Interview with Edgardo Garcia Aguilar, General Secretary,Rural Workers Association of Nicaragua
(A member organization of Via Campesina International),
Tortilla con Sal, August 30th 2017
How important is Nicaragua’s Interoceanic Canal for the country’s labor unions and rural workers organizations?
As rural workers and smallholders we think that to reorganize our work given the international division of labor, one of the options we have to open up is precisely that of the Interoceanic Canal. For now we continue being primary producers with minimal industrial processing of food, timber, precious metals, fish, natural medicines as well as competing in international markets with the other most impoverished countries on the planet with those same products. In Nicaragua 46% of the labor force is agricultural engaged in seasonal, temporary employment dependent on fluctuations in international raw materials prices.
A big challenge for our third world economy is finding funds for investment and development. Three years ago back in 2013 we managed to show we had got extreme poverty down to under 16%, when just 7 years before that, it was at 37% and all the multilateral cooperation was in the form of humanitarian aid, not for development. Then we had the ALBA and other projects that meant low cost housing, food production, nutrition and literacy programs, electricity generation, rural electrification, better streets and highways for the people.
The reconciliation process has permitted better indicators of improvements in living standards and also national unity between employers, workers and government and that led to multi-party agreement in Nicaragua’s National Assembly of the law creating the Interoceanic Canal Authority so as to facilitate the participation of various investors from international private businesses and governments, including investment funds from the United States.
Now today along with economic development, expectations in terms of consumption and services are growing too. We have wifi in public parks as well as internet kiosks, rural families’ products get promoted in local markets, there’s technical training for micro-business start-ups alongside recovery of native seeds and experimentation with high-yield varieties as well.
How do you see Nicaragua’s future development and its ability to defend the natural environment?
We’re trying not to follow the vegetable route of an impoverished population. It’s clear we don’t have oil or gas, so if we continue using firewood and charcoal and cooking with firewood and charcoal while at the same time engaging in open range cattle farming for lack of the capital necessary to make it intensive, if we continue with this kind of tree destroying agriculture with a culture of firewood and deforestation, that will have tragic outcomes.
Building the Canal is the incentive we need to be able to reforest. Serious reforestation takes a superior long term view over and above the immediate need to fell trees for firewood and timber. The Canal is a key instrument to ensure genuinely serious reforestation and also preserve our wetlands. We think it is the best legal argument to prevent the attack on our forests, a legal and economic argument because laws are weak when unsupported by economic needs.
What do you think of criticism by opponents of the Canal who question its legality?
There’s political pluralism here. Political parties under Nicaraguan law dispute periods of government under generally accepted electoral rules and periodically run in elections seeking a majority so they can govern. Some of these parties ally with the current government, others stay in permanent opposition. It’s logical that both maintain their respective criticisms.
But there is also a mercenary opposition with colonialist, imperialist funding whose aim is to revive the Chamorro Bryan Treaty of 1914 which embodied the big stick foreign policy of the United States wanting the right of decision over Nicaraguan territory. That Treaty was approved precisely when US marines occupied Nicaragua, when it was governed by puppets in accordance with US whims.
That was the reason for the Sandinista insurgency of the 1920s. Today, that same mercenary ultraconservative opposition, mixing up Torquemada and the Ku Klux Klan, work in support of the NICA Act, which effectively imposes an economic blockade on Nicaragua.
With that kind of colonial style opposition we are heading straight to a colonial hell.
Is it legitimate of the Canal’s opponents to accuse the authorities of violating human rights?
Those accusations have no legitimacy. They should feel ashamed of themselves, serving as imperial stooges and mercenaries acting against the country’s economic. social, political and cultural development. They’ve collaborated with the dirtiest and most aggressive currents since Jean Kirkpatrick and Oliver North, working with Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Marco Rubio, the International Republican Institute and so on.
They’ve organized over 90 demonstrations over the last few years, each time with more vehicles and money, but the real issue for them is to speculate over land values along the Canal route. Obviously, no landowner is going to pass up on the chance to speculate the price of their land, but that negotiation is one that remains open between the landowners, the construction company and the Interoceanic Canal Authority. All the rest is press statements and ultraconservative menaces retailed via CNN
or Fox News or so called human rights campaigns which amount to campaigns of defamation and calumny against Nicaragua’s lawful authorities.
The “civil society” show is a racket from which they make a living. How often have they recognized the literacy results, the social housing, the investment and employment creation, the restitution of rights for people with disability, equality for women in public life, the 32,000 square kilometers of communal land guaranteed to indigenous peoples on the Caribbean Coast…they will never recognize those achievements because their political project is not inspired by our sovereignty.
It’s inspired by vassallage and servility.
What do you think about how attacks on the government are generally made in the name of civil society?
They want us to be subordinate rather than to develop ourselves.
No matter what they may say, what they want is subordination allowing the United States to maintain its monopoly on interoceanic transit via Panama and the canal there that has signified ignominious colonial status for that sister country.
That is why these critics are content with the NICA Act. What they argue is that nether the Nicaraguan people nor its government are democratic. For them the NICA Act is democratic, for them and their interests.
For them, our opinion as rural workers doesn’t exist, nor that of industrial workers, nor of the students, nor the business sector, nor the support of countries friendly to Nicaragua, nor of international solidarity with Nicaragua, nor that of investors in Nicaragua.
What counts for them is the hegemony of another people, the color of that people’s flag and their kind of money, the laws of another country’s legislators, the names and surnames of those people and the support of all that in other times past was imposed on Nicaragua. That makes them feel fulfilled.
On the other hand, for us, as men and women rural workers and our families we defend the sovereign decision of Nicaragua operating in the interests of the majority of our people.