Nicaraguan peasants march for land, credit: The Militant

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun Aug 17 06:48:11 MDT 2003


The Militant  Vol. 67/No. 29           August 25, 2003


Nicaraguan peasants
march for land, credit
(front page)

BY SETH GALINSKY
MIAMI—Several thousand peasants and farm workers began a 75-mile-long
march on July 29 from Matagalpa, the coffee-growing center of
Nicaragua, to Managua, the country’s capital. They demanded land,
cheap credit, and government aid for rural toilers hard hit by the
world-wide drop in coffee prices and a drought. At the same time, some
6,000 peasants occupied farms and waged sit-down strikes and other pro
tests in northern Nicaragua to press the same demands.
Peasant leader Pascual Hernández Morán told the Managua-based El Nuevo
Diario that the government has not implemented the Sept. 13, 2002, Las
Tunas accords, in which it promised to carry out measures to alleviate
the crisis in the countryside.

Some health-care centers were set up, Hernández Morán said, “but on
the question of property, the lack of action is blinding.”

“We’re in the same place we were when we signed the accord,” Carlos
José Blandón, a leader of the Association of Rural Workers (ATC), told
La Prensa. “No land has been turned over from the land banks or has
been given to the cooperatives,” continued Blandón, who is also a
leader of the march.

In some cases, peasants and farm cooperatives have been unable to
obtain credit because they never received official title to the land
they work.

In July 1979 workers and peasants in Nicaragua took power out of the
hands of the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza through a
popular insurrection led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front
(FSLN). A land reform was among the first measures of the
revolutionary government. Farms belonging to rich landowners who had
supported the Somoza regime were confiscated and land was distributed
to those without it.

This land reform, however, and other measures to combat the
exploitation of rural producers unfolded in stages, with retreats, and
was never completed. By the end of the 1980s, a large part of
agricultural production remained in capitalist hands, which meant that
previous government measures to provide cheap credit and farm supplies
often boosted the profits of wealthy landowners while neither
increasing agricultural investment and output nor substantially
improving the peasants’ lot. Over time, the FSLN leadership retreated
even from the partial early measures that benefited the rural toilers,
which were along a revolutionary course.

Throughout much of the 1980s, the workers and farmers government that
came to power in 1979 faced a counterrevolutionary war. The contras,
as they became known, were a guerrilla army largely organized and
financed by Washington, which recruited heavily in the countryside
taking advantage of erroneous policies of the FSLN regime. Nicaragua’s
working people militarily defeated the contras by 1987. But the
seven-year-long war had a wearing impact on workers and farmers. The
FSLN leadership used this as a justification for making more
concessions to local capitalists and landlords and to U.S.
imperialism. By the end of the 1980s, the FSLN leadership placed
increasingly long-term reliance on the workings of the capitalist
market. The FSLN had transformed itself into a radical bourgeois
electoral party. In 1990 the FSLN lost the elections to a coalition of
capitalist parties headed by Violeta Chamorro.

By that time, there were still 60,000 landless peasants. Those who had
land often lacked credit, seeds, fertilizer, and tools, while
capitalist landowners dominated agriculture in many parts of the
country. Under the Chamorro regime and subsequent capitalist
governments many state-owned farms were leased with an option to buy
to form cooperatives or were returned to their former owners.

Matagalpa, the coffee-growing center of Nicaragua, has been especially
hard hit in recent years. Wages for some workers have dropped to $1 a
day. In the 1990s coffee prices were still relatively high. But after
Brazil, the largest coffee producer in the world, increased its output
and Vietnam entered the market with massive quantities, the price
plummeted. Prices dropped to 50 cents a pound in 2001-2002, compared
to an average of $1.20 in the 1980s

Agence France Presse reports that peasants started heading to
Matagalpa a month and a half ago when their food reserves ran out.
That’s where the 13-day-long march started. Unemployment and
underemployment is estimated at 53 percent in this Central American
nation.

There are currently 12 farms involved in land disputes, according to
Alfonso Sandino, a government minister. Some farms have been occupied
by landless peasants, while the owners are demanding their return.
Farm workers took over the Las Golondrinas farm, which in turn has
been claimed by a U.S. owner. In a compromise worked out between
Managua and the U.S. State Department, those workers are being given
other land.

Three groups have occupied the La Empresa farm: ex-contras, discharged
soldiers of the army, and farm workers.

The march stopped outside Managua, at El Tuma-La Dalia, August 5 as
peasant leaders and government officials began negotiations.

According to La Prensa, march leaders at first wanted plots of land
distributed as part of an “agrarian reform” but agreed to a payment
plan for some 7,500 manzanas (about 13,000 acres) of state-owned land.

The Spanish news agency EFE reported August 11 that peasants and farm
workers declared their march over August 9. The same day, thousands of
rural toilers occupying land in northern Nicaragua ended sit-down
strikes. Peasant leaders and government representatives reportedly
came to an agreement on several of the peasants’ demands. The accord
includes the government giving land titles to some 2,500 rural
families, selling them the land at 40 percent of its value recorded in
the official registry, with payments extending over 20 years. These
are largely lands that peasants already used, as part of cooperatives
set up in the 1980s.





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