13th delegation to nicaragua – week 1


The Campaign delegation arrived in Managua on the 12th February and have recently returned from the Caribbean Coast, after a week of visits.

Before flying out to Bluefields we had a number of meetings in Managua:

  • Jorge Capelan of Radio Primerisima, with an overview of the situation in Nicaragua, and some of the improvements carried out by the Sandinista government over the past five years
  • Welcome in the National Assembly from Arturo Valdez MP, director of Radio Zinica in Bluefields, a visitor to Wales in 2001, and an old friend of the Campaign
  • A presentation by Menna Machreth of Gymdeithas yr Iaith in Casa Ben Linder to internacionalistas in Managua, about the language struggle back home

After a day and a half in Managua, the crew of ten people flew to Bluefields, for four days on the Caribbean Coast. The programme included:

  • meeting with Johnny Hodgson, Political Secretary of the Sandinistas on the Coast, who is responsible for co-ordinating the development programme there. Johnny visited Wales in 1989, 1998 and 2003
  • a meeting with the Bluefields Sound System, where the possibility  of musical connections with Wales, and support from the Campaign was discussed  – one of the leading lights of the BSS is Rocco, a reggae musician who lived in Merthyr Tydfil during the 2000s, and played gigs throughout South Wales!
  • a meeting with CEDEHCA, to discuss their youth work in the context of autonomy
  • a speech by Ben Gregory in a meeting with 50 members of UNE, the public sector union, to strengthen links with UNISON Cymru-Wales
  • a meeting with Sheira Thomas, Vice Rector of the community university URACCAN

Afterwards the delegation travelled by panga (speedboat) to Pearl Lagoon, a remote village north of Bluefields. They spent most of the day speaking with members of Accion Medica Cristiana, a Tearfund partner, about its work with young people and pastors, working on a number of local issues, including gender justice and climate justice.

Between the sessions with the AMC there was a meeting with Noel Campbell of Black Farmers Back to the Land, and the mayor of Pearl Lagoon, to discuss their attempts to re-start the rural economy, and the challenges and problems that they face.


13th welsh delegation to nicaragua

On February 12th eleven people will leave behind Wales’s cold weather and travel to Central America. The Wales Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign is sending its 13th delegation to the country it has been supporting for over a quarter of a century.

The itinerary includes a meeting with a Caribbean Coast MP and a visit to the Nicaraguan Parliament; meetings with co-operatives; a four day visit to Bluefields and Pearl Lagoon on the Caribbean Coast to discuss autonomy and bi-lingualism; a two day visit to food projects in a remote rural community with Accion Medica Cristiana, a Tearfund partner; and a visit to the Granada International Poetry Festival.

The delegation will also strengthen links between UNE, the public sector union in Nicaragua and UNISON, and will visit the Los Quinchos project, which works with children from Managua’s rubbish dump, to give a donation, the most recent in four years and over £24,000 of support.

“It’s nearly twenty years since the first delegation,” said one of the organisers, Ben Gregory, from Penygroes. “It’s tremendous that Wales can send so large a group, and it’s a sign of the interest of younger people in wanting to share the experience of a country like Nicaragua.”

Ben has visited the country every two years since the beginning of the 90s, and this time his family will be travelling with him. David McKnight, from Mold, the other organiser of the visit, is very familiar with the country by now, having recently spent a year there. It’s 19 years since Siân Howys, a social worker from Aberystwyth, and over a decade since Angharad Tomos, the author from Penygroes, visited the country. Angharad is looking forward to seeing the changes. “This is the first time for us to visit during a Sandinista government,” she said.

The rest of the crew will be visiting for the first time, and are all members of Cymdeithas yr Iaith. After a busy period organising the Census rallies and the meeting with Carwyn Jones, Colin Nosworthy, Cymdeithas yr Iaith’s Communications Officer, is looking forward to seeing the political situation in Nicaragua. Haf Elgar works with Friends of the Earth Cymru, and is interested in learning about the environment in the country. Sioned Haf is an experienced traveller, but hasn’t been to Central America before. She is a Research Student in Bangor University.

Having been busy working on Y Bont, the Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru production recently, Catrin Dafydd is looking forward to a break, and will be performing some of her poems in the Granada festival. Her trip is a bit different.

She will be joining two other delegation members, Osian Rhys and Menna Machreth, who will remain in Central America after the delegation finishes, to visit other countries in the region. Osian works as a translator, and lives in Cardiff, whilst Menna, who lives in Caernarfon, works for the Welsh Communities Federation and is a former Cymdeithas yr Iaith Chair.

The youngest member of the group is Hedydd Ioan, 9 years old from Penygroes. This will be his first experience of flying. It’s the first time that a child has come on the delegation. But he will be with his parents, Ben and Angharad, so the country is very much part of his history. When asked what he is looking forward to most his answer was “Seeing monkeys”.

the struggle continues… on nicaragua’s caribbean coast


The work of Luciano Baracco has featured on the blog before (see here for a review of National Integration and Contested Autonomy, edited by Luciano last year). Now he has edited another volume, a special issue of the AlterNative journal, which looks at autonomy on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast.

Luciano has edited the new volume jointly with Miguel Gonzalez (who comes from Bluefields and works in York University, Canada). It has contributions in English and Sumu-Mayangna from leading scholars addressing indigenous land claims, gender, political participation, and violence, and a historical overview of the struggle for autonomy on Nicaragua’s Caribbean Coast.

Details available from http://www.alternative.ac.nz/journal/volume8-issue4 or editors@alternative.ac.nz

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 http://www.nicanet.org/?p=1184.] 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; http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2012/11/200169.htm)

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.

municipal elections looming large

Next week Nicaraguans will again be going to the polls, this time in Municipal elections. As always, trying to get to the heart of what’s at stake can be a bit time consuming. The elections take place against a background of a change in the law regarding the number of councillors and municipal functions; an opposition which continues to further implode, looking at an election result much worse than in last year’s national elections; and the continued accusations of vote-rigging, which began with the last Municipal elections in 2008.

As for the numbers, the law is tripling the number of councillors elected (which were pitifully low to run an administration properly), and introducing gender equality into the councillors elected. There will also be new lines of accountability, which are intended to make the councils more accountable to the electorate, and answerable to ‘direct democracy’. How this will play out remains to be seen. The tensions between ‘representational democracy’ and ‘direct democracy’ are not unique to Nicaragua in Latin America, and how these are handled will decide how effective each council is. Some of these tensions are outlined in a recent article in Envio (see here).

The state of the opposition makes it all too easy to predict an increase in the number of Sandinista municipalities come November 4. The only question is how many more will the Sandinistas win, after claiming 109 out of 153 in the 2008 elections. The current figures for the opposition are pitiful. Two recent polls show more than solid support for the FSLN. M&R Consultares (which tends to over-estimate FSLN support), show the Sandinistas on 72%, and the combined oppostion on less than 10%, with remainder don’t know/did not answer. In a poll at the same time CID-Gallup (which tends to over-estimate opposition support) showed the FSLN on 56%, the opposition on 7%, with 35% saying no party.

The findings are important for two reasons. First they show that the FSLN looks likely to get at least as many votes as it did in the national elections (63%), if not more. Secondly, the polls have consistently under-cut one of the two main political narratives about Nicaragua which are aired abroad, that Nicaragua is ‘increasingly polarised’. In fact, Nicaragua is becoming increasingly Sandinista, partly to do with the successful governmental programmes, and a lot to do with the lamentable state of the two main opposition parties, the PLI and the PLC (for an analysis of the elections see Tortilla con Sal’s late post here).

The second familiar narrative is that the Municipal elections will be crooked, a judgment that has been made, like in past votes, before a single ballot has been cast. Amongst the observers (or as they are know in Nicaragua, ‘accompaniers’) is a 75 strong Organisation of American States delegation, headed by Ricardo Seitenfus. According to the Nicaragua Network’s recent summary of the country’s press,

“contrary to what is alleged by opposition parties and groups, the government did adopt the recommendations for electoral reform that the OAS had recommended after last year’s general elections. Seitenfus said, “There are contradictions about interpretation. The recommendations are in a different form in the new election law that was passed, but all the recommendations were incorporated. But, this is for sovereign Nicaragua to receive these recommendations and they are recommendations; their acceptance is not required. It is simply a recommendation; not an order.”

The ideological battlefield also extends beyond the political parties and civil society. The Catholic Church weighed in in September, with the Bishops Conference calling the FSLN ‘autocratic’. Three days later the Evangelical Co-ordinator called on the electorate to support the FSLN because of its government social and economic programmes (see here for the NicaNet updates for October for fuller details).

So it looks likely that the Sandinistas will increase their number of municipalities, and their percentage of the vote. For all the contradictions that exist with the FSLN (and there are many), and the mistakes which are made or are perceived to be made (which, as for all governments, there are quite a few), the reasons for the steadily growing support have been summed up in a recent article by Jorge Capelán , an Argentinian who has worked for many years for a Nicaraguan radio station. His lengthy piece (see Letter to a Friend) is a riposte to the picture painted by foreign coverage of Nicaragua, and is aimed squarely at those living outside the country.