If you want more information, or to contribute to the María
Luisa Ortíz clinic and women’s center in Mulukukú,
Women's Empowerment Network
309 Cedar, PMB 547
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Tel/fax: (831) 768-7004
is going to make the situation even worse. It’s a war against poor
of Dorothy Granada
an intangible serenity, a luminescence that radiates from many
a community worker, an activist, a person who carries on her or his shoulders
the daily struggle of hundreds, thousands of people, many of them the
poorest of the poor. It’s there in Rigoberta Menchú, a simple
woman of such peacefulness it almost makes you want to ask for her blessing.
It’s there in Adrienne Rich, a woman whose words give voice to the
concerns of the world.
And it’s certainly there in Dorothy Granada, a Chicana/Filipina
nurse who, for more than a decade, has been working for a women’s
health clinic in an impoverished Nicaraguan village.
At her age, the 75-year-old woman could very well be spending her golden
years enjoying life in Shangri-La. But the petite, strong Dorothy continues
to jet between the Central American nation to work in the clinic, and
the United States, where she receives much-needed monetary support.
During her latest trip to North America, Granada spoke against CAFTA,
the Central America Free Trade Agreement that’s being praised by
the elite as the salvation for the Central American nations. Just like
NAFTA was for Mexico, right?
Petite and vivacious, Granada moved to Nicaragua in 1989 with the intention
of finding an organized group of women who would be interested in having
a health care center. A long time peace activist, she did not want to
become what she described as the typical “gringa” organizer
who parachutes into a community and tries to tell people what to do. She
wanted to be invited, and she wanted her host community to know they wanted
a project like she had in mind.
“I traveled to different places looking for an organized group of
women, and after a few months I found a group of women displaced by the
war, who had organized in a cooperative to be able to survive" she
explained in Spanish while sitting in the sunny dining room of her host
family in Santa Cruz, Calif.
had lost everything in the war. Their cooperative was called Maria Luisa
Ortiz, and they had rebuilt their homes with international aid. They formed
a brick factory, they were all single or abandoned women, most of them
were illiterate, and they had gotten together to survive.”
Smack-dab in the middle of the country, near the confluence of the Rio
Iwas and the Rio Tuma, Mulukukú was born as a refugee settlement
for families displaced by the U.S.-supported civil war. Today it’s
home to about 30,000 and to one of the strongest women’s movements
in the country: the cooperative has helped set up a block factory, a carpentry
workshop and a literacy program.
Granada, who had visited Nicaragua in 1986 with Witness for Peace, found
that most women in the countryside were afraid of visiting the Sandinista
clinics with problems in their reproductive system such as vaginal discharge.
They’d never had a pap smear and didn’t seek help if they
“I realized that in the Latin American culture, women have learned
that our bodies are dirty and that we should be ashamed, and that I believe
it is the legacy of the Roman Catholic Church. I think that before the
Spaniards arrived, there wasn’t such shame about the female body.”
Granada speaks with passion, with an intensity that seems drawn from the
deepest confines of her soul. The daughter of a Filipino father and a
second-generation Mexican-American, she was the first Chicana in the nursing
school at an L.A. hospital, where she helped delivered babies until she
finished her degree. At one time, she was an upwardly mobile doctor’s
wife. But there are topics she’d rather not touch, and her former
life, the life she led before she thrust her life into activism, seems
off limits. She skillfully deviates from that topic, and moves on to talking
about her mission in Nicaragua.
In Mulukukú, even though the women were organized and they had
a Sandinista clinic, they did not go for their intimate health care needs.
There weren’t any women they could trust.
“They were looking for a nurse, but back then they didn’t
find a Nicaraguan nurse because Mulukukú was infamous for its violence.
In that region, the war was terrible and we’ve had violence up until
1998. The war was officially over in 1990, but many of the Contras continued.
“The women found me, and I liked them because they were organized.
I was going to work for three years, I thought we were going to have everything
Granada began with family planning, pap smears and other woman-oriented
tests in the clinic. She made sure to include the herbs and natural medicine
that have become displaced by the use of expensive pharmaceuticals. But
the everyday contact with the women made her discover other needs: they
didn’t know how to read or write, many were homeless, and some of
them showed signs of abuse.
After the clinic came the literacy classes, the domestic violence programs,
the legal assistance: all the programs are run with donations, with volunteers
who come mostly from the United States.
“I really like (working with) volunteers,” she said. “It’s
an opportunity to create consciousness, not just to be charitable but
also to learn that there are a lot of poor people. And to know that when
people are poor, they lack good medical care, good education. That’s
how we hope to contribute to the education of gringos, because we don’t
“Ever since 1990, we’ve had the ‘economic adjustment,’
a formula the government has to follow according to the dictates of the
IMF and the World Bank. It’s a formula so the government can pay
the interests on its international loans,” Granada said.
It’s the same bitter medicine that all the so-called “developing”
nations have had to swallow for decades. It’s a recipe for disaster
that recommends paying down international loans instead of investing in
social services for the poor, and privatizing state-owned services so
the free market forces can bring the corporate sharks and establish pricey
programs that only the rich can afford. The poor, they can eat cake.
“The international companies take all the profits back to their
countries, they don’t invest them back in the country. There isn’t
any development to help the people develop, it’s just what the government
and international banks want. And if the people want to work, well, we
can bring a factory so they can make some jeans,” said Dorothy.
In Dorothy’s Mulukukú, students learn first hand the meaning
of neoliberalism: the lack of international barriers so corporations can
set up maquiladoras anywhere. The companies pay few taxes under the excuse
that they’re providing jobs. But when the workers want to organize,
they lose their jobs.
“It’s a system for big corporations to make the most profit
by using people,” said Dorothy.
CAFTA would be an invitation to even greater inequality. Modeled after
the North American Free Trade Agreement, CAFTA would end most tariffs
and import restrictions on the more than $33 billion in goods traded between
six Central American nations (Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador,
the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica) and the United States.
In practical terms, U.S. companies would be able to set up factories in
any of the tiny nations, knowing that there would be not import taxes,
tariffs, to hurt their bottom line. Also, the heavily subsidized U.S.
farmers would be able to sell their products in any of the Central American
countries, where the poor farmers would have no chance of competing. Experts
and free trade agreement foes are predicting grave consequences for low-income
workers who have no chance to compete against the economic behemoth of
“CAFTA is going to make the situation even worse. It’s horrible,
it’s a war against poor people. Poor people are excluded from education,
from health care,” Granada said. “There are clinics, doctors,
nurses, and sometimes there are medicines for small children. But if there’s
no money, how are people going to get better? Just with papers?”
Not surprisingly, U.S. President George W. Bush is a big supporter of
the trade pact, and has been pushing for Congressional approval in the
last few weeks. A staunch advocate of the free market, Bush believes the
unfettered movement of goods is bound to help the workers who produce
Just like NAFTA helped Mexican workers, right?
© 2005 El Andar Magazine