Report of 2008 WFP Delegation to Nicaragua
June 25th, 2008
Witness for Peace 25th Anniversary Delegation to Nicaragua June 12-20th, 2008
What an extraordinary experience we 27 delegates had that visited Nicaragua with the 25th Anniversary Delegation. We stood with our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters and learned about the legacy of the contra war and about the impact of US supported neo liberal policies imposed by the IMF and the World Bank. Half the group traveled north to Jalapa where Witness for Peace began 25 years ago and half visited the island of Ometepe.
[Photo above: Delegation for 2008 in solidarity with Nicaraguans] The Nicaraguans welcomed us warmly. Fr Fernando Cardinal told us. “Those of you who were here during the l980s should be proud of your witness. You demonstrated with your lives that religion was not an opiate.” He went on to say that poverty and unemployment is increasing in Nicaragua and that life is difficult for the poor. Prices are increasing and people are hungry.
[Photo above: Why we continue the struggle: Nicaragua's Future] Carlos Pacheco, a Nicaraguan economist, told us “Land was confiscated and redistributed to the landless in the 1980s while factories which had been abandoned were taken by the workers. The state became larger and stronger.” After the election in 1990, and the government of Violeta Chamorro de Barrio took over, the state is weakened and the private sector now controls most of the economy. Education and health care has been taken over by the private sector and policies imposed by the Inter-American Development Bank, the IMF and the World Bank are devastating the poor. The national electric company was sold to a Spanish company Union Fenoza. In the 1980s 30% of the energy was generated by oil and 70% by renewable sources. Today those numbers are reversed.
[Photo above: 2008 Delegation] Mr. Pacheco expressed concern that the Plan for National Development of the Sandinistas is being imposed from above. He said, “We need a horizontal structure not a vertical structure.” The challenges we heard included the rising cost of food, the energy costs that he said are not sustainable and that the IMF is still imposing policies that are detrimental to the poor. There is a tendency to authoritarianism and a consolidation of power.
[Photo above: Cultural Center of Batahola Norte Nicaragua] Among the signs of hope we were told were the feeding program in the poorer schools, the Zero Hunger program where farming families are given a pregnant cow and a some chickens and a rooster. Once the animals have procreated, the families give a pregnant cow and chickens to a neighbor. Civil society in Nicaragua is organized and has technical skills and is actively participating in the political process. The voices of the labor sector are being heard and the minimum wage has increased by 33%. Education is free and health care is improving. Many people use public transportation and we saw a lo! t of bicycles and small motorcycles in use.
When we asked Nicaraguans the changes they would like to see in US foreign policy, we were told, “Corporate Dominated Trade”-CAFTA is devastating Nicaragua. Work for a sane policy that helps humanity and decreases poverty. Justice will combat terrorism. Respect our countries. Do not impose policies. If you want democracy, then respect the people. Support governments that provide services to the poor.
Jalapa in northern Nicaragua near the Honduran border is in a fertile valley in the state of Nueva Segovia. The farmers are having a very difficult time surviving due to “Corporate Dominated Trade” policies such as CAFTA. Many people are hungry and are forced to migrate north to the United States or to Costa Rica. There is a close connection between so called free trade policies and growing poverty and hunger in Nicaragua.
While in Jalapa and the small farming community of El Trapiche we met with veterans of the contra war both former Sandinista soldiers and men from the contra forces. They feel abandoned by both the Nicaraguan government and the United States. They were promised land but these promises were not kept. Because they do not have land title, they cannot get loans. They sat before us without hands and legs. We cried together and asked pardon for what our government had done by supporting the contra war and thus destroying the democratically elected government that supported programs for the poor. We are convinced that war is evil.
[Gail Phares on 25th Anniversary Delegation to Nicaragua (2008)] Our last day in Jalapa, we drove to the Nicaraguan/Honduran border to hold a peace vigil. We joined hands with our Nicaraguan brothers and sisters and through tears; Dr Jeff Boyer an anthropology professor from ASU read a passage from the theologian Henry Nouwen. We prayed for peace and sang “Dona Nobis Pacem.” Sister Luz Beatrice told us “When we struggle for justice and peace, God is present. God is there.
We left Nicaragua filled with hope but sobered by the poverty we saw. We returned home committed to struggle for life and a US foreign policy that supports life. We demand an end to Corporate Dominated Trade such as CAFTA that is devastating the poor. We ask that our government support human rights and work to support governments that provide programs for the poor.
Gail S Phares Witness for Peace June 25, 2008