Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 290 | Septiembre 2005



“CAFTA Will Be Like a Brand-Name Hurricane Mitch”

Reflections on Nicaragua’s imminent ratification of the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement and its implementation in the region by an interested party who actively tried to influence the negotiations from the side room.

Sinforiano Cáceres

The Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States (now known as DR-CAFTA following the inclusion of the Dominican Republic) contained an initial error on our part. The United States asked the five historical Central American countries—Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica—to negotiate it as one unit. But Central America consists of five separate parcels, each of which acts according to its own interests. We negotiated as a region when we’re not a region and as a single trade zone that doesn’t exist. We weren’t prepared for that negotiation; the countries didn’t have any defined regional priorities, just national ones. And that generated great contradictions. For example, Nicaragua’s priority was maize and Costa Rica’s was milk, and when it came to negotiating, each country defended its own priority and traded off in areas that weren’t priorities. The United States exploited all of our contradictions very well. After first proposing that the five countries negotiate as a region, it forced us to negotiate bilaterally once it had secured its own interests in areas such as intellectual property rights and we started negotiating agriculture. The US negotiators said that it was to unfetter things, to streamline them, so each country would feel more comfortable. It was the classic “divide and conquer” tactic. As a result, we agricultural producers ended up as the big losers.

Triangulation = unfair competition

As Central America is not an integrated trade zone and has no defined regional priorities, what will happen when CAFTA comes into effect—even if Nicaragua doesn’t ratify it—is known as “triangulation.” This is facilitated by the fact that Central America does not have common external trade tariffs. For example, the import duty on milk is 20% in Honduras, 45% in El Salvador, 65% in Nicaragua and 65% in Costa Rica. By negotiating agricultural products bilaterally, the United States created the conditions to introduce the products of most interest to it through the countries that charge the lowest tariff. And as we’re a common market within our region, those products can then circulate through all the other countries. Milk, for example, will enter through El Salvador or Honduras, where the tariff will be lower, then circulate at that same lower price to the other countries such as Nicaragua, which has more productive tariffs because it produces milk. This triangulation, one of the main consequences of not having negotiated as a single region, is thus a form of unfair competition. Central America could have avoided this if it had reached an agreement on common external tariffs, technically known as “tariff harmonization,” for its agricultural products. But since this didn’t happen, the United States has been able to extract the greatest benefits for each of its particular priorities from each individual country. Prior to CAFTA, the customs union was a very important process that could have allowed Central America to negotiate with greater advantages as a region. But this process stagnated and was set aside by the region’s governments, which prioritized CAFTA and the trade opening over regional integration.

The winning and losing products
as CAFTA legalizes dumping

Some products are winners and some are losers with CAFTA. The products that came out as relative winners are those produced by one or several Central American countries, but not the United States. The main such product is coffee, although it won’t form part of CAFTA, as its trade is governed by other international rules. Other “winning” products are peanuts and sesame. The losers will include all of those categories produced in both the United States and Central America and will thus enter into direct competition when CAFTA comes into effect. These include maize, rice, beans and dairy products, all of which form part of Nicaragua’s basic diet and are concentrated in our small and medium production sector.

The worst thing about CAFTA, which could permanently affect us, is that it doesn’t recognize the asymmetries that would permit those products produced by both them and us to compete fairly. Let’s look at the example of rice. The United States is the fifth largest rice producer in the world. It costs a US rice producer $9.04 to produce a hundredweight of rice, whereas a Nicaraguan rice farmer in one of our Sébaco valley cooperatives produces the same amount for just $8.45. This means that we could be competitive in the rice sector, but we’re not because US producers can and will sell the same hundredweight of rice in Nicaragua for just $7.65. How can they sell it cheaper than they produce it, and in fact cheaper than we produce it? Because they receive a subsidy from their government. For each metric ton (22 hundredweight) they send to port to sell here, they’ve already received $230 in subsidies, i.e. $10.45 per hundredweight. So, once the rice is on the ship, they could care less what price it will fetch in Nicaragua, because they’ve already pocketed a handsome profit. They also know that they’ll profit even further by selling it cheap, because they’ll displace Nicaraguan producers who won’t be able to compete with those prices. In time, Nicaragua’s rice market will become a US market. With this kind of scheme, what’s the point of them telling us to be competitive, profitable, if we already know that it’s not about producing more and lowering costs, but about unfair competition, with multi-million dollar subsidies that distort prices and the market? What’s happening with rice will also happen with maize and beans. CAFTA is legalizing dumping, accepting it as a valid and normal commercial practice.

Up to now Nicaragua only imported rice to cover national production deficits. But CAFTA will establish an upwardly sliding annual import quota regardless of what happens in our national market. In CAFTA’s first year, imported US rice will account for 43% of what we currently produce in the country. By the year 2015 it will be up to 73%. The big Nicaraguan rice growers, the Mansells and the Amadors, give our rice growers another ten years, but only because the import tariff won’t be reduced for another ten years. But from then on, it will gradually be eliminated until imported rice is subject to no tariff at all. Moreover, from 2019, there will be no fixed quotas and any amount of rice will be able to enter the country.

Also some producers win and some lose

In addition to winning and losing products, CAFTA also defines winning and losing producers, deciding who will be “killed off” first and who will be allowed to “survive.” Let’s stay with the rice example. During the first ten years, which is a grace period, imported unhusked rice will be subject to a 45% tax and husked rice to a 65% tax. In CAFTA’s first year, some 90,000 metric tons of US unhusked rice and 13,000 metric tons of husked rice will enter the country from the United States. Why the difference in quotas? This has to do with the winners and losers among the national producers. Unhusked rice is harvested when it’s still in the husk, and has to be threshed to leave it clean and ready for sale and consumption. Husked rice is already clean.

All of Nicaragua’s small and medium rice farmers produce unhusked rice, while husked rice is produced by the big farmers, who also own the threshers. In CAFTA, Nicaragua’s negotiators opted to save the thresher owners and accepted the importation of a greater amount of unhusked rice so that the threshers would not be forced out of business. This decision means that when small producers come to sell their unhusked rice to the thresher owner, he’ll tell them that his silos are full and that he’ll only buy it at a lower price. So the small-scale producers’ market will be saturated, while the large-scale producers, who produce and sell husked rice either to a trading company or directly to the national market, won’t face such strong competition from the 13,000 imported tons. Very soon, only 2,000 to 2,500 of Nicaragua’s 17,000 rice growers will remain. What will happen to the rest? They’ll continue producing on a small scale for self-subsistence, but will lose any presence in the market, which means they will suffer poverty and shortages because they currently use the profits made by selling surplus rice to buy everything they don’t produce on their farms, including clothes and medicine.

A rice import processing zone
with some strange bedfellows

Nicaragua had vertical integration in the rice sector; a producer-processor-marketer chain that was well established and competitive. But we didn’t defend it. We sacrificed the primary producer and benefited the processor and marketer. Our threshers will now become free-trade assembly plants. Just as the Taiwanese or Koreans import cloth, chemicals and thread, set up plants in Nicaragua, and employ our cheap labor to sew clothes which they then re-export to the US market, rice will be brought in unhusked, the country’s cheap labor and threshing machinery will be used, then the husked rice will be re-exported to the other Central American countries. The US corporations assigned roles through CAFTA. They gave Nicaragua responsibility for the triangulation of rice in the region, while Honduras and El Salvador were earmarked to do the same with milk and Guatemala with chicken. These triangulations will displace regional products from the Central American market because they won’t be able to deal with the unfair competition and the legalized dumping.

The panorama looks even more tragic when you put some names to the winners. In the United States it’s Riceland, the second largest rice company in country. Riceland is associated with the Nicaraguan rice marketing company Agricorp, which is based near Sébaco. Agricorp has already bought up all of the rice threshers in Nicaragua to monopolize rice processing in the national market and is now making incursions into the regional market. And who are the owners of Agricorp? A group of businesspeople who are also among the top leaders of the Nicaraguan party that prides itself on fighting “for the poor.” Through the Riceland-Agricorp association, Riceland receives the US subsidy and also captures the Nicaraguan government subsidy of 29 córdobas per hundredweight marketed. And who owns Riceland? People who finance the electoral campaigns of US congress members. It adds up to a very strange alliance between people in the United States who promote an “imperialist” policy and those in Nicaragua who promote an anti-imperialist one. Political enemies and business partners.

The case of dairy products:
Neighborly contradictions

Let’s also take a look at the case of milk and other dairy products. In the area of milk, Nicaragua and Costa Rica came into serious contradictions. The Costa Ricans, who are the regional leaders in milk and dairy products, have a very integrated productive chain. Milk production is national and in the hands of small-scale producers, while its processing and marketing, also national, is done under the Dos Pinos brand, which is a cooperative. Production in Nicaragua is also national and supplied by small-scale producers. But the big transnational company Parmalat does the majority of both the processing and marketing, with the remainder handled by a small number of national companies.

In the CAFTA negotiations, Costa Rica wanted to preserve the integration of its productive chain and protect its small-scale national milk producers. So it opposed the importation into the region of powdered milk from the United States, which sells at half the price of nationally produced liquid milk due to the subsidy received by US producers. To continue being competitive in dairy products, the processing company would be forced to stop buying milk from small-scale national producers.

Nicaragua said it couldn’t back Costa Rica’s position because Parmalat had threatened to leave the country if Nicaragua didn’t allow powdered milk imports. Parmalat won out and Costa Rica responded by informing Nicaragua that if it allowed the entry of powdered milk—which would then be triangulated throughout the region—they would open their doors to the importation of maize, which was a priority in Nicaragua and not in Costa Rica.

During the first year of CAFTA, Nicaragua will introduce 600 metric tons of milk and 850 metric tons of cheese, butter and other dairy products, and will be able to export its dairy products to the United States. But in the name of reciprocity, the United States will export the same amount of its dairy products to Nicaragua as Nicaragua can send to the United States. Who will win in this competition? Some kind of clue can be gleaned by recalling that when the rainy season starts in Nicaragua, milk that cost 4 córdobas in the dry season can drop to 1-1.50 córdobas as the rain destroys roads and getting the milk out becomes a big problem, not to mention the fact that the cows are producing more. If prices drop so much just because of the rainy season, how much more will they fall because of the massive entry of subsidized US products? Our producers prefer not even to imagine it.

Meanwhile, by accepting the entry of US powdered milk, Nicaragua also sacrificed its national milk producers. Our dairy cooperatives—such as Camoapán, which has been able to place good products in national and US supermarkets—are very worried. They’re facing the choice of killing their milk-producing members or dying a natural death trying to compete with Parmalat, because the cost to Parmalat of producing cheese and other dairy products with the subsidized powdered milk it can buy from the United States is almost half of what it costs the cooperative to produce them with the fresh milk it buys from its own small-scale milk producers. In other words, the cooperative members have two options: either buy powdered milk from Parmalat and ruin their own milk-producing members or buy from their members and ruin everyone.

The price for letting in powdered milk:
Inundated with triangulated maize

You only discover these things when you start to break CAFTA down into its component parts, then look at the faces of the real people that will be affected by this agreement. CAFTA’s defenders tell us that better and cheaper products will come to the country, but what about the people who produce the same products nationally? When we talk about trade, we need to talk about the people who produce, not just the products that are sold and bought in Nicaragua, and it is vital to link agricultural trade to poverty.

When Nicaragua, unfazed by Costa Rica’s ultimatum, accepted the importation of powdered milk, Costa Rica negotiated bilaterally with the United States to import maize. Milk was Costa Rica’s priority, maize was Nicaragua’s. The Nicaraguan government’s propaganda said that maize wouldn’t be a problem because Nicaragua had negotiated it very well. And it’s true. Imported maize in Nicaragua will be subject to a 10% tariff and only a small quota will come in. Some 160,000 small-scale Nicaraguan farmers currently produce 11 million hundredweight of maize a year, whereas only 100,000 hundredweight—less than 1% of our production—will come in from the United States. In 2015, only 6,500 metric tons—not even 1%—will come in from the United States. Looked at this way, the Nicaraguan government did negotiate well, but what it isn’t saying is how much US maize will circulate through the region as the result of triangulation. In fact, 84,660 more tons of white maize and 190,000 of yellow maize will come in through Honduras and Costa Rica. We’ll be inundated.

Yellow maize is a substitute for sorghum, which is used to manufacture balanced feed for poultry, pigs and other small livestock. Yellow maize has been coming in to Nicaragua from the United States for two to three years now, imported by the US Cargill company, and this is already causing problems for the sorghum farmers. The Tip-Top and Estrella chicken companies currently divide their payment for each truckload of sorghum from national producers into instalments paid once a week over eight weeks, which makes it increasingly less competitive. I calculate that when yellow maize quotas start to come in through CAFTA—and there will be 68,250 metric tons in the first year—the national sorghum farmers won’t last two years. They’ll simply disappear.

Sugar: A special and curious case

Rice, milk and maize are three examples of the effects of DR-CAFTA among the losing products. What will happen to the locally owned threshers, refrigerated rooms, pasteurizing equipment and the like? They will quite simply turn into maquila-style export processing plants. I had to laugh, although it made me sad, when former Economy Minister and current Finance Minister Mario Arana told us with ingenuous joy what business we were going to do in Nicaragua, bringing in powdered milk from the United States, reconstituting it in Nicaragua and then selling cheese. What a great deal, he said, because we were going to have a cheaper raw material and could sell cheese and other dairy products at a good price! He was looking at the product; I was thinking about the producer. Who’s going to buy from our producers? And what are they going to do with their cows, their pastureland, their infrastructure, their credit, their debts?

Sugar is a very special and curious case. It sells on the international market at $10.12 a hundredweight. But in Nicaragua a hundredweight costs $24. Anyone would wonder why they let rice, maize and beans into Nicaragua to be sold more cheaply, but don’t let sugar in as well. The answer is that there is a powerful national sugar-producing group in Nicaragua that stops this from happening. The very wealthy Pellas family is the group’s main partner, but there are also representatives from the country’s two biggest political parties, who no longer produce sugar but used to have sugar refineries—including Javier Guerra and the Cuban-donated Timal—and still have sugar-selling quotas. What interests them most is not selling sugar at $14 in the United States, but selling it at $24 in Nicaragua. For each hundredweight of Nicaraguan sugar we consume, we “donate” $10 to this powerful monopoly. We’re denied maize subsidies, yet subsidizing maize would involve just half of what we hand over as a subsidy to this powerful sugar group. The subsidies received by the sugar growers in Nicaragua are the result of the plundering caused by the “privatization of consumer income.”

Replacing a development strategy
with a development promotion instrument

CAFTA is coming with the force of a hurricane. The legislators from the two big political parties couldn’t have done much even if they had participated in the negotiations—which they didn’t do fully even though they were invited to the “side room” sessions, because when the negotiations were held in the United States, they went to sightsee and shop in department stores instead. Most of our legislators don’t like to read, and the CAFTA text is very complex due to its connections with other, particularly US-related agreements, laws and law reforms. It is also very extensive, adding up to 3,000 pages, including the annexes. We’re like a one-legged spider that’s continually getting itself all tangled up in a vast web that we only had a small part in weaving…

Central America has never had and still doesn’t have a regional development strategy. Accepting the government’s propaganda, we must assume that CAFTA is an instrument to promote development. But without a development strategy, the instrument replaces the strategy. And what does that mean? It means that it replaces the priorities. And the priorities of any Nicaraguan development strategy should be to promote employment, foster agriculture and food security and fight poverty. When strategy is displaced by an instrument that is commercial in nature, then the priorities are different: fostering trade, increasing exports through agribusinesses, lowering tariffs and the like. This immediately affects the national budget, which will reflect CAFTA’s priorities by assigning more resources to ministries related to foreign trade that favor the functioning of CAFTA, while those that focus on Nicaragua’s development priorities receive fewer resources.

CAFTA will distort all of Nicaragua’s priorities. It will very soon start weakening the country’s already distorted food sovereignty, which is a country’s capacity to produce its own basic foods based on its national genetic, productive and intellectual resources. Moreover, with CAFTA, the fight against poverty will stop being a priority, shoved aside by the priority to export, be competitive and offer an attractive market for investment.

Nicaragua is currently “attractive” only because it has “competitive” labor, which just means that we have badly paid workers who have few options other than to accept starvation wages. What jobs will CAFTA promote? More free trade zone assembly plants (maquilas). And the jobs Nicaragua needs in order to develop are productive jobs, not the marginal jobs generated by maquilas.

The social impact of hurricane CAFTA

For all of these reasons, CAFTA can be seen as a brand-name Hurricane Mitch, because it will grow devastatingly big in very little time. Such a short period of time that we won’t be able to define strategies; just give enough time to take shelter to save your life, particularly when the inundation finds you on a hillside living under plastic sheeting. The rules are imposed by the storm, not by us. We just have to accept them. It’s not a question of liking it or not, taking it or leaving it. It boils down to surviving or not surviving. In this situation, the first thing, the only thing, is to think how to save your life, then wait for the downpour to abate and the water level to stop swirling around enough so you can see where you’re going to end up and what you’re going to live on once the devastation is calculated. That’s what CAFTA will be like. The impact on our fragile economy will be the equivalent of a raging current hitting a small house with weak foundations.

Nicaragua is not only not thinking about the economic impact that that the unfair competition will have on the “loser” products, our most sensitive ones; it is also not prepared or even preparing to absorb the social impact. What is going to happen to our rice, maize and bean farmers? What are we going to retrain them to do? Thousands of producers are going to go broke. When that happens in the United States or Europe, there’s a pension fund for them, as well as programs to retrain them and reinsert them into productive life, and the farmers don’t completely lose their standard of living. When farmers go broke in Nicaragua nobody notices until they’re selling little bags of cold water at Managua traffic lights or behind bars for some reason in the Modelo Prison in Tipitapa. In Nicaragua, bankrupt farmers don’t even have much chance of reinserting themselves into the assembly plant maquilas, because the owners are looking for younger people, particularly female, between the ages of 14 and 25. In addition, their low educational levels prevent them from being reinserted into any activity that isn’t agricultural in nature. When our people start going bankrupt, what levels of social decomposition will we see and what social prices are we going to have to pay?

In this final stage before Nicaragua ratifies CAFTA—when the only thing left to learn is when it will be ratified and in exchange for what—the FSLN and the PLC have been using their vote on its eventual ratification as an instrument for their own political convenience. For the Liberals, it is a very important bargaining chip to achieve Arnoldo Alemán’s freedom. For the Sandinistas it provides the chance to appear to be a leftwing party. The arguments both parties are feeding to their political clientele in this last hurrah are superficial, hackneyed phrases, party political refrains and slogans with no depth to them at all.

Proposals to head off the hurricane

What can we do in the face of this hurricane? We have proposed that civil society and the government—the executive and legislative branches and all institutions—establish a consensus, a transition plan, with measurable goals and concrete compliance deadlines that would involve passing a set of laws that defend us from the effects of this hurricane. There are legal loopholes and we need laws similar to ones that exist in the United States to help us fend off the hurricane’s effects. The first thing we proposed was an anti-monopoly law, and the legislators and government functionaries told us, “OK, OK, let’s see…”

We also proposed an anti-dumping law, similar to the one in the United States that establishes that no product being exported to the United States at a sales price below its production cost can be admitted into the country.

Furthermore, we’re suggesting the creation of a development bank. If they’re telling us to be more competitive and produce better quality products, then we need to install irrigation systems, for example, but to do that we need long-term investment credit, which the private banks don’t offer. So we’re calling on the government, which signed CAFTA and is telling us that we can and must take advantage of it, to support us so we can do just that. All countries with competitive agriculture have development banks.

We’re also waiting for an explanation of what will happen with the recently created Institute of Urban and Rural Property. According to the law, this institute should already exist and be functioning, but President Bolaños is ignoring the law and refusing to accept it. It is vital to us to resolve the property problem. Three out of every five small farmers who belong to cooperatives have issues of property legalization, and they can’t work faced with such levels of uncertainty. If the big foreign investors need clear rules and stability, so do the micro investors.

Reforming the state and foreign cooperation

We’re also proposing institutional reforms, since we have a state that’s not designed to promote development. We need a state with greater capacity, with a much more dispersed, less fragile and above all more coherent public sector with a vision of development that is shared by the other actors working in that area. Nicaragua needs institutions that promote small- and medium-scale production in both rural and urban areas because small and medium businesses generate much more employment than big businesses. The big companies recognize that the medium and small sector generates more or less 90% of the country’ jobs. These economic subjects have to be strengthened and the government’s not designed to do that. Instead, it’s designed to promote foreign investors... who never end up coming.

We must also reform the cooperation that comes to state institutions for policies and programs. There are no sector-wide policies for certain key sectors in the CAFTA framework and the existing rural policies and programs are marked by political patronage. It’s what we dub the “parachute” approach, because everybody tries to fall into one of the “target groups.” State institutions such as INTA, MAG-FOR and MARENA execute millions of dollars, handing out credits as if they were banks, but with no criteria for sustainability or viability. And consultants mill around the projects—many of them relatives or close friends of those directing the institutions—snapping up the tenders and benefiting from the very high salaries. Such levels of pillaging in such a small and starving state can’t result in anything positive. The Nicaraguan state isn’t prepared either to promote development or to administer the resources that foreign cooperation earmarks for development.

Biosecurity and biodiversity:
The threat to peasant autonomy

We are also proposing a biosecurity law and a biodiversity law. These are very important because CAFTA’s chapter on intellectual property rights and patents establishes that in 2008 Nicaragua has to reform what is known as the Vegetable Extractions Law, which was approved in 2000. This law currently allows the manipulation of genetically modified material without establishing who pays for the damage it causes to the biodiversity. What’s the reformed law supposed to say? That not only the manipulation but also the marketing of genetically modified material is allowed, which would favor the very powerful Monsanto Corporation.

Monsanto has invented three varieties of transgenic seeds with three kinds of gene. One gene makes maize seeds resistant to herbicides so that weeds can be killed without killing the maize. The problem with this gene, as Mexico’s experience is demonstrating, is that there is a need for such increasing amounts of herbicides that maize cultivation ends up unprofitable. So the peasants go back to their native seeds and stop buying Monsanto’s. Monsanto therefore invented another variety of transgenic seeds with the “BT” gene. This genetically modified seed creates its own organic insecticide, so that the worms poison themselves when they start to eat the plant. The problem with this variety—as has already been demonstrated—is that the toxin also passes into the edible cob, making people allergic or resistant to antibiotics. As this variety still hasn’t sown up the market for Monsanto, it has created a third transgenic variety with the “terminator” gene. It is this variety that the reformed law will allow to be marketed in Nicaragua. The “terminator” gene is introduced into the seed and sterilizes it, so that none of the grains from the cob will germinate into new plants. Even more seriously, when peasants who don’t buy this transgenic seed because they either want to continue with the native seed or they don’t have the money sow their maize next to the fields of a grower who is using the “terminator” seed, the cross-pollination that occurs when the maize in both fields forms ears will effectively sterilize the native crop as well.

This effect is known as genetic erosion, as it reduces the varieties of seed, and it’s very serious, because seed is a key element in peasant autonomy. Peasants are autonomous if they can produce and improve the seed from which they live. Farmers can have a good plough or a good tractor, but they’re useless without good seed. Seeds are to peasants what credit cards are to executives. They use them for everything: to buy, to do business, to eat and drink... They sow a little, harvest the crop and buy medicine with the money from the extra they sell after setting aside some for food and replanting; they sow some more and buy moonshine or some agricultural input... If you take seed away from peasants you take away their autonomy, because the secret to that autonomy is their ability to produce, improve and conserve their seed.

CAFTA anticipates the introduction of terminator seed into Nicaragua. The big business for the corporations isn’t selling us maize, but selling us seed. What’s a hundredweight of maize worth? It peaked at some 200 córdobas and right now is worth between 90 and 150 córdobas (roughly between $5 and $8). A hundredweight of seed is worth $30 to $50. So selling seed is better business. And the really great deal would be forcing the farmers to buy seed every year, which is what the terminator seed guarantees. Nicaragua would have to buy enough seed every year to produce 11 million hundredweight of maize. In this respect, CAFTA offers us an even more tragic scenario: it would weaken food sovereignty and increase food insecurity.

The importance of working at the local level

Local-level work and coherence is vital if we are to stop these seeds coming in and respond to other consequences of hurricane CAFTA. Working with the municipal governments is particularly important because they have a margin of autonomy to establish arbitration plans and laws prohibiting the actions of transnational companies with unbridled ambitions. It is therefore very important to participate in the municipal and departmental development committees and to establish alliances at the local level, especially the municipal level.

We tell people that if someone from the Ministry of Agriculture comes to experiment, they have to tell them, “If you give me a document saying that what is being experimented with is not a transgenic and that you take responsibility for any damage that experiment might cause to the area’s ecosystem and biodiversity, only then can you work here. If not, you’re not coming in.” This is where the local governments have an important role to play as they can issue ordinances and decrees. In the first few years the municipality won’t be affected by hurricane CAFTA with the same intensity as the national spheres will.

Leadership and NGO-trade association alliances

Leadership is also crucial in facing CAFTA. We—and I’m speaking for my sector, the cooperatives, here—need a more informed leadership that researches more and acts not only with its heart, but also with the kind of knowledge that will allow it to upgrade its methods of struggle and the demands that the unions and trade associations need to fight for. We need a more comprehensive approach, and to achieve that we need better documentation and a better informed and better trained leadership.

To stand up to CAFTA we also need NGO-trade association alliances. It is important for the country’s NGOs and trade associations to understand that they’re both going to be victims if they don’t play a leading role right now in the alternatives that we have to build to turn back such terrible threats. The times in which we’re living demand that these two kinds of organizations work shoulder to shoulder with a complementary logic of joining and multiplying capacities rather than replacing and subtracting them. We have to be more united to build our own processes, not just reacting to what is coming from outside, but acting like a good driver by dipping our headlights to see what’s happening in daily life then raising them to look towards the future. We need to fix only one eye on what’s mine and focus the other on what’s ours. In the face of Hurricane CAFTA, the fight is essentially to avoid having our country, our resources and our own lives turned into merchandise.

Sinforiano Cáceres is president of Nicaragua’s National Federation of Agricultural and Agroindustrial Cooperatives (FENACOOP).

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