed the school of Bilwaskarma and Lottie Cunningham went to the UPOLI to finish her studies in 1980.

In the home of her grandfather she lived with 11 other cousins. She spoke Mískito and Creole English. When she started school she was forced to learn to speak Spanish. “For us Spanish was very difficult,” she says.

She has studied Nursing, has a Licentiate in Public Health Administration, Law and Masters degrees in Local Law and another in International Environmental and Human Rights Law. In 1997 she cofounded the Center for Justice and Human Rights of the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua (CEJUDHCAN), which she currently directs and is the legal representative of 197 communal governments and nine territorial governments.

She is married to an Afro-descendent person and has one son and two granddaughters. “When we got married I told him, “You are clear that you are marrying a woman from the countryside? Are you willing to go with me to my community when I go back?”

[1] In Spanish it is a play on words, “Moscos” means flies, but the area is also known as the Mosquitia

Updated — Building different futures overcoming intellectual apartheid

Building different futures overcoming intellectual apartheid

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

 

                                                                                                Article dedicated to Fr. Jack Moynihan and Sr. Maria Alicia McCabe[2]

Visit

-Why are you coming to visit us? María Jesús asked, the grandmother of the community. Not even the priests visit us now–she took charge of the conversation.

-The world is getting more difficult. Without us, it will be difficult for you to improve; and without you, we don´t even know where we are going- I responded.

-Is that right? Whispered the grandmother, inviting me to coffee.

Thirty years ago in most of Central America corn and beans were planted without using glyphosate nor gramoxone; now gramoxone is used even for harvesting beans, in part to keep the rain from making the beans “sprout”. Not to mention vegetables, coffee and cacao. Much less sugar cane, peanuts or sesame. Probably beef and pork meat is more organic than carrots or beans. Where did this come from? The costs of production of a peasant family have increased drastically, but not the prices they are paid for their products; this makes desperation spread, tension and violence intensify, biodiversity erode, and climate variability proliferate.

There are many explanations for these realities. In this article I focus on intellectuals, who dedicate an important part of their time to studying the realities, preparing projects and/or policies, teaching or preaching; they are writers, scientists, artists, scholars; they are “people of culture” who move in different circles from most people, a separation which at times is concealed but abysmal. We use the word “apartheid” to denote this intolerable separation. By way of hypothesis we say that the separation between intellectuals and the communities where most of people live has impaired humanity for at least five centuries, when friars (intellectuals), soldiers, tax collectors and traders burst upon these lands. How can they work together and write a new history? I reflect on this question from the heterogeneity of the rural world.

That wall of intellectual apartheid

We read articles in newspapers and magazines about political issues where generally the rural reality does not appear, and if it does, it is reduced to topics of violence where its structural causes are ignored. There are NGOs with rural agendas whose intellectuals respond to donors, sporadically they show up in rural communities to do surveys or interviews, they show up once and never return. In fact, in the last 20-30 years, there are practically no intellectuals who write about the rural realities of Central America in a systematic way.

At the same time there are young rural women and men who have studied different majors. Finishing their studies, their dream is not to work with rural populations. They work for companies, the government, or they migrate to other countries to work in what they can. If they stay, they go back to agriculture or to be housewives, leaving aside their intellectual role that could give them the possibility of writing peasant and indigenous history from their perspectives, and writing about new futures.

What happened to us? The Fordist and Taylorist colonial mentality that separates experts from workers has nested in our minds, regardless of the political ideology that we might exude. This mental model makes one believe that there is nothing to be learned from rural communities, like some two thousand years ago: “Nazareth! –exclaimed Nathanael. Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). This mental model makes intellectuals believe that they are superior: “I am an accountant”, “I am an engineer”, “I am a professor”, “I am a pastor, anointed by God”, “I am a doctor” or “I am an economist”. This intellectual arrogance means that we do not mix with peasant or indigenous people, that that hidden or submerged population live in the “middle ages” – a Eurocentric reading, as if Latin America had an “ancient age”, “middle age” and “modern age”.

This mentality adds cement to the millennial wall of intellectual apartheid of a “Latin America” where indigenous and peasant people are absent. Peasant and indigenous people walk on their own and intellectuals do so as well, each one on different rails.

I have learned a lesson working for decades with rural populations. Alone, peasants and indigenous, it will be difficult for them to innovate with their economies and societies; alone, we intellectuals will continue exuding Eurocentrism and allowing the spirit of Nathanael to control us.

Experiences that seem to knock this wall down

Fortunately, there are experiences in which that wall is knocked down, even though just a part of it, and just for some period of time. The most well-known came in the 1960s and 1970s when several lines of thinking coincided. The opening of the Catholic Church with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), Medellin (1968) and Puebla (1979), a church open to the poor; the momentum of the Cuban revolution (1959); popular education under the influence of Pablo Freire; and the dependency theory of Singer and Prebisch. It was a period in which public universities were spaces of debate, where majors in sociology, philosophy and political science prevailed.

Under this framework, university students and professors, priests, sisters and politicians, went into communities and neighborhoods accompanying indigenous, peasant and impoverished people from urban neighborhoods. Churches, classrooms, auditoriums and offices let their intellectuals leave. In Central America the experience of the community of Solentiname (Nicaragua) stands out with Ernesto Cardenal, where they produced the Gospel of Solentiname; the experience of the community of Aguilares (El Salvador), the experience of hundreds of Base Christian Communities. One outstanding regional experience is that of the Radiophonic Schools, where intellectuals (religious and lay) promoted literacy, health care and agriculture, a framework in which many people organized into cooperatives and peasant stores, which still exist today, though very much in a diminished way.

It is a period in which part of that wall was felled; the mentality was that God and freedom were in the impoverished people who seek justice, that people can organize with their own resources, that honesty and solidarity are values that are found in humble people. To a large extent, with this process all the military dictatorships were brought down and democracy was installed throughout Latin America.

But this harmful wall resurged after the years of the 1980s. The institutional church closed itself back up in church buildings and persecuted those religious who refused to leave the communities which were building the Reign of God on earth. Banking style education returned to the classrooms. Political revolutions and democracies took over the military bases and offices, feeling at home under hierarchical and authoritarian structures. Studies in business administration, accounting and law led public and private universities with the dream of making money. The teachings and trainings put learning aside. The spirit of Nathanael returned to the minds of intellectuals, separating them from people with calloused hands who paid for the studies of these intellectuals. This is the reality that made María Jesús ask, “Why are you coming to visit us?”

Breaking the wall and combining ideas and efforts

Visiting people like María Jesús, we jump over that wall of apartheid – we just “jump”. Here we list four ways of knocking the wall down, which, like a constellation of stars could show us one of the paths: get involved in the real lives of the majorities, experience the changes, co-invest in initiatives and recognize several languages.

Intellectuals need to get involved in the real lives of the majorities, combine being in our churches, classrooms, auditoriums, offices and conference rooms, with living in rural communities, organized however they may be, experiencing what it means to generate collective actions beyond one´s own family, and outside of the “synagogue” itself (church, office…. ). If it is a matter of the fact that agriculture and the lives of human and natural communities might improve, food not be poisoned, it is unacceptable that the rural population walk along the rail that the market pulls them on, and that intellectuals walk along another rail, also pulled by the market.

The issue of beans is technology, soils, climate, property, institutions like sharecropping, sharing labor, and land rental, it is intermediation and crop lien lending, it is weighing and quality, it is official data and real data, it is new bean soup and refried beans; all of this varies from year to year. The same with coffee, cacao, corn, squash or lemongrass, gardens, cornfields and farms. It is ethically and scientifically questionable to make proposals without being involved in that world, without studying them and studying oneself. We need to re-understand commercial relationships, not as commodities subjected to the totalitarianism of the market, but as the means for “good living”, as they say in the Andean countries, or the “I am because you are”, as one of the profound perspectives from Africa expresses it.

The topic of violence, specifically violence against women, is an issue of millennial social and religious rules, laws, power relationships, family and structures embedded in religious, political and economic institutions, it is the law of the jungle and human dispositions. It is not possible to reduce and terminate that violence if we do not identify its causes and do not accompany women in their non-violent paths in their own communities.

On the topic of rural organizations, it is cooperation in the midst of conflict, democracy in authoritarian societies, distribution of profits within a context of “trickle-down economics”, it is transparency in the midst of secretive mafias, it is accounting for peasant stores and cooperatives when universities are teaching accounting for companies and corporations…One can advise organizations only if we learn from them how to advise them.

Intellectuals need to experience the changes along with rural people. An idea that is tested, adapted, adjusted, redone, finds legitimacy, motivates, is corrected and polished, is an idea that takes on life, that changes even the details or precisely because of the details. Experimenting in the organization of cooperatives, associations, associative enterprises, community stores or rural banks, helps to establish different processes. Experimenting is digging into decolonializing ourselves, and getting ourselves out of the orbit of Eurocentrism, which is presented as the measure of all things. The same thing happens on the side of rural populations, there are peasant and indigenous people who become pastors, delegates of the word, healers and agricultural and community advisors, many of them also dig into and realize that what is happening and what has happened to them is not natural nor determined by some supernatural being, in this way putting a crack in the wall of apartheid.

As we dig further, we run into more powerful beliefs that support e wall, but we also find people who find their source of motivation in those depths in unimaginable ways. After administering a community store for one year, Yesenia Hernández expressed in an assembly: “I used to sell and I did not understand the numbers, because they say “women are for the kitchen and men for documents”; I prepared myself to understand the numbers, now they don´t make my head hurt, I am also a “woman of documents”. It is not just accounting, it is beliefs and ways of getting into the numbers, it is working together to adjust those audits of cash and inventory each month. When these improvements happen, other colonial “demons” emerge from political, economic and religious intermediations, and from within ourselves, intellectuals and peasant and indigenous people. It is not just focusing on the community store, it is also studying those surroundings and adjusting and polishing the changes.

In many cases it is co-investing in initiatives like community stores. If intellectuals and people from the communities invest in these initiatives, they will be concerned about their resources and will study the stores, because “where your treasure is, there your heart will be.” In this way, in the midst of tensions and disagreements that collective actions imply, they will produce new ideas, far from just kneeling down before the market of products and knowledge. This interaction or alliance are part of the basic conditions for freedom of thought, in order to be decolonialized.

Finally, breaking down the wall is recognizing several “languages”. The language of accounting talks about “liabilities”, “assets”, “equity”, “expenses”, “cash out” and “inventory”; likewise economics or law have their own language…Peasant language talks about “payment adjustment”, “piglet” (savings), “scraping by” (look for earnings and savings, like a chicken that scrapes the ground looking for food), “tight” (balance without debt), “cornsilk” (small earnings)…These words underly different rationalities, they are communication vehicles for walking together over long distances and times, be it co-investing, experiencing changes or getting ourselves involved in the real lives of peasant and indigenous people.

Concluding

Good changes walk with two feet, intellectuals and peasants/indigenous who organize. With two feet one can re-perceive commercial relationships governed by societies, and rethink ideas from a perspective of decolonialization from the south. No foot can believe itself to be superior and take leaps without the other foot. As the Italian writer, Luciano de Crescenzo says, “we are all angels with only one wing, and we can only fly if we embrace someone else”; in our case, peasant individuals can fly through associative organizations, but only in an embrace with intellectuals, and intellectuals can only fly in an embrace with peasants who organize.

In this we need to have a long-term perspective of the histories, the changes that might last and deepen over centuries. Seen in this way, the innovative experience of the 1960s and 1970s that I mentioned lasted barely 20-30 years, after which neoliberalism and religious and political conservatism absorbed them, or as Franz Hinkelammert would say, the totalitarianism of the market controlled the state and societies; even though some flashes of that time persist. In contrast, European enlightenment broke down that wall and lasted 74 years (1715-1789), and its impact lasted for centuries in Europe. The same with the Protestant Reformation that broke the Catholic wall into pieces, which had abducted the Bible, lasted 144 years (1454-1598) and its which is remade and has lasted for thousands of years.

How can this wall of intellectual colonialist apartheid, subjected to the totalitarianism of the market, be breached? Our response is that intellectuals and indigenous and peasant peoples organize, and together rewrite the histories of our peoples, on paper, in our minds and in our futures. Rewriting implies conceptualizing, synthesizing processes, self-studying, analyzing actions in the light of different approaches, creating parables like Jesus to communicate and provoke reflection; doing it in an ongoing way, together, not once a year or as project systematizations/intermediate evaluations. These different futures can be written or designed to the extent that “the other” is rescued; rescuing indigenous and peasant people who emerge from the way down below where they were condemned for centuries; they emerge fighting with so many demons (beliefs and rules of the elites) which have been imposed on them; that the peasantry also rescue intellectuals, who also fight against so many other demons (beliefs and rules of the elites) which have led them to walk only on their side of the street; mutually rescuing one another, reflecting with images and parables, synthesizing their paths for sharing and keeping their organizations from falling into neoliberalism, reduced to maximizing their earnings, or the colonialism of “we always need a patron”. Doing it year by year, decade by decade, and century after century, decolonializing rural organizations, churches, classrooms, auditoriums, offices, conferences and farms.

Taking this step will make María de Jesús, the grandmother with the long view, whisper to us, “is that right?” And we will share coffee with rosquillas, even though at that time, like the stardust that we are, we will then be within the energies of the universe.

[1] René has a PhD in development studies and accompanies rural organizations in Central America. He is a member of Coserpross (http://coserpross.org/es/home/), associate researcher of IOB-Antwerp University and a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/).

[2] Jack learned how to accompany grassroots communities from an African American evangelical pastor in a neighborhood in New York– according to what our friend Mark Lester tells us. With this knowledge, Jack accompanied rural communities in Bolivia and Central America, and now accompanies marginalized people in the United States. Maria Alicia accompanied communities in Brazil and communities in Nicaragua, now accompanies migrants from Latin America who struggle to enter the United States. Both are living examples of how to break this wall of apartheid.

Strengthening our “defenses” with “my Mom´s Green thumb”

Strengthening our “defenses” with “my Mom´s Green thumb”

 René Mendoza Vidaurre, Fabiola Zeledón and Esmelda Suazo with Anabel Cardoza, Glensis Carrasco, Selenia Cornejo, Adalis Orozco, Milson Cantarero and Jarithmar Gonzalez

COVID-19 is a cowardly virus that attacks the most vulnerable people whose immunological system is weak. Strengthening those “defenses” of people is imperative. This would be possible if each family had their own garden.

It seems simple. But it is not. Many times, aid organizations and governments have promoted gardens and farm diversification wanting families to “nourish themselves.” These projects last as long as the donation does. Why? How can families take up gardening? We write this article from our experience of wrestling with these questions in the communities.

Why have rural families quit planting gardens?

As the colonial and patriarchal capitalist institution of mono-cropping was imposed, backed by universities, credit, technical assistance and organizations established by external initiatives, crop diversity and biodiversity ended up cornered, and on the road to disappearing. The garden was swept up in that dynamic as well.

What is important with mono-cropping is money, that comes once a year with the harvest of that crop, and it is the man (husband or father) who is responsible for that monocrop in terms of markets for capital, the product itself, its agrochemicals and knowledge. Nothing is comparable to the monocrop: “I am not going to neglect my coffee by monitoring a squash plant”. Their rule is: “everything is bought with the coffee”, “our food is bought with the sugar cane money”. The women who used to work on diversified farms and were responsible for gardens, lost that space and were confined to the kitchen, while their menu of food said goodbye to soups and stews. At the same time, people ended up reproducing the idea of the elites: “There is no room for a garden”.

Seen in this way, it is funny to see governments and aid agencies promoting gardens, when they have backed mono-cropping over the last 200 years, as if peasant families did not have a memory. More than funny, we recognize their anti-peasant intentionality in their formula: they give away seeds of crops demanded by the market (carrots, lettuce, cabbage or tomatoes, mini-vegetables) as opposed to “weeds” (mint, oregano, rue, native garlic, medicinal plants) that are more for family and community consumption; they promote gardens in spaces separated from the home; done collectively, connected to a leader. All these elements are contrary to the peasant practice of gardens, which is why they are silently resisted by the peasantry.

In addition to deconstructing mono-cropping which undermines gardens, and the fact that its modern promoters follow ahistorical rules, we also identify beliefs and rules that are counter to peasant viability, but are reproduced by peasant people themselves. “I do not have room”, as if the garden required “additional space” to what is available. “With coffee I buy everything else”, when people live in debt for depending on one crop, and time and time again end up dividing up their land. “I am not a cow to be eating grasses”, rejecting vegetable foods that could strengthen their “defenses.”

How can women and their families recover their gardens?

Parallel to deconstructing, we dig into peasant memory. Our grandmothers and grandfathers still remember the gardens of their Mothers. What do they remember? They talk about “My Mom´s green thumb”. That is the garden, indigenous “chacra” in the Andean countries. This small area that exists along with the chickens, turkeys and pigs. What is this garden for? “To give flavor to food, aroma to drink, and medicine to the sick.” They were products that today, coming from the cities, are called “wild”: mint, rue, oregano, native garlic, chayote, squash, passion fruit, lemongrass, smilax, onions, peppers, chicory, wormseed, camphorweed, guava; many of them are used as medicine for parasites, treating fevers and anemia and hemorrhaging.

The more we dig into the memories of our grandmothers and grandfathers, the more practices emerge full of life. It was the women who mobilized the family labor force to take care of the garden. Plants like mint were on any tree trunk. Gardens were close to the house to grow under the eye of the women who cared for them from the kitchen. They were the product of family effort and neighborly exchanges; it was farming that was done by hand and using a mini-hoe. Its production, consumption and social relations were linked; the more diverse the garden a family had, the less debts they had, and less domestic violence was suffered in the home. Decisions were decentralized, women led the garden in a family where seed and fertilizer was obtained in the house itself and the community.

When we establish gardens, women leave their homes, walk around the yard, touch the plants, daughters and sons join in …and the husband. This practice clashes with that rule of “man as provider”, reduces pressure on men, helps the family increase their income, and return soups and stews to the menu, adds tea to the table and medicine to communities. Neighbors visit one another more, the exchange of products increases, their “defenses” are strengthened…

If the advantages are obvious, how can we recover and expand them?

If we recover our memory of “my Mom´s green thumb” and we light our interior fire to do gardens, the steps to follow are: obtain seed and plants, which in part are found dispersed in the community itself; the plants can include ginger, garlic, onions, cilantro, chicory, oregano, lemongrass, mint, peppers, tomatoes, celery, beets, cabbage, squash, cucumbers, rue, basil, wormseed, camphorweed, guava, smilax…

On establishing the gardens, people see different uses for it: “Before we were disorderly, chicory growing in the pastures, now with the garden it is more orderly, they are all in one place; previously we cleaned mangos on our pants, now we wash them with water.” Hygiene and the garden go hand in hand.

As we harvest, we can enjoy teas, soups, stews and salads, use them as medicine. This strengthens health, helps to appreciate what we have, and we are making ideas enter through the tongue. We recommend the book of Jaime Wheelock (1998, La comida Nicaraguense), it is a book that summarizes indigenous food, Spanish food, and the confluence of both.

Few rules are needed. Which ones? That women take on the leadership of the garden and that the entire family collaborate with the garden. That the cooperative, the community store, the school or the church offer seed or plants to be paid for by the harvest, following the principle of “help those who help themselves” (Law of talents, Matt 25). If a family prepares the soil, they are provided seed for 5 crops; if they plant those 5 crops, they are provided another 5. The evolution of each garden is observed by the family, and it is the leader, her daughter or son, who records the data on that evolution – by crop, behavior, health of the plant… The organization or institution that accompanies them, helps them to analyze that data and consequently to innovate in their gardens, diet and health.

To multiply gardens, organizations or institutions can create a prize for the best garden every 3 months. As the gardens become realities, they will catalyze new initiatives: people who want to set up nurseries, dry fruit and bananas, people who buy products to sell them in the neighboring communities, community stores that sell small amounts of seed (retail), community technical advisers; healers; community celebrations; product exchanges….

Are there risks that the gardens will not work?

Assuming that we overcome the anti-peasant practices that we identified in the projects, there are also risks in gardens worked by families. Chickens can dig up and eat the plants, pigs can have a party in the garden, some birds tend to call in their communities to wipe out gardens…In the face of this risk, each family takes measures: protecting the garden with barbed wire, using banana leaves to form a fence, placing a doll with a red rag to frighten off the birds, putting wire and cone on the pigs…The entire family observes each difficulty and achievement, innovates in intense discussions to overcome these difficulties, studying more and more their own data…

A second risk is that the men take control over the garden, the risk here is like with the projects that look for “the head of the family”, and where he is guided by custom that has become law: work with machete, some days of the month, imposition of “women in the kitchen and taking care of the children” and only work on crops to be sold. One measure that can be taken is to work every day in the garden, and over time attract the other members of the family, in this way the person who is in the house every day ends up assuming shared leadership. A second measure is that the youth discover how boring the mono-cropping system is, where you only have to weed, fertilize and harvest, while the garden is a space for intensive, fun group therapy, open to innovation based on recording and analyzing information, and it is very participatory. A third measure is being open to men also trying their hand at cooking;  it is not just the fact that men want to experiment, women also have to encourage them to do so; on this topic the article of Sergio Ramírez is enlightening  (“El diablo en la cocina”, in El Faro, https://elfaro.net/es/202002/columnas/24037/El-diablo-en-la-cocina.htm‘P) it captures the assumptions/beliefs that keep men from going into the kitchen.

Do the gardens have an impact on changes in rural organizations?

Organizations tend to dance to the music of mono-cropping. Their membership tends to be mostly male, their structure more hierarchical, dependent on the market as its patron. The peasant garden, not promoted by market forces, can help them to change, because of the diversity of the crops, the demand to innovate in small areas, and the fact that families do not go into debt. Organizations can reorganize themselves to process and sell surplus products from the garden, they can provide technical accompaniment services, they can decentralize their decisions, they can get closer to working by hand, hoe farming or garden farming.

Organizations, hand in hand with women, can change for the good of humanity. For example, a peasant community store should have “a peasant face”: selling products from outside and also peasant products, hanging a bunch of plantains and bananas in the window, selling cooked palm fruit, potted plants, cassava, bunches of peppermint, eggs, baked goods. More than just a business, vegetables, and a garden, behind those products is the recreation of indigenous and peasant culture.

Here is the beginning of one of the alternative paths to colonial and patriarchal capitalism. A peasant path, organized, de-centralized, and with organizations that respond to these realities, more democratic and closer to the people. “My Mom´s green thumb” is capable of mobilizing vivid determination.

 

 

The time for communities

The time for communities

René Mendoza Vidaurre, Fabiola Zeledón and Esmelda Suazo[1]

Along the trails

-Cousin, you have traveled so much that I am sure that you earn and know a lot, help us to travel in that way as a cooperative.

-I have traveled along the highway, it is fast, and you only see money rolling on wheels.

                                                                                                                                     -That´s right…. We want to make money.

-When I get out of the car and walk on foot or on horseback, I see people, groups together, I hear that song of the cicadas.

-What do you mean to say?

-If the cooperative takes to the trails, it will touch hearts, dig into our roots, make people think and walk together.

-In other words, feel, walk and begin to cooperate, instead of taking the highway.

-That´s right, Ana, it is the first step…along the trails!

The hurry to make money makes us run and keeps us from seeing what is at our sides. When we reach the goal, we are like the dog in the countryside, who at the first sound of some car, takes off barking at full speed, and then when it reaches the car, nothing happens, it returns in silence. Organizations, aid agencies and institutions are desperately providing their resources and trainings under the discourse of stamping out hunger or poverty, and when they achieve these investment goals, they return in silence. The impoverished population are like the car that the dog reaches, increases its speed of adding more people. With COVID-19 that velocity is increasing dramatically. How can one get out of extreme poverty? The parable tells us that in order to begin to cooperate, let us take to the trails and delve into our origins. What does this mean? It is the time for communities!

1.     The reality is in full view

The march of COVID-19 lifts the covers, and realities appear that are difficult for us to recognize. The rural population migrates to the forests or outside the country under the pressure of mono-cropping agriculture or ranching, pushed in turn by the financial and commercial industries. This is not new, with or without cover, we have known it for decades and centuries.

With COVID-19 we were hoping that the internal assets of communities, which have been supported by hundreds of international aid projects, might be guiding preventive actions. That the churches, with so many centuries of preaching the Good Samaritan, might mobilize. That first- tier cooperatives, members of second tier organizations, might move in the face of the virus. Strangely they are still. “We are waiting for directions from above”, “without projects, there is no organization”, “donors are not sending aid to those who organized in cooperatives”, “everything is in the town (municipal capital), the meetings, the harvest collection”. What is left of the “anchor”, “articulations”, “networks”, “public-private alliances” and “empowerment”? The gaze of elderly women seem to tell us: “nothing”. Maybe that is what is new, in the sense that we are surprised.

It would seem that the projects, sermons, credit and commercial policies instead eroded communities. They pushed ideas about being individual, taking on mono-cropping agriculture and relying on aid; some argue that by supporting an individual they are supporting rural families, but a family as an institution is hierarchical and patriarchal, in addition to the fact that the notion of “nuclear family” is nearly non-existent in the rural world, where it is common to see a son or daughter grow up with their grandparents, aunt or uncle, and/or mother.   With COVID-19 that erosion is intensified, the quarantine and confinement accentuate the neoliberal idea of “save yourselves those who have”. Because a daily wage earner in farming or construction and most of the population who work in the so-called “informal economy” cannot stay home for more than a week, they begin to go into debt, buy on credit, make storefronts go broke, and affect their daily food intake, and this in the long term will mean loss of human life.

2.     Knowing how to get to communities

The idea of harmonic communities of Robert Redfield (1931, A Mexican Village: Tepoztlan), has been left far behind. Since the studies of Oscar Lewis (1951, Life in a Mexican Village: Tepoztlan Restudied) we understand communities as heterogeneous spaces with diversity, and even opposing interests. They are communities with which people identify, it is their utopia and mission – as Thomas More would say (1516, Utopia: The Happy Republic): They are not a “sack of potatoes”, as Marx suggested, nor “pockets of peasants” as certain agrarian literature categorized them for years from 1980 to 1990. They are disputed spaces where external policies and resources should know how to get there, facilitating the first lesson of humanity: cooperation. People who organize can bring their produce together and get better prices, free themselves from usury at the point of group savings, protect water sources in the high areas, and along the length of the creek, and coordinate to prevent natural and social viruses. Individually, they cannot change prices, free themselves from usury, protect water nor prevent viruses.

Let us illustrate how these community assets move from the few interesting experiences that exist in Central America. Rodrigo Pérez, a delegate of the Word from the community of San Antonio, said, “this community store saves me a day, and the bus fare of going to the town to buy what I now buy here.” If the crowding in town favors COVID-19, people like Rodrigo find what they are looking for in the community store. “It is the first cooperative that came to coordinate work with us,” they said in the school in Samarkanda, appreciating the support of the Reynerio Tijerino cooperative so that students and teachers might protect themselves from the virus. “Only our cooperative collects the harvest in the community, and right here does the payments and assemblies,” said Selenia Cornejo. “Buyers and financiers come to visit us in the community,” said Daniel Meneses, from the October 13th Cooperative. We find similar words about community coffee roasters, bread makers, groups of beekeepers…”The coffee that we produce and roast, we sell ourselves along with our relatives outside, isn´t that a network?” Each organization has a mural with information to prevent COVID-19, while at the same time together are weaving a support network for people who end up affected by the virus.

What is common for all of them? They are in the community itself. Their focus is on their origins. They function with their own resources and rules polished in their assemblies. They improve their oral tradition with writing. They represent a diversity of ages, where youth under the age of 40 are leading them. They distribute their profits. They organize and are transparent with their information. They compete for and rotate their leadership. They organize their solidarity. They fight against their old “demons”, the rules of elites that have nested in their minds: “in group, but for me”, opportunistic actions when internal and external control is weak, prejudice against women legitimized by the churches, prejudices against workers without land (“the cooperative is for those who have land”), and providentialism (“God has a plan to protect us”, “the big chief has a plan to take care of his people”). This type of grassroots organization no longer waits for direction from outside, they visit one another, discuss and, in the midst of their internal tensions and mutual distrust, resort to their social fund, while they look for external contacts that can reinforce their collective actions.

How are these community assets formed? Following a universal lesson: studying realities to innovate as a group and train ourselves. Combining efforts of people from the communities and from outside to organize social enterprises in the communities. Recording data, analyzing it and making decisions. Delving into histories to find values and rules with which to cooperate and recreate identities, because “the origins are in front of us, not behind”, as the Mapuche taught us, the indigenous people in Chile and Argentina. Bringing to light their old “demons” and ours as well as accompaniers (“providing information confuses people”, “donating food is the solution to hunger”, “we know your future because that future was our past”). Walking along the trails discerning what the processes themselves show us about how to accompany them.

3.     New veins that the effect of COVID-19 forces us to think about

COVID-19 raises the covers, and what appears are not just those realities that it is difficult for us to recognize, but also new veins to be worked on related to the social fund, the connection between organizations, the coherency between words and actions, and the decentralization of decisions.

Grassroots organizations, like those that we have described previously, have the practice of equitable distribution of what they have saved in a social fund. In the current context of COVID-19, that social fund gains importance, like the use of offerings and tithings on the part of churches. If the State provides curative health care, preventive health is an area where grassroots organizations and churches can invest resources and energies. This includes how to improve nutrition, prevent obesity and diabetes, invest in natural medicine and clean water, improve hand washing and introduce the use of masks in crowded spaces. How can this social fund be organized into areas of prevention?

If a person discovers the importance of combining efforts of several people, in the same way also organizations (collective groups) discover that coordinating among organizations to face COVID-19 is fundamental. Making connections among churches, schools, rural community Banks, community councils, businesses and the municipal government expresses the spirit of superimposed communities that exist in every territory. It is like the baby chick that breaks the eggshell, moves out of its comfort zone and connects with other organizations, it is something that we are not accustomed to do, but we need to do. For example, connecting with the church is not to sit down to discuss one or another form of religious faith, it is to rethink together the solidarity of the Good Samaritan, who did not rely on God sending his angels to save the wounded man, but simply acted, while other were in a hurry (“passed by on the other side”). Being connected is having the freedom to express these community cultures of each organization of which one is a member or participant. On their part, each organization should understand itself as a community, where their members or their staff identify with that organization, not so much for “what one gets”, but for “what one gives” the organization, where titles are opportunities to serve. How can churches, farms, community stores, schools, cooperatives and health centers be connected?

Governments, aid organizations, international enterprises should be coherent. Importing the best coffee, and leaving the worst for the producer families, feels bitter. Demanding meat that deforests, and at the same time being ecological, is disgusting. Supporting small scale production with credit for agrochemicals like glyphosate, that is damaging to natural and human health and increases rural unemployment, is repugnant. Donating certified seed to get rid of native seed and making them dependent on companies that sell that certified seed is shameful. Extracting minerals through strip mining and defending nature, seems like that Nazi who during the day sent children to the gas chambers and at night played with his children at home. How can coherency be obtained and also benefit rural communities? How can each organization and institution conceive itself and organize itself as a community?

Decentralizing decisions seem urgent, it is like letting the baby take its first step, this is in all spheres. That each delegate of the word celebrate the Eucharist (sharing bread and wine) in the rural communities would be a real institutional change in the Catholic church. If a grassroots organization understands their community better than an organization with an office in a city, why do aid organizations and international enterprises persist in believing that organization means having an office and manager in the city? Do grassroots organizations need accompaniment? They need it, like aid organizations need grassroots organizations to accompany them. If people organize in a cooperative or a community store to administer their loans, technology and commercialization, why doesn´t a second-tier organization support them in these purposes, instead of abducting those services and decisions? How much we need to reflect on that old and still good principle that “the stronger the children are, the stronger their parents will be”.

Concluding

The effects of COVID-19 tend to produce more extremely impoverished people, like the title of the novel of Victor Hugo published in 1862 (Les misérables). Along with extreme human impoverishment, the extreme impoverishment of nature, compiled in Laudato Si: “the cry of the poor and  the land.”

Between 2000 and 2014, according to ECLAC, 33 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean reduced people in a situation of hunger (extreme poverty) from 73 to 38 million. Julio Berdegué of the FAO stated that between 2015-2018, without the virus, those 38 million increased to 43 million people. ECLAC projects that if economic growth in 2020 falls by 6% we will have 73 million people hungry, the same amount that there were in 2000. And with hunger, probably, will come social and political rebellion. Playing with hunger is playing with fire.

The solution to hunger that aid organizations have practiced and continue suggesting is that States provide food, and that they rely on social and economic organizations; in fine print this means that governments, with the taxes paid by the entire society, buy from large corporations GMO food, coopting grassroots organizations and providing that food to hungry populations. This movie we have seen before, including the magic they tend to perform with the indicators of extreme poverty, its resulting erosion of community assets, and what is called family agriculture, the nullification of native seed, the fact that rural populations become docile masses dependent on aid and electoral patronage, and that aid organizations resist conceiving themselves and organizing themselves as communities, and of something bigger that would cover all of us.

In this article we showed that community efforts can be effective in the face of COVID-19 and the virus of hunger, and that these aid agencies, organizations and institutions of the world that talk about “providing food” as the panacea to evils, might rethink their modus operandi and that culture of believing that they already know the solution without previously knowing the people “in extreme poverty”. We should recognize that if communities organize and have accompaniers who also feel and function as communities, they can – and we can – face this and other viruses, eradicate hunger, producing and distributing food, mitigating climate change and contributing to social cohesion, which prevents violence and instead puts our societies on the path to their democratization.

It is the time for rural communities. It is time for organizations, aid agencies and institutions to feel and act as communities. It is time to feel and think that we are part of something much greater than ourselves.

 

[1] René accompanies rural organizations in Central America, is an associate researcher of IOB-Antwerp University, member of Coserpross (http://coserpross.org/es/home/) and a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/). Fabiola and Esmelda are advisors to rural organizations in Nicaragua.

A Coronavirus Firewall

*an earlier version of this article was published here on March 27th. This more extended version was published in the May 2020 edition of ENVIO, no. 466. We reproduce the text here at the request of the author.

Viruses multiply when humanity provides the conditions. Deforestation, the agricultural model and factory farming, breaking up public health systems, even individualism, and so many other features of the development model imposed on the world by neoliberal capitalism, facilitate the appearance of viruses such as COVID-19. A firewall is a swath of land left uncultivated to keep forest fires from spreading to crops. What firewalls will stop the coronavirus and those that come after?

by René Mendoza Vidaurre / Inti Gabriel Mendoza Estrada

“ Coronita, little crown, how hungry you are!” SARS tells COVID-19. SARS (CoV-1)—which caused the 2002-3 epidemic affecting 26 countries and feasting on only 8,000 people but with 774 fatalities—is closely related to COVID-19, the coronavirus causing the current pandemic affecting 210 countries and over 3.7 million people with 257,000 dead so far… and counting by the minute.
“Hungry, little brother? Not me… Seven hundred years ago our great-great-grandmother, the Black Death, wiped out a third of humanity.”
“And how many do you plan to take with you…?”
“Only a few!… But it’s the humans themselves who are calling me from hither and yon…”

“And how do they do that…?”
“They destroy the soils and fill them with poisons, they destroy the forests to make roads, they fatten those they call animals with chemicals and then eat them… And with all that they do, what do they expect from me…?”

The combination
that attracts plagues

Over the years we have learned that unhealthy conditions cause problems when demographic growth, social deterioration and environmental degradation are combined. People’s wellbeing depends on their being healthy in mind and body, living in a healthy social community and in a sustainable environment.

Researchers of plagues that have decimated humanity at various times in history show that viruses, bacteria, fungi, bacilli, all pathogenic germs, multiply when they find the right conditions that humanity has created for them, consciously or unconsciously.

When the rust blight hit Central America, the coffee plantations were weak, overcrowded and in “tired” soils, largely thanks to mono-cropping, a system that had even permeated the agricultural cooperatives. These conditions attracted the parasitic rust fungus and it devastated the coffee plantations. It hit Nicaragua harder, Honduras a little less, and even less the other countries in the region, as I wrote in “Who’s responsible for the coffee rust plague and what can be done?” (envío, March 2013).

William H. McNeill, in his interesting book Plagues and Peoples, studied dozens of plagues that have devastated humanity over the centuries and explains how the Black Death, which arrived in Europe in the 14th century, created a crisis affecting all aspects of the feudal system as half the European population died, creating a scarcity of labor, and the institutions supporting feudalism lost prestige.

Neoliberal capitalism was
the incubator for COVID-19

Neoliberal capitalism—led by the world elites and strengthened by the rest of humanity’s passivity or powerlessness—has damaged the social, health and natural conditions of every country in the world, propitiating the spread of all kinds of plagues.

A similar view has been expressed in various ways by others. In a report published in Brazil by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Roberta Zandonai states that the coronavirus pandemic “reflects environmental degradation.”

The Argentinian illustrator and journalist Marina Aizen wrote in 2016 that epidemics “are nothing other than the result of the annihilation of ecosystems—mostly tropical—razed to plant industrial-scale mono-crops. They are also the result of handling and trafficking in wildlife which, in many cases, is in danger of extinction.” She explained how more deforestation results in more explosions of viral diseases, and more mono-cropping and agribusinesses result in more epidemics.

Robert Wallace, a biologist who has studied a century of pandemics, argues that the capitalist production model (mono-cropping and industrialized fattening of animals), which mixes pesticides, transgenic foods, antibiotics and antivirals at the expense of natural ecology generates increasingly more dangerous pathogens for humanity.

Wallace believes that COVID-19 is related to these production methods. The corporations and companies behind this agri-food system and the industrial breeding of animals for human food are so powerful that they govern those who say they rule our countries.

Bayer, Monsanto, Syngenta, BASF and Corteva are in the transgenic business while Cargill, Bunge, ADM and others are in the animal feed business.

Where  markets rule

State authority has been reduced throughout the world in the last 40 years and market forces such as these agri-business corporations have taken over world governance, even education and health systems, which have to a large extent been privatized.

The markets imposed strict fiscal discipline on the States—reducing spending, increasing interest rates and eroding social rights—in order to attract foreign investment. The result: global big capital moved its companies to countries where the working class receives low wages and has no unions or laws to protect it.

According to the Gimbe Foundation, in the last 10 years Italy has lost 70,000 hospital beds; 359 hospital wards have been closed and many small hospitals have been converted to other purposes or abandoned as a result of the reduction in social spending.

In Spain, unions report that between January and February of this year, in full coronavirus expansion, 18,320 healthcare workers were laid off, similar to what happened in 2013, a year of adjustment policies and cutbacks. These policies turned health into a commodity subject to the laws of the market, dominated by the corporations.

Making matters worse, healthcare systems in Latin America tend to be bureaucratic, urban, racist and non-preventive. People who go to a health center with a serious illness are very frequently given an appointment several months later. Furthermore, the rural population in multiethnic countries rightly resists going to what they see as mono-cultural systems.

It was capitalist greed

Was it bats, pangolins, a Wuhan seafood market or a virus created in a Chinese laboratory? Whatever the answer, the causes are found in capitalist voracity. For more than a century, capitalist “culture” has misled us into individualism: into taking advantage of others, having no interest in collective collaboration, making us live under the rule of “I am, if I destroy you.” It has led companies to the principle of “the more resources I control, the more I dominate you.” It has driven us to consumerism at the cost of debt. As they said in a rural Central American community, “When the price for coffee was good, we bought a motorbike or a car, even though we didn’t need it and only used it once a week.” Put more succinctly, the causes lie in greed.

Capitalist ambition has contaminated humanity, nature, ecosystems, the planet. Throughout the world, it has induced diabetes, obesity, hypertension and more in the human population. It has paved the way for plagues to multiply and affect us. This is the factory for COVID-19 and the other future pandemics the scientific community is warning us about.

Coronavirus
does make distinctions

It is said, without much reflection, that COVID-19 makes no racial, social or national distinctions… only differentiates by age, in that it affects children less and the elderly more.

By simply looking at the data on victims, however, we realize that it does make distinctions: it targets the most vulnerable, especially those most affected by capitalism.

It has affected more men than women and much more those living in overcrowded cities, especially in the poor neighborhoods of big cities such as Guayaquil in Ecuador; more of the African-American and Latino populations in the US; and more of those over 70 years of age…

The Spanish writer and activist Clara Valverde says in her book The necro-politics of neoliberalism (2015) that neoliberalism applies necro-politics: it leaves those people who aren’t profitable for capitalism to die, those who neither produce nor consume, or, as this graffiti puts it: Under the dictatorship they killed us, now they just leave us to die.

The expansion of COVID-19 in Latin America could be especially lethal for its indigenous peoples. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA: https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenous-peoples-es/areas-de-trabajo/salud.html), over half of indigenous people older than 35 suffer from type 2 diabetes, one of the preconditions worsening vulnerability to COVID-19 .

There’s a palpable difference in the life expectancy of indigenous peoples and other peoples. In Guatemala they live 13 years less, in Panama 10, in Mexico 6, in Nepal 20, in Australia 20, in Canada 17, and in New Zealand 11.
COVID-19 could be brutal to them, which would also affect the forests, because where there are forests there are indigenous peoples: it’s their habitat. Despite this, it’s notable that the word indigenous doesn’t even appear in the repeated statements by governments about the pandemic.

COVID-19 among those above
and those below… way below


This differentiation between the effects of COVID-19 on the health and economy of certain sectors and others, of certain places and others, leads us to the award-winning Korean film Parasites (2019). We can imagine or guess that the pandemic’s effects would be very different in the poor and resourceful family that lives cramped up in the basement and the very rich family that lives in a huge and practically vacant house with all the comforts.

For example, the rain in Parasites, which the son of the rich couple perceives as a diversion, a relief from the heat and even motive for a party the next day, is a veritable tragedy for the poor family, which loses the little it has because their basement and those of their neighbors get flooded.

The same is true for COVID-19. For the elites of the world, who live “above,” the problem is one of health, and the compulsory quarantine is a huge nuisance that interrupts their lifestyle. For the millions who live “below” and survive hand to mouth in the cities and the countryside, the problem is also one of health but of everything else too. Whether to die from the virus or from hunger is the dilemma facing those millions who live in the planet’s “basement.”

Two generations:
different responsibilities and visions


This differentiation is also expressed in the awareness of the different generations that today coexist on the planet. In Europe there’s a debate about COVID-19 and climate change between the current generation and that of the “baby boomers,” those born after World War II between 1946 and 1964.

To some extent, climate change is the result of actions taken by the baby boomer generation, after their parents made the effort to build a welfare state following the Great Depression of 1929 and then the disasters of World War II.

Venture capitalist Bruce Gibney accuses US baby boomers of looting the country’s economy by cutting taxes for the richest and ignoring climate change, thus ruining previous generations’ legacy of large infrastructure and leading to bankruptcy, which the current generation now has to pay for. Today, while COVID-19 more cruelly attacks third-age people—the baby boomers of yesteryear—the current generation is fighting to protect them and themselves.

In Latin America, the older generations born after 1930 accelerated the expansion of the agricultural frontier as demand for meat grew in the US. Those in the large cities, seeing how forests were being replaced by pasture for cattle, resisted capitalist agribusiness, faced military dictatorships and passed on a deep distrust of the depredating State to generations that followed.

That generation of over-60s, who assured their children’s education without themselves having studied, is now under attack by COVID-19. Today’s generation, while sometimes falling into consumerism and religious or ideological fundamentalism, advocates non-authoritarian societies, defend sustainable agriculture as part of their past, worry about climate change and, far from questioning their grandparents, fight, like their peers in the US, to protect them and themselves.

Home quarantine for everyone?


During the worst years of the Black Death (1347-1353), rich Europeans went to their country homes, while the poor remained terrified and overcrowded in the cities, where they were kept isolated and under surveillance. Today, fear is spread on Facebook, Twitter, the social networks… and people must stay at home, in lockdown, while borders are closed and health systems are overwhelmed.

The compulsory quarantine project assumes that home is a safe and harmonious place and that everyone has a house, which isn’t usually the reality of the cities’ poor neighborhoods and rural communities.

Mandatory confinement assumes that every family has savings or daily income, which isn’t the case for most families in many countries, as they depend on the informal economy and live in rented accommodations. The political class should take a public bus and get off at the last stop where the subterranean city begins… There they should reflect on social and economic policies that could make a difference in the lives of these, the majority of the population.

Authoritarianism and
capitalism worsen


More than strengthening health systems and providing truthful information about the pandemic, some governments seem interested in taking advantage of it to increase authoritarianism and validate questionable measures. It shouldn’t be forgotten that following the emergency from the 9/11 attacks, the US government effectively legalized torture as a method to combat terrorism.

In the United States, Trump’s government isn’t so much interested in saving the poorest from COVID-19. It is far more interested in saving the large companies that helped create conditions that incubate the plague and, at the same time, threaten Venezuela, where big US and Chinese companies contributed to the conditions that generated COVID-19.

In Brazil, the largest country in Latin America, Bolsonaro’s government is responding to the pandemic with religious fundamentalism and dismissing science’s inputs to stop its spread. The greatest risk is that if those who incubated COVID-19 and will incubate future plagues present themselves as the bearers of solutions, whether directly or mediated by authoritarian governments. We would then be on the verge of a new plundering of public assets, humanity’s common and natural assets.

Brutal austerity imposed by big capital


Big capital is lying in wait behind today’s fears and the authoritarianism of both governments and the market. In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), the Canadian author and activist Naomi Klein explains how big capital has taken advantage of natural and social disasters in the last 30 years to dismantle what remains of the welfare State in order to impose the neoliberal model.

Now, with the advent of the pandemic caused by COVID-19, and in a virtual meeting from her home, Klein reflects that we do need to stay home and one of the reasons is because our leaders didn’t heed the warning signs and imposed brutal economic austerity on the public health system, cutting it back to the bare bones and leaving it unable to cope with this kind of situation… After the 2008 financial crisis, Southern Europe was ground zero for the most sadistic austerity policies. Is it surprising that, despite having to provide public medical care, their hospitals are so badly equipped to deal with this crisis?

Naomi Klein also reminds us that the capitalist system has always been willing to sacrifice life on a massive scale for profit.

The first victim is the truth


Today, big capital could be calculating how to frighten our societies in order to divert our attention from neoliberalism’s nefarious effects, which attract the pandemic and lay the groundwork for wealth accumulation through dispossessing lands and resources; making States invest public resources to improve public health systems that are later privatized at ridiculous prices; promoting laws that reduce or exempt the wealthy from taxes; eliminating laws that limit the extraction of natural resources; and imposing and steamrolling investment projects in indigenous territories, always under the principle that the rich are “development’s driving force.”

In revealing the lies with which the United States made war on Iraq, Julian Assange said: “The first victim of war is the truth.” It’s possible that truth is also the first victim of the “war” against COVID-19.

Where’s the “invisible hand” today?


In Latin America today, there’s disinformation, fear, pastors and priests who repeat that the pandemic is a sign of the “end of days” and propose prayers as a spiritual shield. They have done this for centuries and in the face of every disaster… although it’s also true that we are dusting off science and venerating virologists, reluctantly in Trump’s case and clumsily in Bolsonaro’s.

There’s also some civic awareness in our countries, questioning the powerful laws of the world market and the state institutions that have yielded to those laws for many years and imposed the normality of the capitalist system on us. COVID-19 is laying bare today’s world: without leadership or world coordination. It is showing us that the neoliberal emperor has no clothes. Can anyone tell us where the market’s “invisible hand” is coordinating actions against this pandemic?

Perhaps it’s behind the philanthropists who are distributing food in Europe and the US to prevent looting for food, just as USAID did in Central America in 2001, when coffee prices plummeted. It took food to big coffee plantations to keep hungry workers from going out to the highways to demand help from drivers. We’re waking up to the idea that the “developed” countries are really not so developed.

A new awareness
for post COVID-19


Awareness is also growing in this other “underdeveloped” world that COVID-19 can be tackled with coordinated human action: hygiene, solidarity, responsibility, physical distancing, rapid virus-detection testing, scientific information backed by virtual technology…

In Latin America, as in the rest of the world, we are in transition that goes beyond COVID-19: the virus arrived in a context of economic conflict between the US and China over global markets and natural resources, with Europe scarcely out of the Brexit crisis and Latin America divided and constantly besieged by the greed of big capital.

Despite the uncertain economic future and the possibility of an economic depression similar to that of 1929, and with equally uncertain expressions about ongoing climate change, now is the time for our societies—as represented by their different cooperatives, associations, social companies, community organizations, diverse social movements, etc.—along with the very weakened capitalist reformist forces to emerge strengthened.

Will the link between the different community organizations and social movements and the capitalist reformist forces (politicians, certain international cooperation agencies, some international organizations) have real potential to alter post COVID-19 trends? It could be. It is this awareness that we are gradually awakening to, like the sun that humanity and all other living things arise to every morning.

The firewall of an
informed public…


Faced with the crisis of institutional legitimacy and with big capital “lying in wait,” socially legitimate organizations and institutions, including the churches, could make a difference to their members and their communities by providing truthful health information and preaching responsibility and calm through example.

In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari states that humans have the advantage of being able to share information across borders. Korea can advise us on how to deal with COVID-19, something viruses can’t do with each other. Local organizations are the first firewall against the coronavirus in the work of sharing information. Harari says that a motivated and well-informed population is usually much more powerful and effective than an ignorant one under surveillance.

By mobilizing their communities, local organizations and institutions can build a firewall against the coronavirus and future epidemics. The vaccine is a short-term technical solution, exclusively for this virus, not for other, imminent pandemics. If the world continues looking only in one direction like a blinkered horse, responding only technically to COVID-19, we will be left midway.

We must mobilize as an informed public so the responses governments give to the coronavirus don’t facilitate big capital accumulating wealth through dispossession, as happened in the 2008 financial crisis. In that case substantial resources from society were given to the financial system despite it having generated the real estate bubble and causing a world food crisis. Or, as has happened on so many other occasions, when capitalism was resuscitated again and again, stripping societies of their assets: land, water, trees, minerals, public assets, etc.

…of a mobilized public…


In addition to preventing vaccines being handled as commodities, we can’t allow capitalism to continue producing the current immoral black hole of inequality where 1% of the population appropriates 80% of the planet’s wealth and continues intensifying the terrible climate change that is the factory for COVID-19 and those that will follow.

As a mobilized public we must promote fairer tax systems, demanding more taxes from big capital, the driving force behind the neoliberal development model. We must further demand that those taxes be used to improve the capacity of public health systems in every country; that health and education be outside the laws of the market; that health also be accessible to impoverished families; that health systems be multicultural; and that governments strive to save lives regardless of any utilitarian calculation about the economic consequences of doing so.

…and of mindful and
organized communities


We must also create another firewall of interconnected localities to respond to the causes generating plagues and putting Planet Earth at risk.

We must reflect in an organized way on how social inequality and environmental deterioration favored the arrival of this virus and on how to increase cooperation between communities; expand small production practices, diversified production systems that respect the environment, urban gardens and allotments… Reflect on the urgency of making dietary changes, choosing products that come from sustainable agriculture and breed free range fowl and cattle.

We must promote critical thinking and not repeat traditional religious or other beliefs: “Only God can save us,” “Private always works better,” “Only the rich give us work,” “More agrochemicals mean more food,”… Now is the time for those who are below to organize and make themselves felt, so that those in the “basement” and those on the “first floor” (peasantry, indigenous peoples, laborers…), those who maintain the structure of humanity, are recognized and protected from “savage capitalism.”

It’s the time of small-scale production, which usually maintains most of the population in every country but lacks social security and is the markets’ victim from the weighing stations to the credit they receive from money-lenders, to the prices their produce is valued at. It’s time to build societies that care for our common home, for people and the many ways they organize.

“We’re in a better
position than in 2008″


Naomi Klein says the Earth’s habitability is being sacrificed to our profound ecological crisis, to climate change. We must think what kind of response we’re going to demand. It will have to be based on the principles of a truly regenerative economy, based on care and repair…

She says the good news is that we’re in a better position than in 2008 and 2009. During these years we’ve worked hard in social movements to create platforms of people… She says she’s hopeful because of the ways people are collaborating in the pandemic. It’s ironic: we’ve never been so physically distant and perhaps it’s because of that distance we are so determined to reach out to each other.

The firewall of democratic organizations


The fourth firewall is associative organizations and local institutions working at being democratic, at improving their social fund’s policies—social redistribution of their surpluses—so as to tackle pandemics, organize information backed by technology and be transparent with their members.

We must learn to organize information using cutting-edge technology and at the same time prevent governments from using it to subordinate societies. Organizations in specific zones must learn to coordinate with each other about health, food and climate change challenges, so as to practice participatory and representative democracy and not obedience and an authoritarian mentality, which the Korean philosopher Byung-Chul Han says Asian cultures have used to deal with COVID-19.

With the redistribution of surplus, transparency of information, inclusion of women and men of all ages, and different organizations coordinating, we will be able to stop the conflagration of plagues and of savage capitalism and the elites who, with virtual technology, are trying to subordinate societies, with a mere click.

We need a change that
changes the future


In the midst of the current uncertainty and insecurity due to the pandemic and its unpredictable economic, social and political consequences, including whether the US hegemony will be replaced by China or by multipolarity, the only certainty in our societies should be, as Franz Hinkelammert said: I am if you are.
Staying home and in the communities stops the virus in the short term and helps nature regenerate, but we need more than that: a long-term and far-reaching change that changes the future.

It’s time for associative organizations and other institutions to take over leadership of the communities, promoting these four firewalls in the communities to reinvent our societies and their institutions: giving truthful information, preventing capitalism from strengthening itself with the pandemic, reversing the conditions that create viruses by building different futures, and being coherent—democratic, transparent and equitable.

Let’s avoid going back to pre-COVID-19 normality; let’s allow capitalism to die so other futures can be born. The virus won’t defeat capitalism; no virus will make revolution. But as the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek says, COVID-19 carries an ideological virus, “the virus of thinking about an alternative society, a society beyond the nation-State, a society that actualizes itself in the form of solidarity and global cooperation.”

It’s we human beings who must rethink and hatch new futures, against the totalitarian vigilance that countries will try to import from China.

These four firewalls are possible if instead of nationalist isolation we express global solidarity in many ways. Working together for solutions will make our differences small by comparison.

Let’s not be ruled by the fear of death. Fear is a more damaging emotion in times of crisis because it creates hysteria and paralyzes action. Yes, COVID-19 is an adversity, but as Benjamin Franklin said: Out of adversity comes opportunity.

Let’s try to see behind the adversity and envision various alternative futures to neoliberalism. They will be possible if, in addition to “I am if you are,” we adopt another principle: “We are if the communities where we live are.”

René Mendoza Vidaurre is a researcher who collaborates with the Minnesota-based Winds of Peace Foundation and accompanies rural organizations of Central America. His son, Inti Gabriel Mendoza Estrada, is a student at Austria’s Graz University of Technology.

Food production in times of COVID-19

Food production in times of COVID-19

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

Aid that entraps

On one occasion I talked with a former director of a European aid agency.

-We are bringing in a donation of rice for Central America, so that people would let go of their native seed and end up buying rice seed from our business; we finance potatoes under the same condition …

-Do all aid agencies do this?

-Not all … What do you expect, that they would provide it for free? Nestle did this also in Africa, gave away free milk in the hospitals so that mothers would give it to their newborns, and after some days those mothers did not have breast milk, and had to buy Nestle´s milk.

-What?!

-That is why some organizations in the south, the larger they are, the more deals they make for fewer people, they keep part of that aid; while ecological agriculture or peasant agriculture trips over every trap that they set for them.

-And when does this happen?

-All the time, but even more in times of crisis.

I bring up this conversation held 10 years ago. Under the shadow of COVID-19 multinational enterprises are moving their pieces like a game of chess, while the peasantry is groping about under the inclement sun of April. In many cases governments of developed countries act with both arms, with one arm they help, and with the other arm harvest what the first arm planted; it is their foreign policy where “nothing is free,” These practices of dispossession are intensified “more in times of crisis.”

In this article we show the urgency of producing food in the circumstances of COVID-19, the adversity that these circumstances represent, and the opportunity before our eyes. We identify the indigenous and peasant families who produce the food in the region, the basic grains, beans, rice and corn, even though in this article we emphasize more beans and corn. We expose the intentions of commercial mediation and the dispossession “traps” of capitalism with its “two arms.” And we make an effort to present proposals from grassroots organizations – we are referring to first tier cooperatives, but it extends to associations, associative enterprises, rural banks and peasant (or community) stores.

1.     Introduction

According to the IMF (https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WEO/Issues/2020/04/14/weo-april-2020), as an effect of COVID-19, the world economy is going to decline this year 2020 (-3%), particularly the economies of the so-called developed countries (-6%). This can be expressed in the fact that investment and consumer spending falls. For the countries of the south, that means that their export products are going to have less demand in Europe and the United States, which in fact is already happening; with drop in demand, prices fall for products like meat, coffee, bananas, apples…Will the same thing happen with basic commodities like beans, rice or corn? By way of hypothesis, for the case of Central America, if the supply of basic commodities falls more than demand, then their prices are going to rise, and low income consumer families will be affected. Let us remember, in Latin America there are hundreds of varieties of corn and beans, but in Central America some varieties are the ones that are produced and consumed, like red beans in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador, or black beans in Guatemala. There can be corn like what is used for corn flour with varieties from Mexico, but the indigenous and peasant communities in Central America consume the corn that they produce.

The quarantine in the United States and Europe means that people are confined to their homes, which is why their consumption goes down. This means that the price of products, particularly the products that are not basic commodities, will fall. For example, if the price of meat in the United States drops, this affects prices down the line in the mediation chain in the meat industry,  which reaches down to the farms and haciendas themselves in countries of Latin America. The graph of the FAO (see http://www.fao.org/worldfoodsituation/foodpricesindex/en/) reveals dramatic drops in the months of January to March in vegetable oils, sugar and meat, a drop that according to other reports, continues in this month of April.[2]

Products like beans and corn also are dropping, but to a lesser extent (see yellow line for cereals on graph). In Mesoamerica, beans, corn and rice are basic commodities, they are the number 1 ingredient in the Mesoamerican family plate of food, which is why it would be difficult for their demand to drop. “As long as there are beans with tortilla and some corn, the rest is a treat”, people are heard saying in the communities.

Even though in Latin America those crops are produced by producers of different sizes (medium and large in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and northern Mexico), in Central America, particularly in the case of corn and beans, almost all is produced by small producers. In this region (see Table 1), even though the data is from 13 years ago, it tells us that there are a little more than two million basic grain producers, who, including their families, represent a little more than 10 million people, and they constitute 56% of the total rural population and 29% of the total population of the region.

 

Table 1. Number of basic grain (corn, beans, rice and sorghum) producers & rural  population 2005-07
  Basic grain producers (thousands) Rural population basic grains (column 1 x aver. family size) Total rural population % Rural pop. BG / total  rural population
Guatemala 941.8 4,673 6,935 67
El Salvador 325 1,481 2,719 54
Honduras 385.1 2,024 3,738 54
Nicaragua 289.3 1,565 2,440 65
Panamá 115.7 551 919 60
Costa Rica 7.6 30 1,664 2
Total 2,064.5 10,337 18,415 56
Source: Baumeister (2010), Pequeños productores de granos básicos en América Central. Honduras: FAO-RUTA. http://www.fao.org/3/a-au202s.pdf%20 This is data based on standard of living surveys and agricultural census.

 

Table 2. Basic grain areas 2006 (hectares)
  Corn Beans
Guatemala 791,759 247,822
Nicaragua 343,160 228,518
Honduras 305,000 128,000
El Salvador 240,978 87,379
Panamá 54,570 9,860
Costa Rica 6,260 14,035
Total 1,741,727 715,614
Source: Baumeister (2010)

This population produces 2,457,341 hectares of corn and beans: see Table 2. Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras have more production area. Both crops are cultivated at 3 times of the year: first planting (May), second (August) and third (December); plantings that coincide with the rainy seasons by edaphoclimatic zone.

Since the quarantine affects the entire region, the agro-chemical industry and banks are limited in the scope of their action, which means that the provision of credit, seed and agro-chemicals for planting basic grains is limited. The decree of a quarantine reduces the spread of COVID-19, and at the same time, limits farm production, not so much because families are confined to their homes, or because peasant and indigenous families are “confined” to their farms, but because the movement of producer families in the region, except for Nicaragua, to do their purchases of inputs and financial transactions is limited; for example, in Honduras, with the curfew people can only leave their homes one day per week as determined by their identity card.

As an effect, the supply of corn and beans tends to be less: by planting smaller areas in May, less smaller volumes will be harvested in July, which is why the second planting is going to be smaller…If this happens, the scarcity of basic grains in the entire region is going to cause an increase in prices and possible hoarding of large volumes to do price speculation[3]; in fact, the price of beans already increased starting on April 21. Going back to Tables 1 and 2, we conclude that if other countries drop their production by 30%, Nicaragua should increase its production areas to contribute to the region.

How should this situation be addressed? After this introduction, we summarize the mediation practices that make bean supply and demand possible, but mediated by unfair institutions, that affect human population and nature. Then we involve the efforts of international aid and we warn of its risks. Then we describe a different path as a proposal. Finally, we lay out a decisive and unconfined accompaniment on the part of those of us who say we are accompanying rural families. In the conclusions we recall that we need to open ourselves to the people who are more underprivileged.

2.     More of the same with businesses of mediation

In general, we are seeing an intensification of the old practices of mediation, more of the same. Meanwhile, part of the peasantry is preparing to grow basic grains with relative autonomy. There is no variation in the mediation technology and relationships, in spite of what is said in the world that after COVID-19 “nothing will be the same”.

The logic that traditional mediation intensifies is: dependency on agro-chemicals and certified seed, unfair weighing and disproportionate application of percentage of defects, disinformation, absence of incentives for product quality, and the power of ideas like “more inputs, more production”, “without glyphosate there are no beans and corn”, and “clearing land causes joy” -clearing land refers to deforestation or felling trees to plant basic grains or for ranching.

Within this logic there are three types of mediation. The first, businesses or intermediaries provide seed and agro-chemicals to be paid with beans or corn, under the condition that the entire harvest be sold to them. The second type is businesses or cooperatives that offer a package the includes seed, agro-chemicals and technical supervision, to be paid with beans, and on the condition that they be sold the entire harvest; the difference with the first type is that in this second version they offer them C$100/qq over the street (market) price. The third type of mediation is scattershot, there are people from the community itself who lend money under terms of usury to families who are not able to save to pay for the rental of land and to buy uncertified seed, they are families whose harvests are sold to local buyers, who collect the harvest for municipal mediators (“truckers”), who in turn sell the grains to provincial buyers. The first two types of mediation export beans to other countries in the region, particularly to Costa Rica and El Salvador, countries that produce less (see Table 2) and have a large population that demands grains; the third type also export to countries outside the region.

The effects of these 3 mediations are multiple: loss of soil fertility, increase in the resistance of insects to agro-chemicals, pressure to cut down patches of forest that still remain on peasant and indigenous farms, lack of water in the communities because the deforestation leaves the water sources and creeks unprotected, systematic reduction in the profit margins of grains for producer families (the nefarious “plier squeeze”: more expensive inputs, combined with lower prices for peasant produce), migration and sale of land, erosion of communities, hoarding and price speculation…

Those who escape from this network of mediation throughout the region are indigenous and peasant families with small areas of land. They are families who cultivate for their own consumption, who store native seed, use little or no agro-chemicals, and sell their surplus grains to the highest bidder. They are families who live in relatively stable communities. With or without quarantine, these families will continue producing. These families and communities, nevertheless, are ever fewer, the new generations are being de-peasantized, which is why it is easy to find communities that 30 years ago were owners of land, and now mostly are families who plant grains on rented land.

3.     Efforts of international aid organizations

Before the crisis we heard different voices from international aid organizations, including the so- called fair-trade organizations. Their practice seems to be “more of the same” as well; this worldwide discourse that “everything will be different” after COVID-10 is beginning to be carried away in the wind.

Some organizations look to support NGOs whose staff are confined to their homes. Other organizations, and this is what we uncover in this section, remember rural families, but tend to fall into or brandish two old modalities of aid.

The first modality intensifies the first two types of mediation described in the previous section, and at the same time is distinct from them. It intensifies because it provides credit and induces them to make an arrangement with traditional mediation to sell them inputs and buy their harvests. It is distinct when they work with second tier cooperatives to collect the grains and sell them to international organizations, or some large buyer; in general they pay for and demand quality. In the context of COVID-19 this type of practice is intensified.

The second modality is being revived with COVID-19. It is an old form of aid that generally emerges “in times of crisis”. It goes well with the story that we described at the beginning of this article. There are organizations that donate in cash or food to “more vulnerable” families; it was a boom when Hurricane Mitch hit in 1998, or in 2001 when prices for coffee fell to $70/qq for export quality coffee. To do so, aid organizations use the cooperatives or NGOs to identify the families in a vulnerable situation, and to channel the donation. Let us magnify this type of aid to see its possible adverse effects on the explicit objectives that they pursue.

Aid organizations ask the administration (manager and technical team) of the cooperatives to prepare a list of families, not members of the cooperative. On these lists generally are a good number of people without land, or with little land; most of them are day laborers, and in the corresponding periods grow basic grains on rented land, or work in a sharecropping arrangement with the owner of the land, and pay the rent generally with their savings from harvesting coffee. When the donation gets to this sector, even though the good intentions of the aid organizations might be praiseworthy, it results in two risks that can be counterproductive to the spirit of help that motivates the aid organizations, and counterproductive to the reason for being of the cooperatives. What are those risks?

 A first risk is that a good number of these families, on receiving the aid, might decide to not plant basic grains, or reduce the area that they are planning on planting. It can happen with peasant family owners of small areas of land. And it can happen with day laborers. A day laborer, on receiving an amount in cash or food that meets their needs that day, and the following days, their first reaction, coherent with this mentality of a day laborer, is “to not work”, in some cases even “look for beer” (alcoholism). In other words, the aid can result in less area planted, which means less food, which means more problems particularly for women concerned about putting three meals on the table. This type of aid, in the long term, can cause a bigger crisis in the family, even  selling off the little land that they have or their yard. If the family does not plant, and prefers to consume the donation, without saving or investing it, in a matter of three months that family is going to be in a worse situation, because they are not going to harvest, and so will cry out for new aid. Since the cooperative was the channel for the first aid, they will expect the cooperative to resolve their problem.

A second risk is that the sustainability of the cooperative might be diminished, and crack the social cohesion of the community. The members, on realizing that they are not part of the list, and that instead are subsidizing aid to non-members, are going to have their idea that “the members are not in charge in the cooperative” be confirmed, and some with debts to the cooperative will say that “they are not going to pay.” The organs of the cooperatives also tend to be weakened in their functioning, because the aid organizations erroneously assume that the cooperative is equal to its management, they make arrangements with them, and pressure them to execute the donation; the administration tends to obey them under the rule of “you don´t look a gift horse in the mouth,” while the organs of the cooperative are placed to the side. In terms of the community, the non- members not benefitted by the donation, resent not being part of the aid, so possible long standing internal schisms revive. The population will feel that it turns their stomachs to understand the message of the donation: “you have to be impoverished to receive aid,” “the working person does not deserve aid”; which is contrary to the Law of Talents from Matthew 25, or certain values about one´s own effort that tends to be promoted in the communities.

Taking these risks into account, international aid organizations that make donations to impoverished families should be coherent with their own policy: accepting the effects of their actions. If they donate, they should do it every 3 months to those families for at least two years; delivering the donations directly to beneficiary families, so that the benefitting population might applaud or complain to the donor organization. The cooperative, one that is committed to its sustainability and that of its community, should not get wrapped up in unsustainable actions, and even less so, if these actions have the potential to erode the future of their organization and their communities.

National and international aid organizations are good for moving about in the aid market, grassroots cooperatives should recognize them for that skill. Grassroots cooperatives, those who are seeking their sustainability and that of their communities, know their families better, aid organizations should listen to them and learn from them.

4.     An alternative path from those who are more impoverished

In the context of COVID-19, if traditional mediation intensifies their unjust mechanisms against the peasantry and the environment, and if international aid organizations impose their “aid that entraps”, in the short term, low supply and institutional situation of hoarding will be felt, famine could break out, as well as water scarcity in an agriculture which deforests and is dependent on agro-chemicals. Without the peasantry producing, and a change in the institutional arrangement that would respect the right of the population to access food, the region will be affected. In this section we sketch out a different path, not just donations, not just business, but contributing to the production of food in the short term, and through that “window” entering into long term change, local and global living communities with sustainable agriculture that restores their soil and water.

Table 3:  Costs of production for beans (C$*)
  With agro-chemicals (1 mz) With sustainable agriculture (1 mz)
Land rental 2500 2500
Labor 8000 12000
Agro-chemicals 5700 0
Agro-organic 0 5000
Total 16,200 19,500
Financing (30% costs) 4860 5850
* To get cost in dollars divide by C$34 = US$1

Source: estimate with support of  ing. Elix Meneces

In the last week of April people finish the arrangements for renting land and begin to prepare the soil for planting, awaiting the “rain showers of May” – the first rains of the year. Let´s remember, some families plant on their land, they need minimal support in credit for seed and other costs; some families rent land to plant basic grains, they have difficulties in coming up with the C$2500/mz that the land owner charges, maybe they need 50% of that amount; some families seek to plant by halves, they expect that the land owner would provide the land and seed, or between two people, they rent the land and work it 50-50. These families, growing their grains, on harvesting them need to save their seed to begin a life less dependent on mediation and aid, then they need to improve their soil and protect their water… They can do it if they organize into cooperatives, associations or associative enterprises that move on the basis of agreements in their assemblies.

In the face of this situation, international organizations and grassroots cooperatives can join forces. Both have a common, explicit objective: help the most vulnerable families, and that there be water for life. Correspondingly, they should agree on the fact that aid should help. How?

The cooperative can finance the amount that families need to rent land and obtain their inputs (see Table 3), and/or go into halves with families that desire to do so. The table shows that the area of sustainable agriculture is more expensive, that is because it requires more labor, which also should be read as greater creation of employment and environmental benefit.  The cooperative can finance 30% of an area with agro-chemicals and an area with sustainable agriculture, supervise those plantings, and technically advise the family within the framework of community. The condition for this service would be that the families pay the loan with beans, commit to sell their harvest to the cooperative, that 50% of the area be cultivated without agro-chemicals and with organic inputs[4], and that they protect water sources throughout the farm. In the case of compliance by both parties, the cooperative would distribute their surplus in accordance with the norms of the cooperative, a distribution which is both social and individual: 10% legal reserves, 20% social fund, 20% capitalization of the cooperative and 50% individual distribution in accordance with the quantity that the producers have sold to the cooperative. In the long term, these sustainable products could be better remunerated. What would you prefer, reader, rice and beans with glyphosate or without glyphosate?

Under these agreements the cooperative can collect an estimated 25qq/mzs of beans and 35qq/mzs of corn; if a cooperative under the terms described would support 100mzs of beans and 100 mzs of corn, it would collect 2500qq of beans and 3500qq of corn; we can imagine what is possible with 20 or 100 cooperatives taking on these practices. 5% of this total could be saved as seed, to organize the second planting (August). The rest of the volume of grains can be sold in accordance with the health situation and the demand for food that we would have in the months of July, August and September; cooperatives can make more favorable decisions for society and social justice, while capital only sees merchandise, money and moves under the justice of the market.

Consistent with this perspective, a cooperative can commit to producing organic inputs in an ongoing way. It can do it by itself or in alliance with international enterprises that offer organic inputs to revitalize soils, and not like the chemical inputs that are directed only at the crop and are only short term. This would mean working with landowners who would revitalize their soil in the long term, and working with families who would rent land from landowners for a minimum of 10 years, because the revitalization of the soil happens over years and its benefits are lasting.[5] Landowners will benefit from a stable agreement and from those practices that revitalize the soil, in addition to the financial benefits.

Through this short term “window” of organizing the production of food, the cooperative can enter to work on the in-depth issue: mitigating climate change with sustainable agriculture and energizing living communities.

There is a perspective here in which international organizations can redefine their forms of aid. It is a perspective that in the long term transforms traditional mediation and “aid that entraps”, leads them to respect and empower the rights of people to produce and have access to healthy food, and respect the rights of nature. It is a perspective that encourages mechanisms be directed to fair weighing, quality control with incentives, prices with redistribution, and the fact that communities can scale up by adding value to their products and their waste.

5.     Accompaniment needed

Some people from NGOs confined to their homes are not going to move about; we respect their decision, even though they can help us studying the behavior of markets, and reflecting on the changes that the NGOs themselves should begin. Some of us who are accompanying the rural families who are organizing, we are “confined” to accompanying families in their communities. What does it mean to accompany?

The biblical passage of the Road to Emmaus (Lk 24: 13-25) can be a guide. The Puerto Rican theologian, Carmelo Álvarez, says: “This passage encourages us to walk in the midst of uncertainty, which is being transformed into certainty and confidence. Jesus approaches these hopeless, frustrated, and hurting travelers/disciples, and accompanies them without showing his identity. He establishes a dialogue of travelers. And he patiently provides elements that illuminate the faith! He is able to get the travelers to be receptive to his words and presence. So, an invitation emerges, “stay with us” (…) The Supper calls for sharing, revealing the Mystery …Today, more than ever, we need the Pilgrim of Emmaus, so that he might help us with this presence, to continue walking with the faith of open eyes…”

This accompaniment should include three elements: studying, training and innovating. Studying people to apprehend ways of expanding their relationships of cooperation. We can suggest something to people IF we know their situations, like the producer Rodrigo López from the community of Ocote Tuma (Waslala, Northern Atlantic Region, Nicaragua) was telling us, “if you do not understand, you do not see”; accompanying is the people themselves teaching us to advise them – “stay with us”. Training means creating conditions for awakening, taking on the consequences of our actions and decisions, awakening to the way  of life that we are leading, the way of working and way of organizing ourselves, realizing that no matter had bad off we may be, we always have something good to hold on to. Innovating along with families forms of making the proposal just described a reality, innovating day by day in agriculture, commercialization, collective organization and learning. The people that we accompany, we need to understand that studying, training and innovating are interdependent, it is the holy trinity of accompaniment – understanding in order to see.

Each cooperative can be the Pilgrim of Emmaus. Each church, University and NGO could be the Pilgrim of Emmaus.

6.     Conclusions

After COVID-19 “nothing will return to what it was before”. This phrase is hollow when we look at the current behavior of  traditional mediation of capital, products and words. We must make that expression a reality to the extent to which we build different futures, futures more socially and environmentally just and equitable.

In this article we have started from the idea that basic commodities, like basic grains, could become scarce as an effect of COVID-19, that in the face of this possibility, it is urgent that indigenous and peasant families get involved in producing. But that they do so under different conditions from those imposed by traditional mediation and by the aid industry, whose actions do damage and create perverse incentives for producers as well as for their organizations. Let them produce in alliance with local organizations, with incentives in which landowners and producer families all gain in the short term, and as living communities gain in the long term.

This proposal is in relation to basic commodity foodstuffs that encompass the entire population of the region. It is about growing basic grains whose first planting season is about to begin (May 1). But if we still are not able to work at total strength in this season, we can begin, and prepare ourselves for the second planting (August). The same can be done with vegetables – squash, cucumbers, garlic, summer squash…

This proposal is even more important, because it involves families who are farther down, the most impoverished families who sustain humanity, they are 29% of the total population of the region. The mentalities of this 29% are even much lower from centuries of domination, but that with good accompaniment, like that of the Pilgrim of Emmaus, the good of that population can emerge as well as the good of their accompaniers.

This is a proposal for the grassroots organizations who maybe have embraced only export crops, so that they can include basic commodity crops. Not just because they are primary foodstuffs, but because getting involved in them will provide them roots in the communities and local markets. It will also feed into their environmental perspective, particularly the indigenous populations will make us understand that the land has life, is the mother, and therefore it is not conceivable to buy or sell “the mother” or mercilessly drown her with agro-chemicals. Or is it?

[1] René has a PhD in development studies and accompanies rural organizations in Central America. He is a member of Coserpross (http://coserpross.org/es/home/), associate researcher of IOB-Antwerp University, and a collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/).

[2] Even though the fall in the prices of sugar and (palm) oil is due more to the fall in the price of petroleum, products that are used for the production of biofuels. We are grateful to Arturo Grigsby for this information.

[3] Even if the supply of basic grains were less, possibly it would be enough to feed the population. What might happen is hoarding that might cause famine. In this sense, it is worthwhile to dust off the study of A. Sen (1981) Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation, Clarendon Press, Oxford. In that study, Sen shows that there was no lack of food in the 1943 famine in Bengal (India) or the famine in Ethiopia in 1972, but social institutions that hoarded food and deprived people of their right to have access to food.

[4] 50-50 is viable, while a radical change of cultivating 100% with ecological agriculture could be unreal. The advantage of the ecological area is that it is intensive work, generates Jobs, and makes use of resources existing in the community itself. The ecological agriculture area part implies a radical change: betting on the soil instead of betting on a crop.

[5] On this issue of rental within a context of drought, see: R. Mendoza, 2015, “la sequía y el arrendamiento de la tierra”, in: Confidencial. https://confidencial.com.ni/author/rene-mendoza-vidaurre/