The Atlas of the Food Systems of the Southern Cone was built from the active participation of the popular and peasant movements of the Southern Cone. The document presents not only a comprehensive analysis of the food crisis in the region, but also alternatives to overcome this crisis and build Food Sovereignty.

Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay share a contradictory reality: although they have favorable conditions for peasant production, they cannot feed their populations in an adequate and healthy way. Faced with this, we wanted to show the historical experiences of resistance and the diverse practices of solidarity strengthened during the pandemic. It is a set of initiatives that point to another model of social organization, guaranteeing the food sovereignty of the populations of the region.

What we present here is a selection of articles translated into English.  The first chapter deals with poverty, hunger and food prices in the Southern Cone, a situation that has only worsened in recent years in the five countries included in the Atlas. Below, we share two chapters with alternatives of peasant movements for access to land, water, seeds, as well as to markets and fair trade circuits.

Download here.

Complete atlas in Spanish.

Tariq Ali was a close friend and comrade of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, whom he interviewed for the Trotskyist newspaper The Red Mole in 1971. This interview is the finest piece on the radicalism of John & Yoko in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Here, Ali remembers a few episodes from his «street fighting years».

By Gerhard Dilger*

Tariq, tell us about your relationship with John Lennon…

Well, we criticized in The Red Mole, which was our left wing newspaper, the Beatles’ songs “Revolution 1” and “Revolution 9”, saying these were very weak songs and very symbolic etc. And to our surprise a letter from John Lennon arrived, a letter to the editor, which we published, and I got our music critic to reply, Lennon replied back and then he rang me up. He said: Hey Tariq, you know are we going to carry on fighting in letters pages of your paper, why don’t you come around and let’s have a chat. So we went and had a chat and it was very interesting and my colleague Robin Blackburn went and did an interview with him, which we edited nicely and he read it and said: God, you make me sound so intelligent. And are you sure I should be published in the magazine because it’s very serious, and I don’t want it to lose any prestige, and I said don’t be silly, it will just sell a few more copies.

I remember once he rang after the interview and said: What are you doing? Are you at work? And he said: I was so inspired by our interview that I have written a song for the movement, can I sing it to you? And I said: Yes, sing it! And it was “Power to the People”. He said: I want people to be singing it. I said don’t worry, we will sing it. So he got it as a single and we publicized it as the song for the movement.

And then some time he rang and said: Will you come to my home because I’m just finishing a new LP and I want you to hear the songs. So we went over to his house and he had just written “Imagine”. I had gone with my colleague Robin Blackburn and Régis Debray had been sitting in our office, just released from a Bolivian prison. So we said Régis, this is a big opportunity. So I said to John, can I bring Régis Debray along, he said: Who is he? I said: He is a French intellectual who has just been released from prison. So when we said to Débray: Do you want to meet John Lennon? He said, who is he? So we said… this is who he is and Robin said: You have been in prison, Régis, but I thought that it would have penetrated down there that there is a group called the Beatles who are now more popular than Jesus.

So we took Régis along and John said then: Ok, I’m going to sing it to you. So he sang “Imagine” and then he looked at me. So I said: Let me think, I make some fake consultations with Robin and Régis and I said: Yes John, the politburo agrees, it can go out. But later, I said to him when we were alone, that I like “Imagine” and that it might touch people but it is a bit too sugary and I prefer “Working class hero”, which is an absolutely wonderful song, and he said, so do I, I prefer that too. But of course “Imagine” went everywhere.

But then he went to New York…

I told him, don’t move to the States. He said why? Yoko hates it here, the British press is racist, the attacks on her had been disgusting. I said, we are used to them. And he said, why shouldn’t I go to the States? I said, there are too many kooky people there. He said, even in Manhattan? So I said no, probably in the rest of the country, but I don’t  like it. I said, my instinct is against it.

So you know, he was shaken and I’ve kept in touch with Yoko obviously for all these years and let’s say that it was an unnecessary death. And we needed him so much. During the Iraq war, for Palestine. He was very good on Ireland. Mick Jagger did some good songs on the Iraq war too after having gone through his Tory phase. But John would never had gone in that direction, anyway.

Talking about Jagger, you  are the “street fighting man” from the Rolling Stones song of the same title – how did this come about?

Mick Jagger used to come to our demonstrations, he was quite intelligent, you know, and he was very ultra-left, the RAF people would have loved him, I’m sure they did. And he, once in a private talk on a demonstration, he was extremely militant. I said, calm down, already they’re attacking us for fighting the cops outside the US embassy. So he wrote the song and recorded it, and the BBC of course refused to play it so he sent me the tapes, the handwritten version of the song.

And he said: Here you are, my dear, you know the BBC won’t play it, could you put  in the next issue of The Black Dwarf**, so I said, fine. And that was an issue before a huge demonstration against the Vietnam war,  so we put it on the cover because we had an article from Engels as well. So we put: “Engels and Jagger on Street Fighting”, and he was really tickled by that. He liked it. So yeah, so the song became part of the folklore…

Do you think Bob Dylan deserved the Nobel prize?

Mmh, who knows, I like him, obviously. And he was very important for my generation and whether he deserved the prize is… (laughs) because quite a lot of his songs were openly taken from other sources, Woody Guthrie for instance. Joan Baez and Dylan used to sing together quite a lot. I don’t begrudge him the prize, I would have been happy if he had turned it down and written a song saying why… But his line “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”, a whole political grouping was formed out of that, the unfortunate grouping, the Weathermen, who, like the RAF in Germany, went in for acts of terrorism. I know quite a lot of them are around now. And they say it was a huge political error.

You were also in Berlin, in 1967, 68…

Yes, I was in Berlin in 68 for the big anti-Vietnam war march, which is now legend, carrying portraits of Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, Che Guevara and marched to the Berlin wall, where the East German soldiers were saying: What the hell is going on, these sort of photographs are carried by us (laughs). And you can see their surprise on their faces, saying look what is this. But one evening after this we were in the Republican Club in Berlin, which was a very popular meeting place.

And I suddenly got into a big argument with Ulrike Meinhof and I will never forget how she was shouting at me: You do not know what it is like to sit at the breakfast table with someone who now pretends to be normal but was an SS officer. And many of them showed no regret at all. And she said: I am not talking about myself, I am talking about our generation. So I said, ok I understand that but you can’t wipe them all out. She said no but today many of them are supporting the Vietnam war, which for us is a war crime.

So you know one could see that it was the slightly twisted way of thinking and for the first time I understood that that’s a problem which I had never confronted. And that generation of Germans were born into this, it was difficult. Another thing was a lot of German people were very strongly for Palestine, so interestingly that has become very difficult now but after 67 huge support for the Palestinians grew up in Germany, quite openly expressed.  Delegations coming to Palestine, there was no feeling of guilt, they didn’t see it as something they were responsible for or that the crimes of the German ruling class were their crimes. There was confidence….

Find out more in Tariq Ali, Street Fighting Years, an Autobiography of the Sixties

*The interview was part of a long collective conversation which took place when Tariq Ali visited the RLS office in São Paulo, in September 2017

**The newspaper which preceded The Red Mole

 

They produce 80% of the food that reaches the Argentine tables regardless of social class. In their activities they condense 70% of rural work, but they cultivate in hardly a quarter of the agricultural lands of the country, and only 40% of them own the lands on which they produce. They refer to themselves as the «other farmers»  compared with the export-focused industrial agribusiness. As Argentina confronted the threat of Covid-19, the agricultural productive matrix grew began to be even more questioned. Toxic agro-chemicals in crops, feed-lot cattle, environmental depredation: images of a lost, sick and out of control capitalist food production for humans and increasingly for animals. While we’re apportioning blame, the alternative, that of a peasant agriculture and an indigenous «Campo» of small producers, strengthens as a solidarity response, supplying healthy cheap food confronting corporate speculation which is primarily focused on meat and forage exports. On April 17, on the International Day of Peasant Struggle, we interviewed one of the leading organizations in this field: the National Indigenous Peasant Movement (MNCI) «We Are Land» (Somos Tierra).

Federico Hauscarriaga, ANRed

«We are about ten thousand peasant families throughout the country,» Martha explained. She has chosen to work on educational tasks in the organization. She tells us that everything they teach in the two peasant agroecology schools, one in the Wine Province of Mendoza, and another in the neighbouring Province of San Juan, is derived from proposals for «Another Campo», which has agrarian reform and food sovereignty on its political horizon. The «MNCI Somos Tierra» is one of the peasant organizations that make up the world of «family agriculture», the sector that provides 80% of the food consumed by human people Worldwide, in a context where, according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UN/FAO), nine out of ten of the 570 million farms worldwide are managed by families.

MNCI Somos Tierra

Misiones: «We are taking market goods to the neighbourhoods»

In the north and east of the Argentine Province of Misiones (in the North of Argentina) more than 300 families are organized in cooperatives, neighbourhood organizations in rural areas or near urban areas. They are composed of small farms that do not exceed 80 hectares. They produce manioc, corn and beans, but they also have gardens for the community’s own consumption. «We have chickens and pigs, and some families have dairy cows for self-consumption or for cheese and milk production. There are also small producers of tobacco, which although our organization does not agree with these crops, it is a reality that some comrades are imprisoned in this production. On a smaller scale, Yerba Maté, [the Argentine energising tea] is also produced», says Pedro Lunello, who emphasizes that they are making an effort to produce vegetables and seasonal fruits. «Adding value to our healthy products» is one of the objectives, he says, «through the production of preserves to be sold in a popular shop in Puerto Iguazú».

With the threat of the pandemic, the organization continued to produce and to bring food to the neighbourhoods/Barrios. «Before the pandemic we were already delivering food through social networks. Now we are bringing merchandise to the Barrios of the local town of Puerto Iguazú, the centre for Argentine tourism for popular attraction Iguazú Falls. Some of this food we distribute, some of it is to organize in the neighbourhoods soup kitchens with a sister organization called Colectivo Social Iguazú (a social collective for popular food dissemination). A multitude of people arrive feeding themselves for this initiative. The distribution is done with funds and vehicles from our comrades. A little help is given by the Argentine National Institute (INTA) northern Argentina office, and some transportation from partner organizations,» says Pedro.

MNCI Somos Tierra

Mendoza: «We manage to produce very good food and always at prices that a worker can afford.»

The Union of Landless Rural Workers (UST) is present in different (sub-provincial «Departments») of the Province of Mendoza but especially in the northern part. The communities are organized in grassroots groupings or grouped by produce which is where problems arise. They operate work cooperatives with different profiles especially when it comes to the particularities of Mendoza’s water supplies, a province where agricultural production often depends on irrigation. «There are areas that are oases like Valle de Uco or San Rafael and some other areas which take supplies from underground rivers, but the rest of the province mostly consists of dry semi-arid or desert zones.» It is there that the prevailing production includes goat farming, beekeeping, and handicrafts. In the zones where there is little irrigation there are many horticultural producers, and we’ve also developed small-scale industries based on what primary products we produce. They are small, artisan establishments and are capable of producing for three departments locally. We produce whole tomatoes, triturated tomatoes, jams, and fresh fruits, etc. Many of our colleagues also work from home, especially making jams,» says Natalia Manini, who is part of the production team.

When it comes to comercialising products and sales, families also find various ways to sell their products, «We have been incrementally incorporating different schemes. One of these is direct sales which take place at markets, where producers meet consumers. Also in different trading networks but always related to the solidarity and popular economies. These networks exist in different provinces and we are in contact with them. In Buenos Aires we sell in the UTT stores but also with networks such as the Institute for Popular Production, Closer is more Just (Más Cerca es Más Justo), Snails and Ants (Caracoles y hormigas), Bridges in the South (Puentes del Sur), etc. In the department of Lavalle we are delivering bags in an agreement with the Municipal economic development of that town. They provide the vehicles for distribution. The municipality of the town of La Paz have also bought from us so that they can distribute bags to the most remote homes in their area.

We have also had the chance to trade with some Institutions such as the public ambulance network (PAMI), and to some restaurants, and there is also the general public when they come by our establishments.

«Despite the epidemic, our production continues. There are some logistical problems in some rural zones that are further away and access to government benefits such as the EFI (Family Emergency Income scheme) and there’s the lack of Internet. In the plantations there are shortages of inputs due to the problems in the industrial sector, for example we are not getting tin-cans or jars. The organization is trying to maintain production with all the safety measures in the communities not only to provide food for our families but also for the general public.

During the pandemic, vegetable sales have increased. There is a marketing scheme mainly in Buenos Aires in the UTT markets and also during the quarantine we’ve developed a direct sale of bags of vegetables in two Departments, Lavalle and San Rafael and in the city of Mendoza. We will be delivering about 2,500 bags weekly and we commercialize packaged products there too. We’re trying to add to the number of producers and establishments in the chain of production always with the idea of bringing healthy food to people. We do not use any preservatives. We are moving towards agroecology and these same foodstuffs are then used in the factories to make goods. We manage to make very good produce and always at prices that a worker can afford.».

MNCI Somos Tierra

Córdoba: «The pandemic has demonstrated that globalised capitalism has reached a critical juncture.»

In Córdoba, the MNCI Somos Tierra (Vía Campesina affiliates in Argentina close to Fernández de Kirchener Peronism) organizes about a thousand families and has been working in the northwest of the province of Córdoba for 20 years. Apart from the families who live in rural zones, recruitment in mid-sized towns have been added also, many of these families had been displaced off nearby land. The grassroots organizations function through community reunions that appoint delegates to attend regional meetings, who are then in their turn, centralized in a provincial body. «For the last twenty years we have been trying to build actions that don’t just solve day-to-day problems but also strengthening the conditions for families to continue living in the countryside and continue being productive actors. One of our latest achievements is that in Córdoba it is recognized that there are peasant families, that they exist and that they have the right to their rights. We have been strengthening the ongoing productive processes that families have traditionally have had as part of what they do. These farming tasks have been done by women as they have been active in supporting the community», explains Pablo Blank.

Large-scale agriculture, the real estate business and mining have deforested the Mediterranean province at a record speed. Peasant families live from the forest, «In this province we also carry out work linked to the care of the forest. But the main activity is rearing goats, though this is growing and diversifying, in what we call products which are derived from the forest. We are doing a lot of beekeeping, goat cheese, dulce de leche (sweet concentrated milk product), creams with elements from the forest, herbal extractions, wood and also preserves (jams) in areas close to towns». As far as distribution is concerned, he explains: «in Córdoba we have opened two commercial premises, in the Provincial capital (the city of Córdoba) and another called Traslasierra in the town of Villa Dolores, which supplies retail stores that sell natural products, markets, consumer networks, and joint spaces for selling. We also deliver to other organizations in other provinces that have their own sales outlets».

With the arrival of Covid-19, we have experienced an increased demand for small producers and for those who offer products that are free of agrotoxins and which are considered to be produced in ways compatible with care for the environment. «Since the pandemic we have noticed a very large increase in the demand for healthy peasant food», says Pablo, «This has meant that our shops are moving a lot of merchandise and we have increased consumer sales networks in the city of Córdoba and in other areas with home deliveries of bags of produce reaching neighbourhoods in quarantine. I believe that peasant organizations can become purveyors of food for all sectors. The quarantine has broken the previous shopping routines, so that consumers question certain practices, which they had previously naturalised, like buying the first thing they lay their eyes on in the supermarket. Now we have a chance to see things from an alternate perspective and to generate other connections, to consume different kinds of food. There is more awareness of what we’re eating. What we have noticed is that being an organisation with so many years of experience has given us a structure with mobility, shops that are working, having networks and a well-oiled logic which helps us to get through this crisis and we can help other producing families. A cultural change is needed, and the Argentine State will need to understand the importance of healthy food which generates work, that is sold at a just price and that resolves nutrition issues. The pandemic has brought to the surface that globalised capital has reached a critical juncture, that it is unable to provide a response to the issues the pandemic has raised, and that we need a courageous change to bring another kind of food production which is not focused on the profit motive» he says.

Pablo sees that this sector will have an increased importance in the future when we again confront a worsening economic crisis and he notes the necessity for policies that strengthen good practices: «We know that the presence of the State is key. There is much for us to do, such as enabling us to bring this food to the working class, to provide places for collection, to make the authorization of products — products of impeccable quality — more flexible to overcome the cumbersome paperwork that makes it difficult to get products to market in the cities. By guaranteeing logistics and by making payments quicker to producer families, the difficulties cease. In the Province of Cordoba we’ve reached limits for deforestation, and for the encroachment of agribusiness, among other things. Thanks to the organizations on the ground, these issues have achieved increased visibility and have been stopped. Today, the dispute with agribusiness has to do with their capturing public resources (subsidies etc…), but there is also an ideological dispute for the recognition of another way to farm, a different way to provide foodstuffs. There are some critical axes such as the Native Forestry Protection law (the «Ley de Bosques», Law number 26,331) which is an active law but which is ignored by powerful interests like many laws in Argentina. Also provincial subsidy programmes for good agricultural practices. These laws have been deferred to the Provinces by an inactive National State such as the Provincial laws for the approval of the Law 27,118 (LEY DE REPARACIÓN HISTÓRICA DE LA AGRICULTURA FAMILIAR) approved in 2015 but never made active, Peasant and Indigenous Agriculture, that last year was achieved at a provincial level but not nationally. In these disputes we are asking for recognition of the peasant organizations and families as beneficiaries and implementers of these policies,» says Pablo.

MNCI Somos Tierra

Neuquén: «We are promoting the declaration of a food emergency in the province and asking for to convoke emergency committees».

For more than 15 years the organization has been bringing together families from different localities and rural areas. In the north, the peasantry is generally dedicated to raising goats and, to a lesser extent, cattle. In some areas there is horticultural production too, but «the main product is goats, and some families also produce dairy products and some preserves» says Silverio Alarcón. «Here, in the north of Neuquén, nomadic herding is done. The animals are moved from Winter to Summer fields and vice versa. This management is done by farmers to allow for field (crop) rotation and take advantage of the pastures that are in the foothills that cannot be worked in winter. We do collective work in families and now we are starting to add value to goat meat. We are setting up a sausage production room with cattle that are lost or don’t sell well. This way we can provide products for the local area and for other provinces.»

The pandemic has brought difficulties for the main activities in the area, the situation is repeated in all provinces and organized communities are looking for alternatives to overcome the obstacles, as well as to bring their urgent movements for change to a head and bring proposals. Silverio Alarcón tells us, «In Neuquén what is happening is that we are in the period of good pastures. March is the time for branding animals, and with this sanitary issue many farmers have not been able to hold these end-of-summer sales, which is very important, because it is the basis for getting through the whole year and to be able to buy food to get through the winter and animal fodder too. The lack of sales becomes a big problem for these families if they can’t sell, and there are many days of droving to the winter pastures. These animals will get thinner and lose their marketability. We ask that the State buys the animals from the families who raise them and that they can be slaughtered and sold at popular prices in the neighbourhoods where there is a shortage of such food. Also local fairs have been suspended and we trying to get dialogue with municipalities in order to market the products. We are promoting the declaration of a food emergency in the province and the convening of emergency committees in the localities where peasant organizations can participate. This crisis is affecting the poorest of people. So we are saying that one must bring solutions to the ones with the most urgent needs, to the most vulnerable people.»

MNCI Somos Tierra

Diego Montón is one of the spokesperson for the organization and is also part of the Operational Secretariat of the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations (CLOC), he explained the general situation of small producers to us in the context of the pandemic: «the situation differs depending on the multiple realities faced by the sector. The day-to-day work continues although in some areas there are difficulties in getting supplies. Some villages have been blocked because there are different dynamics depending on what mayors decide about circulation rules, and this has changed the way peasants normally work. Access to the different government aid programs has been very complex because often there is little Internet connectivity and there are different dynamics in the flow of information.

The situation is also different in rural areas for peasant families who live in rural villages where there are very small ranches and quarantine is really difficult. In spite of this, families continue to work hard and we see experiences of peasant solidarity to continue taking their production to consumers, maintaining the price in the context of speculation and price increases in the most concentrated sectors. Of particular interest are the experiences that are taking place throughout the country with delivery of bags of vegetables, fruits, preserves, all kinds of dairy products, where the family farming sector and some agricultural Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs) have been making great efforts to confront the concentrated sectors which are trying to take advantage», says Montón, who also answered some more questions on this issue.

Q: – Do you think this production model is responsible for the expansion of this epidemic, and as a counterpart to that first question I would ask, is family agriculture being re-evaluated for the production of healthy food?

A: – There are many studies that confirm the relationship between the expansion of this epidemic and large farms that concentrate animals into small spaces, especially feed-lots, which would affect the dynamics of the mutation of the virus and the aggressiveness of infectivity. We have avian flu, swine flus, and others. There is a lot of data that relates this and questions this type of production, and at the same time values agroecology and alternate forms of production that are not governed by the single concept that drives agribusiness which is profit. All of this diversity in agriculture such as family farms, indigenous methods, small-scale and small farm agriculture. It’s about the reproduction of life. Therefore, they are totally different dynamics. For more than 10,000 years these family agriculture units have supplied humanity with food.

This agriculture brings genuine employment to the countryside and seeks a balance with nature. In this sense, the declaration of the United Nations, after eight years of debates, and where all the states participated, concluded by declaring the significance of the ‘peasant’. It is a declaration that is not only about the violations of rights but also on the important role of peasant agriculture, the importance of food sovereignty, and which enumerates State obligations. The declaration says that peasant agriculture is fundamental to solve the food and climate crisis, and that States must exercise policies to guarantee those rights. The UN sets out obligations to States that must guarantee the right to land, with policies such as agrarian reform, food sovereignty, or intervention in markets to ensure adequate prices and which will guarantee a certain standard of living for peasant families. Access to seeds, preservation of biodiversity or women’s rights. In other words, it is urgent to change this agri-food system.

Q: – Have you been able to speak with the municipalities? What measures do you think the State could advance in the context of this crisis?

A: – In Mendoza we have been working with municipalities on the issue of the distribution of bags of vegetables. Our arrangement is that the municipality provides the logistics, its structures, and facilitates the distribution of food bags by the organizations for a fair price. Another of the fundamental things is that the State guarantees to control and really fines people for breaking rules or exceesses. So that when speculation happens in crisis as is the case now, it can intervene directly. Even expropriating if that proves necessary. At the national level we could bring back what used to be the «Fruits and Vegetables for All», prioritizing purchasing from small producers.

Also one might think about forms of financing so that the sector can increase productivity, something dependent on planning and on forecasting demand. Another key is how to invest in local industry that can add value to primary production. We are talking about preserves, trituration (of tomatoes fro example) and dairy products, which have a large lack of investment. In this sense, the arrival of the UTT to the Buenos Aires Central Market, a wholesale market designed for a population of more than ten million people, is a change of logic, Mr. Nahuel Levaggi is a UTT member hand he’s now head of the market since the government has changed back to Peronism. Surely he will make the market work so that the peasant families havd direct access — bypassing intermediaries — and that the market serves to continue organizing the non-industrial agriculture sector, to diminish intermediaries between producers and consumers.

Q: – In this sense, what limits do the small producers confront?

A: – The situation is structurally complex: there is huge concentration of ownership in the industrial agriculture sector which subordinates family agriculture for the added-value and, on the other hand, there is a strong concentration of the market, which also subordinates family agriculture, and this is to the detriment of consumers. Here we find products on the market that are sold at 500% more than what the producer is paid. These are clear limits. In addition there are the food habits and consumption that these elites of the industrial agriculture have managed to inculcate so that people consume their processed foods, which are generally harmful to one’s health, and not the same healthy foods that they could buy from family agriculture. Another of the fundamental limits is the concentration of land. Sixty per cent of our sector does not have land and must lease it, and this means some of our sweat goes to the landowner. Part of the agroecological sector also has irregularities in land titles, and so they can be exposed to situations of violence. This prevents them from accessing credit, which is a fundamental issue for financing both value-added infrastructure and for improving irrigation technology and work in the field.

Translation: Tony Phillips, Photos: MNCI «We are the Earth» (MNCI Somos Tierra)

 

Every year thousands of men and women travel far from their homes and families, to work a few months in the harvesting of grapes, of Yerba Mate (the argentine herbal caffeine rich drink) among other harvests. They sleep in sheds, tents, gazebos (rustic tents) or small rooms, on old mattresses with a lack of bed linen and any form of hygiene, toilets/showers etc… The presidential COVID-19 decree which makes mandatory preventative social isolation has left many with their jobs abruptly paralyzed, stranded on farms or at bus terminals in different parts of the country. All forms of long distance public transport — trains and buses — have been cancelled for nearly five months in Argentina by presidential decree.

Many rural internal migrants have been abandoned to their fate by provincial governments and by land owners. Others however, were forced to continue working in precarious conditions. These are the migratory rural workers; this article is a journey through the situation of a sector present throughout Argentina, one which, due to its seasonality, mobility and geographical nature, suffers from chronically high levels of worker informality and precariousness; with people who have neither voice nor workers rights, and who suffer from conditions that predate the current pandemic.

Fernando Ruffa, ANRed

Ever since the beginning of the social, preventive and obligatory isolation decreed by President Alberto Fernández via a decree referred to by the number 297/2020 – a measure to slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in Argentina – many rural migratory workers were abruptly suspended from their work, they became stranded on farms or in bus terminals, abandoned by the owners of the lands where they work and by their own governments, unable to return to their homes to comply with the quarantine. Others were forced to continue working under precarious work and health conditions.

One example of this sector are the thousands of labourers who migrate to Mendoza every year to work on the grape harvest or for other short-term work opportunities. This year the mandatory quarantine caught out those who were picking the grape harvest but their work was allowed to continue. Declared ‘essential’, the businesspeople in the wine industry couldn’t be without their fruit, nor could they be left unable to sell wine. In a workplace where harvesters are paid by the basket-load, usually irregularly, not paying taxes, with no social services payments, regulation or benefits paid by employers (i.e. on the black market), working days can be very long.

«In Mendoza, rural workers were permitted to work, so as not to lose the harvest, but no one took responsibility for their journeys back to their homes.» There should have been coordination between the governments of the Provinces of Mendoza and Jujuy, also at a Federal level, which might have resulted in the availability of buses for secure authorized travel», reflected Laura Rodríguez from the Mendoza Human Rights Network, who, together with other social organizations, are assisting stranded families, many of whom wish to return home to the Northern Provinces of Jujuy or Salta. «The current situation is that people continue to arrive at the bus terminal daily, and they will continue to do so,» she added with concern. «There are some who arrive with a ticket and others that don’t, and some even appear without money to buy a ticket, because bosses on the farms have been telling them to leave due to the coronavirus. On top of this year’s harvest has been a bad one, people have worked less, and have been paid little.»

Two other provinces (Río Negro and Neuquén) also welcome thousands of travelling workers from a variety of Northern Argentine Provinces every season. These workers travel some two thousand kilometres to work, pruning, thinning and harvesting pears and apples. One side effect of the obligatory quarantine has meant that hundreds of these also became isolated in various places and were stranded. «We who work on the farms have no news. We are spending what little we have left of the salaries we’ve earned in these last few months. There are about five or six hundred people from Entre Ríos province (to the north) scattered around the valley. The only thing we ask is to be able to return to our homes, with our families, and to be able to complete the quarantine in peace», one of these (who had been working on a farm in the town of Cervantes, near the city of General Roca, Province of Río Negro) told ANRed with concern.

Migrant workers: predating the pandemic

Given the overall situations faced by internal rural migrant workers, this sector is quite a challenging one. Due to the seasonality and the socially mobile geographical nature of these internal migrations of seasonal workers, information on them is very scattered, and there are very high levels of worker informality (lack of contracts) in this sector.

Elena Mingo is a sociologist and a researcher with the Argentine Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) at the Argentine Centre for Labour Research and Investigation Institute (CEIL). Elena works on a programme entitled: «Rural Work, Households and Organizations in Rural Spaces». She spoke with ANRed to shed some light on the sources, and the main characteristics, of this sector. «The traditional migrant labour circulation is one of the historical characteristics since the formation of regional economies for local Argentine food supply to the domestic market, so we find antecedents since the late Nineteenth Century,» the researcher explained.

«Bringing precariousness to recruitment and the seasonality of employment are the two structural characteristics upon which the working conditions are ‘organized’ for seasonal agricultural workers in intensive exploitation of farm workers. Also one has to take into account other dimensions that modify these structural characteristics, resulting in a diversity of situations within this labour sector. Among these, the condition of temporary migrant worker combines two variables that tend to deepen, and make more complex, the already structural conditions of precariousness».

«The migrations from the province of Santiago del Estero is one of the oldest,» says Mingo, «and the workers participate in several circuits, including: the manual harvest of corn husks, for seed production in the province of Buenos Aires. The ‘arrancada’ or potato harvest, in the Southwest of Buenos Aires Province, and, more recently, the Santiago del Estero and Catamarca circuit for the olive harvest».

«Another circuit which is also traditional is one where workers from the North of Argentina (predominantly Tucumán and Salta) make to the Provinces of Mendoza and Río Negro. These circuits start in December and last until April when the harvest ends. Another characteristic, but more recent, circuit is that of the migration of workers, men, to the province of Entre Ríos for forestation,» says the sociologist, who has been working since 2005 at CEIL, a research team with a long history in the field of rural sociology.

Likewise, the researcher considers that the history of the migratory rural workers is characterized by a «general historical context of making conditions invisible», as well as «a few interventions to the regulation of these forms of employment and hiring». That said she considers that «it is important to emphasize the sanction of Law 26,727 of «Agricultural Work Regime» (December 2011) which makes visible these forms of employment, especially those that are repeated year after year, under the figure of the ‘discontinuous permanent worker’.

In addition, it proposes in its articles the regulation of the travel conditions, housing, food and hygiene. In the framework of this law, the National Registry of Agricultural Workers and Employers (RENATEA) was created, which, according to the researcher, «worked on the regulation, inspection and visibility of these particular working conditions, reproduction strategies, housing and health,», she said and then clarified that RENATEA «was dissolved by the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation in December 2015».

Regarding the current situation of workers stranded in the provinces they work in (due to the COVID-19) Mingo says that this novel situation makes all the more visible a chronic historical problem that predates the pandemic. «It exposes the enormous variety of situations of inequality and precariousness to which a huge portion of Argentinean women and men are subjected. These conditions are not typical of their work situation but are historical and only the pandemic makes them visible. In a sense, being «stranded» is something habitual for them.

The precarious conditions of employment often mean that promises to pay for a return ticket are not kept. What also happens is that they arrive at their destinations and don’t find employment quickly. This situation has them wandering and living in poverty until they manage to get in. Another aspect is that their work stay during the season also has its own peculiarities. Some hiring arrangements include housing in ‘collective’ houses on the farms. In other cases, they must rent housing during the season; these areas provide that housing service for temporary migrants, providing a source of income for local families.

Finally, the specialist emphasizes that it is important «to generate State or union interventions, to listen to the experience that these workers have about the migratory circuits and the ways in which they create relationships with their destinations, that have allowed them to sustain the reproduction of their lives and those of their families throughout decades».

From South to Northeast

Moving on to the Northeast of Argentina, you also find similar working conditions. This is the case of the workers who are employed in the Yerba Mate — or just mate — (a kind of Argentine energising herbal tea) harvest in Misiones, some of whom also sometimes alternating a semester in other provinces, till they then return home.

Enso Ortt used to work in the Government Secretariat for Family Agriculture. Today he is in the Province of Misiones Organic Agriculture Network and has been working with organic farmers this way for 13 years. «Many of the transitory workers, migratory workers or manual labourers in the maté harvests, are the basis of the labour force for local productive chains – he notes giving us a general overview of the sector in the Misiones Province where the maté is grown. Here in Misiones there are migratory harvest workers or manual labourers who go to other provinces, generally young people, for Entre Ríos and Corrientes, for the blueberry harvests and the forestry work in Pine and Eucalyptus monoculture forests. They work there for two to three months in very precarious and isolated conditions. Many of them work totally in the black market (no benefits and no taxes) and work crowded in produce fields. The conditions in which they work, they way they live, pay little recognition of their important rôles in the chain of production of maté. Many are also employed in tobacco production.»

«Because many live far from the harvest, in poor neighbourhoods in other parts of the province of Misiones, the contractors who put together the unskilled labour force (tarefero) crews provide them with transport to their work, and, since they don’t have their own transport, many must stay in the farms where the maté is grown as harvests often last several days, depending on the quantity harvested. The legislation determines that the tarefero lodging must be in good condition; but that doesn’t actually happen. Often those who contract these workers have their tarefero workers living under tarpaulins where they sleep every night. They often have no running water and must cook outdoors so as to be able to work the whole week. Added together the seasons include add up to about six months, the rest of the year there isn’t any work to be done.

«The situation of the migratory workers in the area is very difficult and complex, says Federico Chilavert, General Secretary of the (Left of Centre) Union grouping: «Autonomous CTA» at their Montecarlo office, in the province of Misiones. There’s a group of nine comrades who were stranded in the apple harvest in Río Negro. They went because, here in Montecarlo, the maté harvest ends in September. So they went to harvest apples. Usually they finish the harvest there and return to the maté harvest, which begins in March. Then there are other workers from Paraguay and Corrientes, who come to harvest citrus, they also face a complicated situation, because despite being exempted (from government lockdown) they couldn’t work much because they are (off the books / informal) and above all, very precarious, workers, and the employers don’t comply with the requirements of the presidential COVID-19 decree.

It is estimated that around 20,000 families are involved in the work of harvesting mate.

As for the tareferos, Federico added, there is a huge difference between the conditions of those who are legally registered workers and those who are not. «In Misiones there are nine thousand tareferos, counting both men and women, who are registered as such. The government has a figure of sixteen to eighteen thousand, but, from the quantities of maté harvested (numbers declared by the National Institute of the Yerba Mate, INYM), we believe that there are between twenty and twenty-one thousand. Here in the Montecarlo zone we have 540 legal workers and 180 more who work on the black market. Among the latter are those from the local ethnic tribal communities, the Guaraní tribe, who work for less money.

The bosses tell them that if they go on the official work list they’ll lose their Universal Children’s Allowance (AUH) payments from the state. This means they miss out on the benefits for legal workers, so they’re left totally unprotected. On the other hand, those who are officially registered can count on a programme called ‘Interzafra’, which used to be national, but now the province has taken over paying this benefit, because the former right wing government of Macri stopped national payments. They also have a 2,300 peso food card (about 15-20 Euros per month) which they managed to get after the labour struggles by social organizations and unions four years ago.

Also from Montecarlo, Roberto Oscar Meza, tarefero worker and spokesperson for the Front of Organizations in the Struggle/Lucha (FOL), says that although year by year the situation has been improving, it has not been enough: «We still have comrades who continue to travel rough on trucks and in vehicles that are not designed for people to travel in. It is a constant issue facing all of us tareferos who live across the whole of Misiones, something that is covered up by the provincial authorities. There is a law that says that the work tools and equipment must be provided free of charge, but here comrades are charged for certain equipment like saws and scissors, which are among the items this law says should be free».

He also told us how the quarantine situation affects them: «With this situation it is impossible to get work, because you can’t leave the house and get to work because of lockdown rules. We come home midday and our children ask us: «Dad, what did you bring to eat?» And ‘dad’ didn’t bring anything to eat today because he didn’t earn the 80, 100 or 150 pesos per bag that the workers are being paid. We have to work to pay back money that we have already spent. We go to work to pay bills, to pay off loans. Because these days, when you are forced to stay home, you get an advance payment and you have to pay it back later. That really affects us very much».

To get more extensive coverage of the yerba mate tarefero sector we also consulted Javier Gortari, who is a professor of undergraduate and graduate studies in Regional Political Economy at the National University of Misiones. Both Gortari’s master’s and doctoral theses were written on research related to the Yerba Maté economy. He also participated in his University in the provincial survey of tareferos between 2010 and 2012, and in the preparation of the Strategic Plan for Yerba Mate (2011 to 2013). He has also made presentations at conferences and published articles on the subject, and together with other colleagues he co-authored several books specialized in Mate-related subjects.

As to the quantity of workers at present, Gortari explains his calculations: «it is estimated that about 20,000 families are involved in the work, care and harvesting of yerba mate. Statistically, for a production of 800 million kilos per annum, which has been the average over the last few years, the daily yield per harvester of 450 kilos (that comes from the tarefero survey), seven and a half months of harvesting work in total made up of six months of heavy harvest – 80% of maté volume – and four months of «zafriña» which is preparatory work done before the harvests clipping early shoots etc…, another 20%). If we take an average of 15 days worked per month, eliminating rainy days, sick days, and unforeseen events, sixteen thousand tareferos are required».

As for the working and sanitary conditions of the workers, he explained: «In general terms, we can say that the situation of workers on the mate harvest hasn’t changed substantially since the description made by J. Niklison (a contemporary of Bialet Masse), who 100 years ago as an inspector of the Argentine National Department of Labour gave us the following. The working conditions: 70% informality, child labour, family exploitation, precarious means of transport to the place of the maté (cargo trucks), lack of minimal sanitary conditions in the workplaces: no toilets, no drinking water, no electricity, no telephone connection, no canteens. Camping under plastic tents, with mattresses on the ground and improvised cooking stoves. No medical care for occupational diseases or accidents. No health and social insurance. No social security contributions for future retirement».

Tareferos on a break, under a Gazebo

As for the pay tareferos receive today, the researcher provided the following details: «According to resolution 286 (December 2019) of the National Commission of Agrarian Work, pay is two and a half argentine pesos (or about 2 euro cent) per kilogram. Picking 450 kilos of yerba maté a day, working 20 days a month, an average worker would receive 22,500 pesos a month which is half of what the national statistics office (the INDEC) maintains as the required income to remain above the poverty line. And this just for seven and a half months each year. The rest of the year, if the worker is registered with the government, they receive a monthly subsidy of 2,500 pesos (and grocery bags of food if he/she is not registered).

The 450 kilos of green leaf picked, once dried and packed, is equivalent to about 150 kilos of yerba mate ready for consumption. Even in Argentina, a kilo bag of maté retails at two hundred pesos on the supermarket shelf, which implies that the tarefero worker in one day produces the raw material necessary for a final product whose value is of the order of 30,000 pesos retail (and in whose costs the incidence of labour/raw material is 70%). We can calculate that a worker produces in one day more than the equivalent of his monthly salary. For the rest of the other 19 days work, all the value of this work is appropriated by the owner of the mate farm, the contractor of the tarefero crews, the drying and milling industry, transport and marketing, and taxation», points out Gortari.

Likewise, the specialist details that those who are employed in the harvest of maté are recruited from settlements in the interior of Misiones, such as Oberá, San Vicente, Montecarlo, Jardín América, Aristóbulo del Valle, Andresito, Apóstoles and San Ignacio, where «80% of the houses are made of wood, 40% have cardboard roofs and a earthen floor, 60% are not connected with access to running potable drinking water, 75% use a latrine and many use wood as cooking fuel. Some travel every day to and from the maté farm when it is relatively close. If they work further away, which makes their transportation costs higher, they camp on the farm during the week, or sometimes for longer to make the travel worthwhile,» says Gortari, based on data from the Provincial Survey of Tareferos.

Translation: Tony Phillips, Photos: Juan Amadeo and AnRed

 

*The books published by Javier Gortari and in his co-authorship are: “Economía Regional Yerbatera 2002-2016: logros y limitaciones en 15 años de funcionamiento del INYM (Edunam, 2018)”, “El agro misionero y la represión durante la última Dictadura cívico-militar: testimonios (Edunam, 2018)”, “Tareferos: vida y trabajo en los yerbales (Edunam, 2017)”, “Dinámica agraria y Políticas públicas: desigualdades sociales y regionales (Edunam, 2016)” and “De la tierra sin mal al tractorazo: hacia una economía política de la Yerba Mate (Edunam, 2008)”.

Biodiversidadla.org

Natalia Tangona

When did we start talking about food sovereignty? How did agroecology become one of the most powerful political concepts of the 21st Century? What role does feminism occupy in the food production movements? In order to understand the reconfiguration of the rural food production economy as the main actor in the struggle against the extractive neoliberal model, it is necessary to observe the seed within it: the struggle of rural and peasant women against the patriarchal oppression of their bodies and of the land. To understand where we are today, it is necessary to know the processes that have brought us to where we are now. An interview with Francisca «Pancha» Rodríguez, from ANAMURI.

The Americas Continental Campaign: 500 Years of Indigenous, Black and Popular Resistance (1989-1992), convened by peasant and indigenous organizations in the Andean region and the Landless Movement (MST) in Brazil, was the trigger for us to begin to organise ourselves against the policies of plunder and the establishment of agribusiness in the countryside in the Americas in the 1990s. And so, in 1994 the Latin American Coordination of Peasant Organizations (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo, or CLOC) was born. Two years later, in Rome, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) World Food Summit was held, where for five days the topic for debate was the eradication of hunger in the World as well as guaranteeing «food security». It was then that the CLOC-Vía Campesina redefined the term «food security». Because what do the owners of the World conceive as security? Is it «security» in quantitative terms or in equitable terms? Doesn’t the «right to eat» imply the right of the peasant to decide on how they produce, in a way that is in accordance with their cultures of the people who live on the land? It was by this means that the term «Food Sovereignty» was coined from the same struggle for land and thousands of years of agriculture, giving food sovereignty as a political framework for rural and peasant movements in resistance against agribusiness and the monopoly of property and land ownership.

25 years later, the debate has taken root.

Francisca «Pancha» Rodriguez is a representative of ANAMURI (The National Association of Rural Women and Indigenous Peoples of Chile) within the CLOC, and is one of the founders of La Via Campesina. One of the guardians of the Earth, seeds, resources, of the future, a weaver of collective solutions, against all forms of violence, towards life and freedom.

Q: – How did women begin to organize themselves within the CLOC and what activities did they develop? When did they begin to identify themselves as feminists, how did this affect the organization and how was that process?

A: – Women did not start to organise themselves within CLOC, we already came organized and building the CLOC was a joint effort by men and women. Women’s organization has its own history, but this is a history that is unrecognized, sometimes even we ourselves fail to recognise it. But the truth is that we have always been present, we have always been the mainstay of agricultural production and in times of extreme difficulty this becomes much more visible. And this is what happened with the constitution of the CLOC. It meant building the process that leads to unity, a struggle by adding new members, new allies in different sectors. These include fisher-folk, native peoples and mainly putting together women who worked in these different activities in country life, which I always call «survival strategy» something we women have created. Revolving round our connection with the earth, especially arts and crafts, transforming and cooking food, work in the harvest… So in difficult times all this knowledge, all of women’s work in the front line, which is where we are now.

I think that the feminist movement in Latin America had a stronger pressure in what was the struggle for the re-founding of democracy in those countries that suffered dictatorships, and it is a feminism that emerges with a commitment to the people’s struggles. This also went on to build new women’s culture, and we didn’t remain on the margins, because there was already an important process of participation by women who were demanding to be an active part in these organizations, and that has only been growing in power. This was also so in terms of the processes at an international level, that is, for us (although apparently with a decade of women behind us) though, for this was not so much this way. I believe that we have still to recognise what that process meant, the fusion that took place gently between feminist women and the popular sectors. We women were apparently a new sector emerging powerfully from the 500-year Campaign of Indigenous Black Popular & Peasant Resistance, from the construction of Vía Campesina itself, and of CLOC, where we women were always present. We have come a little further in our story over these last decades, marked by taking a protagonist role in the process of struggle for food sovereignty, for the right to land, for the defence of our natural resources.»

In those years, in many territories in Latin America, the movement from peasant agriculture to industrialized production was consolidated, in the hands of the «Green Revolution», beginning in the 1970s. The peasants were then (as we are now) obstacles to the market monopolization plans of the large transnationals, and in the new forms of insertion and appropriation redesigned through «Free Trade» Agreements. The role of women was taking on a notoriety historically made invisible when it came to producing food for the World. Resistance so as to be able to continue to exist, to survive. In this struggle for the existence of our ancestral agriculture, of peoples, of identities, of resources, the empowerment of women was shaping a new political framework that was perfectly linked to that of food sovereignty; peasant and popular feminism.

«Our political participation is to understand where we are and where we want to go, that is why we managed to establish gender parity within the CLOC and the Vía Campesina, to take part in the political debate, to make ourselves visible, to establish our own spaces of discussion where we contribute to the important decisions made by the peasant movement, and the peasant movement contemplates this in its resolutions. That is how gender parity emerges, that is how the campaign for Food Sovereignty, as well as the emergence of the campaign for seeds. This is the origin of the Campaign to oppose violence against rural women, and beyond the countryside, against violence in all of its expressions, against violence that one finds in the communities but that mostly assaults us, affecting women. This lead to a dizzying political development of the peasant movement in Latin America, which has become increasingly notorious. This is not only the struggle for food sovereignty: it is the struggle for agrarian reform, it is the struggle over water, for the defence of our territories and our biodiversity. In this struggle we are very present, visible and conscious.

For us women, getting to the point of defining ourselves as feminists was not an easy process. We have been in this debate for more than ten years now. But it was one political step at a time as the peasant movement was defining policies for the construction of a new model of society in a socialist framework. Our first slogan was to say that we were coming this debate with all our historical experience – not that we began from nothing – and reconstructing processes that have been disqualified by the interest of capital. It is for this that we said «there can be no socialism without feminism». And we began to reconstruct a process that led us to theorize, to dig back into the past and to rediscover the point of view of what had historically been women’s role in agriculture. It has been a very interesting process to get into it, to see at what point women were relegated to the background. How capitalism expresses itself and generates these profound gender differences, how patriarchy is developed as a tool that sustains this system and how it demonizes debate and political construction. I think we’re back to that again.»

Q – What is rural and popular feminism and how do we build it?

A – «When we are speaking about feminism, just as when we speak to food sovereignty, we women speak about rights: about women’s rights, about the rights of Mother Earth, about peasant’s rights. So how do we bring these together, from our rights, that brings us a framework to confront the task to build the society we aspire to? It is a process that never ends, it doesn’t stop.

We do it looking toward the same construction of the indigenous peoples, from that dual vision, from complementarity, to see how this dual cosmovision could nourish our new thinking. For example, the value that seeds have — what they mean to us women — the value of our seeds, the meaning of life that our seed has and what it gives back to us: food sovereignty; this very important peasant rôle those who produce the food that the people need. But also within that is our own creativity, our infinite creativity in transforming produce and turn it into food, to generate an important space for encounter, where we can reunite and create within the kitchen, which for some women in the city or for some feminists is not really acceptable. I think that it will take some time before it is understood that we have to have a feminist viewpoint where we hold present the culture of native peoples, our identity, because we have lost a lot of our identity in general terms.

Our own identity has been taken away from us to put up barriers that distance us even from the reality of who we are. We are no longer peasants, we are producers, we are small business people, we are entrepreneurs, we are competitive women, we are innovators! It turns out that none of these identities that have given us are solving the great problems that we women have today, not only in personal economic terms, but also in political terms, and culturally, to be able to improve our quality of life, being able to hold onto our territory and, within our territories, holding onto our culture and what our spirituality means to us. So I think that today there is a deep admiration for the grace, the courage that the young feminist movement has, but also from the point of view of the women and of all rural people, of the reactionary element that is still very present. There is a fear, a rejection that can delay us in our debate if we don’t find points in common. Because of this we say that our feminism is a political and class-based feminism, it is a feminism that liberates us, coming from the people’s struggle, from the communities. It is a feminism that combats violence, to end harassment as a patriarchal practice. A signal has come to rural life to tear off what was deeply hidden and to generate a culture of breaches in the face of custom, this silent situation, these traditions that are so offensive to us».

Every two years, the CLOC-Vía Campesina organizes the American Continental School for rural women, strengthening political education with a gender perspective, reflection, meetings and exchanges, to bring a collective construction of a peasant and a popular feminism.

Q – How do we build bridges between the different bodies-territories?

A – Perhaps looking at that which is concrete, tangible, and with each step, this enables us to identify the historical processes of these territories in very history of our own bodies. Identity, seed memory, the water that weaves us together, and this very fine edge driving us down the path toward savage capitalism, we need to rediscover ourselves, by disentangling ourselves from wires and fences, from patriarchy, essential synonyms in this process of change where agroecology is central.

Q – How does one relate agroecology for food sovereignty to peasant feminism and popular feminism? What are the strengths acquired looking toward the future and what is the horizon for the fight?

A – «Undoubtedly we need to meet again in a deeper conversation between the cities and the countryside. I think that the pandemic had a strong impact on us. Because in he countryside you have to quarantine but you also need to keep producing, so food sovereignty is more powerful for ourselves, those that have constructed it, over these few years, as an identity. We can’t think that food sovereignty is just a discourse nothing more, and not recognise it for what it is. This is a necessary conversation.

I believe that at this moment the link between the countryside and the city will be strengthened, because the people of the city have understood that guaranteeing food, being able to face these terrible crisis situations, is done with the peasants, it is done by looking at what the land can give us. Food sovereignty takes on tremendous validity, but above all, in this period the work, the struggle, the resistance of women is also put on a fairly high level. We are in a different era; it is time to to be able to redo the gardens, to give a new meaning to life. And that brings us closer to the women of the countryside and the city. Once again an important cordon is being drawn between the rural world and the urban world, and we cannot lose that. We have to rebuild this path, which is what will give us a definitive change where we can build the world we want: a world of equality, where our rights and the rights of the people are enshrined and where the indigenous peoples, the native peoples, recover their territory and we can look at each other as sisters and brothers. Perhaps we could say that these are old women’s dreams, but I believe that they are dreams of the future. In the moments when you are in the silence of your homes, you begin to think about what it was, what your life has been, what you have learned from it and what you are learning from the times to come and the uncertainty that it gives you that we are still not capable of consolidating processes that will lead us to a definitive change. I only tell you, ant-like work, the political work, the use of these social networks, the encouragement of hope… I believe it’s what will allow us to emerge victorious in a new world»

Although the processes are long, dreams of the future keep being born. Integral agrarian reform which is both feminist and popular is still the goal. Just as when sowing seed, it is necessary to rotate, add new perspectives, re-connect with old seeds for a new humanity, make, re-make, sprout, re-sprout, keep being born, keep dreaming, removing fences, healing the Earth after so many agrotoxins, so much prejudice and dependence. The harvest will certainly come. With agroecology and feminism, there will be freedom.

Notes:
[i] http://www.grain.org/es/article/entries/1099-entrevista-a-pancha-rodriguez
[ii] http://www.revistapueblos.org/blog/2017/08/03/francisca-rodriiguez-pancha-somos-las-guardianas-de-la-tierra-vivimos-donde-estan-los-recursos-y-nuestra-tarea-es-luchar-y-preservarlos-mirando-hacia-las-futuras-generac/

 

Illustrations by María Chevalier – www.dibujoschevalier.wixsite.com/mariachevalier

Biodiversidadla.org

Facundo Cuesta, Huerquen Comunicación

«Why is such a deep taboo to discuss agrarian reform; to talk about land in Argentina?» asks Rosalía Pellegrini of the national coordination of the Unión de Trabajadorxs de la Tierra (The Union for Land workers, UTT), getting the conversation started. Answering her own rhetorical question, she adds: «because there is a dominant economic and cultural power that founded this nation on the slaughter of native tribes while also at war with sector of Argentine society. These people kept ownership of the land and carried out an economically liberal model that served the interests of a small sector of Argentine society. They still remain an economic power today, and these same people were in government for the last four years [The government of president Macri’s right-wing ‘Cambiemos’ coalition 2016-2019]. That powerful sector, with not a stain on its character, still pretends to maintain the representation and the synthesis of the agricultural interests in Argentina [the «Campo»], but this power created a speculative agricultural sector in which land and power is concentrated in just a few hands, as we witnessed in early 2020 before the quarantine when Argentine factory bosses locked out their workers who asked to keep their wages in line with inflation.»

The cold hard numbers from the 2018 National Agricultural Census reflect the hurt in rural Argentina. Since 2002 a full quarter of all agricultural establishments (EAPs) — like family farms — have been lost. Since 1988 the loss has been 41.5%. Meanwhile, with this concentration in ownership, the average surface area per EAP went from 550 to 690 hectares. At the top of this pyramid the Argentine 1% concentrate 36.4% of the property while, at the bottom, 55% of the producers own only 2.25% of the land. And that’s just property ownership, which already leaves out a lot of factors.

«Today the land problems revolve around the pressure exerted by the soybean export model. Before that it was wheat, and further back, raising cattle (the common denominator is a focus on exports). The concentration of land (whether owned by Argentine nationals or foreign ownership — whether leased to producers or not — obviously makes it difficult for small producers to get access land for their family (peasant) agriculture. Nevertheless they produce most of the food eaten by Argentines. So the land struggle was a focus of the UTT from day one, from when the organization emerged.»

A Proposal to solve a thousand problems

Rosalía alludes to the beginning of the UTT, to the time of the first meetings between producers: «I’m talking about when we were just two or three grass-roots groups, 60 comrades. We recognised then that all of the sectors problems derived from a lack of access to the land. Every month you had to pay a really high land rent. As the traditional production is basically the agribusiness model, there is a dependency on inputs (machinery, seeds, fertilizers etc…) priced in US Dollars which is difficult to pay in local devalued currency. If on top of that, you don’t have your own machinery, to deal with all those costs you have to exploit yourselves, exploit each other. This means you and your family work from sunrise to sunset. Finally, in order to sell what you have produced you have to go through middlemen, from one intermediary to another, and so you end up being paid very little for your produce. The vast majority of those who produce vegetables are not owners of the land that they work.»

Back then, by means of workshops, incorporating tools from popular education, including drawings and schematics, we didn’t just enumerate the challenges we added counterproposals (solutions) for each: «This is how the project of the Integral Agricultural Colony for Urban Supply (CAIAU) was born. An holistic scheme beyond just access to land, with organization, agroecology, sharing tools and equipment and direct sales from the producer to the consumer».

In 2013, the organization occupied land in «Pereyra Iraola» park, «these were «abandoned lands covered by burned cars and rubbish». The next year the UTT camped beside the main motorway between Buenos Aires and the capital of the Province of Buenos Aires, «La Plata». Using black nylon tents this area was occupied under threat of repression. The reaction forced the intervention of various officials, including the province’s minister for agriculture.

«It was there that we first proposed Agricultural Colonies, active farming Communities that are not just about getting access to land, as I mentioned, rather the UTT proposal was more comprehensive, more holistic. And so we began to talk about agroecology. I remember that from the time of our struggle the national government agency for agriculture (INTA) began to focus more on agroecology, in conjunction with the organization.

Jáuregui and Campana

The struggle opened a process of negotiation with the Argentine State to recognise the legitimacy of the call and to take up the organization’s proposal. In this framework, the possibility of implementing the proposals on public lands was explored, and two locations were pinpointed: the Ramayon Institute in the town of Jauregui, near Luján, and Campana, both in the province of Buenos Aires close to the city. These were lands that delegates of the UTT had already visited, «agricultural lands approximately 70 or 80 hectares». But toward the end of the second presidential term of the centre-left Peronist president Cristina Fernández de Kirchener, the negotiations stagnated for a year, and were left with an inconclusive: «Yes and no!» answer.

«That’s when we held a large assembly, with more than 200 comrades, where we proposed that «the only land that we’ll get access to is land which we occupy» and we planned the simultaneous occupation of both locations: 100 comrades went to Campana and another 100 to Jáuregui, with a tractor and a lumber truck for both locations. To make a long story short, the two groups managed their objectives. «Campana’s team arrived first and started unloading and working with the tractor. When we arrived in (Jáuregui) Luján, the same thing happened. As the draft of an horticultural project had already been circulated in government institutions, we had a successful start. When the police arrived, we put it to them that we were there for that project and we began negotiations. This went on for three days of multiple meetings, many changes of heart, sometimes positive, sometimes not. And at one point, the negotiating team came back from the Capital with the great news that we had won our lands. I have photos of that, we were all so emotional, we cooked up a pig, I remember, we were very happy. I remember Martita, who is one of our local inspirational personalities here, who said: «We had won our freedom»… It was huge!».

The attempted occupation in Campana did not work out, but with the signing of the lease agreement at Ramayón Jáuregui (Lujan) the agricultural colony was christened «the «20th of April/Darío Santillán». That colony has just had its fifth birthday, and is a working demonstration an excellent experience of peasant-based agroecology in all of its aspects. In addition to the land itself and the technical or agricultural productive aspects, prices have been determined, as have distribution-related issues, the environment, housing, health, and education, have all been defined. What began as adult literacy workshops are now an autonomous educational project for primary and secondary schools, with an agroecological orientation, approved by the State. In the Ramayón courtyard there is a plaque commemorating the first group of graduates from these schools.

On the fourth birthday of the colony, April 20th, 2019, Marta gave a speech: «I have been part of the UTT For eight or nine years. We conducted a dignified struggle to achieve this, for dignified work, dignified housing and a dignified life. First we camped together with our comrades, and all 53 poor families, we have achieved this. We came with the agroecological plan, which is good healthy food, we made the switch from working with chemicals to working without them and proved it can be done. Now we do have time for our families, time for our children. And I’m very proud.»

With the consolidation of the Jáuregui experience, the proposal from CAIAU took off in the rest of the territories where the UTT has a presence. This way, with varying levels of development at different locations, today’s colonies are germinating in different parts of the province of Buenos Aires, in the river city of Gualeguaychú on the Border with Uruguay, in the Mesopotamian province of «Entre Ríos» and in the port of Puerto Piray in Misiones closer to Brazil in the north.

On the lands recuperated from the «Arauco» company

After an intense struggle in 2013, the organization of Independent Producers of Piray (PIP) achieved a law which expropriated 600 hectares from the forestry multinational, ‘Arauco’, which once owned 10% of the total land mass of the province of Misiones. Of these 600 hectares, already 166 hectares are in peasant possession. «There were oceans of pine trees, entire peasant and native communities were made to disappear,» says Miriam Samudio, one of the PIP spokespersons, who joined UTT in 2015.

Miriam was a protagonist in the process of recovering this land and today she is also one of those constructing the colony: «We integrated the families to work together. Each family group has its own dedicated family plots and projects and we also work some land as a community together. Today we are 97 families, working 56 hectares dedicated to families, and 15 hectares as a collective work the commons lands. We source the tools and the seeds, we plan in meetings and assemblies, we train each other and share knowledge. The current tack is to investigate value-added production beyond the primary production of planting and harvesting. In this way we are building «The Misiones province that we want!» through a different production model. We say no to agrochemicals, and we’ve had enough of transgenic corn! We are demonstrating, not in a futuristic sense, but right now, that it is possible to work the land this way, and we are adding comrades and producers to this struggle.»

Where there were tree monocultures with agrotoxins, without people or biodiversity, today there is agro-ecological food production, environmental care and re-greening communities.

Laws

The UTT also investigated going down the legislative route (writing laws). Though the right to access land is contemplated in the new Argentine law, (number 27,118) with the following name: «REPARACIÓN HISTÓRICA DE LA AGRICULTURA FAMILIAR PARA LA CONSTRUCCIÓN DE UNA NUEVA RURALIDAD EN LA ARGENTINA» or «Historical Reparation of Family Agriculture; towards a new Argentine rural reality», a law approved in 2015, but which, to this day, is still awaiting regulation (and hence cannot come into effect till this happens).

In 2016, the UTT presented a bill to the Argentine congress for the creation of the public credit trust fund for family agriculture (CEPRAF), a species of government-sponsored rural mortgage. Like the «Procrear» system — a government credit used to help buy a home — this proposed soft credit system would allow families producing on rented land to access their own land parcels. The presentation was accompanied by a mobilization and by camping out in front of the Congress. In 2018 it was presented again with more signatures but it was blocked and, with time, it lost its status in parliament because it did not ever get treated in a commission on time.

From Verdurazo to Food Sovereignty

Back in May 2014, when the proposal of agricultural colonies but before the occupying the land in Jáuregui, a dawn broke over the Plaza de Mayo (in front of the presidential palace in downtown Buenos Aires) now replete with neatly arranged UTT stalls. Under the stalls were piles of crates of vegetables offered at bargain prices. All round these stalls were people buying and packing their bags with vegetables as fast as they could. The producer families were selling the vegetables at the same rates they got from middlemen. They had left their fields and come to the city to demonstrate to consumers how difficult things were for the sector and, at the same time, to present a concrete alternative to solve this via the colonies. They called their mass vegetable sales the «Verdurazo» (Mega-Veg!) Verdura is Spanish for vegetables.

During Macri’s government (2016-2019) these scenes multiplied all across Argentina as poverty and hunger advanced in parallel with high inflation (40% per year) coupled with government austerity. The Macri government however, chose to dismantle public policies for the family-farming sector. Thousands of people came to each ‘Verdurazo’ and so tonnes of food reached the most needy.

For Rosalía, «one of the smartest tools in the UTT’s toolbox for policy struggle were ‘Verdurazos’, a theory confirmed by the replication of this tactic by many other organizations and by the people in general. The Verdurazo no longer belongs to the UTT, but to the people.»

By putting the focus on feeding people, «this brought a new twist to the concept of ‘Food Sovereignty’ ( https://viacampesina.org/en/what-are-we-fighting-for/food-sovereignty-and-trade/ ). Food Sovereignty is a banner struggle of Via Campesina International, but it is a slogan which was always more understood by peasant producers and some urban activists, than by the rich in the gentrified barrios. The concept was never well understood in the more well healed barrios of Buenos Aires. Ask a resident of a ‘nice’ neighbourhood like Palermo or Boedo what Food Sovereignty means, the kind of people who shop at a locally run Asian corner store. Yet these Mega-Veg discounted sales made it possible to put the peasant’s agenda of ‘Food Sovereignty’ on the table of all Argentines. With the vegetables came the simple questions we always ask:

– What are you eating?
– Who produces what you eat?
– How is it produced?
– How do we live, those of us who produce this food?

Thus, the Verdurazo markets, which help plant the topic of «Food Sovereignty», also allows for people to move from suffering and reclaiming their rights to a space where they can build and start to make decisions.

The link between food sovereignty, the soil and the seeds that grow in it and the peasant’s hands and agroecology are inseparable. None of these exist within a vacuum. The powerful proposal of agricultural colonies as constructed within the UTT make this evident to society in general, while the organization deals in a concrete way with primary needs like food.

«When you begin to develop a consciousness to become aware who these people are — the people who produce the food — and how we live as landless peasants, and you see how food is produced, one starts to become aware of a agricultural model that is nonsensical. This is what it means to break down the alienation between what we had then and we have now with what we eat, one discovers a direct relationship to health, a direct relationship with the national economic and the societal development of the nation. So this generated a relationship, a bridge, an indestructible alliance between the urban and the rural through the land where food is grown through food sovereignty; from food to access to land.»

 

 

 

 

Last year former Argentine President Mauricio Macri celebrated the EU-Mercosur Free Trade Agreement (FTA), a treaty between two asymmetric trading blocks that is currently under legal review. It  would expand benefits for transnational corporations and reinforce existing asymmetries.  A reduction in Brazilian markets for Argentine products is another likely consequence.

Luciana Ghiotto and Javier Echaide presented their ground-breaking study and discussed it with Ambassador María del Carmen Squeff from the Argentine Foreigen Office and German Green MEP Anna Cavazzini.

Verónica Ocvirk, Buenos Aires

«President, we have an agreement!” This WhatsApp audio message went viral in Argentina with the excited voice of former Argentine Foreign Minister, Jorge Faurie. Just one year ago Ambassador Faurie sent this message to Mauricio Macri who was then president in Argentina. Trade negotiations had just ended, the conclusion of 20 years of Free Trade negotiations between the European Union (EU) and Mercosur.

Thus ended two decades of a stalled tug-of-war between government officials and businesspeople on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2016, after the parliamentary coup against Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, these stalled talks gained a renewed momentum and on 28th June 2019 marathon deliberations on this trade treaty ended, though they are still not signed. The Argentine government announced a «key pillar of the national productive transformation».

The final text of this agreement has now moved to the technical review stage, but it is by no means certain that this will be finalized. To begin with, it must be presented to each of the four national congresses of the Mercosur member States. In Europe the draft treaty must navigate a complex institutional framework to be ratified that will include some supranational bodies, such as the European Parliament and the EU Council, as well as other national authorities.

Last year the Austrian parliament declared their disagreement to the accord, while the Dutch parliament has just rejected it. The Dutch decision, although not binding, is starting to expose an adverse political scenario.

Questions

What would this agreement really entail? Who wins, who loses, and what impacts could the treaty have, on the environment, on the nature of the national economies within these trading blocks, on employment, and on the daily lives of the nearly 800 million people who live there?

Throughout the negotiations there was precious little public information and few rigorous impact studies that could quantify these effects. The technical review phase is also being held behind closed doors.

In order to look into these issues, the members of the Green Group of the European Parliament generated a call for academics, someone who could undertake a holistic, serious, acute and detailed impact study on the possible consequences of the treaty for those countries that sign on.

They chose two Argentine academics, a political scientist, Dr. Luciana Ghiotto, member of Attac Argentina and researcher in the Argentine National Scientific and Technical Research Council (CONICET) based out of the University of San Martín. Dr. Ghiotto was recently, and rather unexpectedly, in the Argentine news when her name appeared among the academics spied on by the Argentine Federal Intelligence Agency during former Mauricio Macri’s government. Javier Echaide, lawyer, and CONICET researcher based in the University of Buenos Aires, also from ATTAC Argentina, is the co-author.

Both authors studied every section of the more than 400 pages of the drafts of the agreement. They published their results in a book: «The Agreement between Mercosur and the European Union. An integral study of its clauses and effects». A Spanish version of the report has just been published by the Latin American Council for the Social Sciences (CLACSO) in collaboration with the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.

Amplified impacts

“Trade agreements negotiated today shape economic exchanges in the long run. Industries and governments adapt to their rules, trade flows change, and development models are constrained or enabled by their content. Their effects are felt throughout economies”, warn Green MEPs Anna Cavazzini and Yannick Jadot in the foreword to the English edition.

We didn’t just look at the impacts on trade, on how many jobs are lost in a certain sector, on the effect on employment.  Of course that is important, but we added a chapter on services, another on public procurement and another on intellectual property», explained Dr. Ghiotto during the book’s presentation. Co-author Dr. Echaide, MEP Cavazzini and María del Carmen Squeff, Undersecretary for Mercosur and International Economic Negotiations at the Argentine Foreign Ministry, were all present online at the book launch.

“We are talking about access to health, access to medicines, access to water, access to education. We’re talking about amplified impacts. Today, how can we sign a FTA if we don’t know the impacts on women? Holistics! A real look at the integral impacts of an agreement that isn’t just about the economy, not just about the farming sectors, rather we need to analyse the impacts on society as a whole,” added Dr. Ghiotto.

Asymmetry

The agreement allows access for Mercosur firms for certain products to the EU market free of import duties. Other products are subject to quotas for preferential access. Meanwhile for the EU, this agreement means commercial access to the most developed region of South America.

The end of these extremely drawn out negotiations, remarked the book’s authors, is indicative of the EU’s efforts to establish itself as the international defender of Free Trade. In contrast to the United States, which in its trade war with China, seems to wish to withdraw and defend it’s national economy, the EU has become a «compulsive negotiator» of trade agreements that offer both tariff reductions and which also facilitate the circulation of capital.

One of the crucial aspects of this agreement is that it binds two trade blocks that are vastly asymmetrical in trade terms. “This is an historical fact: Mercosur sells primary products and raw materials, while the EU exports high and medium value-add manufactured products. This agreement will amplify these asymmetries, providing incentives to extend this industrial agriculture model based on glyphosate and fertilizers made from fossil fuels. South American industry on the other hand will not be favoured, quite the contrary», said Dr. Ghiotto.

She also noted that the accord would facilitate the penetration of European manufactured products into sensitive local markets such as cars, autoparts, machinery, chemicals, textiles, footwear and medicines.

Argentine industry — today with 35% import tariffs on automobiles and between 14% to 18% on machinery – has a fixed schedule of a maximum of 15 years from the date of signing, to gain equivalent levels of competitiveness as those of European firms, which generally benefit from lower financial and energy costs. This is one of the largest benefits of the agreement for European firms, for whom this treaty would represent four billion euros in reduced tariffs for their exports.

Mercosur economies face a different panorama for their industrial sectors, the insertion of EU-sourced elements into their local supply chains will cause disruption. While Mercosur specialises in exporting agricultural products outside the region, within the block Brazil and Argentina interchange mainly manufactured goods, many of them car parts.

The EU-Mercosur agreement could reduce Brazil’s purchase of Argentine products, this could happen in the metallurgical sectors, in autoparts, as well as processed foods products like olive oil and cheese. This would leave Argentine manufactures deprived of its main market. «The increase in the presence of European products on the Brazilian market will be at the expense of the Argentine and, partly, on Uruguayan industry”, the book highlights, although even so, opposition to the agreement has not yet formed, the authors add.

The environment

The agreement is not something reflecting European popular opinion, as can observed by the fact that most of the critical voices, raised until now, have been European ones. The agreement faces it’s most fierce opponents in EU agriculture, though there have already been a series of environmental tensions building beforehand, these exploded in August 2019 when the Amazon fires burned on the covers of global media, many of these fires presumably intended to expand agricultural frontiers to produce more exportable agricultural commodities.

The debate – very educational! English subtitles by Tony Phillips.

Environmental controls in agriculture are much less stringent in Mercosur than in the EU, which is why — the book emphasizes — that it’s «not only trade asymmetries that exist between the blocks; but also regulatory asymmetries». The book goes on to give a lurid example, the so-called, «Operação Carne Fraca», relevant because Brazil is the largest exporter of beef in the world.

This scandal was triggered when the Brazilian Federal police exposed that the country’s main meat producers — including market giants like JBS and BRF — had been adulterating rotten beef and poultry for export, changing the expiration dates, and hiding the bad smells with chemicals: «This issue is extremely sensitive for European consumers», noted the authors.

Similar precautions apply to Ractopamine use in pigs – a hormone given to animals to increase muscle mass, which is allowed in Brazil – and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), approval for which varies across the EU. “These issues have a huge impact on what consumers find on the supermarket shelves”, the book adds.

The report is full of examples demonstrating the irrationalities of international trade, such as food products that are produced within a few kilometres of where they are consumed «will now travel 10,000 kilometres in vessels from, for example, Rome to Montevideo».

Public procurement

The treaty also effects changes in public procurement, since the agreement allows States to award contracts to European companies under the same conditions as local ones. Opening public procurement in Mercosur States which, as described by Dr. Echaide occurs at multiple levels, at the State level in centralised purchasing, such as by national ministries, agencies and national universities, but also at sub-national levels such as provinces/states and municipalities.

“Those negatively affected will include cafés operating in public universities which are often concessions run by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or cooperatives, these concessions will have to compete with European transnational companies, such as Segafredo, a well-known Italian company that is already operating in airports and shopping malls worldwide”, said the lawyer.

«I see a very large imbalance.  I think the current government, of which I am part, does not view this agreement in such a positive light», said Ambassador Squeff during the presentation, while recounting the necessary steps that this accord needs to pass through to be ratified such as local parliaments in Mercosur countries, “Where we hope to show all of our positions on the agreement. » she added. The ambassador also mentioned that the Argentine Foreign Ministry has already begun a round of consultations with the private sector.

Gerhard Dilger, director of the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s Southern Cone office, greeted the debaters and celebrated the launch, which was popularised via the hashtag #TratadoVampiro (Vampire Treaty in Spanish). “Why ‘Vampire Treaty’?” he said, “because multinational corporations want to suck the blood of the Global South”, but also because, as the US author and Attac pioneer Susan George said: “These treaties are drawn up at night, in absolute secrecy».

Acoording to him, there is a solution at hand: “When they are exposed to the light of day, when we, as civil society, promote transparency and we make known, as we did with this very good study, realities and implications, then these treaties can easily die.”

The first version of this article was published on 28 June 2020 in the Buenos Aires daily newspaper Página 12; Translation: Tony Phillips

One year ago, Bolsonaro, Macri, Macron and Merkel announced the “biggest economic area in the world”. It is unlikely that anything will come of it.

Gerhard Dilger

Germany, the world export champion, has always been the most ardent advocate of the so-called free trade agreements. During its EU Council Presidency, which begins today, the Merkel government stated they would throw their weight behind two transatlantic trade agreements: TTIP light, as well as the “Association Agreement” with the South American trade bloc Mercosur (Southern Common Market), which was bombastically announced one year ago.

The advent of coronavirus, however, has led to a shift in priorities: in light of the obvious systemic crisis, the top priority for both Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron is now saving the neoliberal EU. Nevertheless, it is likely that they will want to push on with their trade agenda quietly and unhindered.

Since 2006, the EU Commission—under the slogan of a “Global Europe”—has been attempting to make “its” companies more competitive and codify the role of the Global South as a supplier of raw materials and purchaser of EU agricultural surpluses. A key component of this strategy is the “free trade” agreements. However, like ATTAC pioneer Susan George, we prefer to refer to these agreements as vampire treaties: it’s bad for them if they come to light, as they rarely stand up to democratic debate.

The EU-Mercosur agreement is a textbook example of this. The project was launched in Rio de Janeiro in 1999, when neoliberalism in South America had already passed its zenith. But then the pink tide arrived, with Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil, Néstor Kirchner in Argentina, and Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. In 2005, in the Argentinian city of Mar del Plata, cheered on by social movements, the three left-wing politicians succeeded in putting an end to another neo-imperial project in the presence of George W. Bush: the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would have been a playground for transnational corporations from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.

The newfound self-confidence of the progressive governments in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay made an inequitable deal with the European Union unthinkable, and the negotiations dragged on for a long time. But on the other hand, the EU was never prepared—for good reason—to unconditionally open its doors to beef and genetically modified soy from the Mercosur region. The “strategic partnership” between Germany and Brazil, which was announced in 2008, changed little in all of this.

The tide turned in 2016 with the cold coup d’état against Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff, the shocking conviction and imprisonment of Lula, and the subsequent victory of Jair Bolsonaro. With the inauguration of the right-wing extremist at the beginning of 2019—neoliberal businessman Mauricio Macri was in power in Argentina—negotiations were suddenly kicked into gear. After six months, a draft had been drawn up, of which to this day only a general outline has been made public, let alone signed or even ratified. Bolsonaro, Macri, Macron, and Merkel nonetheless celebrated the political agreement at the G20 summit in Osaka on 28 June 2019, which also served as a symbol of resistance against the kind of right-wing protectionism championed by Trump.

Even then it was clear that the deal would further promote the recolonization of South America. However, this would be neither in the interest of the communities living on both sides of the Atlantic nor in the interest of nature, as studies conducted by the Greens in the European Parliament, Misereor, and Greenpeace demonstrate. If the agreement were actually signed and implemented, it would be a triumph for the multinationals and their profit logic. This Monday, it was announced that the tricky phase of «legal scrubbing» was finished.

The open veins of Latin America

Since 1492, Latin America has predominantly played the role of supplying mineral and agricultural resources to other parts of the world. Following attempts to emancipate the region from this role in the early 2000s, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay now look to be permanently locked into it. In the best case, agribusiness and the import sector in these countries would profit from a gradual lowering of customs barriers. Workers, small farmers, and indigenous people would pay for the sanctioning of slaveholder capitalism with the further erosion of their rights and livelihoods.

Our debate with English subtitles from Tony Phillips: What´s in it for Argentina?

The planned liberalization of trade would increase both job cuts and downward pressure on wages, and, according to the EU Commission, European companies would stand to save 4 billion euros per year in taxes. New business opportunities in the telecommunications and IT sectors are also expected. In addition to an ecologically preposterous expansion of international trade, EU negotiators are insisting on stricter patent protection, which would erode the supply of affordable generic medicines to South Americans. Negotiators are also calling for EU companies to be granted an equal say in government purchases in Mercosur, which are often used to strengthen local European companies. However, there are still no plans to implement sanctions for shared responsibility for environmental crimes or human rights violations.

When it comes to the neoliberal governments of Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay, the EU’s job is easy, even if they are being courted by the German-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce and Industry: it is disgraceful that Bolsonaro—who is responsible for the destruction of tracts of rainforest and displays contempt for his fellow humans—and his military are touted as partners of a democratic Europe. The situation looks different when one travels further south. Argentina’s prudent president Alberto Fernández, a social democrat, has been in power since December 2019. Like his friend Lula, he is calling for relations to be conducted on an equal footing and has consequently been maligned by the neoliberal press as Mercosur’s gravedigger.

We have already witnessed dramatic levels of destruction not only of the Amazon region, but also of the biodiverse ecosystems of Cerrado and Gran Chaco, which are being forced to give way to monocultures that are hostile to life. And yet Bayer-Monsanto plans to sell even more genetically modified grain and agricultural chemicals, and Tönnies & Co. plans to continue importing genetically modified soy. In the long run, BMW, Daimler, and VW, whose Brazilian management worked together with the military dictatorship’s torturers almost 40 years ago, would use car parts manufactured in China, rather than in Argentina.

The EU-Mercosur agreement is a neocolonial, inhumane project that is harmful to the environment; indeed it is an anachronism—and that is why it will fail.

Translated by Louise Pain for Gegensatz Translation Collective

Villa 31 (Padre Mugica) in northern Buenos Aires, with some 70.000 inhabitants, has been one of Argentina’s most vulnerable slums during the Covid-19 crisis.

Gerhard Dilger

Activist Ramona Medina from our allies of the grassroots organization La Garganta Poderosa, who had denounced the lack of water in Villa 31 in early May, died a few weeks later.

«La memoria» is one of León Gieco’s most popular openly political songs. León Gieco, who started his singer-songwriter career in the early 1970s, has been compared to Bob Dylan – indeed, his classic anti-war song «Hombres de hierro» from 1972, echoes «Blowin’ in the wind». This new version with young musicians organized by Musizap Foundation is his homage to Ramona Medina.

The first famous musician to dedicate a song to her was Roger Waters, who has a long relationship both with Villa 31 and with La Garganta Poderosa. He also dedicated his moving new version of “We Shall Overcome” to Ramona.

Today, the situation in Villa 31 is more or less under control, as it continues to be in Argentina (the situation is by far more dramatic in Brazil and Chile). The most critical areas continue to be the city and the metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, but in Latin America, Argentina, together with neighbouring countries Uruguay and Paraguay, has the best record in dealing with the pandemic. Left-of-centre President Alberto Fernández‘ cool-headed handling of the Corona crisis has earned him the solid and continued support of more than two-thirds of the population.

P.S. With these «Argentine» Corona Chronicles, we are taking up and carrying on the great project from our comrades in Brussels.

Let´s stop the EU-Mercosur agreement!

At 8 p.m. (CEST) this Friday we will be presenting on our Youtube channel the Spanish version of the report of the European Union-Mercosur Association Agreement, entrusted to the authors Luciana Ghiotto (TNI, UNSAM/CONICET, Attac Argentina) and Javier Echaide (UBA/CONICET, Attac Argentina) by MEPs Anna Cavazzini and Yannick Jadot from the European Green Parties block (Greens/EFA in the European Parliament), with coordination by the German NGO Powershift.

This agreement clearly shows the harmful direct and indirect impact on the well-being and protection of the rights of the social majority and nature. The agreement analyzed is, again, the perfect example of how governments negotiate trade agreements behind the backs of citizens with little democratic control or scrutiny, paying for the disconnection between politics and demos, between the people and governments captured or complicit in market authoritarianism.

María del Carmen Squeff, Undersecretary of Mercosur and international economic negotiations from the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Green MEP Anna Cavazzini will discuss the report with the authors. Verónica Ocvirk from Le Monde diplomatique Cono Sur will moderate the debate.

Join the event here (Spanish only, sorry)

Download the report here.

Photo: marcha.org.ar