Development in Central America and World Citizenship: A podcast with Grahame Russell

Stitcher is an online service that provides listeners with a wide range of podcasts. One of its series of broadcasts is entitled ‘Jointly Venturing – Let’s Talk World Citizenship’, and on the 22nd July 2020 the presenter Scott Leckie talked with Grahame Russell.

Grahame Russell is a coordinator of the organisation Rights Action, based in Canada and the United States. Although the organisation covers numerous issues in Latin America, its primary focus is on the dire human rights situation in Guatemala and Honduras. Whilst The Violence of Development website draws on material from a wide range of sources, we have made considerable use of material and reports from Rights Action. We are grateful to Rights Action for the use of their research and reports and particularly grateful to Grahame for the remarkably articulate way in which he marries up the conditions on the ground in those two countries and the global pressures they bear from their two domineering neighbours from the north, Canada and the USA.

It is his articulacy, eloquence and knowledge that make this podcast worthy of recommendation to our website users. The discussion is 1½ hours long and the focus on the issues affecting the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) range from about 30 minutes in from the beginning to 70 minutes in.

Below we provide the introduction to the podcast from its organisers followed by a link to the podcast.


In today’s episode we take an historical tour through the countries of Central America in an attempt to find the origins of today’s multiple crises in the region and what can be done – in the spirit of world citizenship – to find a more peaceful, rights-affirming and prosperous way forward.

Hint: Meddling in your weaker neighbour’s affairs is not part of the cure!

In Episode 27 we are delighted to talk with international human rights lawyer Grahame Russell of Rights Action (, a non-profit agency that funds grassroots social justice movements in Guatemala and Honduras. Grahame has worked for decades in Central America and brings a vast knowledge of the region to today’s episode. He forcefully argues that there are clear and unique reasons why Costa Rica stands out so dramatically as the success story of the region, and why countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and others continue to struggle with so much violence, hardship and social crisis and human rights violations.

Delving into issues as diverse as the nefarious role of the United Fruit Company, the ongoing impacts of the Monroe Doctrine, repeated invasions of countries in the region by the United States, assassinations of local human rights advocates and the positive role of grassroots organising as a key remedy for the problems facing this region,

Episode 27 will be of interest to world citizens everywhere.

Jointly Venturing would again like to thank Grahame for joining us in Episode 27, and hope to welcome him back again soon to discuss related themes in the Dominican Republic and the wider Caribbean.



Stitcher is an online service that provides listeners with a wide range of podcasts. One of its series of broadcasts is entitled ‘Jointly Venturing – Let’s Talk World Citizenship’, and on the 22nd July 2020 the presenter Scott Leckie talked with Grahame Russell.

Grahame Russell is a coordinator of the organisation Rights Action, based in Canada and the United States. Although the organisation covers numerous issues in Latin America, its primary focus is on the dire human rights situation in Guatemala and Honduras. Whilst The Violence of Development website draws on material from a wide range of sources, we have made considerable use of material and reports from Rights Action. We are grateful to Rights Action for the use of their research and reports and particularly grateful to Grahame for the remarkably articulate way in which he marries up the conditions on the ground in those two countries and the global pressures they bear from their two domineering neighbours from the north, Canada and the USA.

It is his articulacy, eloquence and knowledge that make this podcast worthy of recommendation to our website users. The discussion is 1½ hours long and the focus on the issues affecting the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) range from about 30 minutes in from the beginning to 70 minutes in.

Below we provide the introduction to the podcast from its organisers followed by a link to the podcast.


In today’s episode we take an historical tour through the countries of Central America in an attempt to find the origins of today’s multiple crises in the region and what can be done – in the spirit of world citizenship – to find a more peaceful, rights-affirming and prosperous way forward.

Hint: Meddling in your weaker neighbour’s affairs is not part of the cure!

In Episode 27 we are delighted to talk with international human rights lawyer Grahame Russell of Rights Action (, a non-profit agency that funds grassroots social justice movements in Guatemala and Honduras. Grahame has worked for decades in Central America and brings a vast knowledge of the region to today’s episode. He forcefully argues that there are clear and unique reasons why Costa Rica stands out so dramatically as the success story of the region, and why countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and others continue to struggle with so much violence, hardship and social crisis and human rights violations.

Delving into issues as diverse as the nefarious role of the United Fruit Company, the ongoing impacts of the Monroe Doctrine, repeated invasions of countries in the region by the United States, assassinations of local human rights advocates and the positive role of grassroots organising as a key remedy for the problems facing this region,

Episode 27 will be of interest to world citizens everywhere.

Jointly Venturing would again like to thank Grahame for joining us in Episode 27, and hope to welcome him back again soon to discuss related themes in the Dominican Republic and the wider Caribbean.





An update on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on Central American countries

By Martin Mowforth

Clearly the coronavirus pandemic is affecting economic, social and environmental development in Central America. The problem for a website entry that updates a fast-changing situation such as this pandemic is that by the time the entry is made onto the website the data it presents soon becomes out-of-date. So I have tried to limit the significance of the statistical data given here and to paint a background picture to the spread of the virus in each country.

That said, I begin with virus statistics as at 18th April 2020. The data are taken from SICA, the System of Central American Integration at: and are updated each day, so readers can easily check current levels of infection. Also more detailed statistics are given on the Worldometer website at:

(Note: The Dominican Republic is included in the data because it is a member state of the DR-CAFTA free trade treaty signed in 2006.)

Quite apart from the epidemiological trends and features of the pandemic, various political, economic and social trends have resulted from the spread of the virus. A few of these are briefly mentioned in the remainder of this summary.

Clearly, the worst affected countries are the Dominican Republic and Panamá. In the case of Panamá, the government declared a state of emergency on 10th March. By the 22nd April, the number of new cases in Panamá appears to have subsided somewhat and the number of new deaths per day has reached a plateau. Because of poor compliance with self-isolation measure, in early April Panama took a different approach to combat the spread of the virus: separation of the sexes. Only women are allowed to leave their homes to buy necessities on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Men in Panama are allowed to venture outside to run errands on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Everyone has to stay home on Sundays.

In Costa Rica a state of emergency was declared on 10th March, especially because people were not following guidelines on social distancing. On 18th March the country closed its borders to all foreigners. Internationally, Costa Rica has attracted attention due to the suggestion made by President Alvarez that the world should develop a Technology Intellectual Property Pool [TIPP] that will accelerate scientific discovery, technology development, proof of safety/efficacy/quality, and broad sharing of the benefits of scientific advancement and its applications in furtherance of the right to health. As proposed by Costa Rica, the formation of TIPP would be coordinated in the first instance by the WHO after which operational implementation might be assigned to other coordinating entities. Such an agreement would bring pressure to bear on the large pharmaceutical companies to share their patents and so is unlikely to be supported by President Trump. It is possible, however, that such an initiative will be instigated through the WHO in the near future despite Trump’s suspension of US payment of dues to the WHO.

The Nicaraguan government has adopted the Swedish approach to the virus – that is, recommendation of social distancing but without a lockdown. For this they have attracted considerable criticism from the opposition who have been spreading all kinds of rumours on social media, not the least of which suggests that President Daniel Ortega is either very ill or dead. The small but voluble, US-supported opposition is essentially claiming that the government is taking a ‘do little‘ approach, and is irresponsible in its disregard for its population. Of course the government counters these arguments, pointing out its high level of testing, the fact that it has the best and most accessible health system in Central America and the lowest number of Covid-19 cases (10 as of Monday 20th April) and deaths (2 as of the same date). In response to the data, the opposition claims governmental manipulation of the figures – i.e., fraudulent reporting. As almost always, the opposition never feels the need to present evidence for its claims.

In El Salvador, the virus appears to have given President Nayib Bukele an opportunity to extend his authoritarian tendencies with enforcement measures being strictly implemented to ensure that people self-isolate. He has given local mayors the power to enforce isolation instructions. A recent report has surfaced of a doctor requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals after being critical of the government’s approach to the virus. The economic toll of the lockdown is reported to be especially harsh in rural areas where many businesses have simply closed making it difficult for many people to get their basic necessities.

Honduras has over 500 cases of infection by the virus and has suffered 46 deaths resulting from it. But it also has the weakest public health system in Latin America. In part this is due to attempts to privatise the system and in part due to a series of corruption scandals involving the embezzling of funds supposedly destined for the health system. Over recent years the public health system has been looted by corrupt politicians and corrupt businessmen, and is in a poor state to cope with the coronavirus pandemic. As this website has reported at various times in previous articles, the Honduran government is run by organised crime and drug traffickers who care nothing of the public health of the Honduran population. San Pedro Sula, the country’s second city, and the Sula valley in which it is located are reported to have an exceptionally high rate of infection which may or may not be associated with the extensive plantations in that area – see below under ‘Plantations’. COFADEH, the most respected and reliable Honduran human rights organisation has reported that around 800 Hondurans have been detained since the regime’s coronavirus military-enforced lockdown began. The exploited poor simply cannot stay at home and obey the order because they live day-to-day and don’t have the economic means.

Worldometer reports over 300 cases of infections and 8 deaths caused by coronavirus as of 22nd April in Guatemala. On 20th April eight public health officials were fired (including two deputy health ministers) for conspiring to defraud state funds that were destined for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. Human Rights Ombudsman, Jordan Rodas, has formally requested the removal of Health Minister Hugo Monroy from office due to his slow and poor management of the pandemic. As with most of the other Central American countries, Guatemala has a historical shortfall of hospital beds and personal protective equipment for health workers.

Belize has closed most of its ports of entry, although its international airport remained open until the state of emergency was declared. On 1st April the government declared a state of emergency to last for 30 days along with a curfew from 8 pm to 5 am every day. As of 22nd April, there are believed to be 18 cases of infection and to have been two deaths.

Unionised workers on plantations in Latin America have been seeking special measures to protect their health and their incomes while transnational fruit companies seek to ensure continued supplies of tropical fruits to supermarkets in Europe and North America. German supermarkets have committed to sourcing their bananas from companies that commit to paying their plantation workers a living wage.

The following statement by Dr Juan Almendares Bonilla presents the Covid-19 pandemic in a perspective that differs from the usual commentary. Juan Almendares is a Honduran physician, former university rector and formerly director and leading light of both the Movimiento Madre Tierra (Friends of the Earth Honduras) and the Centre for the Prevention of Torture. An interview I conducted with Juan in 2010 appears in the Interviews section of this website.

“Honduras and Guatemala are countries of pandemics: the pandemics of hunger and no access to water, of dengue, corruption, repression, and today of Covid-19. All these pandemics are inter-related. Trying to focus public, private, social and international cooperation actions and resources on one pandemic – COVID-19 – without an integral approach strategy, only deepens the others. That is, there will be more people living with hunger, dengue, lack of water and loss of resources due to corruption and repression.”

Endless Extraction and Disposal

In May 2020 War On Want held an event involving two inspiring speakers and thinkers whose thoughts on the future of development should be included in ‘The Violence of Development’ website. We are grateful to War On Want for permission to reproduce their flier advertising the discussion and the link to the online discussion in The Violence of Development website.

This week we launched our exciting Global Green New Deal project. At our first live event, Arundhati Roy and our patron Naomi Klein, two inspiring thought leaders, joined me in conversation. You can watch a recording of the powerful event here.

We discussed the scale of the challenge as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to take and disrupt lives, the sense of despair that many of us are experiencing, and how we can move from these multiple crises to justice. We need to build a collective vision for the future based on the principles of a just recovery and transition which tackles the crises of climate change, global inequality and injustice.

Global justice must be at the heart of any discussion about Green New Deals or a Just Recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s what we’re setting out to achieve and we need you to make it possible. Over the next few weeks, we will launch our collaborative call to action, alongside our project partners: community leaders, activists, organisers, policy analysis, journalists, scientists and educators from every continent.

If you want to hear about future events and be involved in the process to build, amplify and champion a Global Green New Deal, make sure you sign up to the campaign mailing list and find out how you can get involved.

Together, we will create a people’s plan to reimagine and transform the global economy – to guarantee the right to a dignified life for all.

In Solidarity,

Asad Rehman
Executive Director

P.S. The Global Green New Deal project is an initiative by War on Want and The Leap. To stay updated on all things related to the campaign join the email list at


You can email or call 0207 324 5040 to give or change your email address or personal information.

War on Want is a registered charity no. 208724. Our registered office is at 44-48 Shepherdess Walk, London N1 7JP, UK.

Costa Rica’s Environmental Prosecutor outlines the challenges posed by environmental crimes

By Jill Powis, member of the Environmental Network for Central America. July 2023

Key words: Costa Rica; illegal fishing; agro-chemical contamination of water sources; ‘land trafficking’; deforestation; loss of biological corridors; animal trafficking; illegal gold mining;


To mark World Environment Day on June 5, Luis Diego Hernández Araya, coordinator of the Deputy Prosecutor’s Office for the Environment (Fiscalía Adjunta Ambiental), gave a radio interview on the current state of the environment in Costa Rica and the threats posed by environmental crime.  The topics included the situation for the country’s forests and coastal waters, and the trafficking of land, animals and plants.

On the seas, the prosecutor said that they were seriously polluted, with declining biodiversity and die-off of coral reefs, despite the fact that large parts of Costa Rica’s coastal waters were marine reserves.  A major contribution to the degradation of these marine eco-systems was illegal fishing.  When this was mentioned, people tended to think of individual artisanal fisherman straying into protected areas, whereas most of the damage was literally on an industrial scale, through the highly destructive practices of fleets of unlicensed factory ships.  It was estimated that between 2010 and 2015, $84 million of yellowfin tuna was caught in this way.  He stressed that there were complex structures and a high level of organisation around this – a theme that would recur throughout the interview.

The state of the nation’s freshwater also gave the prosecutor cause for concern.  Between 1997 and 2015, 3,000 people were admitted to hospital due to poisoning by agrochemicals – fungicides and pesticides contaminating drinking water.

Moving on to Costa Rica’s forests, Hernández claimed that they would be deserts by 2050 according to current projections. Costa Rica is hailed as an environmental success story for doubling its forest cover over the past 30 years through government policies to reverse rampant deforestation[1]. However, Hernández had grave concerns about continued deforestation both within and outside protected areas, driven by illegal changes in land use as well as “land trafficking” – the usurpation of land through fraudulent means, and its resale or rent for profit.  “Behind this there are structures, organisations whose aim is to identify large tracts of land for pineapple or banana monocultures, or for real estate, and turn them into a business,” said the prosecutor.  Land-trafficking is not currently a specific offence under Costa Rican law, although it is in other countries such as Ecuador. [2]

Currently, 60,000 hectares of Costa Rica’s land area is planted with pineapples, of which 4,000 are in protected nature areas, with a further 16,000 in environmentally important wetlands[3].  The prosecutor added that, between 2007 and 2018, 25 per cent of the marijuana grown in Costa Rica was in protected wilderness areas, including national parks and wildlife refuges. In that period, marijuana cultivation reached 400,000 square meters; that is, about 87 soccer fields.

The disappearance of forest areas was resulting in fragmentation, desertification and loss of biological corridors, with a consequent loss of biodiversity.  Costa Rica represents only 0.03 per cent of the world’s landmass, but Hernández said that it held 6 per cent of the world’s biodiversity, an estimated 500,000 species, of which only 18 per cent, or 90,000, had been discovered.  He was concerned that this deforestation and other types of environmental degradation over the next few decades could result in the extinction of species that had not yet even been studied.

Costa Rica’s status as a global biodiversity hotspot also unfortunately attracted international traffickers who could trade species for thousands of dollars. It also meant that there were many people within Costa Rica who had the scientific expertise to be able to identify species with value to this trade. Rare animals were regularly found at airports in luggage, ready to be smuggled out of the country, and there was a lucrative trade in cocobolo wood, which the prosecutor said was hugely valuable – a container full could be worth $40,000.  International trade in this wood – highly prized in Asia – is banned but continues through organised crime.

The smuggling of resources out of the country extended to precious metals – 33 raids had recently uncovered gold worth $60 million for illegal export (which would also have been mined illegally, with consequential environmental impacts).

Costa Rica currently had 12 laws related to the environment with 80 associated offences.  However, Hernández believed more needed to be done to combat environmental crimes, including:

  • An increase in the penalties for environmental crimes.  Some were already high – for example, violations of the Mining Code could carry a prison sentence of 4 years; and failure to respect the law on the disposal of toxic waste 10 years. However, some sentences were still far too lenient and there were a number of loopholes. This was an issue that was already being looked into by the authorities.
  • Declaring certain offences as organised crime, which is behind most environmental crimes in Costa Rica. Classifying them as such would allow for investigation techniques such as phone-tapping and access to bank accounts.
  • Combatting corruption, because organised crime could not flourish without the acquiescence and/or collusion of state officials responsible for managing natural resources – for example, those issuing operating licences.
  • Training more prosecutors and judges to have specialist knowledge of environmental crimes.
  • Reporting by ordinary citizens of any suspected environmental crimes to the authorities.

The prosecutor concluded by saying that the environment belongs to all of us, and so it is the responsibility of all citizens to protect it.


– Fabiola Pomareda García, 12 Junio 2023, ‘Fiscal Ambiental: “La proyección es que en el 2050 nuestros bosques serán desiertos”’, Semanario Universidad.

– Website of  Frecuencia MP, the radio programme of the Costa Rica Public Ministry 05.06.2023  Sitio Web del Ministerio Público – Día Mundial del Medio Ambiente: la realidad de Costa Rica (


[1]  The government’s claim about forest cover needs to be set against doubts from some quarters that the government exaggerates its forest cover by including numerous areas of plantation trees (such as palm oil). See for instance the discussion of deforestation and reforestation rates in Costa Rica in Mowforth (2014) The Violence of Development, Pluto Press, pp. 121-2.

[2]  For more information on the role land-trafficking plays in environmental degradation in Latin America see

[3]  For more information on the land used for pineapple production see  as well as numerous previous issues of the Newsletter of the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA). .


New Canadian Bills seek to reduce environmental and human rights abuses abroad

By Doug Specht

Doug is the manager of The Violence of Development website and a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster. He developed a mining information app for the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) which can be found at:

April 2022

Key words: Canadian companies; human rights abuses; environmental due diligence; corporate accountability.


As has been widely covered by The Violence of Development book, and across this website, one of the worst perpetrators of environmental damage in Central America is Canada. Often centring around the extractive industries, Canadian companies have been responsible for permanent land and water contamination, alongside human rights abuses – including rape, destruction of homes, forced relocation, and murder.

While Canadian mining companies meet resistance almost anywhere they go, their crimes against humans and the planet have largely gone unchallenged in courts due to protective laws in Canada that make it near impossible for activities taking place outside of the country to be tried. This might be about to change, however, as two new Bills (C-262 and C-263) are soon to be put to the house with the aim of reining in the unfettered power of Canadian companies operating abroad.

Bill C-262 seeks to prevent, address and remedy adverse impacts on human rights occurring in relation to business activities conducted abroad. If passed this bill would require companies to review all their business activities, identify actual and potential risks to people and the planet, take steps to mitigate the risks, and ensure remedy for those harmed. Simply put, if this bill is passed and a company causes harm or fails to comply with human rights and environmental due diligence, those affected would have the statutory right to bring a civil lawsuit against that company in a Canadian court to seek justice and remedy.

Connected to this, Bill C-263, which was tabled alongside C262, would establish the Office of the Commissioner for Responsible Business Conduct Abroad (CORE). While the Canadian government created CORE some time ago, it was in name only, without powers to order the production of documents and compel witness testimony under oath, meaning that the office was largely ineffective. Bill C-263 seeks to give this role more power and resources, which in turn will support the enforcing of C-262.

Canada has long lagged behind other countries in attempting to bring in such laws and bills. Several European countries have already put in place or are developing similar, for example in France, Germany and Norway. It should be noted though that while these laws are certainly a step in the right direction, they are not a silver bullet to solve, reduce or remedy the damage done by Canadian mining operations in Central America.

These Bills will make it easier to take Canadian companies to court and to seek damages, but the costs of such actions will remain prohibitively high for many communities and even countries. And while much of Canadian economic policy is tied up in mining, there is likely to continue to be little appetite for pushing regulation where issues are out of sight. So while these bills (should they be passed) are very much welcomed, material change in Central America is likely to be little, and slow coming.


Additional quotes:

“The responsibility to address corporate abuse cannot be left to companies. These bills are crucial for Canada to shift its approach, tackle corporate impunity and fulfill its international human rights obligations. They must be supported.” Ketty Nivyabandi, Amnesty International Canada

“I urge the Canadian government to do what it should have done years ago. To do what millions of women, Indigenous and other racialized communities worldwide have been calling for – to finally put an end to weak corporate accountability oversight in this country. It is high time that Canada establish a people and planet first approach to business.” Aisha Francis, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives

“Unaccountable exploitation and greed drive the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and pollution all of which are linked to escalating violence against land and environmental defenders. Environmental justice will only be served by binding legislation to hold corporations accountable for their actions and their profits. The two bills introduced today in Canada’s Parliament can deliver on this accountability and deserve all party support.” Beatrice Olivastri, FOE Canada


British government aid drops the idea of development

Global Justice Now (GJN) is a democratic social justice organisation working as part of a global movement to challenge the powerful and create a more just and equal world. They mobilise people in the UK for change, and act in solidarity with those fighting injustice, particularly in the global south.  

Among other campaigns the organisation raises awareness of the British government’s approach to development, aid and debt. In December 2021 Daniel Willis of GJN wrote of a change in the British government’s idea of development with an email communication to GJN members and supporters. The communication is given below and we are grateful to GJN and Daniel Willis for their permission to reproduce this in The Violence of Development website.

It is rare that we include in this website items and articles that do not relate specifically to the region of Central America, but the issue of development is so crucial to the Central American countries that we decided that it warrants a mention here.


British government re-brands ‘development aid’

Global Justice Now, December 2021

Key words: development; aid; CDC Group; British International Investment (BII); climate finance; private sector projects.


The UK government has rebranded its development bank, currently known as CDC Group, as British International Investment, moving yet more aid money away from where it’s needed most.

CDC always had a dubious track record when it came to tackling poverty. Now, the government has even dropped “development” from its name, and with it any pretence that it will use the bank to close inequalities.

Along with development organisations and trade unions, including CAFOD, Christian Aid, the National Education Union, TUC and Unison, we have written an open letter to the Foreign Secretary Liz Truss outlining our concerns.

Redirecting aid

In November [2021], we reported that the UK development bank, CDC Group, was to be rebranded as British International Investment (BII) early next year.

Instead of focusing on tackling poverty and closing inequalities, BII will prioritise giving money to for-profit businesses in the private sector, particularly to projects and sectors where the UK is set to benefit financially.

After the £4 billion cuts to aid this year, more money for BII will also impact other areas of aid spending and could lead to even harsher cuts next year.

Development funds should not be used to generate profit for rich countries and corporations, but to redistribute wealth to support the world’s most marginalised communities.

Not a suitable vehicle for development or climate justice

In recent years, we have raised numerous problems with CDC’s business model and how it has supported private hospitals, colonial palm oil plantations, and a range of projects that have nothing to do with development.

It seems that British International Investment will continue in this vein by investing only in private sector projects and by distributing some aid money via private equity funds. But these bankers and financiers don’t know the first thing about tackling poverty.

Similarly, BII will receive a bigger portion of the UK’s international climate finance spending. This means that grant-based climate finance that the global south is calling for will be reduced in the coming years.

It is as clear as day that BII is not a suitable vehicle for meeting the UK’s international commitments on climate change or development.

In solidarity,

Daniel Willis
Finance campaigner at Global Justice Now


[1] UK accused of abandoning world’s poor as aid turned into ‘colonial’ investment, Guardian, 21 December 2021

[2] Aid sector and unions condemn launch of British International Investment, Global Justice Now, December 2021

[3] Briefing: Making CDC work for people and planet, Global Justice Now, November 2019


The end of neoliberalism? Don’t hold your breath

Comment by Martin Mowforth

Cartoon by Polyp

In 2019 former World Bank economist and major critic of the notion of neoliberalism, Joe Stiglitz, wrote an article entitled ‘End Of Neoliberalism And The Rebirth Of History’. It was essentially a summary of the deception associated with neoliberal economic development and its related idea that the wealth created by austerity would eventually trickle down to the poorest in society. As Stiglitz said,

In rich and poor countries alike, elites promised that neoliberal policies would lead to faster economic growth, and that the benefits would trickle down so that everyone, including the poorest, would be better off. To get there, though, workers would have to accept lower wages, and all citizens would have to accept cutbacks in important government programmes.

Stiglitz correctly asked how wage restraint and reduced government programmes could possibly add up to higher standards of living and suggested that the whole neoliberal programme was in fact a huge act of deception based on a belief that markets would self-regulate in the interests of human development. The privatisation and deregulation policies associated with this market liberalism were crucial in leading us first into the 2008 global financial crisis and most recently into the crisis of democracy and trust in governments. He argues that the climate crisis should dispel this belief in unfettered markets and the practice of externalising social and environmental costs and should lead us to a new enlightenment.

This is a theme that runs through many articles included here in The Violence of Development website. Following Hedelberto López Blanch, we would ask why anybody would see neoliberalism as a benign influence on societies:

Unemployment, indebtedness, tax adjustments, inflation, decreased purchasing power, hunger and poverty is the general scenario readily observable in countries which have opted for implementing neoliberal policies imposed by the United States and international financial organisations with the consent of the local domestic oligarchies.

Also in 2019, Atilio Boron wrote of the death of neoliberalism in Latin America. He too considered that the series of defeats suffered by neoliberalism in 2019 (Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Mexico) signified the decline of neoliberalism:

… we witness the downfall of the ruling model promoted enthusiastically by the governments of advanced capitalist countries; institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank; and self-righteous individuals and establishment politicians.

In yet another 2019 article entitled ‘Burn, Neoliberalism, Burn’, Pepe Escobar also considered that the Latin American elections of 2019 were of major significance in the demise of neoliberalism. He believes those elections to have been a major ‘blowback’ against neoliberal economic development and its associated policies of privatisation and deregulation. He does at least admit, however, that:

the spectre of IMF vulture ventures won’t vanish in South America like a charm; … What remains absolutely off limits for the guardians of the current world system is to really investigate hardcore neoliberalism as the root cause of wealth hyper-concentration and social inequality.

We find ourselves very much in agreement with all of these authors. Our difference is only that we believe that neoliberalism will not disappear quickly and quietly; not that Stiglitz, López Blanch and Boron necessarily believe that it will. But the move to Stiglitz’s new enlightenment will take much time, activism, protest and research, and the drivers of neoliberalism will fight tooth and nail to ensure its continuing power and influence.


Joseph E. Stiglitz, 14 November 2019, ‘End Of Neoliberalism And The Rebirth Of History’,

Hedelberto López Blanch, 18 October 2019, ‘Uruguay and the threat posed by neoliberalism’, Resumén Latinoamericano.

Atilio Boron, 4 November 2019, ‘Agony And Death Of Neoliberalism In Latin America’, Popular Resistance. (Translated by Resumen.)

Pepe Escobar, 29 October 2019, ‘Burn, Neoliberalism, Burn’, Popular Resistance.

The pandemic in Roatán

By Lizz Gabriela Mejía

In September 2020, Lizz Gabriela Mejía wrote an article entitled ‘A Micronation for Sale in Roatán’ for Contra Corriente:  The article is longer than those we normally include in The Violence of development website, but contained within it is a section on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the population of the Honduran island of Roatán. The article is enlightening as regards not only the effects of the pandemic on an island such as Roatán, but also the provision of public services such as health to small regions both out of and  during a time of pandemic and the over-dependence placed on a single industry, namely tourism.

We encourage our readers to read the whole article as given in the link above. We also recommend a visit to the website of Lizz Gabriela Mejía at:

The section on the effects of the pandemic on Roatán is given below. We are grateful to Lizz Gabriela Mejía for permission to reproduce her work here.  

Heavily dependent on tourism, the economy of the Bay Islands has been severely affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The decline in tourists and cruise ships has left many islanders without a steady income. According to statements to the media made by Menotti Maradiaga, president of the Honduran Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Federación de Cámaras de Comercio e Industrias de Honduras), the tourism sector is losing about L600 million (lempiras: equivalent to $25.2 million USD) in daily revenue, which is threatening the jobs of an estimated 150,000 workers.

Roatán businessman Rony Alemán told us that the quarantine hit his business and family hard. “The impact on us has been high. Unfortunately, the cruise ships aren’t coming here any more, which means that there is little need for tourist transportation services,” said Alemán, who has a transportation service for island vacationers. He also said that Roatán’s hotels have been mostly occupied by Hondurans living abroad returning for a vacation.

Even though Tourism Minister Nicole Marrder announced the re-opening of tourism in mid-August, Alemán says that the influx of tourists, mostly local Hondurans, has been minimal. He hopes that the Roatán-La Ceiba ferry service will start again soon, since air travel to the island is expensive and difficult, which means fewer tourists.

Like Alemán, many small and medium-sized businesses are suffering the consequences of the country’s total shutdown, a poorly planned decision that didn’t offer real solutions or relief to those who make a living from tourism.

On top of all this is the shaky condition of the Roatán Public Hospital, which in the early days of the public health crisis didn’t have the necessary biosafety supplies to care for patients and protect health care workers. Public health authorities didn’t take the situation seriously until Roatán’s first case of COVID-19 was confirmed. The hospital’s coronavirus unit has limited space and can only accommodate 15 to 20 patients. Another unit was set up later to accommodate 30 more patients.

Despite being home to over 50,000 people and the premier tourist destination in Honduras, Roatán lacks the hospital infrastructure needed to care for its population in the best of times, much less during a pandemic. One hospital and two health centres are the only medical facilities available to the general public. Those who can afford it go to the one private clinic on the island.

Covid-19 rates in Central America

Compiled by Martin Mowforth from multiple sources.

By the time this file reaches the reader, the table of data below will already be out of date, but it provides some idea of the relative significance and rates of the Covid-19 effects in each Central American country. The text following the table gives a brief summary of some of the specific problems relating to Central America’s rollout of the vaccination programme and the effects of the pandemic on the economies of the Central American nations.

As at 12th March 2021.
Sources: Pan-American Health Organisation,

In general the rollout of vaccines in Central America has begun but is around two months behind the UK vaccination programme. On 15 February Honduras was expecting to have received its first batch of 80,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX mechanism, but this was delayed until March due to delays in the multilateral approval of the vaccine.

El Salvador, on the other hand, did receive its first batch of 20,000 AstraZeneca vaccines in mid-February. This batch came from the AstraZeneca company in India and was used to vaccinate health care workers. El Salvador is one of four Latin American countries selected to receive 400,000 vaccine doses through the United Nations COVAX programme by the end of March.

At the beginning of March, India donated 200,000 vaccine doses to Nicaragua. Nicaragua also agreed with Russia to accept a donation of 3,800,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine which were due to arrive over the course of a few months from March onwards.

At the end of February Israel donated 5,000 Moderna vaccines to both Honduras and Guatemala to enable them both to begin vaccinating health care workers. It is interesting to note that Israel also trains both of these countries’ military forces and actually keeps some of its own military forces on the ground in these countries. It is also coincidental and interesting to note that the security forces of both countries are among the world’s worst human rights abusers, a characteristic they share with the donor country. It is also interesting to note that both countries recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Also at the beginning of March, India donated 100,000 Covishield vaccines to Guatemala.

Despite the donations, various articles appeared in national papers and journals bemoaning the slow delivery of vaccines. El Economista for instance noted that the six Spanish-speaking countries of the isthmus all participated in the Covax facility, the internationally coordinated mechanism to provide equitable and accessible access to the vaccines. But by the end of February none of them had received any vaccines through the mechanism due to production problems and to a monopoly of the vaccines by rich countries. It also recorded that these six countries of almost 50 million people were characterised by high levels of poverty and deficient sanitation systems; and yet they had recorded almost 1 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 with over 20,000 deaths.

Despite increases in mining exports and in earnings from the Panama Canal, Panama’s GDP is reported to have fallen by 18 per cent during 2020 largely due to falls in the worst hit sectors of construction, commerce and tourism. Costa Rica’s level of tourism is currently reported to be at only 20 per cent of what would ‘normally’ be expected, and many airlines are still reluctant to re-open their flights to the region.

In mid-March, Belize became the first Caribbean nation to announce that it would welcome vaccinated travellers who would have to provide proof that they had been vaccinated at least two weeks before entering the country rather than providing a negative Covid-19 test. Travellers have to download the Belize Health App and add the required information within 72 hours before arrival in the country

Comparing war with levels of generalised violence

By Pamela Machado 

The Violence of Development website normally includes only items which relate very specifically to the region of Central America, with just occasional exceptions. The following article is one such exception and is provided by Pamela Machado, a Brazilian journalist and currently a Political Science postgraduate student in Lisbon. It briefly cites Central America but is appropriate for inclusion in the website because it reflects the very origins of ‘The Violence of Development’ book whose thesis was and is that the world is no less violent now than it supposedly was in the early and mid-twentieth century. We are grateful to Pamela for her permission to reproduce the article here.

If, on one hand, newspaper headlines are evidence of the numerous conflicts taking place around the world, on the other, a great deal of academic literature seems to reject the idea of widespread violence, insisting that humanity is living through an unprecedented period of peace which started after the end of the Cold War. While there have been significant achievements and clear improvements in a collective pursuit of world peace, it may be too optimistic, even naive, to assume that war is a thing of the past. Violence has grown more complex, making it more difficult to be measured and assess its impacts on society, which may give the impression that these are more peaceful times; nevertheless, this view is misleading because there is compelling evidence that shows conflict is still around us and that violence is still present in the lives of various communities around the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries in the Global South. Here I intend to refute the idea that humanity is living through the most peaceful time in its history by debunking the traditional methods of examining peace and war and by providing examples of increasingly violent countries.

The scars of the two world wars of the twentieth century were certainly a powerful reminder of the destructive nature of political conflict and have worked as a fuse to spur international action that seeks to assure stronger diplomatic relations between nations, most notably with the birth of the United Nations after the Second World War. Since then, there have been active efforts from governments around the world to stop and prevent war. At first glance, it may seem that humanity has overcome the obsession with war and violence – a view many authors agree with: In 1987, John Lewis Gaddis discoursed about ‘The Long Peace,’ the period of stability during the bipolar Cold War world caused by the threat of nuclear weapons. Steven Pinker’s ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ is a book asserting that the present day is possibly ‘the most peaceful era of our species’. Other scholars concur: “Wars are not only less numerous today, they have also become dramatically less deadly over the past five decades,” wrote Mack (2008, p.75), further pointing out that war between countries reached a number closer to zero percent in 2004 and 2005 and the number of violent conflicts dropped by around 40 percent between 1992 and 2005. The reasons for the decline in violence and deaths during this period, says Mack, were the end of colonialism – given that colonial battles were a major source of political violence; the end of the Cold War itself – which has eased political tensions; and the activism stemming from the international community – both at institutional level as in the case of the UN’s peacemaking missions, and in the civil sphere through the engagement of NGOs.

However, this optimism is a flawed perception of reality and the data is not enough to convince that these are indeed peaceful times. War is a complex and multilayered affair, and measuring it based on the number of fatal victims is far too simplistic. Over the years, research has shown that, while conflict among nations has declined, the predominant form of conflict is now internal to a state. This means that, the increasing presence of non-state armed actors, such as criminal organisations, terrorists and drug factions, have added to the complexity of understanding the relationship between peace and violence. This argument is endorsed by Avis (2019, p.3) in a report for UK Aid: “While some argue war is on the decline, others point out that it merely has taken on new forms.” There may be distinct types of conflict in place nowadays, but the outcomes do not differ so much to the victims of war, causing alarming levels of distress. In many parts of the world, particularly beyond the North Atlantic geopolitical bubble, populations have witnessed growing levels of violence in recent years. A discussion about conflict based solely on the number of fatal victims of conflicts is narrow-minded and intellectually dishonest; it undermines the devastating social, economic and psychological effects that violence causes. This view may be promoted by Eurocentric scholars, who have been witnessing remarkable achievements in their territories but this may have skewed their views about the reality beyond their borders. The achievement of peace in Europe is, without a doubt, deserving of celebrations and praise; however, it can hardly be seen as a reflection of the state of the world. The 2018 report from the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) revealed that 2017 was one of the most violent years since the end of the Cold War, and non-state conflicts and internationalised intrastate conflicts represented “major threats” to achieving lower levels of violence. According to the report, the number of non-state conflicts rose by 20 in a single year from 62 in 2016 to 82 in 2017.

Populations in countries in the Global South have suffered from political violence to the point where millions see no alternative but to flee their home countries. In 2018, the number of forcibly displaced people increased by more than two million, resulting in 70.8 million refugees, internally displaced people and asylum-seekers who sought to escape persecution, conflict, violence or human rights violations (UNHRC, 2019). Furthermore, data from the World Bank shows that by 2030, up to two thirds of the world’s extreme poor population could live in a situation of fragility, conflict and violence. Conflicts also have a large economic impact, absorbing 80 percent of all humanitarian needs and reducing gross domestic product growth by two percentage points per year on average. These numbers alone should suffice to put into question the idea that the world is increasingly peaceful. A great account of the flaws in the idea that the world is more peaceful was given by Fazal and Poast in an article for Foreign Affairs (2019) where they pointed out that the improvements in medical treatments, sanitation and food distributions have led to a decrease in the number of deaths, and that “to focus only on the dead means ignoring war’s massive costs both for the wounded themselves and for the societies that have to care for them.”

A fundamental aspect in the discussion of contemporary trends of conflict is that a great number of victims of violence are not placed in war zones given that many states with high levels of conflict are not officially considered ‘at war’. Keith Krause (2016) calls attention to the fact that while “an average of 508,000 people died violently around the world each year between 2007 and 2012; only about seventy thousand – or 15 percent of them – died in wars or formal armed conflicts.” These numbers make clear that war and violence are not synonymous concepts and should be understood as a part of a bigger picture: wars may have waned, but violence remains. Examples of this high lethality in non-conflict zones is seen in many Latin American states, which frequently rank among the most violent places on the planet, and yet, they are not considered by the international community as being ‘at war’. Endemic violence is seen all across the region, where clashes between cartels, factions and policing, coupled with state corruption and governance failure, cause an unfathomable amount of pain and suffering to local communities.

The countries comprising the northern triangle of Central America – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – frequently rank amongst the most violent in the world, even if they are not recognised as war zones. A 2017 report from Doctors Without Borders showed that people from the Northern Triangle experience “unprecedented levels of violence outside a war zone” enduring threats and assaults on a daily basis because “non-state actors perpetuate insecurity and forcibly recruit individuals into their ranks, and use sexual violence as a tool of intimidation and control.” In 2015, El Salvador reported 6,650 intentional homicides, which resulted in the horrifying murder rate of 103 per 100,000 inhabitants that year. The number made El Salvador a country with a higher rate of violent deaths than all countries suffering armed conflict, with the exception of Syria. For the sake of comparison, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the global average was 6.1 homicide victims per 100,000 people in 2017; in Europe the rate was even lower at 3 victims per 100,000 people.

Martin Mowforth, a long-term connoisseur of Central American affairs notes in his book ‘The Violence of Development’ (2014) that “development today is no less violent than it was during the Cold War. The use of the political strategy of death threats and assassinations remains remarkably common in Central America.” Mowforth indicates the purpose of his book was to make clear that violence has not diminished in Central American countries, even after Peace Accords had been struck between warring factions. Sources of violence include death squads, military personnel, paramilitary units and even a small but powerful elite of businessmen and politicians who recklessly deploy violence upon those who stand against their interests. “It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the violence and injustice that reign in many Central American spheres of activity are the rule rather than the exception,” Mowforth says.

Further down south, in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro, the ‘militia’ is a source of political violence whose activities have been increasing as part of a process of privatisation of public security. Militias are groups of retired or former policemen who leave the public force to work in the private sector and allegedly work to protect communities from drug trafficking and faction-related violence, but end up bringing conflict rather than preventing it. According to Robert Gay (2017), in 1985, there were three times as many policemen in Brazil compared to private sector insecurity, but in less than 15 years, this ratio was reversed. Militias are not officially part of the government – neither should they have any political affiliation – but a public investigation in Brazil “revealed that militias enjoy extremely close ties with all manner of public officials and provide a handful of elected representatives” (Gay 2017, p.89). The population of the urban periphery in Rio, where militia activities are concentrated, described the militias as criminal actors “equally, if not more, violent as the drug gangs that they kept out or were supposed to replace,” noted Gay.

The examples above are intended to show the murky nature of conflict and pose a question to the methods of assessing war. The idea of ‘long peace’ defended by many scholars is refutable and represents only one side of a multifaceted discussion. It is also condescending because a misleadingly positive account of the state of conflict in the world today may result in poor policies and less effective international action. The present levels of violence do not represent a minimised version of previous war times; rather, they point to the failure of tracking and recording methods since the main metrics seem to portray a deceptive picture of the state of the world. It feels important to highlight the cases of violence cited above as they tend to escape media attention and the literature available does not do justice to the challenges and difficulties that local communities face because of such high levels of violence.


Avis, W. (2019). Current trends in violent conflict. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.

Fazal, T. M., Poast, P. (2019). War is not Over: What the optimistics get wrong about conflict. Foreign Affairs. Available at :

Gaddis, J. L. (1986). The Long Peace: Elements of Stability in the Postwar International System. International Security. Vol. 10, No. 4 (Spring, 1986), pp. 99-142. Cambridge: MIT Press

Gay, R. (2017). Of Criminal Factions, UPPs, and Militias: The State of Public Insecurity in Rio de Janeiro. Violence in Latin America and the Caribbean: Subnational Structures, Institutions, and Clientelistic Networks. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Krause, K. (2016). From Armed Conflict to Political Violence: Mapping and Explaining Conflict Trends. Daedalus Vol.145, No. 4, pp. 113-126. Available at:

Mack, A. (2008). Global Political Violence: Explaining the post-Cold War decline. Strategies for Peace: Contributions of International Organizations, States and Non-State Actors. Farmington Hills: Barbara Budrich Publishers

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). (2017) Forced to Flee Central America’s Northern Triangle: A Neglected Humanitarian Crisis. Available at:

Mowforth, M. (2014). The Violence of Development. The Violence of Development. Available at:

Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), (2019). Trends in Armed Conflict, 1946 – 2017. Available at:

Pinker, S. (2011). The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined. New York: Penguin Books.

UNHRC, UN Refugee Agency. (2019). Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2018. Available at:

UNODC, 2019. Global Study on Homicide. Available at:

World Bank, 2020. Fragility, Conflict and Violence. Available at:

COVID-19 in Costa Rica

Received 5 Jul from Roland Spendlingwimmer of Cooperative Longo Mai (written mid-June). We thank Roland for this contribution and also Liz Richmond for her translation.

Key words: COVID-19; Costa Rica; international tourism; food autonomy.

It seems that the government is determined to open international air traffic on 1st August 2020. Despite current infection rates increasing, they deem it is an economic priority to open up due to losses being catastrophic for Costa Rica.

While in the first 4 months the government decreed quarantine, everyone adhered to this and stayed at home – even during Easter, a traditionally important time for families to spend together.

State Aid was organised for all on low incomes in the form of family food packages. With this strategy, infections were kept low. But now, it seems they will reopen, factories, businesses, because they say this cannot be maintained.

So now, there are about 350 new infections daily. This is increasing, and it is known that within 10 days the health system will no longer be able to cope with any more new cases; a great worry. Infections are increasing, especially in slums and poorer areas. It is the least protected population, many who live together in confined spaces with little income, in metropolitan areas, and the belt around San José.

In the countryside it is very different and pleasing to see that in these strange times of coronavirus a peasant (campesino) community like Longo Maï continues almost the same, with its rhythm in nature and agriculture, having coffee at 3 in the afternoon … and there is an increasing amount of awareness around self-subsistence, seen in the planting of vegetables and crops to achieve even more autonomy. When I walked through the community last week I was so impressed. Everywhere new greenhouses, and more corn-fields and beans planted.

Many families have commented that since the children have been at home, and not going to school, it is an opportunity to get closer to them. They go out with their parents to work in the fields, spend free time at the river, and take time to talk and play. They reflect that after this crisis we should perhaps continue a little in this dynamic.

The great advantage for them is that they can increase their food autonomy as Longo Maï still has the reserves of the land.

Feeding the people in times of Pandemic: The Food Sovereignty Approach in Nicaragua

By Rita Jill Clark-Gollub (Washington), Erika Takeo (Managua), and Avery Raimondo (Los Angeles)

Published originally at the Council of Hemispheric Affairs (COHA):

We are grateful to COHA, to Fred Mills Co-Director of COHA and to the three authors for permission to reproduce the article on ‘The Violence of Development’ website.

Lucila Reyes of the Marlon Alvarado community, in Santa Teresa, Carazo where women play an active role in the construction of food sovereignty through peasant organisations and government programmes. Shown with tomatoes grown in her agroecological garden. Photo-credit: Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo (Rural Workers Association or ATC)]

Key words: La Vía Campesina; agribusiness; food security; food sovereignty; Nicaragua; Hambre Cero; agro-ecology.


“A nation that cannot feed itself is not free.”
Fausto Torrez, Nicaraguan Rural Workers Association


An array of UN agencies is predicting a global hunger pandemic triggered by COVID-19 lockdowns, with the head of the World Food Programme stating that there is “a real danger that more people could potentially die from the economic impact of COVID-19 than from the virus itself.”[1] At least 10 million more Latin Americans are expected to join the 3.4 million who were already experiencing chronic food insecurity.[2] These devastating effects will be long-term, as each percentage point drop in global GDP is expected to cause 0.7 million more children to be stunted from undernutrition.[3] There are clear signs that the food shortages have already arrived, as flags indicating hunger are spotted outside homes from Colombia to the Northern Triangle of Central America,[4] while violently repressed hunger protests have occurred in places such as Honduras[5] and Chile.[6] As a street vendor in El Salvador put it, “If the virus doesn’t kill us, hunger will.”[7]

But in the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, there are no hunger flags flying. The market stalls are stocked, customers are buying,  and prices are stable. Nicaraguan small farmers produce almost all the food the nation consumes, and have some left over for export. We will examine how this is possible.

At the June 9, 2020 launching of his Policy Brief: The Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition,[8] UN Secretary-General António Guterres not only called for urgent action to address this hunger crisis, but also to take the opportunity to shift towards more sustainable food systems. This transition is something that the world’s peasants have been calling for since they founded La Vía Campesina (LVC) in 1993. It is now urgent to listen to what over 200 million peasants, women farmers, indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples, fisherfolk, and pastoralists have been saying about our food systems:

“The pandemic has highlighted yet another ill of countries becoming too dependent on large international food industries [and their international supply chains]. For decades, governments did little to protect small farms and food producers which were pushed out of business by these growing dysfunctional corporate giants. … They stood idle as their countries grew increasingly dependent on a few major suppliers of food who forced local producers to sell their produce at unfairly low prices so corporate executives can keep growing their profit margins.”[9]

Agribusiness is also exacerbating the world’s most pressing problems: its Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) crowd immune-stressed animals, making them susceptible to viruses that can cross over to humans;[10] its fossil fuel- and chemical-intensive practices account for at least a third of the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change;[11] and its genetically modified seeds are known to diminish biodiversity. Moreover, in Latin American commercial food systems, it is fueling price increases during the pandemic.[12]

La Vía Campesina’s answer is food sovereignty, which is defined as “the right of people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”[13] It prioritizes: 1. local agricultural production in order to feed the people; and 2. peasants’ and landless people’s access to land, water, seeds, and credit. This approach actually works in combating hunger, as peasants and smallholders produce 70-75 percent of the world’s food on less than one quarter of the world’s farmland.[14] When peasant movements partner with progressive governments, the results can be astounding, as in the case of Nicaragua.


The peasant movement in Nicaragua

The Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo (Rural Workers Association or ATC) was founded during the war to overthrow the U.S.-backed Somoza dictatorship, one year before the 1979 victory of the Sandinista People’s Revolution. It brought together peasants, both small farmers wanting to procure their own land as well as farm workers organising for union rights. The ATC has continued to represent these groups of workers throughout its 42-year history and was one of the national organisations that founded La Vía Campesina in 1993.[15]

Peasant march in 1980s. “We are not birds who live in the air; we are not fish who live in the sea; We are Men who live off the land.”

In the 1980s, the Nicaraguan revolutionary government launched a massive land reform programme, which distributed about half the country’s arable land (5 million acres) to 120,000 peasant families. Several other peasant groups formed during that first decade of the revolution as the cooperative farming movement prospered, even coming to include the families of former contra fighters, who had been adversaries of the Sandinista government. Later, during the neoliberal administrations of 1990-2006, these groups worked to defend the gains of the revolution, sometimes including worker occupations of state farms to prevent them from being privatized. By 2006, and inspired by the 1987 Constitution that guarantees protection against hunger,[16] some 73 Nicaraguan organisations belonged to the Interest Group for Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security (GISSAN) that was advocating for a Food Sovereignty Law. Several of them helped the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) get elected back into office at the end of that year.[17]


Food Sovereignty since 2007

In the current stage of Sandinista governance that started in 2007, the strategy to increase food sovereignty by providing land has continued. Almost 140,000 land titles (some from land distributed during the 1980s land reform) were issued to small producers from 2007 to 2019. Women have particularly benefited from receiving proper titles to their land (55 percent) and 304 indigenous and Afro-descendant communities on the Caribbean coast have received collective titles. The titled area amounts to 37,842 km2, or 31.16 percent of the national territory.[18]

Social programmes that help small farmers feed themselves and their communities have imbued life in the countryside with dignity while reducing hunger. These initiatives are inspired by Augusto C. Sandino’s vision of an economy based on land-owning peasants and indigenous peoples farming in organised cooperatives—a core component of the FSLN’s Historic Programme. Law 693 on Food and Nutritional Sovereignty and Security, enacted in 2009, was one of the first in Latin America to recognize the concept of food sovereignty and actually build it with government support.[19]  The commitment of the FSLN government to food sovereignty has led to dozens of programmes to improve the livelihoods and autonomy of small farmers while strengthening local food systems.

The signature initiative is the Hambre Cero (Zero Hunger) programme which began in 2007 and provides pigs, cows, chickens, plants, seeds, and building materials to women in rural areas to diversify their production, improve the family diet, and strengthen women-led household economies.[20] By 2016, the programme had benefited 150,000 families or 1 million people, increasing both their food security and the nation’s food sovereignty.[21]

Some 150,000 families in the Zero Hunger programme have received farm animals and farming inputs (photo-credit: Susan Meiselas, Fundación Entre Mujeres).

Interviews completed as part of a solidarity testimonies project[22] with ATC members in the Marlon Alvarado community, many of whom are also beneficiaries of government programmes, illustrate the impact of Hambre Cero. For example, one woman said:

“I have always been in social movements, since I was young. We are a group of women working here. We are united and in solidarity, all of us. …The ATC has taught us about women’s entrepreneurship… The government is encouraging us to always cultivate our land, so that we have our food. They give us citrus, they give us bananas, papaya, lemons. We just have to go harvest. We have jocote, mango. They always continue the [Hambre Cero] programme so that we grow something. In our plot, we are always growing something.”

Another woman in the same community said: “I have two male pigs, boars, for breeding: if someone else has a sow, they bring it to the boar and I get a piglet in return. For every sow they bring to the boar, I get a little pig. Or if someone says to me, ‘I have all the piglets sold; I’ll give you the money. What do you say?’ ‘Okay,’ I say. We agree.”

Additionally, the Ministry of the Family, Community, and Cooperative Economy (MEFCCA) and municipal governments organise farmers markets to improve peasant incomes while making nutritious, locally-grown food accessible to consumers, that is produced without chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The Nicaraguan Institute of Agricultural Technology (INTA) works to improve and maintain the country’s genetic material by organising community seed banks,[23] and the National Technological Institute (INATEC) provides free technical degrees in agriculture, livestock care, value-added processing, and beekeeping, to name a few.[24] A new programme called NicaVida will reach 30,000 rural families with tools, fencing, water tanks, chickens, and other materials to improve family diets and household economies in the Dry Corridor[25] areas which are particularly impacted by climate change.[26]

Emerita Vega of the Marlon Alvarado community in Santa Teresa Carazo, coordinator of the ATC women’s group, in her pineapple parcel. Pineapples provided by a government farm diversification programme through INTA (photo-credit: “Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo”, Rural Workers Association, or ATC).

The breadth and territorial reach of these programmes keep Nicaragua’s peasants and small farmers free from dependence on global markets; their diversified production is organised to feed their families and local communities, with increasing access to seeds, water, and credit, thereby creating the conditions to achieve food sovereignty.

A poverty and hunger fighting programme targeting urban residents is Zero Usury, which is part of the national food ecosystem since it serves many who work in open-air markets. This programme, administered by the MEFFCA, gives low interest loans and grants to small business owners (primarily women) and offers free entrepreneurship training, funded in part by Venezuela and other ALBA countries. Over 800,000 women have benefited from the programme since 2007, which has been crucial to the success of the popular economy (self-employed workers, small farmers, family businesses, and cooperatives) which accounts for over 70 percent of employment.

Long-time activist and current presidential advisor Orlando Núñez explains the philosophy behind these programmes and why they work: “The heart of the Hambre Cero programme is giving capital to peasant families. A cow is capital because she reproduces; sows, seeds, and hens reproduce. The first message is not to treat people like poor people; they are only poor because they have been impoverished. … Offering poor people a glass of milk or a slice of bread is an act of charity, not revolution. … The revolutionary thing about Hambre Cero in Nicaragua is that it treats people like economic actors. …That is the most revolutionary message of the Sandinista revolution.”[27]

The initiatives for this second phase of the Sandinista Revolution are all complemented by the grassroots work of social movements. The ATC and LVC have established a campus of the Latin American Institute of Agroecology (IALA) in Nicaragua for youth from Nicaragua and throughout the Mesoamerican and Caribbean region. The school not only imparts technical training on agro ecological production of crops and animals, but also political and ideological education so that students come to understand today’s clash between two models of agriculture: one (the agribusiness model) in which food is a business for the benefit of corporations, and another (the food sovereignty model) in which food is a human right for all. The programme encourages peasants to be each other’s teachers and have agency over their own lives, reclaiming their peasant identity and culture. It is an education that focuses on staying in the countryside and producing food that stays within the local market.

Throughout the country the ATC and other peasant organisations have been organising local workshops to train agroecological promoters, support women’s cooperatives in marketing their farm products, formalize peasants’ land titles, and prepare on-farm biofertilizers and composts. All of this supports the construction of food sovereignty.

Students at La Vía Campesina’s Latin American Institute of Agroecology campus in Santo Tomás, Chontales (photo-credit: Latin American Institute of Agroecology “Ixim Ulew”).


ATC youth make biofertilizer in an agroecology workshop, in Santa Emilia, Matagalpa, 2015 (photo-credit: “Asociación de Trabajadores del Campo”, Rural Workers Association, or ATC).


Hunger outcomes in Nicaragua and Central America 

All indications are that these programmes have resulted in a better fed population in Nicaragua. In its 2019-2023 Strategic Plan for Nicaragua, the United Nations World Food Programme said that “In the last decade… Nicaragua is one of the countries that has reduced hunger the most in the region,”[28] while the government reports that chronic child malnutrition dropped from 21.7 percent in 2006 to 11.1 percent in 2019 for children under 5 years of age.[29] Nicaragua was also one of the first countries to achieve Millennium Development Goal Number 1 of cutting undernutrition in half from 2.3 million in 1990-1992 to 1 million in 2014-2016, placing it among the countries of the region that had reduced hunger the most in the previous 25 years. Vitamin A deficiency among children under 5 was also eliminated.[30]

Nicaragua’s advances are reflected in the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Hunger Map.[31] Unfortunately, that map shows that neighboring Honduras and El Salvador did not achieve the Millennium Development Goal on hunger reduction, and that Guatemala did not even make progress. This stagnancy may be related to the fact that US exports to the Northern Triangle countries increased substantially since the signing of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR). These three countries imported about US$5.9 billion of agriculture products from the world in 2016, including beans and dairy products from Nicaragua, and corn, soybean meal, wheat, poultry, rice, and prepared foods from the US. Imports of many of these US foods increased by 100 percent or more from 2006-2016, coming to comprise about 40 percent of all food imports for these countries.[32] Unfortunately, food prices in these countries are on the rise precisely when people have less income with which to purchase food due to COVID-19 lockdowns at home and in the US, from which Central American countries receive remittances. Parts of Guatemala are already receiving half the remittances they received at this time last year.[33] Even Nicaragua’s wealthier neighbor to the south, Costa Rica, has become dependent on imported beans, rice, beef, and corn after opening the market through free trade agreements. At a recent LVC regional meeting, a Costa Rican peasant leader discussed how vulnerable the country has become, saying “COVID is stripping us bare.” Not only are grain prices rising while vegetable crops rot because they cannot reach consumers, unemployment is expected to double from 12.5 percent to 25 percent,[34] and 57 percent of Costa Ricans report having trouble making ends meet.[35] This brings major worries of increased hunger.


Food sovereignty and the pandemic in Nicaragua

Ninety percent of the food consumed in Nicaragua is produced within the national borders, 80 percent of it by peasants.[36] This includes all of the beans, corn, fruits, vegetables, honey, and dairy products, while there is sufficient surplus of beans and dairy to export. Nicaragua’s food self-sufficiency is growing precisely while other developing countries are increasingly becoming agro-exporters of a few crops (e.g. pineapples or bananas) while ever more dependent on imports to feed their populations. Rice is the only component of the basic diet that is not completely homegrown, but domestic rice production has increased from meeting 45 percent of the country’s demand in 2007 to 75 percent of demand today. The government is working with producers to bring it up to 100 percent within 5 years. Nicaragua is indeed very close to achieving food sovereignty, the true anti-hunger model, which bodes well for times of crisis such as now with the economic impacts of the pandemic and the interruption of food distribution supply chains in other countries.

In the context of the pandemic, both the government and social movement organisations are determined to take food sovereignty to the next level. For example, the government just launched a National Plan for Production focused on increasing production of basic grains to cover all internal food needs, and also guarantee the production of crops for export.[37] Food stocks are normal, prices are stable, production has continued normally since there has not been a work lockdown and most food is produced in small family units, and the rains have started for what looks to be a good planting season. Meanwhile, the Nicaraguan member organisations of LVC are launching the Agroecological Corridor, a process of territorializing agroecology based on peasant-to-peasant exchanges as a response to the threats being posed by climate change.[38] Because training of youth also must continue, coursework at LVC’s flagship Latin American Institute of Agroecology is taking place online[39] while the institute’s campus is implementing a full food production plan that includes grains, root vegetables, and animals. LVC has also launched the emergency campaign “Return to the Countryside”[40] to be adopted not just in Nicaragua, but internationally.

Traditional field work by a pair of oxen in a (non-GMO) corn field in the northern department of Madriz (photo-credit: Friends of the ATC).



Other challenges to Nicaragua during the pandemic

COHA has previously reported on the Nicaraguan government’s robust response to COVID-19 within the health sphere, amidst a vigorous disinformation campaign waged against the population and government in what clearly appears to be a regime change operation funded by the US.[41] That regime change effort is no doubt partially inspired by Nicaragua’s food sovereignty policy, which threatens the dominance of US corporate agribusiness around the globe. For example, USAID has flooded food systems with Monsanto (now Bayer) GMO seeds in countries ranging from India[42] to Iraq[43] to several countries of Africa[44] and Latin America.[45] This approach could be undermined if more developing countries decide to produce their own food through agroecological practices.

USAID was one of the agencies funding opposition groups involved in a violent attempted coup in Nicaragua in 2018, as is well-documented in Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup?[46] It is not surprising, then, that the representative of Cargill in Nicaragua and head of the U.S.-Nicaragua Chamber of Commerce was one of the leaders of the opposition during the attempted coup.[47] While Nicaragua does not have the oil and minerals that draw international attention to Venezuela and Bolivia, agribusiness is a hugely profitable industry and the Nicaraguan peasants are setting a powerful example by rejecting it and feeding their people to boot.

Fighting a disinformation campaign while the country faces the same pandemic that has overwhelmed much wealthier countries will certainly be challenging for Nicaragua, particularly since unilateral coercive measures illegally imposed by the US block access to aid funds. But at least her people have the comfort of knowing that there will be no death caused by hunger. In fact the food system recently withstood a formidable test during the 2018 coup attempt, when violent roadblocks held all the main roads and highways captive. Thanks to local food production and distribution systems, and clever determination to circumvent the roadblocks, people using the popular economy were still able to get food and at relatively stable prices, even when the Walmart-owned supermarket chains had empty shelves.

In an interview in late April, the leader of a peasant women’s organisation was asked about Nicaragua’s handling of the coronavirus. Her concern was not as much about catching the virus as that, “We will have food. It’s true that it is going to be hard; we will probably have a recession. But the important thing is that we have all the basic foodstuffs. We Nicaraguans are not quite 100 percent food self-sufficient. But we [in the Fundación Entre Mujeres] will do everything within our power to be as self-sufficient as we can so that the government does not need to give us aid and can give it to people who have greater needs than we have. We are taking a stance of dignity, being part of the solution.”[48]

That attitude, coupled with a commitment to agroecology and food sovereignty, is what has Monsanto/Bayer, Cargill, and their guardians at USAID worried.

This graphic by the Fundación Entre Mujeres (FEM) of northern Nicaragua shows the difference between market-based food systems and agroecology-based ones.

Rita Jill Clark-Gollub is a COHA Assistant Editor/Translator, based in Washington, DC

Erika Takeo is a member of the International Relations Secretariat of the Rural Workers Association (ATC) and Coordinator of the Friends of the ATC solidarity network and is based in Nicaragua

Avery Raimondo, from Friends of the ATC solidarity network, is based in Los Angeles, California

The following guest editors commented on this text:

Christina Schiavoni is an independent food sovereignty researcher and activist.

Magda Lanuza, a Nicaraguan who lives in El Salvador, holds a Master’s in International Sustainable Development from Brandeis University and has several years of experience working on social development and environmental protection in Central America.


End notes

[1] “World food agency chief: World could see famines of ‘biblical proportions’ within months,”

[2] “Latin America and Caribbean: Millions more could miss meals due to COVID-19 pandemic,”

[3] “2020 Global Nutrition Report,”

[4] “La contraseña de hambre en Latinoamérica: colgar un trapo rojo,” and

[5] “Reprimen manifestantes que exigían comida en medio de crisis por coronavirus,”

[6] “Coronavirus: Chile protesters clash with police over lockdown,”

[7] “En Guatemala y El Salvador piden comida con banderas blancas,”

[8] “Policy Brief: The impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition,”

[9] “The Solution to Food Insecurity is Food Sovereignty,”

[10] “Factory farms: A pandemic in the making,”

[11] “Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. But it can also be part of the solution. and “Lessons from the Green Revolution,”

[12] “Costlier Food Hits Latin America’s Poor and Adds to Unrest Risk,”

[13] La Vía Campesina, 2008, Food Sovereignty for Africa: A challenge at our fingertips, <> p.2

[14] “Hungry for land: small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland,”

[15] Website: Friends of the ATC, History,

[16] on20nicarag%C3%BCenses,Art%C3%ADculo%2064.

[17] Araujo and Godek, “Opportunities and Challenges for Food Sovereignty Policies in Latin America: The Case of Nicaragua,” in Rethinking Food Systems – Structural Challenges, New Strategies and the Law, (New York: Springer, 2014), 51-72.

[18] “Nicaragua’s human rights achievements over the last 10 years,”

[19] Araujo and Godek.

[20]CELAC website, Food and Nutrition Security Platform,

[21] “Revolución Sandinista restituye derechos a mujeres y los campesinos,”


[23] McCune, Nils (2016): “Family, territory, nation: post-neoliberal on agroecological scaling in Nicaragua,” available from:

[24] INATEC website:

[25] “How the Climate Crisis is Driving Central American Migration,”,%2C%20Costa%20Rica%2C%20and%20Panama.&text=It%20has%20to%20do%20with,circulation%20patterns%20near%20Central%20America.

[26] “Nicaraguan Dry Corridor Rural Family Sustainable Development Project,”

[27] “Revolución Sandinista restituye derechos a mujeres y los campesinos,”

[28] “Draft Nicaragua country strategic plan (2019-2023),”

[29] “To the people of Nicaragua and to the world, COVID-19 report, a singular strategy,” page 32,

[30] “Nicaragua Interim Country Strategic Plan,”

[31] “FAO Hunger Map 2015,”

[32] “US Agricultural Exports to Central America’s Northern Triangle Prosper Under CAFTA-DR,”’s%20top%20agricultural%20imports%20from,export%20destination%20for%20U.S.%20agriculture.

[33] “How Covid-19 is threatening Central America’s economic lifeline,”

[34] “Desempleo sube y llega a su mayor porcentaje en 10 años todavía sin reflejar los efectos de la covid-19,”

[35] “Desempleo y reducción de ingresos agobian a costarricenses durante la crisis del COVID-19,”

[36] “Sector agropecuario ha tenido crecimiento significativo en los últimos 12 años,”

[37] “Nicaragua expone plan nacional de producción 2020 a organisaciones no gubernamentales,”


[39] “Peasant Training Doesn’t Stop: IALA Ixim Ulew Now Online,”

[40] “CLOC-Vía Campesina Returning to the Countryside,”

[41] “Nicaragua Battles COVID-19 and a Disinformation Campaign,”

[42] “USAID, Monsanto, and the real reason behind Delhi’s horrific smoke season,”

[43] “Henry Kissinger’s Food Occupation of Iraq Continues to Destroy the Fertile Crescent,”

[44] “USAID and GM Food Aid,”

[45] “The Monsanto Effect: Poisoning Latin America,” and


[46] Kaufman, “US Regime-Change Funding Mechanisms,” in Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup? pp. 173-188,

[47] Zeese and McCune, “Correcting the record: what is really happening in Nicaragua?” in Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup? p. 182,

[48] “NicaNotes: Peasant Women Take Stance of Dignity in Face of Crisis,”


Feeding the people in times of Pandemic: The Food Sovereignty Approach in Nicaragua

June 22, 2020June 29, 2020 COHA

By Rita Jill Clark-Gollub (Washington), Erika Takeo (Managua), and Avery Raimondo (Los Angeles) “A nation that cannot feed itself is


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