Prospects for 2021: from “caterpillar” to “butterfly”

Prospects for 2021: from “caterpillar” to “butterfly”

René Mendoza Vidaurre[1]

The strength of dreams

-How are we doing? Asked the caterpillar of the spider

-Walking, and you?

-Walking. I want to tell you about a dream I had, from the mountaintop I saw the beauty of the valley. I am going up there, would you come with me?

-Hahaha., the spider laughed, for you a rock is a mountain and a pool of water the ocean! Hahaha…the same thing happened with every animal that she met on the path, all made fun of her.

The caterpillar continued. And continued in the midst of suffocating heat and ridicule. Within days the caterpillar died. The spider, grasshopper, beetle, and frog witnessed her body, it was a symbol of ambitious stubborn people and a warning for audacious beings. But then they saw that from the remains of the caterpillar emerged a beautiful butterfly that flew to the top of that mountain.



After an exceptional 2020 thinking optimistically about 2021 and beyond requires a lot of human energy – stubbornness and audacity. It is like filling ourselves with the determination of that “caterpillar” to see the “mountaintop”, even more than that, it is dreaming of “seeing the beauty of the valley from the mountaintop” – societies that organize and revive communities.

We the members of grassroots organizations and the people who accompany them at the start of the year review data and make plans. This start of 2021 is not like any other. It is really the year destined to make a difference. For everything that we have experienced in 2020: COVID 19. And because also in Central America Hurricanes ETA and IOTA blew away from us more than “leaves.”

I hope that we are like the “caterpillar”, that we have that fire inside so that, regardless of the “suffocating heat” or the ridicule of those who watch us, we pursue our dreams and are capable of making wings sprout on us through organizations for following those dreams. We have the biggest challenge of our lives: to dream (have vision) of seeing from “the mountaintop”, and then to have to transform ourselves from “caterpillars” (let “die” what has to die) to “butterflies” (give life to what should live), which in our case would be organizations reinvented for pursuing those visions.

That is why we write these pages. In what follows we start with what is global, showing what is predicted for Latin America in terms of the economy. Then we list the risks and prospects. Then we show some interesting things that have been done in 2020. And finally, we chart a path for grassroots organizations and their allies to use to dream about their “valleys” and reach “the mountaintop” to be able to see their “valleys”.

1.     Latin America and the Caribbean


There is a certain respite in the world after Trumpism lost the election in the United States. This respite is charged with hope with the vaccine against COVID 19 that, in spite of more than 1.5 million deaths, is now getting to some countries.


Table. Latin America and the Caribbean: 2020- 2021 Growth Projections
Latin America and the Caribbean GDP Growth
2020 2021
Latin America and the Caribbean -7.7 3.7
Argentina -10.5 4.9
Bolivia -8 5.1
Brazil -5.3 3.2
Chile -6 5
Colombia -7 5
Ecuador -9 1
Paraguay -1.6 3.5
Perú -12.9 9
Venezuela -30 -7
South America -7.3 3.7
Costa Rica -4.8 3
Cuba -8.5 3
El Salvador -8.6 3.5
Guatemala -2.5 3.5
Haiti -3 2
Honduras -8 4.5
México -9 3.8
Nicaragua -4 1.3
Panamá -4 5.5
Dominican Republic -5.5 5
Central America and Mexico -8.5 3.8
Central America -6.5 3.8
Latin America -7.7 3.7
The Caribbean -7.9 4.2
Source: ECLACL, Preliminary Overview of the Economies of Latin America and the Caribbean 2020. Note: Central America includes Cuba, Haití and the Dominican Republic

With this hope let us look at the Table for economic growth done by ECLAC. This table provides us with a first point. The entire region of Latin America and the Caribbean in 2020 had a negative growth rate of -7.7, and in 2021 they estimate that they will grow by 3.7%, at least according to the assumptions of stability that they predict for 2021 – if the realities end up differently, these estimates could improve or worsen. Central America will grow 3.8% in 2021, if there are no big surprises. The data for Central America are in the darker colors[2].

Covid-19 revealed structural problems that our countries were already experiencing prior to this:

  • Inequality
  • Poverty
  • Low productivity, even worse under the system of monocropping and environmental degradation
  • High levels of labor informality or underemployment
  • Low social protections. Privatization of health care left the world on its knees in the face of the virus.

Let us also take note of what is good, the virus accelerated digital, robotic transformations and alternative energy. And gave free rein to thinking about the meaning of life implied by the uncertainty and “normality”.

2.     Risks and prospects for  2021



  • Uncertainty in the evolution of the pandemic. The vaccine is a hope. Even though new outbreaks persist, and the virus can evolve and modify its strain.
  • What will happen if monetary and fiscal stimuli which have been applied in most countries are lifted too early.
  • Financing is important, but if the pandemic is not controlled, it can continued being held back.
  • It is estimated that the prices of basic products will increase. That could be, but we also know that it will be difficult for the mediation chain to allow more to trickle down to producer families, which will also impact consumers.
  • Possible increase in social and geopolitical tensions. The unemployment, poverty and inequality can make the “boiling pot blow its top”, the latent social tensions could intensify.
  • For Central America, an additional factor was the impact of Hurricanes ETA and IOTA – impact on production, nature and the impoverishment of people[3]. In countries like Nicaragua, an additional element is that 2021 is an electoral year.

The biggest risk is only focusing on the economics and the short term: 2021.


  • There will be economic growth, even with setbacks, economic improvement is at the gates, at least compared with 2020. But we already know that growing without equity is damaging for the world.
  • The international agenda for climate change will be reinforced, because we realize that greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 fell by 7%, which is a “beneficial effect” of COVID 19, while putting the brakes on the type of damaging economics that have prevailed in the planet; now we realize that there is a direct relationship between human actions and the climate.
  • We also have observed that government can spend a lot in the face of emergencies like COVID 19, which is why with friendly but real pressure, governments can invest in clean energy technologies, sustainable agriculture, preventive health…
  • World awareness about the fact that social investment in health should be free from the interests of markets (elites), and that the State can govern it as a public good.
  • The reference about what is a good government was shaken in 2020 with COVID 19. It was believed that effective governments for resolving adversities like pandemics were from countries with larger incomes and apparently more democratic, led by the United States and England[4], but it ends up that countries like Senegal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, with much lower GHSI rankings, had better results. How? They prepared themselves well to face the virus as soon as the WHO put out the worldwide alert, they set forth a strategy uniting their citizenry, carried out a massive public communication campaign and worked with networks of community organizations (see Woods, 2021). Organization means a lot!
  • Human awareness on the fragility of humanity and the planet, particularly if we continue working under the idea of “only me” and “leave it to me”, coordinating collective actions can result in us leaving this world better than when we found it when we were born.
  • The agricultural sector in the region has cushioned the impact of the negative economic growth and will continue being an important element for any growth with equity.

Looking at 2020 in the rearview mirror, and recovering our gaze on 2021 and beyond, we recall the German poet and playwright, Bertolt Brecht, who said: “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay they way they are”. Under this hope, on a general level we should work to:

  • Reactivate strategic sectors in each country taking into account investment in entrepreneurial ventures, social equity and environmental sustainability.
  • Extend basic income to people in poverty but “teaching them to fish”, to be self-sustaining
  • Finance small enterprise and the agricultural sector – not monocropping; not purchasing liabilities; finance the means that generate financial returns
  • Universalize the social protection system, particularly health care with conventional medicine and natural medicine
  • Work on these and other points in a global alliance, along with governments, international aid agencies and businesses, and above all with community or grassroots organizations, like in those 3 countries that we just mentioned.

3.     Coordinations that generate hope

COVID-19 was produced by human action, its effects are regrettable because of the lives lost, but it also helps us realize that human actions can overcome COVID-19 (see: Mendoza, 2020b[5]). Human actions had to do with Hurricanes ETA and IOTA, like the fact that their impacts either mitigate or intensify it. (see: Mendoza, 2020a).

The experience of Senegal, Sri Lanka and Vietnam show us the good that we people have, regardless of our financial resources. They show us what we are capable of through organizing and connecting with several actors to deal with serious adversities.

There were also coordinated actions among international and local organizations that have mitigated the effects of COVID-19. We mention three:

  • Fair trade organizations from Germany (WeltPartner and El Puente), supervised by the German Aid Agency (GIZ), and partner cooperatives and associations of the south with whom they sell products like coffee, worked on joint initiatives to counteract COVID-19 in the short and medium term[6].
  • Aid agencies linked to European Churches, like Cafod, Broederlijk Delen, Trocaire and Misereor, as well as agencies from the United States like EcoViva, along with their partners in countries in the south, reacted quickly to help the families with whom they tend to work
  • In the case of Nicaragua, aid agencies (Common Fund) from European countries and civil society organizations (NGOs, associations and cooperatives) joined forces so that populations could deal with COVID-19.

Likewise, there are community organizations that have responded to their communities.

  • Community stores in the region held health campaigns to prevent COVID-19, in some cases they promoted gardens with plants for family consumption and medicinal plants to strengthen their “defenses” (immunological system).
  • Cooperatives and their networks helped families affected by COVID-19 and the people affected by the hurricanes to receive proper attention in hospitals and to recover their crops. “42 of us planted 3 mzs of beans for our brother who is in the hospital,” said a leader of a community in Waslala (Nicaragua).
  • Cooperatives and community stores that respond to their communities collected beans to help their communities and are coordinating to grow beans free from glyphosate. Associations that respond to the communities where their grassroots members are from in order to improve their forms of organization and their information systems.

These experiences illustrate different degrees of coordination, above all they show us that we can resist large adversities and coordinate collective actions within a global and local framework. They provide testimony about what is possible to do within a framework of global and local coalitions. Unfortunately, they are not well known nor studied, but they exist and are praiseworthy.

4.    What are we cooperatives, associations, stores and associative enterprises doing?

Our societies harbor the hope for good changes. That begins with grassroots organizations – cooperatives, associations, consumer stores, associative enterprises and community organizations, along with them are global organizations like fair trade organizations, cooperatives from other countries, businesses, B-corporations, Universities… How can we start off on a new path?

A good number of rural organizations and international organizations have experiences for analyzing when collective actions function and when they do not, when coordination among different organizations work and when it does not, when rules and value work and when they do not. Reassessing this diversity of knowledge is a key point for rethinking our actions in light of 2021 and beyond. This rethinking should include:

  • Having a good strategy with a good vision around which all the associated people can unite, to do so it is important to shake off the poverty mentality that “we can´t because we don´tt have any money”, and it is important to analyze the risks.
  • Having mental openness to what is different in order to build and deepen good alliances with communities
  • Designing social investment with a multiplier effect and which is sustainable, something which neither private enterprise nor the state invest in nor will invest, something innovative.
  • Being coherent with the mitigation of climate change, let us not leave the planet off worse than when we found it on our birth; each action of organizations should take into account the environmental component, which will help prevent viruses and hurricanes.
  • Being coherent with social equity: if our children and neighbors are going to other countries to harvest coffee, when there is coffee on our farms and the need for pickers, it is clear that we are not paying coffee pickers well, and we have low productivity; if our organizations have on average 20% female membership, it is clear that our organizations are not responding to the diversity of economic areas and that they are committed only to the trap of “raw materials” (without processing what we produce). Monocropping excludes women or, they wisely resist submitting themselves to monocropping.
  • We should look to different markets: not just the international market, not just to cities, but also to the municipal market and to our own communities. We should consume the best of what we produce, let us increase the variety of foods on our plates. We should look for ways to produce without glyphosate, store products, process them, cultivate medicinal plants. We should realize that having children “all over the place” dehumanizes us…
  • Being democratic – democratizing information, positions of responsibility and relationships. The most unhappy communities and organizations are the ones that need eternal managers and presidents. Rural organizations and their allies should be lights of democracy.

Having these elements, or precisely to spell out these elements, organizations should:

  • Talk with member families under the idea that each person has multiple histories–it is not just ONE crop, it is not just THE farm, it is not just BUYING one product or providing JUST credit. It is so many things, many things…
  • Reflecting in open assemblies to listen to one another about our first story, the second, the third…
  • Analyzing what we hear and what we see, a lot of what we hear are ideas from elites which they have us reproduce (“we always need a patron”, “God made me poor”, “the cooperative is to give myself a loan”, “nothing can be done without money”), which is why we need to listen to the “current under the waves” (“help yourself and I will help you”, venture initiatives, innovations).
  • Weaving a new path.

2021 is a year of opportunities to do something different. We can, like the caterpillar, transform ourselves and see from the mountaintop. What are we going to see? Societies with social and environmental equity, communities lighting up the world.


[1] This is an open text. You can correct it, expand on it, and use it in accordance with your realities and needs. If you need the author to help you to “put words to your dreams (visions) and to accompany you in your transformation from “caterpillar” to “butterfly”, we will be ready to support you. cell: +505-85100007

[2] If you want to read a little more about each country, ECLAC does summaries based on the official data of each country in Spanish.

On Nicaragua: On Honduras:  On Guatemala:  On El Salvador:  and on  Costa Rica:

[3] We wrote a brief article on the impact of Hurricane IOTA, see: Mendoza (2020a) “IOTA: a Cry of Pain and Hope” in:

[4] Wood (2021, “The brutal lessons of governance of 2020”) tells us that just before COVID-19 a coalition of foundations published the Global Health Security Index (GHSI); there they rated the capacity of countries to prevent, detect and report an infection, and quickly respond to disease outbreaks”. And obviously the countries with higher incomes appeared as the most capable, the United States and England were first. One year after that ranking, Haider et al (September 2020, “The Global Health Security Index and Joint External Evaluation score for health preparedness are not correlated with countries’ COVID-19 detection response time and mortality outcome”, following the hypothesis of the GHSI (and the Joint External Evaluation JEE), that higher income countries would more quickly detect the virus and would experience less mortality, the study found that there is no correlation between them: “the 10 countries most affected by COVID-19 in terms of deaths per million inhabitants were among the first 20 countries in terms of their general results in the GHSI”.

[5] R. Mendoza, 2020b, “A Coronavirus Firewall”, in Revista Envio, No 466. In:

[6] This shows us that in the global context, almost irrespective of states, there are commercial transactions around products like coffee and cacao which include international buyers, certifiers, roasters, distributors, cooperatives and associations, that extend from Europe and the United States to communities in the countries of the south. Many of these networks are stable coalitions with a long history.

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