Today, I was completely filled and completely emptied. In a culmination and concrete correlation between our factual learnings and the reality of the people, the levees of my heart broke and emotion poured out. Tears, responsibility, sorrow, shame, flowed like a torrent.
For the past year we’ve been learning about Nicaragua. For the past few months, our team meetings and understanding of Nicaragua's social issues has intensified. For the past few days, we’ve been transformed. We’ve been forever changed.
Our day began with a very eye opening lesson of a U.S. policy most American’s know very little about. What we often do know, is very, very distorted. This policy is the U.S.’s approach to “free trade.” Sounds good, doesn’t it? Free trade. As opposed to “oppressed trade”? (Free trade removes taxes and tariffs and supposedly government involvement).
Free trade is great. Watch. Check out how over a 10 year period, NAFTA (The North American Free Trade Agreement) has dramatically helped the three countries involved. Everybody is benefiting… this is policy that works!
Look at that! Increased trade. New jobs. Steady economic growth… for MEXICO! Free Trade Rocks!
Well, that’s what they like to tell us. They need our silence because recently, free trade policies have been harder to pass in Congress. This is why:
The other side of the coin, what do we see? Job loss. Increased displacement and migration. A decline in small farms. More U.S. ownership (even of BANKS) which results in less loans to Mexicans. Now that U.S. subsides have enabled U.S. corn companies to have a monopoly over corn production and sale in Mexico, increased corn prices. Why? Cause there’s no longer any competition.
This is now the reality in Nicaragua and other countries in Central America through CAFTA (The Central America Free Trade Agreement).
After this enlightening lecture, we set off to learn in action. After a very powerful lecture on migration, we first visited a fair trade store called “Esperanza in Acion,” where we gained a greater understanding of how local artisans and workers are often exploited by outside influences. Through fair trade (not free trade), an artisan or worker can receive fair pay for the time they’ve put in to make their good (as opposed to a individual who earns 800x less then what a company like “The Gap” sells it for). *NOTE: To all you family and friends out there, we’re stocked full of BEAUTIFUL fair trade products to bring back, to grace your homes and ours!
Here’s a picture from “Esperanza in Acion” where Yamileth talks about the wonderful artisans who they teach how to improve their products and lives.
After buying as much as we could afford, we left Esperanza in Acion and headed to our final meeting of the day. For me, at 3pm, on Thursday, January 7, 2010, years of learning boiled down to pure emotion. During our meeting with the Nicaraguan banana farmers who were poisoned by a pesticide used 17 years ago by the Dole Food Country. This pesticide (which the U.S. banned and acknowledged that it was extremely hazardous and poisonous yet continued to sell to developing countries) has caused deaths, sterility, birth defects and cancer on thousands of these workers. Listening to their presentation, asking questions, trying to understand their cause, everything was in check. Just as we were about to end our meeting, I noticed a silence. All had been asked. All had been said. All that was left was raw emotion. That’s when the levee broke. My heart suddenly felt the most tremendous responsibility, shame, sadness and sympathy I have ever felt. Because the earth is one, mankind is one, their suffering and abuse was so openly wrong. It was so horrifying and upsetting. This entire situation is clearly, without a doubt, the direct result of U.S. companies. This was the direct result of the U.S. economy, of the U.S. trade agreements, of the United States of America. Which I am part of. Which I represent.
My heart was emptied and all that remained was love, prayers and a promise to work for change. As we walked through the camp, our group hugged the families and exchanged smiles, hugs, and the passing phrases of “Buenas” and “Adios.”
Galen (our host from Witness for Peace, the Treasurer and Vice President of the afflicted workers)
We returned back to our hostel, our spirits ready (and perhaps needing) to dance, to sing, to celebrate. Why? How is this possible, after seeing what we’ve seen?
Three words: Nicaragua is beautiful! Its people are radiant, selfless and welcoming. Even in its challenges, there is stirrings of change. Even in its poverty, there is joy, there is vibrant life. And finally, in its music, there is FUN! There is harmony, passion, hope!
Love you Tee. Love you Mom, Dad, Jeff, Matt, Pattio, family and friends.