MANAGUA – The government of President Daniel Ortega last week started to deliver on its promise to make beans affordable to most Nicaraguans again.
It began with a simple program that brings beans from small-scale domestic producers directly to consumers in poor neighborhoods, without being subject to commercial intermediaries who adjust prices based on speculation and artificial inflation.
“For me, for those who are in poverty, this is a good program,” said Indiana Ríos, an impoverished mother of four from a neighborhood in Managua. “It helps us because our pocketbooks just don’t stretch far enough to buy beans.”
It was the first time in three weeks Ríos bought beans. She paid 30 córdobas for five pounds of black beans at a governmentsponsored bean sale in the poor neighborhood of Villa Venezuela.
The bean program, coordinated by the Nicaraguan Basic Food Business (ENABAS), the state food bank, began Nov. 22 and will continue until the market price of red beans drops to at least 10 córdobas per pound, according to government authorities.
In recent weeks, the price for a pound of red beans – a staple in the Nicaraguan diet – had risen to 20 córdobas. Through the ENABAS program consumers pay 12 córdobas for black beans and 6 córdobas for a pound of red beans. The lowered prices are possible because the 34,000 small producers in the program avoid commercial middlemen.
“They’re selling in a direct manner,” explained ENABAS Executive Director Roger Ali Romero.
And more food programs are on their way. President Ortega announced during a Nov. 23 speech that the government will begin importing other dietary staples duty free, such as corn flour and oils, in order to pass savings on to consumers. Also, a donation of about 5,600 tons of rice from China was expected to be announced early this week.
Funding for the bean progr am and other future emergency food programs comesfrom a $16.25 million donation from Venezuela, Ortega said. Funds from the South American country will also be used to fund the repair of roads and bridges damaged by Hurricane Felix and nearly two months of intense rains in the northwest.
Juan Ramón Bravo, president of a national association of agricultural cooperatives, said that the program allows both producers and consumers to benefit.
“We are trying to support the government on the subject of shortages in a way that our product gets a favorable price and the consumer has a favorable price,” Bravo said.
The program was created and administered by the controversial Councils of Citizen Power (CPCs), which identified the neighborhoods that are most in need, said Leticia Guerrera, CPC coordinator of Women’s Rights in Managua’s 6th district, where Villa Venezuela is located.
“We were looking at the people’s needs. Citizens were complaining about not being able to buy the product,” she said, adding that her CPC meets weekly with neighbors to hear complaints.
Last week, the installation of the CPCs as a government entity was vetoed by the National Assembly and now awaits a final decision by the Supreme Court. Ortega’s political adversaries say the CPCs are a just another name for the Sandinista Defense Committees, which were the “eyes and ears” of the Revolution during the 1980s (see separate story).
The role of the CPCs in the state’s food-relief programs has led critics to argue that the party-affiliated groups are being used to fish for votes and government support using state resources.
But others say that as long as the CPCs continue to be used in programs such as the bean sale, they can be a strong force in protecting citizens’ interests.
The CPCs “can be very useful if they’re not politicized,” Bravo said.