nicaragua, wales and co-operatives

2012 is the UN International Year of Co-operatives. In a recent conference in Manchester, Nicaragua was celebrated as an example of how co-operatives can make a real difference. Closer to home, the Wales Co-operative Centre has published a series of reports highlighting the contribution of co-operatives to the Welsh economy and Welsh life.

Last week the Centre published ‘Community Co-operatives in Wales’, which celebrated 23 community co-ops with initiatives in food, energy, shops, pubs, hotels and community services (see here). They also recently published “Co-operatives in the Welsh Economy”, which looks at the wider economy (see here). According to the report by the Bevan Foundation, co-ops contribute 7,000 jobs and £1 billion of turnover. This is probably over-egging the pudding – do half a percent of the Welsh workforce really contribute nearly 3% of the GVA of the country? A much more credible estimate of the sector’s contribution can be found here, in a piece in 2011 by Simon Harris.

What the reports do show are a growing interest in co-ops. This shouldn’t be a surprise. In many ways the co-operative movement was founded on the ideas of Robert Owen, who hailed from Newtown. The Miners Next Step, written by South Wales miners a hundred years ago, is based on syndicalism and local workers control. At the moment Plaid Cymru are re-discovering the ideas of D J Davies, put forward in Towards an Economic Democracy in the late Forties, and based on the experience of Scandinavian countries. The latest vision of what co-ops could achieve for Wales comes from the Wales Co-operative Centre itself, in an article by it’s Chief Executive during the summer (see here).  Co-operatives should be at the heart of the Welsh economy lays out the lessons from the Mondragon Group in the Basque country, one of the main drivers of that country’s success.

What’s all this got to do with Nicaragua? The country is a co-operative success story. As early as 2000 20% of the country’s coffee (it’s most important export) and 50% of it’s sesame were exported through co-operatives. Though much of this was due to the influence of fair trade, Nicaraguan co-operatives have much deeper roots, being developed through government policy during the Sandinista revolution, but also going as far back as the model co-operative set up by Sandino in the late 1920s in ‘liberated territory’ in his war against the US army of occupation (for more information on co-ops in Nicaragua see the latest Central America Report).

Nicaragua’s co-operative movement is now developing in the context of ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas. Nicaraguan co-operatives have been sharing their experience with producers in Venezuela and Cuba, as a model of how to support some of the poorest growers in the country. In Nicaragua co-ops exist on different levels – first, with your immediate neighbours and community; secondly within a bigger area, where co-ops from a number of communities come together; and thirdly at a regional level, where these bigger co-ops are grouped together (there are currently three in existence for coffee). The strength of this arrangement is that it enables support and expertise to be delivered where it is needed, and has given Nicaraguan co-operatives, however small, the ability to deal with global markets.

How co-ops have developed within the ALBA is described in an interview with Nick Hoskyns (by the Campaign’s own David McKnight), available here. Some of the tensions withion the co-operative movement, both within Nicaragua and with the international fairtrade movement is described here in an article in Envio – Coffee with an aroma of co-ops– by Rene Mendoza Viduarre.

There are, as always, problems, and not only those described in the article in Envio. Like almost everywhere else, the notion of industrial democracy is non-existent in Nicaragua. Whilst the position of trade unions is more solid under the Sandinistas, at the same time the position of capital to call the shots is also growing. Foreign Direct Investment is at a historical high (and much, much higher than in previous governments), whilst the number of jobs and exports from Free Trade Zones also stands at record levels (as of figures anounced last week). In the energy sector too, foreign investment is powering Nicaragua forward in both providing a stable electricity supply (unthinkable before the Sandinistas took power in 2007) and the development of renewable energy (50% of electricty production and climbing).

These undoubted advances have not contributed to the advancement of social ownership, though government influence and control is stronger through mechanisms like ALBANISA. It begs the question, are we seeing Nicaragua develop a two model economy: one based in agriculture, more and more co-operative; and one based in industry, little different from other countries, but led by a government with a commitment to social justice?

sandinista gains in municipal elections

Nicaragua’s municipal election results are now clear. The FSLN won 134 of the 153 municipalities, further increasing their hegemony after last year’s successful Presidential elections. There have been protests by the opposition (as in 2008 and 2011), and disagreement by election observers. The contingent from the Organisation of American States (OAS) were far happier with the conduct of these elections than last year’s ballot. In summary:

  • the FSLN got 68% of the vote – polls showed that a slight rise was expected in their percentage from their 63% in the Presidential elections last year, and this is what happened
  • despite a call for a boycott by the opposition, and some reports by the media that people didn’t go to the polls, there was a 55% turnout, more than in 2008, and the same as 2004. The percentage is on the high side for municpal elections in the region

Two summaries have been produced of the election results. The first, on Tortillaconsal, gives the results plus a breakdown of who won each municipality (see here). The second is the from the weekly press summary of the US Nicaragua Network. We reproduce it below, as it looks at all the different aspects of the election.

The Supreme Electoral Council (CSE) announced on Nov. 5 that, in the local elections held on Sunday Nov. 4, the alliance headed by the Sandinista Party (FSLN) had won the mayor’s races in 134 of the country’s 153 municipalities, with the Independent Liberal Party (PLI) winning 12 and the Constitutional Liberal Party two. The regional indigenous party Yatama won in three localities and the Nicaraguan Liberal Alliance (ALN) won in one municipality. CSE President Roberto Rivas said there were 2,020,192 valid votes and 70,025 ballots that were declared void. He said that the rolls contain 3,670,000 active voters which means that 55% of voters cast valid ballots

In percentage terms, the FSLN won 67.9% of the votes, the PLI 21.1%, and the PLC 8.5%. The FSLN percentage was in between the predictions of the last CID-Gallup and M&R polls which showed 56% and 72% respectively favoring the Sandinistas. [For more on those October polls, see] The CSE reported Sandinista wins in all of the largest cities, including the capital Managua and (for the first time) the Conservative Party bastion of Granada and the cattletown of Matiguas. On Nov. 6, the PLI announced that it would challenge the results in six municipalities including Matiguas, Ciudad Dario and La Paz Centro.

Analysts noted that the negative critiques of the Catholic Bishops Conference and the campaigns of some non-governmental organizations and the Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) against participating in the elections out of distrust of the Electoral Council damaged the turnout for the PLI because those who answered those calls to stay home were likely to vote against the Sandinistas. Fabricio Cajino, winning PLI candidate in San Jose de los Remates, Department of Boaco, said that he won in spite of his party’s distrust of the electoral authorities by getting everyone out to vote. He said, “We won because the people came out to vote and defend the vote; we went to these elections with this same CSE but ready to defend our votes.” Others noted that the policies of the Sandinistas in recent years helped the FSLN win its overwhelming victory. Informe Pastran gave as an example El Crucero, where former President Arnoldo Aleman has his hacienda and which had been a Liberal Party stronghold—until now. Under the Sandinistas, Plan Roof began giving out galvanized roofing, poor women got micro-loans or Zero Hunger Program cows and chickens, and schools and health centers opened. This time 61.19% of the votes went to the Sandinistas.

President Daniel Ortega said on election day, “I want to congratulate the thousands of Nicaraguans, youth, adults and seniors, who have come out to vote, ratifying in this manner that the path Nicaragua is on is irreversible, that never again will we have violence and confrontation in our country. Those hard years, so painful for our people, will never return and today and forever we will have a Nicaragua in peace, with wellbeing and security.”

The election accompaniment team from the Organization of American States (OAS) reported that it had observed the voting in 11 of the nation’s 17 departments. Lazaro Cardenas, chief of the mission, said that the observers had full access to the polling places and that the voting had proceeded in an atmosphere of civility. He praised the recent changes to the electoral law which mandated the alternating of men and women on the party slates saying that Nicaragua was a leader in the participation of women. Cardenas noted that while the voting booths were well designed to guarantee a secret ballot, in some cases the placing of the booths did not guarantee privacy. He observed that in the North and South Atlantic Autonomous Regions (RAAN and RAAS) all materials were in Spanish, without taking into account the constitutional mandate to respect the languages of the Caribbean Coast. Another recommendation of the team was that campaign funds received and expended by the parties should be reported. Other recommendations included assigning members of the election board at each precinct by lot rather than party membership, purging the voter rolls of deceased citizens, and improving mechanisms for accrediting poll watchers.

National observers’ statements following the elections varied. Telemaco Talavera, head of the officially accredited observers from the National Council of Universities (CNU), said as polls were closing on Nov. 4, that not all credentialed election board members from the PLI appeared to take their places in the precincts and those spots had to be filled with others from among the poll watchers. On Nov. 5, the CNU team noted that abstention was within the normal range for municipal elections, there was flexibility in the voting and the count was open and without problems. Other groups had different versions. The Institute for Development and Democracy (IPADE), which was not accredited to observe officially but used volunteers to report on voting around the country, said that abstention was high and a number of citizens were not able to vote because their names were not found on the voters’ list. Ethics and Transparency (E&T), which also observed with non-accredited volunteers, said that the presence of police and military officers could have intimidated voters, that 190,000 voters were unable to obtain their voting cards, and that the Sandinista Party illegally used funds from ALBA [the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas] in the campaign. IPADE and E&T both have received funding from US “democracy promotion” programs in the past for electoral observation.

There was violence in several towns beginning on election day (Sunday) and continuing into Monday. In La Paz Centro (in a clear violation of its name) riot police were unable to stop fighting between supporters of the PLI and the Sandinistas. In the town, located in the Department of Leon, protesters set fire to the local market, the old train station which was used for meetings by the Sandinistas, and (in reaction) the PLI meeting house. Things were even worse in the Department of Matagalpa, where two people were killed in fighting in Ciudad Dario, and in El Jicaro, Department of Nueva Segovia, where a Sandinista poll watcher was killed. In all, three police officers were wounded and 27 persons detained.

Meanwhile, United States State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a press statement, “The U.S. government is concerned that the municipal elections conducted Sunday, November 4, in Nicaragua failed to demonstrate a degree of transparency that would assure Nicaraguans and the international community that the process faithfully reflected the will of the Nicaraguan people. There have been widespread complaints about the partisan manner in which Nicaragua’s Supreme Electoral Council managed the process in the run-up to and on Election Day to the advantage of the ruling party. Irregularities observed on election day included citizens being denied the right to vote, a failure to respect the secrecy of citizens’ votes, and reported cases of voters being allowed to vote multiple times. These disturbing practices have marred multiple recent Nicaraguan elections. We again urge the Government of Nicaragua to implement the recommendations the European Union and Organization of American States electoral observation missions made following the controversial 2011 national elections, and to uphold its commitment to representative democracy under the OAS Charter and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.”

One opposition member, Wilfredo Navarro, a National Assembly for the PLC, critiqued the opposition saying that the parties competed “to scream at the FSLN” but without projects, programs or ideas to present in confronting a Sandinista Party that “knew how to do things.” He added, “You don’t have to be an analyst with great knowledge to have predicted what happened. The opposition did not have the capacity of the Sandinista Front, with its organization, its resources, its strategy, its continuity in the management of its programs at the municipal and national levels.” He stated, “Today I have to say clearly that it was a transparent, clean triumph of the FSLN.” (El Nuevo Diario, Nov. 5; Informe Pastran, Nov. 4, 5; Radio La Primerisima, Nov. 5; La Prensa, Nov. 4, 5, 6;

central america women’s rights in focus

A network which helps support the struggles for women’s rights in Central America has published their latest newsletter.

The CAWN autumn newsletter is availabe here.It includes several articles on Nicaragua, including a recent network report,  Maternal Health, Reproductive Rights and the Criminalisation of Abortion (see here).

Although the report isn’t favourable to the present Nicaraguan government, unlike some other organisations, it puts the situation in the context of other countries’ policies in the region, as well as explaining some of the things the Sandinistas have done to improve women’s health.

For more analysis on the issue of therapeutic abortion in Nicaragua, and why it is hard to change the current situation, see one of our posts from June 2011 (here), with several contributions from Karla Jacobs.

hawliau merched canolbarth america dan sylw

Mae rhwydwaith sy’n flaenllaw yn brwydro dros hawliau merched yng Nghanolbarth America wedi cyhoeddi eu cylchlythyr diweddar.

Mae cylchlythyr CAWN yr Hydref ar gael fan hyn. Mae’n cynnwys sawl erthygl am Nicaragua, yn cynnwys dolen i adroddiad diweddar y rhwydwaith, Maternal Health, Reproductive Rights and the Criminalisation of Abortion (gweler fan hyn).

Er nad ydy’r adroddiad yn ffafriol i Lywodraeth bresennol Nicaragua, yn anhebyg i safbwyntiau mudiadau eraill, mae’n rhoi’r sefyllfa mewn cyd-destun polisiau gwledydd eraill y Rhanbarth, yn ogystal â  rhai o’r pethau mae Sandinistiaid wedi ei wneud i wella iechyd merched.

I gael mwy o ddadansoddiad am fater ethylu therapeutig yn Nicaragua, a pham mae mor anodd i newid y sefyllfa, gweler un o’n postiau ym Mehefin 2011 (fan hyn), gyda sawl cyfraniad gan Karla Jacobs.