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Ruby Cox with her award from the Nicaraguan Embassy

Ruby Cox with her award from the Nicaraguan Embassy

Award from the Nicaraguan Embassy

Today, Wednesday 15 July, Hastings Borough Councillor Ruby Cox will receive an award from the Nicaraguan Embassy in an online ceremomy. The award is to mark her long-standing work building solidarity between the Trade Union movements in the UK and Nicaragua. Below she tells us about the award and her bond with the Nicaraguan people.

The award is for “long-standing solidarity commitment with the people of Nicaragua and work to develop a bridge of friendship between Nicaragua and United Kingdom, particularly in support of trade unions in Nicaragua.”  It’s not only for me, it’s for several others also who have worked in the same area, mainly through their trade unions.

My 18 year love affair with Nicaragua began in 2002 when I went on a trade union delegation to meet public sector workers from UNE, the Nicaraguan counterpart to UNISON.  I was immediately struck by the warmth, the generosity, and the resourcefulness of the Nicaraguan people, and above all by their community spirit and commitment to seeing their country thrive and prosper into the future. Since then I have visited three more times, twice in 2009 when I spoke on behalf of UNISON at the UNE biennial congress and then travelled to remote villages delivering generators and television sets to aid with literacy programmes, and then most recently last year. Last year I was astonished to see the strides the country has made – investment in infrastructure, hospitals and homes, with priority given to the welfare of the most vulnerable.

I’m also humbled because in my mind, it has been an absolute honour and a privilege to be able to work with Nicaraguan trade unionists, a number of whom I am now proud to call my friends. From my point of view, they have already rewarded any effort I have put in a hundred times over with the inspiration they have given me that courage and community spirit will overcome the most difficult of circumstances.

The award is for the work I’ve undertaken between 2002 and the present day to build a relationship between UNISON and UNE, helping to promote solidarity and establish projects such as providing training for trade unionists in areas like leadership and equalities, and the establishment of a law centre to help people understand and realise their employment rights.

In 2012 I retired but Nicaragua was by this time in my blood and I continued with my support by becoming a member of the executive committee of the Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign Action Group, and when they organised a trade union delegation last year I could not resist going again, not only to see old friends, but to find out more about the lives of older people there.

The award ceremony will take place online tomorrow at 5pm. I presume it will be given by the Nicaraguan ambassador, Guisell Morales, who I have met on several occasions. It may seem strange that the Embassy should give an award which is based on work creating solidarity between trade unions, but in Nicaragua the present government and the trade unions work closely together and support each other’s work. For instance, Gustavo Porras was the General  Secretary of the Health Union FETSALUD, and is now President of the National Assembly. Many other General Secretaries and Deputy General Secretaries also have seats.

My association with Nicaragua has taken place over 18 years during which time very different governments have been in power, and my work has been to maintain the links between UNISON and UNE throughout, and to help UNE in its unwavering determination to secure workers’ rights.

The 2009 UNE conference which Ruby attended. She is shown with Domingo Perez, General Secretary of UNE, the public services union, just after they had signed the twinning agreement between UNISON Greater London Region and UNE.

How the Ortega government has changed Nicaragua since 2007

It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that I did not know that Ortega is vilified in the mainstream media as some sort of authoritarian dictator. This is my response.

Firstly, Ortega is the elected president of the Nicaraguan people, last elected in 2016 with 72% of the vote in elections that were praised by an international monitoring team which noted that the level of participation was higher than the average in Latin America, and highlighted the fact that it would be a challenge ‘of the first order in any country, to reach what has been achieved in Nicaragua.’  The team went on to note the “clarity and distribution of election materials, and the efficient functioning of polling stations, the ‘massive participation of women’ as election officials and to praise the security forces for their role in ensuring an atmosphere of order and calm devoid of conflicts.” I don’t think there can be much doubt therefore that Nicaragua is a functioning democracy.

I would also say that I trust the evidence of my own eyes and my visits to Nicaragua provided me with plenty in this respect. When I first visited in 2002 there was a right wing government in power, and a great deal of suffering for ordinary people as well as the trade unions.

I had nothing to compare this with at the time, however, when I went back again in 2009, and the left wing had regained power, the difference was clear. The realignment of the economy to provide the basics for ordinary people was plain to see, as evidenced by my trip along the Rio Coco in one of the remotest parts of the country to help with the literacy programme. However the biggest shock was when I went back last year and saw the huge amount of progress that had been made and how much better life was for ordinary people, one example being the proliferation of new hospitals, due in no small part to the fact that the vast majority of the national budget goes on health and education.

It is impossible for me to draw any conclusion other than that the Ortega government’s policies are hugely beneficial to ordinary people, that he is hugely popular and that if any of this changes they are free to vote him out at the next election.

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Posted 13:35 Wednesday, Jul 15, 2020 In: Hastings People

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