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Jane Kelsey: Peasants Farmers Mobilise In Cancun


8 September 2003
By Jane Kelsey In Cancun - WTO Bulletin # 2

More than a thousand campesina crammed into a steaming hot gymnasium today for the first day of the indigenous and farmers forum. There was no mistaking their message to the trade ministers of the US, EU and Cairns Group as they began arriving for the fifth ministerial meeting of the WTO. Standard-issue green scarves proclaimed “taking agriculture out of the WTO”. T-Shirts, identifying where people were from, added their own messages of resistance to the pool. Everywhere, banners proclaimed an end to the WTO, NAFTA and the proposed Free Trade Agreement for the Americas and pledged solidarity to secure victory for the indigenous and farmers’ movement.

Outside, truckloads of rice, vegetables and watermelons were unloaded in preparation for the many thousands who are expected tomorrow. The two day forum is being held in the centre of Cancun, provided free by the local Cancun Council. It culminates in a march of indigenous peoples and farmers on 10 September, to coincide with the opening of the formal WTO meeting. Despite a determination to remain peaceful, an equally strong determination to have their message heard seems bound to confront both philosophical and physical barriers.

The mood of the forum was genial, but there was no mistaking the determination of indigenous, peasant and small farmers’ movements from around the world to have control over food removed from the WTO. The proceedings were opened by the local Mayan people in a dignified traditional ceremony, made more poignant by the backdrop of heroes Che Guevara and General Emiliano Zapata.

New Zealanders rarely get to hear the authentic voice of farmers whose lives are devastated by the free trade policies our government prosecutes with evangelical fervour. It is tempting to wonder, momentarily, whether US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, EC Commissioner for Trade Pascal Lamy or Trade Negotiations Minister Jim Sutton might be moved by the passionate pleas of those whose lives they devastate. These messages will be heard many times over the next few days. But their worlds seem destined never to collide, at least at Cancún.

The following extracts provide a flavour of the challenges that indigenous and peasant farmers are placing before their governments around the world and here in Cancun.

The opening speech from the Mexican convenors described “the devastating effects of liberalization of agriculture, forestry and fishing in Mexico. We have been forced to compete in an internal market with lower cost subsidised imports and higher crop yields. The country’s food needs are increasing with poverty and migration to the cities and beyond. We started mobilizations from the end of last year to prioritize food supply sovereignty, rural development and the wellbeing of farmers, ahead of any commitment to free trade. Within Mexico we have brought together national farmers, indigenous movements, unions, fishers, environmentalists, academics, consumers, media and all concerned with the situation of the countryside. With Via Campesina we have reached out to all those farmers here today, from Spain, Honduras, Carribbean, Nicaragua, US, Portugal, Venezuela, Japan, Africa, Belgium, Argentina, Greece and many more.”

The Permanent Agrarian Congress declared that “The countryside has had enough. We reject the policy of trade opening, the globalizing policies, the neoliberal model and imperialism that are devastating our economy day by day and our agricultural systems. This meeting expresses its deep rejection of the WTO and demands they take their hands or of our agricultural systems. We will also try through this forum to build from the baseline from our communities, our countries. The key issue for us is food supply sovereignty. This is also a mobilization against the FTAA and the renegotiation of NAFTA that will make our situation even worse. We are trying to stop foreign people buying our lands. We will march again in this cause on 10 September. Let us save the countryside in order to save Mexico.”

The Indigenous movement of Chiapas: “Dignity comes before everything. Those who say they represent our people are liars. We are here, ready to struggle. Some time ago we became convinced that indigenous peoples movement in the Americas needed to be framed into one movement. So we have formed into the farmers’ Meza- Americana movement. We are deeply concerned to develop proposals based on knowledge and ability of farm producers in every one of our countries. We do not believe that development can only be achieved through trade discussions in the WTO. We need to build up our own alternatives and the right to biodiversity.

Today, campesina in Geneva have symbolically closed the WTO offices. When the WTO meeting begins, at the northern border of Mexico we will close the border for several hours and declare the cancellation of NAFTA. We will shut down some ports and border sites for the importation of agricultural products, especially from the US. We will be engaging in different demonstrations and mobilizations to show our rejection of the WTO and strive for alternatives that are the alternatives of the farmers’ movement.”

“Our priorities are to revindicate the land as nature did. It is the land of our ancestors, it belongs to those working with the land, which includes access to land, finance and farmers’ income. This is also a struggle for migrant workers, such as those in Nicaragua. We must make sure this is not a repeat of the USA.”

As European farmers “we oppose policies that destroy the capacity of being campesina in Mexico and in Europe. The struggle in Cancun is not North versus South, it is against the neoliberal model that oppresses the people of the North and the South. Several brothers and sisters are right now in Geneva trying to occupy the WTO”.

From the small farmers of Thailand: “The WTO is war against farmers and is destroying our lives. WTO Director General Supachai is from Thailand, but he does not represent the Thai small scale farmer or the Thai poor. We say to the WTO stop lying, stop ruling the world.”

The landless movement of South Africa “brings solidarity greetings to the people of Chiapas. Our political leadership long ago succumbed to the forces of globalization, which is just a code word for imperialism. Freed from colonialism and apartheid, the same imperialists are using new-style gunships of the IMF, World Bank and WTO to steal land and force us to remain in poverty. The evil system of apartheid could not have been defeated and Mandela released without your solidarity, and the people of South Africa owe you for the contribution you made to our struggle for freedom, and we support you now. Just two years after that victory, Mandela’s government adopted neoliberal policies, because they did not want to upset the transnational companies. Now, after 10 years, in the new South Africa everything is for sale, including life itself.”

The President of Via Campesina: “There are 100 million farmers around the world. Yet many of them and their people are starving because of the policies of the IMF, World Bank and WTO. Who is more violent? They have imposed on us an economic dictatorship and economic war. Linked to that is military war. The US sees people resisting their advance. After invading Iraq they will do the same to other countries that get in their way.

“People are here to manifest themselves in different ways, to organize pacific resistance, to mobilize ourselves, to send a message to the WTO that we hate them and the corporations behind them. They cannot negotiate away our natural resources, our forests, land and seeds. The people have not given the governments the authority to negotiate in Cancun. We have come to summons those criminals in Cancun. We are sure we will celebrate the victory. It is evident that they can’t even agree among themselves; that strengthens us in our mobilizations.

“We are here also to strengthen the alternative project of food sovereignty of the people. We must defend creole seeds and indigenous seeds, we do not want transgenic corn, we want indigenous corn. They are the patrimony of the people in the service of mankind. Our demand is the right of producing our own food, to define our agricultural policies without the intervention of the WTO.”


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