Category Archives: Reflections

Here and There

It has been a strange week for me.

My  head spent the days immersed in matters like employee ownership, organizational strengthening, empowerment, open book management, continuous improvement, transparency and the wisdom inherent in organizations.

My heart was in Nicaragua, at the foot of Peñas Blancas, with more than 50 peasant producers who are spending the week in another edition of the Certificate Program, an on-site immersion into holistic development of their farms, coops, families and futures.  I have come to know many of these folks, having worked with them in previous settings, and I miss being with them.

My body was at home in Iowa, trying to figure out how to respond to a mysterious malady that inflames all of my joints and aches my body’s systems like a bad case of the flu.  I need to learn what is wrong and how to make it right.  I’m saddened not to be in Nicaragua and frustrated at the reasons for it.

So my time was divided among three states of being this week.  And as I reflected on my uneasiness at this state of affairs, it  dawned on me that what I was experiencing was not unlike the normal circumstances of our Certificate Program participants.  Their lives are under the stresses of being torn in multiple directions, as a way of life.

The heads of many peasants are filled with trying to discern what’s happening within their country.  Investment has all but vanished.  Foreign aid organizations have pulled out long ago.  There is enormous tension between the Ortega government and the Civic Alliance, giving ongoing potency to the anxious uncertainties of every day life, even in the countryside.

The peasants must have found it hard to concentrate on their organizations, with their heads already immersed in matters like: What is really happening in our country?  What is true?  What do I have to do to protect my family and myself?  Can I trust my neighbor?  How do I process all of it?  Of course, all of this is context for the ongoing, every day questions about climate, weather, the cost of inputs, the income from harvest, the presence and absence of rain, maintaining the farm, worrying about kids.  Oh yes, and the ever-present worry about health, of the family, of the spouse, of self.

Their hearts are firmly in Nicaragua, even if at times they cannot actually be there.  Despite the warped perceptions of a U.S. president, under normal conditions Nicaraguans essentially have little desire to leave Nicaragua.  It’s their home.  It’s both their inheritance and their future assignment to their children.  They treasure their history and culture no less than any U.S. citizen does about their North American homeland.  But if conditions and opportunities diminish to the point of complete destitution, then alternatives become realities, and the idea of immigration emerges.

Their hearts know, deep inside, that only new ways of managing the coops will bring about greater success, despite the urges to cling to the old ways, the means by which survival has been possible for generations.  There is heartbreak in leaving old ways, the comfortable ways, behind.  It can even feel like betrayal.  There is anguish in having to choose the unknown.

Their hearts remember that the land that once belonged to their elders, and that should be destined to belong to the youth, is a sacred trust, an honor-bound commitment to family.  But their hearts also are fatigued from the consumption of energy and spirit by injustices that so often infect the poor.  My acquaintances in Nicaragua are strong of heart, unflinching in the face of crushing poverty, but also realists who are willing to break their own hearts for survival.

Their bodies are the resilient homes for hopeful spirits.  Their physical bodies are asked to endure and thrive in the face of limitations on healthcare, nutrition, clean water, education opportunities, healthy incomes and environmental health.  In the face of huge  physical demands, the rural farmers accept and adapt to such challenges as a matter of course, and largely fulfill the requirements of their days.

I cannot help but imagine the course of activities undertaken by such a farmer experiencing my current set of symptoms.  With some embarrassment, I imagine perseverance that puts my days in these weeks to shame.  In many ways, our Nica colleagues are far more adaptable to change than we might think.

Comparisons are a likely outcome, I suppose, when time is abundant, when my head is teeming with ideas, when my heart is restless and my body compromised.  But there is substantial learning available despite it all, and I find that my Nica colleagues can teach me well, even from a long distance away….

 

 

 

in Nicaragua, working with peasant farmers on issues of cooperativism and continuous improvement.

All of Nothing

It is a well-known fact that within the many cultures which have existed throughout history, tales have emerged which have attempted to teach us the “way to live.”  Aesop shared his fables, Hans Christian Andersen told his fairy tales, the Brothers Grimm wove their grim yarns and Dr. Seuss rhymed his most passionate views so that we might seek direction on the path of integrity and morality.  The tales continue to be told to this very day, as we apparently have not learned a great deal from the old masters.

Many years past, there existed  a small village of little renown.  The hamlet was nestled among the mountains of a blessed land, with flowing waters and thickset forests and wildlife so diverse that even the elders of the community could not claim to know all of it.  The rugged qualities of the earth made for a difficult living, but a contented one.  The periodic disruptions of Nature and from other, less fulfilled communities, only served to deepen the enthusiasm for their way of life.  Worries of a sometimes insufficiency were muted by the comforts of a way of life.

Many generations lived in this way.  But there came a day when one of their number became obsessed with the desire to possess much more than his neighbors.  He did not require more to eat or nicer clothing to wear or a better dwelling in which to raise his family, but he coveted such things.  And so, with deliberation and malice, he slowly  acquired more than he needed, and always at the expense of others.  When his fellow inhabitants- with deep curiosity- questioned his actions, he took even more from them and they became his subjects in this giving place.  Without sensible reason, the man’s sole objective became ownership and control over all that the hamlet had to offer.  The passage of years bore witness to his greed.

Of course, the people who were dispossessed did not favor the new apportionment of the resources of the land, but being of peaceful demeanor they did not strongly contest the arrangement until many had too little on which to even survive.  They eventually came to object- first, with measure and words, then with anger and weapons- and they drove out the one who had laid claim to their wealth, though at great cost of resource and years of strife.  When the people had finally prevailed,  spirits climbed high with the belief that fairness had been restored to their place and time, and expectations returned to where they had been before.

But the return to earlier times of a shared life together could not take root.  Something had changed in the minds and the wills of too many, who had witnessed the  plunder and been stricken with the same illness to take, to fatten their shares and reduce those of others to their own advantage.  Soon, new privilege emerged, with still more of the community gifts finding their way into the coffers of a very few.   Competition for the most favored spaces in vying for excess became normal, and along with it arose disparity, deceit, departures and even death.

With the passage of generations, the old way of life slowly, imperceptibly, eroded into a past footnote.  The people no longer imagined a life of equality or even impartiality.  There came to be little that was shared, as all means truly belonged to but one owner.  And it could finally be said that she held all of nothing….

The alternative path of associativism

The alternative path of associativism

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

The betrayal of their own path

People dispossessed for so many years collected their savings and gave them to one of their sons, Solin, for him to pay for the coffee that was collected from their own group. Solin had never had so much money; he was like a deer in the headlights. He paid for the coffee. Some of the same people who had saved, behind the back of the rest, went to him to get him to lend them money. Solin first said no, but these people insisted, and he gave in. More people showed up, also from other parts of the country, and he ceded. Solin felt like a little patrón, “The people trust me”, his chest puffed out like a balloon. This path of giving out other people´s money, saying that it was his, led him to lie and believe his own lie. When other people showed him his mistake, Solin offered them money to shut them up, and if they did not accept it, he would slander them. One day he looked himself in the mirror and was frightened to find that he did not recognize himself.

When the owners of the money asked him to give it back, he had lent it all out. “And where is the money?”, they raised their voices. “You have already eaten it,” the theft reverberated like 10, 100 and 1000 years ago. Solin and several of the savers had betrayed their own path. Both took the path trodden for centuries by the old hacienda owners and fieldhands, by the comandante and those who died, by the manager and those who believed themselves to be cooperative members.

This story illustrates what happens frequently in cooperatives. A group of people save, define their purposes, agreed on their rules and then betray that path. The old path trodden by the patrón where the fieldhands follow for their pay, become indebted and to look for a favor, a path also taken by governments and churches (“Holy Patron Saint”), clouds and blocks any other path. In the story this group of people and Solin look at themselves in the mirror, or ask about their resources, and are surprised to be on the old path of dispossession, moving from being “servers” to “being served”. Their biggest tragedy is not so much the use of the money, but the fact that they have betrayed their path, this is the reason for the bad use of the money and the fact that their lives have taken a 360 degree turn, arriving at the same place. How can people who organize be able to follow their own path?

1.     Individual-collective duality and the dilemma of betrayal

In organizations that face corrupt acts, there is finger pointing, accusations and complaints. “He is incorrigible”, “he is guilty of bad administration”, “she is not accountable”, “she uses our money for her benefit and that of her managers”, lash out the members. These

 phrases in a cooperative belie an individual perspective, accentuated by the religious conservatism of “personal salvation”, and by the neoliberal doctrine where what is important is the individual and not society–there is no such thing as society, said the first female British Prime Minister M. Thatcher in 1987, during the full eruption of neoliberalism. Reproducing this perspective, nevertheless, is a way of “washing our hands”, of showing oneself to be innocent while pointing out others as the guilty parties.

These same expressions, nevertheless, can be read as “spitting against the wind” from the collective perspective. Because the member who is doing the accusing, with or without a title in some organ of their organization, on seeking a loan directly from the administrator, behind the back of his own cooperative, is not exercising his/her role, and/or violates the rules of their own organization; on the other hand, the corrupt administrator establishes himself reproducing the idea of the patrón;: “With 100 cordobas I keep them happy.” Many times even the State or aid organization officials who support the cooperatives borrow money from the managers, knowing that it is money that belongs to the cooperatives. “The spit” also falls on this member and this official who preaches cooperativism. A systematic act of corruption happens, above all, because of the lack of functioning of the respective organs, because of the lack of compliance with the rules of the organizations, and the accounting norms on the administrative side, as well as because of the acceptance of aid organizations*.

The members know the rules and procedures, but they see them as tedious, “paperwork”, “bureaucracy” – high transaction costs, they would say in economics. The members of the organs also see it in this way: “meeting is a waste of time.” While the patrón “from one big roll” decides to lend to them or not. In this process the members believe the administrator about any version about the source of the money, there is no culture of verifying their versions, because, they think, it would be distrusting and ungrateful; for that very reason, they do not ask for receipts either, the patrón does not do receipts – his word is enough! In addition to believing him, they fear him, “a person with other people´s money is capable of anything”, they whisper, so they keep quiet – do not speak in front of the patrón! This is a rule that is resurrected. From here the “vice” of playing with “other people´s money”, more than individual and exclusive of the manager or some president, is a collective “vice”; a collective act causes individual behavior – of corruption or honesty. See the upper part in Figure 1.

“The law is not being applied to him”, state the members and advisers of the organizations. With this they mean to say that organizations have laws, the State oversees compliance with the law; and that aid organizations have rules, and they do not apply them. This, however, continues to assume an individual perspective, believing that by “applying the law” “the patron is going to self correct”. It ignores what the history of any country tells us, “the patrón makes the laws”, be that with his right hand or his left. So we detect that this individual perspective, clothed in a collective and legal perspective, is moved by structures of dispossession; the “accusing”, the “abusing other people´s money” and “preaching laws” make the path of cooperativism disappear, and accentuate the path of dispossession – it is the dilemma of the betrayal. So we perceive that this structure is like rails for a train, it does not matter who the conductor is that is driving the train, nor how many years of schooling he might have, how many advisers and protectors of the law he has, that train will move along the rails; not matter who the administrators or presidents may be, these structures (“rails”) trap the conductors. In this way cooperatives can go broke, while these structures remain unmoved –“in an open treasure even the just will sin”, goes the saying.

At the same time this structure is being challenged. On the one hand, there are some members who cultivate a contingent awareness, that it is possible to make your own path and walk it; and on the other hand there are administrators who understand their role, respecting accounting rules and the collective perspective of organizations, shunning “inflating themselves” like balloons that run the risk of “bursting.” They do not “spit into the wind”, but recreate that collective perspective which finds itself supported by mechanisms that are coherent with more communitarian structures, and consultancies that study these rural underworlds – this is overcoming the dilemma of betrayal. See the lower part of Figure 1.

2.     Innovative mechanisms for cooperatives as the vehicle for repossession

“They do not let us be peasants”, shot off a Costa Rican leader in 1991, recognizing the onslaught of neoliberalism in turning the peasantry into workers and “wetbacks”. The “be peasants” has been more coherent with community structures, in conflict with structures of dispossession. It goes with mechanisms that make an alternative path possible, mechanisms that we have been learning from the exceptional organizations in Central America: see figure 2.

They are mechanisms that “de-commodify” peasant life, they involve awakening and organizing, deepening their roots, improving the organization of the commons, and sharing the path in a glocal alliance- because every space is glocal (global and local).

Mechanism 1: Voluntary genesis of cooperativism congruent with community principles

Nearly two centuries ago a group of textile workers in England saved part of their salaries to start a store, and with that stabilize their income and defend their basic needs. In Germany peasants organized to free themselves from usury. In both cases, the people understood that individually they were not able to overcome structural problems, like the low buying power of their salary and the usury that indebted them for life; organized, they could do so. Thus they defined their path and walked it. Over time cooperativism has expanded throughout the entire world and has become a double edged sword, a means for repossession for its members and communities from whence they come, and a means for dispossession when small elites appropriate it for profit. Read the brief dialogue in the box.

From the angle of the genesis of cooperativism, this dialogue shows the incomprehension of the administrator about what a cooperative is, as well as the wisdom of the younger brother about the social rule of “respecting someone else´s assets”. “The need of the other affects me”, says the administrator; precisely the crude “need” of people led to the fact that cooperativism emerged standing under the principle of respecting collective assets. The error of the administrator in this dialogue is providing a loan from money that is not his, and doing it outside of the rules and organs of the cooperative that named him “administrator”; with that he dispossessed the members of their resources, and full of a short term vision condemned needy people to suffering. Being “proud” is abusing “another´s assets”. This deformation results from the individual perspective derived from structures of dispossession.

The cooperative that originated in the will of its members to overcome structural adversities, and does it with rules based on community principles, like those expressed by the “younger brother” in the dialogue of respect for collective goods, is a long term structural mechanism.

Mechanism 2:  Rooted in diversified bases

The market demands a product and does not matter whether the one who produces it comes from one place or another; the State and aid agencies behave in a similar way, they legalize organizations or demand changes like “including women as members” without regard to where they come from. From working with cooperatives we learned that a cooperative that is rooted in its micro-territory has more possibilities of walking their walk, of being inclusive…

How to be rooted? Even though the members of a cooperative come from the same micro-territory, deciding that the administration –and therefore the financial transactions – are done in the territory itself, requires making explicit in a reflective way several beliefs written in stone for centuries: “Here they are going to steal from us, in the town there are Policemen and that is why it is safer there”, “no buyer or certifier is going to come out here to our place, we have to go out to civilization”, “here we are living in the brush, the patrón lives in the town”, “that little girl doesn´t know anything about administration, only men who ride on motorcycles know it.”

When the members of a cooperative come from the same micro-territory, and decide that their building and its administration are going to be in the same space, then we create favorable conditions for a good cooperative. The possibility that corruption might emerge and intensify is reduced. The mobility of the members to the cooperative´s building, as well as the attendance of women and men in the meetings is greater. We say that more women and men go to the meetings, because of the geographic proximity and because they do not have to travel to the municipal capital to attend meetings; the women can go to the meeting with their babies and/or children, something that is difficult if the meeting is in the municipal capital. This contributes to the cementing of trust among the members. Also the coordination between the administration and the organs of the cooperative can improve. The care of the members and board members over their administration increases, which is why the security of the resources of the cooperative in that place increases. Accessing information and asking their questions is also more possible.

The payments that are made in the territory itself to the members, be it for coffee, cacao, sugar cane or another crops, has an impact on the economy of the territory. The storefronts and small businesses sell more, new businesses tend to emerge. The interest of the partner of the member, and their children, in the receipts that their Father or Mother bring from the cooperative is greater. The possibility of having lovers under the argument that “I am going to town for a meeting” is reduced. It is like the butterfly effect in a world as interconnected as today´s world is, even more so is life interconnected in a micro-territory and in families.

Mechanism 3: the functioning of the cooperative organs and administration

The fact that a member might understand that organized they can overcome their structural problems is one step, the fact that they can facilitate that because their cooperative is rooted in their territory is a second big step. Nevertheless, there are cooperatives that in spite of having taken both steps, go broke or turn into a means for dispossession manipulated by small elites. The third mechanism is that each member, with or without a title, function in accordance with the rules and organs of their organization, without going “in secret” to the “real person in charge”, because the “real person in charge” in the cooperatives are its rules and organs.

It is easy to say that the organs of a cooperative function according to its rules. But it is difficult for it to happen. The phrase that is read in laws and management, that they are “management organs” illustrates that they are not “decision making organs”, that the power of making decisions was expropriated by the elites. How can the organs be “decision making” and the administration “management”, the former with a strategic role and the latter with an operational role? Apart from the fact that they know their statutes (rules), meet systematically and cultivate connections with their members and with external actors, the key is in the fact that they become learning organizations. How? First, each member is seen as a leader in their community, understanding that the biggest treasure is in their own social territory; consequently, their first task being multiplying their visits to other people, members or not of the cooperative, so that through conversations, they might understand the problems and opportunities that exist in their territory. Knowing them and sharing them is their fuel for pushing the cooperative to improve, and it is their source of ideas for enlightening cooperativism.

Second, the relationship between the administration and the organs is developed to the extent that they organize information, analyze it and on that basis define their policies and strategies to be followed. This provides work content for each organ. For example, information on loans and arrears is analyzed by each organ, particularly the credit committee; the Oversight Board finds one of its principle follow up tasks in this; the education committee, as a result of this analysis, proposes to work on financial education with the members about how to save, invest better and working with more autonomy, breaking with that old institution of “going into debt” and putting up with any exploitation for being “indebted”.

Third, making decisions based on the visits and the data analysis makes it possible for them to make better decisions. A particular area is diversification. A cooperative, even one with organs functioning acceptably, if it continues embracing mono-cropping, sooner rather than later will go broke; if it continues, it will work to dispossess. Promoting diversification, nevertheless, is difficult because of the atrocious structure of international power. Today to speak about agricultural cooperatives is nearly to talk about mono-cropping. So there are “successful” cooperatives that have credit, marketing and technology services just for one crop; the effect of mono-cropping on the peasant economy and the environment have been horrible for decades and centuries. The attached box illustrates the expansion of mono-cropping even through organic agriculture reduced to its dimension as a commodity, and the fact that people of good will from international organizations work against the peasantry while believing that they are “benefitting” them. Visiting and analyzing data leads us to question the origins of our policies and respond to the millennial strategy of peasant resistance: diversification and environmental sustainability. If the organs and the administration of a cooperative focus their tasks on diversification of the farm and agro-industry, their cooperative will democratize a little more, and will include more youth and women in general.

The geographical proximity facilitates organizational functioning, and this, focused on diversification, makes the cooperative be even more rooted, produces new innovative rules and starts the path of being an organization of repossession – of peasant viability with economic and social diversification, and environmental stability.

Mechanism 4: Glocal alliance for the cooperative path

These three mechanisms facilitate changes in the cooperative and in the economy of the member families and their territories, but they will achieve sustainability to the extent that they take on the attitude of a cooperative member. It is not just organizing voluntarily, looking at their territory, making decisions through their organs, it is feeling themselves to be, and being cooperative members. What does this mean?

For centuries indigenous and peasant families have cultivated a mentality of producing to eat. Then in the 1920s in Central America cash crops came in like coffee, sugar cane, cacao, and cattle. In that process they molded a mentality of being a “seller of coffee”, “seller of sugar cane”, or “seller of milk”. Consequently, they reasserted their territory (“country”) in their plot or farm: “My country ends with my agave fence”, they declared, which means that within this area there is a structure and a person in charge, that outside of that is not his world, that his world ends at the fence where the buyers come to buy his products. They do not even sell, they buy off of him. This mentality was intensified by the markets, “I will buy your coffee sun-dried or wet, the rest does not matter”, “I will buy your sugar cane”; likewise national and international aid organizations, allies of associative organizations, with people trained in universities that taught them that only “Inc.” companies produce profits, say to them: “work on the raw materials and the rest will we take care of”, “you are good for harvesting, industry and trade is our thing”.

What is the problem with this mentality? The peasant receives payment for their coffee or milk, that is their world; the other world is that of the patrón, where the profits are; the peasant never is interested in this other world, knowing what their patrón did with his profits; the very fact of asking him was showing ingratitude, insubordination and social suicide – their own people would treat them as someone trying to be his equal. This institutionality has been reproduced in associative organizations and their allies; a member looks for payment for their coffee, sugar cane or milk, they are not interested in knowing whether their organization generated profits or not; in Fair Trade the use of the premium of US$20/qq of coffee is previously defined in social investment, infrastructure… and $5 for the member family to invest in their farm; the premium for organic coffee of US$30 is perceived like this, “premium”, equal to a “roasted cow” that the patrón would provide for them at the end of the harvest, “premium” of a day of fiesta. In other words, the agave fence of the peasant member is “price of NY + premium” (see box); the member family understands that their profits and premiums are not an expression of their rights, but “a favor” (something “extra”, “charity”) of the local or global patrón, that is why they do not ask about it, do not ask for information, nor keep their receipts nor complain over the distribution of profits. Knowing this reality, the patrón (administrator or fair trade coffee buyer) repeats, “with 100 córdobas I keep them happy”, “with pig rinds and booze they leave happy”, “I buy from them at a good price and I give them a premium, whether that gets to the member´s family or not is their issue.”

Complaining over your profits is like being a “beggar with a club”. It is like a woman subjected by her husband, she feels “kept” and without the right to ask him about the “rest of his money”, and it is the mentality of the citizen who pays taxes and instead of complaining that his government reinvest in public works and provide him “good service”, see these works as the result of the goodness of the government (patrón).

The three mechanisms listed need to be complemented by this fourth one, with which we will move beyond this glocal mentality. How? First, building a mentality where the peasant family has awareness about the fact that their actions create value and have unexpected consequences, which is why they can refine their policies and carry out actions of even greater value and impact. This is possible if they observe and reflect on some details; for example, making sure that through the payment for the harvested coffee in that territory positive aggregate effects are generated in the economy of that territory, beyond their “agave fence”; observing the impact of their diversified organic agriculture on their farms as well as on the territory; reflecting on the effect of violating the agreements of their own cooperative, that leads them to lose resources as a cooperative and as a territory. On observing these positive and negative effects, the members can awaken their awareness of being coop members and of moving from their “agave fence” to understand that regardless of their purposes, their actions have a repercussion on the territory. In a parallel fashion, let also global actors awaken and understand that their actions have repercussions on the lives of the peasant people; if they look at a cooperative just as “coffee” or “cacao”, commodities, and believe that by providing a good price and premium they have already contributed to the families, they should ask themselves if they are sure that they have “contributed”; if one person turns into an elite capturing those premiums, are the buyers contributing to the well being of the peasant families?

Second, making relationships between different glocal actors (global and local) be living alliances that are committed to the formation of associativism, complementing the mechanisms mentioned here. This does not mean improving the prices of raw materials. It means that organizations add up all the income (value of sold product +premiums+incentives for quality and other bonuses), subtract their expenses and costs, and from the gross profits they agree to redistribute according to a certain percentage, let us say 50 or 60%. We repeat, it is not a matter of improving the price of the sugar cane or the coffee, it is not distributing the premiums; it is redistributing the gross profits of your organization.* The remaining 50 or 40%, or other percentage, goes to internal funds, social fund, legal reserves, investment fund in the organization…

Third, all the actors, cooperative, associative enterprises, aid agencies, Universities and State Institutions, we all should commit in an ongoing and systematic way to cooperative formation, based on the lessons and challenges of the organizations themselves. On emphasizing profits we are not reducing ourselves to the economic, we understand with Aristotle that quantity is an element of quality; consequently, the members will move from a mentality of “I am a seller of sugar cane” to “I am a seller of granulated sugar”, from “I am a seller of coffee” to “I am a cooperative member exporter of export quality coffee”. This will mean that each member pushes that their organization generates more profits and redistributes them, they will make an effort to be informed, to be trained, to diversify more. With these elements, the formation will help their cooperative and territory, the board and their members, the cooperatives in the north and the south, to maintain strong ties of collaboration and mutual learning.

3.     “Muddy” accompaniment from the underworld of the member families

Most cooperatives have been accompanied, be it by the State, Churches, aid agencies or Universities. Standardized accompaniment has meant providing them trainings, legalizing them, buying products from them and /or providing them with donations; it is an accompaniment that does not cross over toward the communities and the underworld of the cooperatives, which is why it ends up legitimizing corruption, or that cooperatives get turned into a means for dispossession. A new type of accompaniment is required so that these four mechanisms emerge, are adapted and make a difference.

Owen and other associative people inspired the emergence of cooperativism in England, Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen accompanied the first cooperative in Germany. A distinctive accompaniment in Central America has been that of the Catholic Church in the years 1960-1970; that accompaniment helped them to reflect on a God living among them, and a Reign of God that began in those very communities – the “treasure” (God) was in the communities themselves. This accompaniment gave rise to dozens of cooperatives and peasant stores based on their own resources; a good part of them still persist after 40 and 50 years[2]. Consistent with this type of accompaniment, even though not from a religious perspective, we describe here an accompaniment that enters into the cooperative underworld in interaction with the 4 described mechanisms.

What are the distinctive characteristics of this accompaniment? The first is that the accompanying people understand that only by entering the underworld of the cooperatives and their territory will they be able to understand the process in which the cooperative finds itself, awaken reflection and help create mechanisms like those worked on here. The fact that we intellectuals might have the “best” assessment is useless if the members are not reflecting on and walking their own cooperative path. For that reason the accompaniers need to pass beyond the control of the “patroncito”, be that the administrator, manager or president, and through the conversation be exposing the struggle between the path of the patrón and that of the cooperative, as well as the complexity of walking their own path.

Second, accompanying is discerning mindsets from the inside. Along with studying the cooperative underworld, where the old path is imposed based on betrayal and subordination, and where people wander between doubt and intuition, the accompaniers discern the mindsets in the cooperatives, and their own mindset as accompaniers. When the cooperative is trapped in acts of corruption, it is moving under the rules of “the clever one takes advantage of what he administers”, and “we always need a patrón”; these rules conceal actions against their own organization; then the members see the accompaniers as “intruders”, unfurl the banner of “autonomy” to keep the accompaniers from “crossing over the threshold” of the territory, and make up lies in the territory that these accompaniers “are taking advantage of the cooperative.” Discerning their mindsets implies “muddying ourselves” in their beliefs and lies, at the risk that this might erode the legitimacy of the accompanier and drive him/her out of the territory. What distinguishes good accompaniment is the persistent act of overcoming our own mentality that it is “enough to train, legalize and help them to export in order to live better”, “taking their pulse” and innovating with member families to the extent that destructive mentalities that prevent learning are dispelled.

Third, accompanying well is allowing member families to take their own steps, provided that we understand that our actions also have repercussions in the lives of the member families. The accompanier risks the fact that the members might perceive him or her also as a “little patrón”, impairing them from walking their own cooperative path. Let us illustrate this with one experience; in a cooperative, after the second mechanism took place, of rootedness, the results in terms of informational transparency, reduction of corruption and a motivating environment because of its economic and social impact in the territory were admirable. So the board members complained to the accompaniers: see attached box.

In the box the leader sees the accompanier as a “little patrón” with the capacity to stop the corruption and impose decentralized administration on the territory of the cooperative. The response of the accompanier to the first complaint is that having intervened as a “firefighter” to “put out the fire” of corruption, even though this act would have saved them financially, it would have constrained them from building their own cooperative path, which is structural and long term. The response to the second complaint reveals an accompaniment that helps to innovate mechanisms to the extent that it studies and learns from the cooperative itself and its underworld. Even now that we have innovated these four mechanisms they would not be recipes for any organization, they are mechanisms that need to be adapted to each situation, and that each cooperative should experience their processes. These two responses illustrate that accompanying is letting member families walk their path, provided that it studies them and provokes reflection.

Finally, in this process we are getting to know ourselves, re-knowing ourselves in our actions, and we are developing a sense of reasoned compassion. Not the “rational being” of homo economicus. On understanding the mentality of a group of members who “always need a patrón that steals from us”, we understand that for more than 100 years this institution has been deeply etched in their grandparents and parents, reproduced now by this group. At the same time we understand that this institution is not characterized by “being peasants”, but that it is the centuries old path of the patrón-fieldhand. This reflective reasoning envisions this reality for us, and awakens “being peasants” in the lives of cooperative member families and our lives, through respecting the collective good, the rules of the collective and mother earth, the horizon for which we produced the four mechanisms.

Accompaniment makes us remember that the change is in alliance between the peasant families and those of us who accompany them, while we walk together. It is not a stationary accompaniment, but along the road. It is a tense alliance, with stumbles and doubts, but embracing each other for the purpose of creating a vehicle for repossession to the benefit of peasant families.

By way of conclusion

We began this text with the following question: How can people who are organizing follow their own path? First we identified how the colonial patrón-fieldhand path intensified by capitalism that only values merchandise (commodities) erodes the cooperative path, and leads people to betray their own path. This teaches us that individual actions respond to certain perspectives (individual or collective), and they in turn come from structures in conflict, communitarian structures and structures of dispossession; and that this cooperative path is connected with community life, also in resistance for centuries. These two paths clash, for example, in “the good of others”: the colonial and capitalist path is nourished by dispossessing “the good of others” (land, financial resources, labor) from the peasantry, while the cooperative path is connected to community structures which precisely originate in repossessing “the good of others”, which in this case is the “collective good”, material assets (financial resources), as well as alliances and collectively decided arrangements. This “good of others” in the cooperative path is then a “social relationship”, as Federici would say.[3]

Lining ourselves up with this cooperative path, we list four innovative mechanisms that, contrary to the saying that “in an open treasure even the most just sins”, make the cooperative into “a treasure with rules and associative governance where even the biggest sinner becomes just.” These four mechanisms are: voluntarily organizing, rooted in specific micro-territories, making the cooperative organs and administration function, and within a glocal alliance framework help the member families to cultivate an awareness of “being a cooperative member”, that their actions generate changes in their lives and the life of their territory, and making the cooperatives expand their profits and redistribute them with informational transparency and as an expression of respecting “the good of others” (common good, collective good, their own good), in contrast to capitalism that is nourished from dispossessing material assets from peasant families. Then we argued that cooperatives need an accompaniment that makes a difference, that crosses over formal and despotic structures and gets into the underworld of the territories, from which they innovate with the member families, like the mechanisms listed here, and accompany them through thick and thin.

Is this text important only for cooperatives and their allies in their social territories? What happens in the cooperatives and their social territories at the micro level is happening in countries at the macro level. Following the cooperative vision is overcoming the “commodity” vision, the colonial patrón-fieldhand path and the belief that “with money you can even make monkeys dance”, and it is creating a society that cooperates, makes rules and follows them, expands their profits and redistributes them, learns and democratizes. Will it happen?

[1] René has a PhD in development studies, associate researcher of the IOB-University of Antwerp (Belgium), collaborator of the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/) and member of the COSERPROSS RL. cooperative rmvidaurre@gmail.com.

[2] A case to illustrate this type of accompaniment is that of the Cooperativa La Esperanza de los Campesinas in Panama. See: R. Mendoza, 2017, “A priest, a cooperative and a peasantry that regulates the elites”, in: ENVIO 425. Managua: IHCA-UCA. http://www.envio.org.ni/articulo/5304

[3] Lucia Linsalata, 2015, “Three general ideas for thinking about the commons. Notes around the visit of Silvia Federici” in Bajo el Volcán, year 15, number 22. Federici talks about the commons in the community, she says “there is no commons if there is no community”. In this article we present the cooperative as an expression of people from a community who decide to organize, and for them “the commons” is within the cooperative, even though in relation to their communities or social territories.

But What About Yareli?

It has been a year now since I last traveled to Nicaragua.  I miss it.  Some might wonder what there is to miss in a land of extreme poverty and, now, civil turmoil.  A couple people have even suggested to me that I must be glad not to be going to Nicaragua anymore, given all of the unrest, and observed that I picked a good time to retire from such travels.  In all due respect, they are wrong.

I miss the interactions with Mark and Ligia and Rene and his team.  I miss Bismarck and Edmundo and Corina, and all of the cooperative members with whom we have worked; they likely never knew it, but they are among my heroes.  I’ve stayed in many hotel rooms over the past year, but none of them entice me back for a return the way that Hotel Chepita in El Cua does.  Sometimes I even miss beans and rice for breakfast.

It’s easy for me to feel melancholy about what has transpired in Nicaragua over the past year; there are plenty of reasons to feel so.  But I’m certainly not the one paying the price.  Nor is it the well-connected in Nicaragua, who have plenty of safety nets in place.  As always, it’s the most marginalized part of the population that is taking the biggest hit from the current conflict.  The standoff began as students and older citizens confronted the government, but the  biggest losers are the rural peasants,  Some have been killed. Others have been  “disappeared.”  Most have lived in fear of rogue gangs roaming the countryside, who operate based upon whim.  At the lowest end of the economic and social totem pole, they are experiencing a deeper and accelerated decline as the rest of the world pulls back from the uncertainty that is Nicaragua today.  Jorge has not been able to resume his studies at the University of Central America (UCA).  But what about Yareli?

Yareli is the little girl whom I encountered outside of the Roberto Clemente School in Ciudad Sandino some years ago.  (I wrote about her here on May 5, 2012.)  Her face virtually lit up the space around her, and her gesture of greeting and blessing is as priceless to me today as it was seven years ago.  I can’t help but wonder where she is today, whether she is safe and well, how the turmoil of the past year has affected her beautiful smile.  I try to imagine her family and what their experience has been throughout this period.

As is true in most things political, the little guy loses the most.  It’s an ironic truth that when the rich and powerful maneuver for more wealth or more power, the people who have none are the ones who ultimately pay.   The actions of the elites may be clouded in words of patronage and concern, but too often they are hollow.

And it’s true no matter what the civil milieu: big, wealthy countries like the U.S., and small, impoverished ones like Nicaragua.  (The recent U.S. “tax cuts,” touted consistently by the person in the White House, were not tax cuts for most.  Despite words of praise about looking out for middle America {praise mostly from himself}, the extra pay in weekly pay envelopes was more than neutralized by the losses in tax refunds for many. The winners?  The ultra wealthy.)

It is estimated by economists that more than 215,000 jobs have been lost in Nicaragua over the past 12 months.  These were not CEOs or senior government officials or bank presidents.  Job losses almost always accrue to the lowest level of employment and impact the people least likely to withstand loss of income, like peasant farmers who cannot secure markets during a downturn.

And what about Char-les?  Mark and I met him last year, during my last visit to Nicaragua.  I wrote about him here on  April  21, 2018.)  This was one inquisitive young man, whose curiosity about geography and the world were infectious.   He talked imaginatively about visiting Mexico and the U.S. and seeing whales.  A little boy with enormous visions is a beautiful thing to behold.  I hope Char-les is OK.  I wonder if he is safe and still dreaming about fulfilling dreams and finding answers.  I hope that his single mother is not one of the 215,000 people who lost her job.

In some ways the tragedy in Nicaragua is just one more example of injustice in the lap of the poor. It happens everywhere.   But it’s made more real to me because of Yareli and Char-les.

The events of the past year in Nicaragua are tragic.  They are made still worse by the imprint made upon the lives of small angels….

 

My Time Is Running Short

My time in direct service to the peasants in Nicaragua, that is.  On March 1 of this new year, I will step away from my role as Chief Executive for Winds of Peace after thirteen years.

In 2005, WPF Founder Harold Nielsen had been stricken with pneumonia (at age 90) and was hospitalized.  I had just retired from leading the company he founded in 1948 and he asked whether I might help out by overseeing the Foundation for a few days, until he had sufficiently recovered.  I did so.  And within the first days of substituting for him, I knew that this was the work that I wanted to do.  I drove to Rochester, Minnesota, where Harold was hospitalized, wondering to myself how I might gracefully interject my services into his small foundation.  But when I entered his room, he was sitting up in bed and spoke almost before I could say hello.

“I’ve been thinking,” he said (true to form).  “This illness has really hit me hard.  It’s getting harder for Louise (his wife and Foundation co-founder) and me to travel to Nicaragua all the time.  Maybe it’s time to pull back.  Would you have any interest in taking over the work?”  And that quickly, I received one of the great blessings of my life.

I entered the role knowing almost nothing about Nicaragua, beyond a visit I had made there at the close of the Contra War. in 1990. I knew of its poverty and something of its victimization by the U.S. over its history.  But I did not know the people, I did not comprehend the rural sector where we would work, I did not appreciate the obstacles that an entire element of a nation’s populace must face for survival.  I had moved from for-profit to non-profit over the course of a few days.  The only thing I knew about development was how to spell it.  I neither spoke nor understood Spanish and its nuances.  Yet the work was compelling.  And so was the learning.

I learned that a meal of rice and beans is fulfilling.  Not just for my hunger, but for its plainness and, in a small way, how it makes me feel tied to the life of the peasant producers with whom we work.  It is simple food that nourishes in ways that fancier food never will.

I learned that, given my many inadequacies, I am utterly lost without the skill to talk directly with those I so deeply admire.  Translation is wonderful, gestures are limited but fun, but the sidebar conversations and off-the-cuff comments are elements in relationships that I crave.  The limits of who I am both required it  and  prevented it.

I learned that regardless of how much one reads and studies, if one’s objective is to understand others, there is no substitute for personal immersion in the lives of those to be understood.  Being in Nicaragua is not enough;  an understanding of the realities of peasant farmers simply is not possible without being among them.  I have been blessed to have had work which allowed me that opportunity.  (I have wondered whether this might not be a valuable lesson for most of mankind.)

I have learned what it feels like to be utterly dependent on someone else.  Having work histories which promoted ideas of self-control and leadership of others, I struggled to learn personal lessons of followership.  I relied upon others for my language, transportation, processing of experiences, meals, accommodations, and virtually any other needs that occurred during my visits.  It provided me some insights about the feelings of peasant producers who have had to rely so heavily upon outside funders, an unresponsive government and the vagaries of natural disasters.  It is discomforting.

I learned that, notwithstanding  my long-held view of my own personal privilege, that insight has been significantly understated.   There is no rationale, no reason and certainly no deservedness to explain the contrast between what I have and what others so desperately need.  To be in the presence of true poverty is to be humbled to one’s knees.  I am likely to spend the balance of my life trying to understand this and to discern what I am called to do about it.

I learned the lesson that Harold Nielsen so fervently hoped that I would learn all those years ago when he provided me the opportunity to represent Winds of Peace.  Harold would offer the wish that I “would become infected” with the outrage and despair of fellow human beings living in sub-human conditions.  Harold got his wish, and I became sick over the truth of the poor.

So, thirteen years later I still cannot speak the language.  But I learned a lot….

 

 

 

 

 

 

Losing the Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

“No one would like to have a murderer as the woman who gave you life”

This is an interview done this week of Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo,  Rosario Murillo´s daughter, and Daniel Ortega´s step daughter. (She is mentioned by Pinita in the previous post). Here she compares her experience of being an abuse victim of her stepfather and the complicity of her mother, with the current experience the country is undergoing.

Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo

“No one would like to have a murderer as the woman who gave you life”

“Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo no longer have a way out”, stated Zoilamérica, daugher of Murillo in exile in Costa Rica.

By Yamlek Mojica Loásiga, August 21, 2018 in Seminario Universidad

“We are facing a fundamentalist sect”, Zoilamérica Ortega Murillo.

The name of Zoilamérica has been in the collective memory of Nicaraguans now for decades. Daughter of Rosario Murillo, and step-daughter of Daniel Ortega, who in 1998 she denounced for having raped her for more than 20 years, and Murillo for being an accomplice of those crimes. Since then she has been the victim of harassment and intimidation on the part of the presidential couple. Five years ago, due to that same persecution, she went into exile in Costa Rica.

Zoilamérica is a sociologist and currently works as a university professor. She states that what is happening in Nicaragua is a case of a fundamentalist sect similar to the Nazis.

In this interview she analyses her mother´s way of governing, and the persecution of the Nicaraguan state against opposition actors of Ortega even on Costa Rican soil.

Do you think there are similarities between the crisis of Nicaragua and your history of abuse?

There is a sensation that life trained me to experience the first symptoms of the cruelty, manifested in the abuse, as well as in the terrible vengance that my mother undertook in order to get from me a retraction of my denouncement of Daniel Ortega for sex abuse. And to silence and isolate me.

I feel that the most difficult part is not that the brutal and ever more unscrupulous forms of repression against the people be repeated in the scenario, but rather the way in which the exercise of power has been internalized.

I have compared it exactly to the dynamics between sexual abuse and the abuser, in the sense of this first stage that the cycles of abuse have, of manipulation, of the creation of conditions to get one to consider the right of possessing. I feel that unfortunately the revolution has become a great tool for manipulation.

In my case there were the family connections between the abuser and myself: in this case it was the manipulation of the symbols of the revolution, the discourse, the sentiments, all the history. That manipulation worked, I believe, in the same way that it works in sexual abuse. On that basis we give over quotas of our will to that person. In the case of sexual abuse, out of fear, because of the co-dependency, a point arrives where the abuser annihilates all your will. Likewise in Nicaragua we were giving over quotas of power that ended up building this abysmal concentration, that annihilation of will.

Then, I had no other option than remaining isolated for a long time, remaining for a long time under the effects of what the violence then was. But the hardest thing is seeing how this process of manipulation in the violence in Nicaragua, the concentration of power, was also similar in terms of the silence that surrounded me for many years.

In what sense?

I remember that after I made the denouncement, the question most asked of me was whether anyone knew. Now we can ask ourselves: Did no one know that there had been so much electoral fraud? Did no one know about a political pact that was done to distribute among themselves the branches of government? Yes they did know. Why did no one say anything? It is confirmed that complicity does work, and that sexual aggressors clearly choose those they want to convert. We were vulnerable coming from a context of dictatorship, and we thought that we were going to get out of it, fully believing in someone.

It is the same thing that happened with a ten year old girl who came from a world of deprivation and that suddenly the revolution comes, added to that power, and invents for her a world of protection that then turns into a world of abuse. I believe that the most complicated part for me has been that it is being repeated today. The complicity of my mother becomes present again. A complicity with two actors who have as their only purpose in life keeping and sustaining political power. Exactly in the same way in which they stated their alliance around denying the facts about which I accused them, that capacity continues functioning in the same way that they try to disguise and give another version of the facts.

Why do the ranks of the Sandinista Front of National Liberation keep quiet about Ortega?

I think that part of this manipulation has to do with turning loyalty into complicity. On the other hand, if we take that path, denouncing is a synonym of betrayal, thinking differently is also a synonym of betrayal. In this fundamentalist culture that the Sandinista Front has, enough mechanisms have been found to also subdue willpower. This subjugation also is marked by opportunism, because there are also those who have been paid to quit thinking. Nevertheless, I believe that we should not assign the same responsibilities to the leaders, as to people who so far continue expressing to being close to feeling that the FSLN is their option. They are people who, in spite of everything they see, want to try to rewrite history. There are people who will continue saying that they are sandinista, and that they are going to continue supporting a sandinista government, even though they are not allowed to say that Daniel Ortega is not the one. I think that it is important to understand the quota of pain, of sacrifice of many people. Still in Costa Rica there are people who say they have contradictory emotions, of course, because it hurts them to say that they gave everything in exchange for nothing.

You talk about loyalty. Is the FSLN loyal to Rosario Murillo?

I would not call that loyalty, but submission, She has a capacity to exercise leadership in a ruthless manner. Being ruthless implies that everything that is in front of you should be useful to your purposes. Without being able to say no. Loyalty assumes your willingness, but none of these people are asked if they want to be loyal to her, but rather today are trapped in a power dynamic that they cannot get out of. Even this mechanism of turning everyone into murderers so that in the end all are accused is part of the same dynamic. That is not loyalty. It has to do with methods of profound subjugation. This that I am telling you has to do with that Machiavellian capacity for subjugation. She is an expert in creating forms of submission. I do not know if there is another person with the same capaity for impregnating fear. It is very interesting because suddenly in the Nicaraguan imagination, even up to a very short time ago, Daniel was the good one and Rosario was the evil one. This precisely has to do with the fact that his gift is manipulation, and her gift is creating terror.

Why the insistence of Murillo on minimizing people? Why does she need to describe the oppositon as “residue” and “scraps”?

Something that for me was always difficult was the indifference. In other words, with that indifference the message is: “you do not exist”. I did not exist as her daughter for ten years, ten years of not knowing absolutely anything until I withdrew the lawsuit, because I couldn´t do it any longer, because that was being translated into revenge. Where I am getting at, on the one hand, is that profound conviction that “no one is as great as them.” On the other hand, is the mystery of the verbalization in order to be small. I do believe that people have compared the Nazi context and the superiority of the races to them. Here also we are facing a fundamentalist sect, only that it was created tailor-made to the need itself for alienation. It is an act of absolute arrogance and superiority that turns into something very dangerous, because no one is like them. This means that everything that surrounds them should be eliminated, and even more so the smaller they are. In this search for answers they think that they have some type of insanity, and in that way we excuse them because “they do not know what they are doing”, and that is not true. Or we give them the proper title of dictators and we think then this justifies their political logic, but what we have in Nicaragua is worse than that; it is a case of political alienation. They are alienating everything that would justify them as the omnipotent and only ones with the power to lead the country.

What do you feel when you see the name of your mother accused of so many crimes?

In one of the vigils for Nicaragua I had a very intense experience, because seeing a sign of Rosario Murillo and Daniel Ortega with a big sign of murderers still touches my conscience. I think that no one would want to have a murderer as the woman who gave you life. It is profoundly contradictory. It still is a blow to my humanity. Nevertheless, it is the reality that I have had to live with and about which I continue to learn, above all, trying to understand what this is going to mean for me in the future. This is the most difficult thing. There are people who do not know the difference between them and me; there will be a time at the end of their days that I will have to articulate where their story ended and where mine ended.

You fled from Nicaragua in 2013. Do you identify with this exodus of Nicaraguans who are fleeing out of fear of your family?

There is a principle of refuges status that is interesting, and it is called fleeing out of a well founded fear. I would say that for Nicaraguans you will have to open a chapter that would be called “well founded terror.” If I could express the level of terror that I experienced on knowing that my own mother could be capable of hurting me and hurting my children, I can understand that the situation of fleeing is because they are sowing terror. They want left in Nicaragua those who accept being subjugated, they do not care how many of us leave, as long as those who stay accept being in jail, kidnapped, and that they are not going to accomplish. Definitely those who come from Nicaragua are people who cannot live with that fear that they are sowing. It will have to be seen what it means to have a wave of terrorized immigrants with the conditions that implies. They are designing a country tailor-made for the reign that they need.

Persecution from paramilitaries has been denounced within Costa Rica. Do you believe it?

I think it is very difficult for the government of Costa Rica to admit it, but the geographic closeness would allow one to think that this risk exists. It is a serious situation. Above all because of the possibility that they might have deserters within their own ranks fleeing to Costa Rica, and they can be the people who supply information that can implicate them. It has to be understood that Daniel Ortega above all is going to avoid a trial for crimes against humanity; the family, better said. We have to be careful in not placing in doubt the capacity of the Costa Rican state to protect us; rather, it is recognizing that they can turn any circumstances into circumstances of risk.

What other things have you experienced here? Have you been the victim of xenaphobia?

Costa Rica is a country with highly advanced legislation on all these issues; nevertheless, in the case of xenaphobia, historically it has had to share the country with immigrants. This can generate contradictory feelings. On the one hand, admiting the ethnic diversity of this country, the labor participation that we have. Nevertheless, the level of acceptance of us foreigners can be increased. I think that at times we have very marked cultural differences and this can generate reactions of exclusion and very big distances.

The people mention a lot “the New Nicaragua”. What does this mean for you?

The New Nicaragua for me means an educational process that tries to deal with this legacy. If my family sowed anti-values and perverse practices, I would like to contribute with something, deconstructing that or giving testimony about what I had to do to be less Ortega Murillo and more Zoilamérica. That which is coming also is an unresolved stage. No more leading roles, no more the need to be highlighted as the best option. Every time a person uses the social networks, they are using a mechanism of power that is outside of him. First let us reconnect with our own power.

How do you see the future of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo?

I feel like there is no way out. In the pursuit to build a trap and a jail for all of Nicaragua, they built their own; they are trapped. The problem is that they still have with them all the victims of that spiderweb of power that they wove. Gradually that will be freed up. The stage that we will still have to see will be when their own people turn on them and say: “this is as far as we go.” Surely that moment for them will be the most difficult one. So far, they continue accustomed to the fact that no one objects to their will. The international community is going to have to test out ways, like they did with the peace accords. I am sure that this also is going to imply moving from this type of mechanism to something that might be truly effective, and, if not, it will be up to us Nicaraguans to do it.

 

Letter from a Christian in Nicaragua to a priest in Spain

The following is a letter written by Pinita Gurdian, a well known member of the Christians in the Revolution movement in the 80s, in response to a letter from a Spanish priest friend. It is a witness to how she – and her family – lived their faith in response to the events of the day. In the 70´s and 80´s, that faith led them to sacrifice for the Revolution.  They continue to risk themselves  for a revolution, but one that she feels is being prevented by those  in government today.

August 16, 2018

Dear Benjamin,

Since I received your first letter about what is happening in these times in Nicaragua I wanted to write to you. I have thought a lot about what I wanted to say to you, because, even though we met for a short time, those years of dreams and utopias connected us as so many people who dreamed and worked for justice. Since that time, your name was always on the list of friends that offered so much solidarity during the Revolution, who I continued to tell about the process that little by little was developing and that later deteriorated over the years.

Our family, as you know, was fully committed to the revolutionary process through our Christian commitment. We completely abandoned all our goods and privileges to join this process, in which we believed all our dreams would be fulfilled of a more just society, and more in accordance with the faith that we said we professed. Our children committed to all the tasks that the moment required, many times putting their lives ar risk, to such an extent that in 1987 one of my sons was seriously wounded in combat, whose result left him with permanent lesions in various parts of his body, among them a cerebral lesion, and he had to undergo seven later surgeries.

At the beginning of the process everything was going well and our enthusiasm grew with each accomplishment. I do not question the intentions of those who led us to victory. This is shown in a paragraph in the first proclamation of the FSLN in 1979:

“Corruption and crime will be left behind forever: the use of the State as the patrimony of a family; the use of the Army as the personal guard of a tyrant and the prostitution of Public Institutions. The Government of National Reconstruction will direct its best efforts to promote and organize popular participation in the solution of the major national problems: hunger, unemployment, malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, illiteracy, lack of housing, the vicious legacy of fifty years of Somocism.” Proclamation issued on June 18, 1979, when the Government Junta for National Reconstruction was formed in Costa Rica, one month before the triumph.

We joined this project with our hearts, bodies and souls. But slowly that was changing, and even though we heard about abuses, luxuries when there was rationing, when authoritarianism began to be heard, we were blind and deaf. We did not want to see nor hear about what was right in front of us. Not all the leaders were in that line, but everything was changing, and criticisms were not permitted, with the excuse that we were suffering a war of aggression. Our guide and friend, and the person who was the inspiration of our commitment, the Jesuit Fernando Cardenal, member of the Sandinista Assembly, once had the courage to stand up and make a criticism about the lack of austerity of the leaders. One member of that Assembly responded to him, also publicly, saying, “You took a vow of poverty but we did not.” No one got up to support Fernando.

In spite of everything we continued forward because, even though many errors were made, we also saw the accomplishments to the benefit of the people, that can happen only within a Revolution. We were faithful to the end, and the day that the elections were lost I remember as one of the saddest days of my life. All those lives sacrificed, all those efforts to improve the lives of the poorest. And they, the poor, voted against us. The Revolution of that time had an independent and honest Supreme Electoral Council and they did not change the data, resulting in a loss for the FSLN. Everything has its cause and effect. The people, with their vote, expressed their discontent.

In 1994 the FSLN organized a congress where there was an attempt to change their leadership and provide opportunities for an entire generation that had been formed in the revolutionary work with strict discipline, but without renouncing their own criteria and thinking. A renovation was needed. The group that was led by the Ortegas and some others, like Tomás Borge and Bayardo Arce, denied any change, and another group of high level leaders, led by Sergio Ramírez, Dora María Tellez, Luís Carrión, Victor Tirado left and formed another party, The Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS). The first group was left with the symbols of the FSLN.

Since then the MRS became for them traitors, and they accused them of everything that tends to happen in Nicaragua, no matter how ridiculous it might seem. Very soon this party was stripped of their legal status. Nevertheless its members have always continued to be very active in politics, fighting and working for Nicaragua.

But the biggest betrayal of the FSLN was in 1998 when a shameful pact was made with the President of that time, Arnoldo Alemán, accused and sentenced as a thief. The FSLN pardoned his sentence, leaving him with with his booty and free from punishment. In exchange, the percentage needed to win the elections was lowered, and key posts in the branches of government were divided up, and since then they lost all their independence.

The most scandalous thing that they were able to cover up with the pact was the denouncement of sexual abuse from his adopted daughter, Zoilamerica Ortega Murillo, perpetrated by Daniel since she was eleven years old, before the triumph, when they were exiled in Costa Rica, and it continued on after the triumph of the Revolution. This was denounced in detail by she herself also in 1998. Rosario Murillo, her mother, also negotiated her power in exchange for protecting Daniel, accusing her daughter of lying and refusing her daughter all the support she needed. She currently lives in Costa Rica, because in Nicaragua she is denied opportunities to work and her partner was expelled from the country. In a speech Rosario said that she was ashamed of her daughter.

Daniel allied with the Catholic Church and penalized therapeutic abortion, a resource that had existed in the country for more than 100 years, for the purpose of ensuring the support of the Church. This has led to the death of hundreds of women. Doctors go to jail if they attend an abortion, even though the woman is in danger of death.

Thanks to these pacts Daniel returned to power in 2006. Likewise the history continued of abuses, ruses and electoral fraud, also changing the constitution to allow for re-election. Following later with a pact with private enterprise, with freedom to do all deals without state intervention and providing them with perks in taxes, etc. Everything, as long as they left him, Daniel, to do and undo whatever he wanted. In this way he was able to fulfill his objectives of illicit enrichment with every type of business managed by his children, and employing populism, giving handouts to poor people to get votes. He was doing all this using millions of dollars, aroud 500 million per year, that he was receiving from Venezuela. That money never came into the coffers of the state, forming a separate company for the exclusive use of the President, and leaving Nicaragua with a debt of millions of dollars.

In full view and knowledge of the Nicaraguan people, he sold the sovereignty of Nicaragua to a Chinese shell company for the construction of an interoceanic canal in Lake Cocibolca, the greatest reserve of fresh water in Central America. The purpose of this was to buy the lands that surround the lake at their property registry value, which are the most valuable tourist reserves of Nicaragua. Their owners are peasants who refuse to sell their lands, where they were born and were raised, and who intelligently know that they are the future for their children. Here is where the true rebellion began. They are not accepting selling at any price. This story began five years ago. International water experts have come in to give conferences on the ecological damage this would cause. The protest marches that the peasant have been doing with great frequency have prevented the beginning of the construction work.

It has to be noted that the policies that the IMF imposes have been strictly implemented by this government that calls itself, socialist, Christian and in solidarity, impoverishing with adjustment policies the poorest and benefitting the richest. Even though it is true that according to the World Bank poverty has been reduced in Nicaragua, it established a patronage model, and Venezuelan money was used to do big business deals. Nicaragua is considered as one of the countries with the most number of millionaires of Central America according to Global Watch Report 2014. At the same time Nicaragua today continues to be the second poorest country of Latin America and the third most corrupt (Infobae). The government that calls itself anti-imperialist needs the resources of the empire and depends on them. The only thing leftist it has left is the discourse.

We are experiencing exactly the opposite of what the first proclamation of the FSLN said, which this long letter began by citing. We have returned to repeat the same and painful history of abuse, repression, murder, jail, torture and persecution. I am not exaggerating if I tell you that our lives are in danger, above all those of us who really are fighting without weapons, more with words and denouncements. We are waging a civic struggle. We have against us a police force that responds only to Daniel, and an illegal group with weapons of war and faces covered, para police forces that shoot lead bullets mercilessly and without feeling against defenseless people, be they civilians, youth, priests or children. Since April 18th we have more than 400 people killed with shots directed at the chest, thorax, back or head. Unfortunately we have a good amount of youth whose lives have been changed forever, because of the impact received they have been left paraplegic or without an eye, because of the rubber bullets they received. Several hundred political prisoners, many of them savagely tortured. Hundreds of disappeared. Large amounts of youth who have had to migrate illegally through the borders to save their lives. Thousands who are in hiding for being on the list with death threats. As an example, Carlos Mejía Godoy saw himself forced to seek exile in Costa Rica. What I tell you is not an exaggeration. These are moments of terror. Everyone in the country closes their doors at 6pm. During the entire day one is exposed to being stopped, without any type of order or reason, even by para police, because if not, one runs the risk of receiving one or several bullets. They get you out of the vehicle, ask for your cell phone and review your contacts. They can go through what you have because they suspect that it can be food for people who are in hiding out of fear of being jailed. Very similar to what was experienced in Chile with Pinochet. We are waging a civic struggle, self convened, the only flags that wave in our marches are the blue and white of the Country and we encourage one another with slogans like “They were students, not murderers” and protest music.

The Catholic Church has played a role of prophet and the defense of human rights, exposing their bodies to the murderous bullets to stop attacks against the population. They have been beaten and insulted. Their word has been inspired in denouncement and in defense of justice. Just as I am critical with the behavior of the church in everything related to abortion, on this occasion I feel proud of being Church. I believe that I am not mistaken if I tell you that this behavior of the church is unprecedented. Two bishops were those who set the standard for this very extraordinary twist: The auxiliary Bishop of Managua, Mons. Silvio Báez, and the Bishop of Matagalpa, Mons. Rolando Álvarez, both Nicaraguans and have received serious death threats. In general all the bishops, priests, delegates of the word, catequists have been risen to the challenge, opening the doors of the churches to provide refuge to those who are persecuted and curing the wounded. The hospitals have fired from their jobs all the doctors and medical staff who tended the wounded. Several of the wounded died for being denied medical attention in the public hospitals.

The protest marches are massive and I participate in all with my blue and white flag, with the danger of receiving a bullet. But it is what I can do. Making statements with my face uncovered, demonstrating and helping, visiting and consoling. The day of the march that we called “The March of the Mothers”, in addition to being impressively huge, was May 30th, Mother´s day in Nicaragua. That day we remembered the mothers who had lost their children in the previous month and a half. The government put sharpshooters stationed in the high point of the new recently inaugurated baseball stadium, ready to kill at the end of the march. The result- 18 young people killed, many with bullets to the head from Dragunov weapons. As you can see the Police obey Daniel, and the Army, called to prevent armed groups outside the law, has declared itself to be impartial. A clear form of support to this government. One more sign about how Daniel and Rosario were able to coopt the Police, the Army and all branches of government to their benefit,.

The purpose of this letter is to share my vision from my Christian commitment and from the analysis of a heart-wrenching reality. The blood that has run in Nicaragua in the last four months of so many young people motivates me to share this letter with you, someone who I sincerely esteem.

My family continue seriously committed, but for a change that would benefit the great majority. Like in 1979, when our lives took a turn to work and achieve the utopia that our faith feeds. A change that would bring justice and democracy. The God of life, who is Father and Mother, will listen to our voices and will console our tears. I cry out to Him and in He I hope and trust.

A big hug with the usual affection,

Pinita