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Paraguay: The struggle for Food Sovereignty is the struggle for life.

By Perla Alvarez - La Via Campesina, May 4, 2021

Whether in the movement or outside of it, the word “agribusiness” brings to mind instant associations like “soybeans,” “Brazil,” or “the Mennonites.” Why? When did this word first enter common parlance? What are we actually saying when we use this word?

The word “business” is not an accidental component of this portmanteau word; on the contrary, it is central to the whole concept. Agribusiness embodies a different conception of the earth than the one upheld by peasants and Indigenous peoples. For agribusiness, the earth is a commodity, a product to be bought and sold and made profitable, to be commercially exploited. It is no longer seen as tekoha, the place where we are, where we live, produce, and reproduce, where we come into our own, in which our culture is rooted. No: for agribusiness, the earth and its capacity to support life are negotiable. They are measured in terms of uniformity, not diversity; in tonnes of grain, not seeds; in productivity, not safety; in dollars, not life; in contour lines, not disappearing species of trees and birds.

That is agribusiness: the capitalist exploitation of the earth, extracting from it anything that can generate a profit in record time. Agribusiness subjects the earth to “inhuman” treatment because for agribusiness, agriculture has nothing to do with humanity. What’s human about chemical fertilization, constant tillage with heavy machinery, backbreaking labour, the spraying of toxic compounds, an unswerving routine? That’s not how we provide food our bodies or care for our health, is it? But when agribusiness hears the word food, it thinks in terms of commodities. For agribusiness, the earth is not a living thing but a machine, and to be treated as such. It has been that way ever since capitalism set foot in the countryside. True, these tendencies were there earlier, but timidly, at various stages of production, when merchants refused to pay fair prices, or when they started selling seeds, or when they presented themselves as the peasants’ allies and starting hawking poisons. With the rise of agribusiness, this mentality invaded the countryside and stealthily changed everything, even the way we think.

What do I mean by “changed the way we think”? In general, when we talk of agribusiness, we refer to large commercial plantations. But we also see its effects in the luxury vans cruising through villages, in fantastical-looking, robot-like tractors roaming the streets and kicking up so much dust we have to stay indoors. We see the elements of “success” and we think to ourselves: “So much money made in so little time… Why work so hard, if poisons and machines will make you rich?” We think that maybe, if we emulate this model, we’ll get rich too. Or we take a stab at it and become divorced from our communities; we stop being communitarians and start being landowners. We start using “weedkillers” so we can stop hoeing; we buy genetically modified seeds; we go into debt to buy biotoxins; we get someone to harrow so we don’t have to plough. We lease tractors because we can’t afford to buy them, and can’t get a bank loan without giving our land as collateral (but we don’t have the deed). We secretly take after agribusiness, whom we personify as a successful businessman, a role model. So when agribusiness colonized the countryside, it also colonized minds. It planted genetically modified seeds in the countryside and planted new ideas in our heads. As a complex process of rural capitalist accumulation, agribusiness applies costly, high-tech recipes (machinery, hybrid or GM seeds, biotoxins, trucks, etc). It looks easy and attractive on the surface, and that’s how it took hold of our minds. It occupied the countryside, displacing communities, and it occupied our thoughts, displacing knowledge. What we knew became old hat, a thing of the past, for Luddites only. The result, for rural peoples, for peasant and Indigenous communities, has been depopulation of the countryside, disappearance of wild land, lost seed varieties, and changes in food customs. And we didn’t turn into the nouveau riche, not by a long shot. Instead we were impoverished, lost our land, had our knowledge taken from us. Only the old rich kept getting richer, while a few others managed to sweep up some of the crumbs. And all this is by design: The purpose of agribusiness isn’t to enrich us but to fill the coffers of investment banks and multinationals.

Food Sovereignty Is About Deciding To Change the World

By Pancha Rodríguez - La Via Campesina, April 27, 2021

To celebrate April 17th, International Day of Peasant Struggle, Capire publishes this interview with Pancha Rodríguez, a member of the Latin American Coordination of Countryside Organizations (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo—CLOC-La Via Campesina) and of the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women of Chile (Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Rurales e Indígenas—ANAMURI). Pancha spoke about a long personal and collective journey of struggle for food sovereignty, feminism, and socialism.

First of all, please introduce yourself, looking back at your struggle as a militant and your life story.

I’m Luz Francisca Rodríguez, and everyone knows me as Pancha, which is short for Francisco and Francisca in our country. I come from a rural village that is now part of the city, because as the city expands, it takes over a big part of the countryside and the sectors that used to feed the villages. This forces me to be constantly migrating from the city. I’m someone who doesn’t have much formal education, but I have a great contribution regarding social, political, ideological, and cultural education within the movement.

I’m a flower farmer—this was my contradiction, I produced flowers, not food. When I was young, my work was dedicated to what now may be called a seasonal worker. I was a farmer, a gatherer. We started with the beans and worked our way to the vineyards.

Since I was very little, I had to take care of my home. I worked in different areas, including seasonal work in the countryside and working several different jobs in the winter. I worked for two years at a casino, the post office, and the telegraph office. Then I started to work in the union, at the youth department of the CUT [Unified Workers’ Central]. At age twelve, I joined the Communist Youth, and I’m “old school”: I’m part of the Communist Party, I do militant work in a cell, I pay my dues, I buy the newspaper, I study, I don’t hold big positions in the party, but I’m dedicated to the organization.

I was the woman in charge of the Communist Youth national office in its Central Committee, I worked a lot with the Women’s Front of the Popular Unity for the people’s government, I was one of the sisters working side by side with great women who built the first Women’s Department in the Allende administration, working for the Ministry of Women. Later, when I went underground, I worked with human rights supporting women who were building collectives with partners of political prisoners and victims of forced disappearance, with political prisoners, and family members in exile.

As of 1979, I was no longer underground and I joined the work of the Peasant Confederation of El Surco, now Ranquil, and became the female head. In 1988, when the “no” plebiscite was about to be held, my partner was elected secretary of the International Union of Agriculture, Forests, and Crops, which at the time was part of the World Federation of Trade Unions. I was in charge of the Women’s Matters office. From this process, I went on to build the campaign to commemorate the 500 years of Indigenous, peasant, Black, and grassroots resistance, and then the constitution of the CLOC and La Vía Campesina, always developing work with women in the organization, side by side with young sisters who come from feminist movements and organizations.

TUED GF Latin America

Development Platform of the Americas

What could be wrong about planting trees?: The new push for more industrial tree plantations in the Global South

By Winfridus Overbeek - World Rainforest Movement, February 2020

What could be wrong about planting trees? Haven’t communities around the world been planting a diversity of trees since the dawn of human civilization?

Yes they have. But in more recent times, companies have also been planting trees, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America, and the way they do so is very different from that of communities. They cover huge areas with trees from one single species, creating vast industrial or monoculture plantations devoid of biodiversity.

Today, these same companies plan to start a new round of massive expansion. Exploiting growing public awareness and concern about climate change, they argue that monoculture plantations are an excellent option to help solve some of the world’s most urgent problems: loss of forests, global heating and dependence on fossil fuels (oil, coal and gas).

The corporate argument is that plantations will encourage “forest restoration”, can serve as a natural “solution” to the climate emergency, or help foster a “bio-economy”.

The simple truth, however, is that the industries involved want more plantations simply to increase their profit margins. And other industries and polluters are also using such deceptive arguments, in order to hide their contributions to an ever-worsening social and environmental planetary crisis.

In this booklet, WRM aims to alert community groups and activists about the corporate push for a new round of industrial tree plantation expansion. It also reveals why planting trees on such a large scale can be extremely detrimental, in spite of seductive marketing campaigns claiming that these plantations will or could be a “solution” to the climate crisis.

Read the report (PDF).

Counter-power and self-defense in Latin America

By Raúl Zibechi - ROARMag, January 29, 2018

In much of Latin America, the state does not protect its citizens. This is particularly true for the popular sectors, indigenous peoples, people of color and mestizos, who are exposed to the onslaught of drugs trafficking, criminal gangs, the private security guards of multinational corporations and, paradoxically, from state security forces such as the police and the army.

There have been several massacres in Mexico, for instance, such as the killing of 43 students in Ayotzinapa in September 2014 — and they are no exception. There continues to be impunity for the 30,000 who have disappeared and 200,000 who have died since Mexico declared its “war on drugs” in 2007. Slight differences aside, the current situation in Mexico is replicated across the region. In Brazil, 60,000 people meet a violent death every year, 70 percent of them of African descent, mostly youths from poor areas.

Against this backdrop of violence that threatens the lives of the poorest, some of the most affected have created self-defence measures and counter-powers. Initially, these are defensive, but ultimately develop power structures in parallel to the state. Since they are anchored in community practices, these self-defense groups are key to forming a form of power that differs from the hegemonic powers centered around state institutions. This essay examines them in more detail in order to understand this new trend in Latin American social movements.

The commons, the state and the public: A Latin American perspective

An interview with Daniel Chavez - TNI, August 2018

What are the commons and what is their political, social and economic relevance?

In recent years, many researchers and social activists from very different countries, like myself, have rediscovered the notion of the commons as a key idea to deepen social and environmental justice and democratise both politics and the economy. This reappropriation has meant questioning the vanguardist and hierarchical visions, structures and practices that for too long have characterised much of the left. This concept has resurfaced in parallel with the growing distrust in the market and the state as the main suppliers or guarantors of access to essential goods and services. The combined pressures of climate change and the crisis of capitalism that exploded in 2008 (a permanent and global crisis, which is no longer a series of conjunctural or cyclical recessions) force us to reconsider old paradigms, tactics and strategies. This means discarding both the obsolete models of planning and centralised production at the core of the so-called ‘real socialism’ of the last century and the state capitalism that we see today in China and a few other supposedly socialist countries, as well as the equally old and failed structures of present-day deregulated capitalist economies.

At first, the concept of the commons was disseminated by progressive intellectuals inspired by the work of Elinor Ostrom, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, in 2009. Ostrom, an American political scientist, was a progressive academic, but could hardly be classified as a radical thinker or as a leftist activist. In the last decade, academics and activists from very diverse ideological families of the left have reviewed her contributions and have engaged in intense theoretical debates about the potential of the commons, based on the analysis of many inspiring prefigurative experiences currently underway.

Ostrom’s main contribution was to demonstrate that many self-organised local communities around the world successfully managed a variety of natural resources without relying on market mechanisms or state institutions. Currently, it is possible to identify various perspectives in the theoretical debates around the commons, but in general they all converge on the importance of a third space between the state and the market (which should not be confused with the Third Way outlined by Anthony Giddens and adopted by politicians as dissimilar as Tony Blair in Britain, Bill Clinton in the United States, or Fernando Henrique Cardoso in Brazil as a hypothetical social democratic alternative to socialism and neoliberalism).

Nowadays, a quick search in Google about the commons results in millions of references. Most definitions tend to characterise commons as spaces for collective management of resources that are co-produced and managed by a community according to their own rules and norms. We (TNI) have recently published a report on the commons in partnership with the P2P Foundation, in which we refer to this concept as the combination of four basic elements: (1) material or immaterial resources managed collectively and democratically; (2) social processes that foster and deepen cooperative relationships; (3) a new logic of production and a new set of productive processes; and (4) a paradigm shift, which conceives the commons as an advance beyond the classical market/state or public/private binary oppositions.

Reflections on the First Ecosocialist International and the Academic Left

By Ingrid Elísabet Feeney - Climate Justice Project, June 7, 2018

“Socialism is not a thing but a process.” – Richard Levins

“Sí hay un socialismo del siglo XXI: y se llama ecosocialismo.” (Yes there’s a 21st century socialism: and it’s called ecosocialism). The words, painted in strokes of white gold, leapt in bold relief against their faded blue background: a concrete wall about two meters tall which encircled the central meeting square of Agua Negra, Yaracuy, Venezuela. Dusk had fallen and the material boundaries of the wall seemed to melt into the thick indigo of the heady, sweltering tropical night, its message appearing as if emblazoned from stardust on the infinite horizon of the sky itself. Across the square, on the opposite wall, another message. A frenetic scrawl of soil black upon bright, vegetal green: “Hasta la victoria siembren!” (Sow towards victory!).

 The square was lined with long folding tables piled high with plantains and chili peppers, handmade clothing and works of art, artisanal soaps, second-hand toys, and musical instruments. Dense throngs of people, young and old, crowded around the tables to negotiate barter transactions: soap for plantains; bottles of home-made chili sauce for a well-loved drum. Groups of children dressed in colorful garments expressing their afro-descendent heritage lined up in preparation to ascend the plaza’s built-in stage, their peals of laughter punctuating gathering drum beats, heralding the performance to come. Amidst the ebullient chaos of this celebratory trueque[1], a crowd of globally-renown and up-and-coming revolutionaries circulated, exchanging exhausted yet exhilarated expressions of gratitude and affection: a Peruvian peasant resistance leader shook hands with a Kurdish freedom fighter. A Kenyan human rights organizer embraced an Amazonian land defender, laughing through her tears. The collective energy of the crowd was electric— they had just declared the First Ecosocialist International.

Vivir Bien: Old Cosmovisions and New Paradigms

By Pablo Solón - Great Transition Initiative, February 2018

The concept of Vivir Bien (or Buen Vivir) gained international attention in the late twentieth century as people searched for alternatives to the rampage of neoliberalism. Imperfect translations of the Andean concepts of suma qamaña and sumaq kawsay, Vivir Bien and Buen Vivir reflect an indigenous cosmovision that emphasizes living in harmony with nature and one another. As these ideas’ popularity has grown, however, their meaning has been compromised. Governments in Bolivia and Ecuador incorporated Vivir Bien and Buen Vivir, respectively, into their constitutions and governing agendas on paper, but not in spirit. Rather than radical alternatives to the dominant paradigm of development and progress, these concepts have become new branding for (un)sustainable development. The lessons are clear: to avoid state cooptation, truly revolutionary change must be based on emancipation and self-determination from below. And to succeed in our interdependent world, proponents of Vivir Bien must link up with advocates of complementary global movements on the path of a better future for all.

Part of the 1st Ecosocialist International

By various - Ecosocialist Horizons, November 2017

It has been one year since “The Calling of the Spirits” in Monte Carmelo, Lara, when, with spirited minds and seeds in our hearts, we initiated a convocation titled “The Cry of Mother Earth.” Those who responded to this cry are now here: around 100 people from 19 countries and five continents, 12 original peoples from Our America, and ecosocialist activists from 14 states of Venezuela. We are here in the Cumbe* of Veroes, cradled in the enchanted mountains of Yaracuy, where the guardian goddess of nature lives. From the 31st of October until today, the 3rd of November, 2017, we have done the work demanded of us: the articulation of a combined strategy and plan of action for the salvation of Mother Earth.

We have made the decision and the collective commitment to constitute the First Ecosocialist International: To reverse the destructive process of capitalism; to return to our origins and recuperate the ancestral spirituality of humanity; to live in peace, and end war.

We recognize that we are only a small part of a spiral of spirals, which has the profound intention to expand and include others until all of us are rewoven with Mother Earth; to restore harmony within us, between us, and among all the other sister beings of nature.

The First Ecosocialist International is not just another meeting, nor another conference of intellectuals to define ecosocialism. We believe that ecosocialism will define itself to the extent that it is reflected and conceptualized in praxis; based on what we do and what we are. Nor is the First Ecosocialist International a single organization or a rubber stamp in constant danger of becoming a bureaucracy. It is a common program of struggle, with moments of encounter and exchange, which anyone may join, by committing themselves to fulfilling one or more of the various actions agreed upon here in order to relieve our Mother Earth. No person or process can be owner or protagonist of that which is done and achieved collectively.

We invite all peoples, movements, organizations, collectives and beings in the world to join the First Ecosocialist International, and to undertake the collective construction of a program for the salvation of Mother Earth. By restoring a lost spirituality we may arrive at a new one; a new and sometimes ancient ecosocialist ethic, sacred and irreverent, fed by the sun of conscience. We are recreating our spirituality with a new imagination and a new heartbeat, which may carry us to unity and diversity. The understanding and practice of this new spirituality will have the power to repel empire and capitalism which are powered by greed, and it will be able to strengthen our peoples and cultures which are conditioned by necessities. Because right now we are not living – we are merely surviving. We confront a contradiction: restore life, or lead it to extinction. We must choose.

We don’t have any doubts. We are radicals; we shall return to our roots and our original ways; we shall see the past not only as a point of departure but also as a point of arrival.

A collective birth towards a loving upbringing; we are an immortal embryo… Let’s dream, and act, without sleeping!

Read the report (PDF).

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