Drinking coffee as an act for peace in times of polarization
Nicaragua is once again extremely polarized. It is enough to compare different posts on our nica-update to see diametrically opposed views of the ongoing crisis. We post them not to imply that each perspective is equally true, but rather to recognize that important segments of the population hold contradictory views of what is happening and its underlying causes. Even more important are its implications for the future governability of Nicaragua –for any government to be sustainable, it will need to find a way to incorporate the interests of those holding the opposing viewpoint, no matter how “mistaken” they may be judged to be. We certainly learned this lesson at the end of the “contra war” in the early 1990s.
For our part, given that our major focus for the last few years has been accompanying Nicaraguan cooperatives, we have redoubled our efforts to support their economic and social enterprises in spite of the risks in these times of crisis, because we see them as potential oases of peace. Cooperatives generally have members of different political and religious perspectives who come together to achieve economic and social benefits for their members. By nature, they have to negotiate the accomplishment of common goals with members from different viewpoints.
Furthermore, the history of Nicaragua is full of examples where political violence starting in urban areas ends up claiming many more rural lives, as both sides recruit peasants by offering to meet their historic demands when they come to power. But consistently, after the conflicts end, while a few might end up benefitting, the effective political power of the peasantry remains largely unchanged, in spite of the many promises.
We see our contribution in this context to be helping cooperatives be successful economic and social enterprises in these difficult times. Because when successful, they contribute to the sustainability and stability of their territories, and thus lessen the attractiveness of purveyors of violence.
The problem is that because of increased country risk, credit to the countryside from both banks and microcredit organizations has largely dried up. No access to credit severely cripples the ability of cooperatives to play this role in their communities.
Since 1997, WPF has lent $3.7 million dollars directly to cooperatives and grassroots rural organizations, and has lent another $7.5 million to national microcredit institutions founded to support the rural sector. Even though these numbers show we are a small overall player, we intentionally set out to lend to groups that had never before managed a loan, precisely to help them establish a credit history, and thus open up other sources of credit to them. As a result, a number of cooperatives, and one now very large rural microcredit organization, have “graduated” to the point where they have “outgrown” the amounts we can provide, and now receive much larger amounts from a variety of lenders.
But as a small, private foundation (i.e. one that does not receive donations from the public), we cannot survive very long if those loans are not repaid. Correspondingly we have an overall loan loss rate of only 3.59% in this same period.
Even in this time of crisis, WPF has made loans to grassroots cooperatives worth just under $168,000 in this 2018-19 coffee cycle. But the risks only increase with this next coffee cycle, as economists point out Nicaragua now faces macroeconomic instability. Economic actors continue to send dollars outside the country, and international reserves continue falling. Specifically, this raises the specter that even though we make loans to grassroots coffee cooperatives, and they are able to export their coffee, once the payment for their coffee enters the country, the government may not allow those dollars to leave, thus making payment impossible.
The only way around this problem is to “triangulate” the loans, i.e. include the international buyers in the loan contract, where the buyers, once they have received the coffee, agree to transfer the amount of the loan and interest directly to WPF´s account in the US, sending the remainder to the account of the cooperative. That way the cooperative does not lose access to an international lender for not being able to make a transfer of dollars to the US.
We have already used this mechanism with a number of cooperatives. But given the new risks, we realize it has to be required for all our loans. The problem is in this last coffee cycle the number of contracts between cooperatives and international buyers actually dropped precipitously, while the number of contracts with “local buyers” increased to a similar degree. This strategy would not work with local buyers, because their payment to us would still have to overcome the hurdle of sending dollars outside the country during a possible ban.
Yet our research has shown that these local buyers are actually exporting all the coffee they buy. Given the uncertainty, it appears that previous direct international buyers are working through these intermediaries to source their coffee. This means that in this time of crisis, cooperatives are getting even less value for their coffee, as these intermediaries take a chunk of the money that previously went directly to them. Just when cooperatives need to be supported to promote local stability, they are even more hobbled by the new buying methodology.
WPF for some time now has been working with a team that accompanies some 50 cooperatives. Even before the crisis our team had been working with the cooperatives on issues of internal organizational effectiveness, equity, transparency, and effective member participation.
Now as a contribution to peace, we are willing to continue lending to these cooperatives, in spite of the risks. We want to form an alliance with coffee and cacao buyers interested in making a concrete and real contribution to peace in the countryside by buying directly from grassroots producer cooperatives. This is particularly important for this next coffee cycle.
We would not expect buyers to buy anything less than quality coffee, and the cooperatives we work with, in addition to providing the normal samples required by buyers, could also provide them with abundant information about their members, as many of them have done internal surveys, and even facilitated their member families developing their own “Family Investment Plans”.
Such an alliance would provide quality coffee to buyers, and would provide important income to coffee producers, thus enabling them to be oases for peace in their territory. In this sense, drinking coffee coming from such an alliance would effectively be an act for peace in Nicaragua.
Buyers and roasters interested in contributing to peace in this way in Nicaragua can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would also appreciate support from any readers in helping us make contacts with coffee buyers and roasters.
What follows is a translation of the agreement signed on March 29, 2019 between the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy (ACJD) and the Government of National Reconciliation and Unity (GRUN) within the context of the renewed National Dialogue. When sit-ins for the release of political prisoners were held the next day and were attacked by riot police, and a Sandinista Party member fired into the crowd wounding three, the ACJD accused the government of violating the accords the day after their signing. This shows the fragility of the situation in Nicaragua.
Agreement to Strengthen Citizen Rights and Guarantees
We the parties aware that, within the Democratic State and the Rule of Law, the Governors as well as the Governed are subjected to the rule of Law.
The parties, recognizing that according to Article 27 of the Constitution, “The State respects and guarantees the rights recognized in the current Constitution of all people who are found within its territory and are subject to its jurisdiction.”
Likewise, based on Article 24 of the Constitution, “All people have obligations to the family, community, homeland and humanity…the rights of each person are limited by the rights of others, the security of all and the fair demands of the common good.”
In virtue of this, we the Members of the Negotiating Table, committed to Peace, Justice, Safety, Democracy, Stability and the Progress of Nicaragua, agree on the following points:
Due process and effective legal redress
Urge compliance with due process and that effective judicial recourse be exercised, in administrative as well as judicial procedures, and ensure the fulfillment of the final verdicts. Urge that the corresponding authorities obey the constitutional mandate that establishes that every prisoner has rights. “To be placed in liberty or at the order of the competent authority with a 48 hour period after their detention.”
The State ensures that no one can be subjected to arbitrary detention or prison, nor be deprived of their liberty, except by causes set by law and with arrangement for a legal proceeding. Detention will only be carried out by virtue of a written order of the competent judge or from authorities expressly empowered by the law, except in the case of a being caught in the act of a crime, all pursuant to what is set forth in Article 33 of the Constitution and the procedures of the law.
The State ensures that the home can only be searched by written order of a competent judge, must b e done between 6AM and 6PM, with the exceptions that the Constitution establishes and always under the existing legal procedures.
In accordance with the Constitutional mandate, ensure the unrestricted right to all forms of property, without discrimination for reasons of birth, nationality, political creed, race, sex, language, religion, opinion, origins, economic position or social condition.
Security and National Defense
We urge the authorities to take the necessary measures to ensure the disarmament of those who bear arms without authorization, or of those who organize as armed groups outside of the constitutional and legal order. For the purpose of maintaining Public Order and Citizen Security, stop violent or aggressive actions of any person or authority.
We urge the Army of Nicaragua and the National Police to comply with the registration and marking of arms used by each institution, in accordance with the law on this subject.
We urge the National Police to adjust their norms of behavior to their own Organic Law and the “Basic Principles of the United Nations on the use of force and firearms by officials responsible for the application of the law.”
It is especially recalled that the confiscation or intervention of electronic mechanisms only can be done with the proper judicial order.
Rights of Nicaraguans outside the country
All Nicaraguans outside the country, particularly those who left in the context of the events beginning on April 18, 2018, will be able to return with full personal and family guarantees and security, in accordance with the law, and enjoy the benefits that these laws grant them.
Ensure the right to concentration, demonstration and public mobilization, in fulfillment of the Constitution and the Laws on this subject. On meeting the requirements established by the law on this subject , the National Police will authorize the exercise of this right.
Likewise it is recognized that the right to peaceful meeting, that does not affect the free circulation of people or vehicles, and that does not alter the normal co-existence of the population, does not require prior permission.
The unrestricted right of all Nicaraguans to the respectful use of the National Flag is fully recognized, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws on the subject.
Ensure the constitution of organizations of any nature, without any restrictions than those that the Constitution and the laws on the subject establish.
Review the decisions adopted in terms of the cancelation of the legal statuses of non profit associations that have been cancelled in the context of the events occurred since April 18, 2018, in order to achieve the restitution of their legal statuses and the return of their assets, when appropriate.
To this end the competent judicial authorities are urged to expedite the process proposed by the writ of judicial protection introduced against the decree of the National Assembly where the legal status was ordered cancelled of some non profit associations or NGOs in the same context.
Ensure workers the right to participate in the management of enterprises through their organizations and in accordance with the law.
Ensure that no worker in the public or private sector be fired for reasons of their political preferences, in accordance with the Constitution and the laws on the subject. We urge both sectors to contribute to the generation of new employment opportunities.
Freedom of expression and accurate information
The State ensure the unrestricted right to freedom of expression, the right to inform cannot be subject to censorship, nor can the communications media be the object of prior censorship, nor the use of mechanisms that can violate what is established in the Constitution and the Law, or that can limit the right to accurate and timely information.
The right should be guaranteed by the State to import paper, machinery, equipment, and spare parts for the social, written, radio and television communications media, all in accordance with the Constitution and the Tax Laws of the Nation.
The communications media should contribute to the development of the Nation.
Review the decisions adopted by the State in terms of the assets: installations, assets, equipment, documents, licenses and any other type of material and non material assets belonging to the communications media affected in the context of the events occurred starting on April 18, 2018, in order to achieve the return of those assets when relevant, in accordance with the Constitution and the law.
Consequently the competent judicial authorities are urged to expedite the processes for the purposes of returning to their legitimate owners what legally belongs to them.
We recommend that the competent authorities proceed to processing and expediting the processes for Habeas Corpus, Habeas Data and Constitutional Protection, whose resolutions require unconditional compliance.
Strengthen the full exercise of University Autonomy.
Right of the Original and Afro-descendent Peoples of the Caribbean Coast
The original and Afro-descendent peoples of the Caribbean Coast, as an inseparable part of the Nicaraguan people, enjoy the same rights and guarantees to which the current accord refers.
Definition of Terrorism and Terrorism Financing
The Delegation of the Civic Alliance asks the GRUN to review the antimony that might exist between the definition of terrorism and terrorism financing in Law 977, the Penal Code and the international instruments signed by the Republic of Nicaragua. The GRUN commits to reviewing the antimony.
The parties recognize that the Nicaraguan State, its powers and the rest of its institutions are the principal organs for the implementation of this accord, and that they promise, as it is their constitutional duty according to its article 6, to carry out this implementation in strict compliance with established constitutional principals, and being completely faithful to the spirit of this accord, under the supervision of monitoring of the Follow up Roundtable for the Implementation. If the agreements approved by the negotiation table enter into conflict with existing legislation, the table will take the necessary steps with the authorities for the reform of the legislation concerned, in order to reconcile it with constitutional principles.
This accord expresses the political will of the delegations to find the path for reconciliation, peace, security and stability. Its development and impact on the lives of Nicaraguans will be an essential basis to achieve these objectives. Its application will be an integral part of the process that is promoted from the sphere of this negotiation table. We the sectors represented here commit to promoting them with the best disposition. It will be society that appropriates the spirit of this accord and will make it a reality.
The parties agree and ensure that the points of this accord that require it will be applied through specific protocols, in accordance with the law. The application will be supervised and monitored by the Followup Table with the accompaniment of National and/or International Guarantors.
The implementation of this accord will begin with its signing.
Issued in the city of Managua on the 29th day of March of 2019.
[Signatures by GRUN and by ACJD and witnesses and accompaniers]
The Dialogue between the Government and the Civic Alliance was restarted on Feb 27 with daily meetings, so far just to set the framework and the agenda. It was reported that a key issue in dispute was the fact that the Civic Alliance wanted the Nicaraguan Bishop´s Conference to act as witness and accompanier, and the OAS and the UN to act as guarantors of the process. It was reported that the Government was opposed to both, as Daniel Ortega has accused the Bishops of being coup supporters and had expelled the OAS´s mission in Nicaragua a day before they issued their report on the crisis. The Bishop´s conference said they would only consider playing that role if they got an invitation from both sides. The Bishops confirmed the reception of an invitation on March 4th. They responded on March 8th with the following press release:
To our priests, religious, the people of God who have trusted in us, and all Nicaraguans of good will.
We, the Bishops of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua, meeting in an extraordinary session today, after praying and reflecting on the invitation received by Cardinal Archbishop Leopoldo José Brenes Solórzano as President of this Conference, on the part of the Government of Nicaragua and the Civic Alliance for Justice and Democracy, to participate as National Witness and Accompanier in the conversations of the Negotiation Roundtable installed in INCAE, being accompanied by two advisors, have concluded the following:
As we have stated in our press release last Monday March 4, we think that “ in this historical moment our greatest contribution as Pastors of this Church on pilgrimage in Nicaragua will continue being accompanying the people in their suffering and pain, in their hopes and joys, and raising our prayers of intercession so that Nicaragua might find civilized and just paths for a peaceful solution in view of the common good.”
We reiterate our gratefulness because at some moment in this process we have been taken into account, and we recall with the Holy Father that it is important to “know how to devise a means for building consensus and agreement while seeking the goal of a just, responsive and inclusive society.”. (CF. Evangelii Guadium, 239). We hope that these negotiations might have that spirit of the search for truth and justice.
We are convinced with St,. John Paul II, who on the occasion of the Jubilee of the Lay Apostolate in Rome (November 26, 2000) stated that “the hour of the laity has sounded”. Therefore, we feel that it should be the laypeople who directly take on the responsibility of managing in this moment the temporal affairs of the Nation.
Consequently, we desire that this effort attain a good goal, and we report that we have responded to the received letter, communicating to the participants that we will not be present physically in the forum of the negotiations, but we will accompany as pastors these crucial moments of our Country, exercising our prophetic mission and dedicating ourselves “to prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 7:4).
Once more “we exhort the believing people to intensify, particularly in this time of Lent, their prayers and fasting for our Country. That the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, obtain for us from her Son the capacity to be builders of true peace”.
Issued in the Offices of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua on the fifth day of the month of March of two thousand nineteen, Year of the Lord.
Juan Abelardo Mata Guevara, sdb
Bishop of Estelí
Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference of Nicaragua
There were some press reports revealing a division within the Episcopal Conference, with some bishops insisting that the Government had not shown a willingness to dialogue by continuing to hold political prisoners and not allowing freedom of assembly or press.
The Government followed the next day with the following press release:
Committed to the strengthening of democracy and respect for the Constitutional order of Nicaragua, and taking into account that Presidential and Legislative Elections are set for 2021, the Government of Nicaragua, through its representation in the Negotiation Table, has presented the following agenda points:
Strengthening the Electoral Institutions of Nicaragua through the implementation of the recommendations of the electoral accompaniment mission of the the OAS and electoral reform proposals which would improve free, fair and transparent electoral processes.
Justice and reparations to continue establishing peace, security and stability in Nicaragua.
Liberation of prisoners within the context of criminal acts that occurred starting in April 2018 against the State of Nicaragua, that still have not been tried, and those tried. Their records will be reviewed, a situation that should not lead to impunity.
Continue strengthening freedoms, rights and guarantees established in the Constitution of the Republic.
Carry out international negotiations to obtain support for the implementation of the final accords of the negotiations, and make a call to the International Community to suspend all sanctions against the Nicaraguan people, to facilitate the right to human, economic and social development of Nicaragua, benefitting the most vulnerable sectors of the population.
Implementation and fulfillment of the accords.
The Government of National Unity and Reconciliation reiterates a complete commitment to Reconciliation, Understanding and Peace for all Nicaraguans.
Ministry of Foreign Relations
Government of National Unity and Reconciliation
Republic of Nicaragua
March 9, 2019
This was followed by a press release from the Blue and White National Unity:
Press Release #21
Press Release on the Announcement of the Absence of the Nicaraguan Bishop´s Conference (CEN) in the Negotiations
The Blue and White National Unity evaluates the announcement of the absence of the CEN in the negotiations as an act of seriousness and dignity of those who have shown a clear commitment to the demands of the citizenry, before and during the heroic deeds of April.
The regime called for negotiations, showing a false intent, after 8 sessions it has not complied with any of the demands expressed through the Civic Alliance. Very much to the contrary, it continues leading one of the biggest massacres in the history of the country against a completely unarmed people.
It is using the dialogue table as a smoke screen to continue dismantling the country, just as it did with the tax reform and the trafficking of the money of BanCorp, making the citizenry pay for the money that the Ortega Murillo family and their allies embezzled from the Venezuelan aid.
We echo the demand of the political prisoners on a hunger strike, that they “are not bargaining chips” nor “objects for exchange”, all are innocent, and demanding rights does not constitute a crime.
We demand a peaceful solution, preceded by the immediate liberation of all the political prisoners, the end of the repression, freedom of mobilization, association, freedom of the press and the return of exiles with guarantees.
A solution to the crisis is urgent, but not any solution. It should incorporate the return of fundamental rights, early elections after the reform of the electoral system, and justice for the victims without amnesty.
A dialogue can only be credible with the CEN as mediator, the presence from the beginning of international guarantors, and the return of the IACHR, MESENI, GIEI and the OHCHR.
We call on the international community to immediately proceed with the Democratic Charter of the OAS, in the face of the repeated non compliance with the commitments signed by the State of Nicaragua within the framework of human rights.
The Blue and White National Unity redoubles its efforts to raise the citizen claims, demanding freedom of the political prisoners and democracy with justice.
This is an important speech because in it Daniel Ortega announces the renewal of the National Dialogue, and provides his perspective on it. As is his custom, his speech touches on many international issues. He also makes reference to the controversial tax reform that has been sent to the National Assembly for urgent approval. But toward the end he refers to the meeting he had with 5 of the wealthiest Nicaraguan businessmen to renew the dialogue (capitals are in the original Spanish text).
Speech of Daniel Ortega on the 85th anniversary of the death of Augusto Sandino, Feb 21, 2019 published in El 19 Digital, official website of FSLN.
Brother and Sister Nicaraguans; Family of our General of Free Men and Women, Augusto César Sandino…[greetings to different people follow]
All our Love, all our Affection from the People of Darío, the People of Sandino, to the People of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela that today are waging, once again, a Fight for Peace! This our Brother, the Constitutional President Nicolás Maduro, has expressed with complete clarity: Fight for Peace! fight for Sovereignty, fight for Independence!
The Fight for Peace is a Commitment that has its bases in the Spirit and Conviction of our Latin American and Caribbean Peoples, which is their Commitment to Peace. And that is how we left it written, all the countries, all the Peoples, all the Latin American and Caribbean Governments. They are there in their Principles, in their Pillars.
All of the Latin American and Caribbean is one Region, a Zone of Peace! This is what we said, this is what we committed to, this we swear to, this we ratify today on the 85th Anniversary of our General of Free Men. And Peace will have to be defended, and Peace will finally triumph, beyond the threats, because I am convinced, and all the Latin American and Caribbean Governments has thus said, in this we are unanimous, beyond the differences, where they would not allow, do not support an intervention, a military aggression against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Likewise have spoken the Countries of the European Community. Beyond the differences, beyond their political positions, they have said it with complete clarity. The differences do not mean that they would be in favor of intervention, of war; but that there is an agreement: it has to be worked on, initiatives have to be developed within the Constitutional Framework of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and Peaceful Initiatives, to find a solution through a peaceful means. This is how it has been left reported, and all of us hope, all of us desire that the threat can be transcended, that the attempts to want to turn the Region into a Region of warlike conflict be transcended, and that in the end Peace is going to prevail.
For our People, for the Nicaraguan Families, our recognition for the way in which they have been facing the challenges that the Coup attempt left us. Not just the irreplaceable loss of Human Lives, but also the damage to the infrastructure of Hospitals, Schools, Homes…how much damage! The damages to the Economy, to Jobs. With this criminal action they threw many Nicaraguan Brothers and Sisters into unemployment; they affected the foundation of our Economy that had sustainable growth in an uninterrupted way, growth that was between 4.5 and 5%. As we were attacking Extreme Poverty, reducing it, and reducing Poverty, carrying out Health Care Programs, Education, all to the Benefit of the Poor who are the majority of our Country, all to the benefit of the Workers, the Working People, all to the Benefit of peasants, to the Benefit of Youth, to the Benefit of women.
How many programs that were moving ahead, that were being multiplied, and the tenacity of the Nicaraguan People winning the respect of the International Community, and the International Community contributing Resources, Projects, Programs to the Benefit of Nicaraguan Families, and to the Benefit of Communities, Villages, Municipalities. And how grateful we are for that Aid, that Unconditional Solidarity that you have offered and continue offering, you Brother Peoples to the Nicaraguan People.
The Coup was so hard in the economic terrain, in the economic sphere that it led us to have to discuss, debate in the National Assembly, and opening the discussion to the different Economic and Social Sectors, from the Smallest to the Largest, so that they might contribute their ideas, their Proposals to the Tax Reform.
A Tax Reform that bears the objective to seek how to raise, in an extraordinary situation, the basic resources to maintain the Health Programs, so that the Hospitals do not close; to maintain the Schools, the Education Programs, and that the Schools do not close; to ensure Basic Services for the Population; to inject through different Programs greater strength in what is the Entrepreneurial Spirit of Nicaraguans.
Because the Brothers and Sisters who were left unemployed did not stay seated along the sidewalk, but immediately an entrepreneur was born there. Because all of us have the potential to undertake the most diverse tasks, the most diverse activities, and these initiatives have multiplied, which give rise to the fact that Productive Activities from below are being strengthened, while the medium and large Sectors that were affected, also are looking for a way to strengthen themselves, and that, uniting efforts, all of us Nicaraguans can take up again the Path that we were walking at a good pace, that we might take it up again, that we can open again this Path of Security, Well-being for Nicaraguan Families.
This is the Battle for today, and this we all know. This is the Fight today and we are all committed to this Fight, and in this fight, of course, the Example of our General Sandino inspires us, because it is a Fight for Sovereignty, it is a Fight for Self Determination, it is a Fight for the Well-being of Nicaraguan Families.
Because we know well that the Thinking and Program of Struggle of our General Sandino did not just propose the defense of the National Territory and Sovereignty in the face of the foreign invasion to the point of expelling it, but that it also involved Social order Programs, and a very big emphasis on Programs to Benefit Peasants, Craftspeople, what was the economically active population in those years, in that time.
And as a good son of Bolivar, he also demanded the Supreme Dream of Bolivar, and he expressed it well, that he presented well in his Document written there in the Segovias, where he presented the Plan for making a reality the Supreme Dream of Bolivar. In other words, the Unity of the Latin American and Caribbean Peoples. That is how he reflected it, that is how our General Sandino raised it up.
We know that we are immersed in a Fight where expansionist interests are always moving, always interests are moving for which there are no borders, and they think that borders constantly have to be defined by the force of military might. Still, in spite of the fact that the World has advanced in terms of Plurality, in the Economic Order, in Trade, and in the Military Order, there are also those who resist understanding that the World for a good while now has ceased to be Unipolar, that Planet Earth cannot be dominated and subjected to any empire.
Those times have now been left behind, and now other Economic Forces were configured, other Political Forces were configured, other Cultural Forces were configured, they have now been empowered, and we are now facing what is the emergence of the Multipolar world, which is emerging, developing and is going to be established.
Previously it was one Power. After what was the disappearance of the Soviet Union, only one Power was left, the US power, and at that time it could have been thought: well, now the World has become completely Unipolar, the entire world moves subjected to the might of the US Power. But beyond the existence of those two blocks, which was the Soviet Union and the United States, already being configured, already being developed were other Economic Forces, other Social Forces, other Countries, other Nations, and that is what we have now on our Planet, and that is what has to be established and what will finally come to ensure and affirm Peace in our Planet.
In this Region we have the possibility of developing and strengthening a Power, without atomic weapons. Because by Principle and Commitment, we Latin American and Caribbeans have in the Tlatelolco Treaty the commitment from that time: No nuclear weapons! Our weapons have to do with the enormous Wealth that our Nations have in Latin America and the Caribbean; the first Wealth, the People! People with Identity, Hardworking People, Creative People, with a lot of creativity, Entrepreneurial People, Fighting People, and then the Natural Resources of the entire Region.
That is why Rubén [Darío] used to say, and then Sandino, “Latin America and the Caribbean United!” Not to wage war against anyone. Not to turn us into a Power to go fight over Territories and the dominion of other Areas, but to eradicate Poverty from our entire Region, and develop Well-being, develop Health Care, develop Education, develop Culture, Technology.
Everything that today is in the hands of the Developed World, develop it here in our Latin American and Caribbean Region, and here, all united, of course we turn ourselves into a great Power. A Power for Peace, a Power for being brothers and sisters with other People, with other Nations, to put into practice as well the Principle of Solidarity, which is a Principle that is in Human Nature.
Meanwhile, here we continue struggling to defend Peace and ward off the threats that always exist in the World, of provoking acts of violence, or Terrorism; or acts of violence like those that we see every day in other Nations.
In the very United States of America, how many acts of violence! How many deaths! And it does not make us happy, it hurts us, because we are also Brothers and Sisters of the US People. We are not enemies of the US People, we are Brothers of the US People! Our General Sandino was not an enemy of the US people, this is what he said and wrote, he left proof: Brother of the US People!
What we cannot accept is that the most powerful feels the Right to abuse the one he sees as weaker, in economic terms and in military terms. That is not democratic. This is not just. This is not Christian. This goes against the Principles contained in the Charter of the United Nations that we on the Planet have all signed, from the most powerful Countries to the smallest Countries. It is left enshrined there: We have equal Obligations! And we have equal Rights; therefore, we have to respect one another! And Peace, like the Economy, like Health Care, like Agriculture, like everything, Life itself, has to be taken care of every day, it has to be defended every day.
We already know about this other plague that crosses our Region… General Avilés, General Díaz: Drug trafficking and Organized Crime, where the big consumers are in the North, unfortunately, sadly, they should not be in neither the North nor the South, because drugs are poison, in all its forms, all are aggressive and end up annihilating the one who falls into drug addiction.
We already know that the big market is in the North and the production is in the South; a production that was never conceived by our ancestors, nor by the coca growing Peasants of Colombia, Bolivia, from those Countries. It was never thought to turn it into a drug.
A leaf that is energizing for the Peasants, for the Indigenous, energizing like Coffee can be, our brothers and sisters still chew it there. But later with Technology, for evil, with Science, for evil, then poison came from there, and the market began and those who produced and processed the drug there in the South, because, well, the path was made, Central America – Mexico to get to the big market, the United States.
This has implied a struggle that threatens the Sovereignty of our Peoples, because Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime aspire to take over Institutions, the States that are located along this path, including taking over the Institutions there in the big consumer market. Because for the drugs to get in there, there has to be complicity; so that it can then circulate in the Neighborhoods of the US Cities, there has to be complicity; so that they can launder billions of dollars in the US Banks, there has to be complicity. I don´t know if it was last year, or 2 or 3 years ago, because it happens frequently, there was a news story, a US Bank that had laundered I don´t know how many billions of dollars, punished! How? They fined it, they fined it, they applied a fine.
In other words, it is an activity that is pervasive, and in our case here in the Central American Region, well, connected to gangs, connected to the Maras, so a situation of insecurity Is created, instability for the Families of the Region, and they cannot move about peacefully, they cannot sell their products peacefully because they impose a tax on them. And if they do not pay it, they kill them. And they impose a tax on transport providers, and if the transport providers do not pay it, they machine gun their vehicles, and kill all the passengers that are in the bus.
This is happening with frequency in our Region, in all of Mesoamerica, we know it dear Brothers and Sisters, all of Mesoamerica is shaken by this terrible violence, terrible, that sows terror in Families and then also causes the exodus of Families that, seeking Security, migrate to the United States itself with the dream that in the United States they are going to find Security, they are going to find Jobs.
And he we are waging the battle, yes, with the lowest Budget of all of the Central American Region. Nicaragua has the smallest Budget, Nicaragua has the smallest Gross Domestic Product of the entire Central America Region; our Soldiers in the Army, our Police, have the lowest salary of the entire Central American Region; they have the lowest Budget, the institutions of the Amry, Police, of the entire Central American Region. And with these limited resources here the Battle is being waged, and this Battle is being won and has to be defended every day. Peace and Stability have to be defended every day, Security every day, and this Battle has been waged to give Security to Nicaraguan Families, to give Security, Stability and Peace to the country, this Battle is being waged.
And what is it that inspires the Commanders of the Army, the Soldiers of our Army, the Commanders of the Police, the Soldiers of the Police? What is it that inspires them? The Thought of our General Sandino inspires them. The heroic, vibrant, brave Fight of our ancestors inspires them, and that Sandino knew how to unite in one Thought, in a Program.
And this Fight has an element which is fundamental: Mystique! Mystique! That is why it is not by chance that the Army, the Police, with this mystique know how to wage the Battle against Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime. And they know that, to achieve effectiveness in the Battle, it is not enough that the Companions who are in the ranks of the Police, it is not enough that the Companions who are in the ranks of the Army; they know well that for this Fight for Security, for the Stability of Families to be effective, the Army and the Police have to be connected, be embodied with the Community, with the Neighborhood, with the people in the Countryside.
There is the great Strength, a Unity with the Institutions of the People, which explains the effectiveness that our institutions have to have achieved building a Retaining Wall in the face of Drug Trafficking and Organized Crime. And coordinating also from here, logically, with Brothers from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico; beyond, coordinating the Fight, and here in the Retaining Wall, and Families working in this Fight. Here is the explanation.
And recognizing the work the effort of Nicaraguan Families who in this difficult stage have been installing Small Businesses, Medium Businesses, of all types, to maintain themselves and their Families, and to offer services also to the Population, understanding that it is important to create better conditions so that the Country can be recovering.
This past Saturday, the 16th, we sent an invitation to a Meeting to talk about the Issue of Stability, Security, Peace, Economic Issues, and logically also there Political Issues came out. And in that Meeting we were having exchanges with Leaders of the Business owners, Leaders of Nicaraguan Business owners who since 2008 until April 2018 were working, without political conditions. In other words, it was not a Political Alliance. They with their Political Thinking, without ideological conditions, they with their Ideological Thinking. It did not even occur to us to tell them that they should become Sandinista Affiliates or Militants, it did not occur to us! Because we know well their Political Thought.
In all the Elections that we had, since the one of 1990 to the one of 2016, in all these Elections they always voted for, or sympathized with or supported the Parties in Opposition to Sandinism. But they did understand that it was essential, given the conditions of underdevelopment, because we have to say it in that way, of the Nicaraguan Economy, there had to be Agreements, Alliances of an Economic Order to fight Poverty, create Employment, develop Health Care Programs, etc, everything that the State needs to be able to respond to the People in their basic demands. And we were moving forward at a good pace.
But on the other hand, there were the extremist groups who condemned and challenged this Understanding and that Alliance, accused the Businesspeople of being now like Militants of Sandinism, as if now politically and ideologically they have turned into Sandinistas, and as always, going to the United States to denounce them there, when the results were being seen of a Country that was progressing, was growing, was defeating Poverty. But in April that understanding was broken, was destroyed with the loss of Lives that those who attempted the Coup caused; they also did enormous damage to the Economy of the Country.
And well, to meet with them and so that later it would not be said outside that they had come to seek their Sandinista Militant identity card, so the presence of Cardinal Brenes and Nuncio Sommertag was necessary for them. So they came, the Cardinal came, the Nuncio came who were Witnesses about what we have talked about and what we said there.
And what should we do to ensure Peace, Stability, Security? And that we might open a new Path, because we can no longer speak about the fact that we are going to return to the previous situation, no longer, that is already past! That is a stage that was burned, they burned it with everything that that terror meant in those months starting in April.
But rather opening a new Path, and to open a new Path then one of the expediencies, talking, exchanging, of establishing, well, opening an Encounter, installing a Round table in that Encounter, a Roundtable to negotiate, negotiate to establish Peace in our Country, negotiate to build that New Path, that New Road that would improve the conditions so that the Country, and therefore the Nicaraguan People, can more quickly be recovering from the effects of the Coup attempt of April. So we made known the topic of the Encounter, and that the objective was that, and we agreed there to begin to dialogue so that they also might work on their Proposal, and with whom on their part could this Roundtable be installed. Because, well, they have to decide that, we cannot say who they are going to place from their side for a negotiation with the Representatives of the Government. That is a Principle in any negotiation.
This Process has been happening, and I would say that we are making efforts so that this Roundtable can be installed for the Negotiation, that now next Wednesday [February] 27th the Roundtable can be installed, no longer with the multitude, no, no longer with the multitude, nor with the Communications Media. That is not correct in any Negotiation.
We there really with that Negotiation, now some laugh in the midst of a tragedy, because it is a true tragedy; but in that Negotiation, we broke a Guinness Record, yes, we broke a Guinness Record, because it is the only negotiation that there has been, that has existed, multitudinous and transmitted live and in color…Never! Never! So nothing good could come out of that Negotiation.
All the successful Negotiations have passed through even completely private Processes that have lasted weeks, months, at times years, and where then those who negotiated were 2 or 3 on each side. In other words, that is the Procedure, and big fights, big battles like that of the Heroic People of Vietnam, finally arrived at some Negotiations where likewise it was step by step, discussing between both parties how it was done, where it was done, details, and then the Accords came out.
The Negotiations that the United States have carried out, for example, with the Popular Democratic Republic of Korea, something that seemed impossible, because the United States only would offer “rocket attacks” at Korea, and Korea “rockets” as well, and that is how they were. So it seemed like the End of the World was coming, the Third World War now with atomic weapons.
All of a sudden a Delegate from the United States converses there, a Declaration comes out, after Declarations from the President of the United States, and then the Initiatives that the Government of the President of Korea took; first, he took the Initiative of inviting a Delegation from North Korea to the [Olympic] Games there in Korea, and the Delegation arrived led I believe by a Sister of President Kim Jong-un. See that is what Diplomacy is there.
Then the Meetings that the President of Korea has had, they have had several Meetings with the the President of North Korea, advancing in Agreements. And the President of the United States meeting with President Kim Jong-un…Who would imagine it? Who would imagine it? Whoever listened to the President of the United States talk about President Kim Jong-un before all these exchanges, it seemed impossible that they could even speak! Well, they had a Meeting, now they are going to have a second Meeting the two Presidents there in Vietnam.
That is the example that has to be followed! This the Government of the United States should promote here in Latin America, with those Nations with which they do not have good relations. They should promote this type of Policies, of Communication, of Negotiation for Peace, in this case for the Peace of the Latin American and Caribbean Region, like it is doing with Korea.
And if the United States can do it with Korea, why are they not going to be able to do it with Latin America? Or do you need to have Atomic Weapons for them to be able to treat you in this way? Then we would be feeding the arms race, and we would be feeding the atomic arms race; because any Country is going to say: Well, for them to respect me I need to have Atomic Weapons, and the more Atomic Weapons we have in the World, at any moment, for any mistake even, an atomic weapons goes off, atomic artillery of any Country where there are atomic arsenals, and the World blows up, we all get blown up!
That is how we are, we are on top of an atomic arsenal, with the potential in atomic weapons to blow up 10 times the Population of Planet Earth, or 100 times. But well, the Path is the one for Peace: Negotiation! And here with the greatest seriousness, the greatest responsibility, we are taking on the commitment to our People, that this Encounter and that Negotiation that we hope begins on Wednesday, be charged with Good Will, Commitment, for what? So that we give our People what our People deserve, which is Peace with Justice and Dignity. Thank you.
You cannot direct the wind but you can change the direction of your sails.
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.
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.
Key words: rural youth, family agriculture, cooperative reorganization, innovation
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, 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.
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.
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 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 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. 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.
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 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 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, rural uprisings in past centuries in Europe, 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 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 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 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, 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. 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
-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
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.
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. 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.
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, 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”.
Table 3. Profitability of corn in dollars (Honduras, 2017)
Preparation (pd=person days)
Fungicide (lt herbicide)
2 fertilizing (pd)
2 fertilizing (sack fertilizer)
Bend and harvest (pd)
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
Breaking rules (underlying ideas in our minds)
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.
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.
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.
-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”, 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, 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, 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). 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 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. 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
Harsh (adverse) rules and bases for resignation, strategic conversations.
Redesign existing cooperatives (role of internal counterbalance) and creation of new cooperatives with new design.
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.
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. 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 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 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”. 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.
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.
 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: email@example.com.
 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.
 This saying relies on a play of words that does not exist in English: rayo=lightening, raya=stingray
 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!
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.
* 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.
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….
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….