Governments and Companies on the Stand

Armando Chaguaceda

Participating on the Central American Climatic Court

The end of my stay in Nicaragua couldn’t have been any better.  Invited by friends of the Nicaraguan “Another World is Possible” social movement, I was part of the Central American Climatic Court, held October 29 and 30 in Managua.  Nicaragua is also a member of the Permanent People’s Tribunal.  The objective of the activity was to publically expose various cases of human rights violations against Central American communities and abuse committed to the environment.

The court revealed the role of financial institutions (the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the Central American Bank of Economic Integration and others) that provide economic resources for projects that impact the environment and society.  Likewise, the complicity of states and governments (Costa Rica and Nicaragua) in those devastating activities was demonstrated.

On this occasion several accusations were presented; these included the effects of strip mining on the Crucitas community, in Costa Rica; polluting activities and the violation of workers’ rights by the Spanish company Pescanova in western Nicaragua; and the abandonment of the Indio Maiz Reservation in the San Juan River in Nicaragua, where traditionally grown crops are being supplanted by the monoculture of African palms for bio-fuel production, all with the support of German assistance.

Also denounced was the use of agro-toxins for banana production in western Nicaragua, where this practice is affecting the water supply and harming the health of more than eight-thousand workers, former-workers and residents.  Entities responsible for this were identified as the Nicaraguan group Pellas and the Dow Chemical Company, Del Monte and Chiquita Brand Bananas, among other transnational companies.

I was moved when seeing the filmed testimony of a youth affected by agro-toxins.  Though ill from a failing kidney, he urged his comrades to continue the struggle so that his death would not be in vain.  I could feel the pain and impotence of those families in the flesh, because five years ago that terrible disorder took my step-father, someone who was vital in my personal and political development.

Camp in Managua of people affected by agro-toxins on the banana plantations.

During presentations about the Nicaraguan government’s responsibility in these criminal and life-threatening situations, I was surprised by one omission: While the activist accused the Pellas company vehemently, they avoided responding in public about the ruling FSLN government’s participation in the problem and instead highlighted compensation received by only a few of the affected individuals.

However another participant reminded those in attendance of the need to not let the FSLN government off the hook for its close ties with the polluting companies, or for its refusal to resolve the public health and legal situation of all the affected workers, and for its noncompliance with an agreement previously won through struggles against the neoliberal government of Enrique Bolaños.

This situation put in evidence the risks and costs of co-optation of social movements by “progressive governments” and it showed how agendas for struggle can be interfered with as a result of the loss of autonomy.

Also analyzed in the trial were conflicts around the right of a community of ethnic Mayangnas to their ancestral land.  They have filed charges against the Nicaraguan government before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission.  Also presented was the case of indigenous territorial governments opposed to the government’s granting of land to local logging companies associated with a transnational corporation, though this is being done within the framework of ALBA forestry provisions.  A last presented case was that of the indigenous Jinotega community, where the Nicaraguan government built an electric generator in their territory without first consulting this group.

The Headquarters of the Pellas.

In the forum, whose verdicts while not legally binding were indeed procedurally rigorous and morally unappealable, I was accompanied by François Houtart, a Belgian priest and sociologist who is the executive secretary of the World Forum for Alternatives and a member of the International Council of the World Social Forum of Porto Alegre.

Also part of the court were Clemente Martinez Quinteros, a Nicaraguan meteorologist who is a specialist on water resources and the coordinator of the Alliance of Organizations for the Defense of Water; along with Salvador Montenegro, who is currently the director of the Center for Aquatic Resources Research at the Autonomous University of Nicaragua.  Serving as prosecutor was William Montiel, a social and water resources activist who for many years was the director of the National Center for Territorial Studies in Nicaragua.

In the verdict, the jury members agreed that in all the cases the governments of Costa Rica and Nicaragua had surrendered to mechanisms imposed by large transnational corporations without safeguarding the rights of their citizens or respecting the environment and the resources of their countries.

In the case of indigenous peoples, the court asserted that the government of Nicaragua had not respected or recognized their identities, property and their rights as a part of that country.  We considered that companies had not respected the legislation of each state when they put their interests above those of the populations affected.

In the case of the banana growers, the jury ruled that they had committed a crime against humanity by being predators of nature and human life when following the logic of capital and acting with the complicity of national governments.

At the send off by the Lake of Nicaragua in Granada.

With this account I am ending the series on my stay in Nicaragua, a country that reminds me of my homeland in various ways and whose social movements I decided to accompany in these convulsive times.

The partial and personal chronicle of this short but intense visit is not without the subjectivity that permeates my knowledge and emotions; nor does it involve a presentation of academic knowledge, for which there will be other times, forms and places.

I believe that as a virgin pupil from “elsewhere” I can shed a different light on political practices and daily living, although being from elsewhere in Nicaragua had diffuse borders since I felt never like a foreigner.

It is that closeness that makes me recall all the feelings that arose in the neighborhoods of Managua, the charm of Ometepe, the majestic simplicity of Masaya, the Matagalpan affection, the beauty of Catarina, the living history of Granada and such an intimate and indelible gift of this land and its people.  These are echoes that resonate in my mind like the new chords of an old and beautiful melody.

Armando Chaguaceda

Armando Chaguaceda: My curriculum vitae presents me as a historian and political scientist. I'm from an unclassifiable generation who collected the achievements, frustrations and promises of the Cuban Revolution and now resists on the island or contributes through numerous websites, trying to remain human without dying in the attempt.