The Partial and Personal Chronicle Of a Cuban in Nicaragua
Oppose authoritarianism with autonomy so people can define their own rules and structures, without subordinating themselves to parties, governments and/or companies.
Fight installed capitalist commercialization with self-management,
developing our own resources to avoid depending on foreign powers.
And stamp out clientelism through solidarity,
with reciptrocal, symmetric relations based on mutual support.
Are such things possible now in Nicaragua?
I came here to gauge the current political climate for them
and this is a partial and personal chronicle of my search.
When I got to the immigration desk at the Augusto César Sandino Airport, I glanced around while the official was checking my documents, stamping seals and charging tourist tax. My eye hit on a colorful wall on which was displayed a mural with political motifs not unlike those that saturate my dear old city of Havana. The mural contrasted with the tourist promotion’s pastel tones, but both sell the image of Nicaragua as a country where stability, joyfulness and the common good are perennials, fruit of the work of a government in which “the people are President,” at the same time as offering the visitor exotic adventures. With the process finished, I made way into the waiting hall and stepped on Nicaraguan soil for the first time in my life.
Like a distant girlfriendComing to Nicaragua was an old dream that dates back to my childhood when my parents left me in my grandparents’ care and set off for Central American to support first the FSLN guerrilla fighters and then the revolutionary government. Although some distant place had deprived me of filial warmth from 1977 to 1983, thanks to some mystery of the human soul I harbored no grudges against the country that had “stolen” my folks away. To the contrary, my hoard of childhood memories includes the chords of songs such as Quincho Barrilete and Comandante Carlos, the sensual images of May Pole dancing [from Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast] and the colors of Barricada and Soberanía, which occasionally arrived at our house with letters from my parents. When I was older, I heard my mother crying over the phone as she told me, “It’s over. The Sandinistas have lost,” and thus got the news way ahead of my astonished compatriots who heard it from the Cuban news programs, which are fans of secrets and triumphalism.
As a result, Nicaragua Nicaragüita was a sort of distant girlfriend for me, the kind we build up—and love—with the secret tenderness of adolescent passion. The kind of girlfriend whose kisses we imagine without tasting them, and who we often lose track off when we part ways after high school and enter into the marathons of professional life and family stability. So, although I had followed events in Nicaragua over all these years, and chose it as part of my research agenda, I had a certain fear of what I would find there, knowing that Gardel was lying to us when he sang that “20 years are nothing” and aware that my memories were inevitably charged with a degree of emotion. This chronicle is a reflective exercise to give some order to my ideas and information and share outlooks born of my “amphibian” nature (researcher/activist), as my colleague Maristella Svampa so aptly put it.
Trapped in a “tight academic schedule”—a horrible but accurate phrase—that carried me like a madman to talks, courses and interviews, it was a few days before I could just wander the streets, particularly as I didn’t have a good map of Nicaragua... Luckily, my camera and notebook became part of my body and I remained alert to record anything that caught my attention, any subtlety of Nicaraguan life that seduced my inquiring eye. It is these impressions, not the colorful tourist scenes, that form my real-life postcards of Nicaragua. I have the invitation to spend a month at the Latin American and Caribbean Inter-university Studies Center (CIELAC) to thank for having made them possible.
So much in commonAs a foreigner, I always received kind and open treatment that was neither intimidated nor servile in response to my foreignness. That I was Cuban probably influenced this. I moved among educated middle-class sectors and also among grassroots sectors in plazas, public transport and the little local shops known as pulperías. When I heard voices in the market asking, “What do you want, love?” with the same self-assurance we Cubans scatter through the world, I realized we had a lot in common. We’re united by our palate, with Nicaraguans’ rice and beans—gallopinto—a sibling of our congrí, and by an ethnic mix that brings indigenous, black and Spanish together in a marvelous cocktail, as well as by the distinctive courage and sensuality of the Caribbean character, which is capable here of transcending a geographical anchoring that gravitates towards the Pacific...
All of this differentiates Nicaraguans and Cubans from the taciturn slowness of the South American Altiplano and the dry pragmatism of the northern peoples. Nicaraguan hospitality has extended to a vast community of Americans and Europeans—including lovers of the Sandinista mystique—who tried their luck in these parts, as confirmed by studies that show Nicaragua as the leading site for former foreign officials and cooperation workers who stay on in the country once their official commitments come to an end.
No less important are the links among peoples, forged in the sister relationship of our revolutions in the eighties and sanctioned in a kind of “sexual contract” by numerous bi-national couples, with several of whose children I had the pleasure of spending time.
Revolution stage two?One thing that surprises the visitor is the repeated invocation of the revolution in the official public speeches and in certain commentaries by grassroots cadres of the governing party. The reference doesn’t seem to have a single cause, as it unites in a confusing mixture the mirages of the propaganda that bombard a population neglected by successive neoliberal governments, the simulation of those who praise power to win favors, and even the psychological difficulty of “processing the grief” after two lost decades of a process for which so many people gave their lives.
Mystique and ignorance, hope and opportunism appear to blur in the constant reference to the “second stage of the Revolution,” whose traditional red and black symbols seemed to me to have been banished from the plazas and streets, in contrast to the omnipresence of expensive raspberry pink billboards and t-shirts proclaiming“Christian, Socialist and in Solidarity,” whose designs remind me little of emancipating ideology and a lot of the logos of the Mexican lottery. “Don’t talk to me about revolution. That’s just drivel. If I don’t work, I don’t eat and the rich carry on the same, whether inside or outside government,” an annoyed taxi driver said as he took me to the Huembes Market.
Where the revolution appears to survive, despite time and betrayal, is in the self-identification and practices of no few Nicaraguans of different ages and sexes. And that works if we understand the revolution as something that reaches beyond the time-bound historical event, as a broad repertoire of practices, values, discourses and customs that vindicate the grassroots memory and participation, equality and social justice, and the rejection of all forms of domination and hierarchy. The quality of being “revolutionary” expresses the emancipating stamp of a sudden social change that is radical and de-structuring, whose inertia lasts, when it is true, beyond its founding times.
This legacy is visible in Nicaragua in the belligerence of its women, whose broad and plural movement in defense of their rights confronts head on—in marked contrast to other experiences in the region—the conservative crusade of all the allied political and de facto powers in violation of the Liberal rules of a secular state and the progressive conquests of a grassroots revolution.
Even in the ranks of the grassroots Sandinista movement within the FSLN, I found authentic and critical positions that distanced themselves from the pompous, prefabricated language of the cadres. The mystique and ethics of the revolution survive in the words I heard from a cultural activist of the Social Coordinator: “I went on the Literacy Crusade in the eighties, despite my parent’s opposition, and supported the Sandinista Youth’s culture festivals… Today I believe that we must go beyond parties and governments, which make pacts and manipulate the people. We have to get out of the offices and help the people.”
“Daniel has to win”All relations between the State, parties and social organizations simultaneously bring into play a diversity of political identities and options, and an asymmetry between subjects with unequal quotas of power. The best way to understand this is by interacting with concrete actors and checking out that reality in their own eyes.
In one meeting with community activists and leaders held at the Polytechnic University in coordination with Managua’s Secretariat of the Council to Strengthen Citizens’ Participation, a health activist insisted on identifying the revolution, the FSLN and the Presidency, explaining her political option in the following way: “Doña Violeta gave away our patrimony, Alemán became a millionaire with Hurricane Mitch, Bolaños indebted us with [Spanish transnational electricity distribution company] Unión Fenosa. That’s why Daniel has to win in 2011, to guarantee the rights of the poor…”
A peasant leader put it a different way: “Many people became owners of land here. With the three previous governments emigration to the capital increased so there’s now an overpopulation catastrophe and the government doesn’t have anywhere to relocate those people. Our President, comandante Daniel, has given the peasants education and is opening up spaces for us. I only got to sixth grade. I felt illiterate, but now I realize that I’ve got potential.”
On a slightly more critical—although equally pro-Ortega—note, one leader said, “In the eighties, I was a member of the Sandinista Youth, and although I was a doctor, I did my military service, out of revolutionary mystique… But there’s no mystique anymore. Now they’re politicians with big SUVs that negotiate with the opposition and with capitalism. Comandante Daniel has a little mystique, but not the others. There’s no mystique in Nicaragua anymore.”
“You can’t criticize any more”During the debate generated after a conference I gave in the Managua Municipal Government’s “Miguel Ramírez Goyena” meeting place, I stressed how the political culture of Latin America, on both the Left and the Right, in civil society organizations and in political parties, reproduces perverse values and practices: an authoritarianism that imposes an agenda on the rest of society from a position of power; a commercialization that represents people motivated by maximizing profits; and a clientelism that degrades citizens by annulling arenas for developing their rights and treating them as a mass hungry for favors and incapable of building their own reality. Faced by that political culture of domination, a new vision of the Left must build a political culture of emancipation, opposing authoritarianism with autonomy, so people can define their rules and structures without being subordinated to parties, governments or companies; fighting capitalist commercialization with self-management, managing their own resources so they don’t have to depend on outside powers; and eradicating clientelism through solidarity, with relations based on reciprocity, symmetry and mutual support.
Defending the value of autonomy, one Communal Movement leader said that “the autonomy in our movement was built during the revolution, in 1988, and one lesson was that we can be revolutionaries and leftwing without subordinating ourselves. But you have to debate how to do it. We’re currently witnessing a historical error, because community and grassroots participation is regressing.”
In reference to the absence of a new generation to take up the baton and the lack of debate, another veteran leader of this movement stated that “the political leaders and those of the social organizations are always the same. Me too; I’ve been a leader here for 32 years. During the first years of the revolution it was possible to point out the mistakes being made, but you can’t say anything anymore. They don’t even invite me to the FSLN meetings anymore.”
“Dividing us is a gringo strategy”For another leader, the new participation structures affected previous work and divided the FSLN’s own grass roots: “The Communal Movement has Sandinista roots, but with the creation of the CPCs [Councils of Citizens’ Power] they looked at us like strange animals and branded us counter¬revolutionaries. That caused the division. But we’re all Sandinistas and we all defend the rights of the poor.”
By contrast, blaming the grass roots for the misunderstandings, another community leader argued that “the government has tried to develop a model so we can all participate without exclusions, but down below we don’t know how to make alliances, even though we share common problems. There shouldn’t be exclusions. When we understand that we’ll strengthen the model. We’ve misunderstood the Cabinets of Citizens’ Power, as if they were exclusionary. We should all be there so the communities develop.”
Without abandoning a radical discourse loyal to the governing party, but also without hiding the deformations of “Citizens’ Power,” a leader from the Association of People with Disabilities charged that “provoking division among the organizations is part of the gringos’ strategy. But one of the main sticking points stopping people from uniting is that we can see the leaders living better than us. And that’s what happened in the eighties: leaders who didn’t want to climb down from their cars to talk to the grassroots and get to know them.”
The antibody all revolutions needTestimonies from Sandinista cadres and researchers consulted in the Central American University (UCA) and the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua in Managua (UNAN-Managua) stressed that pragmatism, professionalization, de-ideologization (or attempts at eclectic re-ideologization) and the incorporation of counter-intelligence methods in the construction of the “new FSLN” are imprinting totally different dynamics from those of the eighties, closing the doors on a party that had a certain capacity for internal dialogue at the time and opening them to a party of political operators and police conspirators.
In Latin America—and Nicaragua is no exception—a good part of the progressive forces have argued for “structural transformations” but relegated the idea of autonomy as a circumstantial element only to be unfurled from opposition to the Right, and have thus eliminated the antibody all revolutions need. When you believe that only a vanguard can “send down the lines,” you’re not building emancipation, as you can only be revolutionary when power is transferred to society, not when it’s concentrated and perpetuated in a clique. And if the stakes are also reduced to individual leadership, things get even worse because personal preferences and pathologies are highly likely to turn into State policies.
Although we can recognize the debts of neoliberalism and the difficulties involved in engaging in politics in settings of extreme poverty, I believe that the absence of a political pedagogy is a responsibility clearly attributable to the FSLN’s leadership bodies and professional structure.
The “essential element”?When the grassroots’ sincere recognition of the top leadership is amplified by propaganda, when criticism is censured and merits magnified, you can’t talk about the “spontaneous support of the people” so much as a deliberate political strategy of perpetuation. When a meeting with around a dozen leaders from the Sandinista Leadership Committees and Cabinets of Citizens’ Power held in Matagalpa compared “compañero Daniel to Ché Guevara because he’s an essential man, a statesman of international stature, the only President who has worried about the poor and the only leader who has remained faithful to the Sandinista principles,” I can’t help but wonder whether that propaganda hasn’t turned into a dike that’s blocking the rise of new leaders and doesn’t represent a kind of cult of personality.
Several queries remain unaired in Nicaragua’s current situation, two of which I will take up here. Regarding the supposed recent opening of the Councils and Cabinets of Citizens’ Power to those with Liberal, Sandinista Renovation Movement (MRS) or independent tendencies, there’s a need to specify whether this mutation is due to a recognition of the perverse effects of the policy of exclusion practiced before, a tactic to absorb and coopt the opposition grassroots or a convergence of both.
If the comandante-President wins the 2011 elections, it will test whether this pragmatic mutation of the State-Party responds solely to the logic of an electoral period and the correlation of forces in the National Assembly, or its leaderships’ class nature will continue tying it to a neopatrimonialist model that isn’t leading to any kind of socialism.
The feminists’ pioneering struggleFor many years , whether because I was scanning the female struggle through a “macho-Leninist” lens, because I supposed the conquests of Cuban women to be quasi-universal, or due to the effect of my debates with certain unbearably racist and authoritarian “gender academics,” I kept a certain distance from feminists. The Nicaraguan realitym however, led me to understand the vitality of the feminist movement here, which has inherited the traditions of struggle of the revolutionary people. Despite it all, my eyes were searching for a more unified and homogenous subject. My discovery of the richness of reality beyond the showcase of the capital city was a learning experience that generated enormousadmiration.
I learned about the growth process at the heart of the FSLN’s female comrades, and about an early (self)-awareness of the deficits of female leadership in the political structures and agendas of the new power during the second half of the eighties. I was struck by the way members of the Party of the Erotic Left, the National Feminist Committee and the emblematic Autonomous Women’s Movement, with their red-and-black heart, put forward a distinction of autonomy starting in those years, questioning the paradigm of grassroots organizations as party transmission belts, rejecting the vanguardism of the traditional Left. Talking with some of these women I appreciated the diversity of theoretical and political stances and shared their concern about the conflicts stirred up between grassroots women and women ideologues, as well as the challenges raised by perpetuating personal and charismatic leaderships in a logic that brings the feminist movement—and others—close to the power design they criticize so constantly.
My search takes me to MatagalpaAfter interviewing renowned feminists involved in reflection and activism in emblematic and often distanced arenas, all of the testimonies included one point of consensus: “You must get to know the Venancias.” So off I went, backpack shouldered, to cool Matagalpa, flanked by green and picturesque hills.
In Matagalpa we held a workshop on the challenges of participation and shared a dance night in the Guanuca Center, during which time I met the most smashing and grounded feminists I have ever known. In their accounts—in contrast to the testimonies of outsiders—the women from Grupo Venancia explained to me their insistence on functioning with the fewest formalities possible and I learned about their non-ingenuous knowledge of the legislation and the traps involved in negotiating resources; and about valuable tools for improving organization, defining responsibilities and increasing work. I praised the blessed obstinacy of rooting power in the assembly of members and maintaining equity of income.
A sample of the “winds of change” currently shaking Nicaragua in the electoral context is the evolution of the stances taken by the Matagalpa authorities in relation to Grupo Venancia’s work. The municipal government is controlled by the FSLN, and although there’s no cooperative relationship, they don’t they feel any harassment. What they do lament is that the mayor—who innovated participatory politics working with the Municipal Development Councils and the civil associations despite criticism from the party apparatus—has lost that accumulation of joint learning now that the FSLN is in the central government, revealing the true interests of power.
Not everything in the work of these women is directly belligerent or vindicating. As part of a broad conception of culture and its links with politics—depicted in a mural on their premises in the Guanuca Cultural Center—they systematically offer recreational activities for the whole family and reflection sessions, such as Revolution Week, in which they analyzed the role of women in the process of the eighties, attempting to build a perspective beyond the official discourse and the party-politicization of the grassroots memory.
“Not even Alemán treated us like that”The Venancia women are self-critical of the processes and crises within the women’s movement. They acknowledge the debate there was within it, where some advocated a national movement with a single leadership able to concentrate forces and politicize them, while others defended organization through networks linked by different issues and rhythms, rejecting the centralized organization inherited from the FSLN and the emergence of a new vanguard, this time feminist.
In a stance that seemed to me particularly difficult and honest, some of the Matagalpa women questioned their participation in the purges that took place within the Autonomous Women’s Movement in 2006 as a result of the conflict that broke out due to its alliance with the Sandinista Renovation Movement. They point to the non-compliance with the periods and ways of processing dissent that they themselves had agreed to, ending in a fragmentation whose consequences have been visible at moments of conflict over the social movement.
Another compañera sadly denounced the kind of schizophrenia experienced by women from the FSLN who “reject the criminalization of abortion supported by their party, but were then disciplined electoral table monitors, supporting all of the Party-State’s dirty tricks” during the 2008 municipal elections. With great feeling, two activists recalled how “the government harassment we suffered that year hurt us a lot coming from the FSLN, because we dedicated part of our lives to the revolution and can’t bear it any malice. The search warrant against the Venancias was a barb to the heart. The FSLN said that year that we NGOs were cooperation thieves; that it was illegal to organize without legal backing. They wanted to take the issue of political advocacy out of NGO work. Not even Alemán treated us like that.”
“Anti-Danielism has clouded On the national political horizon, these women confirm the rupture of the party political class and the need to build a long-term alternative from the social movement and with a critical Left: “Here, you only campaign to get a post as a parliamentary representative or a job in government. But on the other hand, anti-Danielism has clouded the opposition’s vision.” On balance, I took away with me the impression of having got to know a movement that has won respect as an arena for consensus and mediation, is trying to distance itself from the damaging disputes that have shaken the women’s movement and is assisting the periodically reemerging efforts to rebuild it, without forgetting what happened in order to draw lessons from the crisis.
the opposition’s vision”
In a country of young peopleNicaragua is a country of young people, with 60% of the population under the age of 35. That condition could represent either an opportunity for or an obstacle to the kind of citizens’ mobilization the country needs to put the brakes on the indecent acts of the traditional powers. If memory is neglected among young people, it could confirm Edmundo Desnoes opinion of underdevelopment as the inability to associate ideas and accumulate experiences; or validate the historian Thomas Carlyle, who reminds us that peoples who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.
However, the very existence of a vital majority of the population with dreams free of old dogmas and loyalties can open windows of hope in a country simultaneously impassioned about its legacy and disenchanted by its performance. All that’s lacking are the kind of “beautiful crazies” who take demands out of the grey and perverse formats of realpolitik and seduce a youth riddled with the promises—and frustrations—of consumerism, nihilism and sterilized rebelliousness.
I had the chance to share a Sunday afternoon discussion with several restless spirits, again in Matagalpa, on a radio program titled “Foreign cooperation: Option or imposition?” broadcast on Stereo Kiss. Interacting with the listeners in a mixture of committed reflection and humorous outbursts, together we explained the commercial and authoritarian stamps riddling the associative arena and international cooperation, the fads and expert elitism that distance communities from sustainable self-management, and the false promises of international organizations. All of these are important issues in Nicaraguan reality, but far from the agendas and codes of the traditional arenas of youth interaction.
For sexual diversityThese young people don’t exhaust all their efforts in the tense minutes of a radio booth. For two years now they’ve formed part of the “Young Agents of Change” collective, which generates communication arenas based on dialogue and respect for human diversity, with a secular- and human rights-based approach. Without being established as an NGO or a foundation, but rather based on the right to free association enshrined in the Nicaraguan Constitution, these young agents have defended autonomy and self-management. Supported by personal resources and through alliances with other collectives and movements, they’ve promoted important activities such as holding a first sit-down protest for the human right to sexual diversity.
That protest made visible the human faces of sexual diversity (gays, lesbians, transsexuals, intersexuals and bisexuals) and provided relevant information about the legal advances in terms of respect for the right to sexual diversity and the new crime of discrimination for reasons of sexual option in the workplace. With support from women’s groups, the Communal Movement, civil associations and relatives and friends of the participants, the campaign allowed the concerns, dreams and ideas of the sexually diverse to be displayed through different artistic expressions. It was a democratic exercise in which the local society approached to learn and request information, strengthening the collective perception that ignorance is the source of discrimination.
A critical summary of what’sI shared other good moments in Managua with guys from the Movement fo the Rescue of Sandinismo, visibly dedicated to strengthening the organization, training and political activism that their homeland needs “from below and on the Left.”
happening in “Our Americas”
With a critical sense, they recognized the enormous challenges facing them in reconstructing a truly alternative and emancipating Sandinista socialist culture and political leadership. One of these compañeros, a young and valuable sociologist and lawyer, joined the inter-disciplinary effort I coordinate, along with other amphibian colleagues, in the Anti-Capitalist and Emerging Sociabilities Working Group of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO). Its membership will honor the learning and mutual accompaniment of struggles and reflections in all corners of our Americas.
This working group, a collective of young people who are academics with experience in activism and are under 35—thus jokingly dubbed the sub-40s because we’re the babies of the CLACSO-related collectives—decided to hold its first working meeting in Managua on October 3-6, 2010. We did so considering the importance of supporting academic research and exchange in the region’s least favored countries, while at the same time giving us the chance to learn about and accompany experiences of social movements in the land of Sandino. Bringing our efforts to fruition was only possible thanks to the solidarity from our Nicaraguan compañeros from the Popol Na Foundation, who guaranteed us lodging; from CIELAC, which provided rooms and logistics for the different sessions; and from various friends of the social movement, who contributed their material and human resources for the activity.
With participants from Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico and Nicaragua, we made a critical summary of the paradigms and concepts (anti-capitalisms, emerging sociabilities, autonomy, self-management, etc.) that underpin our theoretical/political proposal. We discussed the current situation of social struggle against neoliberal governments, the difficulties preserving autonomy from so-called progressive governments, and the strategies of repression, demobilization and cooption implemented by parties and States of different ideological tendencies against grassroots autonomy.
We also shared emotional moments with student, community and grassroots movement representatives and with political leaders and analysts from a diverse ideological spectrum. They all enriched the group members’ vision of Nicaraguan reality. Our collective decided to expand to colleagues from Venezuela and we agreed on the need to incorporate new female members.
At the end, we released a declaration, called the Managua Carta, in which we took positions on various recent events in the region, directly related to the processes of self-organization and emancipatory search that guide our thinking and actions.
The Court of Climate Justice:The end of my stay in Nicaragua could not have been better. Invited by friends from the Nicaraguan “Another World Is Possble” Social Movement,” I was part of the Central American Court of Climate Justice, which sat on October 29-30 in Managua with the aim of publicly denouncing a number of cases of human rights violations against Central American communities and abuses against the environment.
Costa Rica and Nicaragua in the dock
The Court exposed the roles of international financial institutions—International Monetary Fund, World Bank and Central American Bank for Economic Integration, among others—that facilitate economic resources for projects that affect the environment and society and the complicity of States and governments (in this case Costa Rica and Nicaragua) in those devastating activities.
The accusations presented on this occasion included the effects of open-pit mining in the Crucitas community in Costa Rica; the contamination and violation of labor rights caused by the Spanish Pescanova company in western Nicaragua; and the abandonment of the Indio-Maíz Reserve in Nicaragua’s Río San Juan, where traditional crops are being replaced by monocropping of African palm for biodiesel production, with support from German cooperation. Also denounced was the use of agrotoxics for banana production in western Nicaragua, affecting affluents and the health of over 8,000 workers, former workers and inhabitants who have accuseed the Nicaraguan Pellas Group and Dow Chemical, Del Monte and Chiquita Brand, among other companies. of being responsible.
I was emotionally affected by the filmed testimony of a young man suffering from renal deficiency as a result of the agrotoxics, who urged his companions to continue fighting so his death wouldn’t be in vain. I could really understand the pain and impotence of those families because five years ago I lost the man who had raised me as a father—someone vital to my personal and political formation—to that terrible suffering.
Lack of autonomyAmong those testifying during the debate on whether or not the Nicaraguan government bore any responsibility for the criminal situation of those suffering from renal insufficiency, I was surprised by a female activist who passionately accused the Pellas company yet dodged any public response to the Court’s question on the FSLN government’s participation in the case and defended the compensation achieved for only some of those affected.
Another compañero reminded people of the need not to exonerate the FSLN government from punishment due to its close links with the contaminating companies, its refusal to resolve the health and legal situations of all affected workers, and even its noncompliance with an agreement obtained from the neoliberal government of Enrique Bolaños as the result of a struggle. This situation revealed the risks and costs of the cooptation of social movements by so-called progressive governments, and demonstrated how the loss of autonomy leads to interference with the agendas of struggle.
Also analyzed in the Court were the conflicts related to a Mayangna ethnic community’s right to its ancestral territory, which took the Nicaraguan State to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Another case judged was the one regarding territorial indigenous governments opposed to the concession of lands for lumber extraction to local companies associated with transnationals, in the framework of the Forestry ALBA. And the last case presented was that of the indigenous community in Jinotega, on whose territory the Nicaraguan government secretly built an electrical generator without any consultation.
Guilty verdictsDuring the forum, whose verdicts are not legally binding but are procedurally rigorous and morally non-appealable, I was accompanied by Belgian priest and sociologist François Houtart, who is the executive secretary of the World Forum for Alternatives and a member of the International Council of the Porto Alegre World Social Forum, who acted as the forum’s president. Also forming part of the Court were Nicaraguan meteorologist Clemente Martínez Quinteros, a specialist in hydric resources and coordinator of the Alliance of Organizations for the Defense of Water, and Salvador Montenegro, who is currently director of the Aquatic Resources Research Center at UNAM-Managua. Acting as monitor was William Montiel, a social activist and hydrologist who for years directed Nicaragua’s National Territorial Studies Center.
In terms of verdicts, the members of the jury agreed that in all of the cases the governments of Costa Rica and Nicaragua had bowed to the mechanisms imposed by the big transnationals, without protecting the rights of their citizens or their respective countries’ environment and resources.
In the case involving the indigenous people, the Court stated that the government of Nicaragua hadn’t respected or recognized their identity, ownership or right as a part of that country. We considered that by putting their interests above those of the affected populations, the companies had failed to respect each State’s legislation.
And finally the jury ruled that the case of the banana workers represented a crime against humanity as it involved processes that plundered nature and human life and were developed under the logic of capital with the complicity of the national States.
A partial and personal chronicleI’m finishing this piece in Mexico, a new and extended stopping place, celebrating my 35th birthday, an age that mark the passage from youth to adulthood. But I can’t forget a Nicaragua that reminds me so much of my homeland and whose social movements I have decided to accompany in these convulsive times.
This partial and personal chronicle of my short but intense stay in Nicaragua doesn’t attempt to avoid the subjectivity that permeates my knowledge and feelings. I didn’t try to deliver academic knowledge, although there will be a time, form and place for that. I think that the virgin eye of the “other” can throw a different light on political practices and everyday life. And here it fell to me to be that “other,” albeit it with blurred boundaries as I never felt myself to be a foreigner in Nicaragua. It is that closeness that makes me remember all the emotions extended in the Managua barrios, the enchantment of Ometepe, Masaya’s majestic simplicity, Matagalpan’s affection, Catarina’s beauty, Granada’s living history, and the many intimate and indelible gifts of this land and its people. They are echoes that sound in my mind like the new chords of an ancient and beautiful melody.
Armando Chaguaceda is a political scientist, historian and social activist, member of the Critical Observatory Network (Cuba) and the Latin American Social Observatory (OSAL), as well as coordinator of CLACSO’s Anti-capitalism and Emerging Sociabilities Working Group.