Sanctions Kill. Join AFGJ and Nicaraguan Farmers to Fight the Blockade of Venezuela

By Chuck Kaufman

Everything I know about true solidarity I learned from Sandinista Nicaraguans in the 1980s and since. I’m excited to write in this last NicaNotes blog of 2019 to introduce a 3-way solidarity project that we can all participate in. It is called the Manitos Children’s Fund. Manitos means “little hands” in Spanish. At its most basic, Manitos Children’s Fund raises money in North America (US and Canada) to buy food from Nicaraguan cooperatives to donate for children’s nutrition in Venezuela. But there’s a lot more to the story than just the basics.

The reason Venezuelan children need to have their nutrition supplemented is because the United States government is trying to overthrow their government, and the weapon of choice is unilateral coercive measures – sanctions – that are explicitly forbidden in the Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS).

Sanctions are sold to us as a more humane way to pressure other governments to bow to our will. But that is not true. Sanctions kill. In April, 2019, Mark Weisbrot, director of Center for Economic and Policy Research, and Colombia University Economist Jeffrey Sachs released a report on the effects of sanctions on Venezuela. Their report revealed at least 40,000 more people died in 2017-18 under sanctions than died in a similar period before sanctions. 

40,000 people died. That’s how many people were killed during the whole Contra War in Nicaragua. But in only two years, sanctions killed that many Venezuelans. The people who made up that 40,000 were not democratically-elected President Maduro or his family, or members of his cabinet. They were not the commanders of the military and police or the CEOs of corporations. No. The people who died were children. They were the elderly. They were people with HIV/AIDS or who needed dialysis, insulin, or blood pressure medicine. They were the poor. 

When the US and Canadian governments tell us their sanctions are targeted like a laser beam they are lying. Actually they are targeted, but not where they tell us. The State-imposed sanctions are targeted in a way that is intended to make life unbearable for ordinary citizens so that they will rise up and overthrow the government that Washington doesn’t like. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo admitted as much to AP reporter Matthew Lee, on March 11, 2019, when he said, “The circle is tightening; the humanitarian crisis is increasing by the hour. … You can see the increasing pain and suffering.” He is talking about the effects of sanctions. The suffering of the civilian population is not an unintended consequence; it is exactly the consequence intended and it is morally wrong! 

When US President Donald Trump announced a “complete economic blockade” of Venezuela in August, 2019, we in Alliance for Global Justice knew we had to act. In the 1980s, the Nicaragua Network, our predecessor organization, opposed the US economic blockade of Nicaragua with the Let Nicaragua Live Campaign, our humanitarian aid campaign. The last two years of the campaign included contracting with a black family farm cooperative in Alabama to grow oats which were shipped to Nicaragua where the milling of them created jobs. Nicaraguans drink their oats so the end product was a beverage distributed to the children’s hospital and orphanages to supplement children’s nutrition. 

That experience became the inspiration for us today, over thirty years later, to create the Manitos Children’s Fund. We have joined with Canadian partners to create a campaign across both countries that have imposed illegal sanctions on Venezuela.

Our staff traveled to Nicaragua to work out the details of buying beans from Rural Workers Association (ATC) cooperatives and its affiliate, the Union of Agricultural Cooperatives of Nueva Segovia (UCANS). Nicaraguans showed us once again what true solidarity is. Of course they were excited to sell us beans. But their primary reaction was, “How can we be part of this solidarity action?”   

“Do Venezuelan farmers need seeds?” “Yes,” we replied. “Then we will ask each of our members to donate several pounds of seeds to send along with the beans.” And they offered as part of their contribution to pack the beans and transport them to the port that they will ship from. They said all we have to do is pay for the gas! Nicaraguans remember the solidarity they received from Venezuela under Hugo Chavez and they didn’t hesitate for a minute to give some of that solidarity back. I remember in the 1990s during Cuba’s “special period,” that Nicaraguans, who didn’t have enough milk for themselves, voluntarily donated milk for Cuba. That is what solidarity is all about.

So the Manitos Children’s Fund is off to a good start. We hope to ship our first 18 ton container of beans to Venezuela by the end of January. We need approximately $20,000 to purchase and ship the beans. The final price will depend on how good the current bean harvest is. I hope you can make a tax-deductible contribution online at: https://manitoschildrensfund.org/donate/. Or mail a check made out to AFGJ/Manitos Children’s Fund to 225 E 26th St., Ste. 1, Tucson, AZ 85713. (US dollars only for checks.)

Our mission statement explains our goals and strategy: “Manitos Children’s Fund aspires to build a world where not one child dies of malnutrition or lack of access to medical care due to political differences among nations. We believe that unilateral sanctions and economic blockades are illegal under international law. At the same time, we recognize that while we can challenge sanctions within the US political arena, we must work to deliver humanitarian aid within the limitations of laws and Presidential Orders. Manitos means “little hands” in many Spanish speaking countries. Manitos Children’s Fund operates on two levels: 1) to raise money to legally provide food and medicine to children and other vulnerable sectors of countries targeted by economic sanctions, and 2) to raise awareness of the suffering and death caused by US sanctions against the children and ordinary families of the countries targeted by our government.”

Humanitarian aid is exempted from the sanctions and Trump’s economic blockade so what we are doing is entirely legal and there is no risk to you to donate to it. We have set up Manitos Children’s Fund as its own entity but fiscally sponsored by the Alliance for Global Justice. We do that just in case we have to defend the legality of our project. AFGJ acts as fiscal sponsor for 120 groups that do not have their own tax-exempt status. We want to keep the solidarity aid work separate from the other work we support.

We call it solidarity aid because the Trump administration besmirched the meaning of humanitarian aid last year when they tried to force “humanitarian” aid across the border of Venezuela from Colombia. Even the Red Cross has criticized Trump for politicizing humanitarian aid. 

In North America, the Manitos Children’s Fund will educate people in the US and Canada about the suffering and even death caused by US and Canadian unilateral coercive measures. We intend to build a movement that rejects sanctions as a tool to bully other countries and to expose its deadly effect. 

But as far as hungry children in Venezuela, we do not differentiate between families that are Chavista and those who support the opposition. Our mission is to prevent any child from being hungry or sick due to disputes between nations. The food we send and the medicine we hope to send later will be distributed strictly according to need. We oppose our governments using food as a weapon and we will not use our solidarity as a weapon either.

Right now we are concentrating on food, but as this project grows we will also seek to provide medicine and medical equipment that Venezuela is unable to buy itself due to the US blockade which cuts it off from the international banking system and international trade. But for now, we’re all about beans!

Beans are a great food source. One pound of dried beans makes 10 meals. A ton feeds 20,000 people once or 667 people for a month. A container holds 18 tons, so when we ship a container to Venezuela from Nicaragua, it will be holding 360,000 meals. That is a drop in the bucket to what the real needs are, but it is not insignificant to feed over a third of a million people either! The only real solution to the problem is to end US and Canadian sanctions against Venezuela, but until we can achieve that, we can at least do what we can to alleviate the pain our governments are causing.

If you want to learn more about the Manitos Children’s Fund, go to our web page at www.manitoschildrensfund.org.

In addition to making a personal tax-deductible donation, even more helpful would be to have your local group take up Manitos Children’s Fund as a project, or if that isn’t possible, to set up a local committee that will. We can provide you with information and organizing suggestions. It can be a real local movement-builder to have a fundraising project. Even more so, it provides the ideal tool to educate your neighbors about the suffering and death that is caused by illegal unilateral sanctions. If we are going to build an effective movement to build a better world, the building blocks for that will be at the local level. I will be doing a series of speaking tours over the next year to promote the Manitos Children’s Fund. If you would like to host me in your community, send an email to info@manitoschildrensfund.org.

This project of solidarity with Venezuela is part of a larger movement that is coming together to reject illegal sanctions. Thirty-nine countries are under some level of US sanctions, a third of the world’s population. How many people know that? Even I didn’t know that until recently. 

AfGJ is part of a new coalition against US-imposed sanctions called the Sanctions Kill Coalition. Click here to read about the international Call to Action March 13-15 and here to join over 1,000 individuals and groups which have signed on to the Call already

 

BRIEFS

By Nan McCurdy

Electricity Coverage Reaches more than 97% of the Population
In Nicaragua, 97 out of every 100 citizens have electricity service in their homes thanks to the programs that the Sandinista government has been developing for several years to bring electricity to the most remote communities in the country. Salvador Mansell, executive president of ENATREL, shared that the electrification index reached 97.02% at the end of November 2019, a goal planned for this year. Mansell said more projects will be carried out in the country to reach 99% electrification in 2022. (Radiolaprimerisima, 12/12/19)

Expanding Potable water for People in Rural Areas
The Nicaragua Water and Sewage Company (ENACAL) and the Emergency Social Investment Fund (NUEVO-FISE) presented the 2019 report of the Program for Expansion and Improvement of the Potable Water and Sanitation Systems in rural areas. The report highlights that in 2019 55 water and sanitation projects were installed with an investment of more than US$11,714, 370, benefiting 39,679 inhabitants in the most remote rural areas of the country. The NUEVO-FISE Director, Virgilio Bravo said “Nicaragua has made great progress in restoring the right to potable water and sanitation in rural areas going from 27% coverage in 2007 to 54% in 2019. In 2020 we will expand coverage and quality of potable water as part of the restitution of rights of all Nicaraguans in compliance with the United Nations Development Goals.” (Nicaragua News, 12/13/19)

Fifteenth Anniversary of ALBA-TCP in Cuba
The president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, said from Havana, Cuba at the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America – Peoples’ Trade Treaty ALBA-TCP “Today on the 15th anniversary of the founding of ALBA, we are accompanied by Fidel and Chavez, eternal leaders who created the conditions for the peoples grouped in ALBA and the peoples who will continue to be incorporated in ALBA until all of Latin America and the Caribbean becomes one in ALBA. They told us and they tell us: We must continue to make our way by walking with ALBA,” he said. (Informe Pastran, 12/16/19)

2020 Budget Continues to Fight Poverty
The National Assembly approved the General Budget of the Republic for 2020, which amounts to US$ 2,387,164,355. The budget prioritizes health, education, highway infrastructure, agricultural production and citizen security programs. Congressman José Figueroa, Vice President of the Committee on Production, Economy and Budget, explained that the Public Investment Program (PIP) is US$439,303,629 representing a 6.1% increase in comparison to 2019. He added that “it includes financing for public infrastructure programs, health, education, electricity, potable water and sanitation, citizen security and food security programs in order to continue to strengthen the fight against poverty in Nicaragua.” (Nicaragua News, 12/11/19)

Banks are Stable and in Clear Recovery
The financial rating agency Fitch Ratings announced on Dec. 6 that the profitability of Nicaraguan banks showed a 4.2% growth in deposits between July and October, 2019 signaling a rapid recovery. The report highlighted that challenges remain for credit, but the equity position and accumulated liquidity are excellent indicators of strong recovery. (Nicaragua News, 12/10/19)

New Laws to Secure Petroleum for the Nicaraguan People
The National Assembly approved a law to nationalize the distribution of petroleum products in the country. The law establishes that the inventories of the company Nicaraguan Petroleum Distributor (DNP) become the property of the State of Nicaragua. The law will guarantee the continuity of the supply of petroleum products to the population. It declares all inventories of petroleum products owned by the DNP to be “of sovereign security and national interest” and states they will be administered by institutions or companies authorized or delegated by the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

In a related matter, the National Assembly also approved the “Law of Reforms and Additions to the Special Law of Exploration and Exploitation of Hydrocarbons” that grants fiscal incentives for the development of the oil industry in the country. Deputy Edwin Castro stated that this Law will accelerate exploration and exploitation of petroleum or natural gas. The Equinor company’s studies gave positive results off the Pacific coast. “It is possible that by the year 2021 there will be drilling of exploratory wells with a high probability of finding at least natural gas in our territorial waters,” Castro said. (Informe Pastran, 12/16/19)

Vice President Receives Award from Russia and Cooperation is Reaffirmed
The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow with his Nicaraguan counterpart, Denis Moncada Colindres, reaffirmed the friendship and cooperation between the two nations, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. Russia opposes attempts at external interference in the affairs of Nicaragua, Lavrov said at the press conference. “We reject attempts at imposition on Nicaragua, in the context of the situation in Latin America in general.” Lavrov warned against attempts to unleash “color revolutions” in the region. Lavrov indicated that such actions could lead to “a dangerous increase in tension” in the region. Lavrov said the strengthening of the strategic partnership with Nicaragua is one of the priorities of Russia’s foreign policy in Latin America and the Caribbean. “Moscow and Managua agree on the questions of the inadmissibility of interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, in the non-recognition of coups d’état as a method of shifting power and the attempts by some states to exert illegal pressure on others,” said Lavrov. He described his negotiations with Moncada as substantial and said, “Today we have expressed mutual willingness to further strengthen the bilateral strategic partnership.” In October, Russia awarded Vice President Rosario Murillo the Order of Friendship. On Dec. 12 Olga Epifánova, vice-president of lower jouse of the Russian parliament, presented her the award in Nicaragua. (Informe Pastran, 12/13/19)

Private Sector Registered Increase in Exports
Last week the Nicaragua Producers and Exporters Association (APEN) presented its annual exports report of companies that are members of the Association. APEN President Guillermo Jacoby said they will close the year with US$ 2.6 billion in export revenues, representing a 2% increase compared to 2018. “Over the last three months there was a US$80 million increase in exports due to favorable international prices of agricultural products and metals, which had a positive impact on exports,” Jacoby said. The Center for Export Procedures (CETREX) reported that from January to November 2019, Nicaragua exported more than US$2.535 billion, representing a 3.6% growth over the US$ 2.447 billion registered during the same period last year. The main export items were beef US$474.60 million, raw gold US$452.90 million and coffee US$440.12 million. (Nicaragua News, 12/10/19 and 12/12/19)

Opposition Leader Offends Humble Street Vender and Taunts the Police
After a meeting at an expensive hotel by the Metrocentro Mall in Managua on Dec. 12, a small group of the opposition headed by Juan Sebastian Chamorro tried to incite violence. Chamorro shouted insults at a street vendor and pushed a woman. This can be seen in videos and photos circulating on social media. Also clear is how the group of opposition provoked the police that were there to maintain order and safety for the people. In the first short video Chamorro can be clearly seen angrily calling the street vendor a “piece of sh*t”. Then in the second video the humble man says “No, you are the piece of sh*t, because it’s you all who sell out the country.”  In the third video Chamorro and a few others taunt the police who have arrived on the scene. http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/general/274885/juan-chamorro-agrede-a-mujer-y-un-vendedor-en-metrocentro/

As usual, the opposition that attempted a coup in 2018 continues to try to create chaos to sell the false idea that Nicaragua is not at peace, and also to justify the millions of dollars sent to them by the foreign agencies that sponsor coups d’état. “Every day we see the arrogance of certain people, who in addition to believing themselves to be superior, are traitors and believe that their ancestry and surnames give them the right to mistreat, offend and humiliate the humble people,” lamented the Vice President Rosario Murillo. “Every day we talk about those who ignore the human rights of people, always, historically, and above all, never speak of the human rights of the impoverished, of the excluded, of those discarded by them,” she added. (Radiolaprimerisima, 12/13/19)

Opposition Leader Aspires to the Presidency
Felix Maradiaga acknowledged that the opposition hasn’t agreed on a coalition and that it probably won’t until April 2020. Maradiaga maintains that he is entitled to his presidential aspirations but would like to be the opposition candidate through an internal primary election process and not just named. He said he would agree to much of the Sandinista government’s social programs “that aren’t necessarily bad”, exalting Zero Hunger, microcredit, disaster prevention, among others. But he also said he would eliminate transportation subsidies for the poor. Maradiaga has to displace several other candidates from big capital, which looks improbable.  (Radiolaprimerisima, Informe Pastran, 12/13/19, Accion 10, 12/3/19)

El Nancital Receives Certification as an Ecological Park
The authorities of the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARENA), delivered this Saturday the ecological park certification to the people of El Nancital, in the municipality of Acoyapa, department of Chontales. El Nancital is a group of 27 islands, a unique paradise virtually unknown to tourists. The archipelago is located 34 kilometers from the municipality of Acoyapa in the department of Chontales in Lake Cocibolca. During a boat trip near the El Nancital islands there are great views of two volcanoes: El Concepción and Madera. See photos: http://www.radiolaprimerisima.com/noticias/general/274974/el-nancital-se-convierte-en-parque-ecologico/ (Radiolaprimerisima, 12/13/19)

Protecting the Environment
During the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP25) held from December 2 to 13 in Madrid, the Nicaragua Minister Secretary for National Policies Paul Oquist proposed that “the losses and damages caused by the effects of climate change be raised to the same level of importance as mitigation and adaptation actions to facilitate access to resources by the most affected countries.” He also advocated for the creation of a regional office of the Green Climate Fund in Latin America and the Caribbean, that would facilitate cooperation between the Fund and countries of the region. (Nicaragua News, 12/13/19)

Job Stability in Free Trade Zones
The Free Trade Zones National Commission announced that as of January 1, 2020, the minimum wage adjustment will be applied to workers in all companies in Free Trade Zones. The adjustment includes an 8.25% increase benefiting more than 125,000 workers. Miguel Ruiz, member of the CST-José Benito Escobar trade union said, “The adjustment is part of the tripartite agreement signed in 2017 between the Government, unions and companies to ensure economic and job stability for workers.” (Nicaragua News, 12/12/19)

New Bridge in the Waslala Municipality
The Nicaragua Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI) inaugurated the new “El Aserrío” bridge in the municipality of Waslala in the Northern Caribbean Autonomous Region. The project benefited 16,417 inhabitants in several rural communities and in the Matagalpa department. The MTI Minister, Oscar Mojica said, “the construction of this bridge is part of the effort to ensure the permanent and safe highway integration of the Caribbean with the rest of the country.” Financing for the project came from Nicaragua’s budget. (Nicaragua News, 12/11/19)

La India Mining Project and Social Responsibility
Yesterday, the mining company Condor Gold published its report of the La India Mining project being developed in Santa Rosa del Peñón municipality, León department. The report highlights that Mina La India will increase national gold exports by 30% and create 500 new jobs. General Manager Aiser Sarria stated, “For Condor Gold it is important that the project bring benefits for the local population and that the 2020 Work Plan has identified social and environmental programs we will be working on in collaboration with the Government for the benefit of surrounding communities. We want our presence to be positive for the community,” Sarria said. (Nicaragua News, 12/13/19)

People Remember Revolutionary Priest
On Dec. 11 in Cárdenas, Rivas, the people commemorated the 41st anniversary of the assassination of guerrilla priest Gaspar García Laviana, a brave man who abandoned religious habits and joined the clandestine liberation struggle led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). In the Rio Mena community, where Gaspar was shot by the Somoza National Guard, a political and cultural act was titled “Gaspar, hero of peace.” Present were Commander Eden Pastora, the historic fighters of Rivas and the Mothers of Heroes and Martyrs, who see in Gaspar a great example of humanism, solidarity and brave spirit. Eden Pastora emphasized that Father Gaspar is an example of Christianity, giving his life for the love of all Nicaraguans. “Gaspar loved us as a true Christian and gave his life for love of all of us. Gaspar was a man with a great soul, a revolutionary spirit of change, of social justice. He fought with the people, full of love, of light,” he said. Pastora recalled how President Ortega has promoted sports for youth, safety in communities and the construction of social development works in health and education. Today Cárdenas, the municipality in which Gaspar gave his life, has ceased to be a rural area and has become a site of development. “Today we see Gaspar’s dreams come true for the people: access to roads that in neoliberal governments were not possible thanks to the Revolution,” said Rodolfo Pérez, Cárdenas mayor. (El19Digital, 12/12/19)