Here’s a funny story (well, not really). This week we were interviewed by researchers, employed by one of the UK’s biggest human rights organisations. The organisation is re-considering its banking with the Co-op Bank, asking the question “is the bank still ethical?”
Many will know that the Co-op Bank shut down our account last year, along with around 400 other organisations, including Cuba Solidarity, Palestine Solidarity, and a host of local affiliated organisations. The Co-op Bank has never given us a reason, other than it was carrying out a ‘risk assessment’.
We’ve been pretty clear about why they closed the account. Firstly, our account must be “non-performing” for the bank. We never take out a loan, we never go overdrawn, we have a limited amount of transactions. Therefore we were a cost to the bank, and not a source of income. And the Co-op Bank needs income.A disastrous merger with Britannia, huge losses, and then a takeover by a US hedge fund, meant profit came before ethics. This in itself is a political decision, the denial of banking services to organisations and communities.
The second reason is political as well. You don’t need to be a genius to make a link between Cuba, Palestine and Nicaragua, and their relations with the United States.
But hold on. Surely Nicaragua is not the radical country it once was? Isn’t it the darling of capitalists, including those in the United States? The international press are full of stories, unlike other radical Latin American governments, that the Sandinistas have lurched to the right, abandoned the principles of the revolution, and sold off the country to build the canal. And isn’t another mega project, the Tumarin hydro-electric dam, in trouble?
Well, yes, everything’s gone quiet about the canal, as whatever its pros and cons, the deciding factor was always going to be how to mobilise $50 billion of investment to make it happen. The Tumarin project is now on the back-burner, mainly because the Brazilian construction company connected with it is part of the Lava Jato scandal, and the country has just experienced a constitutional coup which has seen Brazil rolling back years of pro-poor reforms.
Though the Tumarin project might be off the drawing board, Nicaragua has become a regional leader in clean energy, with a decade of investment in projects, mostly small and medium in size (see here for a list of projects, which are announced on a seemingly weekly basis). Last year Nicaragua produced over 50% of its electricity from renewables. For comparison, Wales produces 10% of its electricty from renewables, within an economy roughly three times the size of Nicaragua.
If you look at what the Sandinistas have delivered since taking office in 2007 (rather than what has failed to happen), you see a country going through a slow and steady transformation. GDP has increased by 83%. The economy has grown steadily, at between 4% and 5% a year. Foreign investment has risen by over 400%. On the back of this exports have climbed 150%. Tax receipts have doubled, and together with international co-operation with Venezuela (but also with the more traditional international partners), has led to an increase in public investment from US$277 million in 2006 to US$655 million in 2015 (see here for more details).
All this has led to a steady reduction in poverty levels. With a growing economy, and a host of pro-poor programmes covering everything from food, micro-businesses, women, youth, housing, roofs and roads, “[a]ccording to the 2014 Standard of Living Survey of the National Development Information Institute, between 2009 and 2014 general poverty dropped from 42.5 per cent to 29.6 per cent, while in the same period extreme poverty dropped from 14.6 to 8.3 per cent.” (Nicaraguan Elections: Why combating Poverty is a Decisive Factor, NSC).
Which brings us to the elections. For those mesmerized by the antics in Trumpland, or the farce that is Carry On Brexiting, the Nicaraguan elections might have passed you by. If they haven’t, then you will have read how Nicaragua is poised to turn into a family dictatorship under the Ortegas, and election fraud has been organised well in advance (see here for a fairly representative article from Gioconda Belli, and here for a more general round-up).
Now it is hard for us who do not live in Nicaragua (like the writers of this blog, of course, and Gioconda Belli), to know exactly what goes on behind closed doors, what plots are carried out. But it’s a strange sort of fraud that organises a vote for the ruling party where the number of votes it gets reflects the level of support independent pollsters find. This was true in the last elections in 2011, and will probably be true again on November 6. Surely the reason you organise a fraud is to increase your vote over your actual support? Otherwise i) why bother? or ii) you’re very incompetent in rigging the system.
A continental survey by Latinobarometro in June showed support for the Sandinistas at 69%, the second highest in Latin America. A series of polls in Nicaragua since the beginning of the election campaign has shown support for the FSLN hovering around 60-63%, and the latest by M&R Consultants, on November 1, shows the Sandinistas on 65%.
In the United States the prospect of another FSLN victory has been as predictable as a US Hedge Fund’s response to ethical banking. A sub-committee of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee has started the process to introduce the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act 2016. The Act would seek to place restrictions on US support for multi-lateral loans. The Act will fall because of the forthcoming US elections, but could well be re-introduced in the new year.
The contributions in the debate seemed to consider only two conditions for investment i) the FSLN is not the government or ii) if the Nicaraguan people are foolish enough to vote for the FSLN, then they follow the US line. Two Obama officals spoke to the committee. The first, Juan Gonzalez, said “The United States is concerned about the actions of the government of Nicaragua and the Supreme Court to limit democratic space.” The second, aid official Marcela Escobari, said USAID money is helping “to teach youth the rights and responsibilities of a democratic society, including the crucial need for a significant political party with presence and participation at national and local levels.”
With the opposition at less than 10% in the polls, it’s no wonder the US is trying to use its funds to promote the creation of a new political party. USAID’s policy document – US Party Political Assitance Policy 2003 – allows it to do this. Of course, this is totally illegal in the United States:
Foreign nationals are prohibited from making any contributions or expenditures in connection with any election in the U.S. – Federal Election Commission
Dan ni wedi cael newyddion trist bore ma. Ddoe bu farw Margaret Innocent. Aeth Margaret i Nicaragua, gyda ei gwr, Ray, ym 1983, ar daith astudiaeth gyntaf NSC. Roedd Margaret a Ray ymysg sylfaenwyr Ymgyrch Cefnogi Nicaragua ym 1986, a pharhaodd Margaret i weithio dros Nicaragua dros y tair degawd. Roedd neb yn fwy hapus na Margaret pan ddychwelodd y Sandinistiaid i’r llywodraeth yn 2007. Ers y 90au roedd Margaret yn aelod diffuant o Cor Cochion, yn cefnogi achosion rhyngwladol, cenedlaethol a lleol. Mae cyfaill unigryw wedi ein gadael.
We received sad news this morning. Yesterday Margaret Innocent passed away. Margaret went to Nicaragua with her husband, Ray, on the first NSC study tour in 1983. Margaret and Ray were founder members of the Welsh campaign in 1986, and Margaret continued to work for Nicaragua for three decades. No-one was happier than Margaret when the Sandinistas returned to power in 2007. Since the 90s she was an un-tiring member of Cor Cochion, supporting international, national and local causes. She was one of a kind, and a good friend has left us.
Ar ol ein gwybodaeth am ein ymweliad nesaf i Nicaragua i weld cydweithfeydd, dyma erthyl gan Tortilla con Sal ar teleSUR Saesneg, sy’n esbonio am sut mae cydweithfeydd wedi datblygu ers amser Sandino – gweler fan hyn.
After our information about our next visit to Nicaragua, which focuses on co-ops, here’s an article from Tortilla con Sal on the teleSUR English website, which explains how co-ops have developed since the days of Sandino – see here.
Flor de Maria Avellan of Nicaraguan trade union, the CTCP, will speak in Mold next week. In July, David McKnight met with the union’s General Secretary, Adrian Martinez Rodriguez, to find out more about the CTCP.
What is the CTCP?
The CTCP is a new kind of political, social expression within the FNT [Nicaragua’s TUC]. We’re not only struggling for traditional trade union rights but for political power. If we’re not in spaces to influence policy or political power then we’re not going to move forward. A lot of trade unions don’t understand this, especially the European trade unions. We’ve learned to occupy spaces to change things.
We are not an association, not an NGO because we are workers! And we have to fight for the right to be a trade union. The FNT is becoming strong and is active in formulating policy. The CTCP has been key in getting an understanding of what it really means to be a trade union.
You work with street sellers, in the informal sector?
We don’t like using the term ‘informal sector workers’. It has a pejorative connotation and is a loaded term. We’re not business people but people who are generating wealth. A lot of us have been sacked by businesses! And lost rights that we would have had in the formal sector, for example with collective bargaining or social security. Many of our members are in the streets and have had little education. The openings for them to survive are quite minimal.
When were you set up?
The FNT took the decision to organise in this sector in 2002. We now have 58,000 members of the CTCP, organised into 106 local unions and 8 federations.
The key area for us is the struggle against poverty, inlellectual poverty and material poverty. So we have an education and training programme and a credit and savings cooperative. Our members can’t get credit from banks. There are micro credit organisations but they ask for 38% interest! It is important that our members have their own source of credit. The training is to improve productivity and education levels as they need to be able to compete in labour and commercial terms. The training programme includes the following: Food preparation; Hairdressing; Managing finance; Studying the market/market research. It can be really difficult for our members due to the pressures of time. The days they don’t work, there’s no food in the house. It’s the sector that has created some level of stability in the country but the workers don’t necessarily recognise this.
Their lives are very difficult and historically a lot have workers have migrated in search of a better life. It is the sector with the highest levels of family breakdown which creates the phenomenon of child labour. We have been working with one thousand children who work at the traffic lights. We have a wider programme which will mean we can also work with many more children in future. But it’s not just about working with the children, it’s necessary to work with the whole family. These problems are all the results of neoliberalism and part of the struggle is to address this situation. We also focus on citizen security and we are working with the police on this.
The capitalist system extracts wealth from people and it just does not work for the majority. The people who produce wealth are the workers. We are members of the global federation for informal sector workers. Sandra Flores is our representative at the ILO and the Latin American Network of Workers in the Informal Sector. We are trying to establish an alternative market and fair prices for things like natural medicines and crafts. We are working to organise individual workers into cooperatives, and trying to incorporate this sector of workers into the social security system and make this sector more visible.
How big is the sector?
In the 2005 census, there were 1.5 million ‘informal sector’ workers. Work is hard in this sector. Workers need to work for 14 hours per day just to survive. They put in a 6am to 8pm shift. Their contribution to GDP is estimated at 45% (study by Orlando Nunez). A key part of the Sandinista government strategy is to incorporate people from this sector into the government’s social programmes. The education system needs to be reformed so that it actually corresponds to the National Development Plan. There should be greater coherence in the whole education system. This is currently being discussed by the government. The whole idea is to create a new ministry, MEFCCA. All small producers are being integrated into this wider ministry.
What role do women play in the union?
The majority of people on the executive are now women. We have a women’s committee, a secretariat of women within the executive and all local unions have some kind of secretariat for women.
Women who work in this sector tend to be women who take less care of their health. This is due to a lack of education but also a lack of time. We are working with the ministry of health and four universities in Nicaragua to complete a health study on the effects of working in the street.
(Thanks to Chris Petersen for the street vendors photos)
Dyma’r taflen i’n cyfarfod cyhoeddus gyda Flor de Maria Avellan Martinez o’r CTCP ym mis Medi. Cwrddodd aelod yr Ymgyrch, David McKnight, gyda Flor y mis diwethaf ym Managua.
Here’s the leaflet for our public meeting with Flor de Maria Avellan Martinez of the CTCP trade union, in September. A Campaign member, David McKnight, met with Flor de Maria last month in Managua.