Tag Archives: Nicaragua

Plain and Simple

This time, it’s crystal clear, and with no loopholes for equivocation or spin.  The xenophobe who offices at the White House has spoken directly, plainly and with a racial prejudice spoken by a national leader that has perhaps not been heard since the end of the Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler.

“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run.” 

“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he said. “Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

The blatant racism of his comments is amplified by the President’s ignorance, in that the “broken and crime infested places from which they came” is none other than the U.S. for three of the four women targeted.  In other words, his disdain is not for their countries, but for their colors.  And, yes, the people of the United States DO have the right and obligation to state how our government is to be run.  That is government by and for the people.  The right and obligation have nothing to do with color.

For impoverished or victimized Nicaraguans who are fleeing their country in hopes of something better, the words constitute the shape and size of Donald Trump’s wall: in his view of America, there is no room for non-white immigrants.

As plain as this message is, it is incumbent upon every member of the U.S. Congress to denounce this stated threat to the inclusive values of this country.  As plain as this message is, it is a U.S. citizen’s obligation to denounce it.  I hereby denounce.

Anything less is a full embrace of his words.  Talk of patriotism?  It’s time to consider what you believe as a citizen of this country….

 

 

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….

Bleak House

“It is said that the children of the very poor are not brought up, but dragged up.”                                                    Bleak House, by Charles Dickens

It’s an image that is haunting, and daunting, this observation from 1852 Victorian England:  the idea that some children- many children, in fact- in the very prime of their learning and forming years were forced to find their way to young adulthood through the hauling  and heaving of desperate poverty and abuse.  It was a reality distinctly at odds with the Victorians’ self-proclaimed progressive era of reform and improved societal standards.  Author Charles Dickens made his mark, in part, chronicling the sad realities of the time.

That was a long time ago.  The pokes at our collective conscience by Dickens have persisted since his time, as his works are among the most revered and widely-read in the English language.  As a result, we should have every reason to expect that, with the passage of time and a presumed greater enlightenment about healthy societies, our nurture of children might have changed since 1852.

Not so.

Dickens would find endless fuel for his anger today.  Even a short visit to the Mexico-U.S. border would engender sufficient affront for him to create two volumes the size of Bleak House.  The experiences of border children is little better than those endured in the streets of London more than 150 years ago.  The realities of the War in Yemen have claimed 85,000 children under the age of 5 since 2015,  more than enough to flame Dickens’ sense of outrage.  The outlook there suggests the potential demise of another 14 million people over the next several years.  And if the well-known writer deigned to travel to the U.S., he would be dismayed to learn that the British progeny has fostered more than 16 million hungry children in 2018.  If Dickens took a side trip down to Nicaragua, he would encounter children facing family upheavals, disappeared parents, and poverty that is among the worst in the entire Western Hemisphere.  He might begin to wonder whether his famous works really made any impact at all.

I’ve re-read a number of Dickens’ classics in recent years, including Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities.  I’m drawn to his characters and the ambience of the times in his writings.  But I also find myself distracted by the conditions encountered by many of his characters, especially the children.  The stories are uncomfortable.  The children’s circumstances are often abhorrent, to the point occasionally when I think that Dickens has likely exaggerated the realities faced by his young protagonists.  But I read on in the certain hope that things will get better by the tale’s end.

Dickens’ hopes for any kind of empathetic reforms or changed sensitivities as a result of his works would be shattered in the face of today’s world.  The travesties of Victorian England are comparatively small compared to the cold calculations of despots today. Reading fictional accounts of treachery and evil pales in comparison to the very real atrocities that we tolerate repeatedly on the world stage today.

A Christmas Carol delights audiences because of its ability to take us from the depths of human greed to the pinnacle of generosity and redemption.  It makes us feel good in the hope that it creates for eventual justice.  I wonder if Dickens would be inclined to write very different conclusions to his stories 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.

Well Said

From time to time I have reproduced the writings of others at this blog site, because they have stated ideas so powerfully.  I have elected to do it again, given the words written by Kathleen at the Center for Development in Central America  (CDCA).  Kathleen has been quoted here before because what is in her heart is so well said in her words.  The following is excerpted from the CDCA May 2019 newsletter.

My mother has said over and over that one of the two things Jesus wished he had never said was, “The poor you will have with you always.”  Why?

Because so many Christians use that phrase to justify pouring money into church buildings and doing nothing for the poor.  But what if we re-examined that phrase, and instead of looking at it as meaning an impossible goal of eradicating poverty, look at that phrase as an indictment of the rich?

It is true that, “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed,” a quote from Frank Buchman.

Staying with my daughter in the Northeast, it is easy to let the poor slip my mind.  As she recuperate from surgery, my daughter is watching mindless television so she can crochet and heal.  One of her shows is “Top Chef.”  I have found it addictive but also, when I remember the poor in Nicaragua, nauseating.

In Nicaragua with climate change and with the socio-political crisis there, people are looking more and more at hunger.  It is easy to forget that as the Top Chef judges say to a contestant that the prime rib was not plated to please the eye.

It is easy for the wealthy or the intellectual class in Nicaragua to create and foment a crisis when their children will be fed and given medical care or even schooling if a new government comes in and discontinues social programs.

It is easy to forget that people are sweating and bearing unbelievable heat when there is cool air at a touch.  When you have food to eat and can jump in an air-conditioned car, it is easy not to feel the urgency that climate change should be our top priority (when diesel prices had dropped, one opposition leader said that the Nicaraguan government was doing the people a disservice by investing in renewable energy!).

A Brazilian priest, Frei Betto, helps those of us who would say we choose to stand with the poor by telling us that, “The head thinks where the feet stand.”

He says that, “It is impossible to be a leftist without dirtying one’s shoes in the soil where the people live, struggle, suffer, enjoy and celebrate their beliefs and victories.  To engage in theory without practice is to play the game of the right.”

Many tell us that our opinion of what is happening in Nicaragua is just wrong, and maybe it is; but Fr. Betto also says, “Choose the risk of making mistakes with the poor over the pretension of being right without them.”

And so, we risk the mistakes….

Thank you, Kathleen….

 

 

The Pain That Will Not Go Away

Coincidental or not, ever since my official departure from Winds of Peace as its leader, I’ve been afflicted by a worsening hip pain.  The discomfort did not stop me from my daily workout routines, however, until two weeks ago.  The ache in my hip and back became both chronic and intense, resulting in an inability to sleep for more than about 60 minutes at a time.  Then I need to get up and walk around for a while before going back to bed for another hour.  Multiple medical consults have failed to achieve any relief; I’ll have another intervention later this week.  Will this be the initiative to end what, for me, has been a painful nightmare?  Time will tell.

I’ve been fortunate throughout my life to have suffered few physical difficulties.  I knew that the ravages of age were undoubtedly compounding within me, but I have worked hard to keep them at bay.  That likely makes me less patient in light of my current malaise.  I don’t have a sense of its rhythm or its source.  Medical folks have massaged, medicated, probed and examined  X-rays, without reaching conclusion.  My pain seemingly worsens every day and I grow a bit panicky.

But it’s not the intensity or even the constancy of the pain that bothers me the most.  Rather, it’s the uncertainty about whether it will eventually come to an end.  And more importantly, whether that end will be a positive one.  It’s the uncertainty that is disabling.

Living with this reality for the past two weeks and analyzing my temperament about it has engulfed me with self-pity from time to time, as I have wondered whether this is the way my life will be from now on, whether the days of freedom of movement and happy expressions of physical capacities are suddenly things of the past.   I continue to push myself to the limits of pain tolerance, but that has not been much help.

Then, at 2:14 A.M. last night, as I crawled back into bed after a 10-minute stretch, filled with a self-centered sadness for my plight, I was struck with a sudden clarity of understanding about an event totally unrelated to my own pains.  My epiphany concerned the impasse unfolding in Nicaragua over the past twelve months and a new perspective on what I have regarded as  my own personal calamity.

For Nicaraguans the pains of death and detention have been intense and continuing; the grief of loss has been compounded by the surprise eruption following long-simmering pains within the civil body.  Even as Nicaraguans recognized the country’s issues, they felt, or hoped,  that eventual remedies would be peaceful and democratic.  But quite suddenly there was this great pain, this great stain, that fell upon Nicaraguan society.  It hurt.  Relief has been unattainable, no matter what position the ailing have taken.  And they wonder whether this is the new normal, the way that future society will function.

As painful as the losses are, it’s the uncertainty of the future that festers in the hearts of Nicaraguans today.  They know how they want to feel.  They know how they wish to live and move within society.  But the current uncertainty robs them of an essential component of well-being: hope.  Without faith in some actions or initiatives on which to focus, the future becomes an unknown, dark place.  This has been the day-to-day suffering of not just a retired yankee but of an entire Central American population.

That’s perspective.  The chances are pretty good that the discomfort that I have experienced for the past several weeks will go away; one way or the other, I’ll likely get over it.  For most North Americans, most of our daily aches are inconveniences at worst.  But 2:14 A.M. is a good time of the day to reflect upon the source of real pain….

 

 

But What About Yareli?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Making Sense of the Senseless

Nicaragua.  I’m astonished at the turn of events that has wracked the country I have come to know over the past 13 years.  I read about places where I have traveled, remember fondly the warmth of the people I have met, recall the beauty and awe of the land, and then must imagine those same images against a backdrop of grief and gangs, barricades and bullets, hatred and horrors.   I am saddened, but only feel a fraction of the despair that my Nica friends must be experiencing.  Indeed, I cannot begin to comprehend what Nicas are going through in this time of upheaval.

The context raises the inevitable questions that accompany every instance of political unrest: how could this have happened?  Can there be, in fact, any reasonable understanding of what has led to the unraveling of an entire society and system?

They are questions that I have found myself asking about circumstances in the U.S., though understandably in a different context.  There are significant differences, but many similarities: a society that is fractured; an overriding unwillingness on both sides of the divide to talk of compromise; massive protests against the government; claims of government abuse of power; calls for the removal of a sitting president; alienation of other nations by virtue of nationalistic postures.  The list goes on, and so does my wondering.

In the shadow of the current impasse being experienced in Nicaragua, the Center for Global Education and Experience (CGEE) at Augsburg University is offering a “virtual course” on the crisis there, designed to delve into the competing historical narratives each side uses.  The analysis will allow participants to assess the validity of their application today, and  deepen an understanding of the perspective of each side.  For anyone who loves Nicaragua, who has been enriched by the place and its people, it can be a course of immense clarification and understanding.

But in addition to gaining a better understanding of the crisis in Nicaragua, my own hope is that it might provide me with some insights into the dysfunction which currently grips the U.S.  I do not require reminders about how enormously different our respective histories and developments have been; I know them well (as well as some of the intersections between us which figure into the Nica problems significantly).  But I have moved within the two cultures significantly enough over recent years to have acquired a perspective which asks whether many of the same factors might have been at work in each.

I’m interested in  the CGEE course about current Nicaragua in and of itself, to help me understand what has happened in that beautiful place, and why.    But I also have a secondary motive, which is to find some further insights about what has happened in this beautiful place, and why.

I guess I feel like I owe it to someone….