Making the Economy Our Own: Interviews with UNAG Leaders
The National Union of Farmers and Cattle Ranchers (UNAG) is one of the strongest and most outspoken organizations in the country. Including nearly 125,000 members, from poor peasants to medium and even a few large producers, UNAG is responsible for a considerable part of the domestic and export production of the country. As the government issues a call for national unity—economic concertation—inviting the private sector to join forces in facing the economic crisis, UNAG's voice is being heard on issues ranging from agricultural credit to the need for a more coherent long-term development strategy. envío interviewed three members of UNAG's national leadership: Daniel Núñez, president; Ariel Bucardo, vice president; and Byron Corrales, secretary of organization. They comment on the economic crisis and the national unity policy, as well as reflect on the problems and challenges they have faced in building the organization over the last eight years.
envío: How did UNAG become an organization of medium and small producers?
Daniel Núñez: UNAG is both a product and a source of the revolution. In our country's historic struggle for independence and national sovereignty, peasants have played an important and decisive role. The killing of our peasants is a holocaust whose story still has not been written. For example, just in the eight years of war in this decade, more than 6,500 peasants have been killed on their cooperatives and farms.
As the producers who make up UNAG we are aware of the role our organization must play to be an example for Latin America. Our fight is for peace, democracy and development, and these are attained only when there is both political will on the part of the government and the participation of the people.
Byron Corrales: Before UNAG was created there was already a strong cooperative movement, led initially by the Farm Workers' Association (ATC). But as the ATC developed it became clear that it was very difficult to integrate the demands of both rural workers and peasants. Workers are concerned with wage policies, social and work conditions; they're accustomed to working set hours; they don't own land; they have nothing more than their labor power. In contrast, peasants are interested in credit, food supply, agricultural inputs, land. When the agricultural workers and the peasants presented their demands to the organization, it was very difficult to satisfy both sectors. This concrete reality made it necessary to create one organization for rural workers, the ATC, and another for peasants, UNAG.
Ariel Bucardo: UNAG's fundamental goal was to organize the diverse sectors that up to that point had not found an organization that would represent their interests in a concrete way. We started out trying to create an organization that would put priority on peasant interests. We are speaking here of small and medium producers and the large patriotic producers who participated in the fight against Somoza and who up to that point did not have a way to organize. The business association COSEP was not an alternative for them. We wanted the revolution to be able to give these sectors a way to participate through an organization, hence UNAG.
Corrales: UNAG was founded in early 1981. We developed different organizational structures, attempting to respond to the logic and the historical tradition of peasants. Rather than being limited to a theoretical scheme, we listened directly to producers' needs. In some communities, we organized local committees, in others, producer unions, cooperative unions, poles of peasant development. In the process, we were giving form to UNAG, developing the representative structure of all producers on the municipal level that corresponded to the different types of production; we formed councils of cooperatives and producers, and at the top, a national council and governing board.
In Search of Identity
envío: What phases has UNAG gone through in its evolution?
Bucardo: In the 1981-83 period, UNAG was organized around the agrarian reform and forming peasant cooperatives. With our work methods and our ideas of how to organize, we had not yet found the mechanisms for all sectors of the countryside to participate in the organization. More emphasis was put on trying to organize the poorest peasants because at that time they were demanding land, a traditional demand of peasants. The peasants themselves wanted to organize to get land and the institutions that were applying the agrarian reform conditioned the giving of land on the formation of cooperatives. Thus, in the first years the cooperative question was our primary work. In addition, we inherited from the ATC work they had already been doing along these lines.
We developed distinctive forms of cooperatives, one of which is the Credit and Service Cooperative (CCS), made up of small and even medium producers who have their own farms, but join together for credit, technical assistance, supplies and mechanization, that is to say to get services. In addition, we developed agricultural production cooperatives that are called Sandinista
Agricultural Cooperatives (CAS), in which almost 100% of the land is farmed collectively. They are made up mainly of peasants who did not have land and who benefited from the agrarian reform. There are also Work Collectives (CT), which are small groups of peasants with fewer than eight members or family units who collectively work the land, whether granted by the agrarian reform or already in their possession. At the same time, the first steps were taken in starting "Fallow Furrow Cooperatives" (CSM), in which peasants each own a given piece of land but share the agricultural labor. Each cooperative member's parcel is separated by an unplanted furrow to indicate its boundaries.
In this first phase, the war started up, setting back and complicating the organizing problems. Many cooperatives in the war zones, especially the CAS and many CCS, had to adapt their organizational structure to take on defense tasks. Contras kidnapped and killed cooperative and UNAG leaders. Whole cooperatives and peasants abandoned their homes in the war zones, especially in Regions I (Estelí, Madriz and Nueva Segovia) and VI (Matagalpa and Jinotega). The cooperative movement began to strengthen itself, not only to deal with economic and social problems but also for defense of the small parcel of land they already had or that had been granted them by the agrarian reform. In the war zones cooperatives began to be bastions for defense of the country and the gains of all the peasants. Areas such as Jalapa have become secure because of this joint work of military defense and the cooperative movement. The same is true in Pantasma and WiwilI, where the peasants provided the example.
envío: What are the conditions that set the stage for the second phase?
Bucardo: The war intensified in 1984, mainly affecting the peasants in the mountainous zones of Regions V (Chontales, Boaco and Nueva Guinea) and VI. The small and medium producers in those areas, cattle ranchers and coffee farmers, were influenced by the counterrevolution, and in some cases, we must admit, became a social base. The contras went to the peasants in those zones doing political-ideological work to convert them, offering alternatives for the future. Because of this, it became vital to open up other and better ways for the producers to participate, not so much politically as economically, so that they would continue producing. UNAG began to work within this sector, in an attempt to apply the policies that had been defined in its Constituent Assembly.
UNAG has been a broad democratic organization from the beginning, made up of all the patriotic producers, those interested in the nation's reconstruction. We didn't change this position, but rather began to work in the interior of Regions V and VI with a social sector that was within our mandate but that we were in danger of losing, trying to draw them to our side and to the revolution. We learned their most important needs and demands regarding supplies, what they buy and sell, prices, and so on. UNAG gathered these ideas and tried to be their voice, thus attracting a great number of small producers because in that zone the base consists mainly of small cattle ranchers and coffee growers who can survive without many supplies from the cities. There were also some medium producers.
If the contras came to a small village and were in a peasant's house, and the army later passed by, the army often thought that the peasant was a contra collaborator and confronted him rather than trying to win him over. This created political problems. Some peasants were even mistreated; although it happened in isolated circumstances, it made people fearful. The government, the army, the Ministry of the Interior, each had its own idea of how to treat the peasants. Some of these ways were not correct and made building relations more difficult. Someone needed to represent the peasant interests, interests that were no different from those of other sectors, but which in those areas had become very difficult to resolve. The counterrevolution took advantage of this situation. We had to deal with the counterrevolution's strategies, and with certain mistakes made by state institutions in the zone. It was not easy for us to represent the interests of these small producers, since according to some government and political leaders, they were not friends of the revolution. But we have been changing that conception.
All our efforts went to attract this sector, and we always tried to incorporate the natural leaders in their area, those who would speak up and get us to defend their interests and make them part of the organization. We consider this a fundamental stage in UNAG's development, because we would only have been left with the cooperative movement and the peasants in the non-conflictive zones if we had not developed a plan directed toward the peasants in the war zones, which included intervening on their behalf before the state.
This period was full of problems: the war intensified, the contras' military, political and ideological campaign continued and thousands of peasants who were in credit and service cooperatives had to abandon their land. Peasants who had land deep in the mountains had to take refuge in safer areas, especially in Regions I, V and VI. Because of the war, some state organizations, mostly the armed forces, evacuated some peasants from the agrarian frontier and moved them to settlements. The peasants were not always in total agreement with these actions. In this sense, we think that there were some errors in the treatment of the peasants. In addition, thousands of families migrated to the larger nearby cities like Jinotega, Managua and Matagalpa, creating huge economic and social problems when they abandoned their farms and their homes.
Corrales: In the Wiwilí, Bocay and El Cuá area where I was working, it was a great risk to be a cooperative member during those times, to bring supplies to the countryside, to be a nurse, a teacher, an agricultural expert, a health brigadista. We found that the very first peasant organizers were nowhere to be found; they had been killed in the most criminal way with their bodies left disfigured. Many of the cooperatives we had organized were destroyed—in the sixth region alone 80 cooperatives were destroyed along with houses and machinery. The situation grew more and more difficult. I'd venture to say that there are few of us peasant organizers who survived. Of the twelve first organizers who worked in Wiwilí, only two of us are still alive.
Bucardo: In this phase the problems of the terms of exchange between the city and the countryside intensified. Supplies of certain basic products in the countryside such as boots, corn grinders, machetes, iron nails, zinc roofing and rennet tablets for cheese became scarce. There were no controls, so prices were very high when the products could be obtained at all. This problem started when the marketing networks that had been in place under Somoza fell apart and were substituted by other mechanisms that were not always successful. On the other hand, the peasants' production was controlled by the state through the Ministry of Internal Commerce (MICOIN), which set the prices for their products and said that the products could only be sold through the ministry or authorized merchants. This is when they instituted the notorious barriers at the exit of every town, so that the peasants could not sell corn, beans, rice, cheese, etc., directly in the market. These policies restricted the buying power of the peasantry and discouraged production. I'm not saying whether or not this was right, but rather that the measure had to be a two-way street—to control both the prices for the products the peasants need and the prices and trade of the products they produce. The controls only went one way.
envío: What has been the peasant's role in the peaceful areas of the country?
Bucardo: The burden of the war has been borne most by two sectors: youth and workers throughout the country. Although the cooperative movement in the Pacific was not physically affected by the military situation, it has been the base for militia mobilizations. In the early years the cooperatives organized great numbers of defense battalions to go to the war zones, and later also to fulfill the military service law or the reserves. The cooperative movement has always supported defense, with 20% of its members mobilized in one way or another.
In addition, the cooperative movement in the Pacific region expressed its support through patriotic activities, putting solidarity in action. Brigades from Regions II (Chinandega and León), III (Managua) and IV (Rivas) formed to support projects in the war zones. For example, for three consecutive years work brigades went to Special Zone III (Río San Juan) to help displaced peasants. They helped them defend their territory and worked with them in production, digging wells, planting African palm, building houses, digging latrines, creating basic living conditions. Economic brigades like the "Bernadino Díaz Ochoa" were also formed, which even today continue helping with the coffee harvest in the war zones of Region VI, taking the same risks as the producers there.
envío: The First Peasant Congress in 1986 seems to have ushered in a new phase. Can you explain what the congress meant for UNAG?
Bucardo: The First National Peasant Congress was the first time we discussed work plans directly with thousands of peasants from all over the country. The plans were discussed at the local level through an assembly process that culminated in the congress in April 1986. They focused on four basic points: first, to fight as an organization to make state policies toward the rural areas much more flexible and based on the support and democratic participation of peasants, whether organized or not. We're referring to marketing policies, the freeing of prices for peasant products, the application of the agrarian reform, the need to respect the desires of the peasants to work cooperatively or not, and coordination in the application of the agrarian reform policy so that those producers who were producing efficiently would have their lands respected. Other necessary policies included support that would give confidence to the medium producers who continued to work in the mountains despite the war, and despite the fact that those producers affiliated with UNAG were persecuted by the contras, kidnapped and even killed.
A second focus was to look for new alternatives for organizing the different sectors (small, medium and large producers). Within this area, we've been working toward organizing the cooperative movement not only at the base level but also at higher levels. The idea is that cooperatives in the same territory unite to deal with their problems, that as they develop they create municipal councils and that they take on the task of leading their own movement and fighting against the verticalism
and paternalism of state institutions and even of the leaders of UNAG. This project will not come to pass at some predetermined time but rather as conditions develop, not necessarily in the whole country but rather in the territories, municipalities, and regions that meet the necessary conditions. The creation of producers' associations by territory is an alternative form of organization for those individual producers who do not want to be in cooperatives. UNAG includes all these types of organizations.
UNAG proposed as a third focus to deal with all the problems having to do with exchange. The organization was already making efforts to supply producers, but the congress suggested that UNAG look for additional alternatives, and that peasants themselves pool their resources to confront the supply problem, which was one of the most serious problems at the time. The idea of the Peasant Stores was promoted and the Cooperative Enterprise of Agricultural Producers (ECODEPA) was formed, which became the institution charged with obtaining resources through UNAG. The Peasant Stores were the first big project that the peasants carried out to resolve their problems with their own ideas. It has been recognized and is backed by the state.
A final focus was to encourage women's integration in the various areas of UNAG in a conscious and organized manner. The goal was to have women take responsibility and participate in the decision-making structures, to be more active and more recognized by society, especially by the peasantry itself. This doesn't mean we were suggesting that women were only beginning to participate in peasant production and struggle, because historically they always have, but rather that they become active within an organization.
UNAG and the state: Amicable differencesenvío: How does UNAG relate to the state institutions?
Núñez: We've defined our relations with state institutions in two ways. First, to support state policies when those policies benefit our sector in a coherent manner; and second, to criticize and fight against policies that differ from our goals.
We have different forms of communication that go from the base to the president of the republic, where we discuss credit policies, production, agrarian reform, prices and marketing. We believe that in this time of social transformations, the state has to push for a democratization of the rural economy, which was denied us by the unjust international order imposed on the so-called third world countries. When we talk about democratization of the economy we're referring to developing and strengthening the infrastructure, training, technical assistance, technology, fair and effective credit, services, marketing and guaranteed prices for our products.
In our relations with the state, we've had problems with some officials in the countryside. We've criticized them on different occasions when they differ from these policies. These individuals either cannot or do not want to understand what the mixed economy and political pluralism mean and believe that nationalizing industry and property will resolve the problem, forgetting that in Nicaragua 60% of the land and production is in the hands of small and medium producers. We're not against agrarian reform, but we are against abuses of authority, and we defend the idea that agrarian reform cannot just be political but also has to lead to economic transformations that guarantee the country's economic development.
We've organized our associations by type of production. These participate in the different commissions the state has created to discuss agricultural problems by branch. Each branch of production sits down with the state to discuss, question and approve the policies, whether they be about credits, prices, taxes, production costs or whatever. The working class participates in these commissions as a fundamental force in the organizing of rural work. As president of UNAG, I participate on the National Planning Commission, where national policies are discussed and approved. This participation testifies to the level of participatory democracy that has been developing in Nicaragua since the triumph of the people over the dictatorship.
envío: How can there be better coordination between the government and producers?
Núñez: We've maintained that in order to have fluid communication between the government and producers it has to be through these production associations by type of crop. We think that to promote economic policies there have to be agreements between the government and producers to respond responsibly to the challenges that the international economic crisis puts before us, and in our case to raise production and productivity so we can push forward this project in which private producers, with 83% of the land, contribute 80% of production. This coordination is now taking place with positive results. In communications, we've had with different ministries and even with the president of the republic the producers affiliated with UNAG and COSEP and organized in different producer associations have formed joint commissions to criticize or help the economic policies from that level. For example, in January 1989, UNAG worked in all the regions with our members to present a study and proposal to the government about what we think the strategy should be to improve our economy. The studies were presented to the government and were accepted as an important contribution from producers. Among our proposals we recommended that the government more coherently define its policies toward small and medium producers who, given their social and economic weight, have to become the leading force in the development of our economy.
envío: What have been the main achievements and difficulties in UNAG's evolution?
Bucardo: We believe that an important achievement was getting land, organizing ourselves in cooperatives, having a peasant organization to defend their achievements against the Reagan Administration's aggression. The peasantry plays an important role in the country's defense, despite attempts by the contras to destroy the cooperatives. But the cooperatives are still there, despite all their problems, and that's crucial. In 1982, we drew up the agricultural cooperative law, and the agrarian reform law was approved.
At first there was a very schematic application of the agrarian reform. Peasants had to cooperativize to get land. Historically peasants have worked individually and were not accustomed to the idea of cooperatives. There were some expropriations of land owned by small and medium producers which affected the alliance with the other producers, and as an organization we've been trying to resolve this situation to build confidence. If the parceling of land and the forms of peasant organization required to receive it had been more flexible maybe we would have been stronger and would have had a very strong cooperative movement, especially the CAS. Some basic cooperative principles were violated because of ideas we had about how cooperatives should be formed, the application of agrarian reform and the organizations set up to do it. Despite all this, we have progressed in the agrarian reform's application. We believe that at this point the agrarian reform doesn't need to continue expropriating land but can just recover lands abandoned because of the war, and involve all sectors in production. It can help the cooperative movement strengthen itself technologically and train the cooperatives in management, because cooperatives are small businesses and as they consolidate, they will be strong businesses.
Another problem is that we haven't been able to develop a clear and defined economic program for the peasantry. We haven't developed economic policies that look toward full integration of the peasantry—government projects have instead been directed toward large businesses and large state projects.
A series of top-down policies were applied. For example, development programs to make huge workshops, mechanization centers and housing projects were implemented with financing from international and national organizations. They were all directed towards the peasants and with good intentions, but they did not apply appropriate methods, and the projects came from the top down. The peasants did not always respond positively to the projects because they did not see them as priority needs or had not demanded them.
Nevertheless, even though we haven't resolved all its problems, the cooperative movement has continued to develop and become stronger. The war is one problem that has not ended yet; it continues to affect the movement, to leave dead, to take men into combat, to destroy. But other problems can be resolved, and the cooperative movement continues fighting to have its own program, to have true autonomy, to have the different organizations in the country help the movement rather than run it or substitute for it. We still have the disadvantage that many organizations that influence the movement at times do not let it develop for itself, but want to make its decisions for it.
We have progressed in the producers' organizations, with more than 90 formed. These have had an important role in the discussions of agricultural policy and are now represented on the national branch commissions. The Peasant Stores have made a real leap, with close to 280 stores and 52,000 members who have given funds; the stores have been strengthened through departmental and national supply commissions. At the national level the women's section has been formed, and there are women's movements in Regions II and VI and Special Zone III, and in Regions I and IV it is developing, with women beginning to participate in cooperative and municipal leadership, in patriotic participatory work like the María Castil Blanco Brigade from the sixth region, which has been picking coffee for two years.
Núñez: The growth and development of UNAG has not been easy, partly because of the organization's complexity but also because of the thinking of some FSLN members towards the peasantry. At the beginning of the organization's work, there were some who thought we would only work with cooperatives that were receiving land and that there was no room for the other productive sectors. There were political secretaries from some regions, our own brothers, who, if they saw an UNAG organizer speaking to a medium producer, threatened him, saying, "Look, you're deviating from the revolutionary line, it's wrong for you to be talking with that producer, can't you see he's bourgeoisie?" This created problems. To overcome these dogmatic ideas was a lot of work.
Our greatest success has been that politically and ideologically we have put our stamp on the mixed economy project that we wanted to pursue, because without making it our own it is very hard to defend a project. What we're doing for the peasants is showing them that they are the authors and promoters of the social transformation project and have no reason to be ashamed.
As peasants, we’ve been the source of honor and work; we're recovering our dignity and we have encouraged our peasant brothers and sisters to fight. When we go to any government office, we don’t go with our heads lowered. And if they don't pay attention to us, we tell them, "Deal with me now, because part of your salary comes from what I produce." We have found our roots in the revolution and we are strengthening national dignity. In the midst of the war, we continue to produce and to defend the country and we're raising a new generation with a deeply nationalist, Latin American and anti-imperialist identity, deeply rooted in the political-ideological project we're building with the people.
An achievement of great importance was to have won the confidence of countries and nongovernmental organizations like Sweden, Holland, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Canada, France, OXFAM/England, OXFAM/Canada and others. We are full members of the Central American and Caribbean Cooperative Federation and we're in touch with the International Cooperative Alliance that joins more than a billion cooperative members worldwide.
One of UNAG's errors was, on some occasions, to have not pushed hard enough in the defense of some policies for producers, to have been cautious in fighting abuses in rural areas, to have been more like bureaucrats and not leaders directly involved with the base. But we're now discovering that the leaders who will have the most influence in the base and who will give the most energy to the organization are those from the small villages—whether they be Catholic Delegates of the Word, rural teachers or big producers. What is important is that they be leaders, that the people and the village believe them and follow them.
UNAG in the mixed economy
envío: What is UNAG's relationship with the ATC?
Núñez: We relate to the ATC as brothers who have differences of opinion on the ways to improve and move forward the transformation process. Both workers and producers have to work even harder to use our resources more efficiently. These two sectors represent the backbone of the national economy and we have to overcome the circumstances created by the war of aggression and the international crisis.
Beginning in 1984, UNAG, the ATC and the Ministry of Labor held important discussions to bring the length of the workday back up to normal levels, because hours had dropped, for various reasons, by more than 50%. We noted as an organization that the peasants in the agricultural frontier, who carry most of the weight of production, work from dawn to dusk, and therefore we couldn't let agricultural workers put in just two or three hours in the field. They accused us of having a capitalist mentality with these arguments, but time will show who was right.
We have to acknowledge that in the middle of all the inherited problems of backwardness and underdevelopment, the ATC and the Sandinista Workers' Federation (CST) have strengthened their organizations and have identified the primary demand of the working class as taking and holding power, defending the country and raising productivity.
Today, both UNAG and the ATC have sat down to discuss dialectically the policy of national unity. We've had differences with the ATC, it hasn't been a honeymoon, but we’re aware that when fighting for the same goals differences can contribute to development.
envío: It has been said since UNAG was founded that it was an organization of the agrarian bourgeoisie, and even more so when it began to pay more attention to the medium and large producers. What do you think about this contention?
Bucardo: I think there have been some misconceptions on the part of some compañeros and organizations that do not clearly understand the policies of the revolution. We understand that this revolution—and the National Directorate has confirmed this—offers the opportunity to keep producing to all sectors that want to, in this case the big agricultural producers who have been given a space within the mixed economy. UNAG has tried to fulfill the goals and statutes of our organization, to bring the different sectors that want to continue producing in a patriotic way, who are dedicated to production and not to political activity, within the structure of a revolutionary group such as ours. We work to weaken those organizations that claim to represent producers but that, like COSEP, actually represent political interests far from patriotic and national producers.
This doesn't mean that we've abandoned or turned away from the poorest peasants. Some 98% of UNAG's membership at all levels comes from poor peasants and 95% of UNAG workers are involved with organizing poor peasants, with the cooperative movement and not with the medium producers. We've been working to have the medium producers organize their own sector, choose their own leaders, without full-time UNAG organizers. All the organization's actions have been directed toward resolving the problems of the poorest peasants. The rural Peasant Stores are located in areas where there are mainly poor peasants, and the great majority of the members are poor peasants and cooperative members. There are few stores in areas where medium producers predominate; maybe one in San Pedro de Lóvago, Boaco. In addition, we send all supplies such as corn grinders, rubber boots, iron nails, cooking utensils and popular medicines to the poorest areas.
When we have fought for a more flexible agrarian reform, we have said that we should not force the poor peasantry who had no land but now do to work collectively because they have no experience doing so. Working collectively should come out of a change of consciousness. When we speak of the terms of exchange between what peasants produce and what they consume it is mostly directed toward the peasants in the mountainous interior who do not have a voice to express their needs and so speak through UNAG. When we've formed cooperative brigades they go to help the impoverished peasants from the isolated mountains in resettlement communities.
This makes clear that UNAG has not turned to one sector and abandoned the other. Clearly, with the revolution some compañeros may have had their theories and called anyone bourgeoisie who had ten cows, or had managed to buy a truck, or a house in a town like Santo Domingo, Río Blanco, Jalapa. But these are people dedicated to their work, they live in the mountains and produce, and most have never even traveled outside the country. This sector needed someone to approach them and the only revolutionary organization that did was UNAG. Perhaps someone said that UNAG was walking a dangerous line by approaching those sectors, and began to count how many times UNAG spoke to them or how often they spoke to UNAG to resolve their problems, but such critics never measured the amount of work done in the countryside for the other sectors.
The leadership of the revolution and the revolution itself was not wrong when it gave UNAG this job, and this can be seen in the ways the revolution has responded to these sectors. Various leaders have been emerging from UNAG—in the 1984 elections, 26 producers, members of UNAG, were Sandinista candidates to the National Assembly. This shows that our work has not been misdirected.
envío: What, according to UNAG, are the reasons for the economic crisis confronting the country and how does the organization plan to fight it?
Núñez: The national economic crisis has its roots in the international economic crisis affecting even the industrialized countries. In our case, a more direct cause has been the war of aggression waged by Reagan with the goal of destroying the revolution. The country's economy was directly attacked at the production level, making Reagan's aggressive policy the number one enemy of Nicaraguan private enterprise.
There are also other problems contributing to the crisis. One is the lack of infrastructure that we inherited from the dictatorship together with a policy that failed to consider small producers. Another problem is the errors committed in the first years of the revolution when obstacles were put in the way of the local grain trade and there was a lack of attention to small and medium production.
To confront this crisis we think that we have to develop a strategy for all the different agricultural production sectors, treating the two most profitable agroexports, cattle and coffee, differently. There should be a just relationship between the cost of production and the product's value, an efficient production and credit set-up that deals with the economic reality of each sector. Just as we demand promises of the government, we as producers must also thoroughly meet our commitments.
In Nicaragua, the conditions for planting different types of agroexport crops vary by region. Coffee is best in Regions I and VI because of the soil and the climate. Cooperatives and small and medium producers contribute 60% of the coffee production. There needs to be a clear definition of these people's participation in the development of coffee. We can't only look towards large producers and state farms. The same applies to cattle, sesame seeds and cotton, if cotton proves profitable. We can't continue to define only short-term policies--we have to have policies that allow us to view our needs and where we are heading in reconstructing our economy.
Basic grains policies also need to be clearly defined, so that cooperatives and small and medium producers are guaranteed an equitable relation between production costs and the price of their product. We often find that a hundredweight of beans costs $50 internationally and we are only paying $20 or 25, which is a disincentive to the producers. We have said that gallopinto (rice and beans) is an ideological meal in Nicaragua because almost everybody eats it. Sometimes corn, rice and beans have been considered unimportant, unstrategic; but without corn, rice or beans there would be nothing to feed the coffee or cotton pickers.
In addition, bit by bit we have to invest our profits in order to stop depending on credit, so that all of us—producers, workers, technicians and state professionals—can contribute to developing a national strategy of economic recovery.
We believe that confronting the economic crisis is a job as difficult as it was to emerge victorious, though weakened, from the war. But if we were able to defeat the aggression, we're also stubborn and determined enough to rebuild our economy in the medium and long term.
envío: Given today's situation, how does UNAG see itself within the national unity policy?
Núñez: To clearly define a national unity policy I would begin with a thought from the political legacy of Sandino: "The yankis are the worst enemies of our people, and when they see us in moments of patriotic inspiration when we sincerely try to unify ourselves, they stir up our deepest unresolved issues, inspiring hate between us so that we stay divided and weak, making it easy to colonize us." The example of Venezuela and the IMF policy that forced the masses to revolt [in late February] demonstrates Sandino's theory. The yankis do not want leaders to emerge who fight for the unification and peace of Latin America: Farabundo Martí, Sandino, Morazán, Bolívar, Torrijos, Roldós, Allende were all victims of that policy.
Taking into account this bit of wisdom from the father of the revolution, since UNAG began we have worked and we continue to work for national unity. We have united that which imperialism tore apart with its policy of "divide and conquer." As a union with a new philosophy, we want to contribute to the strengthening of this indispensable unity for the defense of our independence and sovereignty.
We think there are elements within COSEP who have also been victims of the policy and the myopia that this US administration has toward Nicaragua. They are victims of the "opium of communism," because they see communism everywhere, when what is occurring are great transformations in the mentality and thinking of the people. We hope that some day within this national unity policy, Dr. Bolaños and Gurdián from COSEP will realize that UNAG has been working hard to defend private initiative, and many people have died because of this work. Many sectors have begun working with us who belonged to other organizations; for example, the Chinandega Cotton Growers Association (ADACH) is now affiliated with UNAG. A good number of large producers are now UNAG members, like Dr. Juan Ramón Amador, the head of the cattle division, who belonged to COSEP, and Juan Tijerino, who founded FAGANIC (a private cattle ranchers' association) and today is even a Sandinista representative in the National Assembly.
National unity can be defined as working for the well-being of the country, fighting together against foreign and domestic enemies. The FSLN achieved national unity when it brought together religious, progressive, business, farming, professional, working, peasant and student sectors to depose the Somocista dictatorship. With these same forces, we’ve won the war and we’ll defeat abject poverty and dependence as well.
Producers have to have national unity so we can invest our resources here in Nicaragua. We must avoid what happened in the 1960's and 70's when the country's economic growth went into US and European banks.
envío: UNAG has defined itself as the organization of all agricultural producers, but during this process of building national unity a sector of large producers has not recognized UNAG as its representative. What is UNAG's view? What is UNAG's role in the economic concertation?
Núñez: There are large producers, especially in the Pacific region, who do not recognize us as their organization. Within Nicaragua's mixed economy there are other organizations affiliated with COSEP. Many producers from that federation accuse us of being Pro-government. Even so, the force of reason is stronger than dogma and we feel satisfied that we've attracted large producers of coffee, cattle, cotton and rice who used to be affiliated with COSEP, who we respectfully call patriotic producers. We do have differences with the large producers in COSEP, normal differences that are part of the process of transformation. We know that we have to continue working for unity independently of our philosophies. We maintain the principle that producers look to us more as a union than as a political organization.
Our role within concertation is similar to what we have been doing all along: to work for unity. In this concertation, I would say that we are putting the words of Martin Luther King into reality: "I have a dream, a dream that one day little white children and little black children will sit together at a table and I will say, free at last, free at last." I think the fact that we are sitting down and talking about our national rather than individual problems, has made us freer. Through concertation, we join together to solve the problems that we inherited from the unjust international economic order, the war and the trade embargo that has affected the development of all Nicaraguan society.
envío: What is UNAG's position toward the measures taken by the government at the beginning of 1988?
Núñez: Our organization's position on the economic measures taken by the government has been full support, and we have continued producing despite all the problems, including Hurricane Joan. The current harvest of basic grains is proof of this.
We are convinced that the measures taken were urgently necessary to lower inflation, because without inflationary brakes we would have gone to the brink. This would have made it impossible to achieve the political, social and economic goals that the mixed economy and political pluralism need to fine-tune a strategy to allow Nicaraguans to slowly overcome the economic crisis.
For us peasants the measures have been one of the most important challenges since the war. We are convinced that the fruit of the work of peasants and workers will be to guarantee gallopinto to the people, to those to whom we owe the most. We have to fulfill the historical promises of Sandino, because this people, hot as the sun and generous as the shade in the middle of the desert, has lived through the most difficult moments of the country, and has defended it.