I wrote this story some two-three months ago, originally in German, then translated to Danish and then to English. I was trying to find a place to get it published in paper form. But the information is likely a bit to obscure for anything mainstream, and no normal person reads the academic journals (and in addition I would need to throw a whole bunch of aca-gibberish on there before anyone would take it). I was busy with all kinds of other things and just about forgot about it. But I noticed this list of the Top 100 anthropology blogs (worldwide?) with this blog being listed (sorry, but I don’t think that list is to be taken serious, really) and that this blog still receives a few hundred hits daily (despite almost no new content for a year). And so I just thought this might be as good a place as anywhere to put it. So please, enjoy. And if you need the German or Danish version for anything, please contact me!
A Sandinista pig
Blanca Nella is a poor woman. She lives on the island Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua in the Central-American country of the same name.
In this country, the socialist Nationalist Sandinista Liberation Front (FSLN) came to power through a revolution in 1979. Throughout the 1980s, the country had to fight counterrevolutionary insurgencies financed by the Unites States with the help of Cuba and Eastern Europe. At the national elections in 1990, the Sandinistas lost, and for sixteen years the country was ruled by three neo-liberal governments, until the FSLN won the presidential elections in the fall of 2006. Daniel Ortega, who was elected president once already during 1984–90, now rules the country.
This is the story of a person who witnesses these times.
Nella would like to receive a pig from the government, but unfortunately she doesn’t have enough land to grow the food for it. Now that Ortega is president, there is such a program, called ‘zero hunger’.
The program is directed towards women and consists of a cow, a pig, a rooster, five hens, the building of the housing for cow and pig, seeds and food for the first few months as well as training in how to treat the animals. Altogether this is supposed to have a value of 1,500USD and the producer agrees on giving back 300USD of the income to other projects in the area, such as micro-credits.
Nella’s land is located on the beach a few hundred meters from the main pier of the island, in the village of Moyogalpa. She and her neighbors each just have an ordinary one family sized lot. To qualify for ‘zero hunger’ though, one needs to have access or own between 0.7 and 2.1 hectares of land. On the other side of the sandy path they live on, there is enough land for the whole neighborhood to qualify for this quantity. And in the 1980s, that land was controlled by the coastal residents. Since however, it was taken over by a cooperative in the general chaos following the Sandinista electoral defeat, and later sold to individual land buyers.
“The sale was illegal,” Nella claims. She has organized her neighborhood to recover the lost areas, “because the cooperative just took over, and in addition most members of the cooperative simply left their land. And individual members of cooperatives can not just sell their land.” It is uncertain if they will end up with the law on their side. In the last four municipal elections in Moyogalpa, right-wing political parties won. And one of the battles Nella is involved in, is against the local tourist chamber, which has allied with the mayor to expropriate Nella and her whole neighborhood, in order to replace them with a seaside road.
When I see Nella a few weeks later for the second time, she tells me that after our interview a representative from city hall passed by, and accused her of giving ‘foreign journalists’ a false impression of the legal status of the land.
But such small things are hardly stopping Nella. “Sure I could develop 0.7 hectares right across the path from here,” says Nella, in whose hut of approximately 200 square feet, a second room is separated from the remainder with a plastic bag. She lives there with four of her children.
When I arrive for my second visit, she has just returned from Rivas, the county capital, where she was promoting the campaign to vote for Ometepe as one of new seven natural wonders of the world. She is even willingly wearing the advertising-t-shirt with the end of the sleeves folded, so the logos of the commercial sponsors don’t show.
All those on Nella’s side of the path, seem to be on a fairly equal economic footing. These are the people Nella organized.
Only two years ago they renewed their brotherhood by putting up a new sign for their community, the ‘Apante,’ and built a church – from grasses.
How many more pigs?
Ometepe has about 34,000 residents. According to internal calculations of the Sandinista government, of those 13,284 individuals, or 2,234 families, live in extreme poverty. The first group of 100 recipients of ‘zero hunger’ on the island received their animals by March 2008. According to the spokesman of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry on the island, Mario Jose Ivarda, so far only a little under 3% of these animals have died an early death due to improper handling so far. Similar programs of animal and seed gifts have benefitted another 501 families on the island. The next round of animals from ‘zero hunger’ has been halted temporarily though.
Last year, Ortega created a country wide network of so-called Citizen Power Committees (CPC), against the wishes of all other political parties. They are very active especially in the poorer neighborhoods they are very active, and Nella’s neighborhood organization is in the form of a CPC.
“The representative of the mayor, the representative of the ministry, and the representative of the party imply ignored the list of priorities we set as the CPC,” says Nella. She summarizes her reasoning for the fact that a higher level decided to halt the give-out of more live-stock packs. Ivarda sees that somewhat differently and believes that many of the people who originally were on the list simply did not fulfill the conditions of the programme.
Nella says that the selection process was heavily partial, and only those with good connections, often several members of the same family, were chosen. Also she claims that the statistics of dead animals have been manipulated. On the other hand, the CPC are generally accused by the opposition as only helping Sandinistas. Members of other parties rarely show up at their meetings.
The rich neighbors
‘Right across the path’ is the house of Roy and his US American wife. With the land that their neighbors are missing, they operate an eco-tourism farm. She came to Nicaragua to avoid the rat-race at a major US pharmaceutical company. Roy, on the other hand, was once a Sandinista himself. He tells me how he had had enough of the war after several combat missions against the contrarevolutionaries in the 1980s. And then how he became generally disappointed by the Sandinista project, when he found out one day that higher government employees enjoyed Coca-Cola and whiskey. “That was all for me,” Roy defends himself, “I wanted no more of it.”
He then fled to the north, worked as a waiter in Honduras, Guatemala and the United States, but came back before the 1990 elections. He voted against the FSLN, and has done so apparently ever since. About the present government, he complains that they do nothing for the poor, and that they use words such as “anti-imperialism and so” – just like in the 1980s. When I ask him about the ‘zero hunger’ program, he says that only those affiliated with the party would get to take part in it – and he names Nella as an example. “The woman in front of us helped the party during the election campaign, and now she got a pig for it. We always say that the pig is better off than her, because it has a cement floor, while she has no floor at all.” Roy tries to joke, but he realizes quickly that it is inappropriate and he rows back. “She hardly speaks with me, probably because I have a US American wife.”
Because Roy and Nella hardly speak, he does not know that he could be so wrong. Nella raises up to three pigs on her land, but those are owned by other young people in the neighborhood, and her reward will be paid in chunks of meat once they are slaughtered.
Also, the 2006 election campaign was not the first time Nella was active for the party.
“Are you a member of the party?” I ask her when I first meet her. “I am a militant of the Sandinista National Liberation Front!” she shoots back.
She joined the party at the age of sixteen years. First she was trained in Costa Rica and then came back to join the Southern Front – all underground of course. As part of the proletarian tendency, which held the theory that the most important preparatory measure for a revolution against the US-allied Somoza dictatorship was the organizing of the workers, she worked in the mountains under a cover name as a ‘fighter’ – “until the triumph of the revolution” as those days in August 1979 are generally called. Everything was secret, and even now in the city of San Carlos she is only known under this cover name.
Although still a party member, Nella feels discriminated against as an island inhabitant even now: “For them [the mainland residents], we live beyond the outer frontier of civilization Here everything always arrives last. And it really should be the opposite: We, with the worst infrastructure, should be the first to get help.” She describes how during Somoza’s times the island had no electricity. Although Moyogalpa now does have electricity, Nella and the neighbors even further from the city center still don’t.
Even though Maria Nella, at least so far, has not received a pig by the government, she continues to support the FSLN and Ortega as her president. “He is not my idol, but I respect him as my president,” she explains while sitting on the wooden bench in front of their hut.
And politically speaking, she is even active outside her local area. During the last year, she was first elected cultural representative for the CPC of her territory number ten, then for the city Moyogalpa, and then for the county of Rivas. “We need to use this government term to develop the culture,” she says as she explains their decision to get involved. The county extends far beyond the island, and so much of her time is spent sitting on the 1.5-hour ferry trip to the mainland. The criticism of the CPC, that they are almost exclusively controlled by the Sandinistas, is not valid for Nella: “Of course others can participate, collaborate and discuss with us. But we are those who decide. I have not fought for sixteen years to regain power, only to then let the political right be in charge anyway.”
But why this commitment to a government which left her in such poverty? “I’m not a party member to enrich myself,” Nella protests, “of course I do not always agree with what the party does. But to leave it would mean for me to break with my inner political conviction.”
In the 1990s, as a single mother without any permanent source of income, she had to move around a lot. She worked in other places such as Costa Rica, and also for the Nicaraguan military under neo-liberal presidents. And always the Sandinistas lost the elections. “But I never left the ranks of the party—when we hungered, when we froze, when we lived through the whole misery—I never left the front behind. I was always there for my people.”
Education makes the difference
But did not all Sandinista revolutionaries become rich? These are the comments by critics. Nella received a salary: She does not feel poor. “Poverty is what it is in your head,” she tries to explain, “if you have education, then you do not need more than what I have here.”
After spending the first year under the Sandinista controlled post-Somoza government, registering and disbanding weapons stocks, and working as an amateur actress in her spare time, she won a scholarship to study dance and theater, which was awarded to the representatives of the various regions of Nicaragua. “Until we lost the power of 1990,” as she puts it, she was responsible for culture and adult education for the island of Ometepe and was the political secretary of the party.
Roy recently called her ‘Mrs. Doctor,’ even if that was only because he wanted something from her. Nella explains the change in values that took place inside of her like this: “I grew up here, just like everybody else. But I had the opportunity to get to know a different world through my studies – a world of ideas and theories.”
The new government also gave the opportunity to one of Nella’s sons to complete his studies. He is now working for Petronic, the state oil company, and can therefore help her out a bit economically. In any case, until Nella manages to get Roy and his wife expropriated.
“The floor in my house is not a permanent solution,” Nella answers to my question why the pig is better off than her. If all goes well, she may perhaps have a cement floor herself in a few years time.