Central America Notes
September 6 , 2003
We present some notes collected on critical events during the summer in Central America.
Costa Rica [From the San Jose (Costa Rica) Daily, Nacion]
On July 14, some 15 Costa Rican police agents tried to arrest a group of about 80 campesinos on the Bambuzal estate, owned by Standard Fruit, the US banana company, in Rio Frio, Sarapiqui, Heredia. Just four days earlier, on July 10, authorities had evicted 166 families who had been occupying the Bambuzal estate since December 2001. The July 14 incident happened after water authorities cut off water to a nearby store where the campesinos had set up camp following the eviction. Violence erupted after the police arrived and chased the campesinos back onto the Bambuzal estate…
The campesinos claim police attacked them with tear gas and fired weapons at them. Police say they were forced to use firearms to defend themselves after they were ambushed by campesinos armed with machetes and nail-studded wooden boards. (A reporter from the San Jose daily La Nacion who spoke with the campesinos after the confrontation only saw one with a nail-studded wooden stick-- though unsurprisingly, most carried machetes.)
Campesino Gerardo Moya Solis died after being hit in the chest with at
least two bullets. Another campesino, Tiburcio Filimon Sequeira Lopez, was
wounded by a bullet in the leg. Two police agents were injured, allegedly by machetes and the nail-studded clubs. Ten people were arrested. The 45-caliber gun with which Moya was apparently killed was not recovered; police said they lost several weapons which fell into a creek.
Between 250 and 300 families, most of them from Heredia, Limon and San Jose, first began occupying the 850-hectare Bambuzal estate in May 2001. Leaders of the occupation movement charge that the land does not belong to Standard Fruit, and that the company was no longer using the bamboo grown there, having switched to a cable system to hold up banana plants. The families were evicted in July 2001 on a court order; 38 people were injured in that eviction, and one campesino, Randall Munoz Jimenez, died a few hours afterwards. The Judicial Investigation Organization (OIJ) later ruled that Munoz died of natural causes.
In November 2001 the Agricultural Court of Pococi, in Limon, issued a restraining order blocking further evictions on the Bambuzal estate. In December 2001, 166 families returned to the estate, divided it into individual plots, cleared the bamboo and planted food crops. Last October, 64 other families from the original group accepted an offer from the Institute of Agrarian Development and received land plots in Cuatro Esquinas de Cariari, Pococi. On July 3 of this year, the restraining order was lifted and the Sarapiqui court ordered the families evicted from Bambuzal. After the July 14 incident, Standard Fruit put up wire fencing and warning signs around the estate. [La Nacion 7/15/03, 7/21/03]
Nicaragua [by Manuel Rozental]
A headline of El Salvador's El Diario de Hoy reads "La Marcha del Hambre"; The Hunger March. There are pictures of impoverished peasants, men, women and children. The march arrived at Las Tunas in Nicaragua and headed to the presidential palace in Managua. Last year they made it to Las Tunas where government representatives signed agreements and promises, which the marchers argue they have not kept.
El Diario also quotes physicians and nurses concerned about the health conditions of many marchers. They argue that many are so malnourished and ill that they have advised them against going any further. Pregnant women, children with diarrhoea and pneumonias, elderly people without adequate food and shelter under the sun and the rain. They fear many could die. A pregnant woman was taken as an emergency to the nearest health post.
A headline from La Prensa, a Nicaraguan daily reads "Gobierno Impotente ante La Pobreza": the government is overwhelmed by poverty. Government officials, including Nicaragua's Deputy Minister of Health, state their frustration. Poverty grows and all they can do is palliate this disaster.
I saw these people in the middle of May, on my way to Matagalpa to meet with indigenous authorities. They lived (or survived) on the side of the highway, under black garbage plastic bags covering a wooden shed. A man explained to me how they starved while "illegally" occupying the edge of large landholdings that were unproductive. The government, rather than distributing this land so that they could produce food, left them there to starve, he explained. After meeting with the indigenous leaders, we went to visit coffee processing and packaging plants in the area. This once prosperous industry is now on the brink of bankruptcy. The region was turned into a coffee producing enclave for global markets. Global capital strategies have been successful in bringing coffee prices down to a point where coffee producers only make losses out of the process while in Europe and North America, fancy Coffee Houses appear on every corner and the prices for a cup keep going up. The market transfers profit to intermediaries and shareholders, while peasants and producers race downwards to produce more and better for less.
La Prensa interviewed a woman who is marching with her children and she explained it in her words: " We don't want the uncertainty of jobs anymore. We want land, land where we can grow the food that we will eat. Nothing else. Nothing less". This time, President Bolanos will have to listen to them. Even against medical advice, they feel they have nothing to lose. It is land for food or death.
While shareholders and wealthy first world urban dwellers enjoy capuccinos, espressos, and lattes, those who followed the rules and promises of the market know the truth. No production for markets, no jobs in national and multinational enterprises will do anything but exploit and exterminate people and land. People need food, not money. They need land, not promises. They are dying without them and willing to fight for them.
This is Nicaragua? The land of the Sandinista revolution and of the Agrarian Reform? It was. Now, thanks to Reagan and the freedom fighters, thanks to liberal governments whose corrupt presidents have stolen national wealth mercilessly, thanks to neo-liberal policies and the upcoming FTAA, Nicaragua is a land of misery. The second poorest country in the continent. Land has gone back to those who owned it before the Sandinista Agrarian Reform and beans and Rice are being imported. Those who have nothing left to lose have decided for a second time in a year to march and die under the sun. They don't want markets or jobs. Their message to the Governments and the trade agreements and the markets is loud and clear. We want land to grow the food to eat!!!!
El Salvador [Manuel Rozental]
FMLN has proclaimed Schafik Handal and Guillermo Mata as presidential and vice-presidential candidates for the FMLN. 12 years after the peace agreements between the FMLN and the ARENA government were signed, the left is likely to become the next democratically elected government in El Salvador. FMLN already holds the majority of seats at the National Assembly and the mayorship of most large cities in the country including the capital, San Salvador.
The FMLN is facing ARENA´s Toni Saca, the owner of 6 radio stations. According to the UNDP´s recently released 2003 World Development Report, El Salvador has the lowest percentage of social investment of all Central American Countries. The US dollar has become its official currency and it has the most regressive tax regime in the continent. Most tax revenues come from the poor through sales taxes and similar measures, while income and property of the wealthy are barely taxed.
Any outsider will notice how the largest newspapers, La Prensa, El Diario de Hoy, El Mundo, are controlled by the strongest economic groups and ARENA. The same happens with television and radio. News are so biased in favor of the official right that as soon as the FMLN candidates were proclaimed last friday at Archbishop Romero Park in downtown San Salvador, the headlines openly announced that FMLN would censor freedom of the press and establish vigilante groups ¨like the Bolivarian Circles¨ of Venezuela. According to these mainstream media outlets, this was announced by Mr Handal during his proclamation.
Those who were at Romero`s Park heard a different story. What Mr Handal promised was that his government would continue to work with the people in close connection with the FMLN popular coordination that have existed since the war. The elites who have ruined the country, driving it to the brink of bankruptcy, are also the owners of the official truth. The media war against the democratic process has already begun. A popular FMLN government that promises to eradicate illiteracy, the diseases of misery, and hunger is already being labelled as an enemy of freedom by those who have denied the freedom of survival to most in that country. If ARENA wins, the media will take a stronger hold on power, to help the wealthy and the US carry on with FTAA and Plan Puebla Panama. If they lose, they will leave behind them a bankrupt economy and a machine of lies that might be able to destroy the aspirations of the Salvadorean people through the FMLN government.