In August I had the opportunity to visit our subsidiary in Nicaragua, and I was thrilled to see what a difference we are making there.
It was great to be able to spend time with our team in Nicaragua, ably led by Klau Geyer, our CEO, and also visit some of FINCA’s clients to see and hear how our financial services are enabling the growth of their businesses.
As always, I came away inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of our staff, and their committment to helping our clients build a better future for themselves and their families.
I was especially moved by a client named Julia Ramirez, who despite her own very modest circumstances chooses to help the children of less fortunate families in her community. Like so many of our clients, Julia has overcome adversity in her personal life and presents a brave and generous face to the world.
I wanted to share some of their stories with you, so I made a short video blog of my time in Nicaragua. I’d love if you spared a few minutes to watch it.
Actually I’m in Portland, Oregon today, at the Net Impact Conference at the Oregon Convention Center, and will be on a panel this afternoon at 3:30 “What’s Next for Microfinance?” with my colleagues Mary Ellen Iskendarian of Women’s World Banking and Alex Counts of Grameen Foundation, and will be signing books at the Convention bookstore afterwards. Net Impact is a 20,000 member whose mission is “to inspire, educate, and equip individuals to use the power of business to create a more socially and environmentally sustainable world.”
The stop in Leavenworth, Kansas was for a board meeting of Cereal Ingredients, Inc., a small but innovative company that makes flavors and colors for cereal companies, protein bars, snack foods and even dog food. Leavenworth is also the site of “Camp Fed” which houses all the white collar criminals and will likely soon be home to former Goldman Sachs director and head of McKinsey, Mr. Gupta, once he exhausts his war chest and all his appeals. As with Martha Stewart, I’m left scratching my head as to why someone who was obviously already awash in dough felt the need to cheat to make even more. Innocent until proven guilty, of course. In the meantime, timely fodder for the gang laying seige to Wall Street.
Seeing the rolls of concertina wire atop the chain fence surrounding Camp Fed I was briefly transported back to Kabul and fortress-like defenses of the embassies, hotels and office buildings there. Oh, and Hamid, such a helpful statement that if the U.S. went to war with Pakistan, you would side with Pakistan. You don’t just bite the hand that feeds you, you take the arm off at the shoulder. But I guess you thought it was a good way to keep the ISI assassins off your trail for another day or two? Whadevah.
Finally, thanks to Kevin Nenstiel for his insightful review of my book on Amazon. I always appreciate it when someone “gets” what I was trying to do.
Which means, roughly translated, a gig that wrung the last drops of sweat out of us.
This was my day:
9:30 Interview with Radio Cooperacion. What a great bunch of people. The owner of the station, Fabio Gadea Mantilla, has created a graphic hero, Pancho Madrigal, who is the prototype of the small town Nicaraguan campesino. He is also a candidate for President (why not, we had Reagan).
Here is me and Klaus, our Country Director in Nicaragua, doing live radio. Rush who?
And as a bonus, as we were leaving the studio, ran into an old amigo, Bill Baez, microfinance pioneer from the 70s:
Then did an interview with awesome client, Sonia Maria Alvarez Arguello, going to post as soon as processed.
Finished the day with the inaugration of the Finance Company.
I guess you’d have to say it was a good day
I did not even use my AK
With the controversy of Global Warming safely tucked away into its (warm) bed, we can return to topics I know something about.
I was in Managua yesterday, putting on a command performance before the Board Of Directors of the Nicaraguan Central Bank, who we hope will confer a Finance Company license on FINCA Nicaragua, so we can mobilize more resources, reach more clients and offer them a wider range of services.
In my youth, an audience like this would have sent me into paroxysms of anxiety, as when Eminem appeared on the stage for the first time:
The music, the moment, ya nevah let it go, yo
Ya got one shot, do not blow this opportunity
Comes once in a lifetime, yo
After which he repaired to the head and blew his guts out.
I wonder why I like both my parents’ (RIP) music and my kids’ at this stage in my life?
The composition of the Nicaraguan Central Bank board is interesting to say the least. All but one of the members used to wield an AK 47 against the Somoza dictatorship, which they overthrew in 1978. The head of the Superintendency of Banks (think Federal Reserve), who was also present at the meeting, is married to one of Somoza’s daughters.
I was in Asuncion, Paraguay, in 1979, when a hit squad ambushed Somoza’s armor-plated Mercedes. It was obviously a professional operation. A few blocks from Somoza’s mansion in an upscale Asuncion neighborhood, a gunman emerged from the right side of the road, drawing the attention of the driver and fire from Somoza’s bodyguard. The bazooka guy popped out from his cover on the left side, and fired a round which pried the roof off the Mercedes, decapitating Nicaragua’s former President.
From Asuncion, I went to Managua, just in time for the wild celebration. (I’m not asking you to make any connection here. Though my friends did; they were convinced I was involved in the operation)
Damn, I have a lot of stories! People are always telling me: “You should write a book.”
Wait a minute, I have! 63 days to Release Day!
Interesting that, after all the effort by the Reagan Administration, all the money, all the lives lost in the civil wars in Central America, we have today leftist governments in both Nicaragua and El Salvador, populated by former guerrillas. Not the result Ronnie had in mind. More interesting, they arrived via the ballot box. They didn’t shoot their way into power this time as they did in 1979. Eleven years later, over confident, they got booted out by Violeta Chamorro, only to return to power in 2006 after the conservative candidate, Aleman, discredited his party with his blatant corruption.
But here is the amazing part: in both El Salvador and Nicaragua, the right wing elements in those two countries are accepting this result peacefully.
Is Central America a hopeful portent for what might eventually occur in other regions in conflict, like the Middle East, if we are just patient enough? And if so, what lessons, if any, does the Central American Solution hold for that part of the world, in terms of a Path to Peace?
A recent Op Ed in the Washington Post had the temerity to suggest that, in the case of Egypt, we might be in a better position today to help steer that country in a healthier direction (for us) had we more openly supported the democratic, centrist elements in the population vs. “coddling” our Despot of the Day (and the past 30 years), Hosni Mubarak.
This reminds me of when I was on a tennis court with Ambassador Dean Hinton, in El Salvador, in 1983. We had just played an energetic doubles match, and Hinton wanted to vent his frustration with my boss, Wild Bill Doherty, Executive Director of the AFL CIO’s labor program in Latin America.
“A real bunch of amateurs,” Hinton growled, as we drank cerveza Suprema, post match. “That’s why you guys are,.” He brandished his racquet at me. “And you can tell Bill Doherty I said that!”
As with most great comebacks, I didn’t think of mine until a few days later: “Well, Dean, I guess when the professionals screw up, we turn to the amateurs for solutions.”
If you’ve been following this blog, I was referring to the sweeping land reform program my colleagues and I designed and thrust upon the shaky Revolutionary Junta, which, after implemented, created for them an overnight constituency of hundreds of thousands of peasant farmers and their families, and broke the momentum of the guerrillas seeking to overthrow them.
That political coup had only been possible thanks to my martyred boss, Mike Hammer, who had worked for years during the 60s and 70s supporting the Salvadoran peasant farmers, persuading them that they could achieve their aspirations through peaceful, democratic means, vs. joining the armed insurrection. This, in sharp contrast to the Conventional State Department Wisdom which held that we had to support right wing dictators as the only viable alternative to communist insurgencies.
In that board room of the Nicaraguan Central Bank, 33 years later, one thing was going through my head:
I mean, they came to power anyway, for Christ sake! The end result was the same!
Speaking of Sisyphaen undertakings. The morning of the meeting I noticed, in the Nicaraguan Prensa Libre, a photo of one of my old running buddies from the El Salvador days, Bill Brownfield, who has risen through the ranks to the point where he has a title rivaling that of Idi Amin: Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Bill was next door in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, announcing that the State Department will spend $200 million fighting the war on drugs in Latin America. My CFO for Mexico recently told me that a “corner boy” in Mexico now pulls down an average of two large a day, or $60,000 a month.
Good luck with that one, Bill.
I can imagine a conversation between the Head of Narcotics in – take your pick – any given Central American Republic, and the top Drug Lord in the country:
Head of Narcotics (HON): Am I speaking with El Rey de Las Drogas?
Top Drug Lord (TDL): Who wants to know?
HON: Chepe, it’s me. La Cabeza Anti Droga de la Republica
TDL: Oh, oh oh. ‘Sup Dog? Hey, congrats, saw you’re gonna get a few million to fight the War on Drugs! Man, I’m scared now!
HON: Shut yo’ mouth. Got a proposition for you.
TDL: Lay it on me.
HON: Who’s your biggest competitor right now?
TDL: Dude named El Gordo. Wasted one of my homies the other day. Chopped his cabeza clean off. Set it up on the highway like a lane divider.
HON: Tell me about it. What happened to just a plain old .45 entre los ojos? What would it be worth to you if I, you know, made him disappear?
TDL: You could make that happen? (skeptical) Just how you gonna do that?”
HON: (laughing) With the millions I just got from this Brownfield cat, how you think!”
I wish I could say I made that up. It went down EXACTLY like that in Mexico.
Damn, it’s hard to stay on message! Diane, where are you! Diane!
We’ll pick this up – with another contest and valuable prizes! — over the weekend.
In the meantime, please weigh in, if so are so inclined, on this “Coddle the Dictator vs. Support Grassroots Democracy” trade off. And don’t tell me it’s a “false choice” – unless you think it really is.