NicaNotes: Telling the Stories of Rural Workers

On May Day, Friends of the ATC (Rural Workers Association) released a series of testimonies from the ATC Estelí federation, which has a large presence in the tobacco/cigar making industry but also organizes peasant farmers in rural areas near the city of Estelí. This is the second publication in a four-part series of testimonies from the ATC and other militants of Via Campesina organizations in Nicaragua. All of the testimonies are based on interviews done by different friends of the ATC visiting Nicaragua, particularly in our July 2019 delegation, as part of our efforts to share both the historic memory of peasant organizations with the solidarity community as well as the gains that are being made in worker and rural communities as a product of both the ATC’s organizing and the Sandinista Revolution. To access “ATC Estelí, Three Times Heroic,” visit: https://friendsatc.org/blog/international-workers-day-read-atc-testimonies-about-tobacco-worker-organizing-in-esteli/

 

JOSE ANTONIO CRUZ CRUZ

SECRETARY OF TRAINING, ATC ESTELÍ

I’m José Antonio Cruz Cruz. I live in the community La Montañita, here in the municipality of Estelí. I have been here in the organization for more than 10 years. During these ten years I’ve worked in different areas. First I was secretary of the Rural Youth Movement in the ATC. Then I was the promoter of the tobacco school, through the Francisco Morazán Peasant Worker School, and currently I am serving as the secretary of training here in the organization in the department.

I come from a peasant family, from humble conditions, like most of us who work here in the ATC. We come from the countryside. When the ATC began to work promoting the agrarian reform, adult literacy and other programs jointly with the government—as the ATC was born within the Revolution—my grandfather, whose name is Marcelino Cruz, was the leader of the community. He was the first reference of the ATC in the territory of La Montañita.

First, my grandfather was there as leader, then my father followed, and now I continue to work with the organization. I started working with the young people. The organization has always offered the space to work with young people. I had finished my primary studies but due to a lack of resources I could not go to university. At that time, the ATC had the applied agricultural administration program at Santa Emilia, Matagalpa, and I was introduced to the program. I liked it because it was something that was similar to the experience I had with the countryside, agriculture, livestock. So, I decided to go study in this program and it was the first link, the first contact, that I had with the organization. Later, in 2007, I was promoted to work here with the youth in the department of Estelí.

After all these processes and after living through the Revolution but also the whole process of counterrevolution—the 16 years of neoliberalism—the organization has always maintained its banner of struggle: working with workers and peasants. In the case of our territory, initially the work was more with small farmers, organizing them in cooperatives and associations of producers, developing projects to rescue native seeds through participatory plant breeding and also promoting the issue of food sovereignty.

 

On ATC training processes and the Francisco Morazán School in Managua

The organization has always had a training program – both in organizing, in technical training, and in unions. When I came to the organization, the focus was technical training. But, along with technical training, they also talked to us about the subjects the organization was working on: the topics of food sovereignty, health, food security, labor rights, cooperativism. Those topics were of interest to us because they are in line with our reality and our needs as peasants. We replicated these themes to young people and had a good time participating in the whole training process of the Peasant Worker School through CLOC-Via Campesina.

The Francisco Morazán School is the technical training school of the ATC in Nicaragua. The school has promoted courses focused on trade, looking for opportunities for unemployed youth, on every topic of entrepreneurship. The school has developed training processes for cooperativism, unionism, labor rights, issues related to violence against women, masculinity, food sovereignty, agrarian reform. The organization works on a variety of issues, and all of them are also linked to the issues that CLOC-Via Campesina works on because the Francisco Morazán School is like the training school for the organization here in Nicaragua and it is the regional school of CLOC-Via Campesina.

Compañeros and compañeras of organizations from Central America and Latin America come here to be trained. In that sense, it’s very nice because one has the opportunity to exchange with the big family of the ATC at a national level but also the big family of CLOC-Via Campesina in Central and Latin America. We could say that being in the Peasant Worker School is a process of exchanges, of learning, because one becomes familiar with the struggle in different countries in the region; their advances, their achievements, the things that are working well for them, and obviously we share how we are working. So that generates a very rich exchange, in addition to building friendships and very beautiful relationships.

 

On the youth processes of the ATC

The focus of the organization is always to organize the youth based on their own needs—in terms of training but also in terms of recreation, in terms of education. Therefore, the organization seeks to develop these topics: political advocacy, youth leadership, sexual and reproductive health, among others. But of course we never neglect the part of their labor rights, the part of organizing unions, consciousness-raising, all through the ATC. As the saying goes: “The right that is not defended is the right that is lost.”

In the case of young people from the countryside, we address quite a few productive topics that interest them. For example, if they say, “We want to form a sports team,” we try to coordinate with them and search for resources but also involve them so that they know that together things can be achieved. We form leagues or sports tournaments. In the same way, the organization has cultural spaces. For example, for the young people who like to sing, dance, or do theater, the organization offers that space. In the assemblies, in the workshops that we always develop, we have the open space for them to participate.

Also with the educational side, if we know that they are interested in studying some trade, technical degree, or university degree, we make an agreement with the centers of technical teaching, like the National Polytechnic University and the universities. Through the tobacco school, we trained young people in the trade of cigar making and later we formed partnerships with companies so that they were offered work. Approximately 500 young people who were trained are now employed. The fact that the ATC offers all these opportunities attracts young people because in one way or another they feel that the organization is solving a problem for them.

The other thing is that in tobacco here in Estelí 70% of the workforce is young. There are a lot of young people. These young people are both union leaders and members. Similarly, in the countryside we have quite a lot of young people—young people who are children of the members of the cooperative, young people who are children of those of the farmer associations. We always want the youth to be involved as part of the continuity of the organization because if we don’t involve the youth, then in the future the organization would suddenly disappear. That would be the end of it. That’s why we want young people to absorb all the experience of our historical leadership, the people who know the organization, so that they can continue the struggle as well.

 

On the ATC’s Tobacco School in Estelí

Since 2007, when the second phase of the Revolution began, we recognize here in Nicaragua that our Government of Unity and Reconciliation opens up space for dialogue and consensus. In 2008, 2009, our organization through the Francisco Morazán School and the director of this program, compañera Julia Margarita Trujillo, began to develop what is called “the tripartite social dialogue.” This dialogue was aimed at workers represented by our organization, the state, the Ministry of Labor and related institutions, and the government. The intention of the social dialogue was to solve problems through negotiation processes in which the employers, the workers and the Ministry of Labor, or state institutions were all at the table. It was something that was very nice because before there were very ugly situations. There were strikes. There were massive layoffs of workers, violations of their rights because perhaps the workers were demanding something but the employer didn’t want to hear them or there was no one to act as a mediator. But the policy has since changed. Now when workers have a problem, they explain it, the employer gives his version, and the Ministry of Labor looks for a solution that affects neither worker nor the employer. Everyone wins.

This allowed us to interact with many companies whereas before, when we arrived at the gate, we had to talk to the security guard to offer an invitation to a worker. But from then on things have changed. The doors were opened to us and we could enter directly to see the workers, to work with them. Among the positive things that came out of this dialogue process, a training process emerged. Trainings were held. Meetings were held. Technical standards of labor competence were drawn up. Initiatives arose. One is the labor certification for workers who had more than five years of experience—a lot of experience in the area of tobacco—but didn’t have a document that accredited them, that certified them, that qualified them. When they left a company, it was very difficult to find work in another company because they didn’t have a qualification. Sometimes they had to go to the company where they were before and the manager or the head of the company would give a letter of recommendation but when the worker was unfairly dismissed or perhaps claimed a right, then the employer, the administrator, or the manager was unhappy and obviously not going to issue the worker that letter. That was a barrier for them to work.

Since the beginning of this certification process, everything was accompanied by a technical team from INATEC (National Technological Institute) and the Peasant Worker School as well as technicians from the company where evaluations, such as an exam for theory and practice, were done to know if the worker had sufficient knowledge. If the worker answered all those questions and showed that he had a handle on the job, he would receive an INATEC certificate and that certificate became his letter of recommendation. After, for example, he would say: “I’m not going to continue in this company, but I’m going to go to another one.” Then he would go and show his certificate and have the doors open. Many of them were promoted because those certificates generated more confidence, more security, more self-esteem. Some who were boncheros or roleros were promoted to be reviewers, supervisors, or even heads of areas, and that was very positive. Approximately 2,000 workers were certified here throughout the tobacco process.

Later, the need arose to develop a tobacco school because at that time, starting in 2010 and onwards, companies were not hiring people who did not know the trade. There were lots of young people who went to companies in search of work but when they asked, “Do you know how to bunch? Do you know how to roll?” and they said, “no.” Then, there was no opportunity. We were constantly hearing on the radio: “Workers wanted, boncheros wanted, roleros with experience wanted.” But with experience. We thought, “What can we do?” At that time, the Peasant Worker School was able to coordinate with INATEC the formation of a school that would train young people in the trade so that they would learn. So they went to work. The companies did not provide this opportunity because they said that teaching a person required a real investment and because they needed people who were dedicated to teaching them. You need raw materials.

We were able to make the idea a reality through the youth skills employment program that INATEC was promoting at the time and we started the tobacco school. This process began with an official call through the unions. That is to say, a great part of the young people who entered this process were children of workers, of single mothers who did not have a job, young people who lived in the marginalized neighborhoods of the city and who were susceptible to falling into delinquent groups, gangs, drug addiction, alcoholism. Then we began to make a call to recruit these young people and indeed here we had lines of young people who were interested in that opportunity. Manuals were prepared to provide theoretical and practical training. Two spaces were set up here with all the conditions of a factory. There was the workstation with a chair. There were keys. There were guillotines or rolling machines. There were presses. There was raw material. There were drawers. Everything they needed we had. We had a technical staff: teachers trained in the subject, Cubans, others from here in Estelí but with years of experience, trade unionists as well. And the course was held in 80 hours, on weekends, Saturdays and Sundays. We also had the weekday class option.

We made this agreement with the companies so that the young people would go and practice. When they were a few days away from finishing the course, we took them to the company so that they could familiarize themselves with the environment. Many of them said, “I had never entered a factory before. This is a new experience. This gives me confidence.” We talked to the managers. In fact, when we arrived with the groups, the managers would say, “Leave me this many workers. I’m going to hire them here.” That was very important, that the companies had confidence in the school and opened the space.

So in that way we were able to train approximately 500 young men and women. We can say that the impact was very positive. This solved a problem they had, which was that they didn’t have jobs. The school opened this space of opportunity. It improved their economic situation because the single mothers, for example, said, “I didn’t have enough to support my children. but now I’m receiving an income.” This part is resolved. Others wanted to study but for lack of resources could not and another case was that they wanted to contribute to the economy and to their family. Like the personal achievements that all young people have, they wanted to dress, to wear nice clothes, to go out, to study, to do something. That was very important.

The other part is that they were young people who instead of being in the street doing drugs, drinking liquor in a group of delinquent youth, or forming a gang, were in a factory from Monday to Friday. They were in a factory and therefore no longer felt the need to go in a group because they found new friends there in the factory. And apart from that, they would say, “On weekends”—for example, Saturday—“I’m going to study. On Sunday, I’m going to Church.” Or those who didn’t go to Church or didn’t study, “I’m going to rest because I had a week of work.” So, we could say the impact was very good. We run into the young men and women in the street and they always express their gratitude to the organization for giving them that opportunity. It was a full scholarship.

 

On the Opposition’s Manipulation of Youth during the Failed Coup Attempt

There are several things to say about this. First, a small group of students was used as a facade to impact, to impress, to sell the message internationally of what the Nicaraguan student body was. They did not represent a significant force of students. I don’t know if one day it was 20% of students, but it didn’t represent a majority, as they wanted us to believe at the international level. Behind these students are the real organizers of the coup: the Catholic Church, the business community, and the NGOs, right-wing NGOs that know that our current government has made great achievements that are evident not only for Nicaragua but also internationally. They manipulated many young people who do not have a political conscience, who have no ideological formation and who perhaps do not know anything about the history of our country, how General Sandino emerged, how Carlos Fonseca, the father of the Revolution, emerged, the clandestine struggle of the Sandinista Front, and all that it meant to overthrow a dictatorship and come to power. They don’t know about all the achievements that were made during the Revolution. They don’t know how the system began to manipulate people, buying them to provoke a counterrevolution in Nicaragua. They don’t know that 16 years of neoliberalism were a great setback for Nicaragua. They don’t have any information about that.

So, they’re minds that are easily manipulated. A lot of them went because their friends said, “Let’s go to a march.” Then they got up and went but didn’t know what they were going to do. It’s in the interviews. They asked, “What are you doing here?” “I’m with my friends,” they said. Things like that, really. Because young people are like that. Look, someone gets up and there are always followers. That’s what happens. But it didn’t represent the student body here. I’m sure most of the students said, “No, I don’t identify with that. Those are destroyers of the country. I’m a student but I don’t identify with that.”

The visible faces that we saw were faces that were manipulated by Catholicism, through their youth ministry. They were manipulated by business, by the same civil society organizations. Sadly we have to say too that they were bought. The visible face that we see there was bought. “We are going to pay you and you are going to say that you are representing the students in their majority.” But it is not true. Therefore, many of them were unfortunately victims. They were used. At an international level, they made people believe that they were students, but they were not students. There were demonstrations and some—a few small groups of students—reacted, students of that kind, but most of them were criminals.

For example, they said, “Inhabitants of Estelí have the city blocked,” but they were not the inhabitants of Estelí. Estelí has 250,000 inhabitants and there were 50 people there and they weren’t students either. They were criminals. They were delinquents and they were told, “We are going to pay you so much and we are going to give you food every day.” Then, the media said, “The population has blocked Estelí” but the people were indignant here, saying, “They won’t let us work. This is affecting us.”  And people wanted to react. It is worth noting that here in Nicaragua there are disciplined people and they were waiting for the government’s orientation. If the government had said that the people were rising up, here they would have risen up. It would have been a terrible bloodbath. But the government said, “No. Calm down. Stay in your homes. Save your lives.” So that’s why people didn’t go out. They waited, they waited for the government.

 

BRIEFS

By Nan McCurdy

Arrogance of Costa Rica Caused Millions in Losses
The regional transportation crisis caused by the Costa Rica government provoked losses of US$150 million in Central America, said Marvin Altamirano, president of the Association of Transporters of Nicaragua. More than 2,500 trucks were stranded over many miles at Costa Rica’s borders with Panama and Nicaragua causing the governments of the region losses of more than US$50 million–plus the additional US$100 million losses in merchandise, taking into account that the average movement was five million dollars a day, he added.

Altamirano denounced Costa Rica’s attempt to monopolize the regional transit of goods in both directions. Costa Rica wanted to become the transportation center and have their trucks take merchandise out of Costa Rica in both directions and also bring goods into Costa Rica while also delivering in other nations. “The Costa Rican President provoked a humanitarian crisis with his executive orders to stop Central American transportation,” Altamirano stressed, in reference to the conditions the truckers had to face during their obligatory stay on the roads. The Central American countries finally reached an agreement to solve the crisis May 30 and on the afternoon of May 31 traffic restarted. (Radiolaprimerisima, 6/1/20)

Fewer Covid Deaths and More People Recovered over the Last Week
The Health Ministry in the weekly review of Covid-19 reports that as of June 2 there have been at least 1,118 people with Covid-19, 619 have recuperated, 46 have died and 381 are sick at this moment. (Radiolaprimerisima, 6/2/20)

Short Documentary about Care of Covid-19 Patients
The digital platform Juventud Presidente shared a video report “Doctors in Nicaragua: Example of Love for Life” about health personnel who care for Covid-19 patients. In the report, Dr. Erick Uriarte, shares his experience at the Hospital Fernando Velez Paiz, one of the most modern hospitals in Central America. “Worldwide, little is known about this disease; we have been preparing by examining what worked for other countries, what alternatives they applied. Early preparation helped us manage today’s situation of hospitalized Covid patients,” said the doctor. He said that he and other health personnel in Nicaragua have found how important emotional support is for the patients. “One sees the world differently and I realized that my patients not only require that I give them medicine and serum, but the patient requires support from his family, to be able to talk to them and others. I have seen people in a bad state, I have seen people die, but fortunately I have seen many more go home with their family, hugging, crying, happy. It is very rewarding.” Uriarte told Juventud Presidente. (19Digital, 6/2/20)

Recovered Patients Describe Experiences in Health System
New short documentaries from Sin Filtro share recovered patients’ experiences of medical care received until they fully recovered. Felix, from a village near Yalagüina, said that when he began to present symptoms he was transferred to a health unit in his municipality. “I was getting pretty bad, but the attention was great. [There are] doctors, nurses and medicine. I saw that in Nicaragua we have quality health care and a good government that cares for the poor,” said patient Felix. (19Digital, 5/30/20)

Low Interest Loans for Planting
The Nicaragua Institute for Agricultural Technology allocated 127,000 Food Production Packages to promote production, increase yield and incentivize marketing of basic grains, fruits, and vegetables, guaranteeing a better quality of life and food security for Nicaraguan families. The US$59.7 million financing is part of the Zero Hunger Program that the Government has implemented since 2007. (Nicaragua News, 5/28/20)

CABEI Support for Small Businesses
Last week, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) announced its Program for Financial Support and Technical Assistance to Micro, Small and Medium Size Enterprises (MSMEs) affected by the Covid-19 health crisis. MSMEs involved in farming, renewable energy, tourism, construction, and creative industry are being prioritized. CABEI President Dante Mossi stated that “the initiative responds to the urgent needs of MSMEs in Central America affected by Covid-19, allowing them to restore production capacity, recover jobs and boost the economies of the countries.” The US$350 million fund comes from CABEI with support from the German Development Bank (KFW) and the European Union. (Nicaragua News, 6/1/20)

100 Families Receive Homes on Mother’s Day
The Sandinista Government handed over 100 new homes from the Bismarck Martínez Program, as part of Mother’s Day activities. Priority is given to families with limited resources, who for many years have dreamed of having a dignified home. Managua municipal worker Bismarck Martínez was kidnapped and tortured by the opposition in June 2018; his body was found a year ago. (Radiolaprimerisima, 5/30/20)

Support for Survivors of Violence and Women at Risk
Nicaragua participated in a virtual workshop on protocols to be followed in the context of Covid-19 in support of survivors of violence sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund. Minister of Women’s Affairs Jessica Padilla reported on the work to provide legal and psychosocial support for violence survivors. A telephone line (133) has been set up for complaints or requests for information. She also described programs that support women with loans like Zero Usury and Houses for the People, which provides safe housing for women heads of families at risk. (Nicaragua News, 5/29/20)

Fumigation to Eliminate Mosquitos
Due to Nicaragua’s geographic location it suffers from various mosquito-transmitted illnesses like Dengue, Malaria, Zika and Chikungunya. In order to diminish the number of mosquitos, along with education campaigns, the Health Ministry fumigates home to home. Just on May 27, 1,228 homes in the San José Oriental neighborhood of Managua were fumigated by health promotors. This takes place all over the country to prevent vector-borne diseases. “The government fumigates to destroy the adult mosquito generating a positive impact on the health of the people,” said epidemiologist Irma Espinoza. “As a mother, I always open the doors of my home to those who fumigate for the health of my children,” said Olga Baltodano, a resident. (19Digital, 5/27/20)

Government Supports Mothers of Triplets and Twins
In 2010 the Special Law for the Protection of Families with Multiple Births was passed to provide assistance to single mothers with twins or triplets. They receive food packages every three months and are included in workshops on topics like parenting. Glenda Rodriguez, 38, resident of Hilario Sanchez neighborhood, had twins ten years ago and said it was a complex situation for her. “This is an emblematic government program to help the poorest ones,” she said. Sonia Raquel Vado, 36 and mother of 5-year-old twins said the support she has received has been very warm, very genuine, the people have a vocation and a heart, and see the circumstances of each person,” she said. Twenty-five mothers of triplets currently are in the program. (19Digital, 5/30/20)