Harvesting Change: Labor and Agrarian Reform in Nicaragua, 1979-1990

Harvesting Change: Labor and Agrarian Reform in Nicaragua, 1979-1990

Harvesting Change: Labor and Agrarian Reform in Nicaragua, 1979-1990

Harvesting Change: Labor and Agrarian Reform in Nicaragua, 1979-1990

Synopsis

One of the principal aims of the Sandinista government in Nicaragua was to end the exploitation of the rural poor. But its attempts to promote balanced economic development and redistribute agricultural resources created labor shortages that threatened the country's economic lifeline. New employment opportunities created through agrarian reform upset the delicate balance developed in pre-revolution years to meet the labor requirements of Nicaragua's two key crops, cotton and coffee. Laura Enríquez studied this problem extensively while working in Nicaragua between 1982 and 1989, and in Harvesting Change she provides a unique analysis of the dilemmas of reform in an agrarian society.
Enríquez describes the traditional labor relations of Nicaragua's agroexport production and outlines their breakdown as agrarian reform advanced. She also assesses the alternatives adopted by the Sandinista government as it attempted to address the crisis. Her book is based on participant observation and on formal and informal interviews with a broad cross section of people involved in agricultural production, including officials involved in agrarian reform, planning, and labor; producers; workers; and representatives from associations of growers, workers, and peasants.
By presenting agrarian reform in its broad social context, Enríquez makes and important contribution to our understanding of the problems associated with the transition to socialism in the Third World.

Excerpt

When I arrived in Nicaragua in 1982 to begin the fieldwork for what was later to become this book, the major question guiding my research was the role played by internal structural obstacles, inherited from the past, in conditioning the options open to Nicaragua's new policy makers. Nicaragua's heritage of dependent development, such as the incomplete nature of its economy and its consequent trade dependence, would certainly affect efforts to transform it.

I went prepared to study this process of change in either industry or agriculture, being particularly interested in the dilemmas that would confront policy makers and their responses to these dilemmas. It quickly became apparent, however, that to understand the essence of the transformation process, I had to examine what was taking place in the countryside. I knew that the dilemma that I ultimately chose to study, the tension between agroexport production and agrarian reform, had arisen in other countries that had experienced structural changes in agriculture. It was for precisely this reason that the study seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. Given the dependence on the production of a few export crops that characterizes many small Third World countries, efforts to change the nature of agricultural production so as to improve the standard of living of the rural population and promote more balanced development would inevitably threaten to undermine the system of production that had heretofore been the basis of their economies. My hope was that an examination of the process of agrarian reform in Nicaragua would shed light on one of the many such problems that were likely to be encountered by these countries' planners in their efforts to find an alternative course of development.

Eight years later (in the autumn of 1990), as I write this preface, it appears that most of the objectives held by Sandinista policy makers when this study was begun have been replaced in the agenda set forth by the new uno (Unión Nacional Opositora) government. Although uno has adopted an official posture of promoting reformist capitalism, a number of the government's early initiatives point to the goal of reshaping agricultural policy in ways reminiscent of not-so-progressive, dependent capitalism. For example . . .

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