NicaNotes: Mission Accomplished! Ten Homes Built the Cooperative Way

By Winnie Narvaez

[This article was first published by the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign of the UK on August 24, 2023.]

(Winnie Narváez Herrera is a popular education facilitator working with the educational organization ÁBACOenRed /FUPECG supporting co-operatives. It is based in northern Nicaragua. Here she reports on how public institutions and the Victorias de Noviembre housing co-operative have worked together not only to build houses but also to strengthen their local community.)

In August 2021 members of Victorias de Noviembre coop started preparing the sites; in February 2022 they built retaining walls. By the end of 2022 seven houses had been finished and in June of this year the co-operative inaugurated its first ten houses.

In Latin America, the problem of housing quality is even more serious than the problem of not having a home, and this is made worse by the increasing impact of climate change, violence in some parts of the region and migration.

However, in many ways the small country of Nicaragua, with only 6.5 million inhabitants, is showing a way forward. Social housing [affordable housing] is being built at a steady pace by the government through local authorities and now with added support from the People’s Republic of China.

But many of these programmes are not only about constructing houses but also involve local participation that actively promotes community development. This is part of a long tradition of co-operatives in Nicaragua, promoted strongly since the Sandinista Revolution in 1979.

This co-operative model is based on mutual support among members: many hours of voluntary work are put in by those benefiting from a scheme to build not only their own houses but those of their neighbours. It’s a co-operative model that works because it’s not just about building homes but also about building community solidarity.

This approach is multilayered. In the northern district of La Dalia, Department of Matagalpa, a multidisciplinary co-operative called MULTIPRO, working together with the Matagalpa housing cooperative centre CECOVI, has collaborated with a local housing project of Victorias de Noviembre Cooperative.

With their support and two years of planning and building the co-operative inaugurated its first ten houses in June of this year.

In August 2021 members of Victorias de Noviembre had started manually removing earth and rocks to prepare the site; in February 2022 they built retaining walls and by the end of 2022 seven houses had been finished.

All this work is based on community participation.  Responsibilities are shared between women and men and the co-op; children are get involved lighter aspects of the work.

In the first photo, coop members prepare the land for one of the houses. In the second, they carry bags of cement for the foundations of the houses.

Some people obviously benefit in the early stages while others are simply contributing their labour. But as one member said: “In the construction phase we all have to be patient, if my house isn’t ready yet this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop working”.

Margini Martínez, president of the co-operative, explains how each stage of construction was carried out: “We organised ourselves into groups of three, working from 7am – 5pm Monday to Saturday although in the case of heavier tasks such as lifting bags of cement, the groups joined together.

In addition to the groups working during the day, others are organised into three committees: one in the warehouse controlling materials, another to organise the day’s work, and a site committee to monitor the quality of the work.

This pattern of working continues throughout the year but with breaks during the coffee harvest, the main source of income for most co-op members.

Together with the commitment of the co-operative itself, the project required coordination with different agencies. For example, in order to meet the Housing Ministry’s criteria for social housing’ they needed a separate entity through which to channel the Ministry’s subsidy; in this case, the local mayor’s office.

This guaranteed the provision of some materials and the Ministry made a cash contribution of US$25,000. The cooperatives also secured a loan of $34,277 from a fund managed by MULTIPRO. To this amount was also added $14,000 raised a by housing cooperatives in Switzerland and a further $12,000 from a solidarity donation from international social housing networks.

Each member of Victorias de Noviembre contributed $2,148 dollars. Given that the only paid work of most of the members is during the coffee harvest saving this amount would require a huge effort.

The multi-agency approach means that the homes have been built at a cost which is accessible to poor rural families. The co-operative members will pay just $240 per family each year for ten years at the end of which they will own their houses. Each family will be able to decide when in the year it will make their payments (for example, they may choose to do so after being paid for their coffee harvesting work).

In addition to the financial aspect, the mutual support aspect of the scheme is of vital importance, not only the work by the beneficiaries but also the technical support provided by MULTIPRO which also supports four other co-operatives on a similar basis.

During the construction, the La Dalia mayor’s office and the Housing Ministry also made technical visits to the site, before granting building permits and again on completion.

Another feature of this process was “mutual support days.” These are working days when friends of the co-operative, whether other co-operatives or brigades of university students, visit the site and help in the construction work.

René Ruiz, president of the MULTIPRO cooperative, explains: “A mutual support day was held to celebrate International Women’s Day. The work consisted of shifting materials, filling in trenches and making foundations. Materials were provided by the La Dalia mayor’s office.” Another group prepared food for all those taking part.

June 2023 saw the inauguration of the first ten houses, a celebration organised by MULTIPRO and the co-operative, together with friends who have been part of the process. The mayor’s office and the Ministry of Family Economy also took part.

In the future, the cooperative plans to continue working together towards its wider aims, not just providing homes for its members. For example, the coop also wants to buy its own farmland.

Although Victorias de Noviembre is just one small co-operative but there are many others in Latin America that are similar. They represent ways of tackling the inequalities in a global housing market that usually favours people who are already well-housed.

By Nan McCurdy

244 Government Child Centers Created over 16 Years
The neo-liberal governments from 1990 to 2006 privatized or closed most of the day care centers created by the Sandinistas during the 1980s. As a result, thousands of families faced the dilemma of finding care for their children.  Often, one of the spouses, almost always the wife, opted to stay home to care for the children, and income decreased. That situation has changed radically. In 16 years, Child Development Centers (CDI) have multiplied and from the 32 that barely made it through the fateful 17 years of neo-liberal governments after 1990, they have now grown to 276, all subsidized by the state, all with trained personnel, all with specific programs to instill values and knowledge in the children. These centers serve 16,500 children under age six who receive comprehensive care, food, weight and height monitoring, early stimulation and more. See photos: (Radio La Primerisima, 7 Sept. 2023)

Managua with Cheapest Bus Fares in Region
Nicaragua is one of the countries in the region with the cheapest urban public transportation fares, according to a recent study by “Compare the Market,” carried out in 40 countries around the world. It points out that the cost of the ticket in Nicaragua is 0.07 cents of a dollar, followed by Guatemala with 0.14 cents of a dollar, El Salvador is 0.30 cents of a dollar and Panama 0.40 cents of a dollar. The Central American countries with the most expensive fares are Costa Rica with 0.90 cents of a dollar and Honduras with 0.53. The government maintains a subsidy for public transportation that guarantees a low fare. (Radio La Primerisima, 7 Sept. 2023)

M&R Poll Shows Ortega with High Approval
On Sept. 6 the M&R Consultants polling firm presented its most recent regional survey entitled “Approval of Government Management in the Americas,” corresponding to the second quarter of 2023. The survey states that with 75.8% job approval, President Daniel Ortega ranks second in the Americas among the best evaluated Presidents, surpassed only by Nayib Bukele of El Salvador who had 89.5% approval. The Nicaragua Government registered 90.3 on the Government Management Capacity Index, ranking second in the region behind the Government of El Salvador with an index of 97.2. (Nicaragua News. 7 Sept. 2023)

Excellent Financial Results in the First Half of 2023
In the first semester of this year, the economy has grown by 3.8%, meaning that there are more products and services in the country. On Sept. 11, the Central Bank (BCN) published a report on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) corresponding to the second quarter of 2023. In that period, “economic activity registered an inter-annual growth of 4.0% (3.6% in the previous quarter),” according to a press release from the BCN. The GDP growth in the first half of the year was 3.8% and the average annual growth is at 3.3%. Regarding the expenditures made by citizens, the BCN note adds that, “the GDP growth in the quarter was determined by the the growth of consumption (4.5%) and investment (12.7%).” (Radio La Primerisima, 11 Sept. 2023)

Historic Health Fair in the Miskito Cays
On Sept. 9 and 10, the Ministry of Health carried out the first health fair in the Miskito Cays, where doctors provided attention to nearly 4,000 people living in these small islands of the Nicaraguan North Caribbean. Doctors performed ultrasounds, Pap smears, special blood chemistry tests to detect kidney disease, electrocardiograms and specialized care for pregnant women and women in general, as well as internal medicine, dermatology, general surgery, urology and also completed the vaccination schedule, including COVID-19. Indigenous leader of the Tawira Territory Nildo Amasio Abisal said that this is the first time that a fair of this magnitude has been held in the Miskito Cays. He said that many patients were transported to the point of care in boats. See photos:   (Radio La Primerisima, 10 Sept. 2023)

700,000 Children Served with the Nutritional Plan
As of September 10, the Health Ministry has provided 701,189 child health care services as part of the activities of a national plan to monitor the nutritional status of children under 6 years of age. Over 400,000 house-to-house and school visits were made, where children received vitamins and parasite medication. More than 72,000 children who were identified as suffering from malnutrition are receiving follow up attention to improve their nutritional status. Through the National Nutritional Status Follow-up Plan, 8,024 pregnant women are being followed due to low weight gain. And 60,116 members of the Community Network were trained and certified to identify children with nutritional problems in order to promote healthy lifestyles. (Radio La Primerisima, 11 Sept. 2023)

19 Women Police Promoted to Commissioner
Vice President Rosario Murillo announced that, during the ceremony on September 11th celebrating the 44th anniversary of the founding of the National Police, 33 officers will be promoted to commissioner general, among them 19 women and 14 men. The Vice-President said that “The 33 are chiefs in the departmental and municipal delegations of our National Police. (Radio La Primerisima, 7 Sept. 2023)

“We must not let our guard down, because the enemy remains the same!”
[Excerpts from President Daniel Ortega’s speech during celebration of the 44th anniversary of the founding of the National Police.]

“Because the enemy is the same one that 167 years ago Andrés Castro knocked down with a stone, we must not lower our guard or become overconfident.”.… “Let the enemy know that this is a people with institutions of men and women with dignity, with love for their homeland and who never surrender.”… The President ratified the commitment of the National Police to the Heroes and Martyrs to whom homage was paid this day. In particular, he highlighted the changes in the National Police which he described as historic, of placing women as co-chiefs in all municipal and departmental delegations and specialties of the institution. “Where before there were only men, now women commissioners are incorporated to defend peace. They are comrades from different regions of the country, with a long commitment to the people. Today we are taking a leap forward at a global level,” explained the President. He In this sense, he said that he did not believe that in any other police force in the world such an important change has been made, which places women and men police officers on an equal footing. He said that all the women promoted to higher positions faced terrorists in 2018 and have continued self-sacrificing work.

President Ortega said that during the failed coup attempt in 2018, the National Police reestablished order and defended peace with the dismantling of the roadblocks by demand of the people. “There came a time when it was necessary to restore order in the country, to restore peace, and there logically went the police, with the volunteer police officers and we quickly dismantled the famous roadblocks of death.”

“What happened in Nicaragua in April 2018? It was terror, it was the blockade provoked by terrorists paid by the Yankees and by some European countries. It was murder, it was torture and burning of comrades, both fellow students, fellow policemen, the terrorists tortured them, and then they burned them and they filmed themselves because they believed that the coup had already triumphed,” said the President.

He said that on this 44th anniversary, the vende patrias [sell outs] are howling against the appointment of women to higher positions…. The police are complying with a principle which is not new, due to the fact that, in the directorates, institutions, National Assembly and in the mayor’s offices, it has been mandated that 50% be composed of men and 50% of women…. (Radio La Primerisima, 11 Sept. 2023)