María Consuelo Sánchez

Interviewees: María Consuelo Sánchez, Director of the Asociación Quincho Barrilete
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth, Karis McLaughlin, Alice Klein, June Mowforth, Ken Martin, Sue Martin
Location: Managua, Nicaragua
Date: 6th July 2009
Theme: Violence and abuse against children; family breakdown; The Quincho Barrilete programmes.
Keywords: TBC


María Consuelo Sánchez (MS): When there’s a holiday the kids also think they have a holiday from the Centre. So they don’t come in, or very few of them come in. But it’s OK … XXXX … The important thing is that they always treat the Centre of Attention as an alternative to their problems. Normally there are 60 – 80 kids with us each day, one session in the morning and one in the afternoon; and the rest of them are in their communities, because the Association attends to an average of 200 children annually. Some finish the process of care; others don’t. But we get an average of 200 – 210 annually. The kind of attention which Quincho gives includes those children who are interned with us for very short periods whose lives are at risk. The person who rapes them or abuses them is within their family, and this includes the period whilst the abuser is being processed by the police until they go to jail. The other kind of attention is for those who come and go on a daily basis, from Mondays to Fridays, and who live in the communities.

Interview Team (IT): These latter still live with their families?

MS: Yes, one characteristic of these children who we look after is that almost all of them have a family, and our studies reflect the fact that the families do not know how to educate them in any way, don’t know how to look after them, and live in poverty, with violence, lack work and opportunities, and suffer social exclusion. So the child leaves the family, and then they go through a stage of rebellion, and the family kicks the child out. Then this pushes them into drug abuse, alcohol abuse and into being victims of sexual exploitation, and on top of all this the problem we get is sexual violence. So, it is the abuser in the house, the stepfather, or the uncle or the neighbour who carries out the rapes. So all these circumstances are what push the children into this situation.

IT: But who are most at risk? The ones who live with you in AQB’s centres?

MS:  Yes, for example those who have only just been raped stay with us. Police proceedings are very slow during that time, and so the children stay with us. It’s important that we work in parallel with the family, not just the boy or girl, because one of the problems which we always face is that the family is afraid to make the denunciation/accusation. For example, if it’s the partner of the mother of the girl who raped the child, then they’re afraid to make the denouncement because she knows that she’d then be left on her own and that she wouldn’t have any economic income – so rather than that, she chooses to learn to live with the rape. So things then return to normal for the mother.

IT: ….

MS: So, in our programme of family empowerment, for example, say we have to confront a neighbour in a community which says “it’s the child who offered herself, it’s the child who was guilty, she took advantage of the man who was alone and knew that he had work and money.” This is really difficult because it’s a struggle against a cultural problem in this country versus what we could say are the rights of the child. Then the boy or girl becomes depressed and stay away from school; then the parents put them to work because they aren’t studying. On top of this you have the problem of poverty where the mother has to go out to work leaving the kids uncared for. So this is a vicious circle; poverty is a vicious circle. And this country is very, very impoverished, and there is a lack of opportunities for work; and along with this problem you get a majority of parents with very low levels of education. Perhaps they have managed to get through primary school, which is six years, no more, and they can barely read and write, so what are they going to work in? Selling water, selling in the streets at the intersections. I always ask and say that a mother who arrives home after spending all day in the sun and having earned very little, on seeing their child, an adolescent rebel going through the normal stage of adolescence, then the mother goes … XXXX. And our studies tell us that these families are dysfunctional and hardly ever do you see the mother with the father of her children. In fact the mother is never with the father of her children. So normally what happens is that the mother seeks another partner or marriage and then has another child with the new partner, and then the same happens again. So she has three or four children all by different partners. Finally, when the children are bigger there comes the moment when the last partner … XXXX. So it’s very, very difficult.

IT: What proportion of the children who you deal with here at Quincho have been abused?

MS: Sexual abuse is about 30 per cent. I could give you some statistics here – there’s another big percentage who have been raped.

IT: How many have been raped?

MS: It’s a study which we did some time ago about the population of children when they enter the centre.

IT: The most at risk who stay here?

MS: Yes, we have three places which give attention with different phases of care at each. This is the place where originally the girls most at risk stayed. The girls who are being sexually exploited are in a house which we have by the side of Parque de su Jardín, by the Mercado Oriental. The Parque de su Jardín is a centre where we have around 70 boys and girls – already some have reached adulthood, and many take drugs. The profile I want to give you at the moment is that here we give literacy classes from the age of ten, 75% of them attend school – about 15% of the boys and 29% of the girls/young women don’t attend school – always it’s the women who have less education.

Here is the problem: 76% experience intra-family violence; 31% experience sexual violence; 58% spend much of their time on the street; 18% (almost 19%) are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation; 21.4% have been victims of commercial sexual exploitation; and 31% work on the streets, either selling or simply playing. Basically, the children who are not at school are on the streets.

IT: But is there also a certain proportion of children who are selling on the streets during the afternoon but who during the morning go to school?

MS: Yes, but we’re against that because this is what happens – for example, if the child goes to school in the morning and in the afternoon goes out to sell, when do they get down to any of their own studies/homework? This is like a family breakdown …. intra-family violence, how much physical violence and psychological violence do they suffer – as well as the sexual violence that we’ve already talked about? How much hassle, how much abuse, how many rapes, how many attempted rapes?

IT: And how are children referred to Quincho? By the police? By the Minsitry of the Family?

MS: Yes, we get them from the police, through the Ministry of the Family or through work that we do in the community. We sometimes identify some cases and take them, but we inform the Ministry of the Family. Everything is coordinated with the government.

IT: Do you not have any street educator teams working in the streets now?

MS: No, but remember that within our work the psychosocial team is permanently in the community? Why? Because our work is now as much with the family as with the child. So we make interventions in the family whilst the child is there in the house with the family.

IT: Do you have education programmes for the families in your centres or do your teams go to the houses?

MS: Both. We have both schooling for the parents who come here and family interventions which we make in the homes. Because if there is a situation of really bad violence or a lack of communication, it’s best to approach them in the family.

IT: Are your centres solely for the children? I expect that there are some cases where the women, the mothers, also need protection?

MS: Yes, but what we do is coordinate with other NGOs which look after the mothers.

Now, this is interesting because the girls almost always have worse problems than the boys. For example, in intra-family violence it’s almost equal – 33% and 34%; but in terms of physical violence, dishonest abuse, the girls are always on the receiving end more than the boys; psychological violence is equal; as regards sexual violence, 6.4% of the boys and 28% of girls; as regards rapes, 2.1% of boys and 15.7% of girls; attempted rapes are greater on the girls than the boys; and commercial sexual exploitation is equal. All sexual violence has increased a lot.

IT: Entrapment?

MS: Entrapment is a situation where the person lives in sexual exploitation and knows that they are living with it, in which case the process of recuperation is much slower, because, as in my case for example, I was the victim of sexual exploitation but I was clear that it provided me with money, an economic benefit. That gave me the power to go to a restaurant, to change my clothes and that type of thing. So it was an option for life which I had. And it’s more difficult to break that when you are clear that it’s a sexual activity which brings you money. I didn’t like it, but it paid and poverty presses you to do things like that. Here, on the other hand, I enjoy what I am doing.

But it’s difficult even now because already the link has been broken, including with the family.

IT: What do you mean by ‘dishonest’ abuse?

MS: Dishonest abuse is a proposition – it’s someone who proposes “I am going to have something with you and I am going to give you something …” But nothing happens; it’s punishable by law because in this case it involves minors. Now, for example, we have a serious problem with health because many of the children come to us under-nourished; 30.5% have psychosocial problems; 28.2% are depressed; sexually transmitted diseases have increased a lot in recent years. Nowadays we attend to many more children who are being sexually exploited, something like 60%.

Suicidal tendencies are about 9.4%. We have had children kill themselves because of the type of life that they lead. We get self-mutilation and attempted suicides. In terms of disabilities, we have some disabilities. We have a boy of 17 and a girl of 15 who had a baby and we pray that nothing is transmitted vertically to the child. But what we try to do here is assess the characteristics which the children have. We have had orphans, we have had child labourers, we’ve had victims of sexual exploitation, kids who have lived on the streets for seven years, kids who use drugs and alcohol, particularly the glue-sniffers, we’ve had depressives, psychosocial problems, paternal irresponsibility at an early age when fathers abandon the babies.

IT: Do you have a programme for mothers and babies or for those who are pregnant?

MS: Yes. We have the ‘Club of Pregnant Adolescents’ for when they enter the centre. That gives the guidelines for child rearing and, above all, how to accept the situation because many times they are such children that they don’t want to accept the fact of the pregnancy; but as abortion is penalised in Nicaragua, they have to have the baby – there’s no other option. They also learn to read and write, without going to school. And femininity, they’ve been a victim of physical and psychological violence from the father, made pregnant at an early age, perhaps when they are just 15, and perhaps the family are violent and the mother abandons them. Or perhaps they live with the father, hardly able to read and write.

IT: Is it a recent problem?

MS: I think it’s a problem for the whole country because the truth is that I consider that if the mother is not prepared for this the child will be a victim of these circumstances. Sadly the government does not provide preventive measures for pregnancy. The woman has to have a minimum of five children before they will operate. So the mother cannot decide to have just one or two. So this generates yet more poverty. At the same time, whatever type of contraceptive the woman wants has to be bought by her – it’s not supplied – so the woman gets pregnant and has a pile of kids. And as we were saying before, normally it’s not with the same partner. So, “I have 5 or 6 kids; I don’t have a house; I don’t have work; I have no opportunity; the government, the state gives me nothing; so I get poorer and poorer.”

IT: Do you promote the use of condoms?

MS: Yes. That’s one of our strongest tasks because more than anything it’s part of the prevention of STDs and HIV. It’s part of their education as well because we consider that, more than avoiding pregnancy, the power to be aware of what they have will be of use to them all their lives. It’s one of our really important roles, but it’s hard.


39.3% take drugs; the girls are more into alcohol than the boys because of their depressive state and all the trauma of violence that they suffer. ….

IT: Even in our country which is more developed, women use alcohol more.

MS: It’s the women who bear more social pressure because they don’t have a house, a husband, work and all that. The average age at which they start work is 12 for the boys and 14 for the girls.

IT: What’s the lowest age?

MS: 8 years old. And this brings consequences for malnourishment because on the street they don’t eat well. Being on the street is like an addiction – the stimulus of the street. But they also get HIV infection, physical, sexual and psychological violence. But they do get tired and worn out by being on the street.

Tremendous problems on the street. 51% of boys were outside the school system and 71% of girls after the average age of 13. For all these reasons they are outside the school system. Just imagine being a pregnant child out of the school system. 16% of the girls had left school because of being pregnant. And out of the total of 172 children surveyed, 73% had deserted school.

IT: Who did these studies?

MS: We do a profile of all the kids who enter our system.


MS: ABOUT VOLUNTEERS: They’re from a Spanish university and they commit to produce something, a document or some product. They’re doing a communications strategy with a view to being able to project the Association internationally, with the aim of generating more resources. For example we have a Japanese volunteer who helps us a lot in the handicrafts work – he’s lived with us for two years now. He says he likes Nicaragua better than Japan.

We have some agreements with, for example, PLANAGUA, a Canadian NGO. They sent a social worker and left with us a diagnostic report on the social work that we do. We always ask that they know they have a command of the language, because if they don’t and they come for less than two months then it is hopeless and we can do nothing. One thing that they can do for us is produce a diagnostic report, an evaluation. We are particularly interested in this because of the quality of the relationships that the children have with their families. With mothers for instance, 34% say it is good, 9 regular, 9 bad and 1 violent and very bad relationship and 16 say that they don’t live with their mother. With the father, 9 say it’s good, 14 regular, 11 bad, 1 violent and 16 don’t live with them. With siblings, things are much better, 65% say it’s good, 19 regular, 8 bad, and 3 violent – an increase. (In my case, my mother mistreated me, I mistreated my brother, and so it would be obvious that I would then mistreat my offspring.) And 15% live without siblings. …. With stepfathers 5% say it’s good, 3% regular and 10 bad. Probably there’s a lack of information here. Probably this reflects poor information because when some kids arrive, they are extremely closed and don’t want to talk. In the case of the stepmother, we never get good information. It seems that it’s always a bad relationship. In the case of grandfathers (21 of them), they do somewhat better than uncles and partners because they have their own partners. Cousins and nephews/nieces also do better than others, possibly because they aren’t part of the live-in family.


MS: I believe that this is one of the achievements that we have made because it has enabled us to take many decisions about our work. When Quincho Barrilete began, we had this idea about care that separated the boys from the girls. Each house/centre got its own money and gave its attention/care accordingly. Now we have a Quincho Barrilete much more integrated and I believe that this is one of the things which has helped us a lot, because in the end we are only one project.


MS: We have made a care programme, detailed in these supporting documents, which more or less show the route that the kids who enter follow. We register the child and carry out a diagnostic inspection of them and their family situation. It is this which yields the statistics which we have given you. After designing a care plan which includes the denouncement, the health care, special protection (the laws of the country allow for special protection), and psychosocial care for the strengthening and conscientisation of the family. Then we see a small advance – the idea is that the child follows a clear programme of need – only one for each child.

If I’m in the community, for example, and I detect that a particular child is referred to me by neighbours – maybe a neighbour tells me that there has been a certain situation, maybe sexual exploitation of an adolescent, maybe the mother has put the 13 year old to work in a dance salon – then, ….


MS: So after that detection, or after the study of that detection, and after all that we do with the family so that a child can enter our programme ….


IT: Who has access to these files?

MS: Only … XXXX …

IT: So they come from the Ministry to here?

MS: Only that.

After we have all the necessary information for their registration, then all that remains is to include the child. And that’s when we do the diagnostic of the child and their family. This includes a socioeconomic evaluation of the family, whether the child goes to school (because Quincho also supports the school). And if I see that the father or mother has some form of income, then we can support with other things, but not with uniform because we don’t want to take over the responsibility of the parents.


MS: So when we have all the background information collected, we send a psychosocial report to the Ministry which gives all the information and all the support that we have given along with a full picture of the family situation.

IT: The Ministry of the Family has social workers?

MS: Very few, and they’re very weak.


Berriz Sisters

Interviewees: Sisters Abdontxu Viar, Ana Lourdes, Paulina and Ana Noemi of the Berriz Sisters
Interviewers: Martin Mowforth, David Pickles, Amy Haworth Johns and Russell Hawe
Location: Centro Catequístico of El Viejo, Nicaragua.
Date: Saturday 7th March 2015 (10.15 am)
Theme: the issue of children left behind after parents migrate away from the area.
Keywords: migration; violence; gangs; sexual abuse.
Notes: The interview was held in Spanish, but MM translated for DP, AHJ and RH at times. The original Spanish is left here in the file.


Sister Abdontxu (SA): Sister Ana Lourdes is busy organising the El Viejo Youth Centre. Come along [to Ana Lourdes], because they want to talk a bit about the issue of migration.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Ana Lourdes, I was explaining to Abdontxu that one thing I should like to do is to conduct an interview about the problem of migration – specifically the problem that Sister Abdontxu has told me about before: that is, the problem of children left behind here without father, without mother, perhaps even without the grandma. So perhaps you can give us an explanation of this phenomenon, especially relating it to this area of El Viejo and the Cosigüina Peninsula?

David Pickles (DP): So just to clarify, the problem is emigration of parents leaving the country.

MM: That’s right, exactly. I thought when they first mentioned it to me about two years ago it was a real problem with immigration, actually it’s the other way, it’s emigration, and children left parentless.

SA: I was telling Lourdes this that I’ve already been chatting with you about earlier, right? The issue of migration in Nicaragua is very acute. The data we have is that for every ten families, seven of them have a family member out of the country. Yes, and in particular, quite recently, it’s the emigration of women that has been the problem. And very many women migrate especially to Spain, where they find work more easily, work which is appropriate for women than in other countries.

In many cases you know the situation of families in Nicaragua is that the woman is actually the mother and the father, because many households are headed by women, a significantly high proportion. And the males basically disappear off the scene a lot of the time so the woman has to do all the work, as the breadwinner and looking after all the children. And so, with the women emigrating, the kids are left without either mother or father. And very often the role of the mother is taken over, assumed by the grandma instead. So the grandparents put in much effort and dedicate themselves to the children, but it’s not the same having the grandma looking after you as having the mother – not only on the level of the love they give, which perhaps they do, but for providing all the necessary follow-up. The role of the grandma is a lot more difficult than the role of the mother.

And in the same way, they are left with an aunt because the grandma may die – the aunt also is not able to perform exactly the same role in terms of either love or understanding or closeness, as a mother can give. It’s the mother who best fulfils the role of the mother. It’s not quite the same.

[We are joined by Sister Paulina now.]

SA: At the same time as this, or perhaps as a consequence of it, what happens is the abandonment of the children. Every time where there’s no father, no mother, no grandma, it generates gangs of youths, the ‘pandillas’, here in the barrios. And that in turn gives rise to a greater aggression, greater violence, and greater threat on the streets.

Another effect which arises, as a consequence of this, is the abandonment of the schools as well. That’s another very important factor. And also the pandilleros put their money into drugs …. [Inaudible – a lot of noise.] …. Also, another problem that arises is that the mother sends money back, the majority from Spain, to the aunt or grandma or whoever’s been placed in charge of them. But often the children will tell the mother that they’re not given any money and that they should send it direct to them. So the mothers fall into the trap and send the money direct to the kids. Again that causes more conflict – a major conflict.

Do you know Neli? Neli worked with us in the field of health, in the pharmacy. Well she was left in charge of her nephews because her sister went to Spain. Well, what I was describing happened to her – the mother sent money to her. Now the boy is in jail – it’s already the third time that he’s been put away.

MM: And how old is he?

Sister Paulina (SP): He’s 16 or 17 years old.

SA: There are lots of cases like these, but I’m telling you about this one because I thought you might know Neli. She’s been very close to us, carrying out work with us for over 20 years. Her sister went to Spain and left her children with her.

MM: And the son of 16 years old, he’s …..?

Sister Ana Lourdes (SAL): With the money that his mother sent him, he bought drugs, alcohol.

SA: It’s a concrete case of what we were talking about. There are many like it.

SAL: And another problem is abandonment, and not having anybody close to them to give some sort of follow-up, there’s a lot of sexual abuse. Teenagers getting pregnant really early – at 14 or 15 years old.

SA: At the national level, many denunciations have been made about what we are talking about. In part it’s a consequence of the abandonment by the two parents. I can’t remember the data now, but it doesn’t come up much in the press, although it has increased – youths of 14 years old, young children pregnant.

SAL: Family committees have been created …..

End of tape 1  …        Interview 2

SAL: ……. so that when there was a family problem or a case of physical abuse, of the wife or within the family, they would go to the committees, so that they didn’t have to go to the courts, but instead to those committees.

MM: In all the barrios?

SAL: In the schools and in the communities.  And then, instead of going to the family court, they go to these committees. And yesterday in the press it was reported that the committees should recommend to the mothers that when they go to place a complaint of sexual abuse of the daughter, they should make it with the abuser present. But the girls of 14 years who were abused by a man of 30 or more years, instead of making the complaint that would result in prosecution, the committees suggest that they should marry the abuser.

Amy Haworth Johns (AHJ): Did they [the Sisters] set up the committees?

MM: And were you responsible for the creation of these committees?

MM: No, the government set these up.

 SAL: And there is a problem, and that is that some women’s movements are denouncing the committees. There is a law, Law 779, which protects women from abuse and from violence. But the problem is that instead of going through the courts and a judge, they take their cases to these committees. These are committees of the family, but the people on them are not trained. That’s a really big problem because at times they act as intermediaries advising them not to prosecute the cases – in other words, so that they don’t pursue the legal process of the denunciation.

So the problem of migration is very complex. It involves unemployment, abandonment, abuse, violence, gangs.

MM: So, a question please. You, the Sisters, run some programmes working with abandoned children, don’t you? Here in the Centre?

SAL: It’s a Jesuit project. It’s called the Jesuit Refugee Service.

MM: And it’s a programme designed by the Jesuits?

SAL: It’s global.

Sister Ana Noemi (SAN): It’s a network.

DP: What’s the main problem? The gangs or the problems of abuse within the family?

SA: Some of them join the gangs, and it’s a major problem when they join.

Sister Paulina (SP): Both the women and the men.

SA: All of them suffer as a result of abandonment, and some as a consequence of joining the gangs. But not all of them join the gangs.

SAL: In this area here, the problem of drugs is a relatively new problem. You know, 10 years ago this problem didn’t exist here. And it’s growing – a lot.

SA: One thing we have observed is that internationally there are many media reports and many organisations defending migrants, but very little is spoken about the consequences which are left here. So, here, that’s what we’re dealing with now.

And the Jesuits carried out a study on the level of migration from the country.

MM: In this country, in Nicaragua?

SAL: Yes, and the result was that Chinandega was the area that had most emigrants, after Managua. So here in Chinandega they opened an office, and we link with them to work as a network with them.

It was a study which they did in El Salvador, at the University of UCA. A study of the children, sons and daughters of emigrants, who are not building a life project [identity / ethic]; but instead ……. They’re not building their identity for the future, for their own life project. For example, they don’t feel as if they have an identity, say as Salvadorans, or as Nicaraguans. Because their mind, their future, has been put into the United States or Costa Rica or Spain or wherever they migrate to. And they might spend 8, 9 or 10 years thinking like that.

And the problem of the children of migrants and the adolescents is growing. So they go as well, and sometimes never come back. And their identity continues on standby, because they’re waiting for them to return or to return themselves. And so they’re in a stage where they aren’t a person, they have no identity, they don’t belong to anyone, nor to a family, because they’re waiting, maybe to get there themselves. And when they do get there they still can’t construct a life for themselves because they don’t belong to anything or anyone.

AHJ: It’s a lost generation.

MM: Yes, exactly.

SAL: Lost, completely.

AHJ: Vulnerable, the gangs?

SAL: Gangs, drugs – there is no sense of life. There’s a lot of suicide here.

AHJ: Everybody looking to try and belong.

MM: So, many thanks for your words. …… Many thanks indeed.

"Paulina (back to camera); Ana Noemi; Ana Lourdes; Abdontxu; (with Martin)."

“Paulina (back to camera); Ana Noemi; Ana Lourdes; Abdontxu; (with Martin).


Council of Women of the West of Nicaragua (CMO)

Interviewees: Council of Women of the West of Nicaragua (CMO)
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: the office of the CMO, Chinandega, Nicaragua
Date: Friday September 11th 2015
Theme: Drought in Nicaragua
Key Words:Nicaragua; drought; monocultivation; small-scale farmers



Contextual background of the interview with members of the CMO (Interview follows)

Taken from Nicaragua News (29 September 2015) under the heading ‘Continuing drought is punctuated by heavy rains and flooding’.

On September 28, government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo reported that 284 families had been affected by the heavy rains that fell over the weekend in the Departments of Madriz, Nueva Segovia, Matagalpa, and Managua. She said that in Managua, four houses were seriously damaged, six others were at risk of collapse and 280 others had been affected in some ways. On Sept. 25, three little girls drowned in a river that overflowed its banks and carried away the pickup truck in which they were riding. On Sept. 24, two people in Chinandega were killed by lightening during a fierce thunder storm which also caused storm sewers to overflow and houses to flood.

At the same time, concern grew about the regions of the country with insufficient rainfall, especially the area known as the Dry Corridor. Government spokeswoman Rosario Murillo said on Sept. 23 that the government in September had distributed more than 30,000 food packets to homes in the region and on Oct. 5 would begin another month’s distribution. Meanwhile, Minister of Industry and Commerce Orlando Solórzano said that the Ministry was considering importing several tons of corn to avoid scarcity and speculation given the loss of a part of the first harvest. He authorized the importation of onions and carrots to satisfy domestic consumption.

Fr. Uriel Vallejos, director of Caritas Nicaragua, asked the government to declare an emergency in the municipalities of the Dry Corridor. He said, “We’re not asking for it for the whole country because it’s a sector of Nicaragua that is suffering so much in this drought.” He added that the drought is affecting 10,000 families or 60,000 people. Vallejos stated that the food that the government is distributing does not reach everyone and he said that he is preparing a letter to President Daniel Ortega in which he notes that people in the drought zone are losing their harvests and having to sell all their animals in order to survive.

Alvaro Fiallos, president of the National Union of Farmers and Ranchers (UNAG), said that in the humid zone of the country farmers have planted for the second harvest of corn and beans but “where it hasn’t rained they haven’t planted for the second harvest and if it doesn’t rain they can’t plant.” Michael Healy of the Union of Agricultural Producers of Nicaragua (UPANIC) said that this week farmers would be meeting with the government to agree on what measures to take. He said that UPANIC was proposing projects in irrigation, water storage, reforestation and biotechnology. He noted that due to the drought harvests of sugar cane and peanuts, both export crops, were down by 20%.

(El Nuevo Diario, Sept. 24, 27, 28; Informe Pastrán, Sept. 23; La Prensa, Sept. 26)


Martin Mowforth (MM): So, a short interview with the members of the CMO, September (11) 2015 focussing specifically on the immediate effects of the drought which is hitting this zone [The departments of León and Chinandega.]. Can you give me your names first, please?

Marina Serrano (MS): Good day, my name is Marina Serrano Tercero. I am a member of the Council of Women of the West of Nicaragua. We would like to tell you that we thank you; in truth, you have been the first that is, to find out about the situation of the drought that we are going through here in the West.

Well, we sow during two periods in the West: that is the first and the latter. That is to say that the drought has affected us throughout, in all directions. Because with the livestock, without rain there is no pasture, true? It dries and we even have limits with the milk, the curd, which is the staple food. And the corn, the beans, we also can’t harvest, we lose them. We have already lost the first (harvest) and we had the hope that as we went through the latter we might find a bit of a solution. However, we are aggrieved because I think as we continue, we aren’t going to get a second (harvest). So, this is something quite worrying, right? This is what we ask, as much to the government as to fellow citizens, that in some way they are able to help us, right? To be able, at least, to support our children. Because they are the ones most affected, the children. And us, the women, right? Because it is, practically the drought which has left us drinking the dryness, as we say in Nicaragua.

 MM: Yes, Can you repeat something, the effect of monoculture, of monocultivation? Can you give me your name first, please?

 Maria Jose Urbina (MJU): Good day, my name is Maria Jose Urbina, I am from Leon, and in truth one of the consequences that we are living through nowadays is the drought which we have – its effects are really traumatic; with the large expanses which we have as a result of the growth of monoculture here in León and Chinandega; and the large amount that they are sowing. Why? Because many of the small producers don’t own land to be able to work. So it’s easier to rent the land, or sell. So in this way this has helped monoculture to expand. The same as the peanut – the peanut, in spite of the fact that it is a product, it is a product for export, it has always been one of the biggest monoculture crops that we have had. However, this is also seen to be affected by the change of the drought. And all of these monoculture products have made our soil more exhausted. In León they plough large Tolibañeras [areas?], depending on the weather, because we don’t have, the means of how to [her voice fades] to give proper maintenance to what is our environment and agriculture. One of the biggest problems of the drought is that we cannot produce or sow the first crop; now we are in the period of the next season. And right now we are at that period and we cannot sow because we have the drought; it isn’t raining enough. We’ve not been able to sow and what little rain rain has fallen well we haven’t been able to do anything, for small-scale production of the small producers. Also, one of the biggest problems of monoculture is the drought of water – excuse me – the water, the water table of León and Chinandega, [inaudible] have been seen to be affected. Why? Because to irrigate the sugar cane they use huge irrigation systems which has ramifications for the water table. And this makes our water table dry out; we have dry wells, we don’t have rivers, the rivers are dry. So this is one of the great effects that we experience.

The large producers and businesses are growing, the small and medium-sized producers are disappearing every day because of the lack of natural resources and finance which we don’t have for production.

MM: I thank you, a perfect explanation, many thanks.

 xxxxxxx (end of file 1) xxxxxxx

 A voice that’s not easy to hear well

 MM: Can you give me your name please?

Victoria Vidal de Suazo (VVS): My name is Victoria Vidal de Suazo, I belong to the CMO group, and I represent the cooperative within production, the theme of production. [The voice goes and is inaudible.]

Today the current problem is the drought that still affects us. With regard to its growth and value, the value of the shrimp, which is under much stress, is losing worth. I can tell you … [the voice goes and is inaudible.] and its growth falls. And no, it’s profitable, it is more costly. And this is a very hard cost.

Voice of another woman: And the harvest is also falling.

VVS: The harvest falls, it is a result of more risk [a lot of static noise – inaudible voice]. All of the parameters that it should have for us to get a product, but a product which is going to be satisfactory, I can say, for our business that we have …. [inaudible].

MM: Thank you, many thanks for everything.


Conversation in the office of PASE

Interviewees: PASE (Professionals for Social Accountability and Management)
Participants: Alberto José Legall López (director de PASE), Edilberta Gómez (Coordinadora de la Clínica Xochilt en la ciudad de El Viejo), Josephine Weinberg (La Isla Foundation), Martin Mowforth, Natalia Petrucci (Ciara) (intern)
Location: Chinandega, Nicaragua
Date: September 2016
Key Words: chronic kidney disease of non-traditional sources (CKDnT); maquilas; labour conditions; plantation agriculture; Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security (INSS); social security.

Alberto José Legall López (AJLL): Well let’s mention to you a little about PASE. This association was founded in 2003, and its original source grew from a women’s movement in Nicaragua which was called ‘Movement of Women Maquiladora Workers’. These women fight for the defence of human rights and workers’ rights for the women of the maquila; I don’t know if you understand the term ‘maquila’?

Martin Mowforth (MM): Yes.

AJLL: But it is the preparation and production of textiles. We were founded in this initiative, because at that time there were many abuses of human rights and workers rights; and there was an international campaign to put pressure on North American and European clothing brands so that they correctly improved their codes of conduct. So from there we originated and we’ve been monitoring these in Central America.

Initially, then, our main experience was on the issue of maquilas. However, in the relationships that we were developing we were getting to know North American associations, like the ILRF, the International Labour Rights Forum. Also, SAI, which is Social Accountability International, amongst others, were motivating us to work with agricultural issues. We began to research and work on training and accompaniment to the unions and businesses about the issue of human and labour rights in the west of the country, principally with bananas and sugar.

We have experience in collaborating with other economic sectors such as coffee, tobacco, but this has been more at a level of events or multi-party forums. I don’t know if you understand that word, but it is where businesses, unions , government institutions, civil society and international organisations … all, participate. So that was a little summary of what we do.

In 2005, we did our first investigation with ILRF about the labour conditions around bananas and sugar. They’re on their web page in English; I can send you a link so that you can go over them. And from there, from that investigation, other organisations began also to develop and to understand more about this issue of the epidemic of chronic kidney disease.  We were one of the first organisations in Nicaragua that undertook this type of research.

We focus on different areas. One, we want to develop educational materials at different levels, like this. For example, this is a simple piece of educational material that was distributed in a project that is called ‘to cultivate’; we made more than 5,000 copies, and they were delivered to all the banana and sugar cane workers. This was a basic document and was used by the unions for their training. It is set at a basic educational level. This educational material is more complete:  from the Social Security, and it’s what we are using at the moment. This is what we’re using to train the community leaders, union leaders, workers who have problems with social security. Also, it is used by unions and state departments as a reference. This is a little more complicated, more complete and more complicated for workers who have a basic level of education.

MM: I have read a little about it, 125pages.

Josephine Weinberg (JW): Yes, it is taking all of the Social Security laws; there is advice about property … 

AJLL: This manual we made is very complete, principally because we identified that the subject of social security is very precarious here in the north of the country. There are workers who spend their whole life paying in to social security and when they are sick, about to die, they take pensions of 30/40 dollars a month. This is a rip-off which is happening. There are many companies who take away the money and so there are people who have had big problems. There is one company – ‘apparently’ – although we can’t say it. But there is certain complicity between the state and these large companies. So it is a big battle and we have to be very careful.

So, for us, the project has a low profile. One: we do not have open publicity, because when there is this type of issue here in Nicaragua there is a lot of repression. Because, if groups of workers have a campaign or demonstration, many of them are arrested; there have been assassinations, because they are against, they are trying to, or somehow they are affecting the millions of dollars that these sugar refineries shift in the sale of sugar. For example: they depend on sugar to Coca Cola. Pellas, who is the owner, has a liquor business at a global level, we are talking of multi millions, or billions. So, many, many millions of dollars at stake. Yes?

MM: Between Pellas and …?

AJLL: Yes, exactly. So it’s a very sensitive topic, very complicated and has a political/economic aspect that, if managed at a very public level, can affect our clients who are the workers we help with their pensions. They could lose their jobs, and we could put at risk our lives, our security. So there is a leaflet that we distribute and we only give a telephone number. This is an information leaflet that we give to the people, where it only gives a telephone number and basic information.

MM: For all the workers?

AJLL: For each client that we identify. We have a filter.

MM: Yes.

AJLL: With the Community Centre which you will get to know in the afternoon, firstly we identify if the person who is looking for us really has a need or is a spy for the sugar refinery and who wants to extract information. And after we have made this filter, we attend to their needs. It is a little complicated in this work for the reason already mentioned to you, no? Already we’ve seen cases of lawyers or offices that have been closed or end up arrested because they have gone against this system. So we have to do this in a way that is more opaque.

MM: And their backgrounds are suitable?

AJLL: Yes. I am a lawyer. I am an investigator because I have developed distinct grassroots investigations. I am a lawyer, I defend the subject of labour, human and environmental rights, in different economic sectors. So, more or less, this is a little of the experience we’ve had.

And on this basis also, so that you know, we focus, we try to develop relations on a multi-party level. That is to say we have a connection with the unions; we try to develop relationships with companies, with state institutions, the community leaders, union leaders, civil society organisations and also international organisations. So we try to have a certain balance, in such a way that allows us to be able to manage in this type of environment, which is a little difficult.

These are examples of some of the investigations that we have undertaken in the past. So here, I am talking about the maquila; we undertook this investigation at a regional level. Yes, it’s more or less, must be like your book.

AJLL: Yes. That’s about the issue of the maquila. When we were looking at the subject of the brands and the violations of workers and human rights. Yes?

MM:I can say that your first surname is very appropriate.

AJLL: Yes, yes. Legall. Yes, it fits very well.

MM: When I saw it for the first time, I thought no, no it is a title, a position, it couldn’t be a surname.

AJLL: (Laughing) Yes, Legall. This is another investigation that we did. You can take those that you’d like, the others – no problem, do not worry; we are not going to feel that you are undervaluing us. This we did on the theme of the obstacles to accessing labour justice. Also it was a comparative analysis in Central America, and those issues appeared, those of Communal Justice. So there they are. I won’t show them all because it would be … well, you’d have to carry another travelling bag, but they are some of the investigations that we have undertaken during PASE’s time. And this is another investigation that we did about the subject of the maquila.

MM: Excuse us. I am going to buy another rucksack. (General laughter)

AJLL: That’s why I decided not to show everything, only those which might be of use to you.

MM: Yes, many thanks. You have a lot of useful information.

AJLL: Exactly. And this …

Bell sounds – Several Voices 

AJLL: And this is a more complete summary of the project that we are running, which you can look at in your own time. However, in a minute we are going to give you a basic description of all the work that we are developing in the office – with Josephine Weinberg.

JW: Do you have all that?

MM: I was wondering what was your interest, but I imagine that you can translate this into Italian.

Ciara (C): No, I can be the link …. because I have done my Masters degree in English.

MM: Ah, yes.

C: Yes, and I have travelled. No, it was in Italy but it is a Masters degree from the United Nations, so it was in English, of course.

MM: Perfect. All good. (Translating for June Mowforth) His friend has just finished her Masters degree.

AJLL: So, this office was established a year ago, we had an approach after a United Nations project which we were developing. We knew the Isla Foundation, which is directed by Jason Glaser in the United States. So, we had the opportunity to get to know them; they knew of our experience working here in the west, and some organisations here commented that we could be like the organisation required for this type of work and we should place an office here in the west. So we initiated this experience in June last year, and we said that we would try it for a year and see how it goes, because at that moment there was a lot of repression by the state. Jason was denied entry into Nicaragua, and a lot of things have been happening.

MM: Yes, I’ve heard.

AJLL: It was intense yes. And there was a lot of repression, a lot of people locked up; there were two assassinations, so….

(MM: gave an English translation for June Mowforth.)

AJLL: Yes. So when that incident happened we decided to change strategy. Jason cannot be here, we needed an office to operate on the issues of labour rights and human rights, for the sake of advising the clients. Then they asked me if I was prepared to take on the challenge and the risk; and I said yes, that it was part of my line of work. Maybe this has made the project a little more difficult, a little more complicated due to the pressure that might be generated, be it from the state or the companies. However, it motivates me because it’s something that develops and I have a lot of experience working in this field.

Before with Jason, they were a little more open on the subject of repression, and this was one of the reasons why the State and the sugar mills criticised the name of La Isla and Jason, and for this, they were very strict with them. I suggested to them that if we were going to continue working on the theme, we would go in their shadow, with a lower profile, forming a network. For me, I told them that it was important not to work in isolation. At the time of the setting up of the office, there was no network or collaborative work. I mentioned to them that if I worked in this office, I would develop collaborative networks. It is because of this that we are working with different organisations to be united in this struggle. And we need a low profile, not to attack the State strongly. So we have some contacts within the INSS, which is the Nicaraguan Social Security Institute, who collaborate with us in a certain way; also, they know our manual. So we have tried to carry out our relationship a little differently. Not directly confrontational, always being critical, making observations, but so that they do not perceive us as an organisation that wishes to overthrow the Party. Because when the Party feels that you want to overthrow it or remove its power, that’s when they are going to eliminate you.

MM: Yes. We are aware of that approach.

AJLL: Exactly.  And that is why, as Jimenez says, a report that we are developing, is going to be like our investigation but will be of the office. We are also being careful, as the language that we use is critical, the observations, the suggestions, mustn’t be too strong or too hard.

MM: No confrontation.

AJLL: No confrontation, principally because we are in an election year. 

MM: Yes.

AJLL: So for us there is a lot of pressure. So we need to be very careful in what we are doing. This is a little of the history of how we were born, no? In the project we have various lines of work. One of these lines is legal assessment, which is the attention to workers, ex-workers and their families, covering access to pensions or modification of pensions when there are violations of this right. So we work with people who are in receipt of a retirement pension – that is to say they are insured. That is our principal group because we also identify the violations of human and labour rights which is what allows us to compile the information for our reports. So this is very important, attention to the client. And we identify where the violations are to be able to prepare constructive criticism to the state and the companies. That was one of the key points, giving attention to the client on the subject of Social Security.

The other area is the development of didactic and educational material, like the one we showed you, the 125 pages. And we intend each year to prepare a new updated edition. The state is always making reforms to these laws, or makes modifications to their politics. We have to update this information so that the worker is aware of the changes that happen. One weakness of the state and of the companies is when there is a change which they do not tell you about, they (the workers) lose access to many rights because of not knowing them. So, it is to maintain updates for these educational materials for society. So we are always giving them follow-ups to the reforms and the changes to the administrative policies which are happening in respect of social security, to update these educational documents.

The third subject we are developing is the training: training leaders of communities, union leaders, civil society organisations and our clients, the workers, ex-workers and their families. So that they know their rights and also so that they are able to reproduce information in their communities or in the workplace.

And the fourth point we are developing is our policy reports which we are going to do annually. The objective of this report is to make, as I told you, constructive criticism of the State, but also at an international level so that they know what is happening. For example, organisations like the World Health Organisation, or ONITENDO (?), or many international organisations, do not have the updated information of what is happening in the country on this kind of topic because the state does not put this information in the public domain. So what matters is to be able to share, make international alliances and also local alliances for the fight against this situation.

At the moment we are focussed on themes of social security, on the subject of sickness and on one of the state’s institutions called the INSS. However, we intend to expand. The Ministry of Work has a lot of difficulty with employers on the topic of supervision. So we are also thinking in the future of making a manual about the subject of labour rights, aimed at the Ministry of Work.

We are also interested in expanding to have another type of client in the banana sector. There is a great weakness in the banana sector, those who have insurance, the workers who are insured, they have an insurance that is  … outdated from the decades of the 70s and 80s. And they are still using it. This is to say, the new rights which have been incorporated for the workers in general, do not apply to the banana workers. And for us it was a very hard fight. ….

So that you also understand a little of the concept: my father was the one who introduced me to this world. At this moment he is a civil servant with the Ministry of Work – yes, he works and operates  here in Nicaragua, so we communicate a lot, principally as he knows I am on this project, he is always giving me recommendations.

This then, is the other aspect, the report which we are developing and we are interested in developing in the banana sector, and probably on other aspects. But initially at this moment we are interested in the subject of sickness, which is something very big and what we are seeing is that there is a tendency, since 5 or 8 years ago, international pressure began so that the companies would improve the labour rights of workers in the countryside. The sugar refineries began to mechanise the cutting of the sugar cane on their plantations. What has happened? They’re replacing the workforce. But all of their workers are falling ill. So, they are not confronting this problem directly; rather they are avoiding the problem. So, 5 or 10 years ago there were always tens of thousands of workers in the countryside that were available for the plantations. Since the beginning of the mechanisation process, there are now only a few thousand workers, but there are many thousands who are sick.

MM: And without social security.

AJLL: And they were without social security. Many of them are unaware that they have this right. At times, when the worker dies, the widow and the orphans did not know that they had a right to a pension. So all of this information we try to give to them. Because all of this money remains in the INSS, that is to say, when the worker dies, the widow and orphans have the right to receive pensions, and the way they manage the probation period means that the money stays there [with the INSS] and they remain unprotected. And all the time the precarious conditions of the families of the countryside get bigger. Each time a worker dies the life of that family becomes more precarious. However, they have the safety of a social security net, for at least a monthly benefit, something for all the effort that the worker made.

So it’s a serious issue. It is also big because they consider that the INSS is like a private bank of the state, because they manage a lot of money. Here all of the companies make a contribution and they take money from their workers to make a contribution. So for the state the INSS is a bank which manages a lot of funds. So, they try to reduce the amount of rights that the workers have, and that is the struggle that we have – to avoid this private bank continuing being as it is currently, and rather that part of its benefits go to the least protected workers.

So, this is practically the fight that we are developing. This first year has been very interesting for us: we’ve identified how we can develop the network of work. For this, we allied with [Edil]Berta. [Edil]Berta is a communist and union leader with many years of experience. She has very good relations with the state, but is critical of the state. And also, she is a person with a big heart, to collaborate. So she forms part of our team. When we see the video, she appears in the video.

MM: Yes, let us see.

AJLL: Berta forms part of the team. We are forming the team at the moment. Me, Josephine, who is in the USA making all of the relationships, an assistant/intern who at the moment is our friend Ciara and Berta. In this small team we are trying to give answers to all the citations. There are other people who collaborate with us, who you will get to know. One of our trainers is called Pablo Casco, who is the legal assessor of an organisation called Association of Rural Workers [ATC, by its Spanish initials]; they have a presence throughout Nicaragua. He is also a director of a clinic called Flor de Sacuanjoche.

So we try to make it so that our allies are people who are going to support us or who are able to back us in this struggle. In fact, in the future I think that with the Flor de Sacuanjoche clinic we could form an alliance. For example, at some point, we are thinking of offering free examinations of peritonitis, to allow us to see how advanced the illness is. They are available to do this for free – maybe if we find in ENCA or one of these organisations someone who could donate the medical equipment which they need to undertake these examinations, they are prepared to do this?

MM: In the clinic?

AJLL: In the clinic, yes.

MM: And in other clinics as well?

AJLL: In others yes, but this clinic is the one that is being seen initially with us.  It may be where Berta is as well. But this clinic has the advantage in that it has the authorisation of the INSS so that their examinations are valid. So, in the case of clinics, this is why we look for clinics that have the recognition of the state. So in the future we could undertake this type of … we only need to obtain what is necessary to carry out the examinations for all the workers of the countryside; and the clinic is available to do the charts with their doctors, and we’ll run a campaign so that they admit themselves for an analysis.

When we are there with the doctor we will be able to talk about this.

We have another ally which is the Ramon Salvatierra Union, the union which is from the Monte Rosa Sugar Plant. They are very active; they form part of a national federation of sugar unions, also the International Federation of Sugar Unions of Central America.  They are also strongly allied, and I believe that you might be interested to get to know them in the future, because they provide information that we can share here in the book and in our relations with yourselves.

I think that I am mentioning this to you to make the most of the meeting, they will probably mention to you some of their interests. Maybe right now an interest of the union is that there is a weakness at the sugar mill. When they want everything to appear well, in the cutting of cane, for articles they provide you with a camera at the mill so that you can take photos; however, when there are violations, they prevent it, they don’t offer a camera to you. So for them there’s a huge need [for us] to have a camera. Because it is like this, when they see that there is a violation of rights they will be able to take a photo and make it public. And so when we are discussing the possibility of capital investments, a big necessity is a camera, to provide evidence of the violations that the mill will not let us demonstrate. So these are some of the subjects that I believe they may mention to you so that you are not taken by surprise.

MM: Yes.

AJLL: So, that is basically it, so right now MM:, we are in a campaign, we are supporting the organisation called Solidarity of Holland, that  …

MM: Ireland?

AJLL: Holland, from Holland. For problems in … there has not been a good relationship between Jason’s strong position and this organisation; so there have been some differences in the management of funds. And they told us, well, we are going to cut your funding until May, this month. That is why we are starting this campaign in the United States for the next months of the year, whilst we find a stable ally for the long term. Next week we are going to receive a visit from another Dutch organisation which is the National Confederation of Unions of Holland. Mario Lys of the National Confederation of Unions of Holland is coming to get to know the project and to see in what way they can support us.

In the case of ENCA, I thought that you could help in two ways MM:. One: in the short term, there is a campaign we are running where we are raising small funds. I’d like to know if you are interested in our project and what we are doing. If you can get all of the ENCA members to be aware of this page and although you may only donate a dollar, for us that is a lot, because with all of the activists this will allow us to continue reaching the goals for the next seven years.

MM: Is this through Pay Pal or …?

AJLL: If you can, you can pay by card … We know that you do not have a lot of resources, but you have the connections. You have a network, you have all of these organisations who you work with, their members and their funders. So I think that if you could try and run a small campaign with them, and your friends there; and if they can manage at least 1 dollar, 10 dollars, 15 dollars, this can help so that we may have more months of continuing in our project. Unfortunately, with these differences which happened between solidaridad and Jason, well we have come out worse off. But we continue with the struggle.

Can we take a look a look at the manual? We’ve been thinking again about bringing out a new edition – this is the first edition. Here only the organisations that collaborate locally appear; ATC appear, La Federation [Edil]Berta appears, the union, the sugar mill and the clinic. So, for example, in the future, next year we might collaborate with ENCA or Santa Rosa; here I could bring to attention a special mention to the funder, and for us it is important that they know us. In this first edition I didn’t mention Solidaridad because they preferred not to appear – it’s a complex issue. The same would be for you, if you said to us:  Alberto, we do not wish to appear in the list of organisations – well that is understandable. Because this, this little book is aimed at the workers but it might end up in the hands of a businessman or a functionary of the state.

MM: Yes.

AJLL: But as this an information/educational document which is not attacking a political party; so this has been accepted. So this is the advantage that we have, that the strategy which we are managing is positive. So we think that the collaboration for now is to develop the second edition of the manual for the sake of imparting the training. For us, we will distribute this manual at the training to the workers; this could be a collaboration between us.


AJLL: Another collaboration that we could have that would require a slightly smaller fund, is that we, these workers, as they are of limited resources, we can offer them the journey to allow them to join us when we have to travel somewhere.

JW: But the travel allowance?

AJLL: The travel allowance, yes. We have a register of the money that we give for journeys, or at times, we have to undertake examinations, and we cannot do it for free, we have to pay. So that assistance is so that they can travel.

MM: So they can attend a …

AJLL: Exactly, or they could have examinations, or they might …

JW: Here is an examination of a woman that has been done.

AJLL: Yes, or we have to travel to Managua, so we cover these costs. So, for example, we point out on this page what we will give each of them, with their signature, but if we were to receive help from ENCA, or Santa Rosa, we would produce a page which carries the name of the organisation giving this money for transport or examinations. And the fund is a little smaller, which helps them, (the workers), so that they do not have to use their own money. I am trying to identify the areas in which we could collaborate.

MM: Yes. Tell me how much you need for the edition.

AJLL: Each of these booklets cost us 3 dollars to make. 3 dollars each. That includes everything, because there are a lot of pages.

MM: And how many do you want to produce.

AJLL: At first, we were with the Solidaridad Project and we made 1,000. The goal is maybe produce 1,000 each year. 3,000 dollars. But we believe that it is necessary because, for example, at the moment we are left with only 200. We have already distributed 800, and there is the need for more, because there are thousands of people that need this information. So, with a thousand each year we believe that at least minimally we are trying to reach out to each community. And what we tell them is: listen, we are leaving this booklet in your house, but try to get other families to get familiar with it. So, we believe that one thousand examples a year is like an acceptable target. But if it’s too ambitious … it’s also used for the training. So, it has a double purpose. So, basically we initially thought that we could do something like this. But then we realized that there are so many violations that we had to do something more concrete. And we are very satisfied, all of the organisations and the workers are very satisfied, because here [in this publication] there is all of the information that they need, to undertake the procedures, the functions. What the INSS does not indicate, here, we explain everything. However, as every year they make changes to the laws and are able to change the internal administrative policies of the state; we are getting out each year updated editions, like updating the information.

There are small funds that I believe that we can still collaborate on, that are not ambitious, and for example we are not asking for an annual budget to run the office – that could be very big. We hope in future, maybe with the collaboration that we might have between ourselves that one of the funders that you mentioned might want to support this office.

But also they undertake activities like those that I mentioned to you …, and I believe that these areas can be very important. So that is what initially occurs to me. But yes, it is important, MM:, in these moments, when we are seeking funds. I believe that right now with the campaign, at the end of April, we have already raised funds for the next two months: June and July. However, we are searching (for funds) for the rest of the months.

I don’t know if you have any questions? If you want to say something?

MM: I have a few questions about these possibilities and some things to say.

AJLL: Perfect. Would you like to watch first the video and talk afterwards?

MM: Yes.


End of the First recording

Edilberta Gómez (EG): I worked 4 years on the Cultivar project, with the training, with all of the banana workers. And this experience, really made me learn a little more of the organisational part.

Alberto Legall (AL): This is Cultivar; this is the manual …

EG: Yes, this one. And I say that it was very important the work of those who came to talk to the banana workers. Because it was like we had a coffin, merely to know our duties and our rights, even though working with the unions, right.

But no, they never supported us directly in reality, right? And I’ve seen the work that they’ve been doing, which has been excellent work, special work. And the social work I also point out, because in reality in our country it is needed a lot.

The brief remainder of the recording involves Alberto and Edilberta discussing – often inaudibly – their work in helping sugar cane and other plantation workers, and their families, to receive the pension to which they are entitled when they fall ill because of CKDnT. They mention the need to involve the INSS [the Nicaraguan Institute of Social Security], but also the gaps that the INSS leaves when informing workers, gaps left, possibly deliberately, to avoid the payment of pensions and sick pay. So PASE has a slightly awkward and difficult, but necessary, relationship with the INSS.


Edilberta Gómez

Interviewees: Edilberta Gómez
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: Clínica Xochil, El Viejo, Nicaragua
Date: 9th July 2009
Theme: General health of the population and health provision.
Keywords: TBC
Notes: Please note that ‘XXX’ in the text signifies a part of the recording that could not be deciphered. This was particularly frequent in the Xochilt Clinic building which was next to a very busy road.


Martin Mowforth (MM): For the record, could you give us your name, the names of your colleagues and a bit of background about the Clínica Xochil?

Edilberta Gómez (EG): I’ll give you a bit of information about the Clinic. My name is Edilberta Gómez; I’m a trade union member of the José Elías Escobar Confederation and a member of the Workers’ federation of the …XXX… Farmworkers here in Chinandega department. Since 1999 we have been working with the Clinic, and specifically with the banana and sugar cane sector because that’s where we’ve had the problems. Why these two sectors? Because they are where chemical products are being applied and that is where we find men and women workers with skin problems, with …XXX…X [noisy] problems, liver cancers and other diseases. We give follow-up to find out what types of poisons lead to these types of illnesses in the workers.

MM: Many thanks. Could you give us a bit more information specifically about the types of illnesses?

EG: OK. The federation and this Clinic have their origins in womens’ trade unions where there was a need for gynaecology, because of the banana companies, and more generally there was no effective gynaecological treatment. It’s all pathology because they …XXX… [noisy] here. So …XXX… three unions, there are 1,200 workers affiliated and also there is a technical team which works in the unions and a separate team which is a medical team. Also we have the administrator who is …XXX… and there’s a team of doctors who treat all kinds of illnesses. We have a specialist for internal problems, a cardiologist, a specialist gynaecologist, a psychologist and we also have a paediatrician and a general medical doctor. The most frequent illness we have to deal with is kidney failure (renal insufficiency) – many people, men and women, are dying of this – their kidney dies out. We also get cancer of the liver – a lot. Some women also get cancer of the uterus, or sometimes in the neck of the cervix – when we get to the plantation we go to the toilet inside the plant and take up the product. To all these we give follow-up as a clinic, as a trade union and also with a team of environmental …XXX… because we coordinate with the hospitals at XXX Central – the Mauricio, the Spain, the José Rubí and the Berta Calderón.

MM: Do you know the specific chemicals used by the bananeros, the companies, as pesticides?

EG: Previously they sprayed with nemagon which today they are spraying in a product called SALON, and that is almost the same as nemagon – only the label has changed. But we’ve just developed a process with the full team, the environmental health team from MINSA, MARENA, all of us, the municipality and the police for …XXX… (noisy).

MM: Is it one of the Dirty Dozen?

EG: Also, in the banana and cane plantations now they are always using DURVA, which also goes into CUREVAN. Still there is CUREVAN in the banana and cane plantations and in whatever crops.

MM: TALOM, DURVA (yellow dust which is thrown and from which they prepare compost), CURAVAN.

EG: CURAVAN is the same as DEMACUR – no, DEMACUR comes from CURAVAN – they are just concepts, changes of labels which allow the same chemicals ….

MM: And do the workers have protection for the use of ….XXX …, protection provided by the company?

EG: Well, now there is a law …XXX… (noise) so that they carry out a process of follow-up, by order of the government, that all businessmen must protect their workers. But there are still companies which don’t comply with this. The majority of workers are not protected. And have no protective clothing and no face masks. There’s one team that they hire – already they don’t give this kind of thing to the ordinary workers – but they hire a middle-man, and they tell them to spray the product. But these people can’t be human, they wear hardly any protection, the breathing masks are poor, the face masks are broken, the lenses don’t work. So they still don’t comply with the protection that the new environment demands. But there is a process ….

MM: So, in this process, can you not approach the businessmen, the bosses, to inform them of the problems and to ask for more action, more prevention?

EG: Well, right now, two years ago there was a project called ‘Cultivation Project’. It came from the Gasificadora from the United States where …XXX… They came to coordinate with the unions, the workers and the bosses in order to give some awareness training about the use of the equipment. Also we have given the government and the union members a follow-up to this training. We have some materials and we go out to demonstrate, but it still hasn’t covered 100%. Only 150 workers have been trained. So for this ‘Cultivation Project’ I’ll give you the address – it would be good for you to go there because they have a lot of good information and it’s very important for you.

MM: Who’s to blame for not complying with these plans for improvement?

EG: For me, it’s the bosses, because the company should do the training and make the workers aware of the correct usage of the equipment. But if they …XXX… how are they going to know how to use it? Now they want to oblige the workers to use the equipment, whatever equipment, and it has to be adequate – so it’s up to me to use it and to buy it and bring it to work, or Chiquita brings the equipment and you have to pay a dollar to use it. You have to pay for it, and that causes depression. …XXX… (noisy) … of sugar, but they haven’t seen this – you have to see the reality of the characteristics of these people who are affected, as for instance with paralysis, if they eat well or don’t eat well. And in the company they give us three times the food, but it doesn’t seem to improve anything – at least the people who are doing the spraying with chemicals have the right to be given a glass of water or milk …XXX…

MM: Are the people aware of the danger when they are working or don’t they know about the danger of the chemicals?

EG: The people know that it’s dangerous but it’s work, and in the economic crisis that we are facing at the global level, well we risk our lives for a salary, for our children; but yes, they know it’s dangerous.

MM: And what kind of treatments can you give to the workers here?

EG: Well we’ve worked for four years looking for friends and supporters, and some have supported us with different types of medicines. We have seen what we need, vitamins, tablets for infections, psychological treatments because at times the workers are confused and closed and need the attention of a psychologist. Also we’ve been talking with some friends who have given us part-time or one or two months; and we’ve also been making use of the resources that we have ourselves; so we’ve sorted out lots of workers. The clinic is modest because although we receive, we give it to others. You come to pay your consulting fee if you can, but it’s free for those who can’t and the cost of your consultation is passed on to those who can afford it. So, anyway, we live like this because we explain it to all those who have the means. If you give help, you help another woman, another person. We have lived like this and you can see that we have some friends. Our thanks to all those who have made some kind of contribution to us. …XXX… (noisy). We’re very proud because really they …XXX… and they’re afraid that we’ll give to those who have nothing.

We’ve imposed on the workers a fee of 10 córdobas [about 50 cents] but have explained that these are for buying medicines which they themselves will use. So they’ve seen that it’s necessary and feel happy about what’s happening. I had a moment when I said “No more, I’ve had enough. Why am I doing this? I’d be better off going home. I want to live another life.” But there’s always a commitment in my heart to help people – I was born to help people. So that sense of duty has carried me along, to be here, because I don’t have a salary here – I don’t get a córdoba; only my husband manages to provide for me, and even at times my sons and daughters make a contribution. They say to me, “Why are you staying here, giving your life …XXX… (noisy).” But I say to them, “If I go to another clinic, I’d have to help other people, and I have learnt …XXX…”

Something like three years ago when Martin came – do you remember? – you gave us a donation of a lamp and thanks to that lamp …XXX… (noisy). And a little lamp which was stolen from us by a meddling burglar who took away only the lamp but left all the equipment.

MM: How long ago?

EG: Last year, in the house which we were renting at the time, a lousy house – another one over there. So we’ve been looking for another little lamp throughout El Viejo, but without any luck. But we do have here the panel, the socket – all that remains is …XXX… I think the people at times …XXX… One has to look after …XXX…

We’ve been wanting to have contact with friends from the United States because we’re doing some work in the communities. Why are we going to the communities? Because our workers are within the communities …XXX… (noise) and the problems are there in the communities. People around me live around the cane fields and by the sides of the banana plantations. So they have been wanting to see what kinds of environmental effects they have, because they certainly have environmental effects …XXX… They sow an aguacate tree, it dries out and dies. They sow pipian and it dies. We’ve also been talking with all the …XXX… that the plantains, or their bananas or their cane – they sow it and I don’t know how many steps inside …XXX… (noise).

MM: How many workers are you treating here per day?

EG: More or less 10 or 12 a day. Because in the finca …XXX… (noise) to authorise a private doctor. We have managed five of these, by agreement, by struggle, we have five. And that is where the workers are. They’re worse with the virus that was …XXX… [This was probably a reference to the swine flu – prominent at the time.]

MM: And the doctors work voluntarily?

EG: Well, we’ve made some heartfelt commitments. They get the consultation fee when the patient pays. So we pay him and he carries out the consultation at the clinic. Then when we don’t have any [financial] resources …XXX… we can’t do anything, but he continues with a diagnostic and we tell him that we want him there …XXX… and they continue giving an hour of their time from 12 to 1. If they don’t have the time to do diagnostics, they tell me when. …XXX… And they come during their lunch hour to sit at this desk to attend to the patient. The salary we can pay is at least $50 per month.

MM: Much less than the basic basket of goods?

EG: Uh! Well, as we are trade unionists we cannot exploit our colleagues because we know their rights. I have to tell them that there is more work and if they come to us to collaborate we are going to collaborate with them.

MM: So she [Santa Italia who was there at the time] is working in her own time?

EG: And the rest of her time as a social worker, because she is a social worker.

MM: And her name again?

EG: Santa Italia.

MM: In the past we (ENCA) have given various small donations, but we have no power, we have no funds, we have no influence. We have a few funds to give to grassroots organisations in Central America. And last year was a bad year for us, we received hardly any funds. Now this year has been a little better and we want, if you could prepare (if you want to) a small proposal, only a sheet or two, with a budget, and submit it to us by email to me. I’ll then submit it to the people of ENCA for their consideration, so that in the future when one of our members returns, he or she can deliver a small donation for that purpose; but always we need a proposal. But we are disposed to help.

EG: Just one little grain of sand is important for us. We know that one grain in the pile makes us more alive and more committed.

MM: And the other thing that we can do is provide more publicity for your cause and for your needs. So if you have any specific or special campaigns for which you need more publicity, then let us know and we can include articles or whatever in our newsletter.

EG: Right now the campaign which we are promoting in the communities is the prevention of cancer. We have some difficulties with transport and providing refreshments because at time the women say to us, “if you want to hear us, OK, but bring us some chocolate!” So as a part of the campaign we’re trying to provide cheap refreshments. We’ve got four communities which are already in the campaign, and the women are very motivated because there are lots of problems of sexually transmitted diseases and also many biopsies, many cauterizations (to get samples for taking cancer from the womb). Right now we have a piece of equipment …XXX…, but we have difficulty with …XXX…

MM: Is it a training campaign for the people?

EG: For the people. And we’re also talking about a new environment for everybody, in their house, in their work. It’s a campaign. We have a plan with the Environmental Relations Office here in El Viejo. We have a video – if you’re around tomorrow morning you can see it. Remigio comes in the morning and we can talk a bit more, he can give you more information. Tomorrow morning, first thing.

MM: At what time?

EG: At 8 in the morning if you want.

MM: For these two, that’s too early. For me it’s OK, but for them – they’re very lazy.

EG: But I understand them. Punctual by the calendar, but today I was asleep. Martin told me 4 pm. …

MM: My fault, my fault. At 9 am because we have a meeting with SELVA at 10 am, so we could come back at 9.

EG: OK. You can interview the doctor, Remigio, so that she can give you more idea of the work of the campaign, its weaknesses, some difficulties and some strengths.