Fresh Eyes on Nicaragua: A Renewed Sense of Internationalism

By David Archuleta

En Espanol Aqui

Those of us who admire and search for truth find ourselves in an age of increasing anxiety. Beyond the political left and right are competing narratives of what is actually occurring at home and in foreign countries. Views of Venezuela rend discussion across the US, for example, as some oppose intervention while others  allege authoritarianism. The State Department maintains its travel advisory warning on Nicaragua citing among other things civil unrest, crime, and the arbitrary enforcement of laws. We are inundated on our virtual timelines and televisions with headlines and videos from various interests and institutions with various strategies and objectives. There are federal stories, mainstream stories, and there are insurgent stories from below the professional or even academic paradigm.

One such story is that of the campesinos of Nicaragua, who I hold in higher regard than US politicians, and whom I had the exceptional opportunity to work and live with for ten days in the countryside. Beyond visions of a ‘principled’ internationalism but towards a humanistic understanding and appreciation for the working poor this article applies to all of us in the western neoliberal bubble. I posit that anybody should have it in mind as their duty to defend the Nicaraguan political project with their voice, their vote, and their wallet. This duty is owed not simply to a government whom I view as having the interests of the people in mind, but to the workers themselves, who are building a genuine project for the betterment of their lives at the detriment of global capital.

The ten days I spent in Nicaragua were part of a delegation on Food Sovereignty and Agroecology, sponsored by the Friends of the ATC and my own organization, the Alliance for Global Justice. The ATC (Rural Workers Association) was the Nicaragua-based organization to which much of the delegation experience owed its organization. The ATC itself is a historic grassroots organization of women, children, workers, small scale producers, unions and cooperatives. They were instrumental during the first Sandinista period of land reform and literacy improvement, but now as well in working towards improving the lives of the poor. They were responsible for arranging our homestays in the countryside and our time at the Francisco Morazan Peasant Worker School in Ticuantepe, Managua.

Members of the delegation travelling in Carazo

First of all food sovereignty refers to the goal and right of a people to realize culturally appropriate food in sustainable ways. This means among other things the negation of agribusiness domination and vulnerability through market vacillations of mono crop culture. The campesinos can own their own land for example and produce what is necessary for them to live without fear of job loss, land loss or the total wipeout of a single dependent crop. Essentially it is putting as a priority the needs of the producers and consumers of food in front of the greed of business. It promotes local as opposed to global interests, as well as ecology, health, and non-hierarchical social relations.

The ATC, as part of La Via Campesina – a worldwide organization of peasants and indigenous peoples, aims to develop food sovereignty in Nicaragua within its organization. Agroecology describes the sustainable techniques and practices of food production, again at odds with agribusiness and the global market. A part of agroecology is the heeding of knowledge of ancestral practices, organizing farmer to farmer knowledge sharing, schools, and in general its political movement to undo the destruction of neoliberalism and the green revolution. At all of our homestays in the Nicaraguan countryside we were taught first hand these novel techniques and shown their value in the local communities and in the national economy.

My experience staying with my host families, working and learning with the campesinos in the countryside taught me a few things. First how incredibly privileged I was to have the opportunity to see on my own the brilliant political project that is taking place in Nicaragua. From a macro view to the individual, sub-political level I saw the deeply interwoven organization and profoundly human-centered lives the people live. As opposed to a problematic view of superiority through the “voluntourist” gaze or experience I see the Nicaraguan undertaking as a global model not on par but above the United States and the First World. I also saw how staunchly the campesinos were in support of the Sandinista government as well as President Daniel Ortega. I did meet folks in the opposition camp, who were quick to cite Channel Ten and other private media but I also know the well documented manipulation of events by US-funded NGOs and oligarchy, so there is no need to get into that here. I found out during my time there why the workers so emphatically supported the FSLN political party.

The most educational experiences of the delegation were the conversations with, and the testimonies of, the working poor. Multiple persons relayed to us the transformation of a country, first from Somoza dictatorship in the 70s to revolution and then from neoliberal rule to the contemporary FSLN era. Sandinista land reform projects improved the lives of many after the Sandinista revolution in 1979. Back then big agribusiness and the Nicaraguan oligarchy owned the vast majority of land – two million hectares out of five, and worked landless peasants to brutal consequences.

Emerita Vega narrated her experience of the transition from the Somoza era, describing her impoverished childhood in abject poverty to the empowerment of land ownership with the onset of the Sandinista government. The transition to food sovereignty begins with land reform and the building of popular economic self-sufficiency. This was exemplified by the people in the communities where we stayed, who not only produced the majority of what they ate but produced and sold commodities and foodstuffs in an insular fashion within the neighborhood. There was no need to look anywhere else for anything you might need, just ask your neighbor.

That families had their own land or land held in common to produce their own food impacted my own understanding of what it means to build community. Much of what I learned in Nicaragua was at the indices of confrontation between theoretical knowledge and the actually existing. It is a jarring experience to see first-hand what you had only imagined in your head while reading. I also contrasted this self-sufficiency with furloughed government workers in my own country who were basically asking for handouts during the government shutdown. That is dependency, not self-sufficiency. Besides land, major progressive Sandinista programs include free higher education and housing for those who cannot afford it, free healthcare, and the ‘bono productivo’ (Zero Hunger) initiative, among others. This initiative gives resources including livestock such as pregnant cows as well as plants and building materials to peasants and the majority of the recipients are women.

Some of the communities we met with were women’s organizations, like the FEM (Foundation between Women), a foundational association of women’s cooperatives that have been organizing around women’s issues for over 20 years. When the neoliberal governments took power in the 90s many land gains were lost and women were the most vulnerable and displaced. So it was in that context that they began to organize themselves against gender violence, and for sexual and reproductive rights. We also lived at the Gloria Quintanilla Women’s Cooperative in Santa Julia, originally a German-owned coffee plantation, which is now owned by the women in the cooperative. Besides organizing to rid their community of domestic violence, they have also been working on getting better access to water, which has been a $200,000 project. Eloisa, my house mother, also described how the cooperative had been working with the ATC even before the Sandinistas came into power. While explaining this autonomy in organizing, she still ties change in the community fundamentally to the FSLN. “That’s what this government has brought to us, rights for women, and rights for children,” she said.

Besides the North American and European members of the delegation we were also half composed of students from the IALA (Latin American Agroecology Institute). IALA is a set of schools organized by La Via Campesina and originally developed by the Landless Workers Movement (MST) in Brazil, and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, to educate young campesinos to defend the peasant way of life. The goal is to promote a popular education in the Freirean model, not top down but based on popular enquiry and community interaction. The students receive engineering education and certificates but they do not train to enter the capitalist wage labor market but rather to bring back what they’ve learned to their communities. On our delegation these youth came from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic and we traveled with teachers as well from Venezuela and El Salvador.

IALA students Denis and Migdalia

The commitment of the students is extraordinary as they are genuinely militant in their behavior and attitude towards their education, and were so in their participation in the delegation. One morning they presented us with a mystica, a ceremony of sorts where they placed machetes, shovels, seeds and books on the ground and acted out their agricultural tasks. This spiritual activity stood out to me as I realized the deep focus the students had for their everyday lives, their education, and their communities. I discovered on a holistic level the connection between the individual and the grand political picture and was awed at how incredibly historic this movement was. Although I realized how far removed the question was from their context I asked, among other things and for curiosity’s sake, how they identified. The answer from every student I asked was campesino first and foremost.

In regards to the political question the Nicaraguan students were supporters of the Sandinista government. For the students, themselves children of campesinos, Ortega represented the interests of the farmers and the poor in Nicaragua. They cited not only the bono productivo program but bringing electricity to impoverished communities and improving the roads. They recognized the FSLN for supplying them with school necessities like backpacks and notebooks and with building schools. They told me that without the government they wouldn’t have gone to school because they wouldn’t have been able to afford it. The roads were important too because the small producers cultivate food and bring it to areas with citizens who don’t produce, so it has been an advantage to them. Along that same vein, it was the opposition groups during the crisis last year that blocked roads, and effectively cut off the marketplace for many peasants. Although they had food to eat themselves, which they produced, the campesinos could not sell their excess and a lot of that was wasted. The students also had to stall their education a bit during this time but they never gave up hope for the government. Overall the countryside was not affected much, thanks to their efforts in achieving food sovereignty.

My brief stay in Nicaragua changed the way that I see my own country and the world. It is one thing to read so much about how genuine popular movements are organized and another to see it happening before your eyes. Besides that, it also gave me a sense of reverence for the food I eat and the knowledge of how it is produced. I believe the grassroots movements, unions, and FSLN government are a model to look to when developing our own movements in the United States. For people who would like to support the Nicaraguan campesinos they should donate to the Friends of the ATC. Other actionable steps to take would be to bring your voice to your congressional representatives about sanctions on Nicaragua and policies like the Nica Act, which work only to harm the working poor.

 

Briefs

By Nan McCurdy

 

Nicaraguan Government and Delegation of the OAS Secretary General Meet

The Government held important conversations with a delegation of the General Secretariat of the OAS in Managua February 14th.  In an official press release the government stated that “information and perspectives about the situation in Nicaragua were discussed, including the importance of giving continuity to the constructive exchange between the Government and the General Secretariat of the OAS, in order to advance on the path towards Electoral Reforms and Presidential Elections in 2021. The Government of Reconciliation and National Unity values the importance of this exchange and the agreement to maintain an open channel of communication with the General Secretariat of the OAS.” (Nicaragua News 2/18/19)

 

The Nicaraguan Government, Big Business and the Catholic Church Meet

The Government reported that this Saturday it met with a representative group of businessmen. An official note from the government also said that the archbishop of Managua, Cardinal Leopoldo Brenes, and the Apostolic Nuncio Monsignor Waldemar Stanislaw participated as guests of the two parties. The Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP) and the Archdiocese of Managua confirmed the meeting. Representing Nicaraguan big capital were Carlos Pellas, Roberto Zamora, Ramiro Ortiz M., Juan B. Sacasa and Jose Antonio Baltodano. They addressed “important issues for the common good of the country” in what was described as “an open exchange” in which “the need for an understanding to start a negotiation through an inclusive, serious and frank meeting was confirmed.

 

The Archdiocese of Managua issued a communiqué taking as its own the first two paragraphs of the Government’s note. The president of COSEP, José Adán Aguerri, preferred to give statements to friendly journalists. Aguerri said the meeting is “an important effort to open a door that had been closed. It is an advance in the direction that will restart an inclusive negotiation for the good of the country.” The presence of the Nuncio and Cardinal Brenes, as representatives of the Vatican and the Nicaraguan church, was also considered “very relevant.” US Ambassador Sullivan said in his twitter that his government “welcomes this effort to reestablish negotiations” between the Presidency of Nicaragua and representatives of civil society.” (Radio La Primerisima, 2/16/19; Nicaragua News, 2/18/19)

 

Roadblock Leaders Found Guilty of Murder and Other Crimes.

A Managua Criminal Court judge sentenced Medardo Mairena to 216 years in prison on Monday for the murder of four police officers and a school teacher in the municipality of Morrito in Rio San Juan and other crimes committed during the failed coup attempt. He was also found guilty of ten kidnappings, organized crime, and aggravated robbery. Mairena’s actual sentence is 30 years because that is the maximum allowed by Nicaraguan law. According to the prosecutor’s indictment, on July 12, Mairena is responsible for the armed attack on the police delegation in Morrito that left five dead and several wounded. Also sentenced to 210 years was Pedro Mena. Co-defendant Orlando Icabalseta was sentenced to 159 years. (Radio La Primerisima, El Nuevo Diario, 2/19/19)

 

Support to Fight Poverty

The Ministry of Finance and Public Credit announced that the Export-Import Bank of Taiwan approved a US$100 million loan to ensure greater resources for social spending and to support the fight against poverty in Nicaragua. The loan was signed last month and it was sent to the National Assembly on Monday for approval. (Nicaragua News, 2/18/19)

 

Attractive Tourism Destination

A report published last Sunday in American Airlines magazine Celebrated Living, states that Nicaragua is one of the best tourism destinations for those seeking to escape the cold winter this time of year. The article states, “Music, tradition, culture, volcanoes, lakes and much more awaits you in Nicaragua. As beautiful as ever!” (Nicaragua News, 2/18/19)

 

Inmates Will Enjoy Being with Family Members on Valentine’s Day

Vice President Rosario Murillo said more than 1,170 inmates in the National Penitentiary System will benefit from the Family Reunification Program promoted by the government. “On Valentine’s Day, all these prisoners will celebrate alongside their families and friends. This is how we are ratifying our firm commitment to the protection of human rights and the promotion of social reintegration of inmates.” (Nicaragua News 2/14/19)   

 

Dream of Land Connection between Pacific and Caribbean Realized

The Nicaragua Minister of Transport and Infrastructure (MTI), Oscar Mojica, said the new Nueva Guinea – Bluefields highway was officially inaugurated on Feb. 14. “The US$39.5 million highway was financed by the Nicaragua government with support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB),” Mojica said. (Nicaragua News, 2/14/19)

 

250 Couples Marry on Valentine’s Day with Help from Radio Ya

250 couples were legally married on February 13 and today February 14 at the Plaza de Colores in Puerto Salvador Allende. They said “I do” in “Your Wedding Now,” sponsored by Radio Ya. Radio Ya is the nearly forty-year old private Sandinista supporting station that was burned by the opposition in May with 22 people barely making it out alive. https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:87390-250-parejas-sellan-su-amor-en-la-xvi-edicion-de-tu-boda-ya  (19 Digital, 2/14/19)

 

Drunken Priest Makes a Scandal in Masaya

The National Police said Thursday that at around 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 13, they detained Father Edwin Heriberto Roman Calderon at kilometer 33 of the Catarina-Masaya highway for drunk driving. This priest is well-known for his drunkenness and for his ardent opposition to the government. “The priest refused to take the breathalyzer test, verbally assaulting the officers who were fulfilling their duties of prevention and protection of the citizenry,” the Police communiqué said. The police delivered Fr. Calderon to the Vicar of the Cathedral of Managua, Bismark Antonio Conde Torres. “The National Police, in compliance with its institutional missions at all times, acted with respect for human rights and courtesy,” the police statement said.

 

The Nicaraguan Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement in which it manipulated the version of the facts and at no time referred to the state of drunkenness in which the Fr. Calderon was found when he was stopped by the Police. In their official note, the bishops say the priest was physically assaulted, without showing any evidence. They also do not mention that the police handed the detainee over to the Vicar of the Cathedral. (Radio la Primerisima, 2/14/19)