IOTA: A cry of pain and hope
René Mendoza Vidaurre
The nails creaked and the rooves of the homes thundered
The wind howled like lightening trapped among the trees
Rivers overflowed and washed away even the gasps of the most incredulous
A cry emerged from the mouth of the soil and the impoverished people
It is a prolonged cry of pain and hope.
Hurricanes ETA and IOTA arrived in Central America just a few days apart, one behind the other. 2020 set a record of 30 tropical storms, 12 of them hurricanes. In this article we sketch the effects of the hurricanes, their causes, we argue in favor of aid that helps and we look for opportunity in the midst of adversity.
1. Impact of hurricanes
They have two sides. In their passing they destroy homes and causes landslides, while at the same time they revive dozens of water sources. They pulverize the work of an entire life of many families, while at the same time they are a window for designing another path. They topple bridges clogged with garbage and at the same time clean rivers and creeks. They impose desolate areas for some days, areas that in a few days revive like never before. They fell trees and plantains in farms and forests, while new plants and young trees break through. They beat the foundations of families and religious fanaticism that hope that some supernatural being might protect them, while at the same time awaken interest in collective actions – people cleaning bridges in the midst of the rainfall to keep the river from destroying them, people helping their neighbor so their roof does not sprout wings, institutions supporting the citizenry to get to safety, peasants with picks in hand going to the cry of the Peñas Blancas Cliffs, El Puyú mountain, and people smothered by the landslide in the community of San Martin and Mulukukú (Nicaragua).
The impact of hurricanes leaves us stunned, moments in which we reflect and understand that hurricanes have natural and human causes. Hurricanes are formed in hot seasons between June and November in template ocean waters like the Atlantic Ocean; when the temperature reaches 270 Centigrade the warm waters evaporate, that heat gets transferred to the air, with that tons of water rise to the atmosphere each hour and generate an immense amount of energy; in the altitude that vapor is condensed into clouds and releases its heat, raising the temperature of the air around it several degrees; as that air is heated more vapor is condensed producing winds that raise the clouds up to 15 kilometers high where, due to the rotation of the earth, they form circles, giving birth to a hurricane. Note the increase in the temperature is the basis for hurricanes, that warming is produced by human actions, “by the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere, a product of human activities such as the use of carbon, oil and gas, and the felling and burning of forests.”
Let us give some examples from Central America. Monocropping and extensive ranching deforest, contribute to global warming and reinforce the effects of hurricanes, the soil hardens because of the lack of trees, they keep water from entering the soil, make the water run above ground and add to the creeks and rivers; this monocropping system is promoted by commercial enterprises of agrochemicals, financial institutions, international buyers and certifiers, and by a growing number of peasant families who were expelled by the capital of the valleys to the mountains in the last 150 years. Religious beliefs turn impoverished people into beings dependent on a God who writes their destiny, make them pray or worship without actions, deeds that paralyze people who could organize themselves better and be preventive if they depended on themselves and their collective capacities. There are cooperatives and churches that in the face of hurricanes do not even call on their members to mobilize to benefit their communities. The intellectual class, people with university studies, coopted from the 1990s by the soft side and harsh side of capitalism, work for donors and capital, and not for the communities, with which hurricanes are not explained but seen as something natural and external, like a “punishment” and that some “god will stop.” It is not a matter of hiding “this country of my soul so that no one else might beat it”, it is that we are part of the destruction and the construction of that “my soul.”
3. The aid that does not help
This inaction and this hijacked thinking reinforces the negative effects of hurricanes and even makes the aid that arrives not be beneficial. If they bring in imported products to a community, let´s say rice or powdered milk, the small producers will not be able to sell their beans nor the milk from their cows, the small stores already affected by the hurricanes will lose their customers, which could make the community lose their storefront. If they bring in potato seed so that they leave behind their native seed and become dependent on imported seed, is that also aid? We say potato seed, but the same is true for the marsellesa variety of coffee, vegetables or other products.
It is known that aid is channeled under the logic of “trickle down”, most is left in the higher parts and less gets down to the lower parts, while hierarchical structures and social asymmetries intensify. Those who donate and those who mediate donations, are they aware of the consequences of their actions, eroding community efforts?
4. The aid that does help
One of the aids that would make a difference in favor of rural populations is quit hurting them and undertaking more humanizing policies and actions. Financial and commercial institutions should change their policies: providing loans with interest rates under 10%, no longer for monocropping systems nor for extensive ranching, but for diversified systems. Not importing more agrochemicals like glyphosate, a carcinogen prohibited in countries in Europe and some states in the United States, but instead promoting sustainable agriculture. International enterprises that buy peasant products should buy from grassroots organizations that are democratic, transparent and that distribute their surplus, because buying from them without ensuring that they comply with these principles is to reinforce hurricanes. Intellectuals should recover their autonomy and turn their focus on peasant families, producing ideas and innovations along with them. Universities should quit only teaching the monocropping system and the neoliberal logic that is ruining our planet, and allow peasant and indigenous rationalities, like sustainable agriculture and small enterprises, to enter the classroom, and that fields become “open classrooms”. Grassroots organizations can organize the sale of beans to prevent scarcity in these crucial months, they can promote high quality varieties to replace the coffee and cacao plants damaged by the hurricane, and they can study the “new” soil and reorganize their farms; in this the global chain of actors allied with the cooperatives can support them with innovative financial modalities that strengthen community efforts. This aid can help the communities that are organized to have economic autonomy and self-determination.
5. Moment for rethinking our ideas and actions
There will continue to be hurricanes. They serve to revitalize nature, cool the planet and clean contaminated air. They can also be an opportunity for us to rethink our actions.
Their effects can be more benevolent under the following conditions. If in agrarian landscapes diversified and ecological systems prevail. If the logic of life prevails over the logic of money. If grassroots organizations energize communities with more gardens, more diversified systems, with their social fund invested in actions that no one else invests in, with community stores that not just bring in products from outside but also channel products from within and between communities… If schools and churches, far from indoctrinating, teach their members to think. If enterprises and international organizations look not just at products but also the people who produce them and the social networks that make it possible for them to emerge…
If we people understand that hurricanes are caused by natural and social causes, and that their effects can be more or less tragic depending on our actions, maybe we could make, through better thought-out actions and through grassroots organizations (cooperatives, community stores, associations) there be less hurricanes, and when they do exist their effects be more benevolent. If this happens, we could make their cry be more of “hope” than of “pain.” Before then, are we listening to that cry?
 Rene has a PhD in development studies, is a collaborator with the Winds of Peace Foundation (http://peacewinds.org/research/), an associate researcher with the IOB- University of Antwerp (Belgium) and a member of the Coserpross cooperative (http://coserpross.org/es/home/). firstname.lastname@example.org