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such as this pandemic is that by the time the entry is made onto the website the data it presents soon becomes out-of-date.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:  https://www.sica.int/coronavirus 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: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/panama/

(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.”

Pandemic to bring about a change of development model in Central America?

By Martin Mowforth

Key words: neoliberal economic development; system shock; export model of growth; de-growth.

In a 2nd May article published in El Salvador’s daily newpaper La Prensa Gráfica, Ernesto Mejía reported on a speech made by Seynabou Sakho, Director for Central America within the World Bank in which he asserted that the region would have to change its model of development when the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic has subsided.

As examples of the kind of changes that would be needed, Mr Sakho cited the need to close the technology gap between Central America and the developed world, the need to give access to education and health services at a distance, and to give higher priority to spending on health and social protections for the most vulnerable sectors. He also cited the need for business to develop an economy based on much lower carbon emissions.

“This crisis has the potential to affect access to education, nutrition and health for many people. We shall have to invest more in human capital and ensure that people are protected,” stated Sakho. He also spoke of the need to postpone for at least six months the debt repayments to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund of the two most indebted countries, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Whilst recommendations to focus more on health, education and social protections are laudable as aims, his speech did not sound like the fundamental switch of direction that is required if development policy is to genuinely benefit the vast majority of people in the region. Instead of bolstering big business and continuing with the export model of development, the World Bank and IMF should be refusing to invest in fossil fuel exploration and exploitation, and refusing to support an industrial model of agriculture which uses the best land in the region to grow crops destined for Europe and North America. They should stop their promotion of privatisation of public services and natural resources and should urge the governments of the region to legislate for stringent regulation to ensure that the production of all goods does not harm humans or their environments or communities.

A crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for the bosses of capital. The neoliberal model of economic development – capitalism on steroids – is failing all around us, and its failings have been shown most clearly by the capitalist system’s inability to cope with such a shock. The frailty of a system which divorces people’s means of consumption from their means of production has become exposed. If capitalism recovers from this shock, it will only be until the next shock exposes again its unsustainability. It cannot continue to recover indefinitely. A new model based on de-growth, the marriage of local production and consumption, and the valuation of human and environmental wellbeing rather than financial accumulation, is urgently needed if humanity is going to advance into the 22nd century with a planet in reasonably productive and healthy shape.

Honduras During The COVID19 Pandemic: Why We Shouldn’t Go Back to ‘Normal’

By Karen Spring

May 12, 2020

Karen Spring is the Honduras-based Coordinator for the Honduras Solidarity Network (HSN). We are grateful to Karen for permission to reproduce the article here. The article appeared in ‘Popular Resistance’ and was produced with the help of ‘Task Force on the Americas’. Karen blogs at aquiabajo.com. The HSN can be found on Facebook: Honduras Solidarity, and Twitter: @hondurassol.

Key words: Capitalism; COVID-19; Garifuna; OFRANEH; Honduras; Deportations of Hondurans.

Honduras During The COVID19 Pandemic2020-05-122020-05-12https://popularresistance-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2017/12/popres-shorter.pngPopularResistance.Orghttps://popularresistance-uploads.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2020/05/honduras-e1589310702293.jpg200px200px

On May 5, a group of Afro-indigenous Garifuna men stood guard at the entrance of La Travesía community in the department of Cortés in northern Honduras. The men were fumigating vehicles, documenting the traffic transiting through their community, and implementing other bio-security measures as part of community-led prevention efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.

In the afternoon, a police vehicle arrived and stopped at the check point. The Garifuna men were told they had to disperse and could not put up a check-point, which according to the police is illegal. When the local residents insisted on maintaining it, the police threatened to return with a military convoy and to launch tear gas to break it up. The community refused to budge.

The measures at community access points are just one of many strategies that local Honduran communities are using to protect themselves. According to Miriam Miranda, the General Coordinator for the Black Fraternal Organisation of Honduras (OFRANEH) who spoke on a May 6 webinar organised by the Honduras Solidarity Network, “We initiated the creation of COVID-19 attention centres in the communities. We activated networks that have historically operated in the communities. One of the fundamental aspects is that we decided that it was urgent and necessary to create solidarity networks to protect our elders, not just because of their physical vulnerability but because they are the repositories of Garifuna culture and knowledge.”

Miranda also explained how Garifuna leaders in over 26 communities are offering workshops on medicinal plants that can be used to strengthen the immune system and organising community food distribution projects.

Community-led efforts are inspiring for many but they are also a sign of citizen mistrust of governmental COVID-19 management and mitigation efforts led by President Juan Orlando Hernández and Honduran state security forces. From the time that a few cases of coronavirus were reported in Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernández imposed an absolute nation-wide curfew and partially suspended constitutional rights including freedom of expression. Military and police set up check-points all around the country to enforce the curfew.

In response, all around the country, many began to protest insisting that they could not afford to lockdown. Large protests organised by hungry and poor Hondurans who cannot work or have been fired from their jobs, are broken up with tear gas and live bullets fired by state security forces. Thousands of people have been arrested.

An already difficult political, human rights and economic situation in Honduras is being exacerbated by the pandemic. The crisis that led to the exodus of Hondurans to the southern U.S. Border lay bare in 2019 the level of the poverty, desperation, and political crisis unfolding in the country over 10 years since the 2009 U.S.-backed coup d’état. Like in many places around the world, the pandemic is only worsening an already terrible and desperate situation. At the time of writing, the Honduran government has reported 1,685 COVID-19 cases and 105 deaths and the numbers continue to grow.

In alleged efforts to minimize the impact of the pandemic, the Honduran Congress approved over $888 million including loans from international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Despite these efforts, Hondurans are convinced that the government has no intention of equipping the public hospitals or helping those in dire need citing the ‘corruption pandemic’ that has totally depleted public institutions, particularly the healthcare system, for years.

Sure enough, it did not take long for the first scandal to erupt. On April 27, the Anti-Corruption Council (CNA) published a report outlining the most recent COVID-19 corruption scandal involving four companies – three Honduran and one based in the United States – that were contracted by the Honduran government to provide coronavirus bio-security equipment to hospitals. According to the report, the contracts overvalued the purchases of N95 and disposable surgical masks by $2.3 million and all four companies are linked directly to family members of the National Party, the current party in power.

A few days after the CNA report, another scandal hit the Honduran media calling into question, yet again, the legitimacy of the government.  On April 30, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Southern District Court of New York indicted the former head of the U.S. funded and trained Honduran National Police, Juan Carlos ‘El Tigre’ Bonilla Valladares on drug trafficking charges. The indictment directly takes aim at President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) and his brother, Tony Hernández, the latter awaiting sentencing in a New York prison for large-scale drug trafficking.

The indictment reads: “… on behalf of convicted former Honduran congressman Tony Hernández and his brother the president, Bonilla Valladares oversaw the transshipment of multi-ton loads of cocaine bound for the U.S., used machine guns and other weaponry to accomplish that, and participated in extreme violence, including the murder of a rival trafficker, to further the conspiracy.”

Despite the serious charges against Bonilla, the mention of JOH in the indictment sparked new hope in Honduras that the head of the ‘narco-military dictatorship’ would one day be charged. However, many in Honduras remain confused about how the clear accusations in the DOJ statement strongly contradict the U.S. government’s consistent support for JOH’s government. This includes President Donald Trump’s recent mention of “the President of the Republic of Honduras is a really nice guy” in a press conference in the Oval Office less than a week before the DOJ indictment of Bonilla Valladares was made public.

It seems that President Juan Orlando Hernández has mastered how to remain in the good graces of President Trump by promoting policies of specific interest to Trump. On March 13, two days before the COVID-19 lockdown was implemented, the Honduran government published and therefore, activated the Honduras- U.S. ‘safe third country’ agreement. The agreement is one of Trump’s racist immigration policies that forces asylum seekers in the U.S. to be sent to Honduras and other Central American countries to allegedly seek protection there.

In the midst of a global pandemic, the timing of the agreement’s activation may increase the number of deportations to Honduras. Despite widespread reports of COVID-19 cases in U.S. migrant detention centres, deportations to Central America have not stopped. According to a report recently published by the Centre for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR), the U.S. sent 18 deportation flights to Honduras from March 15 (the day the coronavirus lockdown was imposed in Honduras) to April 24.

At least one case of a Honduran woman recently deported from the U.S. suspected of having COVID-19 has been reported by the local press. Upon arriving to Honduras, the woman was arrested in relation to a pending charge, sent to prison in western Copán, and then a few days later, taken to the emergency wing of one of the largest public hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms. To date, there have been no reports of COVID-19 cases in the prison where the woman was held, but her brief, unprotected presence may lead to cases reported in the future.

There are still several weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic crises to unfold in Honduras, particularly since the virus infection rate has not yet peaked. Despite over ten years of active resistance and subsequent repression, Hondurans continue to organise locally, regionally, and nationally to protest the causes of the crises and put forward solutions.

Like in La Travesía, and other Garifuna communities along the coast, Hondurans from all parts of the country are finding ways to protect themselves and gathering together, like in Tegucigalpa, to organise food distribution networks to support the families most in need. These efforts are ways that Hondurans hope to avoid returning to ‘normal’ which according to Miriam Miranda, “would be irresponsible.”

“The pandemic really calls upon us to reflect about how the current ferocious, murderous, capitalist system that kills our environment and natural resources does not work for humanity” says Miranda, “we should not go back to the same as before.”

 

Updates on COVID-19 in Central America

Added: 23.06.20

By Martin Mowforth

By most accounts the most reliable statistics on the incidence of COVID-19 in the America is the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO). Any statistics given here will rapidly become out-of-date as the situation changes, but we start this brief update with PAHO’s 22nd June (2020) statistics on COVID-19 in Central America.

Source: https://www.paho.org/en/topics/coronavirus-infections/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-pandemic  (as at 22nd June 2020)

 

It is also worth noting that few if any governments have reliable statistics about COVID-19 deaths and new cases, in part due to the definitions of causes of death, in part due to the confusion of causes for those already suffering health problems, in part due to the lag time in reporting of cases, and in part due to governmental tendencies to downplay data that may be seen as bad for the image.

Panamá certainly has suffered more than the rest of Central America. The country is now beginning to ease restrictions on economic activity (through six phases) despite the fact that the daily new cases continues to increase. The opening of the economy, however, is justified by the authorities by the fall in the death rate and increase in the recovery rate.

The current urgent cause for concern in the region is Honduras. Despite the fact that the week from 13th to 20th June saw a steady decline in the daily number of deaths, a headline in El Economista suggested that the Honduran capital city Tegucigalpa is set to become the next epicentre of Covid-19 in Central America due to a sudden rapid increase in cases there. Doctors were expressing alarm about the increase in cases and called for urgent government action to increase testing capacity. They also suggested that all those with the virus should be hospitalised but at the same time described the hospitals as being in a state of collapse and the population doing all they could to avoid going to hospitals. The Honduran authorities temporarily closed at least six popular markets to improve biosecurity measures.

Also beginning a slow opening of the economy is El Salvador; but here too there are warnings of hospitals under severe pressure and morgues which have ceased operating or have ‘collapsed’ under the number of corpses. On 19th June doctors in the General Hospital of the Salvadoran Institute of Social Security briefly went on strike to denounce the lack of a care plan for emergencies. La Prensa Gráfica included photos of patients with tanks of oxygen in beds in corridors and “almost in the car park”. As in other countries, the official death toll has been disputed by doctors and government critics and is believed by some to be much higher than the official Ministry of Health figures.

Nicaragua is the only country in the region not to have ordered a full lockdown of its population, and for this it has become a target for attack by its opponents both inside and outside the country. The polarization between the government and its supporters on the one hand and the opposition on the other is almost as extreme as it was in the ‘coup’ or ‘uprising’ of the three months from April 2018; and it is just as difficult to be sure about which version of events approaches anything like the truth as it was during the 2018 troubles, as described by ENCA in articles in ENCA 74 (November 2018) and ENCA 75 (April 2019). Much of the argument revolves around the numbers of deaths which the opposition claims to be censored by the government. In its turn the opposition has produced figures almost twenty times the government data. Government supporters have debunked many of the deaths on the opposition’s lists, but there remains widespread doubt about the government figures too. One of the more measured articles to address this argument that has appeared recently is that of Quitzé Valuenzuela-Stookey in the NACLA online updates (North American Congress on Latin America) – see sources below for reference. It is important to bear in mind that Nicaragua’s approach to its public health service is rather different from that of the region’s other countries. It is geared strongly towards alleviating the other pandemics of poverty and malnutrition, and as such its strategy takes the medics to the communities and the households rather than or as well as providing centralised treatment to which people must travel. In the case of Covid-19 such a strategy may be misguided, but it seems unlikely to be any worse than the badly coordinated, unprepared, bungling strategies pursued by many western capitalist countries.

Costa Rica has temporarily suspended the third phase of its re-opening of the economy due to an unexpected spike of 119 new cases on 19th June. This was the country’s highest number of daily registered new cases since the pandemic began. The third phase allowed for the opening of churches, museums and other organisational meetings up to a maximum of 75 persons with a distance of 1.8 meters between them. The Minister of Health, Daniel Salas, also suspended the Costa Rica football cup final until further notice even though it was to be played without crowd participation.

At the best of times, Guatemala has a 60 per cent poverty rate and suffers high levels of malnutrition. These are the worst of times and many people stand out on the street waving white flags, not as a mark of surrender, but as a sign that they have no food and are hungry.

Belize has closed most of its ports of entry apart from its one international airport and the Santa Elena terrestrial border crossing. Foreign nationals cannot enter the country, although the restrictions on Belizeans travelling between municipalities have now been eased. The curfew between 8 pm and 5 am remains in force. Hotels remain open but are not allowed to take international bookings.


Sources:

https://www.paho.org/en/topics/coronavirus-infections/coronavirus-disease-covid-19-pandemic

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/panama/

Quitzé Valenzuela-Stookey, 17 June 2020 ‘Deciphering Nicaragua’s Tepid Covid Response’, North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA) updates.

Sofía Menchú, Nelson Rentería, 21 May 2020 ‘As hunger spreads under lockdown, Guatemalans and Salvadorans raise white flag’, Reuters.

La Prensa Gráfica, 19 June 2020 ‘Costa Rica suspende tercera fase de apertura por récord de casos diarios de coronavirus’.

Nan McCurdy, 15 June 2020 ‘US-Led Nicaraguan Opposition Inflates COVID-19 Death Lists’, Popular Resistance.

Evelyn Machuca, 20 June 2020 ‘”Tenemos pacientes encamados en las calles”: médicos ISSS hacen huelga por falta de insumos’, La Prensa Gráfica.

Mirna Velásquez, 21 June 2020 ‘Hospitales desbordados por pacientes de covid-19 en El Salvador’, La Prensa Gráfica.

El Economista, 19 June 2020 ‘Tegucigalpa puede ser el próximo epicentro de la covid-19 en Centroamérica’.

Mirna Velásquez, 22 June 2020, ‘Reportan arriba de 300 fallecidos entre casos positivos y sospechosos en El Salvador’,  La Prensa Gráfica.

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):

https://www.coha.org/feeding-the-people-in-times-of-pandemic-the-food-sovereignty-approach-in-nicaragua/

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,” https://www.cbsnews.com/news/coronavirus-famines-united-nations-warning/

[2] “Latin America and Caribbean: Millions more could miss meals due to COVID-19 pandemic,” https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/05/1065032

[3] “2020 Global Nutrition Report,” https://globalnutritionreport.org/

[4] “La contraseña de hambre en Latinoamérica: colgar un trapo rojo,” https://www.lavozdeasturias.es/noticia/actualidad/2020/04/27/contrasena-hambre-colgar-trapo-rojo/0003_202004G27P17991.htm and

https://www.jornada.com.mx/ultimas/mundo/2020/05/21/en-guatemala-y-el-salvador-piden-comida-con-banderas-blancas-1720.html

[5] “Reprimen manifestantes que exigían comida en medio de crisis por coronavirus,” https://notibomba.com/honduras-reprimen-manifestantes-que-exigian-comida-en-medio-de-crisis-por-coronavirus/

[6] “Coronavirus: Chile protesters clash with police over lockdown,” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-52717402

[7] “En Guatemala y El Salvador piden comida con banderas blancas,” https://www.jornada.com.mx/ultimas/mundo/2020/05/21/en-guatemala-y-el-salvador-piden-comida-con-banderas-blancas-1720.html

[8] “Policy Brief: The impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition,” https://www.un.org/sites/un2.un.org/files/sg_policy_brief_on_covid_impact_on_food_security.pdf

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

https://viacampesina.org/en/the-solution-to-food-insecurity-is-food-sovereignty/

[10] “Factory farms: A pandemic in the making,” https://uspirg.org/blogs/blog/usp/factory-farms-pandemic-making

[11] “Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. But it can also be part of the solution. https://investigatemidwest.org/2019/09/27/agriculture-is-one-of-the-biggest-contributors-to-climate-change-but-it-can-also-be-a-part-of-the-solution/ and “Lessons from the Green Revolution,” https://nature.berkeley.edu/srr/Alliance/lessons_from_the_green_revolutio.htm

[12] “Costlier Food Hits Latin America’s Poor and Adds to Unrest Risk,” https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-08/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, <http://viacampesina.net/downloads/PDF/Brochura_em_INGLES.pdf> p.2

[14] “Hungry for land: small farmers feed the world with less than a quarter of all farmland,” https://www.grain.org/article/entries/4929-hungry-for-land-small-farmers-feed-the-world-with-less-than-a-quarter-of-all-farmland

[15] Website: Friends of the ATC, History, https://friendsatc.org/history/

[16]https://nicaragua.justia.com/nacionales/constitucion-politica-de-nicaragua/titulo-iv/capitulo-iii/#:~:text=Es%20derecho%20de%20los%on 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,” http://www.tortillaconsal.com/tortilla/node/6571

[19] Araujo and Godek.

[20]CELAC website, Food and Nutrition Security Platform, https://plataformacelac.org/en/pais/nic

[21] “Revolución Sandinista restituye derechos a mujeres y los campesinos,” http://www.tortillaconsal.com/tortilla/node/7702

[22]“Testimonies,” https://friendsatc.org/about/resources/testimonies/

[23] McCune, Nils (2016): “Family, territory, nation: post-neoliberal on agroecological scaling in Nicaragua,” available from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314022520_Family_territory_nation_post-neoliberal_agroecological_scaling_in_Nicaragua

[24] INATEC website: https://www.tecnacional.edu.ni/educacion-tecnica/

[25] “How the Climate Crisis is Driving Central American Migration,” https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/how-climate-crisis-driving-central-american-migration#:~:text=The%20Dry%20Corridor%20is%20an,%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,” https://www.ifad.org/en/web/operations/project/id/2000001242

[27] “Revolución Sandinista restituye derechos a mujeres y los campesinos,”  http://www.tortillaconsal.com/tortilla/node/7702

[28] “Draft Nicaragua country strategic plan (2019-2023),” https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000100987/download/

[29] “To the people of Nicaragua and to the world, COVID-19 report, a singular strategy,” page 32,  http://www.tortillaconsal.com/white_book_sars-cov-2_26-5-2020.pdf

[30] “Nicaragua Interim Country Strategic Plan,” https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000020983/download/

[31] “FAO Hunger Map 2015,” http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4674e.pdf

[32] “US Agricultural Exports to Central America’s Northern Triangle Prosper Under CAFTA-DR,” https://www.fas.usda.gov/data/us-agricultural-exports-central-america-s-northern-triangle-prosper-under-cafta-dr#:~:text=Guatemala’s%20top%20agricultural%20imports%20from,export%20destination%20for%20U.S.%20agriculture.

[33] “How Covid-19 is threatening Central America’s economic lifeline,” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-52550389

[34] “Desempleo sube y llega a su mayor porcentaje en 10 años todavía sin reflejar los efectos de la covid-19,” https://www.nacion.com/economia/indicadores/desempleo-sube-a-su-maximo-valor-en-10-anos/N5FIK7DHLVBJJGQIW67BANJIWQ/story/

[35] “Desempleo y reducción de ingresos agobian a costarricenses durante la crisis del COVID-19,” https://www.ucr.ac.cr/noticias/2020/04/28/desempleo-y-reduccion-de-ingresos-agobian-a-costarricenses-durante-la-crisis-del-covid-19.html

[36] “Sector agropecuario ha tenido crecimiento significativo en los últimos 12 años,” https://www.el19digital.com/articulos/ver/titulo:87126-sector-agropecuario-ha-tenido-un-crecimiento-significativo-en-los-ultimos-12-anos

[37] “Nicaragua expone plan nacional de producción 2020 a organisaciones no gubernamentales,”  https://barricada.com.ni/nicaragua-expone-plan-nacional-de-produccion-2020-a-organisaciones-no-gubernamentales/?fbclid=IwAR0YlfvREfaBeYC-_8YQxXFAJNeCdUQIWAWni6JVouDJF-0XJXIDtSETBmI

[38] https://viacampesina.org/en/what-are-we-fighting-for/biodiversity-and-genetic-resources/

[39] “Peasant Training Doesn’t Stop: IALA Ixim Ulew Now Online,” https://friendsatc.org/blog/peasant-training-doesnt-stop-iala-ixim-ulew-now-online/

[40] “CLOC-Vía Campesina Returning to the Countryside,” https://viacampesina.org/en/cloc-via-campesina-returning-to-the-countryside/

[41] “Nicaragua Battles COVID-19 and a Disinformation Campaign,” http://www.coha.org/nicaragua-battles-covid-19-and-a-disinformation-campaign/

[42] “USAID, Monsanto, and the real reason behind Delhi’s horrific smoke season,”  https://www.ecologise.in/2018/10/20/the-real-reason-for-delhis-annual-smoke-season/

[43] “Henry Kissinger’s Food Occupation of Iraq Continues to Destroy the Fertile Crescent,”  https://mintpressnews.ru/kissingers-occupation-iraq-destroys-agriculture/226407/

[44] “USAID and GM Food Aid,” https://www.iatp.org/sites/default/files/USAID_and_GM_Food_Aid.htm

[45] “The Monsanto Effect: Poisoning Latin America,” https://earth.org/the-monsanto-effect-poisoning-latin-america/ and

Website: https://en.centralamericadata.com/en/search?q1=content_en_le:%22Monsanto%22

[46] Kaufman, “US Regime-Change Funding Mechanisms,” in Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup? pp. 173-188, https://secureservercdn.net/198.71.233.161/jwp.e46.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/live_from_nicaragua_june_2019.pdf.

[47] Zeese and McCune, “Correcting the record: what is really happening in Nicaragua?” in Live from Nicaragua: Uprising or Coup? p. 182, https://secureservercdn.net/198.71.233.161/jwp.e46.myftpupload.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/live_from_nicaragua_june_2019.pdf

[48] “NicaNotes: Peasant Women Take Stance of Dignity in Face of Crisis,” https://afgj.org/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

 

About COHA

COHA’s mission actively promotes the common interests of the hemisphere, raises the visibility of regional affairs and increases the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit independent research and information organisation.

You can contact us by email:

Council on Hemispheric Affairs, COHA
P.O. Box 42730
Washington DC, 20015

 

Copyright © 2020 COHA. All rights reserved.

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 https://www.globalgnd.org/sign-up/

 

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

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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.

Dangers confronting the region

We are still working to upload all the additional material and content to support ‘the Violence of Development’ book. Please check back later, or contact us if you would like to know when the content for this chapter has been uploaded.

The Dependency School of Thought

The Dependency School of thought had some influence and bearing upon the rise of liberation movements in Central America during the 1960s and 1970s, although the sheer brutality of the dictatorships and militaries which ruled was also a major factor in their emergence. In the context of the global cold war between capitalism and communism, the liberation movements represented a threat to US hegemony in the western hemisphere and had to be put down. Along came US President Ronald Reagan who gave free rein to his dogs of war to do just that, but it would be wrong to credit Reagan with only the butchery that went on in Central America. The Reagan-Thatcher axis was a prime mover in the extraordinary influence of the Washington Consensus in the globalising spread of capitalist relations of production and consumption under what is known as neoliberal economic development. This spread increased in speed through the 1980s and 1990s, and after the fall of communism and the end of the cold war at the beginning of the 1990s, neoliberalism had a honeymoon period in which to dominate Third World nations such as those in Central America without fear of the influence of a competing ideology.

The last decade of the twentieth century witnessed an industrialisation of production that had always failed to happen under the efforts of Central Americans, possibly because the capitalist metropolitan core (Europe and North America) had sufficient control over the capitalist relations of production to keep Central America as a source of primary products, raw materials and cheap labour. The industrialisation that did occur, however, was the result of the globalisation of the production of processed and fabricated goods and still, therefore, deprived Central American people and governments of any degree of control over the production of these goods. This globalised production involved the installation of maquilas, often referred to as sweatshops where pay is worse than poor and work conditions are often appalling. It was not the kind of industrialisation process envisaged by the dependentistas, and it failed to stimulate local production of the raw materials required by the processing. Instead, the raw material for the process was imported (without import tariffs), the material was processed and then exported to some other maquila, probably in another part of the world, for further processing. .

The maquilas needed a plentiful supply of cheap and largely unskilled labour. At the same time the plantations of primary agricultural goods needed more land for expansion and new crops such as the biofuels. The latter displaced many rural inhabitants from their land and means of survival, but supplied the former with their cheap labour after they had been moved from the rural areas.

The maquila industrialisation of production was accompanied by the supermarketisation of consumption, another facet of globalisation.

Selected quotes

Juan Almendares:

“I came to the understanding that the essence of capitalism is anti-human and racist, … and that we can’t be indifferent nor neutral but have to take a position against injustice, war and the violation of human rights.”[1]

Juan Almendares:

“but I can’t keep silent before the crimes and lies of the military geopolitics of international financial capitalism, articulated with the oligarchic power and the ideology of neoliberalism. In essence, I am anti-imperialist.”[2]

Rodrigo Carazo (1989) Tiempo y Marcha, San José, Universidad Estatal a Distancia.
His observations about TNCs after 2 years as Executive Director of Recope, the Costa Rican Petrol Company (1963 – 1965) whose parent company was the US based Texas Petroleum (and later during this time bought by Allied Chemical), and the way they operate. He described himself as a “high status errand boy”.

“De la experiencia con Recope derivé enseñanzas de gran importancia para mí. Lo mismo sucedió con mis tareas de asesor internacional de Allied Chemical. A pesar de las buenas relaciones que mantenía con los representantes de sus socios mayoritarios, no podía menos que concluir que las empresas transnacionales no prestan importancia alguna a la suerte de los pueblos en cuyos países hacen sus negocios: tratan de cumplir estrictamente sus compromisos contractuales y legales, pero hasta allí llegan. La frialdad es total. Lo que manda es el ‘balance de situación’, la rentabilidad, la productividad, en fin, los negocios de la empresa. Si para que éstos sean mejores se requiere endurecer sus posiciones con sus funcionarios o trabajadores, esto no importa … los negocios privan y sus requerimientos son vinculantes. No hay consideración social, política o de relaciones humanas que pueda privar por sobre los intereses de la empresa.

Nada de esto es moralmente aceptable para el nacional de un país sede de inversión extranjera, salvo que asuma la actitud – tan generalizada y común – de ser “más papista que el Papa”, de olvidarse del país y de su pueblo y entregarse en cuerpo y alma a la empresa extranjera.”[3]

Rodrigo Carazo (p.121-2), from his experience as Executive Director of Recope at the time when the parent company Texas Petroleum was taken over by Allied Chemicals (1963 – 1965), suggests that “the transnational companies take their decisions by comparing the benefits which various countries offer them and they choose those which can give them the most” (p. 121). From this it’s easy to conclude that “the investments are motivated exclusively by what the businessmen of short-term vision call ‘productivity’ and ‘successful enterprise’ and, in one word, ‘development’.” (p.121)

“Las empresas buscan, por lo general, beneficios especiales a cambio de la inversión. A la postre, si tienen éxito llevan estos beneficios a los socios extranjeros y tratan de poner a los países pobres en competencia entre ellos para que les dan más. Hemos vivido lo anterior, entre 1982 y 1988 con características de tragedia, en el caso de los inversiones bananeras, que han logrado disminuir casi a cero los impuestos de exportación a base de decir, en cada país, que esos impuestos nacionales ponen a la respectiva nación que los establece “fuera de competencia en el mercado mundial”. [4] Cuando Figueres. El 11 de octubre de 1973, decide nacionalizar Recope, sentí una gran satisfacción como costarricense.”

Dennis Rodgers:

talks of “a new growth model led by narco-trafficking and Free Trade Zones.”[5]

Stephen Corry:

“No open-minded student of history could possibly conclude that the passing of time leads inevitably to an improvement over what has gone before, yet that is the belief which underpins, at least in part, the assertion that industrial society is more advanced than others.”[6]

 “Why, for example, should a mineral resource under tribal land not be exploited to help the majority? In reality, those who benefit most are not the needy and the poor, but the directors and shareholders of multinational corporations, development banks and senior government officials. Such arguments are little different from those used to support colonialism, communism or fascism: one group takes what belongs to another, with the excuse that they need, or deserve, it more.”[7]


[1]   Juan Almendares (2010) ‘Letter to Mother Earth and Humanity of the Planet’, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, April.
[2]   Ibid.
[3]   Rodrigo Carazo (1989) Tiempo y Marcha, San José, Universidad Estatal a Distancia, p. 121.
[4]   Ibid.
[5]   Dennis Rodgers (January-February 2008) ‘A Symptom Called Managua’, New Left Review, 49, London.
[6]   Stephen Corry (2011) Tribal Peoples: for tomorrow’s world, Alcester, UK: Freeman Press, p. 33.
[7]   Ibid. p.295

Chapter 11: Whither Development?

That the current level of violence (illustrated particularly in Chapter 9) is so high even twenty years after the end of the region’s wars reflects the same prevailing power structure which reigned during the wars of the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s. That same power structure still reigns largely thanks to the influence of the US, the international financial institutions and the traditional Central American oligarchies which all combine to promote neoliberal economic development rules that favour western TNCs and national elites over local communities and environments.

The violence may range from a bureaucratic refusal to recognise a valid claim to land ownership, the denial of the results of a consultation exercise by indigenous groups, denial of the right to form a union, the use of tear gas by security forces against a peaceful demonstration, unlawful imprisonment of non-violent protestors, threats against personal and family well-being, death threats, assassinations, massacres and the use of terror against whole communities. As the preceding chapters have shown, the inclusion of those last items in the list is not an exaggeration of the levels of violence. Death threats, assassinations and terror are precisely the tactics used to ensure the ‘success’ of development projects.