In September 1984, director Julia Lesage visited a coffee plantation with Nicaraguan camerawomen, Amina Luna and Miriam Carrero, and organizers from the ATC, the Nicaraguan salaried farm workers' union. El Crucero gives an in-depth picture of that farm. The tape is organized in four "movements," each in a different documentary style, to capture different aspects of life and politics on that farm. The use of different documentary styles provokes a reflection on how the US media convey information about other countries and cultures.
00:00Copy video clip URL Title, opening credits. “Here are four views of the lives of salaried farm-workers on one Nicaraguan coffee farm, El Callao. It is located in the El Crucero region, about 50km north of Managua. Made with the help of the Video Work Group of the Sandinista Salaried Farmworkers Association (ATC) and Industrial Workers Union (CST). Nicaragua, September 1984.
01:28Copy video clip URL The first segment, “Reyna Flores” begins. She explains that she began working on a farm at age 22, when her mother passed away. She built a house for herself and her child out of materials from demolished buildings on the farm.
04:05Copy video clip URL “Now I’m a little better off because my man and I work together,” Flores says. “If I just sat around at home depending on a man’s salary, I could never make it. We’d have enough money to buy food, but nothing else.”
05:17Copy video clip URL Flores describes her daily routine. She gets up at one or two in the morning to prepare food and clothes for her children before heading out for work. She assigns housework for her sons, but also knows to check on their progress when she comes home in the evening because children can’t always be depended upon to carry out all of the tasks. She explains that there isn’t a reliable mode of transportation on the farm, so she relies on a privately-owned truck that makes trips into town on the weekends.
08:09Copy video clip URL Flores talks about her schooling. When she was younger, she wanted to learn, but had a learning disability and was eventually expelled. “I have a real joy in seeing my children in a school where they can learn,” she says.
10:38Copy video clip URL Flores describes the work of farm laborers before and after the Revolution. Before the Revolution, men made more than women, and were subject to working under cruel overseers, or punteros. Now, women and men make the same amount, and punteros no longer rule the haciendas. “Now we feel very calm and at ease while working.”
13:14Copy video clip URL A man explains that the workers must carry seedlings to the fields each day, and that 600 seedlings, or 30 trips back and forth, is the norm. Workers can help out the people fighting on the front by exceeding the norm. Flores says that the workers haven’t been able to contribute as much lately because they’ve needed to plant the seedlings further away from the trucks.
16:19Copy video clip URL A union representative briefs workers at El Callao about a new government program that distributes rations to every family in Nicaragua. Seven types of staple foods are guaranteed to families, but he explains that milk is a separate issue because milk provided by Nestle is scarce after new rounds of US sanctions.
21:28Copy video clip URL One man complains about food hoarding and being refused service at the government store in town. “We see prices in the newspapers that are supposed to be the established, basic prices,” he says. “But those lists are not respected. When we buy things, everything always comes out to be more expensive.”
24:26Copy video clip URL A union representative reports that they’ve fired several store managers for not being fair to poor customers. She further elaborates plans to get milk to all store customers, and encourages everyone to be realistic about what can and can’t be accomplished during wartime. “We have a real role to play here: that of the rear guard. We suffer from what we give to the war front. There isn’t anyone here who doesn’t have relatives or fellow workers fighting in the north.”
29:55Copy video clip URL The third segment, “History and Nature,” begins. Roberto Alvarez, a farm union organizer, describes working life in El Crucero over footage and stills of the coffee plantations.
30:38Copy video clip URL Alvarez describes recent innovations to the way that coffee is planted. He explains that the planting is primarily women’s work. Taking care of the individual seedlings after they are planted on the shady side of a hill is traditionally men’s work. Everyone works the harvest because it isn’t particularly difficult.
34:10Copy video clip URL “When I was a union organizer in El Crucero, our biggest struggle was to improve the quality of food in the communal dining hall–especially to guarantee a nutritionally balanced diet,” Alvarez explains.
39:29Copy video clip URL “In terms of sharing housework, well–that’s where machismo really shows up!” He explains that even though women fought in the revolution and are recognized as union leaders, it’s culturally entrenched in Nicaragua that housework is not for men.
37:46Copy video clip URL Alvarez talks about improvements to medical care following the Revolution. He explains that dirty drinking water is still a huge issue in El Crucero.
39:47Copy video clip URL Sleeping quarters are another major issue for farm workers in the region. Before the Revolution, whole families would sleep in boxes two meters long by two meters wide. The boxes weren’t fumigated, and bugs and disease spread rapidly. Sexual abuse was also an ever-present threat. Though improvements have been made, “it is clear that we don’t have the economic resources to build individual houses for everyone.”
44:07Copy video clip URL Alvarez describes the process of setting work norms and fair wages in his union. Recently, workers proposed a plan for economic incentives to increase productivity.
48:16Copy video clip URL “Social relations in rural areas have changed drastically as a result of the Revolution,” Alvarez explains. He talks about the harvest, which is a special time for female bonding as women from all over the area come together for the event. He reports that overall, friendships have shifted away from bars or from the workplace. “Friendships now arise out of the social tasks that people try to accomplish together. People have more friends now, and for men, it’s a healthier relation altogether.”
51:04Copy video clip URL Alvarez says that El Crucero has not seen much fighting and that only about 20% of the men are enlisted in the reserves. However, soldiers who have come back from the war have helped to organize local militias and have raised awareness about defense.
54:00Copy video clip URL The last segment, “Agua Pura,” begins. Reyna Flores and her neighbor, Elena Reyes, talk about the problem of dirty drinking water in El Crucero. “If you go up [to our water tank] and look inside it, you’d be astonished at how filthy it is!” Rainwater usually ends up being the cleanest and safest bet.
57:49Copy video clip URL Daniel Ortega paid a visit to a few El Crucero farms and promised them electricity and safe drinking water, provided that Nicaragua’s economy improved.
59:40Copy video clip URL End of tape.