Posts Tagged 'Europe'

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel: Dismantling the monoculture mentality.

“Young people today are more critical than they were in the seventies,” Adolfo Pérez Esquivel observes, much to the contrary of what the majority of his generation thinks. He was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 during the middle of the Argentine military dictatorship. He was working with the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and was educated as an architect and a sculptor. But he dedicated most of this time to teaching—he taught in primary and secondary schools and also in colleges.

In 1974 he gave up teaching to coordinate a network of Latin American communities for the liberation of the poor through nonviolence. That same year he founded El Servicio Paz y Justicia (The Peace and Justice Service, or Serpaj) and in 1977 he was arrested by the Federal Police, tortured and detained without trial for 14 months. In the conference he gave in Montevideo on the 13th of March, he explained that human rights are violated when people don’t have access to a healthy environment and secure food sources because a “speculative economy” of monoculture farming and mining is privileged over an “economy of production.” What follows is a summary of the conversation we had.


Raúl Zibechi– People talk about the changes seen under progressive governments, but we hear less about the continuities that exist from earlier periods.

Adolfo Pérez Esquivel– Neoliberal policies are still in effect. The economic policies imposed by the dictators and continued during the Washington Consensus have remained to the present day and have even become more profound. There were important changes regarding the impunity laws that we had been demanding for many years. Néstor Kirchner’s political will was necessary for parliament to annul the impunity laws. What we should take away from this is that Argentina is the only country in the world that has been able to prosecute people who committed crimes against humanity through the common justice system. The Nuremburg and the Tokyo War Crime Trials were ad hoc tribunals formed to judge these crimes. And we’ve also been able to keep these cases from passing through the military justice system. That’s why I say that there were considerable advances even though we continue to work to enhance them. The other question is about how and from where we approach human rights, because there is an ideological reduction related to what I call olvidos intencionados (intentional forgetting). Human rights are addressed as far as they relate to the dictatorship, but there is no reference made to the previous and subsequent periods. This reductionism is about more than, and goes beyond, legal impunity.


– What are the main human rights violations in Latin America today?

– For example, environmental issues, everything related to mega mining, monoculture farming of eucalyptus and soy that affect peasants and indigenous people and also impact poverty and hunger issues generally. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently reported that 35 thousand children die of hunger each day across the world. The loss of resources like water and biodiversity caused by mining and monoculture farming is very much related to hunger and malnutrition. I think that agrochemicals, cyanide and mercury contamination, to give two examples, are violations of human rights.

In the reductionist vision it’s very uncommon to see a focus on the rights of a people, not just on individuals but on communities, peasants, indigenous people, the inhabitants of a city, when they are confronted with the impact of the contamination of what they eat, drink and breathe. Generally speaking, governments prioritize financial capital over peoples’ lives. They don’t differentiate between a productive economy and one that is speculative and virtual. How can it be that in the stock market everything revolves around the rising and falling of prices? That’s not a real economy because there’s no work or production there. That economy is not interested in damages because it doesn’t depend on what is produced or consumed. I’m not against mining, but I am against any destructive activity. Oscar Wilde said that there are those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. Price and value aren’t the same. And what’s missing here is that certain things aren’t given a value.

– Some people would say that has to do with politics and economics, not with human rights.

– I was in the United Nations World Summit in Vienna in 1993. One of the proposals that the General Assembly took up referred to the third generation of human rights. That means things like the environment, development and self-determination. This third generation was included to complete the full range of human rights policies in our society.

– Beyond some resolutions like article 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO), this isn’t being respected anywhere in the world.

– Not only is it not being respected, but the opposite is being done. Native land is being destroyed to plant soy or eucalyptus, to use just two examples, and this is causing the desertification of the planet. Gold is extracted, leaving environmental liabilities and contaminated water sources. Millions of liters of water are polluted with mercury and cyanide. That is contamination that will last for generations. This means we must change the concept of development, it can’t be synonymous with the exploitation of nature or of people. If the idea is to live like they do in the developed countries, we’ve been backed into a corner.


– The movement for human rights in Latin America was successful in sentencing and punishing those who tortured, disappeared and committed crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, it isn’t successful in areas related to the third generation of rights.

– Many human rights organizations have concentrated on the era of the dictatorships, maybe because they are direct family members of the victims, but they’ve remained fixated on this objective. I respect them very much, and I don’t criticize them, but when one sees the consequences of the devastation and the poverty of millions in the world in the name of robbing natural resources, then it becomes necessary to think a little more. We are suffering through an economic genocide for the sake of obtaining gold, diamonds, oil, at the very same moment when technological breakthroughs have allowed us the ability to eliminate worldwide hunger. Haiti’s situation is a good example. I’ve travelled many times to the island, and one sees a situation of total and atrocious misery, extreme poverty in the greater part of the population. There are no forests any more, nature has been destroyed. But there are thousands of soldiers there who don’t resolve anything.

– Still, nowhere in the world have people been able to put alternatives into practice that are capable of combating these tendencies. Even worse, in Europe, which was the region of the world with the least inequality, the social welfare state is being taken apart. How are we to proceed when even countries that defend the idea of Buen Vivir (living well) like Bolivia and Venezuela, are taking part in mining?

– The first thing we must do is overcome the monocultivo de las mentes (monoculture mentality) that quashes us and degrades us. If not, we will be repeating the same mechanisms because we arrive at the fact that governments like those of Evo and Correa aren’t finding alternatives for their own people. Actually, and this is the second problem, countries have lost sovereignty, and you’ll find that the most important policies are the ones imposed by big multinational corporations that have a colossal concentration of power and the capacity to impose decisions on governments. In Argentina, mega mining is taking 97 per cent of resources and leaving just three per cent for the rest of the country. Whose reaping the benefits of mining? Because in addition to the environmental damage, small and medium-sized producers are hurt because their products are going to return less profit.

– But the monoculture farming that you’re denouncing is not just focused on people in the government but on the populations that wish to consume. I mean to say that as long as we’re prisoners of a culture that measures everything via property, there are not many ways out of the dilemma you’re describing.

– There are some possibilities, there are practices like organic farming, recovered factories and a ton of experiences related to the rational use of water and energy that still haven’t acquired a political weight so as to influence the design of a new society. Yes, it’s true, we’re still far from coming up with an alternative. Universities have a great responsibility in this, but a good part of their students aspire to work for multinationals.

– You started teaching before the dictatorship and then you went back when it was over. Now you’re a social sciences professor at the University of Buenos Aires. What is your impression of the current generation if you compare it to the one you knew before the dictatorship?

– It’s very different. They question things more, they’re more critical.


– A lot of people have the opposite impression, in the sense that young people used to be more critical and committed.

– In the sixties and seventies young people had more of an ideological framework regarding processes of liberation, the class struggle, they had a very rational discourse, but there were many café table revolutionaries who would not take that with them when they left the bar. I see the youth of today as more analytical, more critical.

– What do you mean by that? Are you saying that because a good part of folks from the sixties are in the government now?

– No, not at all. I think that science and technology brought about changes in thought, in societies, in humanity in general. We can observe an acceleration of mechanical time that contradicts the natural time in which people have always lived as well as our human rhythms. It’s partly due to this acceleration that we’re living an informational impact which impedes thought or makes the process of thought, which is always reflective, more difficult. I’m talking about information saturation.

– Some neurologists posit that the mind doesn’t think with information, but rather with ideas.

– Exactly. That’s why it’s important to make time for reflection in order for critical consciousness to develop. This has led to changing perceptions of the world and this is the purpose of thought, something that is not so obvious anymore. Reflection implies certain rhythms and these rhythms have changed in a radical way. If the computer takes three seconds more than usual to open a page, that’s a big drama. Human relationships tend to be dominated by these ways of experiencing time. Consequently, reflection and contemplation don’t have the time and space they have had in the history of humanity.

– But you’ve said that the youth of today is more critical.

– While it may seem strange or contradictory, critical attitudes and dissatisfaction come about with incredible rapidity, almost immediately. Young people today, unlike the university students of the past, don’t know what’s going to happen to them tomorrow, they live with a great deal of uncertainty, they know that only a small majority among them has a future and they live in the most absolute professional and existential precariousness. It’s unclear what their place in the world is or will be. And they question their teachers in a very natural way. Sometimes they ask very serious questions. Are the dictatorships over in Latin America? Depending on the perspective that you take, the question is absolutely legitimate. With the excuse of drug trafficking, armies are on the streets again in Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Colombia.


– What are you observing regionally in Latin American?

– The most important thing is that there aren’t static societies any more, but rapid and profound processes of change. Before, dynasties lasted for centuries, now everything is about change. It’s part of the temporal acceleration we talked about. In Latin America, there is an interesting situation, there is autonomous thought, there is the construction of regional unity that has contributed to avoiding military coups like in Ecuador. All around the world regional blocs are getting stronger and we’re doing the same thing here, because it’s the only way we can hope to eventually stop being a back patio. It’s crucial to limit multinationals. That’s very difficult and always fails, as we saw in the United States when the government wanted to limit the power of Wall Street.

– Are we coming into a new cycle of struggle, now against mining and in the defense of common goods like water?

– That’s where our lives are going, into the defense of these common goods. In years past, the dictatorship threatened our lives, but now life depends on the right of people to decide how they want to live and what they’re going to do with non-renewable resources. That’s why the first ones to react were the peasants and the indigenous people, and also women. I’m convinced that the silent struggle of women is leading them to take positions in all areas, in science, politics, in participation on any level. The women’s movement is really fascinating because besides all their potential it implies another way of thinking. Women and indigenous people are emerging in the terrain of cultural identities. They are the signs of hope that we have, because domination begins with culture and these sectors are the ones that offer a different way of looking at the world.


– You’re an optimist.

– Very much so. As I said, I believe in young people, in the enormous number of girls and boys who work and who study at night to make a way for themselves, to search for their path. They’re the force that can change this.

– You’re almost 80 and have given almost 60 to this cause. Do you ever feel hopeless when you think about all that’s left to do?

– I chose a way to live, no one chose this life for me. I’m austere, I spend little even though I travel a lot. I’m not interested in doing anything else. We’ve lived through difficult things, but I feel very satisfied to have done something so that many people can reclaim hope and the sense of their own identities, these things are part of the path to liberation. Human rights are not an aspirin to calm the pain of the other, they are a path to collective and personal freedom, because no one can be happy alone.

http://www.cipamericas.org

Stop Land-Grabbing Now!

Nyeleni, November 19, 2011

We, women and men peasants, pastoralists, indigenous peoples and their allies, who gathered together in Nyeleni from 17-19 November 2011, are determined to defend food sovereignty, the commons and the rights of small scale food providers to natural resources. We supported the Kolongo Appeal from peasant organizations in Mali, who have taken the lead in organising local resistance to the take-over of peasants’ lands in Africa. We came to Nyeleni in response to the Dakar Appeal, which calls for a global alliance against land-grabbing.

In the past three days, peasants, pastoralists and indigenous peoples have come together from across the world for the first time to share with each other their experiences and struggles against land-grabbing. In Mali, the Government has committed to give away 800 thousand hectares of land to business investors. These are lands of communities that have belonged to them for generations, even centuries, while the Malian State has only existed since the 1960-s. This situation is mirrored in many other countries where customary rights are not recognised. Taking away the lands of communities is a violation of both their customary and historical rights.

Secure access to and control over land and natural resources are inextricably linked to the enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and several regional and international human rights conventions, such as the rights to an adequate standard of living, housing, food, health, culture, property and participation. We note with grave concern that states are not meeting their obligations in this regard and putting the interests of business interests above the rights of peoples.

Land-grabbing is a global phenomenon led by local, national and transnational elites and investors, and governments with the aim of controlling the world’s most precious resources. The global financial, food and climate crises have triggered a rush among investors and wealthy governments to acquire and capture land and natural resources, since these are the only “safe havens” left that guarantee secure financial returns. Pension and other investment funds have become powerful actors in land-grabbing, while wars continue to be waged to seize control over natural wealth. The World Bank and regional development banks are facilitating land grabs by promoting corporate-friendly policies and laws, facilitating capital and guarantees for corporate investors, and fostering an extractive, destructive economic development model. The World Bank, IFAD, FAO and UNCTAD have proposed seven principles that legitimise farmland grabbing by corporate and state investors. Led by some of the world’s largest transnational corporations, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) aims to transform smallhold agriculture into industrial agriculture and integrate smallhold farmers to global value chains, greatly increasing their vulnerability to land-loss.

Land-grabbing goes beyond traditional North-South imperialist structures; transnational corporations can be based in the United States, Europe, Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, Thailand, Malaysia and South Korea, among others. It is also a crisis in both rural and urban areas. Land is being grabbed in Asia, Africa, the Americas and Europe for industrial agriculture, mining, infrastructure projects, dams, tourism, conservation parks, industry, urban expansion and military purposes. Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities are being expelled from their territories by armed forces, increasing their vulnerability and in some cases even leading to slavery. Market based, false solutions to climate change are creating more ways to alienate local communities from their lands and natural resources.

Despite the fact that women produce most of the world’s food, and are responsible for family and community well being, existing patriarchal structures continue to dispossess women from the lands that they cultivate and their rights to resources. Since most peasant women do not have secure, legally recognised land rights, they are particularly vulnerable to evictions.

The fight against land-grabbing is a fight against capitalism, neoliberalism and a destructive economic model. Through testimonies from our sisters and brothers in Burkina Faso, Columbia, Guatemala, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Senegal, South Africa, Thailand and Uganda, we learned how land-grabbing threatens small scale, family based farming, nature, the environment and food sovereignty. Land grabbing displaces and dislocates communities, destroys local economies and the social-cultural fabric, and jeopardizes the identities of communities, be they farmers, pastoralists, fisherfolk, workers, dalits or indigenous peoples. Those who stand up for their rights are beaten, jailed and killed. There is no way to mitigate the impacts of this economic model and the power structures that promote it. Our lands are not for sale or lease.

But we are not defeated. Through organisation, mobilisation and community cohesiveness, we have been able to stop land-grabbing in many places. Furthermore, our societies are recognising that small-scale, family based agriculture and food production is the most socially, economically and environmentally sustainable model of using resources.

Recalling the Dakar Appeal, we reiterate our commitment to resist land-grabbing by all means possible, to support all those who fight land-grabs, and to put pressure on national governments and international institutions to fulfill their obligations to defend and uphold the rights of peoples. Specifically, we commit to:

Organise rural and urban communities against land-grabs in every form.

Strengthen the capacities of our communities and movements to reclaim and defend our rights, lands and resources.

Win and secure the rights of women in our communities to land and natural resources.

Create public awareness about how land grabbing is creating crises for all society.

Build alliances across different sectors, constituencies, regions, and mobilise our societies to stop land-grabbing

Strengthen our movements to achieve and promote food sovereignty and genuine agrarian reform

In order to meet the above commitments, we will develop the following actions:

  • Report back to our communities the deliberations and commitments of this Conference.
  • Institutionalise April 17 as the day of global mobilisation against land-grabbing; also identify additional appropriate dates that can be used for such mobilisations to defend land and the commons.
  • Develop our political arguments to expose and discredit the economic model that spurs land-grabbing, and the various actors and initiatives that promote and legitimise it.
  • Build our own databases about land-grabbing by documenting cases, and gathering the needed information and evidence about processes, actors, impacts, etc.
  • Ensure that communities have the information they need about laws, rights, companies, contracts, etc., so that they can resist more effectively the business investors and governments who try to take their lands and natural resources.
  • Set up early warning systems to alert communities to risks and threats.
  • Establish a Peoples’ Observatory on land-grabbing to facilitate and centralise data gathering, communications, planning actions, advocacy, research and analysis, etc.
  • Strengthen our communities through political and technical training, and restore our pride in being food producers and providers.
  • Secure land and resource rights for women by conscientising our communities and movements, targeted re-distribution of land for women, and other actions make laws and policies responsive to the particular needs of women.
  • Build strong organisational networks and alliances at various levels–local, regional and international–building on the Dakar Appeal and with small-scale food producers/providers at the centre of these alliances.
  • Build alliances with members of pension schemes in order to prevent pension fund managers from investing in projects that result in land grabbing.

Make our leaders abide by the rules set by our communities and compel them to be accountable to us, and our communities and organisations.

  • Develop our own systems of legal aid and liaise with legal and human rights experts.
  • Condemn all forms of violence and criminalisation of our struggles and our mobilizations in defense of our rights.
  • Work for the immediate release of all those jailed as a result of their struggles for their lands and territories, and urgently develop campaigns of solidarity with all those facing conflicts.
  • Build strategic alliances with press and media, so that they report accurately our messages and realities; counter the prejudices spread by the mainstream media about the land struggles in Zimbabwe.
  • Develop and use local media to organise members of our and other communities, and share with them information about land-grabbing.
  • Take our messages and demands to parliaments, governments and international institutions.
  • Identify and target local, national and international spaces for actions, mobilizations and building broad-based societal resistance to land-grabbing.
  • Plan actions that target corporations, (including financial corporations), the World Bank and other multilateral development banks that benefit from, drive and promote land and natural resource grabs.
  • Expand and strengthen our actions to achieve and promote food sovereignty and agrarian reform.
  • Support peoples’ enclosures of their resources through land occupations, occupations of the offices of corporate investors, protests and other actions to reclaim their commons.
  • Demands that our governments fulfill their human rights obligations, immediately stop land and natural resource transfers to business investors, cancel contracts already made, and protect rural and urban communities from ongoing and future land-grabs.

We call all organizations committed to these principles and actions to join our Global Alliance against Land-Grabbing, which we solemnly launch today here in Nyeleni.

Globalise the struggle! Globalise hope!


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