Battling with beans and rice: Food sovereignty as a defense against US imperialism
An interview with Carlos Rodriguez Valera, team member of the ATC and facilitator at IALA Mesoamerica (pictured above [left] with IALA students Blanca and Juan Alfonso). This interview is part of a series of testimonies taken by Friends of the ATC on the July 2019 delegation. Check out the IALA students’ illustrated testimonies in English and Spanish here.
What’s your name and where are you from?
My name is Carlos Alberto Rodriguez Valera, and I am from Venezuela. Currently I live in Nicaragua, primarily with the objective of preparing myself politically. I was part of the construction of IALA (Latin American Agroecological Institute) in Venezuela and I came to Nicaragua to be part of the construction of IALA Mesoamérica. I also have my family here. So now I have countless responsibilities with the ATC, with IALA, and with my family. And also a commitment to the Sandinista Front. We may not work for the state, we don’t depend on the state, but we do defend a just cause. And the government of Comandante Daniel Ortega is a just cause.
How did you start working with the ATC and what is your job?
My work at the ATC began specifically in 2015. Beforehand, I was invited to participate in the construction of IALA Paolo Freire in Venezuela, where students from all over Central America went to study. But when I arrived, the only student from Central America was the compañera Marlén Sánchez. The rest of the Central American students had left, some because of personal problems and others because they had moved to other universities.
When I arrived I learned about the atmosphere of the students, their preparation, and their different organizations. All of it interested me because at the time I was a conventional person, a traditional person, a person who didn’t contribute anything to society. Learning about IALA, La Via Campesina, and the CLOC (Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations) motivated me. And also learning about the real histories of the countries—not the history that a tourist guide could tell us—but the history that only a peasant can tell us. This is really moving—it really moved me at the time.
How did I hear about the work? About the agricultural work working directly with pigs, with cows, with crops? By meeting a man that I am going to highlight here because I always say that he is the one who motivated me most to fall in love with the countryside, to fall in love with the people. He is a peasant comrade from Venezuela whose name is Emilio Mejia. He was the person who led me to love IALA.
As I said, I was a person who liked partying. So when I learned about the organizations, peasant work, and social movements, they put me on this path, which led me to come to Nicaragua. It is because of this journey, this interest that I had, that I am with the ATC. Working with the ATC and learning about the work that the ATC has, the work that it does, this fulfills me even more.
I started my work with the ATC in the department of Carazo, I attended departmental meetings, I got involved. This led me to Santa Teresa, to a community called Los Mojica, and around five communities in San Marcos where I began to interact with the farmers and began to learn little by little about the ATC’s work. From there I inserted myself into the organization, and now I am part of the facilitation team at IALA.
I am also part of a strong collective called los Amigos de la ATC (Friends of the ATC). I am part of this team and part of my job is to attend to the practitioners. I always like the relationship with the North American people, who are not the North American government. President Nicolas Maduro has always stressed that we have nothing against the North American people, we are simply besieged by the U.S. government. And now I’m talking like Chavez.
I believe that this is what has me today in the ATC, this love for the organization. And I emphasize again that it is also the history of Nicaragua, the history of the Sandinista Front, the history of the peasant struggle. If we review the history of Sandinismo, we see reflected the history of the ATC, because the ATC was the right arm of the Sandinista Front.
We are here today in Santa Teresa, a founding nation of the ATC, with the history of the comrade Edgardito. And if we go further back we remember that in this community our general secretary of the organization, Edgardo Garcia, traveled by foot, walked these communities, visiting and organizing the people. This is what has me here today. All of this history, all of this love for the work, for the struggle, for the defense of the right to land, for gender equality, all of these struggles that La Via Campesina promotes.
What does food sovereignty mean, and how is it political?
Let’s remember that the Green Revolution left us with food security. La Via Campesina has a banner of struggle that is food sovereignty, the sovereignty of peoples. This is what we always emphasize in our events. For example, it was touched on a lot at the Seventh Congress of La Vía Campesina, “sovereignty, sovereignty”.
I want to use Nicaragua as an example. Nicaragua was attacked last year for perhaps three to four months, and is still being attacked by the international media and by the United States government. A sovereign state is a country or a people, a community that is capable of producing its own food. Nicaraguans produce 70, 80, or 90 percent of the products that they consume. This makes us consider ourselves a sovereign country. That we are capable of producing our own food, that we are capable of changing our lifestyles to be able to advance, to be able to be sovereign as a community, as a person, as a subject.
In the attempted coup that took place in Nicaragua [in 2018], we would not have endured, we would not have survived the coup if Nicaragua hadn’t been in this transition to food sovereignty. Because let us remember that when there is a coup, there are food shortages, there are blockades everywhere. The people of Nicaragua knew how to battle, during that moment, with beans, and with rice.
A clear example is this community of Marlon Alvarado. The roadblocks weren’t taken down for three months. In this community, people had their beans, rice, yucca, milk—all of the basic elements of a peasant diet. They had some to feed the communities, to supply the market. Even with the roadblocks, the community managed to take some products to the market so that people in the city could subsist.
Venezuela is the opposite. It is not true that we Venezuelans are “boludos” (lazy) as they say in Nicaragua, but our culture is different. They have cut us off from our culture. We depend 90% on oil. Maybe that’s where the mistake is. Because if we don’t sell oil, we don’t eat. The production in Venezuela—because there is production: there is milk, there are basic grains, there is meat—but there is a mechanism that sends this production abroad. What we produce perhaps goes to Colombia, because of a dirty internal politics among the big businessmen where our production goes to Columbia and is packaged and returned to Venezuela at a totally unaffordable price. This does not make us, as Venezuelans, a sovereign state, and this is why we are vulnerable to attack, to any attack. We can’t cushion a blow like Nicaragua did, because we don’t have this culture of producing.
So food sovereignty means that we have a chicken, we have a calf, we have diversified crops, with which we not only protect ourselves from any imperial attack, but we also protect ourselves from natural disasters. Because if the rain affects my beans, I still have corn. Or if these two crops are affected, I have an avocado tree, or I have a chicken. Having so many different crops allows me to share with my neighbor. I give them a chicken, they give me an avocado. This is the most popular way of understanding food sovereignty. We have to achieve this.
At IALA, we are implementing food sovereignty. We have a small space where we grow crops, in addition to all of the political education. IALA’s greatest strength is political preparation. Politics in the sense that young people have to be prepared, not to go to work in a commercial house or to be employed by a boss, or an employer, but to strengthen their communities, organizations, the countryside. I return again to the theme of the countryside.
Historically, we sometimes make the mistake of training the producer. But it is not the producer who we have to train; it is the family, it is the community in general. Because when the current producer dies, what will happen to the land? That’s how IALA is training the students, preparing them to return to the countryside so that their education has the multiplier effect. So that IALA is not a space where a person has to come to Nicaragua to study, but rather that the students, as prepared people, go back and share this education with their communities, their organizations, their spaces, where the people who really need it are. This is IALA, touching on the issue of food sovereignty, agrarian reform, land rights, gender issues, and countless other issues that are also promoted by La Via Campesina.
They are being prepared to construct food sovereignty because we not only have to stay in the countryside producing, but we also have to advocate for our rights. The right to water, the right to land. This means being sovereign. I have to be sovereign because if this comrade has water, I also have to have water. It is not the hoarding of resources, but ensuring that we all enjoy resources in a healthy, responsible manner.
Food sovereignty is our banner of struggle. It is the sovereign state. We cannot depend on any transnational company and we can no longer depend on oil. We have to depend on ourselves, on the people, on the union of peoples. And this is why Chavez and now Maduro emphasize that we have to unite as Latin America in order to strengthen our countries. These bonds of friendship that Nicolás Maduro has with Daniel, with Evo, and with a lot of countries allied to this struggle, because it is a global struggle. They are killing us, and we have to be the people to raise our hands and say “enough is enough!” We have to start working.
What is the importance of working class women and peasant women in the struggle and in the Sandinista Revolution?
You know that agriculture was discovered by women, right? You know that, don’t you? It helps us get to the answer quickly. It’s very important. One, because we weren’t even the ones who invented agriculture, it was women. It is also women who run the household. Historically we have had a traditional machista culture, patriarchal, where the woman has been violated and subjected to slavery: “you are for the kitchen, you are to take care of the children.” That has been the women’s work historically. And there are still many problems in the countryside. In our context, in our struggle, in our work, we promote the inclusion of women in this work, in this struggle. Because “With women at home, agrarian reform lags behind!” “Without feminism there is no socialism!” These are our slogans that we are always mentioning in our space.
How does the work you do in Nicaragua influence the struggle for justice in Venezuela?
How does the work I do in Nicaragua influence Venezuela? I would say not only in Venezuela, but in the world. Because you all also came to Nicaragua to do this work. And why Nicaragua? Because it is the space given to us, isn’t it? And it’s not just the fact of being in Nicaragua but all the contributions that we can give to Nicaragua and to the world. Nicaragua has a history of internationalism. [In the 1980s], many people came, doctors and teachers, to help at this time of war. They came from Switzerland, from Germany. They lost their lives during the war. This unites us in this struggle for the sovereignty of our peoples. This represents us as internationalists.
In Venezuela, there are Nicaraguans who are working. They are agroecologists, doctors, who are contributing to the Venezuelan cause. In Venezuela there were, and still are, but previously with the government of President Chavez there were many Cubans who were strengthening the movement with new ideas. We as human beings think a little differently and each of us contribute that little piece of sand that helps organize a positive idea for our movements, for our countries.
How does my work influence Venezuela? One because I am preparing myself in case I ever have to go to Venezuela and contribute all these new ideas that I have to the Bolivarian process, to the revolutionary process. This is internationalism and I hope that at some point we as Friends of the ATC will be able to have an impact in Venezuela. Because we are learning more every day, and this leads us to unify ourselves much more.
International cooperation has always existed from our internationalist point of view. We are committed to the cause, the cause of Venezuela being free, but the freedom that we claim, not the freedom that the Venezuelan right-wing demands. Nicaragua is 100% free, but it is freedom as we define it, not freedom as the right-wing defines it. We have to continue preparing ourselves. For the same reason that you are here; to obtain a lot of knowledge, to learn a lot, to be able to make political incidence in your countries, right? So it is this internationalism that characterizes us.
What is your vision for Nicaragua and Latin America?
This is a good question. The vision for Nicaragua is the one that is being realized today. A vision of sovereignty, a vision of freedom, a vision of twinning, of brotherhood with the peoples. Two hundred years ago Bolívar thought it, that Latin America had to be one. It began with five countries, which are now divided by political circumstances. The complete vision for Nicaragua is the free Nicaragua that Sandino dreamed, that Carlos Fonseca dreamed and that Nicaraguans, and we internationalists, continue dreaming. That Daniel continues dreaming—in spite of his age—that commitment, and that the Sandinista Front continues dreaming in spite of the difficulties that arise along the way.
Fidel Castro was asked a question, “What is the future of socialism and Marxism, and what is the relationship between them?” Fidel spoke of the French revolution, he spoke of the empires; the Spanish empire, the Roman empire, the Yankee empire, and that there is not much to thank them for. There are dozens of millions of children who continue to die in Africa, in Haiti, in Central America. What is the thanks we give to capitalism? None at all.
How many millions of child mortalities has Cuba stopped? How much economic growth have they generated? The rate of poverty and extreme poverty in Nicaragua has fallen. That’s a pretty surprising figure. And it is because of what governments of the left, socialist governments, Marxist governments have done. As Fidel said, “Perhaps in some countries socialism will lag behind, but it will prevail in history.”
From all those empires, there is not much to thank them for. But there is a lot to thank our struggle for. I think we have a lot of future as a social movement and as a left-wing movement. The future of Nicaragua and Latin America is the union of peoples, the union of sovereign peoples. That we are not subject to an empire but that we can be free as Latin America. As Bolívar dreamed it, as Chávez dreamed it, as Fidel wanted it, and as we want it, it is the union of the people. That we no longer have problems saying “I am going to this country, I am going to that country,” free of visa, free of having to get a permit, of having to change a currency so that it can circulate in the country—total freedom, complete sovereignty for the peoples. This is the future I want for Latin America. A sovereign people.
It is important to mention a little more about permanence, of not falling. We as a social movement, this is what we are looking for. We have a lot of help, a lot of people who are working for the common well-being. Many people who are working in the union or in the strengthening of our organizations, that cooperation. The work that you are doing when you come to Nicaragua, you are contributing a lot not only to the ATC, but to the country. To show the world that Nicaragua is not at war, as they claim. Nicaragua is free; internationalists can come, they can travel, they can walk around the country peacefully.
We have to start to promote this a little more. We need to demonstrate that our peoples are peaceful peoples, that they are not peoples at war, as the international media networks say. Why do I believe in this? Because you have to continue in this struggle. I invite you to continue in this struggle, which is not a pendeja struggle, nor a struggle that does not make much sense. It is a real struggle.
I want to mention something that I have experienced on this point. In 2005 Chávez is asked a question, a Colombian woman asks him ‘if he is paranoid about the empire, if he was crazy.’ She asks, ‘what did he have in his head? Everything was empire, empire, empire.’ Chavez responds that “In no way. The empire is there, palpable.” Look what happened in Chile with Allende, look what happened in the Dominican Republic with Juan Bosch, the invasion in Guatemala. Just for being presidents with different ideas. The attacks that Venezuela has suffered, the attacks that Chavez himself suffered. We have to tell the world that the empire does exist, that it is not the imagination of a paranoid one, two, or three people. The empire is there, palpable.
How do we know? By living through the coup d’états, and by living the sovereignty of the people. Nicaragua was doing so well in 2018, and for that well-being, it was attacked. Honduras is so bad, and nobody mentions anything, nobody says anything about Honduras. Nobody says anything about the rest of the countries. Only about our countries that are trying to do the work we need to do as people, as humans. We are the ones who are “dictators,” “regimes,” but nobody says anything about Honduras, nobody says anything about Colombia and the murders of the Colombian peasants. We are submerged in such a backwards world where if we raise our voices for Marxism or socialism, the great powers condemn them. So I invite you to join, even more, this cause, this ‘just cause,’ as Fidel says, to survive and raise Latin America to the potential we all want. And we are all Americans, aren’t we?
To read more testimonies from IALA students in English or in Spanish, please download the testimonies packet here.