[04/04/06] MST Update #112: Seeds, Land, and Water: The Ides of March

By Silvia Ribeiro*

Curitiba, Brazil. The south of Brazil, confluence of the strongest social movements from Brazil and Latin America was, during March, the scene of a confrontation between the peasant movements and the transnational corporations, with the United Nations as a backdrop. Between March 5th and 31st, one after another, there were UN Conferences on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, the Third Meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena International Protocol on Biosecurity, and the Eighth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. While this was going on, the Fourth World Forum on Water was held in Mexico.

Without asking permission, the “condemned of the land‿ in the voice of thousands of peasants, rural landless workers, people affected by dams, victims of monoculture of trees and of transgenics in Brazil and throughout the world, interrupted the scene of the UN conferences that were held in Porto Alegre and Curitiba, while tens of thousands marched in Mexico in defense of water and against its privatization.

With calmness and strength and motivated by justice, armed with seeds, banners, and songs, the men, women, and children astonished the diplomats – reminding them about the real world outside of the negotiating tables – and infuriated the directors of the transnational corporations.

In the final march called by La Via Campesina on March 31, in front of the Convention Center of Curitiba, more than five thousand peasants and members of the MST placed an enormous banner that summed up what is at stake: “Nature and biodiversity belong to the people, not to governments or transnationals‿.

In Brazil, La Via Campesina took the lead from the start: on March 8, the women from La Via Campesina occupied a laboratory and nursery of cloned eucalyptus saplings belonging to the Aracruz Corporation, to protest the “green desert‿ and the expulsion of indigenous people and small farmers by the monoculture eucalyptus forests. Following that, they marched to the Conference on Agrarian Reform and shut off access to it for four hours.

The meeting of the Protocol on Biosecurity began with marches and the occupation by La Via Campesina of a property where the Syngenta Corporation was illegally planting transgenic corn and soy, in a buffer zone of Iguaçu National Park, where the famous falls are located. That occupation continues.

During the second week, in a forceful victory for international civil society, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) kept and reaffirmed the moratorium on Terminator technology, which makes suicide seeds. The moratorium was put in place by the CBD in 2000, but the transnational corporations that engage in genetic modification tried to undermine it months before, in a preparatory meeting of the CBD in Granada, Spain.

The transnational corporations arrived in Brazil very happy: the global directors of Monsanto, Syngenta, and Delta & Pine – the owners of the majority of the market for transgenics and Terminator patents -- strolled shamelessly through the halls. They were encouraged by their victory in Granada and their feeling of superiority over government bureaucrats, to whom they were used to giving orders via bribes and other means.

They received a smack on the face. The rainbow of daily protests by La Via Campesina in the streets and inside the conference center, the coordination of hundreds of organizations of civil society in the International Campaign against Terminator, with simultaneous actions in Brazil and other countries, the interventions by youth and indigenous peoples, including delegates who were specially sent by the Huichol people of Jalisco, Mexico and the Guambiano people of Colombia, the parallel activities with the Brazilian Forum of NGOs and social movements finally succeeded in reversing the documents signed in Granada, which caused despair amongst the transnationals and the governments of the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the main countries that wanted to break the moratorium.

The strongest and most symbolic moment of the CBD was the entrance of the women from La Via Campesina into the plenary session: with the green banner of their movement and candles, they opened up dozens of posters written in various languages demanding the prohibition against the Terminator. The president of the session announced that he would take this “intervention‿ into account and, even with the frustration of the director of Delta & Pine, who asked for security to be brought into the room, the majority of the plenary stood and applauded.

To maintain the moratorium against the Terminator is an important accomplishment and relevant for the thousands of peasants and indigenous peoples, as well as for the possibilities of all of us to decided on what we eat so that the transnationals are not the ones who make this decision. But maybe the main message is one that is not on paper and is not able to be wiped out: the condemned of the earth do not accept their condemnation, nor their executioners, nor those who through national and international laws legalized the privileges of the powerful.

* Sílvia Ribeiro is an investigator of Grupo ETC