Hunger Activist Lappe speaks at U-M
On March 27, 1986, Frances Moore Lappe, best known for her book "Diet for a Small Planet" and co-founder of the Institute for Food and Development Policy, spoke on "Food, Politics and Hunger" at Rackham Auditorium on the U M campus.
I feel very honored to be here. I appreciate your introduction very much, Peter. I appreciate the generosity of the people who brought me here and certainly the welcome that I have received.
As I was downstairs, preparing to come up here, I found myself getting more and more nervous and I couldn't understand it because I'm among friends. It dawned on me that what was happening was that I was having a bit of a psychological flashback. Ann Arbor has a very special place in my personal history. I gave my first public lecture ever here in 1972. I came back, I believe it was 1973, to this very auditorium and I gave my first lecture to a sizeable audience. I still remember in this flashback that I was absolutely terrified. My knees started to wobble just terribly. Right before I was about to go on stage, a fellow ran up to me with a big, flat, white box. It was a pizza from a local pizza parlor. It completely broke my nervousness, and I was able to carry on and give this talk on world hunger. So there are some advantages to speaking about the topic.
What I would like to do tonight is to focus on Central America. I think it is very appropriate given the news of the day. Has
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What I would like to do tonight is to focus on Central America. I think it is very appropriate given the news of the day. Has anyone heard? Was there a Senate vote?
Audience Member: "It did. It passed 53-47." ($100 million for contras).
Well I guess that's no big surprise. I think it is quite appropriate that tonight we focus on Central America and what I want to do is to ask you, how we could reach this point, how could our legislators be so utterly confused about the conflict, that even though, as reported by Washington Post poll, only 28% of Americans support a policy of attempting to overthrow the government of Nicaragua, still we are letting it happen. Why? How did we reach this point? This is the challenge of my talk tonight, to try to answer this question.
I think we have to start by understanding that regularly, often in invisible ways, we are made to identify not with the majority of people in the third world but with a minority of privileged people. They may look more like us. They may dress more like we do. They may even speak English, because they are educated in the United States, but they are a group whose interests are very different from yours and mine. How does this process take place in which we are made to identify our interests with a privileged minority in the third world? There are many ways and I just brought one extreme example with me of how this takes place.
This is an excerpt from a book, a textbook on Central America written in the early 1970s that has been used in classrooms. In its chapter on Nicaragua, I think it is very telling how Nicaragua is presented. Who are we made to identify with? Briefly, I will quote from this chapter. By the way, the title of this chapter is, "Nicaragua where the sun always shines:"
"Up on a hill, not very far from the Presidential Palace, the air-conditioned countryclub with its bowling alleys and cocktail lounge, its palms and flood-lit swimming pool smiles down on the city. Inside the club, people are talking a mile a minute about taxes, business, cotton or cows, about progress.
The book then goes on to talk about the history of the area. It mentions that the North Americans arrived to bring the idea of material advance to Nicaragua, and in talking about the repeated interventions of the U.S. government by the United States Marines, it says that the effect they had was to prevent conflict between parties from deteriorating into an all out civil war. In other words, we saved Nicaragua from a worse fate. The book goes on to say that stability and unity came to the country under the stewardship of Anastasio Somoza. It goes on to say that under his younger brother who continued to rule the "Somoza way" -- peace and progress by persuasion if possible, by compulsion if necessary -- Nicaragua has advanced. Anyway, it goes on, but I think you get my point, that through many many ways, and this is only an extreme form of something that is quite common, we are made to identify not with people who share our interest, but with people whose interests are very much opposed to yours and mine. Now for that reason, average Americans are totally mystified when aid channelled through these groups -- billions of dollars of aid -- fails not only to alleviate hunger, but even to make friends for us. Since the early 1960s, although there have been 6-7 billion dollars of American economic aid funneled into Central America, at the same time hunger has deepened in the region. The reason we don't make the connection -- "we", I'm using here as the very general "we" of the American people -- is that we don't realize that these two different groups, those that are referred to in this chapter, and the vast majority of people that are invisible to the woman who wrote this book, hold very different definitions of development; and aid passed through one group will result in one outcome. It is that that we must understand.
I'd like you to do a little thought experiment with me right now to clarify this for ourselves and for those whom we reach out to and communicate with -- that development is not one thing, but very different things to different people. Pretend, for example, that you are a small, very poor peasant in, say, rural Honduras, rural El Salvador. What does development mean to you? It seems that if we think about it for a minute, we would agree on certain things that development would undoubtedly mean. It would mean more land for our families, growing basic foods so that we could feed ourselves. It would mean higher wages, if we were working for others. In terms of education, it would mean more schools in the countryside, so that for the first time our children could attend school. In health care it would mean more clinics in the countryside, so that our children would not have to die any longer of simple childhood diseased. In terms of the use of foreign exchange in the country, it would mean foreign exchange used to import the basic tools of development, even the most simple things like chicken wire or hoes that weren't produced locally. This is what development would mean. It would be our definition.
Now, let's shift. Let's pretend that we live in Tegucigalpa or we live in San Salvador or another major city and we run a distribution firm distributing agricultural machinery for a multi-national corporation. What is our definition of development? Certainly in terms of let's say, education, it would not mean more schools in the countryside. In fact, you probably wouldn't be too concerned about schools because you would intend to send your children to the United States to school. In terms of health care, it wouldn't be more clinics in the countryside. It would be a new hospital in the capital city, so that your children could get state of the art medical attention in case of need. In terms of the use of foreign exchange, it wouldn't mean importing the basic tools of development. It would mean importing television sets or it might mean importing machinery that you'd then sell to the largest landholders in the country.
What I'm suggesting here is an experiment to help people understand that development is not one thing and development assistance, economic aid if channeled as it has been, particularly in Central America, but also in other parts of the world, through the privileged elite with their definitions of development, will often further impoverish the majority of the people. So, it's with this beginning understanding that we must go a little bit father, to help people understand how it is that our interest are not with the privileged group, that our interest truly are with the majority.
I think it's important to address the fact that we have legitimate interests. What are they and how are they in common with the vast majority of people living in the Third World? I think it's worth our time to just go through the list. What legitimate interests do we share with the majority in the Third World?
First, and most obvious, our interest in peace and stability. Peace cannot exist as long as there is hunger. I'll never forget a Nicaraguan I met several years ago who said to me, "Yes, I stand for peace, but not peace with hunger." There can be no peace with hunger. So our interest is very much, if we want peace, to help eliminate hunger.
Second, more specifically, our interests are definitely in the alleviation of poverty because poverty is a direct threat. Poverty in the Third World is a direct threat to the wages, to the income of average Americans. It's become more and more obvious as "capital flight" has become a household term. It is made very concrete, when Texas Instruments, for example, can set up a plant in El Salvador and pay people several dollars a day, that this is very much a direct threat to our very real and legitimate needs for a decent income here.
Third, we have a legitimate interest in prosperous trading partners which cannot exist where people, first of all, don't even have income to buy the basic food they need, much less other commodities that they could use.
Fourth, we have an interest, and I think a legitimate one, in an end to the exodus of people fleeing to our shores from areas where they are afraid, rightfully, of the political and economic repression in their own countries. I don't think this is xenophobic. I think it is a legitimate interest of Americans to say that we want people coming to our country who want to be here for positive reasons, not because they are coming out of fear of the regime in the county in which they live. This is a legitimate interest.
A fifth legitimate interest is that we have the respect of other countries in the world, particularly our allies. How can we have the respect of other nations as long as we continue the pattern of the last twenty years? We have contributed 27 billion dollars in economic and military support to military dictatorships. With this kind of foreign policy, there is a very real limit to the respect that we can expect.
I think that I would even add a sixth interest. It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I think there's reality to it too. I was reminded of this, actually, during the Grenada invasion. Right after that there was a story in The Wall Street Journal, interviews with people in the street, and they interviewed a Joe Bedeela from New Jersey who touched upon another interest that you might identify as a legitimate American interest, or some people might. Mr. Bedeela said, quote, in reference to Grenada, he said, "The Carribean is a vacation spot. We spend millions of dollars there every year. People want to go there and be safe. You know you can't have something like these communists running around down there and making an airport and bringing all kinds of stuff in and still have Americans go down there and feel comfortable." So, what Joe Bedeela touched upon is what I might call "recreational rights." We haven't put it into the Bill of Rights yet, but there's something to what he's talking about, and that is our right to be liked, our right to be comfortable when we're in another country, not to be hated. As I was reading this story in The Wall Street Journal, a friend who had organized a number of congressional delegations to Central America said to me: "Frankie, do you realize there's only one capital city in Central America where U.S. embassies allow congressional delegations to go around and not be enclosed in a bullet-proof car? Can you guess which capital city that is? Well, it's Managua." It occured to me that what was making enemies for us was not the kind of changes going on in Nicaragua, but our support for governments that are repressing their own people. This is how we lose our vacation spots, so to speak.
I think these legitimate interests are worth reviewing. If we take them one-by-one we realize that they are absolutely identical to the interests of the vast majority of us and the vast majority of them.
Now, how do we make this leap of understanding? This is the challenge. Because, as I said in the beginning, we are encouraged in so many ways to identify with people who look like us instead of people who share our interests. How do we make this leap of understanding? We need a firm ground from which to see with new eyes. Over the years I've become convinced that the only ground firm enough to allow us to make this leap of understanding is value based. It is a clarification of our abiding moral values. What are they, and do they allow us to make this leap of imagination, this leap of compassion and understanding to identify with those who really share our common interests?
Tonight I'm going to talk about two of those: freedom and democracy. Absolutely inseparable values: freedom and democracy. Only if we re-think what we mean by these values will we be able to look with fresh eyes and know really where our own interest lie and to know how we can put ourselves on the side of hungry people.
So, let me do a little defining here. Freedom: I would say that, first of all, there are many definitions of freedom. The freedom I'm going to be talking about tonight is very different from freedom as it is understood by Ronald Reagan, who clarified his understanding of freedom several years ago when he told us that the great thing about America is that anyone is free to become a millionaire. That is one definition of freedom. The definition of freedom that I'm talking about tonight is one based on a concept of choice, of having real choices. Choice is impossible without fundamental security, security of person. This means physical integrity of the person and the security of life itself. That is, what it takes to sustain life: food and shelter. Freedom then is impossible without physical security and without the protection of life itself--what philosopher Henry Shoe calls "subsistence rights," basic economic rights.
Democracy: often we in America get very confused about democracy. We tend to think of it as an institution rather than a principle. We get very mixed up between the two. The institution of voting, the institution of political parties is something that can serve the principle of democracy but they don't necessarily do that. We have to sort out the difference. I was reminded of this by a nun in Nicaragua several years ago. She told me at that time, "Do you realize that if political parties were really the definition of democracy that Guatemala would be the democratic capital of the world?", because there were 39 parties at the time. But the real line, I though the real response, came from Julius Nyere. I had the honor of sharing an evening with him once, several years ago, and we were, of course, pushing hard as I always try to do, and talking about the limits of a one party state in serving democracy. He said, "Well, you Americans, you have a one party state too. But, in your typical extravagant American way, you have two of them." So, I couldn't argue with Julius Nareri. We need to be very careful when we define democracy not to define it in terms of institutions but in terms of basic principles. One, the accountability of leadership to the needs of the vast majority of citizens. This is my working definition. Now, what is required? Certain things then follow. Such a definition of democracy depends upon vehicles for the expression of these needs. First of all free speech, for example, and vehicles to make the leadership accountable. In other words, a way to get rid of them if they're not accountable. This is the core of democracy.
What I'd like to do is go back, then, to freedom and talk about it in light of the case study of Nicaragua, a county that is emerging from decades, even centuries, of great suffering for the majority of the people. I'd like to try to apply my definition of democracy to the changes that I have observed going on in Nicaragua and see what comes of this.
Well, remember that I said freedom first involved integrity of the person, freedom from terror. Certainly we're talking about freedom from a state of terror. I think that one can say without equivocation that Nicaraguans today are free from State terror, unlike most other people living in Central America today. You do not find Nicaraguan people afraid of their own police, afraid of their own army. In fact, I remember a story from one of my colleagues who was first in Nicaragua last year, in '84. She was standing in a bus line waiting for the bus to come. There was someone talking to her who realized that she was a U.S. citizen. He was going on and on to her about how there was no freedom in Nicaragua, about how it was a totalitarian country. The whole time that he was telling her how wonderful it must be to live in America where there's freedom, there were two armed soldiers standing right next to him. Right in the middle, when he was talking about how there's no freedom at all in Nicaragua, he turned around and bummed a cigarette off one of the soldiers. So, I think that these people are not in terror of their own armed forces. The most striking thing about Nicaragua, however, in terms of the definition of freedom, is that unlike any other revolution that I have studied, they immediately abolished the death penalty. I think this is a very important point to remind people of. Not only did they abolish the death penalty, but there was no organized State retribution against those who had killed so many innocent Nicaraguans. In other words, they brought all the National Guardsmen to trial and indeed, released several thousand, many of whom then went across the border and began forming the counter-revolution. I think this is very important.
Pursuing this question of integrity of the person, there have been more studies done of human rights in Nicaragua than in any other country in the hemisphere, I'm pretty sure. And there have been, and certainly the recent Amnesty International report documents this, abuses by the Nicaraguan government -- very specific instances of abuses of human rights that mar this record that I've talked about. But Amnesty International makes the point that, while the Contras, for example, and certainly other governments in Central America, show a pattern of human rights abuse, first of all more extensive than Nicaragua's--one characterized by being a pattern, a pattern that goes unpunished. Amnesty International pointed out that in Nicaragua's case, when military personnel carry out abuses, they are tried and imprisoned. There are several hundred serving sentences in Nicaragua for these abuses. This is a very different situation than exists in most of Central America today, where military personnel have gotten away with killing literally tens of thousands of people without even being brought to trial.
I want to move on, though, to another key part of what I said was necessary to the definition of freedom, and that is the right to the necessities of life itself. We cannot be free unless we can live and therefore that which is necessary to life itself must be incorporated into our understanding of freedom. So, I have place, in my typology as I go through this, the agrarian reform process in Nicaragua under the heading of freedom precisely because it addresses this fundamental need to live, to have the land to feed your family, to live. Of all of the issues in the region, this is what we have focused on the most: the agrarian reform. Certainly we always sit up and take notice when any government says it is going to carry out a land reform. We have watched many reforms: the Phillipines, for example, called for a reform in 1972 and yet land concentration became worse and worse under the Marcos government. We always pay attention. In the Nicaraguan case, though, we had the privilege of coming down down from our book writing tower and out into the very difficult issue of, "What does it mean to deal with the real and limited choices open to a country undergoing very
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profound change in the countryside?"
Let me just outline for you the basic principles of the Nicaraguan agrarian reform and what distinguishes it from other that we have studied. Well, Nicaraguan is a very fortunate country. It has ten-times more land per person than Eli Salvador does and it has more acres per person than we enjoy here in the United States. The Nicaraguan reform did not initiate a massive redistribution of land but simply attached to the right of ownership of productive land the obligation to produce. In other words, if you know about the Third World, you know that in many areas, particularly Central America, the big land owners historically have left most of their land unplanted. A study in the mid-70's showed that in Central America only 14% of the land of the big land owners was actually planted. The Nicaraguan reform says, "Wait. We all need this land to produce so that we can eat. So, if you are making your land produce you have nothing to worry about. Your land will not be confiscated. But if it is lying idle it will be subject to confiscation." "Idle lands to working hands" was the slogan of the land reform.
In this process of deciding what land was underused or open to redistribution, there were land reform councils in each of the regions that reviewed the evidence. I think it's very important that in at least one-fourth of the cases brought before the agrarian reform council, the decision has gone with the original owner. In other words, the evidence of underutilization of land was not sufficient. The council would say, "You have a right to retain all of that land because you are producing on it." This shows that these were not and are not kangaroo courts. It hasn't been a situation where anybody with a grudge against their neighbor can simply go into the council and say, "They're not using their land. I want it." That's not what has been happening.
In this process, then, of redistribution of underused and unused land, Nicaragua has made great achievements. By the beginning of 1986 60% of the campesinos in Nicaragua have received title to land and 60% of those who had too little land or no land at all have received title to land. Fifteen times more land is now in the food producing sector representing about one third of Nicaraguan farm land. This is a very substantial movement in the direction of greater equity in the countryside and capacity of people to grow the foods of the people.
I want to make just a couple more points here about the distinguishing features of the agrarian reform in Nicaragua. One is that the land owners whose land is being taken away are being compensated for that land. This, again, is not always true in agrarian reform. Another point is that the Nicaraguan Agricultural ministry has focused on supporting agricultural cooperatives. With limited resources, the government feels that it is much more likely to meet people's needs if it services cooperatives instead of depending on individuals or individual families to supply technical advice and credit and inputs and that sort of thing. Unlike the agrarian reforms in Tanzania and Easter Europe, for example, Nicaraguan cooperatives have been completely voluntary. The incentive is that the cooperative gets a better interest rate on the agricultural credit it needs and that is the only level of incentive. These are important distinguishing features.
I want to take a moment to focus in on one area of the Nicaraguan countryside and how agrarian reform has gone there because I think that it so contradicts the image that we are getting about how decisions are being made in Nicaragua. This is an area of Missiah, a very land-poor area of Nicaragua in the sense that it is very densely populated. There is only one acre per person of farmland in the area. These people in this region of Nicaragua were very active in supporting the Sandinista Liberation Front during the period of combat, very strongly supportive, and they expected to get land as a result of the Sandinista victory. But, in this area, the large land owners are very productive. They are not like those whom I described earlier who leave most of their land unplanted. They are, indeed very productive and so, the agrarian reform that I just outlined. It did not allow for the confiscation of the land of these very large estates in this heavily populated area. So the government was put in a difficult situation where over all these years the citizens of Missiah continued to petition, to demonstrate against the government, extremely angry that the promises of the revolution were not being met. And during the elections of 1984, only 40% of the people in this area voted for the FSLN. In other words, there was a great deal of disaffection away from the Sandinistas because they did not follow through, because they wanted to protect the rights of the big land owners for the sake of national unity, as they described it, and to follow the letter of agrarian reform law.
Now, what has happened in the last few months is the pressure became more and more intense from the peasants and, ultimately, the government decided that it had to choose between the big land owners, a few of them, and thousands and thousands of peasants who needed the land. They decided that they would use a special provision in the agrarian reform law that does allow, in special cases, for there to be confiscation of land, even land that is well used. So they offered to one of the biggest growers there, Enrique Bolanos, they offered him twice as much land as he was farming in Missiah in another area if he would be willing to move. He would lose some wealth. It certainly wouldn't be a great deal that he would lose because he still had other farms there in this area that wouldn't be touched. He was offered twice as much land elsewhere. Well, I don't know, some of you may have heard about this story on National Public Radio, he was quoted as saying this was proof of the intent of the Sandinista government to abolish provate property and the intent of the Sandinista government finally making itself evident--to go down the state-controlled Marxist-Leninist path. I think it is very important that we go into this kind of depth on these specific cases because what are the lessons here? What we see is not government, by fiat, pushing the peasants in a radical direction. It is the peasants demanding the basic right to have land to feed their families. Ultimately, well, the government resisted for a long time because of outside pressure, fearing that internationally they would be discredited if they confiscated this land and wanting to have national unity and to keep the big producers producing. But it is such a different reality because the pressure, then, came from the bottom and ultimately the government did say, "Yes, we have to choose between eight thousand peasants and Enrique Bolanos and it's clear to us whom we will choose."
I think it is worthwhile to give a very cursory comparison between the agrarian reform in Nicaragua and agrarian reform in El Salvador. There's a very profound lesson to be learned by this.
Let me describe El Salvador's reform in a few paragraphs. This reform, designed by the Agency for International Development--that's on record--this reform managed to bypass the most powerful in the countryside, that is the large coffee estates, and it bypassed the most powerless in the countryside, the landless who are 50% or more of the rural population in El Salvador. So it bypassed the most powerful and the most powerless and what did it do? It accomplished the selling of land to tenant families who were farming plots too small and too infertile to support them over time. In fact, they had been used to moving as the land became infertile. Now they were locked into place buying, over time, plots that could not sustain them. A study that our institute has published shows that there has been no economic gain for them to now be paying to the government, instead of to a landlord. So, the supposed beneficiaries of this reform have not gained. Now how is this so different from Nicaraguan reform where peasants have now fifteen times more land than they did under the Somoza dictatorship? Clearly, to answer that question, we must move to the second value that I introduced earlier: democracy. The difference is that in El Salvador, the government knows that it does not have to be accountable to the majority of the people in the countryside, whereas in Nicaragua, the government knows that it must be accountable to those people because they are the people who brought them to power and they can vote them out as, indeed, the majority of the people of Missiah voted against the Sandinistas in the last election.
Let me move to the question, then, of democracy. I've suggested that democracy must include vehicles through which people can make their needs felt. It must include, then, ways to shape the solutions to meet those needs and it must include a way to keep leadership accountable. Turning to Nicaragua, what can we say about people being able to make their needs felt, heard, their needs visible to express them? A key part of this is freedom of speech, a very important part of democracy. In Nicaragua there is a very mixed evaluation that I can give you. Certainly there is a periodic censorship of the press in Nicaragua that is often arbitrary, but real. Certainly is has been more consistent censorship as the counter-revolutionary war has intensified. I want to underline that this definitely limits the possibility for democracy. I also want to point out that it does not mean that within the Nicaraguan press today there is not a considerable amount of debate, a considerable amount of attack on the government. Our close friend who is head of a research institute in Nicaragua whom I saw several weeks ago, told us that his organization had published a direct attack on the government's provision of a state of emergency, called them unnecessary and calling for their repeal. That has been distributed widely in Nicaragua, so there is still the possibility for a lot of criticism.
I also want to point out another unfortunate fact about the possibility for democracy related to the question of the freedom of the press in Nicaragua. It is that the opposition press in Nicaragua doesn't believe in freedom of expression. The opposition press, you probably know the name "La Prensa," which is the opposition newspaper, doesn't fundamentally share the notion that the press is there to cover the news, whatever the news is. In other words, it would choose, it did choose during the elections, because it wanted to discredit the government, it chose not to give any credibility to the elections by covering the participation in the elections of the opposition parties. The opposition press just doesn't believe in freedom of information. As an example, the day I arrived in Managua for the elections one of the headlines of the opposition newspaper said, "No Secret Ballot." They were trying to frighten Nicaraguans into believing that during the election, their ballots would be read and so their votes could be used against them. But, if you read the article what you learned was that if you were blind you have to tell somebody what your vote was. And so they came out with this headline, "No Secret Ballot."
I also want to underline that although there isn't an uncensored press in Nicaragua today, still to a considerable extent, there is freedom of speech, literal speech. By this I mean that everytime that I've been there--three times--every time that I've been there the thing that strikes me is how talkative people are about the political situation from all sides. I remember being in the home of someone who voted against the Sandinistas in the election. He was quite vociferous and, even though he was strongly anti-government he said, quote, "We don't have to zipper out mouths anymore." So there is still a great deal of debate.
I want to move on to the second aspect that I mentioned, the aspect of democracy of keeping leadership accountable. This, then, focuses on the reality of elections. What I have wondered, and I'm sure some of you have who follow the Nicaraguan situation, how is it that, if there were, indeed, seven political parties that participated in the election, that the electoral law went out of its way to guarantee minority participation in the National Assembly as we see that minority participation today. That, if indeed the government, as it did, had made funds available, equal amounts to every party participating to defray their elections expenses, if there were international observers as there were at the election and they could find no grounds for fraud, if all of this seems true to us, then how can it be that in the press in this country it almost goes without saying that this election never counted at all and that what Nicaragua must now do if it is to be taken seriously is to have a "free" election to replace its "sham" election. How did this happen? I don't have the answer to that question, unfortunately. It's a multitude of things but I want to offer one very important example of how that has happened. Some of you may have seen the recent New York Review of Books article by Robert Liken. It is very important to focus on this. This is a prime example. Here you have a very credible journal, The New York Review of Books, a very long piece by someone who really sounds as if he knows the ins-and-outs of the Nicaraguan situation, and one of the points he makes, reinforcing the notion of a sham election, is that the Sandinistas, in the election, coerced and forced the opposition parties to participate in the election to give it the appearance of a democratic fact.
I have with me a letter that was written by a leader in the Democratic Conservative Party to The New York Review of Books saying that this article was the most dishonest piece of journalism he has ever seen. He is not a Sandinista. The author of this letter is an opposition leader who is saying that the Liken article is completely dishonest because the pressure to stay in the elections, the pressure to do with that, was not coming from the Sandinistas, it was coming from bribes from the U. S. government. He reports, and again, he is a leader in the Democratic Conservative Party, he reports that it is well established that the U.S. government offered $50,000 to candidates in his party to withdraw from the election. They were exposed by others, including the author of this letter, exposed and removed for going along with this. Now I bring this to you, this kind of detail, because this is a credible journal. This author, Robert Liken, is someone who has influenced a lot of legislators. I know that, certainly, he influenced me by his piece in The New Republic right before the elections called, "The Sins of the Sandinistas." This is the kind of not half-truth but falsehood that has led to the notion that we have to discount this election and that they should have a real one.
I want to move on to something more current and equally not reported here in the United States, namely the constitution building process in Nicaragua. Today, underway in Nicaragua, is the drafting of a new constitution for that country. There is a special commission established with 22 members to draft a constitution which will then be debated in at least 48 community meetings throughout the country. The government is allocating over two million dollars to help organize these meetings. I noted that in this drafting process the votes on particular points in the draft have not always followed party alignments. In other words, some opposition parties have voted with the Sandinistas on some points and not on others and, in some cases the Sandinistas' representatives have not voted as a block. In this commission the Sandinista representation is smaller than their two-thirds representation in the National Assembly as a whole. I want to focus on that because it is an aspect of life going on in Nicaragua today that we rarely hear about.
The other aspects of democracy we should not forget are just having institutions that keep governments accountable--the constitution, the electoral process--but also citizen participation in the molding of policy such as the agrarian reform I've already mentioned and in other things. For example, very recently the farm workers' organization has been very much involved in coming up with a new wage policy for coffee pickers and a new bonus system. This is just one example of participation at the level of the economy.
I want to make one final point about democracy before I move to the conclusion of my talk that another key aspect of democracy is the capacity of a government to be accountable to its own people instead of to a foreign power. This is fundamental, the capacity of a government to respond to the needs of its own people and not be so dependent that it must kowtow to a foreign power. When a government is dependent for its economic survival on a foreign power, it cannot be truly democratic. The Nicaraguan government has appreciated this and has sought what it has called "mixed dependency." It knew it was too poor to be a truly independent country but its goal had been to diversify its dependency to get help from the non-aligned Third World countries, from Western European countries, from OPEC countries, from the Socialist Block, and from the United States, so that it would not have to answer to one super power anymore. Now, for a while in Nicaragua has been successful. In fact, overall, if you look at the entire period sinces 1979, less than 30% of its aid and trade has been with the Socialist Block. In other words, more than two-thirds or almost three-quarters has been, over the whole period, with these other elements, other segments of the international economy. Increasingly, though, the United States has attempted and succeeded, in part anyway, in so isolating Nicaragua in terms of loans from the World Bank and support from our allies, (although it's still getting support from France, for example, the Netherlands, Canada, etc.), so that presently, about 60% of the loans going to Nicaragua are from the Socialist Block. Still, I would point out that in terms of imports, three-quarters of the imports going to Nicaragua are not from the Socialist Block. But my point here is, to return to the theme of democracy, that to the degree that the United States tries to isolate Nicaragua and make it dependent on one super power, it is undercutting the potential for democracy in Nicaragua. That what will happen, as you see today in many Sandinista statements in coverage of the news, that the Sandinista newspaper is reluctant, unwilling to cross the Soviet Union because it becomes dependent on its friendliness. So I'm suggesting that this is a way that we are undercutting democracy, just as when we make countries who are dependent on our largesse, tow the line as we do in the United Nations.
It is on record that if a government votes against us in the United Nations their foreign aid will be in jeopardy. For example, after the Grenada vote, we cut aid to Zimbabwe. I'm saying that this is, extremely important.
Now, I'd like to move to the end of my talk with a few reflections. Why is it that we hear this term "the betrayal of the revolution"? Is what I said tonight, is this a betrayal? Who has been betrayed? I think that what we have to realize, to go back to the beginning of my talk, is that something that Americans often forget, and want to forget, that whenever there is a shifting, a real or genuine shifting of power, there are winners and there are losers. It is inevitable. There are going to be some unhappy people. Indeed there will be the Enrique Bolanas who lose. In his case I don't think he lost wealth. He's still a wealthy man. He can still have twice as much land somewhere else. What did he lose? He lost the power to call the shots. That is what this minority of privileged people had gotten very used to doing and they're very unhappy and they have been betrayed.
So I think that, to answer the question then, "What is our responsibility to the hungry in the Third World and in Central America?", the questions and the clarifications go this way: We have to appreciate that, indeed there must be such a far reaching shift in power that the definition, the very definition of development, is put in terms of the vast majority of the people in the way that we discussed tonight, in the meeting of their basic needs. We have to understand that pressure for change of that nature is inevitable. It is inevitable because people do not go on watching their children die. A Nicaraguan peasant said to me, looking me straight in the face he said, "What would you do if you lived a plantation and watched your children die of simple childhood diseases because they were so weakened by malnutrition at the same time that the only medical help that came to the plantation was to treat the dogs. So what would you do?"
Certainly people protest peaceable because nobody wants to risk their lives if they don't have to. But if that peaceful protest is met with violence, people do choose to risk their lives, if not for themselves, for their children. So we don't have to go in and set things straight for other people. Our responsibility is clear. It is to remove the obstacles in their path, to insure that our tax dollars and our good name are not shoring up the privileged group that is blocking the changes. It could be summed up as giving change a chance. This is our obligation. It is not to approve. I don't care if you don't agree or don't believe a word I've said about Nicaragua tonight. It is not our obligation to approve or to disapprove. I've shared this with you because I think it is something we can learn from, not because I'm asking you to approve.
(see June issue for conclusion)