Category Archives: Reflections

The Virus and Mental Frameworks

Virus and Mental Frameworks

René Mendoza Vidaurre

The best ideas are not implemented due to the mental frameworks that we carry with us. Peter Senge (1990) in his book “The Fifth Discipline” points out: “we carry in our minds images, assumptions and stories” that block the application of proven experiments, big ideas and refined proposals.

Beliefs allied with the virus

In the face of COVID-19 there is scientific information disseminated by the World Health Organization (WHO), governments and social networks. But most people ignore it. Why? Our minds are full of beliefs that do not cede space to new information, like a bucket full of water, when we put more water in it, none of it goes in, it overflows. In the same way scientific recommendations do not get into our minds, they spill out.

What beliefs? A belief related to the destiny of individuals is probably the most damaging, which goes like this: “when it is your time, it is your time”, “everything has been written”. A drunk who drives a car, crashes and dies, then you hear people say, “it was his time”, and “God took him”; with this they justify his irresponsibility, along with his social background of getting drunk and having caused the accident. A second belief says ”there is no better doctor than God”, “chlorine bleach does not save, God does”. A third belief is “you go to the hospital to die”. These three beliefs fill human minds and control people; it is not God who controls them, and they are not the ones who are “sent.”

Consequently, people heard that one can be infected in crowds (meetings, demonstrations, religious celebrations, parties), but that information slips out of their minds. People get into crowds without protection, because their mind tells them, “when it is your time, it is your time”, “God protects me”. If someone tells them, “God protects you if you take care of yourself”, that person will say, “the devil is putting me to the test, for God nothing is impossible.” And if the person gets infected with COVID-19, they resist going to the health center because “you only leave there in a box”, the historic distrust in the State that has dispossessed them of their resources ends up condemning them.

The worst that these beliefs can do is that people get resigned and only watch the days and nights go by. If everything is already written, people are the puppets of some supernatural being, which is why there is no reason to improve or change, unless that change “is written from above.”

The first step to avoid the virus: free the mind from beliefs

We do not resign ourselves to the fact that these beliefs control us. How can we free ourselves from them? A first step is talking about them to understand them, and asking questions that allow us to reflect. The very act of reflecting is already a big contribution, because the biggest power of beliefs is preventing people from reflecting. “Believing is enough, thinking makes one sick”- beliefs whisper into the ears of people. How to reflect? Let us read this conversation:

-The best doctor is God – Juan tells us, while he cleans beans.

-If God protects those who believe in God, why are so many pastors, religious, and pious people dying of COVID-19? –we ask him

-Ahh, I am sure that they did not have faith in God, I do have faith–he responds, very sure of himself.

-I wonder. Is it not that God expects people to do their part, take care of themselves and save their loved one, improving their diet? –we insisted.

-Who knows… –he no longer seems so sure. He begins to question, reflect.

This step also requires people who work in the chain of aid organizations, or the chain of State institutions, to do self-study and discover their beliefs. One of their beliefs is “people are saved with donations and training.” Correspondingly, they want the “papers” (receipts, contracts) of those donations to be “supported”, that products like chlorine get to the leaders of an organization, or that there be a health center. It is a technocratic assumption, which assumes that THE leader is going to distribute the products, that families will pay attention to what they are told, and that whoever gets sick will go to the health center. Provoking reflection includes challenging our own beliefs.

The assumption in the first belief is that “The bibles says it.” The Bible does not say that. What it says is that people have “free will” (“everything that you can do, do it with all your strength”, Ecc 9:10) and that “he who sows inequity, will harvest inequity” (Prov 22:8). In other words, each person writes their own story according to the circumstances in which they find themselves, the group in which they move, and their values. The assumption in the beliefs of many organizations and institutions, including intellectuals, is that “they know” the problem and the solutions for people.

When beliefs get examined, they appear as the beliefs that they are, they lose their power and that aura of being “sacred truths”. Then they can be expelled, even though that be painful; that belief has nested itself in the mind of the individual, who on expelling it, will feel “orphaned” and “insecure.” Nevertheless, once we are able to challenge these and other beliefs, the mind will have space to process new information, ideas or proposals.

Second step: testing new ideas in horizontal spaces

Let us look at an example of how people, on freeing themselves from harmful beliefs, can apply new ideas with better results. Up until the end of the 1970s it was believed that “the more brutish the workers are, the better they perform”, so bosses and experts would direct the work from their offices, while a ton of workers implemented the ideas of the experts. This is how the Ford car industry worked in the United States. But the Japanese in the Toyota industry discovered that belief as the cause for making expensive and poor-quality vehicles, they expelled those beliefs and tested new ideas in a gradual way and produced better quality and cheaper vehicles. What ideas did they introduce? That the experts and the workers innovate together, as a team they were all experts; that the workers should propose how to improve each action that they carried out; decentralizing decisions.  It was a revolutionary change that later was extended to other industries in the world, which was possible when people realized that they write their own history.

How can communities protect themselves? Reflection, we said, is the first step. Toyota teaches us that the environment (team, understanding that each person is an expert in their area, decentralization of decisions) favors the generation of new ideas, tells us to test and adjust changes gradually. A cooperative, association or a community store should facilitate these reflections and create these favorable conditions for producing ideas and applying them. The president, manager, donor, government or intellectual, should not act as if they were “gods” dominated by the fordist belief, that they already know the problems and the solutions for people, they should go to the homes of people and talk with them. How can we protect ourselves from COVID-19 and other viruses? The lowliest person can have responses, but a favorable environment is needed in their own homes and communities in order to produce and express them.

 

The 41st anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and the fall of the Ortega regime

The writer of this reflection on the implications today of the 41st anniversary of the revolution is known as one of the few Comandantes of the Revolution, and the author of a 4 volumes of  interviews of those who fought against Somoza. Her history gives special relevance to her reflections.  

The 41st anniversary of the Sandinista revolution and the fall of the Ortega regime

By Monica Baltodano in Confidencial, July 19, 2020

[original Spanish]

Thousands of Nicaraguans gave their lives in the struggle against the Somoza dictatorship throughout the forty years of its duration. The biggest quotas of sacrifice were paid in the final phase, when the population, particularly the youth, got massively involved in the insurrections that culminated with the triumph of the Sandinista Revolution, on July 19, 1979. It was a long and painful journey, that we will never forget.

During those decades of Somocism, thousands of peasants were disappeared; dozens of union leaders jailed time and time again; and hundreds of women fighters raped in the Somoza dungeons. The civilian population was massacred by bombs and rockets launched by Somoza aviation in the insurrections of 1978 and 1979.

What objectives moved the fighters from the liberal or conservative ideologies who suffered jailing, exile and death in different stages of the anti-Somoza struggle? What ideals prompted the youth to get involved in the Sandinista armed struggle at the risk of losing their lives? What united an entire people so that, coming from different ideologies, social strata or religious adherence, they would decide to contribute, from different forms of struggle, to the national torrent that put an end to the despotic regime that subjugated us?

In the end we were able to build a consensus, an essential front to the brutal escalation of the repression and the crimes against the population; one of the most abhorrent was the murder of Pedro Joaquín Chamorro in January of 1978. The people thought, if they killed Pedro Joaquín, who could be saved? So, the national cry was unified: Enough already!

For the construction of the post-Somoza Nicaragua, most of us were committed to our own model, derived from our reality, with its limits and opportunities. From a Nicaraguan reading of Marxism emerged then, the proposal for a mixed economy, the co-existence of a social, cooperative and State economy, with private property and markets. Most of us did not like the single party, we were committed to political pluralism, and we were not interested in aligning ourselves with any of the superpowers. We aspired to an independent and non-aligned foreign policy.

Even though Somoza called us “communists”, most of the militants fought to build a society where democratic voting prevailed, where people could organize to defend their rights and no one was persecuted for their political ideas nor for their religious beliefs. And many of us dreamed, above all, of ending the poverty that afflicted more than 60% of Nicaraguans. In the new Nicaragua there would be progress, education, health care and work for all. This country aspiration explains the involvement in the struggle of thousands of Christian youth and priests, from their convictions in the “God of the poor, human and simple God”, as the Peasant Mass goes.

What I want to emphasize is that the end of the dictatorship and the new national project came to be a banner under which the great majority of the Nicaraguan people got involved, and that on arriving at July 19, 1979 only the central nucleus of Somocism, a clear minority, was with the tyrant. July 19th was then the victory of an unquestionable social majority and a beautiful national celebration.

Unfortunately, our dreams were not able to be realized. This is not the place here to refer in detail to this, but we cannot avoid the fact that the decision of Ronald Reagan to fight the Sandinista Revolution, financing and arming the contra in a war, called a “low intensity war”, explains in part the unique course of the revolution.  In that civil war, like in all conflagrations, there were thousands of deaths, human rights violations, cruelty, grief and suffering of families to be regretted, all of that from one side and the other. So it is that the revolutionary government ended up restricting liberties, confiscating its opponents, installing unpopular obligatory military service and, in order to survive, ended up depending on the socialist camp led by the Soviet Union.

It ended up surprising, nevertheless, that in 1990 and in the worst scenario possible, with the economy completely destroyed, nearly inexistent social services, all the warehouses empty, all the attrition imposed by the war, and a precarious military situation, the revolution maintained 40.8% of support expressed by the votes.

During the decade of 1990 Sandinism was fractured. In this way the MRS emerged in 1995. Later on, in 1999, hundreds of us left, denouncing the neoliberal, authoritarian drift and the culture of power sharing in the top leadership of the FSLN, when Ortega made a pact with Arnoldo Alemán to distribute between themselves, and undermine, the institutions of the State. On coming to power in 2007 Ortega did it with new allies: liberals, conservatives, contras, part of the Catholic hierarchy and big capital.

The authoritarian regime of Ortega and Murillo not only did away with the already fragile democratic institutions of Nicaragua, but also put an end to the last accomplishments of the revolution. An organized people who learned to defend their rights moved to nourishing completely submissive organizations whose only currency is the defense of Ortega; critical and autonomous universities, ended up in the absolute control of the department chairs to impose the story of the government; citizen participation was replaced by vertical Orteguista control. The National Police, recognized as professional and apolitical for decades, became a guard of the dictator, highly repressive; and an Army that evolved favorably in the 90s under a patriotic and non-bellicose manner, became a strategic element for keeping Ortega in power. There are no vestiges left for political archaeology of the popular and progressive essence of the revolution.

All the authoritarian and corrupt policies, as well as the crimes committed, have been carried out in the name of Sandinism, the left and a project that Ortega and his followers cynically call “the second stage of the revolution.” Ortega in this way pretends to take over the history of the just anti-Somocista struggle. And at least for now he is achieving it. On the one hand, one sector of the combatants of that feat have been turned into paramilitaries responsible for repression against the citizenry. On the other hand, there are those who, for selfish interests, persist in assimilating the brutal Ortega dictatorship with the 1979 revolution; and the crimes against humanity committed in 2018, they incorrectly assimilate with the casualties of the civil war of the 80s.

In addition, while Ortega shows more and more his reactionary disposition, people from the Trump administration insist on calling him a communist. On the other hand, sectors from the international left take the empty discourse of Ortega as true, instead of examining his policies and actions, thus supporting a conservative, corrupt and criminal dictator.

But history, which puts the facts, motivations and true heroes and heroines in their place, will know how to differentiate between the men and women who gave their lives for freedom throughout the four decades (between the 50s and 80s), from the criminals who, manipulating the symbols and discourse of that time, do just the opposite to the ideals that moved thousands of youth to fight. This the Sandinistas submissive to the regime know well, whose consciences challenge them every day.

The Nicaraguan patriots who got involved in the anti-dictatorial struggle prior to July 19th did so with the best of intentions, like – it has to be said – most of those who fought in the civil war of the 80s, on one side and the other. The examples of the heroes of those campaigns inspired thousands of participants in the uprising of April to rise up against this new dictatorship. Those murdered of 2018 are today the icons of the new generations of fighters and will be fused in history with those of past feats.

A present challenge is learning from our history without subordinating it to prejudices and self- serving ideological stories. And on this anniversary of the revolution, it is important to realize that today, like yesterday, the struggle of the people of Nicaragua continues to be achieving liberty, democracy, justice for the victims, and social justice for all. The relaunching of a true transformative and inclusive project, that would unite the vital forces of Nicaraguans, is needed for that purpose.  The new generations and their emerging leaders are committed to this challenge.

Cultivating the golden bean: Volume and quality

Cultivating the golden bean: Volume and quality

René Mendoza, Fabiola Zeledón, Elix Meneces, Hulda and Eliseo Miranda[1]

Up until 2010 we buyers who were looking for quality coffee, we first would come to Nicaragua. After 2010 we no longer did, first we go to Costa Rica, then Honduras … (Coffee buyer).

In the 60s and 70s tons of people came to Nicaragua from El Salvador and Honduras looking for work, now we are the ones who go to those countries, looking for work. (Flavio Cardoza, producer).

In the dry coffee mills imperfect coffee reached double digits in this 2019/20 cycle: 10%…15%; black beans, faded, chipped, full black beans, insect damaged beans…The fungus moved from “slight” to “severe” and smelled like fish. On the farms of producer families instead of doing “three passes” (three passes of picking red and almost ripe coffee during the coffee season within 2 months), they saw themselves forced to do only two, and even only one pass, because of lack of pickers (labor), while they neglected to regulate their coffee pulper which resulted in those broken and chipped beans. What makes the coffee quality and its production drop? In this brief article we list 4 basic elements on coffee farms in Madriz, Nueva Segovia and Matagalpa, and at the end we offer some suggestions.

What affects coffee production and quality

The literature is full of technical reasons. We list what we observed in this 2019/20 cycle, and what producer families commonly say, based on their own observations, as well as the staff in the dry mill.

Figure 1 shows two scarce resources and two limiting structures, which have a high impact on coffee volume and quality.

A first element is the reduction in nutrients for the coffee plants. In the 2018/19 cycle, the prices for coffee were low. In September 2018 it dropped to $98, and in December 2018 it was at $100, while the prices for agrochemicals rose, as a result of the new tax policy in the country. Not only that, but the financial institutions implemented a policy of loan restructuring without providing new loans. In other words, producer families saw their resources dry up, which is why they applied little or no agrochemical or organic inputs. This had a repercussion on coffee quality, which was seen in the current 2019/20 cycle, precisely when prices went up, reaching $123 on December 16, 2019. Consequently, producer families thinking was “I am going to receive now  the same thousand córdobas as last year; this season money is tight, in spite of the fact that prices are better than in the last cycle.”

A second element refers to the scarcity of labor. Pickers are going to coffee fields in Costa Rica and Honduras. Their argument: “They pay us better there, in addition we pick more than we do here.” Isn´t it the same coffee? Yes and no. Most of the coffee of Costa Rica is sold as specialty coffee at better prices; while Honduras has passed Nicaragua in production volume. Both countries have greater productivity, even though in Honduras it is due more to increase in area. This means that the person who picks coffee on small farms in Nicaragua, picks less in a day because the farms have less production; in addition, the price paid “per lata”[2] is low, and varies between 30 to 50 córdobas, plus food, per lata. “It doesn´t work for us,” the pickers complain. Producer families argue that they would prefer to pay all in cash (without food), but the pickers want food, and many of them pick very little, and by midday are already out of the fields and asking for their 3 meals. This situation means pickers are scarce, the consequence of this is that the coffee is not picked on time, with a corresponding loss in volume and quality.

A third element is the mentality of believing themselves to be coffee growers in mono-cropping systems. The producer families who established their farms with coffee and other crops, starting in 1990, after the “big war”, are now getting beyond 60 years of age, which is why their offspring have been taking over farms already “cut up into pieces” through inheritance. Given that in the last 15 years families have become dependent on coffee as a mono-crop, a good number of these offspring, as new family units, inherited also this culture of feeling themselves to be “coffee producers” with 2 to 4 mzs of coffee, which at the most produces 10qq export coffee per manzana, which is why they lost the culture of working “from sunup to sundown” in taking care of the farm, and no longer go out to pick coffee on other farms. Their problem is that they inherited coffee fields affected by coffee rust and anthracnose, which they have to replant now on land which is more worn out (low fertility). Consequently, that combination of feeling themselves to be “coffee producers” and at the same time not having income in the months between March and October has them “underwater” in financial and marriage crises, which is why the children are growing up without Fathers, while they neglect their farms, the regulation of their coffee pulpers, drying, diversification…

The last element is the variation in the climate. Rains were expected for December, which help the grain thicken and ripen; but it did not rain, rather the temperature increased, which is why a good part of the flowering period was lost and the coffee with little liquid did not thicken. The beans that were able to thicken did not reach their optimum level. Many beans, on being picked, pulped and washed, looked as if they had been dried for 6 days. The rains that started on January 10th were not expected, were unnecessary, their prolongation for more than 10 days damaged the roads, reduced the time for picking the coffee, and made it difficult to transport the coffee, and hindered the sun drying process.

The combination of these elements has the power of undermining plans and commitments, and above all, making the families depressed before the harvest ends.

Recovering coffee, the farm, the community

Figure 2 lists the ideas that lead us to confront the 4 elements that affect coffee volume and quality.

Some people from that generation that is now passing 60 years of age are still a good reference point. “My Dad gets up at 4am, drinks his coffee and goes out to work the farm; if in the morning he goes to town to do some task, and returns at 4pm, he still goes to the farm.” (Rebeca Espinoza, Samarkanda). If we add to that culture of dedication to work, youth dedicated to studying their realities and innovating, the families could save resources and invest them, doing their numbers, producing fertile land that would provide them product volume and quality.

If that combination responds to a long term perspective, one that avoids “cutting property into pieces” and children growing up without Fathers, and is committed to the diversification of the farm and  processing what they produce, these families could mobilize their members for activities like coffee picking on their own and their neighbor´s farm, and would attract workers from other places.

If we cultivated that work and study culture under a long term perspective, in a space of renovated cooperatives, the members of both sexes and different ages from the same community could cooperate better, and improve their collective actions, like transporting, drying and milling their coffee in their own community, selling any of their products, producing their own farm inputs, protecting and saving water, or preventing domestic violence.

Conclusion

Recovering the coffee quality that we achieved between 1996 and 2005, which the buyer refers to at the beginning of this text, is a challenge. Getting our people to stay in the country picking coffee, which Flavio observed in hindsight, is another challenge.

Both challenges are not achieved with the hundred year old ideas of the elites: “More inputs, more production”, “better price, more quality”, “investing only in coffee to buy the food for the year”, “the more members there are, the better the cooperative”, “farming is something men do”. The consequences of this cookbook, sadly reproduced by most of the farm cooperatives today, are destroyed families and farms, degraded environment, and the advance of elites expelling the peasantry from their communities.

Addressing those two challenges is possible with families that change as people, as they build a new type of cooperative, one in which families cooperate with one another to generate new technologies, organize and analyze new information, and add value to the coffee and a dozen agricultural products.

[1] The authors are part of a network that facilitates the training of cooperatives governed by their members.

[2] Lata refers to old cooking oil cans that were used to measure picked coffee beans for paying workers. The term is still used, although the measuring is now mostly done with 5-gallon plastic buckets.

The Autumn of Patriachy

José Luis Rocha is a well known essayist in Nicaragua, has a Phd in sociology and is a very insightful social critic.

The Autumn of Patriachy

By José Luis Rocha, January 23, 2020 in Confidencial

[original article in Spanish]

Ortega is an agrarian patriarch. Maybe the last overlord of that species. Reflections from a Central America that is losing its agrarian nature.

The Somoza dictatorship was a sultanate, the sociologist Edelberto Torres-Rivas said many times. Somoza was the system of government. Once the sultan was dethroned, the entire edifice fell like a house of cards. His lieutenants fled, like rats jumping off a ship in the process of going under. It was easy to replace them, because in this country we have always had more than enough high officials to take their place, who seem to be extracted from Saruman – the perverse magician of the Lord of the Rings – from his reservoir of Orcs.

But Somoza was not the political culture and machismo. At most, he was their most visible representative, a strong man whose desires were orders, and whose whims were laws, and that is why he could show off his lover in official parties, where his ministers placed their Catholic convictions about marriage at his feet like fluffy carpet. Nine strong men replaced him. No one within the ranks of Sandinism questioned the fact that those nine were not even remotely representative of the national gender balance, and how much Nicaraguan women risked themselves and lost in the war. And if they did, they spoke with pressed lips out of fear, discipline and dissembling. Nor was there anyone who would advise them to suppress the slogan “National Directorate, give us your orders”, that for more than one German must have evoked the Nazi slogan “Führer befiehl, wir folgen Dir!” (Leaders, give you order, we follow you).

The faces changed, but the system continued. I am referring to the system of the strong man, the patriarch, he who could say “the State is me”, and who even though he did not say it, he acted as if that is how it was. It is a system that is linked to the Central America of the agrarian republics, that should be called agrarian autocracies. This system did not change one bit because of the fact that Nicaragua was the first country in the Central American isthmus to take a woman to the presidency. It soon returned to its habitual face: in the mayors of Managua a new strong man had been incubating, the farmer Arnoldo Alemán, who had the plan – but not the means – to keep himself in power, as Somoza had done, and later Ortega would do.

Daniel Ortega invited him to a negotiation of farm owners, the overlords of the two large parties. There he closed a deal with him where he took him for a fool: Alemán sold his political first born for a couple of jumbo nacatamales, and Ortega got the conditions that he needed to recover the throne, who in his second coming did not have to share it with the other commandantes. The strong men of finance, trade and haciendas did not bulk, and in that passivity – in addition to the obvious economic convenience – their tolerance also has to be read by the fact that the executive branch was taken over by someone accused of sexual abuse by his step daughter (why not, she was not his biological daughter, she sought him out and who can prove that is what happened, they have said), and someone who placed the red and black flag in all the state offices (why not, isn´t he the owner at the moment of the big farm “Nicaragua”?). Their inclination to pass over this minutiae springs from the acceptance that these cultural characteristics have which have been reproduced over centuries.

Ortega is an overlord of the same appearance as the protagonist of “El Otoño del patriarca”,  a sexual predator of child prostitutes that his subordinates would bring to him disguised as schoolgirls to satisfy his pedophilia. He is an agrarian patriarch. Maybe he is the last overlord of that species, the same species as Álvaro Arzú, who once was president of Guatemala and five times the mayor of its capital, Minister of Foreign Relations and Director of the Guatemalan Tourism Institute. An entire life in the scaffolding of power , like Ortega. What makes them most similar, nevertheless, is not their political longevity, but their condition of being men surrounded by thugs. One of the bodyguards of Arzú was Byron Lima, the murderer of Bishop Juan Gerardi, executed for having presented a report on the crimes during the war. The paramilitaries, soldiers and police of Ortega have given us a very precise idea about what the overlord understands as the art of governing. A cultural genealogical line can be traced that unites these strong men to be reckoned with, from Santa Ana and then Trujillo, passing through Castro and Pinochet, some with the gringos, others against them, all with weapons and the willingness to drown dissidents in blood. For them politics should and must be a reflection of the chain of command of the hacienda, where orders are not negotiated nor discussed.

All have been representatives of an agrarian patriarch. Ortega follows that agrarian tradition by his political approach and his recent options, in spite of the fact that he came to power on the haunches of a party that has had a mostly urban base. That support in the cities he harvested when many thought that this organization would lead to social progress, understood as a more egalitarian society. But in the 80s he devoted himself to creating agrarian white elephants, and in the cities, only those who were “connected” were able to get around the hunger. In this return to power, his proposal was for a huachicolero[1] socialism of Venezuelan oil, whose flow of funds were in large part channeled toward the pools of agrarian dreams: the Zero Hunger Program and its distribution of different types of cattle and farm inputs and credit; the fair parks for the producers – with high state subsidies – transacting directly with consumers; the construction of rural schools, without training teachers who breathe school life into them.

Symptomatic of the agrarian approach is the fact that the repression has brewed up – from before the rebellion of April to now – in the rural areas. This is happening because the repressive organs live in the agrarian Nicaragua of 1980, that had 1,600,000 inhabitants in the cities (barely half the population), and not so much in the Nicaragua of 2018, with nearly 4 million city slickers, 60% of the total population. The FSLN represents a conservatism that is not a peasant one – it is even an anti-peasant conservatism – but it is that of an agrarian-patriarchal Nation-State, that of the large hacienda.

That is why the protests of April 2018 exploded and were incubated in the cities, and are linked to problems that affect the urban population more; social security, whose coverage is overwhelmingly of city dwellers; the payment of taxes, that squeeze in a more constant manner the urban centers; the violation of civil rights that are principally exercised by urbanites (freedom of expression, freedom of mobilization, clean elections…).

There is a fact that has been treated lightly: the biggest protests were unleashed around social security and the retired people, a surprising fact because in this country the coverage of social security barely reaches a fifth part of the Economically Active Population. The coverage of all elderly people should be even less. But more than 90% of those who pay into it live in the cities, and that is where the uprising exploded. Also, more than 90% of the university students, who were the leaders of the rebellion, are urbanites. This urban concentration makes the struggle of #OcupaInss a demand of the inhabitants of the cities, who were the principal scenario for the protests, and above all, the initial point of ignition of the civic insurrection.

The peasants have also had a considerable role. They rose up when  the interoceanic canal project threatened to absorb their small and medium farms. The dichotomy “peasantism versus agrarian patriarchy” floated to the surface. The canal has been so far – and maybe it will be forever – the last Nicaragua utopia that sets the mastery of the earth as the pivot point for accumulation. It is the last agrarian utopia, conceived in a country where ranching, coffee growing and mining continue being the principal industry generators of foreign exchange. If we relook at the distinction that the social scientist William Robinson makes between extensive and intensive expansion of capitalism, we will see that Ortega´s model, and that of his predecessors, was committed to extensive expansion: in the canal, in the urban subdivisions and urban constructions, in the forestry exploitation and in many other areas. These land-grabs are connected to the violence, that at times the medium level ranchers carry out on the lands of the indigenous, and that the high hierarchs of the army and police organize on the national level.

In the Central American countries that are more advanced in the processes of urbanization and de-agrarianization, like Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador, the expansion of capital is done in large measure through an intensive way, incorporating goods and people into markets, in other words, turning into merchandise what previously was not:  panoramas whose beauty is rented out to tourists, family remittances that are banked, sale of services that previously were the object of exchanges, or provided by relatives and friends, etc. It is not by coincidence that Honduras and Nicaragua, that are the most agrarian and least urbanized countries, are the principal regional scenarios for the crudest dispossession and land grabbing. This particularity has political consequences that I want to examine in the next article.

In spite of the fact that Nicaragua is a country where agrarian patriarchy calls the shots, the tendency to urbanization and de-agrarianization is now a flagrant economic fact: the value of family remittances, which are a monumental non-agrarian income, surpasses by far any of the agrarian export crops (and also the non-agrarian ones, of course). Their weight in the economy is the work of the hand of globalized labor, that  is generated externally outside of agriculture, and internally maintained the economic growth in trade and services. This economic de-agrarianization has political expressions that have bloomed in this rebellion. In the two women leaders, Francisca Ramírez and Irlanda Jeres, the countryside and the city shook hands, but both are traders, even though one is a farmer and the other is a dentist. With the exception of Medardo Mairena, who represents the peasants opposed to the canal, the masculine names that are louder belong to people from the cities. Among the new faces, Juan Sebastián Chamorro y Félix Maradiaga stand out, who appear as opposed to Ortega: they are not men of weapons nor of farms, but of an educational level that is above the average. They confront a marriage of two high school graduates, who come from the Nicaragua where people made space in the public civil service outside of diplomas and educational levels. They won it through their last names or through their pistols.

The crisis of the Ortega dictatorship expresses the breakdown of the cultural and political structures of that time-worn agrarian patriarchy. The good news is that it is not possible to get in front of the train of historical tendencies without being run over. All resistance to change only complicates and prolongs the agony of the institutions, groups and people who oppose it. It could be possible that the patriarchal dinosaur might continue there, but we can be certain that the climatic conditions will make it unbearable. The bad news is that the transition process, that began decades ago and accelerated with globalization, takes an unpredictable amount of time, and generates a lot of violence, if the appropriate measures are not adopted. A comparison between the countries of the northern part of Central America can throw some light on this less agrarian Nicaragua that it not completely born, and on its consequences and symptoms in the political system.

 

[1] Term in Mexico for someone who steals or adulterates gas

They’re Coming to America

“Free, only want to be free, We huddle close, Hang on to a dream.” 

America by Neil Diamond

There’s no shortage of patriotic music today, July 4.  From God Bless America sung by Kate Smith to America by Simon and Garfunkle,  America the Beautiful by Ray Charles, God Bless the USA by Lee Greenwood, I’ve heard songs all day in honor of our nation’s birthday.  It’s part of the enjoyment that is the 4th of July, the quintessential holiday in our country.  But there was one song that stopped me and caught my breath as I listened to it.   It was America by Neil Diamond.  Both the music and the lyrics are powerful, which is why the song became so popular when originally released.  But today the words hit hard, and rang with an ironic twist that, frankly, pulled some of the energy out of the day.

On the boats and on the planes
They’re coming to America
Never looking back again,
They’re coming to America.

Yes, thousands flock to our country on boats and planes, but many also reach our borders for their dreams on foot.  The Mexican border holds thousands in detention at present, and not just in waiting for legal processing for possible admission to the U.S., but in separation from children, spouses, and in cell-like detention for indeterminate periods of time.  Those realities don’t quite match the drama and grandeur of Diamond’s song.  I guess things have changed.

Home
Don’t it seem so far away
Oh, we’re traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

Immigrants coming to America today find themselves in the eye of the storm of a different sort.  The pride of Americans embracing their role as the “melting pot” of the world has faded these days, replaced by a storm of blame, suspicion, racism, and even hatred.  It has not helped to have a political leader who has fanned the flames of those reactions and re-shaped the notion of immigration from a beautiful dream to a horrible nightmare.

Home
To a new and a shiny place
Make our bed and we’ll say our grace
Freedom’s light burning warm
Freedom’s light burning warm

And suddenly it makes a difference to whom you are praying for your suppertime grace.  Some in this land of all faiths now want to know the nature of one’s spirituality so that interpretations can be made and aspersions cast, often in the densest of understanding.  Freedom’s light burning warm becomes ever cooler to the touch.

Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America
Ev’ry time that flag’s unfurled
They’re coming to America

It’s true that the American dream resonates everywhere in the world, because we have exhibited some of the visions to which all human beings aspire: freedom, choice, participation, pursuit of happiness.  In recent times, though, it would appear as if we vastly preferred those coming from Norway.  Something about looking like more of us than those in detention on the border.

Got a dream to take them there
They’re coming to America
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America

The dreams driving today’s immigrant populations are no different than those of generations before.  They come for opportunity.  They come to escape persecution.  They come for freedom of thought and expression.  In years past, some even came because they perceived opportunities to lie, cheat, steal and break the law with impunity.  But the U.S. figured that the good that came through our doors far outweighed the inevitable bad that is a part of our human reality.

My country ’tis of thee (today)
Sweet land of liberty (today)
Of thee I sing (today)
Of thee I sing
Today, Today, Today
Today, today, today……

Today, we celebrate our country as we have every year on July 4.  There is much in which we take pride, and rightfully so.  Our stories are mythic and powerful and full of the promise of what our future can be.  I had a joyous day with family.

Or at least until I shed a tear upon hearing Neil Diamond sing about coming to America today….

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.