Tuesday, April 23, 2013

A big problem

These last few weeks, especially this one, have been much more difficult than most of the trip. This is for a lot of reasons, firstly because I'm going home soon and that has made me realize how much I miss it. But there's a lot more to it.

We have been learning about the neoliberal economic model and CAFTA and "fair" trade and the Contra War.

 I grew up on one side of each of these huge ideas and events. From my home in Texas, I've bought at HEB coffee grown in Nicaragua, I've worn clothes from Target made in Nicaragua, and all my life my family has paid taxes to the government that funded human rights violations in Nicaragua. A government that is still funding these violations today in several parts of the world.

And now I'm living the other side.

I live in a house with cinder block walls, a concrete floor, and a tin roof with holes. I live in a house where the walls don't go all the way up to the ceiling and the temperature is above 100 all day and much of the night. I live in a house that is also a business, selling shampoo, soap, food, drinks, and nacatamales from the front window. More parts of the informal economy meet me at the doorstep, where the aguacate lady walks by with her basket each morning yelling to customers. Then comes the lady and her bread cart: "PAN! PAN!" There are shirtless, shoeless men selling little baggies of purified water at the bus stop. These people make up the 49% of Nicaraguans that are insecurely employed or underemployed.  Many of those with formal sector jobs wait for the bus, which will drop them off in a free trade zone. Maybe they will put together purses in a maquila (also know as a sweatshop) and get paid 10 Cordobas for each 100 of these bags. And they will thank God for this work that allows them to make $1 for each 250 purses. Meanwhile thousands of others, mostly women, will be turned away. I would tell you about what I saw when I visited the free trade zone, but so far we haven't been able to be let in to see it.

 One of my host brothers is bilingual and is marrying a girl from North Dakota. My other host brother blares english rap music from his room each night after playing futbol with the other teenagers. My host mom tells us each day that she hopes we like her food and teases us for not understanding her while we watch MTV, Big Bang Theory, or Storage Wars and drink Coca-Cola. 

After four months living in the region, I can't help but feel that my life is inextricably connected to this land and these people. 

But the thing is, my life has always been inextricably linked to this land and these people. 

And the thing is, your life is too. 

Globalization has become such a buzzword and I'm not exactly sure what it means to you. But to me, I can plainly see the connections it has made in my world. I have been kissed on the cheek by the woman who made the tapestry I bought my mom. I have eaten at the table of the man who picked my coffee and shaken hands with the young man that roasted it. 

I have lived in the homes of those who have the short end of the globalization stick. They sure aren't poor because they don't work hard. They sure aren't poor because they don't take advantage of democracy; Nicaragua historically has around 86% voter turnout. They sure aren't poor because their country doesn't have natural resources; Nicaragua has arable land, water, forest, beauty, and biodiversity. 

So what is it then?

Corruption within the government is a huge and ongoing issue for the country. Our speaker today, Alfredo, the secretary of KPMG said flat out that "I oppose the fact that Nicaragua is considered a 'poor country'. Nicaragua is not a poor country, Nicaragua is a poorly managed country". 

But the thing is, its not just internal issues that are holding Nicaragua back. The United States military occupied Nicaragua from 1909-1935, then the US government supported a dynastic dictatorship for 40 years, then after the Nicaraguan people overthrew that regime the US trained and sent in Nicaraguans to overthrow the new government, costing $17 billion in direct and indirect war damages. Oh, and 30,000 lives. Which, for a country the size of Wisconsin, is the equivalent of the US losing three times the number of lives lost in the Vietnam War. Except many of these people were civilians: men, women, and children. 

And the thing is, we have all these laws to protect "free trade". Free trade so that Monsanto can freely bring in their terminator genes and monopolize agriculture here as it has done in the United States. Free trade so that Riceland can sell rice subsidized in the US at blow production cost to all of Central America. Thanks, CAFTA-DR, for free trade so that "everyone wins". 

But its pretty clear to me that everyone isn't winning. Free trade may help GDPs and stimulate investment. But there's a big problem when Nicaragua is advertising itself to foreign investors as the place with the "cheapest and most available labor source". I see a big problem when a community that sustains itself on organic and fair trade coffee production doesn't have a middle school because they can't afford to pay the teacher. 

I see a lot of big problems. And there's really not a lot I can do about it. But I don't want to enjoy the benefits of cheaper coffee at the expense of a generation's education in rural Nicaragua. Just like I don't want my tax money to pay for drones to blow up children who have the unfortunate luck to stand by someone who might or might not be a member of the Taliban. I'm not here to disparage or demonize my country. I'm here as a United States citizen saying that these promoted by my government are absolutely not okay. Unless you would have preferred the alleged Boston Marathon bomber to have just been blown up as he walked through Cambridge, Massachusetts one day at the risk of taking out a few others along with him, I think you are on my team here. People are all people, no matter their citizenship. 

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