Francisca Ramirez, A Leader In Struggle To Stop Nicaragua Canal Project
Above Photo: Francisca Ramírez defends the campesino movement’s independence.
HAVANA TIMES – The campesino movement demanding the repeal of the law for an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua – a project that the government has awarded to Chinese businessman Wang Jing – is autonomous, affirms Francisca Ramírez. It acts in defense of the earth and national sovereignty and isn’t motivated by any political interests.
Ramírez, who remains on the land she farms in the community of La Fonseca, Nueva Guinea, serves as leader of the campesino movement. She insists that she doesn’t aspire to any public or party office in this electoral year.
In an interview on the television show “Esta Noche” [“Tonight”], Ramírez made reference to Octavio Ortega’s candidacy for deputy from the Rivas department, under the auspices of the MRS (Sandinista Renewal Movement). Ortega, is the former national coordinator of the Council for the Defense of the Land, Water and Sovereignty, a role that has now been left to Ramírez.
“He’s within his rights in doing this; he’s made a personal decision that has nothing to do with the movement,” Ramírez assures, after explaining that anyone in the movement who aspires to a party post or chooses to run for popular office should leave the movement as established by their bylaws.
“Our movement is a popular, autonomous campesino movement for people from different origins, for the defense of the earth, the lake and our sovereignty. We are open to everyone with no limitations, but our movement has nothing to do with party politics,” Ramirez indicated.
According to the campesino leader, the movement’s only politics is overturning Law #840, the law that establishes the canal project and contemplates the expropriation of their lands. “We demand – as is the obligation of every Nicaraguan – the safeguarding of our welfare and the sovereignty of our country, and that’s our objective: that Law #840 be repealed and that our rights as campesinos be respected,” she underlined.
They identify with Berta Cáceres’ struggle
On Tuesday, March 8, Ramírez also participated in the march that several women’s organizations realized in Managua in honor of International Women’s Day. The march was dedicated to Berta Cáceres, the Honduran activist who was assassinated in that country on March 3.
Cáceres was an indigenous leader from the Lenca tribe, a feminist and an environmental activist who worked as coordinator of the Council of Honduran Indigenous Peoples (Copinh). She was forty-two and the mother of two girls.
Ramírez met Cáceres during a forum on the defense of natural resources held in Juigalpa, Chontales, last August, with the participation of around a hundred women.
The campesina leader recalled that on that occasion Cáceres talked with them about her experiences struggling for the rights of indigenous people in opposition to the mineral extraction projects that are so harmful to natural resources. She also spoke about the aggression and death threats she had received.
“I thought about all the suffering we had to go through in the struggle for our rights against the transnational companies and powerful economic groups that always try to run ragged over the rights of the poor and those of limited resources in the country,” expressed Ramírez. For her, damaging the earth is the same thing as eradicating the campesino’s right to live in peace and ending their lives. She has said that she herself would be willing to die in defense of the earth that in her estimation belongs to her children.
Political office isn’t my goal
Ramírez is proud that the campesino movement she leads enjoys the recognition of the Nicaraguan population, although she feels that many don’t express their support because of political fears.
“My goal has never been to obtain a political post. Our goal as campesinos is respect for our rights, and the repeal of Law 840, as well as to organize ourselves…as organized people, we can decide our own destiny,” she maintained.
Ramírez feels that those who obtain power forget the people that elected them. “But we don’t aspire to this, and I hope to God that it never crosses my mind to hold a political post or to aspire to one,” she affirmed. “I feel good the way I am, I feel good about how I struggle for my people, with so many people who have no voice. That’s my goal. I feel proud and I feel happy to be able to speak for many people in the countryside who can’t speak for themselves.”
The leader also took advantage of the occasion to denounce the fact that the government had made reprisals against the campesinos of the zone, and that they intimidate them constantly.
“They threaten us. They fly low over our houses (in small planes). The children cry, and ask their parents: ‘Where are they going to take you to?’ This has caused turmoil among us campesinos, and we believe it’s the government trying to intimidate us,” she accused.
According to Ramírez, the government has politicized the opposition to the canal project. “It’s not a national project. If it were, they’d be saying: ‘Tell us what you think’, ‘Let’s look deeply into this’, ‘What does it involve?’ But what’s really happening is that if someone is against the canal – or they just think that they’re against it – then they assume that they’re against him (Daniel Ortega’s government) and they turn it into a political issue.”
Ramírez stated that they even face difficulties in accessing health services or police assistance.
Nevertheless, she announced that on Tuesday March 15 they’ll be at the express minibus terminal in front of the Central American University (UCA) to continue gathering signatures against the inter-oceanic canal project.
“People need to get involved,” Ramírez prompted, after underlining that the concession granted under the existing project “is a new form of slavery. We will become the slaves of a foreigner.”
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