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Crisis Evolving... Who Suffers?

Here's the September 2018 newsletter of the CDCA in Nicaragua... let us know what you think, please. You can also access it as a PDF (printable) document here: http://jhc-cdca.org/newsletters/2018-09_nl.pdf   

- Sarah, for us all

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September 2018

This newsletter is different, because Nicaragua is different; unrest has caused great harm to the poor and to our work. I will begin by telling you some of what we know is going on in Nicaragua (as of this writing, mid -August) and how it is affecting the people with whom we work and for whom we work.

- Kathleen

The unrest in Nicaragua has calmed but is not over. 

What has been explained to us is that Round One has been won by the government and Round Two now is being played out in the international arena.

April 2018 demonstration
                  in Managua

In mid-April, the current Nicaraguan government announced that their solution to the problem of the national health insurance1 and social security system going bankrupt was to raise what employers had to pay by a good bit, raise slightly what employees would have to pay, and take 5 % of what retirees receive in social security to enroll them in the national health insurance plan to give them better health care2A demonstration opposing this plan happened on the 18th of April and three protesters were killed.

Looting, rioting, burning government buildings, and violence took over with people on both sides being killed as protests continued. With conflicting reports, it still seems that only the people doing the violence or paying people to carry out violence actually know what is going on.

Adding to the confusion, gangs have taken this opportunity to settle old scores and kill people;  that sort of thing happened early on in Nueva Vida, where our clinic is.

looting appliance store

The government almost immediately rescinded the decree to reform the social security system, but the deaths and violence continued. Dialogues started and stopped with neither side agreeing to the other's demands. The opposition refused to remove the nationwide road blocks but the police eventually forcibly removed them, while the government still refuses to step down or to move up general election from the scheduled 2021 date.

This has split families as people take sides. The vehemence that has been spewed on social media is staggering. Many non-profits and their staff have left the country - hopefully temporarily. Businesses are closing. Construction has slowed. Tourism has been destroyed. The U.S. State Department keeps a high travel alert status hurting the country, which had seen 5 years of steady growth in its GDP and is still the second poorest country in the Americas and Caribbean.

angry protestor

Of course, it is clear that there is legitimate disenchantment with the current government, despite the good things that have been accomplished over the years. One huge complaint is that Daniel Ortega maneuvered the Supreme Court to reinterpret the Nicaraguan constitution to allow him to run for more than one consecutive term. Another is selecting his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his vice-presidential candidate (right after Hillary Clinton was chosen as the Democratic Party's nominee for President of the U.S). There are also accusations of corruption in the government.

Ciudad Sandino school lunch

It is also clear, for those who support the government, that they do so because of all the improvements to services for the poor and to infrastructure. Hot meals are provided to children in the public schools and public education was made free again after the Sandinistas were voted back in to office in 2006. Public universities and medical schools are free.

Health care, though limited, is also free. WiFi is free in all the public parks which are being upgraded and children play in them. Roads have improved. There are no more scheduled black outs and the electrical grid has been extended to most rural areas.

Recently, Managua was the most desirable place to invest according to Financial Times. Nicaragua was raised 12 places to the 43rd happiest country in the world according to the U.N. Happiness Report. The World Bank, the United Nations, and the International Monetary Fund praised Nicaragua for their poverty reduction plan. So why did the government "win" Round One? Because the government still has a great deal of support, especially from the poor.

Who make up the opposition? Many are students and true believers in a democratic system. But there are also the big businesses, the Nicaraguan Catholic Bishops, the far Right and all opposition parties who want control of the government. There also seem to be other elements creating more violence: gangs, the drug cartels, and shadowy third parties.

opposition alliance
                    group

Who is suffering the most? The poor. Those killed in this violence are mostly young poor men. Many people who are aligned with the Sandinista party are also among the dead.

Food, gas and diesel prices have risen. The cost of electricity has risen. Most of the jobs lost are manual labor and they are the ones available to those without formal education: the poor. Dense, crowded neighborhoods are targeted for creating terror with mortars and guns going off, while gangs with newly-acquired motorcycles sans mufflers race up and down the roads.

Squatters are taking over land with the police being otherwise occupied. Probably when all quiets down, most will be removed and then be back to square one. Many local grocery stores and markets, where the poor shop, were looted.

Some say the police are architects of the brutal repression while others would like them back on the streets keeping calm - the government told them to stand down when this crisis began. Many police have been killed and at least one was murdered at a road block and set on fire, and it was videoed. So, when the police do go out, many cover their faces to hide their identities, which is a bit unnerving.

In other words, it is a mess.

Like most messes made, the poor are abandoned.

Here is where the CDCA comes in:

We will not abandon our brothers and sisters.

We will work to keep the services of the CDCA going, which is proving very difficult.

Except for the possibility of two small delegations, all our delegations have cancelled for 2018 and 2019 because of the State Department's travel alert. This means that we are losing approximately $100,000 this year and another $100,000 next year in delegation support, plus at least another $50,000 worth of donated medicines and supplies for our clinic this year and then again in 2019. That's a huge amount for us to try to recover.

We are cutting costs in many ways: not replacing staff that resign or retire; cutting down on pain medication; printing on the backs of used paper for forms for the clinic; conserving electricity; changing the foreign staff's health insurance; and those of us who receive U.S. social security (little as it is) are loaning our stipends back to the CDCA.

We have been trying to raise more funds by sending out an appeal letter, asking churches, Friends Meetings, synagogues, and service clubs to put us in their budgets. We will be writing former volunteers asking them to give monthly to help us meet our budgets. We are grateful for the many generous responses so far, but we still have a long way to go, so we are asking you to give monthly as well.

We are committed to not laying off staff unless we simply must, because we do not want to cut services or add stress to the lives of our staff with them having as much stress as they already have.

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1 Nicaragua's health care system consists of three parts. 1) Universal Health Care…anyone can walk into a public clinic or hospital and be seen; 2) Single-payer National Health Insurance: everyone who has a job pays into this and can get health care from doctors and hospitals who work in this system; and 3) Private Care. The level of care tends to run from worst to best, so the plan was to shore up the Single-payer insurance and give the elderly a step up from level of care from the universal.

The International Monetary Fund's recommendation would have been worse for workers and retirees, but rather than explaining the changes, the government announced them in a Presidential decree.

3 WiFi in the parks has been a mixed blessing for the government. Being more sensitive to social media postings with all the press on how Russia influenced the U.S. elections, we have noted that many photos of current unrest in Nicaragua are years old or from other places, and we have noted how much of the international press coverage of the unrest here is based on what was reported on social media.

____________________________________________________________________

In the clinic, many of our elderly patients are afraid to come in, so our general physician, Dr. Elizabeth, goes out to them, with her patience and with her generous heart.

Our health promoters are seeing over 500 patients/month in their homes as people are more afraid at nights to go out of their neighborhoods to seek medical care.

Our ob/gyn resigned because of her health and our nurse, Martha, retired. Now our remaining nurse, Isamar, is taking all PAPs and putting in all birth control implants while Dr. Elizabeth sees all the prenatal patients.

Because our ultrasound machine cannot be repaired, radiologist Dr. Jorge is taking up slack in the other areas of chronic care, and in pediatrics when Dr. Victoriano cannot get to work due to blockades or violence, as well as with other women's health issues.

We are short on international volunteers - currently NONE - but we have 6 Nicaraguan interns helping in the clinic to relieve some of the work pressure as they learn dentistry, nursing, administration, and pharmaceuticals.

In January we finally created a paid position and hired Andrea to coordinate volunteers, but now we have no volunteers! So, Andrea has taken over our social media outreach, made a fundraising video for the clinic (http://jhc-cdca.org/2018-crisis-in-nicaragua/), runs the weekly boys' group, and is helping manage Casa Ben Linder while Claudia is on maternity leave.

_________________

COPROEXNIC, the organic agriculture cooperative, is struggling financially and so are all the poor farmers with their small fields.

Rains have been good, but they lack the capital to plant. One funding source backed out completely and another has withheld more promised funds until things are considered stable again in Nicaragua.

The shipments of sesame, peanuts, and coffee have all been exported but were delayed because of roadblocks which resulted in damage to some of the product.

The land where the sesame processing plant sits now has squatters that are a danger to the implementation of clean and organic processing. The government owns the building and would like COPROEXNIC, who leases from the government and runs the plant, to remove the squatters.

COPROEXNIC had the possibility of a buyer investing in a peanut processing plant but as he said, "No one in their right mind would invest in this unstable environment now."

_________________

Casa Ben Linder

Casa Ben Linder is a place dedicated to the memory of Ben Linder and others who died in the Contra War, to the Revolution, and to people of import who have struggled to help the Nicaraguan poor. When we took it over in January, we planned it to be a hospitality house for events, a museum, a place of art and murals, and an Airbnb.

Now we are struggling to pay the bills with no tourists coming to Nicaragua and with the non-profit that was renting the front room now having shut down.

We do host events at Casa Ben Linder that bring in a little money like workshops, puppet shows and trainings.

We hosted an event sponsored by the Bolivian Ambassador to Nicaragua. He told the story of Ben's life to his guests. He passed out our business cards to try to help us get some people to rent the two finished bedrooms. We have hosted a few Airbnb guests but not very many.

_________________

JHCommunity

At the writing of this newsletter (mid-August), we are anxiously awaiting the birth of Daniel and Claudia's baby, Samantha. Jessica and her children, Elliot and Charlotte, are coming down late August to be here for the birth.

We have enjoyed having Joseph home this summer. He returns for his senior year at Bennington College late August.

Mike and Kathleen went to Alaska for a small speaking tour and had a wonderful time with our good Alaskan friends and our son, Coury, and his family when they joined us. Cassie, our daughter-in-law, is from Alaska and started volunteering when she was in college, coming with their delegations.

Becca, Paul, Eibhlí­n and Orla are in England and Ireland visiting with family and speaking about the crisis here and our work.

Becca and Sarah are working on setting up speaking engagements in October: Becca in Colorado and New Mexico, Sarah in southern California.

(http://jhc-cdca.org/how-to-help/upcoming-speaking-opportunities/).

_________________

Reflection

It took me a long time to figure out what to write about the unrest. Facts, true facts, are almost impossible to discern. Biases color everyone's opinion including my own. Becca has written great blogs (http://jhc-cdca.org/2018-crisis-in-nicaragua/ ) about the unrest and people's reactions to it.

We are keenly aware that except for Claudia, Joseph and Becca and Paul's daughters - all of us are guests in this country we now call our home.

Three of us have residency, but 5 of us have courtesy visas renewed annually. We are - in essence - immigrants in Nicaragua.

So here is where I personally come down. Kitty Madden, founder of the Casa Materna in Matagalpa, used to have as her email footer, "If you have to choose between being right or being kind, choose to be kind."

So, I choose to be kind. I'm not going to fight with people who have differing views. I may choose to express my own, but I refuse to be vicious and mean.

So, I choose kindness and I choose to stand with the poor. I remember what Jesus said:  "When you do it for the least of these, you do it for me."

There are so many untruths going around, we get confused and uncentered. We focus on the what ifs, the minutiae, and who has done what, and we forget who is truly suffering.

Mahatma Gandhi said,

I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest [person] whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to [them]. Will [they] gain anything by it? Will it restore [them] to a control over [their] own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?

Then you will find your doubts and your self melt away.4

I pray that choices for the poor will take priority here in Nicaragua, in the nation of my birth (the United States), and globally and even in my own heart; then peace may one day reign.     - Kathleen

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4Source: Mahatma Gandhi [Last Phase, Vol. II (1958), P. 65]

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