Interview of Diana Martinez by Rita Jill Clark-Gollub
On April 23, 2020, I spoke to my friend, Diana Martínez, president of the Fundación Entre Mujeres (FEM) in rural, northern Nicaragua. The 2,500 women of the FEM work together to defend their rights and their health, and practice agroecology. I called Diana in Estelí to see how the campesinas of the FEM are doing and what they think of their government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jill: I know that many people in the FEM communities do not have water piped into their homes. How are they handling the additional hygiene demands of combating the virus?
Diana: We’ve had lots of visits to our homes from the community health brigades explaining the virus and what our communities are going to do to stop it. We’ve also been spending a lot of time educating our members about the new precautions and putting the new standards in place. The biggest thing is lots and lots of handwashing. We have the water trucks the government has been sending around, and plenty of handwashing stations. People are using masks, and our meetings have social distance (both online and in-person with people spread apart).
In the FEM communities we have some innovative solutions, such as a system with a bucket and rope for handwashing. We are also using our community radio program to reinforce the message about handwashing and keeping physical distance from people.
The members of the FEM have not stopped working at all. They can’t or they won’t have any food. Our production plan and our agroecology classes are going on as usual. Government funds were approved to give us new rainwater capture equipment. And the young men in Miyotl, an organization allied with the FEM, have been hard at work putting in new cisterns.
Jill: What about visitors bringing in the virus?
Diana: We were very worried about Nicaraguans coming home from Costa Rica during Holy Week who could possibly bring the virus. But the Ministry of Health (MINSA) knew where these people would be visiting and they went and found them to screen them for illness. There were 64 visitors from Costa Rica in the village of Guasuyuca, (Estelí department). The MINSA folks came back again and again to check on them. Fortunately, none of them got sick. I am more impressed than ever with Nicaragua’s community health program, because it is coordinated from the central level and works right down to the very local level.
Jill: How is your agroecology work going?
Diana: We are having the hottest dry season in a long time, with temperatures over 100F, which we believe means there will be a good rainy season. We hope to have two good harvests this year—last year the first harvest was really lost because there wasn’t enough rain.
The family gardens have been helpful in terms of providing people with enough food, and I am pleased with our work. Fifteen young women agroecology leaders/educators have been taking an on-line course from a well-known agroecology professor based in Chiapas, Mexico—Peter Rosset, and will report back on what they learned on Monday. Never before has the FEM been so well-endowed with crops/food! Now we can share with people in the city! City dwellers have looked up the FEM, and come seeking our guidance. They listen to our radio program which gives lessons on soil improvement and how to keep a backyard vegetable garden.
The work at Las Diosas processing plant in Estelí continues as usual. And the Ministry of the Family, Community, Cooperative, and Associative Economy keeps the FEM busy with fairs. The work selling honey and coffee never stops and has been very successful.
Jill: How widespread is the virus?
Diana: There are now 12 people being monitored by MINSA (nationally) for Covid symptoms, but there is no community transmission at this point. We expect to have more people contracting infections with the rains of May.
Jill: So what additional measures will be taken if more people get the virus?
Diana: They have not said exactly which additional measures would be taken, but the message is to remain calm. If you have fever or symptoms, you go to the clinic and get yourself tested and treated. The big thing is that people are washing their hands ALL THE TIME! [Editor’s note: As of May the government is recommending masks for anyone with any kind of illness, for elderly and for caretakers and also social distancing.]
People like the members of the FEM trust their government and are calm. There are some people who do not trust the government and they are more nervous; they possibly read all the fake news [from the opposition saying there are more hidden cases of the virus]. We are aware of the fake news, but we just ignore it.
Jill: People in the United States and other developed countries do not believe that Nicaragua can contain the virus without closing schools and forcing workers to stay at home.
Diana: People in developed countries cannot understand our community health model. The health system is coming to us. We will never let them privatize health again.
Jill: How has life changed due to the virus?
Diana: People go out very little. If they do have to go somewhere, they wear facemasks, and wash their hands before entering any building and several times in-between. Those who can telework, do so. Some staff from the FEM headquarters are teleworking.
Jill: Are children still going to school?
Diana: In the countryside, the children are going to school; in the city of Estelí, a lot of children are staying home. But university studies have been impacted most because that requires travel on public transportation. So even though classes are still (pretty much) in session, lots of students do not go because they are afraid to ride the buses. The young women in the FEM cannot follow their classes online because even if they had a computer available, they would not have internet. [Editor’s note: Since about April 26 the government has been disinfecting the buses and providing posts where taxis can go to be disinfected for free.]
Jill: We friends of Nicaragua in the United States have been working to counteract all the lies our media tells about how Nicaragua is handling the virus.
Diana: Yes, I know. The hatred displayed by the opposition is visceral. Those people couldn’t take power in their attempted coup a couple of years ago, so they are now hoping this virus will do for them what they were unable to do.
We Nicaraguans are handling this virus by trusting in the transformations our society has been making, especially with community health. You don’t need to get everyone excited and cause a big scandal, like [President] Bukele did in El Salvador. The thing is that Daniel knows what he’s doing. We have the Cuban advisors and we have their Interferon [an immunity booster for viruses]. Hopefully we won’t have too many deaths.
What [those people in the opposition] have always sought is to destroy the economy. Now they hope that Covid will finish the job for them. It’s true that it is going to be hard; we will probably have a recession. But the important thing is that we have all the basic foodstuffs.
We Nicaraguans are not quite 100% food self-sufficient. But in the FEM we will do everything within our power to be as self-sufficient as we can so that the government does not need to give us aid and can give it to people who have greater needs than we have. That is what I am telling our members. What we can do in this crisis is not be a burden. If we are strong and healthy, using our bio-intensive gardens producing healthy food, we can boost our immune systems. We are taking a stance of dignity, being part of the solution. We will help Nicaragua however we can. Our enemy is the world economic order and the United States government that wants to crush us, along with Cuba and Venezuela.
Jill: Did you hear President Ortega’s speech last week [April 15]?
Diana: Yes! Daniel called out the United Nations. It has never been so clear that these organizations have been serving big capitalists. They have never been questioned so much; it is good that this is being clarified.
We will face this crisis calmly; we will contain it with a calm approach. Unfortunately, El Salvador and Honduras have become a no-man’s land. … The Nicaraguan people are organized in social movements and have responsible leadership. I have more admiration every day for our community based health system.
By Nan McCurdy
Fight against Covid-19 Strengthened Before Rains
On April 28, Minister of Health Dr. Martha Reyes, during a virtual meeting with all the mayors of the country, recommended the promotion of personal distance and the use of masks to prevent Covid-19, especially in the elderly and infirm, people who present respiratory symptoms or care for patients. These actions are in addition to those that the government has been implementing since the coronavirus pandemic was decreed, such as prevention like hand washing and timely information to the population. In part, the additional recommendations have to do with the onset of the rainy season when respiratory illnesses increase in Nicaragua. Likewise, the disinfection of schools, work centers, parks, markets, houses, public transport, personal vehicles and healthcare units will continue. (Radiolaprimerisima, 4/30/20)
Nicaragua Adequately Reporting on Covid-19 Cases
Panamerican Health Organization says Nicaragua is adequately reporting the advance of coronavirus. The affirmation comes a week after the organization said that communication with the Nicaraguan government had diminished. Dr. Ciro Ugarte, director of Health Emergencies at PAHO made the statement. According to Ugarte Nicaragua actively participates in regular meetings and trainings with regional public health systems, and follows PAHO technical assistance guides. [Editor’s note: This comes from US-funded opposition newspaper La Prensa, and is especially significant because daily the opposition, their media and US media that print their narratives allege that there are many cases of the virus being hidden.] (La Prensa, 4/28/20)
126,000 Farm Families Receiving Production Packages
During the 2020-2021 agricultural cycle, a total of 126,000 farmers throughout the country will receive production packages of seeds and supplies from the government. This is part of the food security strategy to increase crop yields and support small farmers. 31,200 packages are expected to be distributed for basic grains, of which 20,000 are for beans, 7,000 for rice, 3,000 for corn and 1,000 for sorghum. In the case of vegetables, the goal is to support 12,700 farmers. For the family gardens that 13,000 farm families will be planting: 6,000 packages of seeds or seedlings and supplies will be for farmers of tomatoes, 6,000 of peppers, 700 of onions, 5,250 of pipian (a squash), 5,250 of ayote (also a squash), 2,500 of cucumber, 15,200 fruit trees, 50 pineapple, and 50 melon and watermelon. Also distributed will be seedlings and supplies to 31,500 coffee producers, 1,100 to cocoa farmers, 6,500 packages to farmers with vine crops, 2,000 packages to farmers of bananas, 2,000 of plantains, and 3,500 of roots and tubers, including 2,500 cassava, 350 taro root, 350 sweet potato, 250 malanga and 50 potatoes. More than 8,000 others will benefit in beef, dairy, pork, fisheries, and goats and sheep. Producers of sesame seed and soybeans will also benefit. (Radiolaprimerisima, 4/29/20)
Atlantic Coast Families Enjoy Electricity, Water and Roads
The Sandinista government has transformed the Northern Caribbean Coast and dignified Caribbean families. The Regional Autonomous Government Coordinator, Carlos Alemán, stressed that the transformation is due to the National Development Plan being implemented by President Daniel Ortega. Bilwi currently has an investment of US$29.3 million in the drinking water project, which will guarantee service to families in indigenous communities that have never had this service before. In Waspam, the drinking water project was inaugurated and studies began for the water project in Siuna. The electricity connection from Bilwi to Waspam is complete and from Siuna to Rosita and Bilwi, 1,800 towers were installed for the interconnection. Two substations in Bilwi and Rosita will connect them to the national grid by the end of this year. And more than 150 kilometers of road improvement every year help producers. (Radiolaprimerisima, 5/5/20)
Muy Muy – Matiguás – Río Blanco Highway to Be Finished Soon
The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (MTI) evaluated progress on construction of the new Muy Muy highway in the Matagalpa department. The US$1.7 million highway is being financed by Nicaragua as part of Phase IX of the Road Maintenance and Expansion Program. The MTI reported that it is expected to become operational later this year, benefiting 89,633 inhabitants. (Nicaragua News, 4/30/20)
Nicaragua Celebrates Day of Sandino’s “No” to US Intervention
May 4 is called ‘the Day of National Dignity’ when Augusto C. Sandino, declared his resistance to the Yankee empire, denouncing the ‘traitors who throughout our history have knelt and continue to kneel, in front of those who … act as masters of the world,” explained the Nicaraguan Government of Reconciliation and National Unity. On this day in 1927 the US imposed the signing of an agreement with different forces that agreed to have US Marines run the country and set up a National Guard trained and loyal to the US. All the leaders signed except Sandino who left a note behind that said “I don’t sell out, nor do I give up. I want a free country, or death.” (Radiolaprimerisima, 5/4/20)
President Ortega Calls for Unity to End Sanctions at Non-Aligned Summit
On May 4, President Daniel Ortega, during a virtual meeting at the Non-Aligned Summit on the Coronavirus pandemic, advocated for the respect of international law and the end of the United States’ aggressions. “We emphasize that the international laws that the entire world community have committed to, continue to be violated. The COVID pandemic has not stopped the violations of the principles of the United Nations. Something more terrible: they [US and Europe] are taking advantage of the pandemic to intensify aggressions against peaceful peoples in different regions of the planet,” he said.
He recalled that “Ninety-seven years ago in Nicaragua we were once again facing the occupation by US troops,” and the US troops continue to occupy territories and the US government continues to attack people in different regions of the planet with brutal actions such as those launched against the president of the government of Venezuela where the US government is offering a 15-million-dollar reward for the head of President Nicolas Maduro, legitimate president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.” He added that “this is more criminal because it is calling for and paying for the assassination of a head of state and trying again, in the midst of the pandemic, to intervene militarily in Venezuela, moving its military forces under the pretext of fighting drug trafficking, when they should be fighting drug trafficking in the United States, which is the main consumer of drugs in the world.”
“I think we are facing a hunger pandemic, we all know that, hunger is produced by the practice of savage capitalism; and we are facing the pandemic of the violation of the human rights of the peoples,” he said, mentioning Cuba, “where instead of suspending the aggressions, the sanctions, they are intensifying them in the midst of the pandemic and encouraging acts that are true state terrorism. The biggest terrorists in the world are the United States with its policies of military and economic aggression, what they call sanctions, that are aggressions, because the United Nations has not approved sanctions against Cuba, nor against Venezuela; rather the sanctions promote the occupation of more Palestinian territory. And if we speak of Libya we already know who caused the destruction of that state; it was NATO happily bombing and destroying a nation,” he commented.
President Ortega pointed out that today “the most terrible pandemic facing humanity is the use of force, the threat of the use of force, and the wars promoted by the powers that be and in particular by the United States of America,” adding that “we are facing the pandemic of global warming, we are facing the pandemic of the weakening of the most sensitive bodies of the United Nations that have to do with the sensitivity of essential rights of the people and that have to do with the very survival of the planet and of the human species.” “The Non-Aligned Movement Countries must unite today more than ever, in our spirit of solidarity and our attachment to international law and in this way use our influence so that the model that has been imposed on the planet and that has millions of human beings suffering human rights violations can be changed,” he exhorted.
“That these aggressions that they call sanctions be suspended, that the principles of the United Nations be respected – that would be more than enough for the world to truly begin to change and we would be in better conditions to then take on the challenges that humanity must take on to achieve peace and justice for the peoples of the planet,” insisted President Ortega. He then expressed the solidarity of Nicaragua with the countries of the world affected by the pandemic. (Informe Pastran, 5/4/20)