The Danish solidarity brigade has finished their village stay and their Easter vacation, and arrived to a barrio in Ciudad Sandino. They live with the local CPC (the citizen’s power committee) and work at a local kindergarden, improving a playground for the kindergarden and a little park for the barrio.
The experience has given them new insight into how Nicaraguan local politics work…
The kindergarden is an independant kindergarden for maquila-workers, it has existed for 9 years with support from a North American organisation.
The CPC is the new neighbourhood organisation promoted by the Sandinista government which, at least in its own eyes, now decides things for the community. For the kindergarden too, as the kindergarden of course also “belongs to the community”, and “ahora estamos nosostros a mando del barrio”: now we are in charge of the barrio.
The city (municipal) government is Sandinista, and is responsible for placing the brigade where it is now. City Hall coordinates local activities through local CPC, as it must do according to the Sandinista policy.
The apple of discord
The Family Ministry is promoting a program for collective vegetable gardens in city barrios to fight malnutrition among poor children. City Hall has allotted a vegetable garden to the barrio, based on need (a census has showed many malnourished children), and on the accept of the community (the CPC has agreed).
The city and the CPC have apparently agreed that the vegetable garden should be placed on the kindergarden grounds. The CPC is supposed to ensure that the local community takes care of the plants, prevents theft, and harvests and distributes vegetables.
But the kindergarden teachers feel that they don’t have time to take care of the garden (they mostly work on a voluntary basis already) and are also afraid that a vegetable garden will attract thieves. Also, they don´t feel that the CPC has any right to decide on how their grounds should be used. Instead of a garden, they want a playground.
“I don’t know anything about politics, and don’t want to go up against politics, but I have worked in this kindergarden for nine years, and I know what is good for the kindergarden and for the children,” says the principal.
The disagreement has led to harsh words, rumor mongering, and even tears.
The Danish brigade is living with members of the the CPC, and working for the kindergarden, and just doesn’t want any trouble. They have asked everyone concerned to a meeting to sort out the disagreements, and have invited me to attend as a sort of reinforcement (the brigade is, by the way, doing a very good job, and I must say that the coordinator Lærke and the rest of the brigade have kept a straight course during this little crisis.)
In the photo: The fractions have retired to separate debriefings after the tough negotiations. The brigade analyses the course of events in the foreground, in the background the City Hall representative tries to pour oil on troubled waters…
At a meeting between representatives of teachers, parents, the CPC, the City Hall and and the brigade, the City Hall representative cuts through to the chase and decides that the brigade will not work on the vegetable garden. If the kindergarden really is so ungrateful, they can escape getting a vegetable garden altogether. Anyway, the kindergarten will at some point or other be forced to plant vegetables since it is a ministry policy that all kindergardens should have one. Only this time it will be with out help from the City, but that will be their problem.
Instead, she decides that the brigade will work on planting the little neighbourhood park, which is supposed to become a recreative space for the young people of the barrio. She promises that the building materials will be there on Tuesday.
Furthermore she scolds the CPC representative for not being able to create concensus in the community, and for her inability to convince neighborrs to participate in trhe work alongside the brigade. She explains to everybody that the brigade visit is their test as a local organisation, and tells them straight out to pull themselves together. She tells them to go from door to door to convince people to unite and support the park project, and also to recruit the local leaders; a North American who lives in the neigbourhood, the Evangelical priest and his flock, etc. These are tasks which the CPC representative obvioulsy feels uncomfortable with.
“These are the problems we get when neighbourhood leaders are inexperienced, and when you have a barrio where 60% have never even passed fourth grade,” City Hall representative explains when I give her a lift back to the town hall.
She is right, of course. Any real democratization and decentralization process will at some point run into these kinds of problems. Anybody who has been to a meeting in a homeowners´ or tenants´ association back home in Denmark knows that. And the CPC is, in fact, a decentralization of power: it is the local CPC that decides which neighbours have access to the government’s small business loans, adult education programs, etc. And if you are looking for work with a public employer, you must get a recommendation from your CPC.
But it doesn´t help when the CPC has such an obviously narrow social basis (that is, when it is identical with the local party faithfull), and, furthermore starts it´s work in the barrio with an attitude of “now it´s our turn at the cookie jar”, without any consideration for all the others who have contributed to the barrio, and who also have an opinion. An attitude which, I am afraid, is far too common among Sandinistas today.
Meanwhile, the brigade has contributed to the building of a wonderful playground.
And they have learned a lot about how Nicaraguan politics work.
Now, only time will show if City Hall actually can get hold of the materials for the park…
First posted in Danish on April 11, 2008.