CED as Political Activity – Still Learning from Juan Tellez

August 31, 2020

Image of Juan Tellez Ten days ago, Juan Tellez was charged with sedition, terrorism and crimes against public health in Bolivia.  

I first met Juan 20 years ago in the early days of CCEDNet. He hosted CCEDNet’s first national conference in Halifax, and was the first Chair of CCEDNet’s Membership Committee. I too remember the enthusiasm and passion he brought to our endeavours that this article from the New Brunswick Media Co-op describes among his students at St. Mary’s University.  

The situation in Bolivia is worrying. Reports (see links below) document a surge of human rights violations since last fall’s disputed Presidential elections. Charges of terrorism and sedition are reportedly being laid for people walking through the wrong neighbourhood and having flyers in a backpack.  

It made me wonder how Juan became a political target. In the past, one of his proudest accomplishments was bringing electricity to his rural village. Could community economic development represent a threatening political agenda to some? Is CED a political activity?  

Being a charity, in the past CCEDNet has had to be careful about political activities. Fortunately, following a 2018 court ruling (thanks Canada Without Poverty!!!), the old 10% limit on a charity’s allowed political activities was eliminated. There are still prohibited activities (we must remain non-partisan) but there are now no limits to how much of our resources we can spend on calls to action and campaigns. Which is good, because CCEDNet and some leading members have recently expanded our investment in this work.  

We’ve also become more explicit in our support for broader social justice movements. Standing up for Black Lives, the rights of First Nations, Métis and Inuit, and all people with barriers to full participation in society – this is core to CCEDNet’s vision of communities directing their own social, economic and environmental futures.  

A year ago, as part of centenary celebrations of the International Labour Organization, I wrote a blog about the historic connections between the labour movement, human rights, the co-operative and credit union movements and CED. The roots of all of these are in organizing towards greater economic democracy. Standing up for human rights. And recognizing that in fact human rights themselves are inadequate – we still need what Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed 75 years ago: economic rights.  

Strengthening the role of government in making sure everyone has equal access to those rights can be effective, but relying entirely on government is risky. It was the failings of distant and ineffective government policy in times and places of economic dislocation that prompted community leaders to decide to take economic matters into their own hands, and embark on a co-operative and CED agenda. Communities know what’s best for themselves. Empowering communities builds resiliency (as we see in the survival rates of co-ops), makes for happier places to work, and contributes to health and well-being. Distributing democratic practice and mutuality in a plural economy (as Henry Mintzberg calls it) solves problems that are too complex for government alone.  

Since March, we’ve been reminded of the importance of labour and decent work, and we’ve seen firsthand how government can act to create a workable social safety net when it’s needed. Current references to a bold, green and equitable recovery offer the promise of a renewed vision for our frayed social contract, and a refocus on those for whom it was broken from the start.   

So to answer the question above, yes, at its best, CED is both practical and political.  Like bringing clean drinking water and green energy to First Nations. Like creating a social finance intermediary to invest in Black-led social enterprises. Or bringing electricity to a remote Bolivian village.  

Juan understood this long ago, and his courage and dedication have made him a target. If you want to help make sure he is okay send an email to to stay up to date and contribute if or when the family asks for help.  

And for the second year in a row, enjoy your Labour Day weekend, with a thought to those whose efforts and sacrifice have made it possible, and those who still today are denied their essential human rights here in Canada, too.  

More on the situation in Bolivia:

*The opinions expressed in blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of CCEDNet