Category Archives: Peace-building

Conditions and processes where youth energize family agriculture cooperative movement

Conditions and processes where youth energize the family agriculture cooperative movement

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

You cannot direct the wind but you can change the direction of your sails.

Chinese proverb

Tell me something and I will forget it, teach me something and I will remember it, make me participate in something and I will learn it.

Confucius

Abstract

The paradox of the last thirty years is that the peasantry, in spite of having offspring with higher levels of formal education, is experiencing an economic and social crisis that threatens their very existence. Cooperativism could be its “ship” to resist and reach a safe port. To do so this cooperativism, coopted by economic and political elites, needs to “change the direction of its sails” and reorganize. This is possible if they youth are participants in this process. So, under what conditions can rural youth participate in this process of the reinvention of cooperatives to make family agriculture viable? This article wrestles with this question and arrives at a conclusion: when the peasantry in cooperative spaces studies the harsh rules, studies their own attitudes and mobilizes to innovate for the peasant families who are organizing, that crisis can become an opportunity to improve our societies.

Summary

Key words: rural youth, family agriculture, cooperative reorganization, innovation

Introduction

In the last thirty years the peasantry have faced greater crises over climate change, systematic dispossession from elites, and because there is no more virgin land to “colonize.” A form of resistance has been organizing into cooperatives, but these tend to be coopted by the State, markets and international aid. Likewise, as never before in rural history, there are more rural youth with higher education, but they are distancing themselves from agriculture and are migrating to the cities and outside the country. If this situation continues, in addition to deepening the inequality and the democracy deficit in our societies, it will affect world food that depends in good measure on family agriculture, which according to ECLAC, FAO and IICA,[2] represent more than 75% of the production units in nearly every country of Latin America. If the youth who graduated are participants in the change of “direction” of the “sails” of cooperativism, as never before in rural history they can make family agriculture – also called peasantry and small producers – viable. Under what conditions can rural youth participate in this process of the reinvention of cooperatives to make family agriculture viable? We respond to this question throughout five sections. In the first section I review historical experiences in Europe, the United States and Latin America to show that in spite of the heterogeneity of the rural situation in Latin America and the variety of historical contexts, certain common patterns have worked against family agriculture. After understanding these patterns, in the second section I discuss how this peasant (family agriculture) crisis has been faced. To do so I summarize the idea of “heroic voluntarism” which has generally prevailed with adverse results. I go back to look at the experience of productive youth in the United States during 1870 and 1910, and I summarize the path of how to innovate, based on Albert Einstein, a method that if used by the youth, could contribute to resolving the crisis of family agriculture. After recuperating historical responses to the crisis and a referential framework for innovating, in the third section I discuss the conditions under which the youth and their parents could build bridges in pursuit of this innovation. In the fourth section, I show concrete cases of the type of innovations that lead to the reinvention of cooperativism. And in the fifth section I list guidelines about how to generate a cooperative movement hand in hand with the youth.

  1. Crisis in family agriculture

The waves of the sea and the current of water under the waves tend to go in opposing directions. So goes economic growth and representative democracy in Latin America, where the military dictatorships were left in the past, while family producers are pulled by the “current” of dispossession. Time and time again the peasantry (currently called family agriculture) in the world has been at the point of triumphing in the face of this dispossession. What has made the laws of the elites unassailable? What has kept the peasantry from charting their own farm and industrial path? In this section we briefly review the situation of the peasantry (or family agriculture) in Europe, the United States and Latin America. We do it to surprise ourselves about what concurs in the conditions that oppose the peasantry through the crop lien system, usury and trade mediation, which have been dispossessing them of their resources, turning them into proletarians and expelling them from their places.

1.1. In Europe and the United States

In Europe industrial capitalism was imposed, and dispossessed peasant families of their lands, which turned them into proletarians so that they might work in industry, which they opposed with thousands of forms of resistance. Part of this resistance was the emergence of cooperatives in England with textile workers, as well as cooperatives in Germany in the decade of 1840 with Hermann Schulze-Delitzch, in the decade of 1850 with Friedrich Raiffeisen, and in the decade of 1860 with Wilhelm Haas, cooperatives which in part were a reaction to the failed revolution of 1848-1849 in that country, and mostly to the suffocating economic laws. Raiffeisen, for example, found a relationship between poverty and dependency on usury and on commercial mediation, and argued that to overcome poverty that dependency had to be overcome, which is why he promoted cooperatives under triple S: self-help, self government and self responsibility.[3]

A closer picture we have in the United States. After the Civil War there (1861-1865), the industrial and commercial elite – between 1870 and 1930 – destroyed the hopes of the peasantry organized into cooperatives. What happened there? Lawrence Goodwyn[4] describes that the Civil War, accompanied by economic “prosperity”, was followed by a period of stress under the “new rules” of trade. In the face of these “hard times”, the peasantry had to “work even harder”. Since this did not turn out well, millions of families migrated to the western part of the country believing that with “hard work” on virgin lands they would generate more income than debt. That did not work out either. They realized that the rules of trade in Kansas and Texas were the same as those in Ohio, Virginia and Alabama. Rosa[5] described what was happening in the United States:

Such are the characteristics of the domination of capital in the world. It expelled the peasantry from England (after having left them without land) to the Eastern part of the United States; from the East to the West on the ruins of the economy of the Indians, to turn them into small producers of merchandize; from the West it expelled them again, once again ruined, to the North; ahead of the peasantry went the railroads, and after it, ruin; capital always went before it, as guide, and capital followed behind it to finish them off. The general scarcity of farm products has followed the great drop in prices in the last decade of 1800, but the small North American farmer has obtained as few fruit from it as the European peasant.

Figure 1. Framework of the crop lien system in the United States. (1860-1930)

What rules? The crop lien system backed by laws and the economic power of the country. That is, a merchant manages two prices, one for cash and another on credit; a producer family is not able to buy with cash, which is why the merchant provides them with food, inputs and tools on credit, to be paid with the harvest of cotton at implicit interest rates between 100-200%. The harvest arrives, the merchant is paid with cotton, and the family generally is left in the red. In the case that the producer family lacks land and/or mules, the landowner rents them out to them and, in coordination with the merchant, are paid with the harvest. For the next harvest the merchant provides credit again, this time the family leaves their property mortgaged. In the second, third or fifth year, the merchant is paid with the property.

This system was part of the mediation and national industry structure. Industry provided the inputs and tools to the intermediaries, and they in turn to the producers on credit. Those red balances got worse, because the cotton buyers in England turned their purchases to Egypt and India, in other words, the producer family was suffocated by the nefarious “embrace”: cotton prices fell and prices of inputs and tools for growing cotton rose. If the family did not raise cotton, they were not given credit; if they planted cotton, they had to depend on agro-chemicals. This system, in addition, was backed by laws of the State and by the economic power of the elites behind industry and commerce.

With these mechanisms the concentration of land and industry increased, as well as corporate centralization and the policy of the United States under a cover of being “democratic.” Something similar had happened in Europe, on the one hand, they extracted wealth from the peasants and turned them from farmers  into their workers, because they withstood better the harsh and long hours of work in the industries than the urban people did; and on the other hand, they created resigned behavior in the population, by making them believe that these situations were natural, that their luck was due to the fact that they were “lazy”, “insecure” and “backward” and that things could not be changed.

1.2. In Latin America

Even though the mechanisms of dispossession varied from region to region, and within each country, there are certain common patterns. “Peasants are like stones, we are bouncing downhill”, said Félix Meza, a peasant from the agricultural frontier in 1991 (Wiwilí, Nicaragua). Based on the harsh rules of trade, from the metropolis that demanded meat or sugar, to the mountains, the pressure of the “domino effect” was felt on the purchase of land, from the wealthiest to the least wealthy in cascade. This means that a peasant family would stay in a place for an average of twenty years; then they would leave the land to their children, who would sell it and go farther into the mountains to expand their land area. This history repeated from generation to generation has intensified in the last thirty years, because the amount of “virgin lands” has been dramatically reduced, which has expelled the rural youth toward the cities and outside the country.

Figure 2. Crop lien system framework in Latin America, XX and XXI Centuries

Source: Author´s elaboration based on field observations in countries in Central America

It seems like this anti-peasant system of Europe and the United States is pretty similar in Latin America, with the respective variations that each context brings to it. We will explain this in terms of products, labor and land. With products, the trader buys coffee futures during “times of silence” (months of scarcity) at half of the market price, to be paid with coffee when the harvest arrives.[6] With labor, large estate owners and companies tend to get their permanent workers indebted and ensure themselves of temporary workers for the next harvest. For example, a family receives a loan during the “time of silence” for which the woman (single mother or wife of the peasant) will cook on the large estate serving the workers 16 hours a day for an average of $6 dollars a day during the coffee harvest; in contrast, without that debt she could make $6 working 8 hours a day in the harvest itself. With land, even though land purchasing continues, for some crops like peanuts, tobacco and sugar cane companies tend to have the peasant families rent them the land, which after a period of time is left useless because of the excessive use of intensive technology (mechanization and agro-chemicals). It is a system that provides resources for the short term and erosion in the long term, makes the payments evaporate quickly, and the families get indebted and are systematically dispossessed.

These rules are made more harsh by the nefarious “embrace” of peasant product prices that are going down, and the prices of agro-chemicals that are going up; and by the “pliers” effect, on the one side, the system of commerce and on the other side, the extractive system of natural resources that in many cases goes hand in hand with criminal organizations. This situation is taken advantage of by intermediaries to get them indebted around one crop, with increasingly mechanized technology and dependent on chemical inputs. It is a system that leads to mono-cropping. In fact, for centuries big businesses have moved on these rails, first with sugar cane, then with cotton, cattle, coffee, peanuts, sunflowers, soy beans, African palm… This system of mono-cropping has been permeating into peasant families because the financial and agro-chemical industries also condition them to that. What is noteworthy is that a good part of the cooperatives and the so-called “fair trade”has moved along these same rails.

Consequently, the concentration of land, natural resources, industry and commerce, like extractive concessions, are on the increase. They are doing it backed by the State, legitimized by the Church, and with universities that educate the children of peasants with their backs to peasant agriculture. In this way, hierarchical structures combined now with neoliberalism impress a resigned, providential attitude, and with an awareness of believing themselves to be free. This is the order from which orientations are issued for peasant families.

  1. Heroic, deliberate and innovative voluntarism

How can these “harsh rules”, erected by the elites and internalized by families, be confronted and overcome? For the last thirty years Raul Zibechi[7] has described several social and political movements that have emerged in Latin America with certain differentiating characteristics: assemblies, youth, communities and greater flow of people in their leadership, and in terms of the rural situation, they deal with movements against extractive and mono-cropping – colonial inheritances. Years later, nevertheless, Zibechi[8] himself criticizes some of those who went on to assume Governments and turned against their origins, and argues for movements to be alternatives to the State. In retrospect, the history of humanity is full of rebellions and demonstrations, for example, the student movement of the 1960s where the students believed they were influencing the inherited structures of power and privilege,[9] rural uprisings in past centuries in Europe,[10] rebellions that were put down by institutionalized violence or coopted by elites.

Why did these rebellions fail? In the previous section, we delved into the system that opposed rural families. Now we will understand, from the side of the rural families, the structures that sustain their resignation and we will describe an outstanding cooperative peasant movement.

2.1. Heroic voluntarism

Andrés Pérez-Baltodano[11] describes how the youth of the new millennium in Nicaragua are repeating the elders of the 1980s, and detected that, after two hundred years of wars and revolutions, Nicaragua continues being one of the most backward societies of the continent. This history of failures, according to the author, is explained by a trinity of ideas: Providential God the father, the resigned pragmatism offshoot, and the heroic voluntarist spirit (see figure 3).

Figure 3. Pillars of societal behavior

Source: Author´s based on ideas proposed by Pérez-Baltodano (2013).

The notion of providentialism offers a vision of history as a process controlled by a God who decides everything, where people deny the need for politics: i.e. human decisions that generate change. Pérez-Baltodano (2013) makes a distinction between general providentialism and meticulous providentialism. The former explains the history of Europe where what prevailed was the idea of a God as a force that did not block the exercise of freedom, and that “free will” existed. It is a process through which the absolutism of God in history was ended, and where the Enlightenment of the XVIII Century expressed the idea that people make their history and their destiny. Meticulous providentialism, in contrast, was a vision that prevailed in the Middle Ages, when it was believed that God decided everything and nothing escaped his control. The author concludes that this latter notion dominates Latin American society today.

The notion of resigned pragmatism comes from the providential culture and has history seen as a game of chance where the only thing left is to respond intuitively. It is a vision of politics as the ability to accommodate oneself to the circumstances defined by power, accept that reality, not be scandalized by the injustices, and abandon any willingness to transform that reality.

Finally, the notion of heroic voluntarism provides a vision of activism (action over reason) to transform reality. It is thought that events result from fortuitous causes and that will prevails over understanding. It is an impulsive, emotional voluntarism that depends on physical force to determine history, like mechanically copying European political ideologies without knowing the philosophies that they came from. This is what Edelberto Torres Rivas[12] calls “activism without theory” in his review of the revolutions and democracies in Central America.

This trinity of notions explains the failed uprisings and movements. With a providentialist mentality, where we deny human decisions as motors of change, we adapt ourselves to the reality imposed by power, and we react spontaneously to events. The absence of reflection and study has taken our societies to not transforming their realities, and to the fact that the different expressions of resistance ended up failing. The consequence of this would be that the providential and resigned mentality is even more accentuated.

2.2. Challenge to the century old structure

Probably this trinity of notions also influenced what was described about the United States, particularly the resigned pragmatism and heroic voluntarism. In fact, Goodwyn[13] notes that the first reaction of the producers was political insurgency: it did not work for them. They learned that lesson and organized a movement based on cooperativism. How did it go?

We said that after the Civil War (1861-1865), peasant migration to the west of the country was a victim of the harsh rules of trade prevailing throughout the country. In the face of this, in the decade of the 1870s some producers shared their problems, and several youth, with and without formal education, began to read books on the economy to explain for themselves why the “times were hard” when the entire country believed it was living a time of “economic progress”. So some youth began to speak strongly about their “right” to say that the things that were happening were “not right”. So they formed the Producers Alliance, and from there they formed self help economic organizations, cooperatives, and over the years even a political party.

This movement was noteworthy by the decade of 1880, even though their effects were not felt in the change of the crop lien system described above, rather the crisis continued to get worse. Nevertheless, producer families did not give up, their organizations multiplied and they grew into a massive and coordinated movement that spread throughout the country. Millions of people believed that the “new day” would come, that cooperativism would lead to the democratization of the economy. This is the movement that in the decade of 1890 was known as the “populist uprising.”

Knowing that the agrarian uprising had been aborted by industrialized societies, how were they able to achieve this massive and sustained character for nearly two decades? According to Goodwyn,[14] it was a sequential process. First, the formation of the movement: they studied their situation and had interpretations contrary to the dominant narrative. Second, entry into the movement: ways were created so that people in a massive way could join the different forms of cooperative organization that they created. Third, the education of the movement: they did a social analysis of the process, which created collective self confidence and internal communication. The principal basis of education was the cooperative experiment in itself and its opposition to the commercial stores, distributors, banks, railroads, land companies, etc. The idea was to cooperate, not compete. Fourth, the politicization of the movement: the process of education led them to generate new ideas, share them massively, and organize independent political actions as a possible reality, that led them to propose the democratization of the national monetary system.

Training, gathering, educating and politicizing is how they formed that massive agrarian uprising. The gradual evolution of the cooperative was the basis of that uprising. Thus the Producers Alliance was able to buy and sell cotton, increase the number of itinerant speakers, form different cooperative expressions, acquire machinery and infrastructure to economically scale up, have newspapers and a political party. It was a factory of indignant leaders with the capacity of articulating their ideas and communicating with producers in their own language.

That massive movement, in spite of harvesting success and lasting more than twenty years, collapsed in the end. They failed above all for falling into the same liberal logic of their time, economies of scale, mono-cropping and for the tendency toward the hierarchicalization of the movement. They left us some lessons: a movement generated by youth and producer families themselves, and the political awakening of the youth to the extent that they studied their realities, experimenting with cooperative forms and reflecting on their processes, elements that allowed them to build a shared vision of democratizing the economy through cooperativism – without using violence.

2.3. Innovation possible from the youth

If we return to current Latin America, which is a witness to the boom of youth with more formal education, along with more intensification of the rules of the commercial-financial system opposed to family agriculture, how can the youth reinvent cooperativism which could transform agrarian realities?

We begin with the crisis of family agriculture in Latin America, and we include the migration of youth from rural areas. Then we identify the “hard commercial and extractive rules” in the history of Europe and the United States, as well as in current Latin America. We verify that these processes were resisted, but that in the end capitalism was imposed. To the question as to why the agrarian uprisings failed, in addition to the harshness of the opposing system, with the focus on Latin America, we argue that it is due to a providential and resigned mentality, and wanting to change the system through the force of pure will. Nevertheless, we find the agrarian revolt of the United States based on cooperatives, where they studied and self-studied (not just voluntarism), they envisioned democratizing the economy (overcame resignation) and built their own history (not providential). On this basis we now work on the innovative role of youth. 

Figure 4. Innovative capacity

Source: Thorpe (2000).

 

We take this step supported by Scott Thorpe.[15] He analyzes how the genius of the XX century, Albert Einstein, discovered the theory of relativity. Einstein was 23 years old when, while working as a washing machine electrician, observed that the speed of light and time seemed to be the same velocity relative to the observer. This problem had not be resolved because Isaac Newton, three centuries earlier, had decreed the rule of absolute time: time did not pass quickly or slowly, it was a constant of the universe – because God is behind the universe. Scientists never challenged that rule. Einstein, in contrast, broke it. Thorpe finds something more, after that innovation: Einstein spent his life establishing it and did not achieve another innovation, he fell into the rule of certainty. So the elderly Einstein said: “God does not roll dice with the universe”. The experience of Einstein is not an exception: the younger a person is, the less they know, and more capacity they have to solve problems (see Figure 4).

Far from voluntarism, Table 1 summarizes a methodology for innovating, which interests us for the youth. A “problem” is structural, whose presentation seeks to satisfy real, felt needs. From Einstein we learn that each detail can be a space for great ideas (for example, when a washing machine is repaired). If that problem was not resolved, it is because there are rules that keep it from being resolved, that is why, as Einstein said, that a problem cannot be solved with the same thinking that created it. While identifying those rules, we detect them in our own minds. We break them. Then the conditions are ripe for solutions to emerge.

Table 1. Methodology for innovating

Problem Rules Breaking rules Solution
-Constructing a problem to find solutions.

-It is a “Gordian knot”, diffícult to untie

-It is something cognitive: it causes problems, it creates crises.

-If there is a problem, there is a rule.

-The rule is like the rails on a train: if you go where they do, fine; some solutions are not found on those rails

-They seem right, but they are old rules that block the solutions that are outside of those rules

-They seem to be unbreakable rules, which they are if we believe then to be so.

-Behind the rules are ideas.

-On discovering the rule, you have to find those protected beliefs as “sacred” in the mind itself.

-“Common sense is the series of prejudices acquired by the age of 18” (Einstein).

-The secret of the genius is discovering those rules of common sense, see them as absurd and break them.

-On breaking the rule, solutions emerge.

-an idea appears different to the idea that started the problem.

Source: based on Thorpe (2000).

The challenge in Latin America is that the youth push for breaking the rules, and generate new thinking to find solutions to the viability of family agriculture. Let us go there (see table 2).

Table 2. The innovation that youth can work on

Problem Rules Breaking rules Solution
Cooperatives coopted by elites subject their members to mono-cropping and are submissive. -“Change comes from above”: resources, laws, market salvation and directions.

-Thought: democracy functions if a minority directs it; belief that “we are nothing without a patron”.

-Providential, resigned thinking and actions based on voluntarism. A member awakens.

-New thought: the cooperative is a means of resistance to the dispossession when it responds to its members.

-Studying and self study

-Organizing the cooperatives as schools for learning and innovating.

Source: author.

Family agriculture is in crisis, more and more corralled by the economic system, fiscal policies, large estates and companies that rent and buy land to expand the mono-cropping system, and by extraction. Families can revert this corralling if they organize into cooperatives, but they have become functional for the system that opposes the peasantry; they are like private enterprise that responds to markets, while they neglect their associative side; they are committed to mono-cropping; they take on the logic of maximizing profits and neglect the redistribution of their earnings; they tend to concentrate physical investments and centralize decision making; they are guided by hierarchical structures of elites who manipulate markets and States.[16] This type of cooperatives are given legitimacy by aid agencies, States, fair trade and the International Cooperative Alliance that emphasizes mega cooperatives. The rule that moves them: “Changes come from above”. Nevertheless, if these cooperatives reinvent themselves and recover the original meaning of opposing industrial capitalism (England) and usury (Germany), commit to democratizing the economy (United States between 1870 and 1910), to the extent that their members govern them through their organs, they could be the best means to make diversified family agriculture viable, and consequently a new society with less inequality. This is possible if the youth contribute to their reinvention. How? That is what the following sections are about.

  1. Generational disputes

If an increasing majority of youth have higher educational studies and the capacity to innovate, why are the youth still not participants in this process of reinventing cooperatives? There are three structural conditions in dispute that explain it.

The first refers to the current generation of parents and children. In Europe, they talk about the “neither nor” youth: they neither study nor work. Zygmunt Bauman,[17] in his studies on inequality observes that the generations of Europe after the Second World War, supported by redistribution policies, looked forward to improve, while today the “neither nor” are the first generation that do not manage the successes of their parents as the start of their career, but rather ask themselves what their parents did to get ahead. These youth are not looking forward, but backward.

Up until some years ago in rural Latin America, parents received their inheritance and would go farther into the mountains to expand their area (buy cheaper land or clear virgin land) so that, later on, they could leave that land to their children, and these in turn to theirs. The inheritance was the starting point for each new generation. But now the agricultural frontier has reached its limit. So, on the one hand, parents are not expanding their areas to leave them, nor are they inculcating their children with farm culture. Because in contrast to the years prior to 1980 when the children grew up working on their farms and homes, their children now spend their childhood, adolescence and a good part of their youth studying, and on the other hand, this group of youth are not finding jobs in their majors, nor do they like the agriculture of their parents. And in those case where they do, they run up against a wall: “They are not leaving me an inheritance because they say that the “pig sheds its lard only after it has died”.[18]

Table 3. Profitability of corn in dollars (Honduras, 2017)

Units Price Dollars
Production (qq) 24 12,9 309,0
Costs 302,1
Preparation (pd=person days) 16 5,2 82,4
Planting (pd) 4 5,2 20,6
Seed (lbs) 25 0,2 4,3
Fungicide (pd) 1 5,2 11,2
Fungicide (lt herbicide) 2 5,6 20,6
2 fertilizing (pd) 4 5,2 20,6
2 fertilizing (sack fertilizer) 4 21,5 85,8
Bend and harvest (pd) 12 5,2 61,8
Blowing 2 5,2 10,3

Source: Author based on cases of producers in Honduras de Honduras.

The second condition refers to the perspective of the knowledge acquired by the youth in higher education. In 2015 according to a report from UNESCO, 98% of the youth of Latin America study. When they return to their parents, many do economic calculations and conclude that what their parents are growing is not profitable (see table 3 for corn). Underlying this acquired knowledge is a perspective contrary to the peasant economy: they consider the crop as merchandise isolated from the production system where it grows, and outside the rationale of the family that produces it. The same thing happens with other crops, for example, they study coffee or cacao and ignore the citrus trees, plantains and forest trees that are in the same area as the coffee or the cacao. These assumptions are in line with the perspective of companies who embrace the mono-cropping system, they bet on volume based on intensive technology and maximizing their profits. In other words, in spite of the fact that 75% of the production units are family agriculture, universities are teaching the logic and technologies of this remaining 25% of modern agriculture, which is why the youth come out deaf and blind to that 75%. The paradox is that the peasantry pays for the studies of their children, and yet their children learn how to belittle the culture of their parents –“you raise crows and they take your eyes out”, as a popular expression goes.

These facts are contested in families. Children love their parents who are getting older, but no longer for their decisions and actions. Parents and children are trapped by an old belief that they themselves repeated. “Son, go to study so that you might not be like me, a peasant” and “a pen weighs less than a shovel” say the parents; “I did not study to go back into the weeds” say the children. By “weeds” they understand family agriculture as equivalent to backwardness, a seed that the university planted in their minds. By “shovel” they assume that agriculture is a thing of physical force, of muscles. When the children do not find jobs in the majors that they studied, the parents get frustrated on not being able to set them on their future, as their parents did for them when they inculcated them in how to think and work on the farm. Now the world of digital technology in which the youth swim is foreign to their parents: “The more they study the more complicated they talk to me.” The youth and their parents do not understand that in family agriculture today the most important muscle is the brain. Distrust builds a nest in their minds; “If I leave him an inheritance, he does not know how to work the land, so he will sell the land and leave, he is like the oxen, if we do not know how to manage them they get tangled up”, and “unoccupied mind is the devil´s workshop”, say the parents; “if I stay with my parents, I studied for nothing” and “old people don´t change” – say their children. The paradox is that the youth reject the vertical decisions (heroic voluntarism) of their parents, but in time reproduce them (resigned pragmatism) for their own children, as happened to their parents.

If the youth along with their parents loaded themselves up with patience, a dialogue could be helpful, like what we reproduce in what follows with a Honduran family. I asked them, “Why are you devoted to corn and beans?” With a millennial patience, the family stripped back the husk, “we plant corn, beans, chicory…because we learned it from our parents to feed our families, not to accumulate money”. Yes, the times have changed, and you have to plant what is profitable (I react). They respond: “planting corn we eat tamales, montucas, atol, corn on the cob, baby corn, tortillas, new corn tortillas. Could we eat all that if we quit planting corn?”, “the protein from recently harvested corn does not compare with that anemic imported corn”, “the tortillas that we eat, have nothing to do with those corn meal tortillas that look like ears”, “with the beans we make green beans, bean soup, cooked beans..” I hear, I like what they are telling me, I understand that corn is more than the tortilla, and the beans are more than ground beans. They continue: “When we now have corn and beans we feel relieved, then we look for plantains, eggs…we go from mouthful to mouthful”. And then “the beans that we are not going to eat we sell, like the other products, to buy other needs and to pay for the studies of our children.”

And profitability? I insist. With a cold stare and face tanned by the sun and the cold, he explained to me: “If we do not plant corn, we would have to buy tortillas. We are six in the house and I need thirty tortillas for each meal, that is 15 lempiras (L); if I plant we eat twenty tortillas because the tortillas we make are thick.” Time to do the numbers so that we convince our parents: 1) from 1 lb comes twenty tortillas, 3 lbs per day for the three meals, 90 lbs per month, in other words 10.8 qq per year, the remaining 13.2 qq from Table 3 are for seed, the chickens and the pigs, from the chickens come between 6-10 eggs every day and 2 piglets every 6 months; 2) if a family does not plant corn, then a family of six needs L16,425 ($714 dollars) to buy tortillas in the year, another amount for atol, eggs and pork. I begin to wake up. On looking at my notes, table 3 and the numbers they give me, I understand that table 3 does not explain that the corn is linked to smaller livestock and also leaves out the corn on the cob, baby corn, new corn tortillas…

To save what the universities have taught us, I ask: And if you only plant corn like the wealthy? “To buy tortillas and what I told you, more in months when money is scarce, I would have to go into debt. The wealthy want that in order to hire me as a peon and pay me the salary that they want. I would end up selling this land, and all the trees would disappear, as you see where there are sunflowers, soy beans, sugar cane…” They say that it does not produce, but it does” – the roar of the wind is heard because my “sails” have changed direction. Where did they learn that? “Listening and working on the farm with my parents.”

The third condition refers to the rural organizations that tend to express the excluding rules and mentality of the elites. It is common to find cooperatives whose members average 50 years of age. If the life expectancy of the countries of Latin America is around 75, the paradox is that the organizations are getting old while they are closing themselves from the young – particularly young women. They make a condition that you have to have land, they support them only in one crop and only in farming activities. A tacit rule is: “organize so that when you are old you can forestall the youth”. In addition, international aid agencies promote the idea of “generational replacement”, an approach that assumes “replacing the old people”, which clashes with the machista culture of organizations, where men “replace” their wives (discard culture), but as elites they do not accept being “replaced”. Explaining these rules can lead to the fact that the cooperative and the member families rethink themselves.

The three conditions are related and are being contested. Studying them is rethinking them in order to innovate in any area of the family, farm, home, cooperative, universities, organizations, etc (see table 4). The challenge is explaining those rules that underlie the problems, and realize that they respond to hierarchical and neoliberal thinking, identify them in our minds, and open a window toward new, more democratic ideas in families and organizations, and in this way glimpse solutions for a family agriculture that would not depend on land, be internally autonomous and consider the cooperatives as spaces for dialogue.

Table 4. The path for the youth

Problem Rules Breaking rules (underlying ideas in our minds) Solution
Without land there is no farm nor are you a cooperative member. “Pig sheds its lard after it dies”. -Agriculture is done when one has land.

-If I give him land he will abandon me (discard).

-More than land, he inherits the hierarchical form of decision making.

Doing agriculture without depending on the land.
Anti-peasant education. Modern agriculture is the future.

Private enterprise is development.

-being a peasant is being backward; family agriculture ia a matter of physical strength.

-Modern agriculture is capital, big companies, mono-cropping.

-Research, basis for autonomy in university and family.

-Dialogue with capacity to listen to one another.

Aging cooperative with a wall for the youth. Cooperative is for people with land; cooperative, without having members, defends its assets. -Cooperative reproduces who we are, rather than protects assets, we inherit the rule of discard: change her for someone younger, but without letting go of decisions (posts). -Cooperative: space for dialogue between generations and people of different sexes

-Member family creates their future.

Source: Author.

  1. The strength of the youth and their importance for reinventing cooperativism

Our vision is democratizing the economy, which would expand family agriculture, and to do so, the strategy is the reinvention of cooperatives. This means building cooperatives that grapple with the economy to the extent that they are schools of learning for making rules and following them, for innovating and training themselves as a team. It is the path of autonomy and citizenship, possible if the youth are participants. Here we pinpoint ways for creating those spaces from the cooperatives to the youth, and viceversa.

4.1. From the cooperatives, spaces for the youth

Box 1. Conversation with the administrator

 

-How much is your salary?

-Administrator: I do not have a salary, nor do the board members. We rotate.

-I do not believe you. Why don´t you have a salary?

-Producing milk generates good income for us, more than charging for administrating the cooperative.

We start from a concrete experience. The Colega cooperative in Colombia, with members who are ranchers, collect and sell milk. “We are in second place in productivity, behind New Zealand”, they say. These words have backing: they are efficient members who innovate in the management of the livestock, they zealously care for the forest that surrounds them, and their board members administer the cooperative as a service.

Box 2. Conversation with a young member

-You were a little Colega, pre-Colega and now a member.

-Yes.

-Why did you stay here?

-My friends left for Bogotá to study and I took the risk of staying. There, they did not study and they tell me that they do not feel safe going out at night. In contrast, I, studied here and I feel completely safe visiting my friends at night.

This cooperative organizes two groups with the children of their members: the little Colegas who are under 14 years of age, and the pre-Colegas who are between 15 and 18 years of age. Each little Colega is given a calf to care for, the cooperative gives milk to the child as provision for the calf, and the family of the boy or girl provides the inputs for the calf. When the little Colegas become pre-Colegas, because they cared for and increased the number of their calves, the cooperative gives them scholarships to study and benefits as if they were members, because they already participated in production like their parents. When they reach 18 year of age they become members (see Box 2 on the experience of becoming a member, and the externality of security that it generates in the community).

The cooperative, in addition, seeks to create a sense of pride in being a member of the cooperative. In the school they teach a course on cooperation. Each year the cooperative organizes events to which they invite the little Colegas. So from an early age they are cultivating being a future “rancher-member”.

What do we learn from this experience? In contrast to the “generational replacement” a cooperative can form new members with the children of their members and conceive this process as an economic and social investment that energizes the cooperative and the community where it is located. In contrast to large companies where one learns to do a job, in small organizations, like cooperatives, youth learn to pursue their dreams with deep passion. From here, if a cooperative, without waiting on the members leaving land to their children, dedicates 1% of its earnings to provide them an asset (a calf, $1 a month of savings, a pig or a pair of chickens) as an incentive to a child so that, accompanied by the cooperative and the member families, they are trained as people committed to family agriculture and being cooperative members, that cooperative will be planting its own future. And if that policy is supported by universities that teach the perspective of the 75% of the producers of family agriculture and 25% of companies, we would be turning the direction of our “sails”.

4.2. Spaces are opened from the youth

Also the youth should open up spaces. They are the ones who, in spite of having less knowledge, possess more capacity for solving problems. Through what we learned, these steps should be taken to the extent that we discover our providential mentality of “it is not the lightening that kills us but the stingray”[19], adapting ourselves resignedly to the power of structures where “for money even the monkey dances” and the voluntarist impulse that pushes us to solve hard problems spontaneously “just pure man style” or “pure talk” (based on hearsay or threats of force). The peasant experience of the United States in the 19th Century gives us a guide. Their uprising for many years implied organizing into different forms of cooperatives. Youth started it who were looking for books to read and study their realities, on that basis they did not mobilize frontally against the State, but reflected strategically and organized cooperatives. According to Goodwyn,[20] they almost achieved it. Probably the economy of scale logic, concentrating physical investments, competing with private enterprise on an equal basis, the hierarchical structure that permeated them and had roots in the families, ended up undermining their path. But it constituted a good starting point for the youth of today: studying their realities, reading, organizing and continue reflecting on their strategic prospects.

In what follows, we provide some more steps: recover the written culture for the cooperative movement, that the youth organize into different cooperative forms, innovate in the area where they find themselves, and disseminate their learnings to produce a real movement.

4.2.1. Bridges between oral and written cultures

Peasant families are based on oral traditions, transmitted from generation to generation, while the youth of today pass through the academic classrooms based on written culture. Combining both traditions, instead of one replacing the other, is a promising path.

Let us challenge this apparent duality: the oral tradition is not so oral, nor is the written tradition so written. The oral tradition is not just the transmission of cultural expressions from parents to children, but about why and how to produce the food and keep a family. This tradition is also expressed as living hierglyphs through a farm (diversified crops, agriculture-forests), garden (“the green thumb of my Mom”, referring to horticulture and medicinal plants), cornfield, diet, design of the home and idiomatic expressions that reveal perspectives. The written tradition does not seem to find a home in universities, because most of the universities in Latin America do not do research for the formation that they offer, and because, according to Torres Rivas,[21] the “faith in reason” of the Enlightenment is replaced by the “postmodern and neoliberal logic” where “one walks from the academic to the role of the consultant”. Consequently, the youth who graduate have little written tradition and investigative spirit.

Table 3. Strategic Conversation between parents and children

-My parents taught me to plant corn and beans, and that will kill me!

-Dad, times have changed, why don´t you plant other crops?

-For you who have studied talk is easy. I am a peasant

-And how is it that my grandparents decided to plant corn and beans?

– Daughter, for food, if I have food I am not going to be a worker for a bad salary, I can decide to or not, that is how your grandparents were

-This is a very good reason. How did my grandparents plant corn? Why didn´t they plant cassava which also is food?

-We should never be without corn. My parents took a piece of land here and there, they looked where it was better for corn, plantains…they went around testing it

-They taught you to study the land and thus decide what to plant…

-I used to observe them. I would listen to them talk in their bed.     They talked with the neighbors. At times they would tell me “I brought this seed, test it to see if it sprouts”. “You have to plant several things so that the soil gets fed”

 

 

To combine them requires unlearning. Table 3 is a dialogue from the peasant side. There are three moments to which we provide color to help understand it. In the first moment is the belief that being a peasant is to be a planter of corn and beans, believing that that is the inherited knowledge. When the daughter questions him, her father shuts her down, “I am a peasant”. That belief, reduced to “what” (crops), blocks the possible learning of both of them. In the second moment, the daughter does not give up, she asks again. There is when the family wakes up, is unblocked: they had learned how to cultivate autonomy, study the soil and experiment. In the third moment, the oral tradition is undressed: observation, conversation, curiosity, experimentation, relationship to the land. This type of strategic conversation is behind a variety of diversified farms or a stew of food. The best of the grandparents is capturing the “how” they taught and how their children learned. And that is reviving them.

Table 4. Strategic conversation between parents and children II

 

-Mom, I feel bad, I did not get a job as an engineer.

-Work here, son, we need arms on the farm.

-I am not a peasant, I am an agronomist!

-Don´t you think it would help you to practice being an “agronomist”?

-I studied modern agriculture to think big

-What is “big”

-Plant just one crop, mechanized, agrochemicals…

-And who works on that?

-Companies, large estates, businesses, corporations…

-Aren´t they the ones who divert rivers for their rice, they leave areas without trees and unusable land where ever they go?

–Noooo, yes, but …

-They won you over without having to pay for your studies, we being backward and paying for your studies, lost you…

-Ah Mom, I don´t know what to tell you

From the other side, the youth move about self secure for having studied in universities. The attached table expresses another three moments. In the first, Mom and son coincide in that the “agronomist” looks for work, while they need “arms” on the farm. This idea of agronomist blocks the possibility of seeing opposing realities like the peasantry versus large estate owners, production systems on farms versus mono-cropping. In the second moment, the Mother asks and makes the son strip down what he learned in the university. In the third moment, what modern agriculture consists in is explained, and the curtain falls dramatically: the “backward” ones paid for the studies so that the companies might have another engineer. The security of being an engineer at the beginning of the conversation is replaced by the doubt: “I don´t know what to tell you”. Mother and son are awakening.

This unlearning gives way to re-learning. Retrospectively, we started from the duality of the oral-written tradition, then we set out to hold strategic conversations between children and parents where both sides are awakening. Notice, the two tables are like the notes that we take in our notebooks, while the analysis is what we are writing alongside. This re-learning is the bridge between the written culture and the oral culture, which we argue is what the peasant way in Europe and the United States lacked, and what we can undertake in Latin America. This bridge implies: observing, questioning, conversing and analyzing attitudes in the other person and in oneself (for urban youth these steps are possible through immersion).[22] To that we add what was learned from the agrarian uprising in the United States: reading, studying the realities of the harsh rules, reflecting massively with the peasantry, and organizing cooperatives as a result of those studies.

Writing is thinking, accumulating knowledge and sharing it. “Papers talk”. In this process the belief tends to appear that “studies are not done without money”, which assumes surveys, laboratories, and people with doctorates. If there is a will, there is a way. Youth and people of any age can buy a notebook and pen for 1 dollar to take notes, find the veins and follow them. Writing is combining pen and shovel with the greatest stubbornness in the world. From there, what is written are living hieroglyphs: published articles, farms, gardens, financial statements, communities, plates of food, webpages… Taking notes begins the circle of innovation.

4.2.2. Innovative role of the youth in the details

The fact that the youth can build bridges between oral and written traditions opens them to the field of innovating in any area – farm, garden, store, community, family, cooperative. Here we describe two groups of examples where it is important to innovate.

The first group is the farm. If organic agriculture saves us in chemical inputs and feeds the soil in a lasting manner for good production; if bee-keeping, in addition to producing honey, contributes to reordering the farm and increasing its productivity; if the combination of agriculture and ranching is one of the successful veins; if agro-industry in communities adds value to products, knowledge to families and expands social relations in the community; if poultry and pigs are a food source and generator of income; if the garden with horticulture and other plants are food and medicine for families; if stores generate daily income and provide a service to communities bringing them products and selling their products…What innovations can be worked on in these cases and under what conditions can they be expanded? If in the last 30 years Governments and international organizations have failed in their support for gardens, bee-keeping, poultry raising, organic agriculture, agro-industry and commerce, then innovating in these areas is a real challenge.

The second group is the family. The peasantry are made up of decentralized and extended families, while hierarchical at the same time. Elizabeth Dore[23] talks about “patriarchy from below” and refers to the fact that the man in the house is the patriarch, who keeps their financial accounts and centralizes decision making. This patriarchal relationship from “below” is transferred to cooperatives where the president or the manager keep the financial accounts and centralizes decision making. This is true also in community and other organizations. If the family frees itself from the hierarchical institution that forms it, the entire family will review their receipts, and recognize that in that they have an instrument to demand their rights as members.[24] This will have a positive repercussion on the family, cooperatives and other spaces where the members of the family participate: Church, sports, municipal government…It will contribute to social, economic and political equity. Thousands of trainings and sermons have not made a difference in families and organizations. How can this patriarchy from below be transformed which Jesus already challenged 2,000 years ago? What can be done so that in the family the financial accounts are managed by the entire family? I mention this issue of the receipts because it is a detail, so that, like Einstein, the youth might focus on the details and innovate.

4.3. Youth as counterbalance in the cooperatives

These innovations can be facilitated in cooperative spaces. There are some like the Colega Cooperative that systematically include the youth (4.1), while in most the youth lack the instruments to insert themselves in the cooperatives. By proposing to reinvent or create cooperatives with a new design, we are suggesting a role of counterbalance for the youth. This role is a concrete instrument to facilitate innovation.

Cooperatives can reinvent themselves if the youth take on the role of counterbalance from within. In Nicaragua, we work along this line. Between an accompanying organization, like that to which the author of this article belongs, and cooperatives, we agreed to collaborate. The cooperative recognizes that its business side absorbed the associative side, and that this has caused breakdowns, and accepts that its associative side be responsible for the strategic decisions, and its business side for making them operational, as the statutes and cooperative law indicate (see Figure 5).

Figure 5. Youth as counterbalance

Source: Author´s own.

First, there is a tripartite relationship of coordination between the cooperative, financial organizations and buyers, and the accompanying organization, to ensure that the cooperative be treated as a cooperative and not as a private entity by the organizations. Second, within the previous framework, the accompanying organization prepares instruments (guides) so that each organ might function effectively; it does so to the extent that it studies it and is part of the process of change. Third, one young person per cooperative has the role of studying the cooperative, accompanying each organ while using the instruments, and ensures that the information and its analysis flow from the business side of the cooperative to the associative side, and viceversa. Studying the operation of the cooperative allows the youth to detect attitudes in play, make them visible, and propose new innovative rules. Fourth, the accompanying organization creates spaces for workshops with the youth that work on these arrangements, where each one talks about their concerns and innovations, ideas are shared and methodologies worked on about how to hold conversations with member families, innovate, write and share their findings.

Some lessons from this experience. To the extent that the youth study the reason why an organ is not functioning and how it can function, instead of only sticking to the what (statutes and cooperative law), the members see that the cooperative is a different path from private enterprise. When the youth perceive that technical language is a wall in their communication, they understand that they are behaving as technocrats, believing that they have the solution without studying the realities, then, humility gains space, they study the details of the hierarchical structure and how they give way in the face of cooperativism. For example, they understand the tacit rule of the members that “loans are decided by the person at the top”, not the rules agreed upon in the assembly, which is why they study what makes this informal rule persist – there are always reasons! This path of making the organs function according to the rules agreed upon by the member assembly avoids the common result of the work of NGOs, who tend to train leaders and “replacement” youth, who, on assuming their posts, turn into the “person at the top” under the rule of “get rid of you to put me in”. To the extent that the youth devote themselves to this role of counterbalance, the belief that they are “useless slackers” gives way to greater trust.

Box 5. Learning cycle in cooperative reinvention

Steps Content
Study Harsh (adverse) rules and bases for resignation, strategic conversations.
Self study Beliefs that control our minds.
Innovate Experiment with products (farm, stores, processing), services (credit, commerce), relationships (family, community).
(Re) organize Redesign existing cooperatives (role of internal counterbalance) and creation of new cooperatives with new design.
Share Dissemination of results and lessons.

Source: Author´s own.

There are also youth who prefer to create new cooperatives. The advantage is that they are not going to be “organized” by the State or some external organization, they are born with autonomy. The disadvantage is that they do not have external resources for their first steps. They can perdure over time if they start based on innovations that can only be carried out with the collaboration of several people. How can they be accompanied? Table 5 provides the steps, worked on here. Each one of them requires taking notes and analyzing them. It is circular: after the first cycle of study, self study, innovate, (re) organize and share, the next cycle returns to the study of the changing realities, this time self-study is about the operation of the cooperative, reflecting and looking at the world without letting it pass by, and so on successively. Rene Mendoza is developing instruments about how to observe, converse, analyze notes, analyze secondary data and how to innovate along with the youth, texts which, although they are drafts, can be downloaded by young people.[25]

  1. Sharing in the digital era

More than reinventing a cooperative, it is a matter of generating a movement for the reinvention of cooperativism. In this text we focused on the agrarian reality, but it is equally necessary to do it in other areas. How can a movement be generated? The steps of Table 5 are basic ones. Planning each innovation as Pep Guardiola teaches us, and sharing it through different media as Chef Acurio teaches us.[26] In this effort the use of webpages and social media, in addition to other written media and videos, can be paths to explore.

Inti Mendoza[27] finds that the use of webpages is still limited in organizations. The cooperatives who have a webpage are few, and of those that have them, few use them. Innovating in this area to use it as a means for learning is an pending task. In Nicaragua we are experimenting combining webpages[28] with murals in the cooperatives: the same information (minutes of meetings, financial statements, loan portfolio, innovations) disseminated on the webpage month by month, are also presented on the mural of the cooperative. On that same webpage articles are published, databases, guides for the operation of the cooperative, learning guides for the youth, accounting software, stories about how cooperatives are organized, strategic conversations, and basic information is offered on the cooperatives with which they collaborate. We look for students from different universities in the world to study the cooperatives through the webpage, because of the information that is found there and because they can be in direct contact with the cooperatives.

Social networks are another means to discuss difficult topics of the cooperatives. If a cooperative is the captive of hierarchical structures, it can be discussed in social networks. Likewise, how a cooperative constructs its autonomy, or the conditions under which women organize or are excluded from the cooperative; why a cooperative embraces mono-cropping; whether the cooperatives has policies that are excluding youth (for example, having land) or policies against machismo (for example, expulsion of a member who physically mistreats his spouse); whether the international organizations treat cooperatives as cooperatives or only as businesses; whether cooperatives distribute their profits; whether second tier cooperatives concentrate investments and centralize decision making, or whether they facilitate first tier cooperatives scaling up. These topics can be debated on social networks under the question about what is it to be a cooperative and how does the cooperative support the well being of its members?

In the digital era the youth can innovate on ways of sharing their reflections and successes. The webpage is a means for analysis, and social networks a means for informing themselves and debating.

By way of conclusion

There are three ways in which the youth mobilize for social change. One is confronting the State in the streets in a violent way, generally in circumstantial reaction to policies, acts of corruption or acts of repression. Another way is where the peasantry studies the harsh rules (commercial and/or extractive), but forgets to study their own mentality, this is the case of the populist cooperative movement of the United States between 1870 and 1910. The third way is when the peasantry studies the harsh rules (commercial and/or extractive), self-studies their mentality, and mobilizes not to confront the State, but to innovate for the peasant families who are organizing.

Throughout this text we worked on the third modality of mobilization of youth who are moved to reinvent cooperativism as a means to make family agriculture viable. According to L. David Covey, “we are in the midst of one of the most profound changes in the history of humanity, where the principal work of humanity is moving from the industrial era of ‘control’ to that of the worker of knowledge”.[29] The viability of family agriculture is possible today, based not on strength and virgin lands as in the past, but on knowledge and innovation, for which the youth can be the principal motor. The most important muscle in current family agriculture is the brain.

Bibliography

 Barker, C. “Some reflections on student movements of the 1960s and Early 1970s”, in: Revista Crítica de Ciências Sociais. Nº 81. Coimbra, 2008, pp. 43-91.

Bauman, Z. ¿La riqueza de unos pocos nos beneficia a todos? Barcelona: Paidós, 2014.

CEPAL, FAO e IICA. Perspectivas de la agricultura y del desarrollo rural en las Américas. Una mirada hacia América Latina y el Caribe. San José: CEPAL-FAO-IICA, 2014.

Covey, S. “Foreword”, en: L.D. Marquet. Turn the ship around! How to create leadership at every level. Texas: Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2012.

Dore, E. Myths of Modernity. Peonage and Patriarchy in Nicaragua. Duke University Press, 2006.

Goodwyn, L. The populist moment. A short history of the agrarian revolt in America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Luxemburg, R. The accumulation of capital. A contribution to an economic explanation of imperialism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1913.

Mendoza, I. 2018, “Porqué una página web en pymes/organizaciones asociativas?”, unpublished.

Mendoza, R., Fernández, E. y Kuhnekath, K. “¿Institución patrón-dependiente o indeterminación social? Genealogía crítica del sistema de habilitación en el café”, en: Revista de la Federación de Cafeteros de Colombia. Nº 29. Bogotá, 2013.[English version]

Mendoza, R. “Inmersión, inserción, escritura y diálogo: mecanismos de aprendizaje para el desarrollo territorial”, en: J. Bastiaensen, P. Merlet y S. Flores, S. (eds.). Rutas de desarrollo en territorios humanos. Las dinámicas de la vía láctea en Nicaragua. Managua: UCA, 2015. [English version]

— “Hacia la re-invención del comercio justo”, en: Tricontinental. Nº XX.,  Louvain-La-Neuve, 2017. [English translation]

— “Construcción de una paz justa en Colombia”, en: Tricontinental. Nº XX. Louvain-La-Neuve, 2018. [English version]

Munck, T. La Europa del siglo XVII. 1598-1700. Madrid: Akal, 1990.

Oppenheimer, A. ¡Crear o morir! Nueva York: Vintage Español, 2014.

Pérez-Baltodano, A. Postsandinismo: crónica de un diálogo intergeneracional e interpretación del pensamiento político de la generación XXI. Managua: IHNCA-UCA, 2013.

Entre el Estado conquistador y el Estado nación: providencialismo, pensamiento político y estructuras de poder en el desarrollo histórico de Nicaragua. Managua: IHNCA-UCA, 2003.

Pineda, C.J., Castillo, M.E., Pardo, E.E. y Palacios, N.V. Cooperativismo mundial 150 años. Bogotá: Consultamericana, 1994.

Thorpe, S. How to think like Einstein. Simple ways to break the rules and discover your hidden genius. Naperville: Sourcebooks, 2000.

Torres Rivas, E. “Acerca del pesimismo en las ciencias sociales”, en: Ciencias Sociales. Nº 94. San José, 2001, pp. 151-167.

Centroamérica: entre revoluciones y democracia. Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI, 2015.

Wolf, E., People without History. California: University of California Press, 1982

Zibechi, R. La revuelta juvenil de los 90. Las redes sociales en la gestación de una cultura alternativa. Montevideo: Nordan, 1997.

La mirada horizontal. Movimientos sociales y emancipación. Montevideo: Nordan, 1999.

Dispersar el poder. Los movimientos como poderes antiestatales. Buenos Aires: Tinta Limón y Textos Rebeldes, 2006.

Descolonizar. El pensamiento crítico y las prácticas emancipatorias. Bogotá: Desdeabajo, 2015.

Latiendo resistencia. Mundos nuevos y guerras de despojo. Granada: Baladre-Zambra, 2016.

[1] Doctor in Development Studies, associate researcher of IOB-University of Antwerp (Belgium), collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research) and member of the COSERPROSS RL. Cooperative. Email: rmvidaurre@gmail.com.

[2] CEPAL, FAO e IICA (2014).

[3] Pineda et al. (1994).

[4] Goodwyn (1978).

[5] Luxemburg (1913), 201.

[6] See Mendoza et al. (2013).

[7] Zibechi (1997, 1999, 2006).

[8] Zibechi (2015, 2016).

[9] Ver Barker (2008).

[10] Ver Munck (1990), Wolf (1982).

[11] Pérez-Baltodano (2013).

[12] Torres Rivas (2015).

[13] Goodwyn, op. cit., 26.

[14] Goodwyn, op. cit.

[15] Thorpe (2000).

[16] Mendoza (2017, 2018).

[17] Bauman (2014).

[18] The lard is taken from the pig once it has died (been slaughtered). In rural areas of Central America this expression is used to indicate that the parents in the countryside wait until they die to leave their land to their sons and daughters.

[19] This saying relies on a play of words that does not exist in English: rayo=lightening, raya=stingray

[20] Goodwyn, op. cit.

[21] Torres Rivas (2001).

[22] See Mendoza (2015).

[23] Dore (2008).

[24] Edgar Fernández, a consultant to cooperatives, tells that he visited a member of a cooperative in crisis. Fernández asked if he had receipts. The member showed his receipts and began to tremble: “Please don´t tell the manager that I showed you the receipts”. The extreme in some cooperatives is that they have their members so subjected that they begin to believe that ceasing to cover up acts of corruption is “betraying” their cooperative, that “making demands is a thing of cowards”. A receipt is a detail. How important are the details!

[25] http://coserpross.org/spa/blog/gu%C3%ADas_de_estudio_e_innovaci%C3%B3n.php last date accessed: August 19, 2019.

[26] Oppenheimer (2014).

[27] Mendoza (2018).

[28] See, http://www.coserpross.org.

[29] Covey (2012), xiii.

The crisis of April: Nature and scope

This is a long interview, but worth the read because it addresses in a comprehensive way different facets of the crisis and  options for its resolution. The author was a founding member of the National Directorate of the FSLN in the 1980s, and  has the experience of being part of the FSLN´s negotiating team during the transition after the FSLN lost the elections in 1990. The Spanish version is not yet available on the Cultura de Paz website, a magazine that for the 23 years of its existence has made important contributions to the promotion of peaceful resolution of conflicts. The author has been a frequent contributor to that magazine.

The crisis of April: Nature and scope

Interview of Dr. Jaime Wheelock Román, to be published in the “Cultura de Paz” magazine of the Martin Luther King Institute of the Poly-technical University of Nicaragua (UPOLI).

You were a member of the negotiating team in 1990, in an extremely delicate moment for signing the peace agreement, because as we know, Doña Violeta had won the elections, but the Resistance was armed. What are the most important experiences that, in your judgement, need to be recovered from those negotiations, taking into account as well that we were coming out of a war that had left 50,000 dead and hundreds of thousands of victims?

This has been one of the most critical and harrowing moments that many people still remember and that we all suffered, but it also showed us that if we Nicaraguans act with responsibility and patriotism, we can reach an understanding, get out of war and conflict, and move the country forward. Even in the midst of the armed conflict, the revolutionary government agreed to move up the elections to February 1990 in keeping with the agreements of Esquipulas and Sapoá. But also due to the pressing needs of that moment: the economic crisis was getting worse because of the effects of the war, and above all because the allies from the socialist camp were throwing in the towel because of the impossibility of their providing economic and military aid, and because of the reality that we had exhausted the reservoir of Patriotic Military Service, to be able to continue the conflict even one more year, to not even mention indefinitely.

Likewise, moving the elections up would allow us to receive the new US president George Bush with a very helpful electoral ecosystem installed in Nicaragua for blocking the continuity of the economic and military aid to the counter-revolutionary forces in the US Congress. Under these accords, the armed groups of the Contras or the Resistance had to be re-concentrated, demobilized and disarmed before the elections.

The FSLN lost the elections on February 25th, and the Contras continued armed. At that moment, the situation was very serious and unacceptable for Sandinism: losing the elections with an opposing army at its doors. The next day February 26th we, a delegation of the FSLN and the Government, held a meeting with three important observers: James Carter, ex-President of the United States; Joao Baena Soares, the Secretary General of the OAS; and Ramsey Clark, special envoy from the UN. Our delegation (Humberto Ortega, Joaquín Cuadra and Jaime Wheelock), after a quick evaluation of the situation, explained to those observers the essential concerns that were putting at risk the possibility for a peaceful transition: the Contra forces, without being disarmed and expecting to replace the Constitutional armed forces; the climate of vengeance and “long knives”** that was evident on the part of extremist sectors of the UNO; declarations from the victorious camp that they would roll back all the revolutionary changes, including, above all, the transformations in land ownership, and the rural and urban property allocations that benefitted hundreds of thousands of families.

The observers received these first reactions from us as legitimate concerns and promised that very morning to communicate with Doña Violeta and her team. By the afternoon there already was a response.

The first agreement was that Mr. Lacayo personally would travel to Honduras to accelerate and assure the demobilization and disarming of the Contras, so that it would take place before the inauguration on April 25th. The second agreement was the organization of a roundtable composed of high level representatives with enough power to arrive at agreements leading to a fluid and peaceful presidential transition. From that transition commission came the Transition Protocol agreements that assured a peaceful and successful change of government, but principally the establishment of peaceful conditions that would put an end to years of war, foreign intervention and the destruction of the country.

In my opinion the first thing to highlight in this effort is that the differences that have led us, even to war, can be resolved patriotically through dialogue and understanding; also you have to highlight the willingness that both parties showed in making very difficult reciprocal concessions in favor of national co-existence and peace. Likewise essential was the reconciliation between the parties achieved by the friendly mediators, Carter, Baena and Clark.

I also believe that the National Directorate of the FSLN had the political maturity to recognize the electoral defeat, not giving in to opportunities to fix the results to their favor, recognizing unanimously the triumph of their opponent, which also meant in those circumstances an unexpected mortal blow to the continuity of the revolution. We knew that it would put an end to the revolutionary stage, but understanding that it was not possible to continue without putting the population in risk of more sacrifice and blood. It was preferable to accept the defeat and in the future look to rectify and build new opportunities.

On part of the team of Doña Violeta, with Mr. Antonio Lacayo at its head, I would highlight the understanding and negotiating skill of recognizing that there were legitimate concerns on the part of the Sandinistas, among which I recall: the continuity of the Army and the Police, as well as their leadership; respect for the transformations of the Agrarian Reform; legalization of the homes that the revolution had provided; effort of both parties to create an environment of peace, mutual understanding and cooperation in favor of stability and the economic development of the country.

The negotiating effort was conducted in a discrete and really closed framework. This helped to avoid misunderstandings and interference, or false expectations from the public. Work was done for several weeks in daily meetings for long hours. We had the initial help of the reconciliation group that I mentioned, but nothing else. They played the role of high level facilitators at the beginning.

When we arrived at the final agreements, we asked Cardinal Obando to sign them with us as an Honorary Witness. And that is how it was. On April 25th the presidential sash was turned over to Doña Violeta, while the FSLN went into the plains to remake itself and take up their responsibilities in the National Assembly and in the spaces that we were able to keep. That dangerous excerpt of our history was bridged through maturity and constructive dialogue, which gave way to the future of many years of stability and co-existence. Without those agreements and their willingness, I am not sure that the peaceful transition would have existed from a revolutionary government to another of a more civil and conventional nature, and that even many of us would still be alive.

From your perspective, what is the origin and nature of the political, social and economic crisis that we are currently experiencing in Nicaragua?

I will refer first to the possible chief causes of the outbreak of the crisis , and then the general context. The causal factors are different, but interconnected by political practices perceived as limiting citizen spaces and rights. In the case of the university students, there was discontent over the tendencies of their official leadership to bring the university into line with policies that conflicted with autonomy and freedom of opinion.

In the neighborhoods, communities and municipalities there were complaints of leaders and authorities around directives sent down from the capital, not always consistent with the interests of the population. Peasant communities in the south and southeast of Nicaragua felt themselves threatened by the property encumbrances required by the canal project. In the autonomous regions there were complaints from the communities and their authorities about the lack of recognition of their autonomous rights.

In the NGOs unrest was growing over hostile policies and actions to suffocate them. Also among veterans, retired military and local Sandinista leaders there were complaints over marginalization and limited response to their problems of unemployment, poverty and health care. On their part the Catholic church resented the silence of the government to their demands in the first attempt to seek understandings, while the discontent continued of the clergy over the manipulation of their rites and feast days. The business sector, while receiving preferential economic treatment, saw itself positioned as a partner of the government in the institutional shipwreck that was dragging the State toward an authoritarian regime. All of this formed a breeding ground for the crisis.

What are the similarities and differences with other conflicts of extreme violence in our recent history?

The protest movement that started in April does not have a precedent in contemporary Nicaragua. Seen in general terms, it has been a multi-class movement of a national character, with urban and rural expressions and to a certain point unconnected to the activity of parties. In their massive expression it is an outburst of radical condemnation of a large part of the population against abuses of public force. Seen closer up, it is noted that the protest movement is composed of at least four components: a) network of self convoked and indignant people who later joined the Civic Alliance, and that expressed themselves through massive demonstrations on a national scale; b) a component of the focal insurgency with the presence of ex military or veteran combatants, and urban and rural population who, with the use of fundamentally rudimentary means, set up barricades and blockades and gained partial control in neighborhoods in some places; c) sectors with unresolved conflicts who joined the protests bringing their own demands, the peasant movement, women, retired people, etc.; d) component of informal sector without political motivation who from the nearby neighborhoods maintained a presence around the university campus takeovers, or set up barricades from which they acted in a somewhat disorderly fashion.

These complex forms of protest arose from the events of April 18th and 19th, even though they responded to a dynamic and leadership independent from one another. In my opinion it is not a matter of a civil war, or a conflict between armed groups, or a coup or terrorist riots. Rather it is a matter of a civic protest with a predominance of massive peaceful marches that were interspersed with insurrectional outbreaks, also spontaneous, as a reaction to the disregard for life and fundamental rights of the citizenry, which came to light in the bloody episodes of April 2018.

What is your assessment of the Nicaraguan youth in this stage of our contemporaneous history and in the current crisis?

Starting in 1990 after the electoral loss, the youth were demobilized without a banner for focusing their energies on altruistic causes, as they had for ten years, the literacy and health campaigns, support for the harvests of cotton, coffee, volunteer work, and above all the defense of the revolution. With the governments of the FSLN since 2007, the youth were not mobilized nor called upon to participate. The impression existed of facing a new individualistic generation of young people, and more connected to the globalized world of the superficial, without much interest in transcending toward social or political concerns addressing the national reality. But the concerns of the youth were there, and what was missing was the motivation. In fact, in the universities and high schools there were concerns about participating or collecting funds for noble causes. Later, demands of a more political tone were gestated around autonomy, the independence of the student movement, and the first sit-ins in support of the elderly contributors to INSS.

The youth were in search of a cause that they soon found. Everything fell into place. It was enough for a violent governmental reaction against the students around their schools for the spirit of struggle of the entire community throughout the country to be stirred. This youth in a short period of time showed great human quality and fearlessness, on a par with the most responsible and valiant youth generations in the defense of their rights.

From the perspective of the crisis, what is the reading that you have of the Nicaraguan political system and the political class in general?

I think that the Nicaraguan political system presents one of the most complex crisis of a functional nature in contemporaneous history. A quick diagnosis of the social and political body of Nicaragua allows at least three compromised and even collapsed vital systems to be perceived with concern.

The first, institutional disfunction, the result of the political cannibalism that has prevailed in the parties, and particularly among the two important political forces. The second, the closing of spaces in the political system. The third, the loss of direction of the path that the country is following.

In terms of the first, the end of the war and the transition begun with the government of Doña Violeta Chamorro, unlocked opportunities for convergence and cooperation among the forces that were fighting. But on the contrary, among the leaders of the UNO – the victorious alliance – a mood of confrontation remained, where politics became the continuation of the war by other means.

Throughout the period that extended between 1996 and 2006, Sandinism saw itself subjected to a barrage of attacks to corner it and even remove it from the political and institutional scene, in spite of the fact that they had lost with 42% of the electorate, and still maintained 36% by the middle of the 2000s. Also the FSLN took on a defensive-offensive attitude, and in the context of these new forms of confrontation – governing from below and acting from above – got involved in an all-out fight for control of the branches of the State. Without the option of agreements between the parties (PLC-FSLN), the institutions were being devalued and emptied of their capacity to be adherents and guarantors of democratic life and exercise, turning them into partisan fiefdoms for beating or neutralizing the adversary.

In this way the spaces for the solution to conflicts were dealt with on the basis of shady deals between leaders, political allocation of public institutions, arranged elections, all interspersed with corruption and patronage. At the beginning of the 2000s, the Alemán-Ortega Pact was created through which the number of votes required of a candidate to be elected to the presidency was lowered to 35%. Aided by this reduction in the electoral floor, in 2006 the FSLN with Daniel Ortega as candidate won the elections with barely 38% of the electorate, beating the liberal groups, whose popularity and capacity to be the opposition would enter into a free-fall until these times.

The second disfunction rooted in the political system itself, currently closed and collapsed, closed and collapsed in the sense that Sandinistas as well as Liberals, through different political and legal arrangements, obstructed the entry of parties or people to compete in free elections. The system was also closing because through several voter barriers, society had been left blocked from knowing the true results of the elections as a result of an electoral system highly intervened to the advantage of the two dominant parties. The result of both interferences has been the increasing loss of citizen credibility in the parties and in the political system itself.

Two indicators offer us references. First, the growth of electoral abstention, which if in 1996 had been 23.6%, and in 2006 31.5%, now in 2016 had risen to 52.3%, to reach more than 60% in the municipal elections of 2017, and according to the disputed data from the Electoral Council. Nevertheless, citizen perception and that of independent observers estimated abstention to be close to 70%. The second indicator of the collapse of the system resides in the growing proportion of citizens without a party, or without preferences for any party. Likewise, while in the 1996 elections those who declared themselves to be independents constituted one digit of the electorate, now by 2016 they reached 34% of voter preferences. This last tendency, which would continue increasing in succeeding years, reveals the departure of hundreds of thousands of citizens from the game of politics.

In a first moment the massive desertion of political preferences came from the PLC that had won the elections in 1996 with 51%, years later in the elections of 2017 they barely registered a preference of 8%. This same electorate, previously identified with the liberals, did not side with the FSLN either, and was dispersed in other minority preferences or, more probably, quit going to the ballot box, enlarging the cohorts of abstentions.

In this way, following the first wave of desertions from the political system due to the liberal collapse, a second wave of desertions among the electorate came from the camp of those in sympathies with the FSLN, accelerated with the municipal elections of 2017. What weighs so much outside the FSLN as well as inside it, is the rupture of the rules of the institutional and political game, and the natural attrition that characterized the last years of Ortega´s government.

The reasons for this migration outside of the game of politics are common to the two large parties, but there are other limitations and errors of each one on their own. In addition to those already noted, I note down quickly the following: lack of confidence in the clean up of the electoral system; administrative corruption scandals, pacts, cronyism and anti-ethical behavior of the candidates; outdated party programs more inclined to exploit strong man style leadership and the spirit of political patronage. One weighty reason comes also from youth sectors who, in their educational and professional ascent, bore expectations about the economy, the improvement of the State, society and political democracy that greatly surpassed what was offered, and the limited willingness of the traditional parties to incorporate them, and much less concede them.

Now, the event of April signified a remarkable loss of sympathizers for the FSLN. In the best of the results of surveys and polls, the political base of the FSLN appears to have suffered a reduction of close to 50%. This data and tendencies – with all the ball park nature that it might have – situates between 65-75% of the potential electorate outside the current political institutional system, combining all the parties.

This process led to a counterproductive overall result in the historic scenario of our institutional evolution: the departure from the political system of a broad electorate, declaring itself subsequently as independent or without political preferences, or simply remaining absent from the elections.

Using a metaphor, it is as if ruptures appeared in the circulatory system of a body simultaneously in the arteries, where the blue blood circulates (red and black), and in the veins, where the red blood circulates (“red without stain”*). And all this blood, each one on its own, is deposited in other parts of the body. The body cannot function, it loses oxygen. Likewise the political system collapses with the voting citizens or electors not going to the ballot boxes, abstaining, leaving the ballot blank, without a party, without candidates – distancing themselves from liberal and Sandinista leaders. Later on I will refer to the third disfunction.

The social movement, fundamental actor of the civic protest, called itself the movement of the “self-convoked”, with the characteristics that it burst out without the classic leadership of any political party or movement, but also without a platform or program, which is just now being delineated seven months after the rebellion of April. What comments does this unusual phenomenon in our contemporaneous political history in Nicaragua provoke from you?

The first is that it is a matter of a protest movement crossing the entire political spectrum of the country, and realigning the population into two groups. On the one side, the government supported primarily by a military apparatus and by an immediate support composed of public employees and the militants or closest collaborators of the party in government; and on the other side, a massive popular expression created based on the indignation and solidarity provoked by the armed attacks against youth and the population, disseminated in full color and on a national scale by different communications media. The very fact that a large mass of the population came from deserting the conventional parties, in part explains the great magnitude of the demonstrations that came together around the protests against the governmental repression, without the guidance nor intervention of the traditional political parties.

This social movement of civic protest was not even a matter of an opposition movement with political shades. It is composed of people from every flag and color – including Sandinistas – who have in common the irresistible natural instincts of indignation and in addition solidarity over the abuses that mowed down the lives of youth, the promise of tomorrow. This was the mental picture shown in all the homes of the country as a general threat that hung over all their children.

What role do you attribute to the new communication technologies in the new forms of doing politics? We have examples of presidents Obama and Trump in the United States, the Arab spring, among others.

Without a doubt, they played and play a qualitative role. I think such a massive and quick popular reaction like that of mid April and the following months would be very difficult without the mediation of the new communication technologies. For several years Nicaragua was among the American countries with the smallest coverage of internet. Currently, according to figures from CANITEL, the media network in Nicaragua covers 85% of the population with 8.3 million mobile cell lines. By January 2018 only 11 municipalities did not have coverage, and most of them are in the Caribbean regions.

The population could directly see, be that through news programs, on line newspapers or networks, the attacks with weapons of war by government forces against unarmed demonstrators, the burning of an entire family and their children by paramilitary, the shots of armed groups, masked civilians, sharpshooters carrying war weapons, women and elderly beaten, a newly born baby dead from a gunshot in the head. This media coverage allowed, among other things, calls for massive and fluid demonstrations, the creation of subnetworks of denouncement, solidarity, influencing public opinion, etc. In addition, by virtue of the in situ capacity of transmitting the acts of repression through videos captured by the population itself, it was able to be established that the versions of the official spokespeople and media lacked credibility. The technology here had an organizing, educating and mobilizing role that I believe took all of us by surprise.

What comment does it merit the fact that, once it was known that the decree about INSS that led to the civic protest was repealed, that did not stop the protest, rather it transformed it into a large scale movement, with actions of force and violence (trenches, roadblocks, burning of buildings and vehicles, attacks on bases of the National Police), with a clear purpose that the current Government resign?

Once the acts of violence happened, in my opinion disproportionate, I do not think that anything nor anyone could prevent the eruption of the massive protests, not even the church itself. Nor could the government do it. Even more, in the same appearance of President Ortega announcing the withdrawal of the decree, other members of the government had harsh and offensive comments against the students and population who were leading the movement. This had the effect of throwing more wood on the fire, neutralizing the positive results that taking a step back with the decree could have caused.

If the massive protest was the offspring of the indignation and solidarity that all people have with their fellow citizens – even more when most were youth and students – the barricades and roadblocks seemed to due to a defensive response of the population in their communities. Let us not forget that from the beginning groups of masked paramilitaries went out with weapons of war, which later mushroomed, attacking civilians in neighborhoods and localities. There is no doubt that both defensive forms, roadblocks and barricades – in short order were transformed into forms of struggle and on occasions, gave way to acts of violence. The principal point is what unleashed them? What provoked them? Likewise, if there were attacks from there that took the lives of poor police, is it valid to think that those attacks would have existed without what happened on April 18-19th?

The movement that emerged beyond the problem with INSS, do you think that it could have been avoided, and that this also could have had the result of a smaller number of human lives lost?

It is very difficult to state that the escalation of the protest in a few weeks, taking 200 or 300 lives, could have been controlled, if the government had taken a self critical and restorative approach. But in the first moments it was possible. Of course, the discontent that had been incubating in different sectors would have remained without a solution. It seemed that the withdrawal of the INSS decree on the part of the President on his return, it seems from Cuba, gave the impression of an initiative that sought an arrangement, as also was accepting the initial solution of dialogue with the call to the Catholic church to mediate and be a witness.

But on the other hand, the pre-eminence of the use of force was noted. It is as if there were two contradictory approaches at the same time to solve the crisis. In my opinion, if the President retracted withdrawing the INSS decree, he would have had to censure as well the use of violence and assume responsibility for the 20 youth and citizens fallen in the first days. But that did not happen. The path of confrontation was taken, with the expectation possibly that a hard hand could quickly resolve the state of agitation. Of course, a calculation that did not work out at all, and that led to several hundred dead, thousands of wounded, hundreds of prisoners, dozens of thousands of people stampeding toward neighboring countries. Practically then a point of no return.

The movement that emerged from the civic protest, called the self convoked, with purposes beyond the issue of INSS, do you think that it has been something genuine, or that it responds to another reality?

The civic protest is the movement itself. Until the opposite is proven, it is a spontaneous manifestation of generalized protest and indignation, a direct consequence of the repressive acts. That is why it lacks organization and formal leadership. Its strength is its massiveness and the self convocation. Some describe it as opposition, but it really is not, at least not yet, even though its objective – open the way to a path for the democratization of the country – it could address without necessarily becoming a political or even electoral movement.

In my opinion, as a political coalition, they should move very carefully and make efforts to get closer to the existing parties, including dissidents and groupings of business owners. Likewise I think that first of all, this coalition should prioritize the task of seeking a way out of this crisis through dialogue without proposing maximalist ends. We should not forget that the Civic Alliance is a convergence of sectors with different natures, origins and interests. Nor should we forget that some political groupings with their own agendas and interests have been adding to the motives for the protests.

The government states that there was a conspiracy, but they have not presented convincing proof. Let us think for a moment that the pre-existence of an entire destabilization plan to overthrow the government could be a possibility. Well, present the proof then. So far those accused of coup supporters and terrorists are mostly young students, or people without apparent connections with one another. Here the point is that the violence came from the government first. The protest had a civic form and content, even though later on with the intensification of the government repression, there were focal points of armed acts, at least in the neighborhoods of Diriamba, Jinotepe and Monimbó, principally.

A point of legitimate concern for Sandinism was that of the insecurity that families aligned with the FSLN suffered, exposed to the dangers experienced in places where roadblocks were placed and arms were exhibited on the part of people without leadership, although they were mostly homemade weapons. The question, nevertheless, is who ignited the violence? It is on this point that I state that the outburst of Abril did not seem to be part of any plan, but rather emerged spontaneously like a spark. A spark capable of igniting the prairie where the contradictions were accumulating of the different sectors who provided the firewood that extended it.

What is the situation and perspective of the Sandinista Front in the midst of this crisis, as a fundamental actor in the past half century in Nicaragua?

I have not been an active militant for many years, and can only base myself on observations of a non participant, with the shortcoming that implies. Every party and government in a society where the citizens have the right to chose who governs them, undergoes deterioration. This is natural and in my opinion positive, because it gives way to periodic turnover, bringing in new ideas, while it allows the one who has lost to renew itself for the next round.

What seems to me in plain view is that starting in April 2018 the political correlation was turned more sharply against the FSLN for the reasons stated. The solid support, particularly that the youth and urban sectors lavished on it, had diminished. The alliances with the church and the private business sector have been broken. If the elections were held today, the FSLN has a high probability of losing them; and their capacity to govern is found eroded by the determination to trust more in repressive responses over dialogue and cooperation in pursuit of a peaceful solution to benefit the entire Nation.

Since April the political crisis has triggered a severe economic crisis. In a few months the GDP has plummeted 8%. Close to 400,000 workers have been laid off. Dozens of thousands of citizens have opted for exile and thousands of businesses of different sizes have gone broke. Fiscal revenue has fallen and foreign and domestic investment contracted, along with bank deposits, credit and international reserves. This economic crisis tends to worsen and feed back into the political crisis, exposing Nicaraguan society and the FSLN itself in government to slip into dangerous limits of citizen insecurity, increase of violence, crime and larger waves of migration.

In the international sphere, the government as well as the FSLN finds itself isolated. There are complaints and protest from the international community. Political leaders, intellectuals, ex-presidents and well qualified voices from the left continue condemning the violence used against the civic demonstrators, and the lack of willingness to dialogue and a joint solution.

There is a central matter that I would like to link to the collapse of the political system. It has to do with the third disfunction that I referred to previously: a notable lack of direction in the path that the country has undertaken. The new government since 2007 came to power with the rules of democracy, within the framework of a democratic constitution promulgated in 1987. The 38% who voted for the winning party, as well as those who voted against it, agreed that the direction of the car was aimed toward a society in transition under the design of the existing constitution. But in mid course and without any explanation, the direction was changed, and the rules of the game were modified. The changes, even drastic ones, are not bad in themselves, but they should be consulted. Nevertheless, the consultation was omitted, and in addition the changes proceeded without the cover of legal modifications. The branches of government ceased to be independent; the police ceased being national and were treated as partisan; the President could be re-elected indefinitely; a first degree of affinity relative was chosen as Vice president, etc. All this in violation of constitutional dispositions.

The government and even the republic were declared to be socialist and Christian, which in itself could be praiseworthy, but on the condition that it be based on the will of the citizenry, and not on the individual preferences of the ruler of the time. It is not by chance that there would be reactions and conflicts for that very reason. It is as if not just the circulatory system would quit working, but also the central nervous system of the country, the one that sets the direction we take, would lose the sense of direction leaving all of us disoriented.

If there was a first and later a second breakdown of the social and political structure, now this third rupture was experienced. If we were in a stage of transition to democracy and even to a social democracy, without citizen consultation, a referendum, we turned toward a regime of another nature and even a divisive one, which in itself represents a fundamental contradiction with the type of society, economy and political culture that had prevailed in contemporary Nicaragua.

It would seem a condition or a challenge for the possibility of the FSLN or any party that would aspire to play a relevant role in Nicaragua, to try to be a factor of order, institutionality and legality for the Republic, as well as a unifying force for Nicaraguan society. Internally, it will have to reinvent itself and take up again the hard work of party formation in the fields of program, organization, political education, direction, etc. But above everything else consensus must be sought urgently and immediately, in order to obtain a peaceful way out of this conflict for the country.

How do you assess the impact that international economic actors could have, including the government of the United States, on Nicaraguan economy and politics?

Recurrent in the history of our conflicts has been the hope of groups in conflict to place the political solution on the external factor. Thus Walker came in 1855 and those who called him also facilitated him proclaiming himself president of Nicaragua. Thus the marines came in 1912, 1927, etc. It is also surprising that an eventual collective defense of forces from the Alba countries is being encouraged. The two options are harmful and pernicious for the national sovereignty of Nicaragua, and for the obligation of the political forces of the country to seek a national solution to this crisis. The sanctions that the United States conceives for the government and those around them in themselves are not a solution, and in the short term are not going to dismantle the power of those who have already experienced two wars and confronted blockades and foreign interventions of a large magnitude and duration.

The sanctions, those coming from the Trump Administration as well as those known as the Nica Act, are going to incentivize the polarization within the country, and intensify the current measures of intimidation against critics or opponents. The Nicaraguan people are going to be the ones who pay this cost.

In the 1980s the Reagan administration declared Nicaragua an imminent danger for the security of the United States, and imposed an economic embargo escalating the military aggression that they were directing and financing. But then the cause of Nicaragua had worldwide solidarity support, including important allies of the United States, that for years offered us political, economic and even military solidarity. The decree of the Trump Administration is not properly speaking against Nicaragua, but aimed at the government and its actions, and in fact puts it at risk. The cause defended today by the government is at least questionable, and it is in a deep isolation. The capacity to govern is limited and seriously disorganized. Surely the economic crisis is going to worsen. The solution in any case is that we Nicaraguans be the ones that put an end to this conflict.

The bill for the Culture of Peace and Reconciliation that the vice president of the Republic is promoting has shaken up public opinion, because of its characteristics and the moment in which it is proposed to be implemented. What is your opinion about the need for the establishment of a lasting peace, true reconciliation processes that have never existed, and of the bill itself?

Nicaragua needs a space of calm, of serenity. Let us treat Nicaragua as a patient who needs rest to rehabilitate itself. Let us not set her to doing things that she should not, cannot do. It is important to know first what affects her health as a republic. It requires a type of board of doctors who would reach an agreement about the diagnosis; that would review her metabolism, her circulatory system, her nervous system. And look for the appropriate remedy. Introducing into this crisis the promotion of a Culture of Peace would seem pertinent. And if it is being proposed out of good faith, it is positive. But not for that reason opportune and adequate at this moment. Here it is not a matter of a change in the culture in favor of peace – what generally in the field of customs and values takes many, if not hundreds, of years. There already is a commotion over who, how and in what opportunity this initiative was launched, and who will coordinate it in the territories. We need to bridge first our differences, because the culture of peace cannot be decreed. Many see in this possible law a ploy, not any different from decreeing the normalization of the country, or conferring overnight – in a challenge to COSEP – to small, popular businesses the role of being the new fundamental actors of the Nicaraguan economy, which is equal to giving the task of being the spearhead for the economic development of this or any country to sectors with lower productivity and greater disadvantages.

There is no room for improvisations in the search for the solution to this crisis, that can instead block the achievement of a real and lasting peace. In addition if we want to promote a culture of peace, the promoter herself should start and show herself to be the first and most consistent practitioner of peace.

Do you believe that the government of President Ortega has the capacity to rebuild its alliances and model with which it had been functioning until April 18th?

It would seem that the government itself does not believe that. There is a flexible and negotiating facet that Daniel Ortega has shown in the past, and let us hope that he shows it quickly by returning to the dialogue. Many people are surprised on hearing the people in the government determined to see enemies where there are none; see coups where there are only protests of the indignant; see terrorists where only women, youth, peasants, people are seen, fighting for what they feel are their rights or complaints protected by the constitution. All of them cannot be demonized by exceptions. Why choose the violent response that has already cost the lives of 300, 400 Nicaraguans, mostly young people? And thousands of wounded, and other hundreds of prisoners? The one who pays for these mistakes and these visions are the people. But the one who most loses appears to be the government itself and also the FSLN.

Now, after what occurred and given the official line on the confrontation, it is very difficult that the previous scheme can be remade. But it is not impossible. In any case it is going to require a genuine willingness to compromise with this people, and have the disposition to recognize errors, act with generosity and carry out the changes in direction, vision, leadership and coherency needed in accordance with the responsibilities of any ruler. Only changing the path of confrontation for one of a peaceful solution, the disposition to correct mistakes, exchanging persecution for justice, will lead to new opportunities.

In your judgement, for the country to get out of the crisis will it require renewing and adapting the National Dialogue, or rather a Political Agreement? If it is the Dialogue that is needed, what do you think should be the most functional reconfiguration, in particular, what should be its agenda seven months into the crisis?

To overcome the crisis a negotiated solution is needed. There is a lot of accumulated conflict and several breakdowns in the system. The country needs to get out of the crisis in any way, but it needs to get out and soon. If the crisis gets prolonged, it is going to cost more lives; there will be more people detained and more citizens fleeing from the violence or unemployment, and a runaway economic crisis that will affect the most vulnerable the most. There is a point in which the crisis will have qualitative effects so serious that it will plunge the country into chaos and ungovernability.

The current government in its course represents a factor of instability for the region at least. I am referring to the economic breakdown, the wave of migrants that it is causing, the obstacle to regional trade, and what is most dangerous to the already known historical tendency that the growing internal discontent, connected to the cross-border exile, ends up triggering armed conflagrations. For the government here there is no possibility of trying their luck with a Venezuelan type path, without oil nor the capacity to discourage aggression from its neighbors. In addition the government lacks the allies of the revolution in the 80s, which provided generous solidarity to maintain itself. The national leadership should cut off these tendencies toward chaos and move on to peaceful solutions.

The Dialogue is the best vehicle, but we need to accept that we have had mistakes in methodology as well as in the expectations of what can be obtained, and in terms of trust and commitment. In my opinion, a first step should be taken in the search to improve the climate of internal understanding, even before the dialogue is reopened. Seeing and considering the legitimate concerns of both sides. It is evident that the president and the FSLN had legitimate concerns that were not taken into account.

I have insisted on that fact that it is important to first place the patient under forced rest so that it can recover. Obtaining a haven of serenity, to then proceed to the Dialogue with the changes that could improve it along the lines of: a) raising the power of representation of the spokespeople; b) conducting the negotiations with discretion and in private; c) ensuring the impartiality of the mediation, supported by international experts with authority; and d) forming an agenda with two or three essential points, without purporting that the Dialogue be a form of an impossible Constituent Assembly.

The FSLN led a broad and transcendent revolution in the life of the country, with its own characteristics in the humanitarian and Christian planes, that distinguished it from other revolutions. Generosity was something essential in the Sandinista Revolution. The Government has described those who participated in different actions against the Government, including attendance at marches and demonstrations, as coup plotters and has tended to deprive them of their liberty. Do you think that it would be more beneficial for the country to return to generosity and spirit of high mindedness?

Yes, I completely agree. This is one of the points that could open up a path for a new opportunity for the government and the FSLN. The chain of mistakes that were committed, and those that continue being repeated, should be recognized with integrity.

There is a great silence, void and distrust between the fundamental actors of the crisis, government-opposition. How do you think trust could be recovered that would allow for a return to dialogue, that would address a way out of the crisis.

Recovering trust each day that passes is getting more and more remote, while new confrontational and intimidating measures are deployed. It is absolutely necessary that the government recognize that it is going in the opposite direction. Changing that direction is indispensable, and moving to build bridges. Do it out of a commitment to the Nicaraguan people and for the peace of the Nation.

I would like to insist on this point. I do not strictly see an opposition to the government among those who are protesting and in solidarity for obviously just reasons. Many of those who were demonstrating in April were Sandinistas or children of long term Sandinista families. I have learned in these days that Lester Alemán Alfaro, for example, the very young man who lambasted the government at the beginning of the dialogue, was born into a family of Sandinistas who since the 1970s provided refuge to clandestine militants, and it was a home for national leaders.

Lester was still a boy* when Tomás Borge took refuge in his house in Villa El Carmen after the action of December 27th. Through there passed Pedro Arauz, Roberto Huembes, Luis Carrión and other of us compañeros. Lester in his school was and maybe still is, an admirer of those clandestine combatants that his own family and his martyr uncles, like Abraham Sequeira, taught him to admire. Without knowing it, in April from some part of the government came the order to fire against young men linked to Sandinism. I know that in the Alliance, the business chambers, the academy and the students themselves there is the willingness to dialogue to seek a solution to the conflict.

The Army is one of the institutions that is a fruit of the Revolution, that until now has maintained its nature and functions with which it was founded and that the Constitution established, even you as one of the chief negotiators of the Transition Accords, ensured their continuation, which later would progress to their process of professionalization and institutionalization until arriving at what it is today. In the framework of the crisis in general, behavior has been noted outside its institutional framework, which now is saying something. Being a key entity in any contemporary society, how do you assess their behavior and what should it be in the face of the crisis that we are experiencing?

With the electoral triumph of Doña Violeta Chamorro in February 1990, there was in effect within the parties of the UNO the eminent opinion that the Sandinista Army should disappear, and even be replaced by the armed members of the Resistance. In the agreements signed between the incoming government and the outgoing government to ensure a fluid and peaceful transition, not without some resistance, it was agreed that the only Armed Forces of the republic would continue being the Army as well as the Sandinista Police, in exchange for both forces being made to have a national, professional and apartisan nature.

These transition accords helped to cement in Nicaragua a new climate of peace, understanding and cooperation among the political forces which helped stability continue forward, not without some hiccups. The army and the police proceeded to be called the National Army (NA) and the National Police (NP), and their legislation, as well as the training of officers and soldiers, were directed at transforming them into national professional and apartisan instruments of defense and internal order, respectively. This has been a positive historic step.

In our history there are several examples of attempts on the part of the rulers in office to influence and even break up the Armed Forces, who receive a ample battery of every type of resource. It has been questioned, for example, the decision of the current president to pass over military law extending the term of the Commander in Chief of the Army, which objectively weakens the military institutional structure and the authority of the command itself, subjugated for its continuation to the discretion of the ruler, which makes it political. I am not going to refer to the intentions of the president. But the commitments made in the Transition Protocol should, in my opinion, be honored and maintained, and particularly that of ensuring that the armed forces of the republic do not become partisan.

It is comprehensible that it ends up being at least uncomfortable for the military command to oppose the decisions of the person who constitutionally is the Supreme Chief of the Armed Forces, but in practice that decision violated the law and affected the armed body, as it would affect it more if taking sides is permitted in times of peace, or even worse during civil conflict. For the strengthening of the army it would have been preferible if the respect for the five year [term] and the periodic replacement of the military command would have been kept.

On another plane, the institutional posture of the Army of not intervening in this conflict of a political, domestic nature is correct. And correct the position to call for a peaceful solution through dialogue. At some moment the responsibility of the Army from the point of view of intelligence and prevention is to maintain the warnings to the President about the dangers for domestic peace implied by the economic breakdown, increase in unemployment and the escalation of violence that sooner or later will culminate in an armed conflict that it would be difficult for the Army to avoid. Armies are not just for fighting wars, but principally to avoid them. The army itself, in a civil armed conflict, will always be bound to lose: exposing themselves to be accused of being partisan by the defeated side, or in the worst of cases, be dissolved by the winner and disappear. Today at this moment the Army should be faithful to peace for the republic with the mission of promoting a quick and consistent peaceful solution.

What are the political scenarios that you would see as possible paths in the immediate future to get out of the crisis?

The first, working and achieving an environment of serenity and pacification that is not difficult, to take the second step to negotiate free elections and transitional justice. What is surprising and upsetting is that the solution is simple. It requires nothing more than a dosis of patriotism, responsibility and the will to achieve it: I see it feasible to create first an environment of tranquility, with the government proceeding to demobilize the paramilitary groups and freeing all the prisoners for political motives. In accordance with this gesture, from the side of protest and resistance, call the citizenry to open a space of tranquility. With this elemental agreement that would open a consensus-based normalization, the National Dialogue would continue with two essential points: a) Legal and institutional reform that would ensure clean, fair, transparent, inclusive and observed elections; and b) Transitional justice that would ensure punishment of those responsible for human rights violations, and reparation for the affected families.

It is the least costly and safest scenario, and without a doubt the one that is helpful to the country, the FSLN and President Ortega. The first is peace, tranquility and security for all families. As a key matter and going back to the issue of what has affected us as a society, I would say that the Gordian knot here is getting back on the central path that we have abandoned: the evil that afflicts us is only cured with interior peace followed by clean, transparent, fair and inclusive elections, the only medicine within our reach to restore trust in the political system for citizens: that it be the citizens who chose in a fair contest the leadership and the path that the Nation should take.

The only losers are those few you can count on your hand that are looking to open up opportunities for power and get ahead riding in the car of repression and violence. The rest of the scenarios are the multiple variations that come from all the possible combinations of the same ingredients that are invariably going to end in a abyss: continuation of the repression, extension and diversification of the protests and internal ill-will, worsening of the economic crisis; political, financial and commercial sanctions on the part of the United States, European Community and Latin America, international isolation, fall of direct foreign investment, increasing loss of the capacity to govern, etc. So in any case there will be a way out. But a dramatic one, and with the country destroyed.

November 2018

 

* expression comes from purges done by brownshirts in 1930´s in Germany

* phrase the PLC has used to refer to itself to distinguish itself from FSLN which has red and black.

* Translator´s note: Lester was not born when that action happened, Dec 27, 1974. It would mean that Lester would have to be at least 45 years old. This fact however does not detract from the main point that he comes from a historic Sandinista family.

On Seeing Solutions

If you have read many of the offerings at this site, you will know that my background includes a long and in-depth relationship with employee ownership.  I served both The ESOP Association and The National Center for Employee Ownership, the national associations which promote employee ownership, was President of the Minnesota Chapter of the ESOP Association for two terms and in 1998, our employee owned company, Foldcraft, was recognized as the Outstanding Employee Owned Company in the Country.  Yes, I was immersed in ESOP.

As a result, I continue to receive newsletters and employee ownership-related materials, usually nodding in affirmation of the great performances that are featured therein.  Shared ownership worked then as it does now.  So I was not at all surprised to read the latest results of the annual Economic Performance Survey (EPS), summarized in the November 2018 issue of The ESOP Report.  Once again, employee owned companies performed exceedingly well and, in many cases, significantly outperformed their non-employee-owned peer companies.  Since the EPS was launched in 2000, the majority of responding companies have recorded increases in profits for every year but two (2002 and 2010) and increases in revenues for every year but one (2010).  The exceptions noted above reflect the nationwide economic downturns of the prior years (2001 and 2009).  Even in those challenging economic times, 29% or more of ESOP companies responding to the survey reported that profits and/or revenue increased.  And there’s the lesson for our cooperative partners in Nicaragua.

We have chosen to work within the cooperative sector by design.  For the essence of cooperativism- shared ownership- is the same motivator as in employee owned endeavors.  We have always believed in the power of collective wisdom and work; the employee ownership model simply brought some new tools and direction to the coops with whom we work.  Notions of shared benefits, transparency, broad participation, financial literacy and the importance of a cohesive cooperative culture are not natural outcomes with ownership: they each need understanding and practice.  And maybe especially that last item, culture.

As is true in the most successful employee-owned companies, the participants of a coop have an essential need to fully understand the collaborative nature of their organization.  It’s not enough to join a coop in hopes of benefitting from market presence or volume buyers.  Every coop member must understand the machinery of the coop, and the cog that each represents to keep that machinery running.  Without that individualized participation, it’s like trying to win a baseball game with a first baseman who won’t field the position, when every position is vital.  It’s what makes up a team.

But an individual’s impact on organizational culture is more than just fielding a position.  It’s the absolute knowledge that one is part of something bigger than self, that there is strength and security and a sense of “we can do anything together” that inspires and drives the group to thrive.  The strength of collaborative work fashions a safety net that is nearly impossible to replicate individually.  For organizational success, cooperative members must embrace the idea that “we are in this together.”

For Winds of Peace Foundation, that message has remained unchanged over the past dozen years of our focus on coops.  It has been the mantra of the most successful employee-owned companies in the U.S. since ESOPs came into being in the 1970’s.   If the collective efforts of a cooperative are truly in synch, and the rewards of the collective work are truly shared, stability ensues.  Members begin to recognize the rhythm of success.  Momentum builds.  The mindset of the organization transforms to one of expected progress, rather than hoped-for survival.

Cooperatives are not the mirror image of employee-owned companies.  Nicaragua is not the U.S.  But the reality of ownership is universal.  It engenders a characteristic that transcends most of the lines which separate us.  That’s why the truth of shared ownership is as real in Nica as in Nebraska.

And that, in turn, is what makes cooperatives so exceedingly important in Nicaragua today.  Challenging economic times?  With threads in the fabric of the country literally unwinding every day, the nation is in desperate need of institutions that are grounded.  Cooperatives have the ability to be just that.  They can create economic hope.  They can provide a shield of security against dangerous moments.  They can maintain a strong sense of structure when other  forms become distressed.  The coops can represent deep roots against tides that threaten to wash away the groundwork of community.  (For a deeper look into this truth, take a look at Rene Mendoza’s posting in his Articles and Research portion of our website.)

I loved the concept of employee-ownership from the first moment I heard of it.  I was amazed at the power of its best tools, broad participation, open books and financial teaching.  Thirteen years ago I became astonished to learn that the coops of Nicaragua were so similar to U.S. ESOPs in both their difficulties and their needs.

The universal nature of the power in ownership continues to this day.  I never imagined, however, that its importance and potential might figure into stabilizing an entire nation.  But a dream and a reality sometimes are one in the same….

 

 

 

Losing the Language

I haven’t been back to Nicaragua since last February.  Circumstances there just haven’t warranted a trip.  Ten months seems like a long time when I look at the calendar, but it’s more like a lifetime when I consider how much Spanish language ability I’ve lost during that time.  (It’s loss that I could ill afford; I have referenced my Spanish language frustrations here in past entries.)  It’s true what they say: if you don’t use it, you lose it.   Over the years, I struggled  to understand everything that was being said in conversations taking place around me; now I seem to be pretty well lost.  The loss of ability to converse, to understand, to explain, to empathize, is a disappointing loss of hope on my part to ever be able to speak with Nicaraguans in their own language.

It strikes me that I may not be the only one.

The U.S. government finds itself in shutdown mode once more.  This particular episode seems destined to be of longer duration than the 3- day closing earlier this year or the 16 days experienced in 2013, with the President alternatively claiming “the mantle of responsibility” for himself and blaming Democrats for obstructionism.  The Democrats in return have folded their arms and claimed “no money for a wall.”  On this, the ninth day of the current closure, the sides are not speaking.  They seem to have lost their ability to speak with one another in a common language of compromise.  (Something that members of government are charged with doing, by the way.)

Meanwhile, as I bemoan the shrinking opportunity for me to hear and understand  Nicaraguans, it’s clear that Nicaraguans are suffering from a similar sort of loss.   Theirs is not the loss of words- there have been plenty from both sides of the current impasse- but rather the loss of peace, security, and, in some cases, livelihoods.  In a country which already faces immense difficulties of poverty, natural disasters, economic limitations and a history of international intrusions, the loss of meaningful national dialogue is nothing short of tragedy.  It’s as though the two sides are speaking different languages.

To complicate matters, we live in an age of technology-centered communication, one which seductively encourages the impersonal use of digits in lieu of voices.  Tweets attempt to tell us what to believe as true.  E-mails provide shelter to type things we might never consider saying in person.   Social media permits the replication and amplification of sometimes false or misleading information.  We are told that the digital age should be an assist to language and communications everywhere, yet the modern-day record tells a different story of alienation, mistrust and a growing distance between ourselves and “others,” in locales all over the world.

As a result, perhaps truth and understanding have become qualities that we can only know for personally.  Maybe I can come to know Nicaraguan partners only on the basis of shared conversation, face-to-face, Spanish-to-Spanish (if I ever get good enough).  Perhaps in this country, the tweets of a compulsive prevaricator have to be disregarded and we must  access ideas of substance  from more reliable sources.  And the claims of either an autocrat or a protestor  require affirmation by sources we know and trust and with whom we have spoken.  In short, what we know to be true has to come from  discourse and discernment through common language  If our words have no meaning, then they are no more than empty sounds.

The quality of my Spanish non-fluency diminishes even further with lack of use.  Likewise, the quality of our language- our ability to communicate effectively with fellow human beings- diminishes when not exercised regularly.  Contrary to some modernists, language does matter, whether it’s the diction, the context or the grammar that make up our best efforts to let another human being know our truth.

It’s a new year.  In what is surely a great irony, I pray for the opportunity to return to Nicaragua and to display my utter lack of Spanish language skills. It may be painful but it places me face-to-face with others who also deeply wish to share what they have to teach, what they know as their reality.  Here in the U.S., I hope that the men and women entrusted with bipartisan and compromise governance of our country belatedly recognize the damage that their lack of common language is doing to this nation.  In Nicaragua, I long for a peaceful resolution to the tensions which have ripped apart that country in ways too terrible to imagine even a year ago.

In every case, hope for healing begins in the expression and meaning of our words, and whether they are shared with  any measure of both honesty and compassion….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interview of Fidel Narváez: “our struggles cannot be divided by borders”

This interview of a student leader now in exile appeared in an online magazine started by a recently formed organization composed mainly of socialist parties in Europe and Latin America.. The translation of its name is International  Anticapitalists Network.  It is significant in that he addresses two recent proposals made by the opposition for an alternative Nicaragua, and also the need for any alternative to incorporate people who currently are on the other side.

Nicaragua, Interview of Fidel Narváez: “our struggles cannot be divided by borders”

Translated interview by Tito Castillo in “Anticapitalists en Red Internacional”

Oct 11, 2018

News magazine of group founded this past May composed of Europeans and Latin Americans socialist parties

Fidel used to teach classes on Law and Philosophy in different universities in Managua. During the protests of April he actively jointed the student struggle, principally at the National Poly-technical University (UPOLI). After that he was identified by the regime and saw himself forced to leave the country for security reasons. Currently he is in Europe doing political work based on international community, criticism and social theory.

Anticapitalists en Red (AR): More than five months have gone by since the protests began in Nicaragua, what was the Central American context for this?

Central America is a region with similar characteristics, not just in terms of population, work, wealth, but also in terms of resistance. The resistances have been silenced to be able to maintain the status quo and what the business people call “the business climate.” They want to give the image that Central America is a profitable option for investing, because apart from miserable salaries you have a police force and a State that can regulate these social pressures. So after five months this myth has fallen apart not just in Nicaragua but in all of Central America. We have realized that in Central America the population has enough reasons and motives to go out on the street to demand the resignation of the ruler, to be able to demand respect for human rights. Unfortunately the Central America process has not been a joint struggle. If you look closely, this also is the result of the principal tasks of the oligarchic forces, of corporate forces: decoupling the resistances at the borders. If they internationalize corporate power, inequality, repression, we have to break through those borders. Nevertheless, this movement in Nicaragua has not been able to staunchly connect with other resistances that have been happening historically in Central America. So we have seen how at this moment small foci of resistance and struggle have emerged in different countries of the Central American region, but I go back and repeat: it is a weakness because what we should really do and what also has been espoused by some movements, by some activists, by some universities is that the struggle should unite. In other words, that our struggles cannot be divided by borders, because our problems are not problems of borders, they are regional problems.

AR: Comment on the “Blue and White National Collaboration” and the “Route to democratization” proposed from the Articulation of Social Movements and the CSO [Civil Society Organizations].

This national collaboration should not be around the Civic Alliance, the Social Articulation, nor the Blue and White Unity. I am of the criteria, but maybe it could be that I am mistaken, that the national collaboration cannot just be on the basis of movements, figures or acronyms. But that it has to be on the basis of a program that unites around an attractive pole, that pole is a program with concrete points, which is what the Sandinista Front did in 1979 to attract all the different sectors in the fight; workers, peasants, students, women, laborers. Currently in Nicaragua I do not see a historic program, nor a political program…there is a “Route to democratization”, which is different.

I think the appearance of a political program like what “We are Building Nicaragua” proposed, which is basically a political-social movement whose greatest contribution can be on the political-ideological plane. This program makes it evident that not all of us were aware of the fact that there is a structural problem in Nicaragua. We were aware of the fact that Ortega is a dictator and that we want to get rid of him. But without a political program we are not going to realize, or we are not going to recognize the structural problems that the country has. And one of the principal problems is COSEP, in other words, private enterprise, which is wrestling in Ortega´s favor along with some Central American business sectors to maintain their corporate model.

AR: How can you live with Sandinism after this?

That will depend on the exit scenario that there is in Nicaragua. If there is a scenario of a rupture that can be through a constitutional convention process, the re-founding of the State, the process can be a bit longer, yes, but it can bring structural changes in the long term. In other words, ensuring that the same mistakes are not made that have been carried along simply because of putting patches on our problems. I think that Orteguism and Sandinism are two different things, and once this has a solution – be it through early elections or a constitutional convention process – the big burden or the big problem for the future and for co-existence with that part of the population that has opted for sticking with the dictatorship, will be harmonious relations. Because Sandinism for more than five months has had a sufficient margin, gradually, to be able to be disassociating itself ethically and for revolutionary principles from what currently is the government: which has opted for lying, deceit, corruption, repression and annihilation as a form of doing politics. For a radical democratic process to be viable it is going to have to count on these people. This does not mean that the co-existence is going to be easy, because that democratic process indeed is going to be real and is going to be a product of this new revolution.

AR: What is the exit scenario for the Ortega-Murillo regime?

I think that the constitutional convention process to resolve the big structural problems of Nicaragua is the only one that would achieve a true peace. A peace more sustainable over time, even though in the beginning there may be problems of different types of orders. Nevertheless, real participation, the endorsement of that constitution, and the participation in new elections well could provide an opportunity for a real re-founding of the State. If we only put a patch on it, the big structural situations that we have to resolve as a people are going to persist. We are going to continue having a bicephalous dictatorship, but in that case it will no longer be in the terms of Gemini or Plato´s myth on love, which was one body back to the other and that a thunderbolt divided into two, no, in this sense we are going to one dictatorship with the same body but with two faces looking forward: two faces that can communicate with one another, that can openly negotiate between them without shame because that is what is going to happen if by chance cosmetic reforms are obtained, merely esthetic issues in terms of Nicaraguan politics. We are going to have the bicephalous dictatorship of COSEP and Orteguism talking among themselves about all the issues that concern us as a people. Now, the scenario in any sense of reform or rupture is going to be a difficult scenario because there is an unlearning of the caudillo cultures, vertical cultures, that process of unlearning is going to necessarily lead to clashes, confrontations and crises, but they are not crises that are going to have a negative dialectic.

 

Blue and White National Unity Manifesto

A significant announcement was made yesterday of a coalition of some 43 civil society organizations that includes university students, peasants, human rights activists, business sector, feminists, politicians and other movements, including the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, which is organization that represented civil society in the National Dialogue. This manifesto represents another step in addressing the question of what the opposition to the current government is proposing as an alternative.

Blue and White National Unity Manifesto

National Unity for Justice and Democracy

The Ortega Murillo dictatorship, which has led Nicaragua into a grave human rights crisis violating the Constitution and the law, maintains itself only by violence and repression through police, paramilitary and shock forces, who have subjected the people to a massacre that up to now has produced more than 400 people murdered, more than three thousand wounded, an undetermined number of people disappeared, kidnapped, captured, tortured and criminalized, and more than 347,000 jobs lost.

The diverse and plural movements, organizations, social, political and economic forces that throughout the country have led the civic and pacific resistance to this authoritarian, corrupt, nepotistic and criminal government, we make public the establishment of the Blue and White National Unity, with which we begin a new stage of organization and mobilization for the conquest of freedom, justice and democracy.

The unity of all the forces is an imperative to continue and intensify the struggle that would lead to the departure of the dictatorship and the construction of the democracy that we aspire to. This unity marks a progression in the peaceful resistance of the citizenry, enhancing our capacities for planning, coordination, organization and implementation of protest actions, denouncement, as well as clear and resounding expressions about the fact that the majority of the Nicaraguan people reject the dictatorial and repressive regime that has committed crimes against humanity, for which those responsible will be judged.

An economic disaster is being experienced as the result of the repression of the regime, the most affected sectors are commerce, hotel and services (tourism), manufacturing and construction, affecting the weakest base of the pyramid. We take on as our own the commitment to its improvement, its reactivation and to return to grow again in numbers and quality of life. Not one job less, nor the loss of another life.

Objective

The principle objective of this Blue and White Unity is building a Nicaragua with democracy, freedom, justice, institutionality and respect for human rights. To achieve it, the quick departure from power of the Ortega Murillos through democratic means is indispensable.

Principles and Values

  1. The country´s symbols unite us, particularly the blue and white flag.
  2. Our struggle is civil and peaceful.
  3. The peaceful resistance is led by the citizenry.
  4. We maintain the commitment to freedom, justice, democracy, unhindered respect for human rights and the Rule of Law.
  5. Transparency and honesty are the basis for the construction of trust.
  6. Dialogue and negotiation are basic principles for the achievement of the objectives.
  7. We accept respect for diversity and plurality of identities and non-discrimination.
  8. Our relations are horizontal, without caudillos, nor vanguards.
  9. We make use of democratic exercise and consensus in decision making in all areas of our work and at all levels.
  10. Our desire is that Nicaragua might grow economically with equity and freedom.

Urgent demands

  1. A national dialogue to agree on terms and conditions for a democratic transition. We support the bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua as mediators and witnesses: and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy as representative of Nicaraguan society in that negotiation. We request the Organization of American States (OAS), the United Nations (UN) and th European Union (EU) to act as guarantors.
  2. The immediate end to repression: threats, harassment, attacks, forced disappearances and displacements, abductions, captures, sexual violations, torture and murder of the citizenry that defends its rights.
  3. Immediate freedom for the political prisoners, the end of the criminalization and trial of the right to protest, and the annulment of these trials, as well as redress for the victims of the people imprisoned.
  4. Early municipal, regional and national elections in the short term, with a restructured Electoral Branch, and national and international observation that would ensure inclusive, plural, transparent and competitive elections. The legal and institutional changes will have to be done that would ensure this purpose and allow for the broad participation of political parties and electoral alliances with their own identity.
  5. Respect for the freedom of association, mobilization and expression of the citizenry, as well as respect for the free exercise of independent journalism.
  6. End to firings, intimidation and reprisals against the staff of state institutions, and they not be forced to carry out any partisan political activities.
  7. End to government reprisals against police who refuse to carry out orders of repressing the citizenry in peaceful resistance to the dictatorship.
  8. Actions of the Army in accordance with the functions established in the Constitution and respect for human rights.
  9. Promotion of human and sustainable development.
  10. End to aggression against the private sector and civil society organizations that are accused of practicing terrorism.

Commitments

The Blue and White National Unity commits to promote and defend:

  1. That there be no impunity for the crimes committed by the Ortega-Murillo regime, and that transitional justice be applied based on truth, justice, reparation and guaranty of no repetition. To contribute to this purpose the mandate of the International Group of Independent Experts of the IACHR should be expanded.
  2. The implementation of the recommendations contained in the reports of the Interamerican Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the United Nations, as well as other reports that different organizations of the Interamerican and universal system might release.
  3. Investigation, search for and identification of the forced disappearances, and redress for the victims.
  4. Disarming and dissolution of the paramilitary bodies created by the Ortega-.Murillo regime and the destruction of the confiscated weapons.
  5. Restructuring of the National Police and the purification of its leadership. Sanctions in accordance with the law of those officers and personnel that ordered and executed murders and all types of repressive actions against the citizenry. That the police who refused to repress the population be recognized.
  6. Reinstatement of health and education professionals, and those from other State institutions who were fired for political reasons.

7,. Re-establishment of university autonomy; respect for the autonomy of the Caribbean Coast and indigenous and Afro descendent communities, and the municipalities.

  1. Repeal of all the norms that violate national sovereignty and fundamental rights, like Law 840 for the construction of an interoceanic canal through Nicaragua.
  2. A model of social and economic development that would promote free markets and social well being.
  3. In coordination with diverse sectors, programs for inclusive economic reactivation for all the economic sectors of the country, and not just those allied with the regime.
  4. Respect for private property.
  5. Repatriation of those exiled for political and economic reasons.
  6. Respect for fundamental freedoms and rights.

The history of Nicaragua has demonstrated the courage and the capacity of this people to defend their freedom. We unite under our blue and white flag to achieve the departure of the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship, and set the bases for a democratic, free and just Nicaragua for present and future generations.

This national unity will take shape in each territory of our geography, in the countryside and the cities, and is open to the diversity of actors that are taking on the principles of this Unity, are willing to contribute to the change that Nicaragua needs.

We recognize the support of the international community for the people of Nicaragua in the search for solutions to the grave social and political crisis. In particular we recognize the efforts made by the Organization of American States, the United Nations, and the European Union, and we call them to redouble their efforts for the defense of the human rights of the Nicaraguan people and the establishment of democracy,

Long live Nicaragua!

Blue and White National Unity

October 4, 2018

 

“We are Building Nicaragua” Program

An important issue in the current crisis in Nicaragua is the question of what would Nicaragua look like should Ortega leave, as the opposition demands. In recent weeks some important proposals have been developed to begin to respond to this question. The following was developed by mostly student groups calling themselves “Construimos Nicaragua” and was posted shortly after the independence holidays in Nicaragua, Sept 14-15.

We are Building Nicaragua

 “We are Building Nicaragua” Program

This document is the draft of the Program of the Social and Political Movement called “WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA” which we submit to the consideration of the readers to open a public discussion among all social sectors on the urgent tasks that we need to promote for a real democratization of Nicaragua.

PROGRAM FOR THE DEMOCRATIZATION OF NICARAGUA: GIVE BACK TO THE PEOPLE THE RIGHT TO DECIDE!

Introduction

The days of struggle, started in April 2018, are forging and consolidating a strong sense of collective national identity in favor of democratization and justice, as had not occurred in our nearly two centuries of independent history around fundamental symbols and values: the blue and white flag, inextricably linked to republican democracy, public liberties, citizen participation in the State affairs, a strong sense of social equity and true solidarity.

The democratic struggle started by the youth opened the possibility of rebuilding and re-founding our nation on the bases of democracy, justice and social equity. The enjoyment and exercise of public liberties, as well as absolute respect for citizen rights, should not depend ever again on the will or discretion of any government. We all the sectors of the people (youth, students, women, workers, peasants, indigenous, etc) need to recover our popular sovereignty to re-found a new Nicaragua, creating a Social and Democratic Rule of Law on new bases, that imply eradicating forever the use of violence, repression or intimidation by those in power for the purpose of remaining in it, or limiting and blocking the exercise of these freedoms and rights.

The fundamental decisions of Nicaragua should not be made by small oligarchies, but by the broad majorities of men and women through democratic and deliberative processes with all the information on the table, where the broadest sectors can participate.

So that our society might move from discretion and the arbitrary and personalized use of power, to a social interaction more and more regulated by laws, norms and policies that are implemented in a more impartial, transparent and impersonal way possible, that is, with the absence of discrimination and punishment for some, and privileges and “awards” for others.

Currently State institutions have lost their public character by being completely subordinated to partisan control and the discretional management of the rulers. It is urgent to begin the transition toward the new Nicaragua, where national public institutions exist that fulfill their function of providing public goods and services, and that are capable of ensuring confidence, security and certainty to economic agents and all the citizenry.

Nicaragua needs a radical democratic revolution that would build national public institutions that can keep themselves relatively isolated from the pressures of economic groups and those in power, be focused on effective, professional performance and their objectives and responsibilities, establishing mechanisms that would ensure transparency and accountability, and that would make citizen control possible over the institutions that administer power.

Within the framework of this context, we a group of youth, men and women from all social strata, have agreed to launch a new political organization called “WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA”, an inclusive, horizontal, democratic and progressive political movement for the purpose of promoting structural changes for the sustainable development of Nicaragua.

WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA is a social and political movement where all us Nicaraguans find the opportunity to voice our opinions and participate to achieve our political, economic, social, cultural and environmental aspirations.

The mission of WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA is to provide each Nicaraguan the opportunity to promote and defend their rights to achieve a full, just and prosperous life.

We present, then, our proposal for a political program that we submit to the consideration of the citizens for their study, critique and improvement, because only united will we be able to accomplish the immense task of democratizing Nicaragua for the benefit of the great majorities.

16 BASIC POINTS FOR FOUNDING THE NEW NICARAGUA

  1. Free and Sovereign Constituent National Assembly

We men and women of WE ARE BUILDING NICARAGUA, many of us had not even been born during the time of the revolution, we think that the first thing that we should do is dismantle the status quo of the political power that was established in the last period, and that has roots in the institutions created during the process of the death of the revolution of 1979.

It requires returning sovereignty and decision making capacity to the people, in other words, the citizens. This elemental principle of democracy has been systematically denied in the history of Nicaragua. It requires profoundly reorganizing the State institutions. And this can only be achieved by repealing the Constitution of 1987 and its reforms, discussing and approving a new democratic Constitution, that would minimally bring together the issues that we discuss in what follows and that would bring the Nicaraguan State into the modernity of the XXI Century.

  1. Limits to re-election for popularly elected officials

Re-election is not a problem of principles in democracy, everything depends on the political culture and the electoral system, whether it is sufficiently democratic to respect the popular will.

Nevertheless, this is a key discussion in Nicaragua, because the emergence of the dictatorships of José Santos Zelaya (1896-1909), Anastasio Somoza and his successors (1937-1979), as well as the new dictatorship of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo (2007-2018) have been related to presidential re-election.

For this reason, and taking into consideration that a good government is not improvised, presidential re-election should only be permitted for a second period, so the new election becomes a plebiscite on the first mandate. Starting with the second period, there should be an absolute prohibition of presidential re-election, establishing iron clad clauses in the new Constitution that would prevent a third presidential period.

Likewise the deputies should only be elected for two consecutive periods. This same norm should be applied to mayors and council-members and the members of regional governments.

  1. A new electoral system

A complete reform of the electoral system is needed, approving a new Electoral Law that would do away with the bipartisan system inherited from Somocism, and that served as a cover for installing a new dynastic dictatorship. A new Party and Political Association Law should be approved, which also should have constitutional standing, that would allow for the creation of groups, associations and political parties at the municipal, provincial, regional and national levels.

The obstacles created by the constitutional reform of 2000 should be ended, that demand a minimum of 4% for a party to maintain their legal status, because it limits the right to representation of minorities. The myth of dictatorships should be done away with, that only the traditional parties should exist. Democracy rests on the principle of diversity and the respect and protection of minorities.

But, above all, the monopoly of the political parties should be ended, that they are the only ones who can propose candidates. A new emphasis should be placed on the fact that citizens can run as candidates regardless of whether they are party members, in any type of election, including presidential elections, prioritizing the fact that youth, who have traditionally been marginated from political activity, might have a dominant role in the destiny of the country.

The election of deputies should be by provinces or districts, doing away with the election of national deputies. The right to proportional representation of minorities should be ensured, especially of indigenous, in every type of election.

The functions exercised by the Supreme Electoral Council (SEC) should be decentralized in different institutions (identity cards, parties and associations, organization of electoral processes, etc), completely reorganized, not just with the participation of the political parties, but civil society organizations, who should play a role of oversight and control.

Tbe new electoral system should include the partial or total renovation of the deputies of the National Assembly halfway through each presidential period. The dates for legislative elections should coincide with municipal and regional elections which should be held every two years, so that the elected officials might know that their posts will always depend on the assessment of their performance and the will of the electors.

To be a candidate for popular election they should be qualified and honest. In addition the 50/50 Law should be kept and respected that ensures the presence of women on electoral ballots which opens the doors for their participation in political decision making posts.

  1. System for direct election and renovation of magistrates and of other high officials, under citizen control.

The citizens should be given back the capacity to elect and remove magistrates, as well as other high officials from other branches and institutions of the State. That vicious cycle should be ended where the executive branch proposes candidates for magistrates who end up being approved through agreements and negotiations among the deputies, who generally obey the interests of party leaders, who include them on the electoral lists, annulling the capacity of the citizens who elected them.

On establishing a percentage of votes of deputies to choose the magistrates, the problem is resolved through transactions or political pacts, turning the deputies into the principal electors, annulling the popular will. This type of indirect election makes possible the creation of political rings and castes, which are the negation of democracy.

It should be established that the holders of the executive branch, deputies, mayors, councilpersons, members of the regional governments, all popularly elected officials, are subject to the evaluation of the people through a recall referendum. In this way any popularly elected official, having finished a third of their mandate, and in the face of a petition for their removal signed by a certain number of citizens, those signers should have the capacity to call for elections in that specific case, so that it be the electors who decide if the official continues or not in their post.

  1. Restructuring of the judicial branch

Democracy is, in the last instance, the governance of judges. These officials are the ones who decide on the freedom of people, the future of their assets and settle political conflicts. The one who controls the judicial power, controls the State and political power. That is why a profound reform and restructuring of the judicial system should be done. The magistrates, judges should be directly elected by the people, and submitted every two years, when intermediate elections are held, to the control of the citizenry.

The judicial profession should be submitted to periodic controls. Only the people through their vote can decide whether a judge continues in their post for one more period. The re-election of judges and magistrates should have a limit, no more than three periods, to open the way for the formation of new judges and magistrates.

A commission composed of recognized jurists and national and foreign academics should examine and review the curriculums of the aspirants, and they will be the candidates who would be subject to popular balloting. Political parties cannot campaign in favor of the candidates under pain of disqualification.

The Supreme Court of Justice (SCJ) should decentralize their functions, so that the administrative functions are not mixed with jurisdictional ones, and with those of control and sanctioning. Deputies cannot be candidates for judges or magistrates. It is a matter of building a new judicial branch that would supervise jointly with the citizenry the functioning of public administration and democracy.

Amparo [constitutional or administrative protection order] should not be an appeal but a judgement, as happens in Latin America. A Constitutional Tribunal should be created, whose magistrates will not obey political parties, but the mandate of the citizenry.

  1. Ongoing fight against corruption

In Nicaragua corruption is an evil embedded in all the State institutions, and it has become part of the political culture: popularly elected posts and public service have been turned into ladders for illicit enrichment. That is why the fight against corruption should be ongoing and at every level. Corruption is one of the principal causes of the increase in poverty and social inequality. It is not possible to fight poverty without fighting corruption at the same time. Indeed corruption erodes and weakens democratic institutionality, annulling existing legality, promoting impunity and social chaos.

The existing laws for fighting corruption are not applied because the State institutions responsible for fighting it, like the Comptroller General of the Republic (CGR), the Attorney General of the Republic and the different tribunals of justice have been victims of the concentration of power phenomenon, which centralizes the mechanisms for the election of magistrates and other high officials solely on the deputies of the National Assembly, who are elected through the lists of the political parties who exercise a monopoly on popular representation.

The anti-corruption legislation should be modernized, administrative processes should be greatly simplified, a new law of State Purchasing and one for Conflict of Interest of Public Officials should be approved, establishing online bidding, so that everyone can see what is happening with prices and technical specifications, taking into consideration citizen participation at all levels, developing to the maximum electronic governance.

Transparency should become a new fundamental right, a key factor for strengthening social confidence and a sense of participation and co-responsibility in the construction of a shared destiny. Public information should never be managed as if it were private. The people have the right to know all the affairs, no matter how complicated they may seem. The officials who violate this principle of access to public information will be submitted to severe penal sanctions.

Likewise, the obligation should be established of all officials to be accountable to the general assembly of workers of the public sector with the participation of the citizenry every three months for spending, investments or purchases made. The result of these reports should be placed on the web page of the respective institutions.

In all State institutions an assembly of public servants should be organized to create citizen control commissions responsible for overseeing the implementation of the budget, plans for purchasing and bidding, with the legal faculties to file the corresponding charges. Those who make any denouncements will not be able to be fired nor will there be any administrative reprisals against them, unless it is shown that they had no basis.

The new constitution should establish the new principle that there is no immunity for crimes related to corruption. All assets obtained through acts of corruption or money laundering are imprescriptible, it is the obligation of the State to pursue them until they are recovered, trying and punishing those who are guilty. The officials punished for acts of corruption through a final judgement will be disbarred for life from running for public posts or providing public service, as well as prohibited from being a supplier of the State or contracting with Public Administration.

  1. Professionalization and dignity of public service

A radical democratization is required so that workers in public administration never again are hired or fired based on their party affiliation or loyalty, but rather on the basis of their capacities and competency, and so that the career of civil service be respected.

The Civil Service Law should be governed by the principle of the merits and capacities of the applicants, we should eradicate the culture of sharing posts by pacts and political arrangements or by electoral quotas. Likewise they should promote reforms so that the youth can make a career in public service in a decent way and with facilities for access.

  1. A fair tax system

The taxes of all Nicaraguans should not be used or diverted to enrich small groups, but should form part of the sacred national patrimony. Tax collection should be based on transparency, social control and the principle that the payment of taxes should be proportional to income. In this way society will have the resources needed to cover social spending and ensure the minimum functioning of democracy and the construction of a medium and long term national development plan that is able to transcend changes in government.

  1. Incorporating new rights in the Constitution

Respect for human rights in Nicaragua will never be limited by any government, placing arguments of “national sovereignty” above the relevancy of international treaties on this matter.

New fundamental rights should be incorporated and applied, like Gender Equity, and other specific rights of women, that should be implemented in all the State institutions and at all levels of social life.

Likewise, basic income should be established in a progressive manner for people who are living in levels of poverty. It is the only way of ending the political patronage that does so much damage to democracy, and so that the State might protect in this way those most in need.

Nicaragua should be proclaimed as a Social and Democratic Rule of Law State, governed by fundamental rights, by the principle of absolute respect and equality under the law, the control of the citizenry in the affairs of the State, and the defense of the environment.

The right to rebellion or insurrection against dictatorial or dynastic governments should be recovered, as a fundamental essential right of Nicaraguans.

Likewise, new procedural guarantees should be reformed or incorporated: the function of the Police should be to investigate crimes and send the accused to the judicial authorities in a term no longer than 24 hours. In their investigations the Police should be subordinated to the Prosecutor´s office, who should be responsible for directing the investigations and the gathering of proof. Detentions can only be done through a judicial order or when catching a crime in progress.

Jury trials should be re-established for all cases, and exceptional jurisdictions should be ended.

In addition, Nicaragua should bring itself into the XXI Century and promote the access of all children and adolescents to information technologies and the internet.

  1. Reorganization of the Army and the Police

The role that the National Police have performed in the current civic insurrection, as a small, very centralized repressive army, forces us to re-examine the role of the police forces. The Police should play a very important role in ensuring citizen security, in a context of the advance of the drug trafficking cartels and organized crime in Central America.

To keep the National Police from being a small, mercenary army at the unconditional service of a dictatorial government, their operation should be decentralized, creating municipal police who will maintain a national coordination or command, but whose members will be recruited from within the community, who will be subject to the local authorities. The naming of the Chief of Police in each municipality, as well as their term in the post, will be done through direct election of the citizens. The monopoly of the control of the president of the republic over the National Police must end, it should be shared with the local authorities.

The National Police should have a Community Policing approach, composed of people from the community on a rotating manner, with a reduced administrative apparatus and permanent officials. More women should be incorporated into the chain of command of this Community Police.

Likewise, the role and conception of the National Army should be re-evaluated. The collective trauma that the implementation of military service had during the civil war (1982-1990) has made it possible, contradictorily, for the evolution of the National Army as an institution ever more separated from the people.

In times of peace, the Army should have a very reduced apparatus, it should be composed of citizens who provide their civil service regularly within the armed forces at certain times. Likewise, more women should be incorporated into the chain of command of the Army.

It should not only defend the national sovereignty against drug trafficking and organized crime, but also exercise a social function in the most vulnerable social sectors, protecting and defending the environment, enabling youth to join as their first job and acquire technical training. This is the only way to prevent having an Army of full time paid soldiers unconnected to the people. The Army should not have, nor its officers, businesses or companies to finance retirement systems different from those that most of the population have, or caste privileges that promote social inequality.

Due to the importance of this issue, a special plebiscite should be promoted on the reorganization of the National Army and the National Police, so that the people might democratically decide the path to follow.

  1. Educational revolution, academic freedom, and university autonomy.

Nicaragua will never come out of poverty without being able to raise the educational level of its population.

Nicaragua is losing the only opportunity from the “demographic dividend” as dozens of thousands of youth do not have the opportunity to study and work. The dichotomy between primary education and higher education is false. Both are complementary. That is why academic freedom and university autonomy should be insisted on for training the technical staff and the professionals that the country requires.

Primary and secondary education should include a class on civic education, so that the students might learn from an early age how the State functions and what the principles of democracy are.

Within the framework of basic income, it should be ensured that all children finish their primary and secondary schooling. For that purpose 15% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) should be used for public education. State resources should be used to develop public education, and the businesses of private schools and universities should never be subsidized. The universities should never be submitted to political power and party control.

The teaching profession and scientific research should be encouraged and protected by the State.

Social innovation and entrepreneurship should be encouraged by the State to expand the labor prospects of the recently graduated youth from the Universities so that they can be inserted into the work world. Likewise, the Youth First Job Law should be approved where the universities and companies will coordinate to provide facilities of access to work to recently graduated youth, and so that the relationship between professional majors and market demand might be improved.

  1. The role of the State in the economy

Given the backwardness of the productive forces in Nicaragua, the State should play the role of promoting economic development, the only way of doing away with migration and poverty. Within a scheme of the social market economy, the principal public services (water, health care, education, energy and communications) should be in the hands of the State. The acceptance of mixed enterprises in these areas, and the percentages of private, national or foreign participation, will depend on the needs of each concrete case.

A State bank should exist that would promote financing, at fair interest rates, to the benefit of the peasantry, artisans and small urban and rural producers. To prevent political patronage and corruption that can lead to their bankruptcy, the workers and clients of the state bank should be allowed to form a verification and control commission of the loans, focused on citizen participation.

The profits of the private banks should be regulated, through a policy of fair interest rates, that do not exploit the population.

  1. Agrarian reform and the defense of the environment

The agrarian reform that was promoted under the revolution in the 1979-1990 period was reversed in later decades. A process of land concentration functioned and now we have the existence of new large landowners. This process was possible because the peasantry did not have financial and technical assistance that would allow it to develop agriculture or ranching. Not only should the right of the peasantry to land be ensured, but also the right of peasant women to be owners of land. Likewise, a state bank is needed whose principal function would be to develop the peasant economy. The State should ensure a policy of fair prices for peasant products.

The agricultural production of Nicaragua in large measure rests on small and medium producers. It is necessary that these sectors grow through increase in yields and productivity, more than by the expansion of the agricultural frontier, which has degraded hydrological basins, produced sedimentation and the disappearance of water sources, and destroyed biodiversity.

Protected areas should be expanded, like Bosawás and Indio Maíz, and other new ones created. Protecting the national capital of the country should be a priority – water, soils, forests and biodiversity – the State should ensure that they be used in a sustainable manner.

The agrarian reform should have an ecological approach, one of defense of the land, forests, water and the environment. Zones apt for agriculture should be defined, planting should not be done on hills or inclines, what lands are apt for ranching should be pinpointed. Extensive ranching should be eliminated, promoting the creation of modern farms with breeds of cattle that allow production to increase without the need to destroy forests. Peasant or indigenous communities should be the protectors of the forests. A process of reforestation should be promoted and the protection of natural reserves for the purpose of caring for the water of rivers and lakes.

  1. For true autonomy in the Caribbean Coast

Raising the autonomy of the Caribbean Coast to constitutional status in 1995 implied great progress, but the real effects of the Autonomy Statute of the Regions of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua are more formal than real. The principal decisions on the economic resources of the Caribbean Coast, and investment in them, in reality are not up to the Regional Councils, nor the indigenous communities, but the central government, which continues limiting the right to autonomy of the native population.

Not only should the customs, language and culture be preserved, but also the communal forms of organization of the indigenous population, which should administer and protect the natural resources.

Even though it is true that as a result of the struggle of the indigenous communities progress has been made in the titling of communal lands, as long as there is no resettlement of non indigenous on their land, the autonomy of the Caribbean Coast will be a fiction.

  1. Consolidation of municipal autonomy

Municipal autonomy has been enshrined in the Constitution since 1987, but in reality the municipalities are subordinated to the central government, in spite of the existence of the Municipal Law. The role of the State in society should be realized through the municipalities. The national budget should be invested in the municipalities. The role of the central government should be reduced, and the functions decentralized in the municipalities. The structure of the State should rest on the municipalities, who should control education, the supply of potable water, public services, services of police, sewage and the defense of the environment.

The democratization of Nicaragua passes through transferring more national power and resources to the municipal governments.

  1. Reconstructing the Central American nation

In the XXI century the countries of Central America are intimately linked by their economic bases, but not on the level of state superstructure. What happens in some of the countries of Central America has repercussions on the rest. SICA [Spanish acronym for the Central American Integration System] has played a great role as a project for the reunification of the national economies, but it has not achieved the goal. The establishment of PARLACEN was a great step forward on the political plane, but it has very limited functions. We should make more progress. The deputies to PARLACEN should be the same deputies of the national legislative organs, so that there is no separation and ignorance about the regional reality.

We should proceed until achieving the call for a Central American Constituent Assembly that would allow for the creation of a Central American federation or confederacy.

Managua, Nicaragua, September 14 & 15, 2018.

 

Student Interview of Harley Morales of the University Alliance

The massive protests have been led by university students, who also are key players in the National Dialogue. This is an interview of one of those student leaders

University Alliance warns: they want to “advise” us and “impose agendas” June 11, 2018

(translation of article published originally in El Faro, republished in Confidencial:

https://confidencial.com.ni/la-prioridad-ahorita-es-que-no-nos-maten-luego-la-justicia-y-la-democracia/

Harley Morales lives today in a type of cloister. This 26 year old young student of sociology at the Central American University (UCA) in Nicaragua sleeps in a safe house, along with 40 other university student representatives of the student groups that emerged in the current political crisis.

Harley Morales is a member of the political strategy committee of the University Alliance, one of the five student movements that make up the University and Civil Society Coalition, a group that is leading the political struggle that is demanding the departure of the current rulers. NGOs and business groups have joined this coalition.

The crisis started less than two months ago, on April 18th, due to the cut in the social security pensions. The protests turned massive due to the attacks of the National Police and the progovernment forces. When the dead began to be counted, the protests ceased being for the pensions, and were directed against state repression. The university students entrenched themselves in the universities and churches, and a significant sector of the population accompanied them, demanding the resignation of the rulers. This was the beginning of the current political and social crisis in Nicaragua. Barely seven weeks ago. Since then, more tham 130 people have died as a direct consequence of the conflict, and every day that lists gets longer.

More pushed by circumstances that by a deliberate decision to lead a popular revolt, the students had to move in the midst of a full street protest to a new stage: that of organization. “Since April 19th itself committees began to be organized and movements built; we were worried that the protest would dissipate,” said Harley Morales. His University Alliance arose out of what he called “the hijacking of the cathedral”: on April 19 in full retreat, fleeing bullets, hundreds of students and civilian took refuge in the Managua cathedral and had to stay there several days, under siege. Within the church they organized, and the first leaders emerged. In a similar fashion another four groups were formed in several universities.

These students leaders mutated in a few weeks from social agitators to political actors. If before (barely a month ago) you could find them on a street with a megaphone in hand, or organizing logistics on campus, now they are living together, as if they were in confinement, isolated, surrounded by advisers and with tremendous pressure from different sectors to take postures in a very complicated process.

They are, then, a true spontaneous generation, trying to adapt to their prominence in one of those moments that close and open chapters in history. They continue being, along with the church, those who legitimize each step of the process and have won national and international recognition since the moment in which, during the installation of the national dialogue last May 16th, a 20 year old student called Lesther Alemán said to President Ortega that the only thing they were going to negotiate at that table was his departure. That video was seen around the world.

The Ortega government consider them to be part of a “right wing coup conspiracy”, and more than a few suspicions have been caused by the sudden economic capacity of the students to hold press conferences in luxury hotel meeting rooms, or maintaining a new lives without having income.

Harley Morales does not shy away from responding to these questions and clarified the origin of the funds for his support. But they know, he says, that these funds come with a trapdoor from sectors that are trying to move their agenda through the students, who have won legitimacy in the streets. They are young people without experience, at times naïve, who are trying to walk through a forest with a lot of threats, more than a few of them walking right alongside them.

Last week a delegation of these students visited Washington to attend the General Assembly of the OAS, and just afterward they met and were photographed with three of the most extremist US republicans: Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ileana Ross-Lehtinen. The photos surprised everyone in Nicaragua and were seen with reservations not just by sympathizers of Ortega, but also by opponents of the regime, liberals and ex Sandinistas. “It was terrible”, he says. “They are the extreme Republican right. We are very unhappy with that trip, that was paid for from the United States, and an agenda was imposed on them. It has given us a terrible image. We are going to have to correct mistakes.”

El Faro has confirmed that the trip to Washington was paid for by the organization Freedom House, based in Washington, who in addition set the agenda for the students, including the polemical visits to Rubio, Cruz and Ross-Lehtinen. Carlos Ponce, director of Latin America for Freedom House, argued that they asked for meetings with other congresspeople and senators, but only those three accepted. “It seems that they are the ones most interested,” he said.

The photos with the Republicans were ill-timed, given the situation in Nicaragua: the government of Ortega accused the students of being instruments of an international right wing conspiracy. The mistake has not discredited them, but it has left them some of their first lessons in politics, as Harley Morales admits. The principal one, probably, is that there are a lot of people around you wanting to impose an agenda that is not theirs.

It is helpful here to put things in context. These young people were children when Daniel Ortega won the presidency in 2006. They are university students without any political experience, who have been under the spotlights for two months and under the weight of leading an important transition in their country. It is not strange, then, that their naivete was revealed in their visit to Washington. But above all it is not strange that there would be so many sectors interested in isolating them, in influencing them, in advancing their own agendas through them. “We know that only we can legitimize this process,” says Harley Morales. Those who prowl around them today also know it.

This conversation took place on Friday June 8 in Managua.

How have you organized in seven weeks?

Since April 19 committees began to be organized and movements built. We were concerned that the protest would dissipate. Five movements were formed and later the University and Civil Society Coalition. When the Bishops Conference called for the dialogue, we held meetings with COSEP (Superior Council of Private Enterprise), with civil society organizations and others who were in favor of articulating this. COSEP is part of the Coalition, also AMCHAM (American Chamber of Commerce in Nicaragua); there are peasant organizations amd also the representation of the peoples of the Caribbean.

Why did you decide to unite with groups so different from your own?

We know that the way to defeat the regime is making a common agenda. The student movement already transmuted into politics. We are not fighting for scholarships nor for sector agendas.

And who is paying for your new life? Your upkeep, lodging, transportation, security, your trips…

We demanded a minimum of security to go to the dialogue and obviously the government would not give us that. We have to ally ourselves with other sectors, like the private sector and civil society. It is not just the private sector. Oxfam is there, the María Elena Cuadra Movement, agricultural producers and ranchers, etc…

How did the trip to Washington come up?

That trip was something very strange. We are very unhappy with that trip. Even with our representative. When we planned it there were already many actors wanting to intervene in the agenda. That happened from the beginning. I am refering to organizations, opposition politicians, some more from the right… That trip was financed from the US (Freedom House) and an agenda was imposed on them, and that was terrible. They were the ones who decided which students would go.

Why did you accept it then?

We did not accept it. We were going with a clear issue that they would attend the General Assembly of the OAS. It is terrible. We did not know about the meetings with Ted Cruz, Ileana Ross nor with Marco Rubio. We are very unhappy about that. When the young people come back, we are going to talk with them. We cannot cede on what is fundamental.

What are you refering to?

That they did not tell us that they were going to those meetings. It was very strange. All the movements now have advisors. People that get around. Offspring of politicians, businesspeople…They have a very clear political line. Of the three students that went to Washington, two are from the April 19th Movememt and one, Fernando Sanchez, yes is from our alliance.

And he did not tell you where he was going?

In the Coalition they no longer see us as groups. Someone called him and told him: we are going to take you. They did not communicate anything with the rest of us.

What is it that you do not like about the meetings with Rubio, Cruz and Ross?

We do not sell ourselves out! Not even in our own Alliance. We propose our points above the table. We have legitimacy and this alliance exists because of us, not because of the private sector, and we can discredit the alliance and leave. We are not the children of COSEP. I am from the left, I would not have gone.

How have those meetings been received within the University Alliance?

We are going to have to do a plan for correcting mistakes. We have created a terrible image for ourselves. If they were already saying we were children of COSEP; what are they going to say now, that we are the children of the US Republican Party? We have to talk about this when they return.

In your opinion are there actors interested in manipulating you?

Many. I was in the UPOLI (Polytechnical University, one of the first taken over by the students to entrench themselves) on April 22nd, and I remember then how many actors that I recognized were there already looking to talk to someone. There were many groups fighting over student leadership. And many trying “to advise”. That is the key word. The “advisors” that I think are making decisions and there are movements that are letting themselves be advised by certain people.

What is your relationship with COSEP in this situation?

We are very clear. We know that when COSEP does not need us, they are going to throw us away. But we have other plans.

Are you going to reveal them to me now?

Of course. History tells us that we should not submit ourselves to the political and economic agenda of the business sector, and we know that they will leave us in the streets. We know the risk that we run by receiving their support. They believe that they can ask us for something in exchange. We are insisting on justice and democracy, and there are some things that we say that they have not liked.

Is there no contradiction in that you, opponents of the system implanted by Ortega and the large business sector, are being supported by those same business people?

Yes there is. There were two pacts that allowed Ortega to come to power: the one he made with Arnaldo Aleman, and the one he made with big business. When we started to dialogue with the business leaders, we did not do it with (José Adán) Aguerri (Executive Director of COSEP), but with Michael Healy (president of the Union of Agricultural Producers of Nicaragua, UPANIC) and with Álvaro Vargas from FAGANIC (Federation of Associations of Ranchers). We believe that COSEP now is in dispute. Healy´s chamber is the most belligerent. We have the business leaders as allies for the dialogue, but we do not trust them. Once we were very clear with them: we told them that we were afraid that the dialogue would be a show for the media and that the real dialogue would be happening under the table. That is still a fear. We are demanding justice and democracy.

And justice means having all the corrupt people in court? In other words, even the business people who end up being accomplices of the corruption?

Yes, of course! But first those responsible for all these murders have be tried.

If Ortega resigned tomorrow, as you are asking, and there was a call for elections, what would you do?

We are not longer committed to being a student movement, but a change for the corrupt political elite that has always watched out for its own interests. Maybe we might not be the ones who are going to lead the country in the short term, but we are going to be a belligerent force. If there were elections tomorrow, we would have to sit down with a lot of people. “Prepare the field”, as the OAS says. We are not only demanding transparent elections, but profound electoral reforms. We do not want just a change of elites. We do not want traditional parties. The Sandinista Front is not just to blame here, but the entire oligarchy and the political elite of this country, for complicity or for incapacity. We have made it clear to the business people that we did not want elections, but the resignation of the current rulers and the formation of a transitory ruling junta. Our struggle is also against all the traditional political parties.

So, how do you want to do it?

The FSLN right now is in crisis. Our fear is that if we give them more time to call elections, COSEP and the big business sector will make another tripartite pact [that is what they call in Nicaragua the agreement between Ortega, big business, and the unions, that has allowed Ortega to govern without counterweights, pervert state institutions and eliminate the opposition, with the blessing and complicity of big business which, in exchange, dictates the economic measures and benefits from the State]. We need guarantees that neither the political parties nor the business people are those who are going to take this. No one can impose their own interests.

But what would be, for you, the ideal calendar?

Private enterprise has asked for 14 months. That would allow them to pact with the regime or install themselves. We are asking for popular circumscription to participate in elections in alliance with other sectors.

But how, with whom, if you presume to not have leaders?

Every agreement of civil society needs today to be legitimized by us. We have to be pretty wise to know who are those called to exercise public posts. We are not approaching it with the logic of revenge.

Recently representatives of the OAS came and met with you. What did you talk about?

We talked. They did not say much. We clarified for them our positions and the scenario we are in. Ortega would like a pact with less belligerent actors. We know the love relationship between Almagro and this government. They say that the field will be ready for January, but they will have killed us by January. We presented our agenda to them. They told us that they are not accepting anything outside of the constitutional avenues.

And what was your counterproposal?

That in August there could be a call for elections. But first there has to be reforms. We did not accept any early elections.

All of this requires Ortega´s departure?

At the moment in which the dictator accepts our agenda, he would be surrendering. That we know. We would be twisting his arm. That depends on our capacity to get people into the street. Unfortunately we just played a bad role before the international community.

Let us talk a bit about your current conditions, closed in, with security…This has not made you lose your connection with the streets, that was precisely what you were able to win in April?

A lot. It has is cons but also its pros. It has allowed us to organize ourselves better, design strategies, lines of action. We have lost the contact with the barricades and our weakness is the UNAN (Autonomous University of Nicaragua), because it is very big. We are trying to integrate ourselves more into the Coalition. There was a moment when we were in the barricades. Now we are in another phase. It is no longer just entrenching ourselves. We are going to have to be very creative and learn from history.

You mention the word history a lot. Do you see yourselves as actors in a historic moment?

Yes, we know that. The circumstances demand making careful decisions and being disciplined. Calling this a revolution is beautiful, but that means changing structures. The priority now is that they do no kill us. Later, justice and democracy.

The dialogue rountable called by the Bishops Conference has been suspended. What happens if it is ended?

We are planning strategies so that the way of shutting down the country be more coordinated. A network of supplies. The possibility always exists for a shut down or installation of a ruling junta in liberated territory, like Masaya. They are ways of applying pressure.

(published originally in Spanish in El Faro)