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The View From Nicaragua

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by Jane Curschmann - La Trampa is a state-owned coffee farm (finca) in northern Nicaragua. It is nestled in a rich green valley north of the city of Jinotega. Although this área is a war zone, thirty families live there and raise coffee and crops for their own consumption. Ann Arbor's AMISTAD Construction Brigade visited La Trampa the weekend of February 14 and 15 to see how people in the war zones are forced to live. AMISTAD brigadistas also went to witness the coffee harvest, for coffee is Nicaragua's number one source of foreign exchange. The province of Jinotega is mountainous, green and lush. Rivers and clear, running streams pass down the mountains and along the valleys. Driving north of Jinotega in a Japanese flat-bed truck along a bumpy dirt road we feit nervous. In the front and back of the truck were three armed men: two students and a lieutenant of the Sandinista army. Their guns were at "the ready, their eyes watchful. We arrived safely at the finca, however, and were immediately welcomed. About 300 people were living at La Trampa: the thirty peasant families and two coffee-cutting brigades. One of the brigades was composed of highschool students from Jinotega and the other of workers and students from ISCA (Instituto Superior de Ciencias Agropecuria), the Institute at which AMISTAD is building a soils and water testing laboratory. A "responsable" for the ISCA brigade, Mauricio, showed us around the farm the first day. He explained the coffee harvesting process, how the different quality beans are sorted and de-pulped after they are picked, and how they are finally bagged to be sent to drying centers in other parts of the province. The families live in small wooden houses with electricity. The coffee cutters live in larger dormitory-like buildings with wooden platforms for beds. There is a cafetería where the cutters eat all their meáis. The fann owns trucks and tractors and the farmers grow beans and corn in addition to their export erop, coffee. Cheese is made from cow's milk. We were told that the cows are there mainly to provide the farm's children with milk. Pigs and chickens ran loóse. The house of the ex-owner, a North American who sold the farm to the state after the contras became active in the área, has been converted into a school and childcare center with a playground. While we were there the playground was dedicated to the memory of a member of the farm community who was killed in a contra attack in 1982. Saturday evening there were two dances as it was the last day of cutting for the Jinotega brigade which was returning to prepare for the start of the school year. We danced and talked with campesinos, brigade members and soldiers. What they had to teil was both inspiring and saddening. A group of campesinos told me how much they had (see AMSTAD, page 8) AMISTAD (from page 5) gained in their successful struggle against the Somoza regime, how they now had sufficient food to eat and greater decisionmaking power. They spoke of their ness to put down their tools and piek up arms to defend their revolution. Again and again we heard how the contras shall not pass as long as there is one campesino alive. The courage, strength and dedication of the people of La Trampa and the briga(see AMISTAD, next page) AMISTAD distas working with them was incredible. Morale, as well as consciousness, was veiy high. The stories of contra attacks in the área brought us closer to the brutal reality of the war. The fact that combative morale is so high in the face of such terror is testimony to the strength of the people's commitment to the revolutionary process. The hundreds of workers and students volunteering their labor for approximately two months to help bring in La Trampa's coffee harvest, are an example of the willingness of thousands of Nicaraguans to make personal sacrifices. The effort to harvest the coffee at the farm is a collective one which brings together young and old, urban workers, campesinos.and students. As one pieker told me, "Eveiy lada [a measure of coffee beans] we piek represents one more bullet." Defense and production go hand in hand in war-tom Nicaragua. This is no more evident than in Nicaragua's war zones where the people are under attack. The situation is hard, but the people at La Trampa are not giving up. They will fight if they have to, as many of them have already done. Guns were very evident on the farm. People carried them casually, like a city dweller carnes a bag. There was nothing menacing about it, but it was a constant reminder of the war and the vigilance necessary, to simply be able to farm the land. In the coffee fields on Sunday, where we went to watch coffee being picked and to piek some ourselves, every pieker had a gun. On the ridge above the farm, twelve people stand guard around the clock. We could hear fighting on the other side of the mountains 60 kilometers north of us. Out brigade retumed to Managua that Sunday aftemoon very much inspired by our visit to La Trampa. The sacrifices Nicaraguan bngadistas were making in order to bring in the coffee harvest were a positive example for us. There was much laughter and song on the way back to Managua. Early Monday moming, just hours after we had traveled along the road back to Jinotega, the contras attacked a peasant family's home in the vicinity of the road to La Trampa. Seven people were killed. We received the news with shock, anger, and the feeling that it could just as easily been us. It brought home the horror of living in an area where civilians are the primary target of the enemy. The contras had not made an attack in the area since 1985, but in a war zone one never knows from one day to the next what will happen. The AMISTAD Construction Brigades commitment to the support of the Nicaraguan people's struggle against oppression and exploiiation remains as strpng as ever. Our understanding of the situation has been deepened by experience. The war being waged against the Nicaraguan people must be stopped. Too much blood has been spilied and too many have suffered in Nicaraguas long struggle for freedom and jus tice.


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