More than three weeks after the beginning of violence in Nicaragua, many of the country’s biggest cities continue to see chaos on the streets. The initial spark, changes to the pension system, have long been forgotten. It has now turned into a clash between the government and its supporters, and some sections of the opposition, supported by the United States.
There’s no doubt that the initial violence included killings by police, FSLN supporters and opposition students. The government has since launched three initiatives to examine the events which led to up to 42 deaths, including: “a National Dialogue without conditions involving all sectors which will be mediated by the Bishops’ Conference; a Truth, Justice and Peace Commission set up by the National Assembly; and an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office to hold all those responsible for killings, violence and sabotage to account” (see here for further information from the same article by the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign).
People’s first reaction, even among government supporters, was anger that such violence was seen on Nicaraguan streets, scenes which they expect in places like Guatemala and Honduras. This anger, and sadness, was fed by an unrelenting social media campaign, seeking to blame all violence on the government, and inciting people to not only to protest, but to attack both private and public property.
The protests have also shaken the solidarity community. Anyone familiar with Nicaragua will know that the Ortega government is supported by many, but also intensely disliked by others. This opposition includes both the extreme Right, and those who see the FSLN as having sold out. These divisions are also represented in international opinion on the current crisis (see here).
Since the events of April 19-24, Nicaragua has seen peaceful protests, some organised by the government, some organised by the churches. Much of the country has returned to calm. But on many nights violence returns to some streets, with tourist buildings and shops being ransacked, FSLN political and local headquarters torched. A lot of the violence has crossed the line from protest to looting and extortion, particularly in cities like Masaya (see here).
The continued unrest is now aimed at destablising the government, and getting rid of Ortega and the FSLN. This has been a long term goal of the United States and its allies in Nicaragua. Last year the National Endowment for Democracy provided over $1 million to finance ‘civil society’ organisations (see here). Many of these helped ratchet up the tension after the initial clashes, using social media to make unverified claims of killings, torture and “disappearances”. At a time when there were deaths on the streets and arrests, this only inflamed the situation.
Many of these organisations, and leading figures in the opposition, have been actively lobbying in Washington to pass the NICA Act, which would see the US use its veto in lending organisations to cut off Nicaragua from international loans. These loans are used to finance Nicaragua’s social programmes, which has made the FSLN government so different from the neo-liberal presidencies from 1990 to 2007. When people call for the removal of Ortega, they are also calling for the ending of these programmes for the poor (see here).
US Vice President Mike Pence has stated that undermining the governments in Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela is a Trump administration priority (see here).
The FSLN government under Ortega is far from perfect. Even the National Dialogue, the best way out of the current upheaval, will not be straightforward (see here). But we know where to look to see the alternatives. They already exist in countries like Guatemala and Honduras and Brazil, where the poor get poorer, and violence is a way of life.
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.
Next Monday and Tuesday (June 29/30) Fatima Ismael, head of coffee co-operative SOPPEXCCA, will visit Cardiff as part of a UK tour. She will be meeting representatives of Fairtrade Wales, the Chief Executive of the Wales Co-operative Centre, grassroots fairtrade campaigners, as well as visiting the National Assembly and a fairtrade shop.
In February members of Wales NSC visited SOPPEXCCA, which provides the coffee for the campaign’s own brand, tecafé. They spoke to Fatima on the trip. She explained the benefit women receive from the coffee and its unique unpaid labour premium, and stressed why fairtrade is more important then ever.
How does the premium for unpaid labour in the tecafé price benefit women?
The premium for unpaid labour has enabled us to invest in processes, build capacity and raise awareness amongst the women involved in the co-operative. We have also supported a co-operative of women workers who do not have land, so the only option for them is to work in the dry mill where the coffee processing takes place. (Since they don’t have land to grow produce) the only option for them is to sell their labour force. This co-operative of women workers runs a shop that stocks basic provisions which are sold to members at cheaper prices. It also runs a savings plan for the women. UCA SOPPEXCA , with the premium for unpaid labour, supports and strengthens the co-operative and its activities.
Why do you think it is important to recognise the unpaid work of women? Why do you think consumers should pay an additional premium over and above the price of (Fairtrade) coffee?
Well, the premium that is charged on tecafé-branded coffee helps to compensate for the unpaid labour of women and the concept of this premium is something that should be more widely promoted and applied. We are re-vindicating women’s rights. For centuries we have been marginalised and our work dehumanised in the coffee industry and other rural industries, whether we have been involved in the production processes or other daily operations. So, in a way, paying a premium for the unpaid labour humanises the work of those women who are involved in the entire coffee production chain, whether they be a producer, or a producer’s wife, partner or daughter or any other worker.
Have you got a mesage for Fairtrade supporters in Wales?
The message from UCA SOPPEXCA, and indeed from Nicaragua, is that we really need to promote, grow and multiply the number of Fair Trade consumers because our producers are once again in a deep crisis caused by the effects of climate change. Climatic changes have affected our co-operative’s growth. I wish to get across to all our supporters in the UK that we need them now more than ever before. Fair Trade has made a real difference to our organisation and it has had such a positive impact – we have grown and improved; but we need your continued solidarity and for more people to be aware of and support the Fair Trade concept so that we can continue to support the groups of small-scale producers.
Our next visit to Nicaragua will be a bit different. We are working to a theme this time: Nicaragua’s co-operative economy. The interest in co-operatives is growing, both in Nicaragua and Wales. Since 2007 and the new Sandinista government, the number of co-operatives has increased from 1,500 to 4,500.
Nicaragua has a history of supporting co-operatives, since the Revolution in 1979. A lot of the fairtrade co-ops have their roots in the struggles of the 80s. One of them is SOPPEXCCA, which provides the campaign with our coffee, tecafé, through a women’s fairtrade organic co-operative. That’s why we believe tecafé is Wales’ fairest coffee. (see here and here).
In addition to visiting producers in Jinotega, we will be meeting with co-operative food projects, such as the hambre cero (zero hunger) programme and the patios saludables (healthy backyards projects), which establish co-operatives as part of their work. Also we will be organising meetings with organisations responsible for co-operatives, and the Ministry which concentrates on developing the sector, MEFCCA (Ministry for Families and the Cooperative Economy – see here).
The trip will provide an opportunity to see what difference the co-operatives have made to Nicaragua’s poorest, and compare the situation back home in Wales (see here).
We will be spending time on the Pacific and Caribbean Coasts, including Bluefields, where the Campaign is supporting a community music project.
We will be finishing the visit in Granada, to relax! The city is Nicaragua’s prettiest, with outstanding architecture on the banks of Lake Cocibolca, in the shadow of the Mombacho volcano. We will also have the opportunity to enjoy the striking scenery around the Apoyo volcanic lagoon.
The cost of the trip for a fortnight will be £600, including accommodation, food and travelling around the country. You will also need to buy an air ticket. At the moment these are around £600 – £700, and we can help order them.
We will also be organising a preparation day for the group before we leave. This will help you get the most from the trip. ¡ Buen viaje!