Roger Lacayo works for La Asociacion de Consumidores de Masaya, an organization that defends consumer rights and educates consumers on how they are protected by Nicaraguan law. Mr. Lacayo spent much of his hour-long talk discussing Union Fenosa, a transnational energy company that was recently granted control of providing Nicaraguans with water, gas, and electricity. Union Fenosa is part of the Nicaraguan government´s attempt to privatize many of its public services. The privatization of public services - often as a mandate put on loans to Nicaragua - has devistated social programs like law enforcement, education, and health care.
Union Fenosa is notorious in Nicaragua and other Latin American countries for being corrupt and providing poor services to its customers. They often charge consumers for gas and electricity that they do not use. If they cut service because of late payments, malfunctions - or their own whims - they often continue to charge consumers for the services that they are no longer receiving. They violate many of the laws that empower Nicaraguan consumers, including one that mandates energy corporations to give 5 days notice before cutting any service.
Union Fenosa is one of three multinational corporations that currently provide most of Latin America with energy services. One of the best moments of Roger´s speech - he is a very gifted speaker and communicator - was when he told us of a meeting among social activists where they nicknamed the three companies the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.
¨This is just a new way to exploit and hurt our people¨, he said ¨They used to do it with ships and guns and wars, now they want to do it with energy´¨. It was one of the many times today where a Nicaraguan compared colonization and the subjugation of Latin Americans to the multinational privatization that is exploiting Nicaraguans and other Latin American people.
Roger made it clear that Nicaraguans have had enough of this type of exploitation, and ¨´wouldn´t rest until Union Fenosa is out of Nicaragua¨´. He highlighted the Dominican Republic´s struggle with the same corporation and said that to get them out of Nicaragua, he and other activists would continue to petition the government, noting that they were violating many of the stipulations of their agreement with Nicaragua, which stated that Fenosa had to invest in the infrastructure and put money into providing better services, which they had not done.
One of us asked Roger how he hoped that Nicaraguans would receive energy once Union Fenosa was ousted. He had made it clear that his people didn´t have half the problems they do now - issues with poor service and widespread corruption - before the company took control of energy in 2000. In regards to his hopes for the future, he said:
¨There are more than enough Nicaraguan technicians. All of the people who work for the company are Nicaraguans. But we don´t blame them for what is going on. We know very well who to blame. It is the leaders of Union Fenosa and their corrupt politics that is doing this to us. We aren´t angry with the workers, who are just doing their job. Once we get rid of their corrupt politics and system, they can continue doing their jobs¨
As heavy as all these issues were, Roger was very affable, friendly, and light-hearted in his delivery. He wasn´t angry or bitter with anyone, but was just doing the best that he could to help the people in his community to be treated fairly.
He told us a story about a woman who took out a $1,000 loan to help pay for a piece of property that she had just bought. After making all her payments on time and paying off the entire loan, the creditors claimed that she still owed money, and wanted to confiscate the entire property, which was worth $47,000! ¨Imagine¨, he said, ¨now is that fair?¨ The worst part of this horror story was that the judge who took the case was supporting the corrupt creditors! It took a letter and petition from his organization to win the case for her, even though there was clear documentation - which he showed us - that proved that the loan had been paid. His discussion was filled with stories like this. I kept thinking to myself how could this man keep such a warm, friendly spirit and vibe with all these things going on around him?
When he introduced his boss, he joked that he and the other wokers got over their machismo attitude long enough to work for a woman. Jhon joked back that maybe she had gotten over it long enough to allow men to work for her. She wrapped up the session seemlessly. ¨Now, more than ever, we are defending the consumer¨ She had been a soldier in the Sandinista Revolution and said ¨In the army we defended with our lives, and now we continue to do the same¨ She perhaps summed up the courageous spirit of her people and their way of life when she said ¨I don´t think I´ve heard of a problem without a solution. The only problem maybe is that one day we die. But as long as we´re here, we´ll be fighting for our rights as humans¨.