User Picture

The Global Disability Rights Movement: Winning Power, Participation and Access

By: Other Worlds Tuesday August 5, 2014 8:57 am

An Interview with Diana Samarasan, Disability Rights Fund
By Beverly Bell

Diana Samarasan is founder and director of the Disability Rights Fund, a path-breaking advocacy and grantmaking organization. The Fund’s motto is “Building community capacity to achieve the human rights of all persons with disabilities.”

“Nothing about us without us” is the global slogan for the disability rights movement. It means that nothing should be decided about people with disabilities without their presence, their participation, and their inclusion.

The disability rights movement has been evolving for a long time, but in the US, it really gained momentum from the civil rights movement. There were people with disabilities who used the tactics of the civil rights movement: sit-ins, protests, and marches to bring disability rights to everyone’s attention. Eventually, that led to the Americans with Disabilities Act [passed in 1990].

Globally, there is a relatively new international human rights treaty, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities [CRPD, passed in 2006]. The process of negotiating the treaty at the UN — only three years, short as treaties go — was unique. Never before, when treaties were drafted, had there been so many civil society representatives participating in the actual drafting of the treaty text. One-third of the seats in the working group that drafted the treaty were reserved for people with disabilities. That process brought together people with disabilities from around the world and from different impairment groups: deaf people, blind people, people with intellectual disabilities, people with psychosocial disabilities, people with physical disabilities, little people. For the first time, they had a platform and a target for joint advocacy.

Like any resource-poor movement, the disability rights movement prior to the convention was disjointed. There were blind people negotiating for their rights or services, there were people with physical disabilities negotiating for their rights or services. There was not a way to talk about rights across the spectrum of disability. Of course, people with disabilities are heterogeneous, and there are hierarchies in the movement just as in other movements. What the treaty has done is put a common language to the rights deprivations that people with disabilities face.

The development of an International Disability Caucus to negotiate the wording of the treaty helped to build a movement that is now international. Out of the Caucus evolved the International Disability Alliance [IDA], comprised of membership organizations like the World Blind Union, World Federation of the Deaf, World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, the International Federation of Hard of Hearing, and also regional networks of organizations, like the Arab Organization of People with Disabilities and the Latin American Disabled Person Organization. IDA now has a secretariat in New York and in Geneva, which negotiates not only with the Committee on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but all of the treaty bodies and the universal periodic review, and all of the UN development organizations for inclusion of people of disabilities. They help organizations at national levels present alternative reports to the UN, and be present during the review processes and during development negotiations. It’s really a huge step forward from where things were just a few years back.

Many innovations in human rights are in the treaty. The convention demands that all state parties to the Convention have legal protections for rights of persons with disabilities. Prior to the convention, among the member states of the UN, there were maybe 45 that had any national law that addressed people with disabilities. The Convention is also the only international human rights treaty that establishes national, in addition to international, monitoring mechanisms. This brings the treaty much closer to home, to people on the ground. Because they don’t have to only go to Geneva, they can go to national human rights institutions and national focal points on the treaty within their own countries. The more that people with disabilities know about the treaty, the more able they are to demand that their governments implement the rights within it.

 

The Riches Of Nature V. Private Property: An Interview With Gerardo Cerdas

By: Other Worlds Tuesday July 1, 2014 10:10 am

By Beverly Bell

Read Part 1 of this interview here.

Gerardo Cerdas is coordinator of the Latin American- and Caribbean-wide social movement Grito de los Excluidos, Cry of the Excluded. He is also a sociologist and researcher. A native of Costa Rica, Cerdas lives in Brazil.

Primeval forest surrounds a waterfall

Can humanity thrive by reclaiming the commons?

All the peoples of the world, without exception – except for modern culture – have always based their material culture on the concept that property is communally owned. Property – land, food, etc. – was always shared. This has been the case for tribal, nomadic societies and for other, more politically developed societies in different parts of the world. Private property, as something natural and inviolable, is a product of history, and as such can be stripped down to its roots, and more importantly, can be modified within a utopian vision integrated into our political practice.

I’m not romanticizing history; I’m not saying that everything was better in the past. Obviously, there was violence. Obviously, the accumulation of wealth has always existed in different forms, especially since the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years back. This accumulation gave certain people, like kings, priests, and warriors, more power and privilege than other members of society.

But the notion of one person or a group of persons having exclusive, sovereign rights to property: this did not exist. Property was collectively held. And the excessive ownership of this property by a group of people brought about the collapse of a society.

The concept of private property is something relatively new in human history, no more than five or six centuries in gestation. It’s been affirmed progressively during the violent expropriation of communal rights to the land and its fruits, first in Europe and later in areas that fell under its colonial dominion, from the Sixteenth Century until today. The industrial revolution and the [French] revolution of the Eighteenth Century helped concretize the exclusive and inalienable concept.

Our society needs to move towards a new understanding that our way of creating and destroying wealth needs to be based on other principles. Collective wealth, as in the concept of the global commons, belongs to all of us, not just to those of us who are alive today, nor even those who will come after us in the future, nor just to human beings. We need to do what we can to have a sustainable life, to have a quality, dignified life that also allows all other living beings to have a quality, dignified life, now and in the future.

The dominant, hegemonic civilization that exists today is an anthropocentric civilization. In this civilization, human beings, “man,” take center stage. We act as if the natural world were nothing more than a series of reserves that are there for us to exploit and use indiscriminately and irrationally. But the riches of nature are there for all of us.

Perhaps a metaphor that I could use to illustrate this is sunlight. The light that the sun gives off doesn’t belong to anyone. It can’t be captured, sold or bought, even though it can be stored in solar cells. The same goes for the air, and for the plants, and so on. Nothing belongs to anyone specifically; everything belongs to us all. Ancestral indigenous communities always understood this very clearly. There is a great book that has helped me to understand this, called The Great Transformation by Karl Polanyi. It makes very clear how the development of capitalism and the notion of private property were imposed over the concept of the communal ownership of the earth, of nature.

Raising Hope Across Borders: Transnational Social Movements & Power

By: Other Worlds Tuesday June 17, 2014 9:07 am

An interview with Gerardo Cerdas by Beverly Bell

Gerardo Cerdas is coordinator of the Latin American- and Caribbean-wide social movement Grito de los Excluidos, Cry of the Excluded. He is also a sociologist and researcher. A native of Costa Rica, Cerdas lives in Brazil.

A protestor in an Anonymous mask and Brazilian flag bandana

Can international solidarity help the people find a voice?

Q: Why is it important to build transnational social movements?

Of course, there are specific issues and power structures in each country, but it’s important to overcome borders and make a transnational movement because the root causes of injustices, of exclusion, of the violence and discrimination we face are the same. They are systemic issues. They are global issues.

As social organizations and movements, we need to move forward beyond merely the national level and see the big picture. And to understand how the specific reality we live in is related to the reality of other countries and other communities. Inasmuch as we’re able to realize that, we’ll also be able to raise peoples’ hopes, to strengthen the struggles of each other and bring about transformation, on a much bigger scale than anything we could do at a merely national level.

It would do no good or very little good to bring about some great transformation in just one country if things remain exactly the same in other countries. Because that would just mean that exclusion, injustices and exploitation would keep taking place as usual in all those other places. And that would be a continuous threat to any progress that’s been made in one specific country. So we need to move beyond the local and national level. The sort of transformation we need can only be achieved if we unite our efforts and join forces together.

Q: So talk to us a little bit about Grito, please, and what it works on.

Grito de los Excluidos has this vision of connecting forces, connecting agendas, creating spaces for unity amidst the diversity of movements and peoples’ organizations across the continent. The organization was established in 1995 in Brazil, and we have several different focus areas. We’re working on everything related to the defense of the common good and of nature, on militarization, and on the criminalization of protest. We do a lot of political education. We also do a lot of work on the rights of migrants. For instance, we established the World Social Forum for Migration, along with other organizations, in 2004. This has been a very enriching experience for us; it’s allowed us to work with organizations from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Q: For folks in the US who know nothing about this, what does it mean to have a continental social movement?

When we say “continental,” we’re primarily talking about Latin America and the Caribbean. But we’re aware that there is social, economic, and cultural exclusion in the US, even though there isn’t a group of people who are part of Grito de los Excluidos there.

Q: Gerardo, when you said “raise peoples’ hopes,” what did you mean by that?

I meant to really believe that transformation is possible. We are in a very tight spot – we’re screwed, you could say. There’s a great deal of poverty, a lot of exclusion, a lot of violence, a lot of injustice in our countries. Working people and our natural resources are being terribly exploited. We’re up against a huge monster, an economic, political machine of monstrous proportions. It would be very easy for us to lose hope, to lose heart, to just give up the struggle entirely and say “To hell with it. There’s no way we can overcome these massive forces, so let’s just go about our lives and forget about it.”

But we know that if we’re here today, it’s because our grandparents, our ancestors, didn’t give up the fight. They raised our hopes.

And we know that, sooner or later, things will start to change. Not just for us, but for humanity as a whole. This system that we all live in may continue to dominate us for a couple more centuries — who knows how long — but we believe in the transformative power that humans possess. Things weren’t always how they are today and things won’t always be this way in the future. Things change, they transform. Empires are born and they eventually die. Political and economic systems eventually fade away.

For now, we’re the ones in the thick of it. But then it will be up to our children, including those who aren’t born yet, to continue in the struggle. And if we don’t raise their hopes, give them hope, then what will happen in the future? Are we all just going to give up this struggle? No, we have to keep fighting, even if we aren’t the ones who are able to see the dawn break through the darkness. Economic systems take a lot longer to be transformed [than our lifespans]. It might be our children’s children who see it come about – who knows? But it will happen. We have to keep struggling and wait.

Q: But the powers that be, like the United States, are enormous. Why do you believe that people with no money, without institutionalized power of any sort, can change all of this?

Solidarity Economies: A Guerrilla War Against Capitalism, Part 1

By: Other Worlds Tuesday June 10, 2014 8:52 am

An interview with Nicolás Cruz Tineo

by Beverly Bell and Jessica Hsu

Nicolás Cruz Tineo is an economist and director of the Dominican Republic-based Institute for the Development of Associative Economics (IDEAC by its Spanish acronym). IDEAC provides technical support to encourage solidarity economies. Cruz also serves as the executive secretary of the Network of Solidarity Economy Organizations (REDESOL).

The facade of Wheatsville grocery cooperative at night, with its sign lit up.

Cooperatives are part of building a solidarity economy.

At the first World Social Forum at the end of the 90’s, participants started looking for alternatives. There are a lot of authors who started to theorize about different forms of economies. They started to rescue the idea of solidarity economy, based on the experience of cooperatives, indigenous practices, practices from different parts of the world and different economies.

This came to be called the solidarity economy, basically a concept rescued by Chilean sociologist Luis Razeto Migliaro. It refers to different economic practices in which monies and profits are at the service of the common good. They are practices based in the articulation of collaborative and cooperative process among people, and where the center of the actions is the well-being of people.

Solidarity economy goes far beyond a simple practice. It’s a science that is taking shape and that is based, to a certain point, on the contributions of Marxism and contributions about the labor economy developed by Marxists. For me, I add five elements. First is self-management: a way to democratize the management of the economy. Second is gender: the participation of women through employment and recognition of domestic work as a contribution to the economy. Third is fair trade at an international level, a movement which shows the market is false. Fourth is food sovereignty, based on the rights of people to produce and to consume what they produce. Fifth is ecological economy which can be changed to save the biosphere which is the entire system of life, the social, political and natural processes that comprise life on our planet.

Ecological economy is also an indigenous concept, an expression of how the relationship among humans and between nature and life can be harmonized, because solidarity economies look at the preservation of life. I’m not just talking about human life, but of all life, of Earth, the Cosmos. It is based on a state of interdependent coexistence with people. It recognizes that our happiness is based on that spirit; not in consumption, not in competing and showing that I am better or bigger than you, but simply: I give you, you give me, we share, and from that blooms a new form of culture. I hope that a new cycle will begin where human spirit and love shall be the dominant forces on the planet.

There are solidarity economy authors who speak of ‘amorizacion’ or ‘loveization,’ that is, recovering love among humans. There’s a whole debate that historically capitalism was based on the philosophy that man is inherently evil and selfish. Economists like David Ricardo and Adam Smith used as a basis the idea that economics exploit human selfishness, thus creating a favorable atmosphere for free competition. The solidarity economists propose the opposite. They say, humans have historically tended towards socialization, getting together, collaborating. If they had not, from the times of primitive humans even, we would not still be life form on this planet because the only way for us to survive as a species is by collaborating and taking care of one another. The competitive spirit, the spirit of struggle, to wage war… those were encouraged by capitalist ideas that nowadays neoliberals have exacerbated to an extreme. Competitiveness, entrepreneurship, and consumption are the dominant ideologies nowadays.

Solidarity economies suggest something different: that we are human, we cooperate with one another, we love, we struggle for the love of humanity, and that the future of our planet, our life, is based on our having a culture of brotherhood, sisterhood, collaboration, cooperation. Thus, it should be an economy of love.

That is the crux, the nucleus of difference between solidarity economy and capitalist economy. In the former, there is no exploitation of nature, life nor human. That is to say, human labor is a source of creation of goods for the common good, not for anyone to appropriate.

Examples on a local level include so-called eco-villages, small communities that have been created by people who want to exist completely outside of the formal system. They create their structures and ways of living together in community. In terms of production, there are co-ops, systems of international cooperation.

Then, there are many expressions of solidarity economy on an international level. For example, there is the social bank in Italy, the solidarity bank, ethical bank, responsible consumer movement. In all countries, there are people who don’t consume products that are not eco-friendly, or products that come from factories who exploit child labor, etc.

That is why the anti-capitalist debate and struggle nowadays are not frontal struggles, but a guerilla war directed at having poor communities be able to keep the wealth that is created within that community. The war against capital is fought by retaining that wealth created by the workers in the hands of the workers. There are a thousand ways to do this. [One example] is a rice producer who will sell to an intermediary who buys for the lowest price possible. In a conventional market, the producer keeps 30%, while the market takes 70%. If that rice producer partners with 10 or 12 other producers, they can create a co-op, and that co-op will play the role of the intermediary and business[person].

The co-op pays a fairer price that is higher for the producer, lower for the consumer. The workers can keep a larger amount of wealth in their hands, thus the capitalist [intermediary and businessperson] does not become richer, keeping the wealth in fewer hands. Distributing the wealth limits the possibility of making profit, and in that sense you are waging a war on [capitalism]. It is not using armed struggle, but rather accumulating economic power, little by little, so that the capitalists’ economic power is stopped. I am presenting it quite dramatically, but it is basically that.

We can’t work just in economic terms; we also have to work in cultural terms. We have to penetrate universities’ schools of economics, community anthropology, sociology, and philosophy. We have to work in sciences, culture, and knowledge. That’s what Evo Morales is doing [in Bolivia], what Hugo Chavez did in Venezuela, what Correa is doing [in Ecuador], Kirchner in Argentina: democratizing the media and giving space to popular communication, popular TV, popular broadcasters.

Back to the Grassroots: Building a Movement for Sexual & Economic Rights

By: Other Worlds Wednesday May 7, 2014 12:34 pm

 

By Anne Lim, interviewed by Deepa Panchang

Anne Lim is from Quezon City, Philippines, where she serves as Executive Director of GALANG, a lesbian-led organization that works with urban poor LBTs (lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people) in the city. She was recently nominated for the 2014 Baldwin Award, which recognizes human rights work outside the U.S. Anne gave this interview during the last Association for Women’s Rights in Development conference in Istanbul.

I’m Anne Lim and I’m a lesbian rights activist. Currently I’m running an organization called GALANG Philippines. Galang is the Filipino word for respect. We work to build leadership capacities of lesbians in metropolitan Manila, doing advocacy and forming LBT people’s organizations.

We felt from the beginning that in order to push policy, it was necessary to have a critical mass among those most affected by discrimination and violence against sexual minorities, which is poor people. We’re a very poor country. About a third of our population lives on less than a dollar a day and despite economic growth in recent years, unemployment remains at an alarming rate.

But the problem with the LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] discourse in the Philippines, and maybe it is reflected elsewhere in the world, is that it’s mostly dominated by middle-class and educated people who have a different context altogether. Poor people’s voices are hardly ever heard in the discourse. Why? Because the people who are able to participate are those with access. Those who can afford to take a day off and go to these activities.

And language is another issue: we don’t even have a popular indigenous term for lesbian, and those discussions are mostly conducted in English. That in itself is threatening to those who are not familiar with English, and excludes a whole bunch of LGBTs who should be part of the discourse.

So what GALANG seeks to do is to bring these people to the table. Because how can we even call ourselves a movement when we’re only a handful speaking for an entire marginalized community? We have to push ourselves a little harder to make the movements more inclusive. Otherwise, it’s just talk, and talk is cheap.

So GALANG works to build the capacity of urban, poor LBTs in Quezon City through leadership development, capacity-building activities, and a platform to utilize and hone these skills through our help in forming their own people’s organizations.

Right now, we’re engaged in several initiatives documenting violence and discrimination specifically against urban poor LBTs. We are also documenting innovative ways that LBTs try to get around the lack of economic opportunities. We’ve recently co-conducted a policy audit of social protection policies where we tried to show how Filipino LBTs are often deprived of the protection offered by laws that were intended precisely to provide safety nets against poverty.

Gender Equity For Rural Haitian Women: Kettly Alexandre & The Peasant Movement Of Papay

By: Other Worlds Tuesday April 22, 2014 1:36 pm

Interviewed by Beverly Bell, Edited by Jessica Hsu

April 22, 2014

The Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) is one of the largest small-farmer associations in Haiti with 70,000 members, of whom close to half are women. MPP was founded in 1973 to improve the living conditions of small farmers while working for social and economic justice. Here, Kettly Alexandre of the MPP Women’s Committee speaks to advances made over 40 years for women’s rights, equity, and an end to violence.

Three smiling Haitian women

A “Peasant Movement” is making Haiti safer for women.

Even though the road has been long, we are seeing successes. We are leading a huge battle and hoping for victory. Our approach in the Women’s Committee is to meet problems head-on to promote social justice – combating violence against women, advocating for gender equity, providing scholarships for women, promoting reforestation, and working for personal health. Our programs allow women to lift up their heads, and give peasants a viable future.

One of our largest programs is a safe house for women who’ve been victims of violence. We’re the only group in the Central Plateau that offers women a supervised safe house, which also includes medical assistance or referrals, psychological support groups, and legal support. We have organizers in different zones, and if they hear of an instance of violence against a woman, they identify the victim and send them to our centers. All victims are welcome.

One of the most personally satisfying stories involves a woman who was being beaten by her husband. She told him if he didn’t stop, she was going to go tell MPP. He stopped immediately.

Although many people say the violence is on the rise in the Central Plateau, it is not true. What’s changing is that more and more people are standing up and denouncing the violence that has always been present. Not very long ago, it was hard to find people to speak out against this type of violence. Often even the peasant women who are the victims of rape, beatings, etc. feel ashamed [to say anything].

Prior to the earthquake, our legal support helped women in about 50 court cases. Following the earthquake, we’ve been able to help almost 300 cases, with the assistance of a Canadian organization that helped train more women to support victims of violence. Of those 300, there’ve been about 100 rulings handed down; close to 50 men found guilty, with the women being compensated; and many others awaiting judgment behind bars. These are victories for women. It’s encouraging.

We sponsor radio broadcasts concerning violence against women. We also hold workshops with leaders of the community, including houngans [vodou priests], pastors, and priests, to build awareness around the problem so they can in turn make others aware. We invite police officers, judges and lawyers. Their reactions are all over the place. Some say, “Aha! You’re the ones who are making women think they have all this power!” But for every negative reaction, we see more positive reactions. These efforts have made it easier for women to come to our offices, report and act.

But even though we’re working diligently and have taken big strides in making the population aware of violence against women and its consequences, the authorities need to be involved. If we really want to eradicate the problem, it needs to be dealt with on a national level.

We also do a lot of advocacy that involves both men and women, not just in the area of violence against women, but also for gender equity and women’s rights. There’s a lot of respect for women in MPP. We involve a lot of people in discussions around these issues.

One of our biggest successes is that peasant women are no longer ashamed to identify as peasant woman. We’re putting value in our culture and saying proudly that we are farmers and producers.

Mardi Gras In New Orleans: Keeping The Commons Common

By: Other Worlds Tuesday March 4, 2014 8:42 am

Today, as on every Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans is in the midst of full-on mayhem. Depending on when on Fat Tuesday you are reading this, the Zulu and Rex parades are either lining up at their staging sites or rolling down the streets amongst crazed revelers. Mardi Gras Indian tribes in their feather-and-bead suits have been out since dawn, chanting and singing between their stops at neighborhood bars. The skeleton gangs in the Tremé and other neighborhoods, the anarchic foot parades in the Bywater and elsewhere, the breast-barers and the scantily clad gender-benders in the French Quarter… All are part of the wild mix.

Lawn Chairs in front of a stage at Jazz Fest

A reflection on the changing and dwindling of the commons.

One feature of recent Mardi Gras celebrations is missing this year, however. Thanks to a city council vote on January 23, the growing trend of taking over swaths of sidewalks and neutral grounds (as we New Orleanians call medians) is a thing of the past. The long walls of chairs and ladders at the very front of curbs that impeded visibility and mobility, and the roped-off areas that effectively privatized city grounds, are now illegal. So is anything else that cordons off big chunks of space from the public domain, including personal port-o-potties.

“With the new rules, it’s like a different place,” said Uptown resident Tamarin Hennebury. “There’s more ability to stroll right up to the parade, see it well, and catch beads. You don’t have to face territorial battles and get the evil eye, like, ‘You’re in my space. Can’t you see my ladder? Don’t cross that line.’”

The city council resolution was a vote in favor of the commons. That is the set of public spaces, popular culture, natural resources, basic services, and other riches of life and society that are, or should be, enjoyed by all people and cherished for the planet’s well-being. The commons is the fundamental idea that life, information, human relationships, cultural traditions, and nature are sacrosanct and not for sale or appropriation. Another way to conceive of this is how it is characterized in Spanish: el bien común, the common good.

A short list of parts of the commons in the U.S. includes: Social Security; Medicare; libraries; national forests; city bus, subway, and highway systems; the Internet; public schools and state universities; town parks and playgrounds; sidewalks; and mail delivery. Many may take these for granted but in fact, a lot of these resources and services became public through hard-won fights, and another fight is needed to save the U.S. Postal Service.

All over the world, pieces of the commons are being commodified and/or privatized by the powerful and rich, via government law and unfair trade accords. The market is overtaking the world like that voracious yellow Pac-Man, eating everything in its path. A very limited list of what can now be bought and sold includes the creation of babies, indigenous knowledge (so-called intellectual property), public radio and television, schools, human organs, genetic mapping, the use of plants and animals, water, and air. (Yes, air. Carbon trading is, effectively, the buying and selling of air).

New Orleanians who were hard-hit by the flood of 2005 following Hurricane Katrina can no longer take any public services for granted. The city has been a national model for privatization. One of the first acts of the municipal government after the flood was to fire almost every public school employee, from janitor to headmaster. The father of neoliberalism, Milton Friedman, came out of retirement a few months after the flood to address the public school system, with its overwhelmingly African-American teachers and student body. He wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.” Today, fewer than five public schools remain. Moreover, at a time of record-breaking homelessness in the wake of such grand-scale property destruction, the government took the opportunity to raze most public housing projects, even though few of the brick buildings were structurally damaged. And as for public health, the last in the troika of essential services: forget that, too. Shortly after Katrina, the government ordered shut the city’s one public hospital, Charity, though its buildings, too, were little harmed.

A second level of threat is that of community traditions. New Orleans has always been guided by the two sisters of the commons: gifting and solidarity. On offer to one and all has been a vast repertoire of public-domain music, street revelry, dance steps dating back to Africa before the mass kidnappings, conversations with neighbors and strangers, the sharing of spicy Creole food (including free meals in many bars in African-American neighborhoods), and a we’re-all-in-this-together conviction.

“Internationalism between Peoples”: Dessalines Brigade Wins the U.S. Food Sovereignty Alliance Award

By: Other Worlds Tuesday October 15, 2013 9:41 am

Interview by Beverly Bell, Other Worlds

 

Jose Luis Patrola is a history professor, farmer, and member of the Brazilian land reform group, the Rural Landless Workers’ Movement, or MST. He lived in Haiti for three years as part of the Dessalines Brigade, an exchange of agricultural and technical cooperation between Haitians and Brazilians. In a departure from many international programs of “teaching” and “aiding” Haitians, Patrola speaks here about mutual learning and respect.

 

 

We are here in Haiti in an educational solidarity exchange program. We’re not here to teach. We’re here to learn.

 

In our work, there’s great respect for Haitian farmers and movements. That’s something that has been greatly lacking: respect. Not only from foreigners, but from Haitian elites who don’t acknowledge their own people.

 

The MST and the Via Campesina [a coalition of farmers and landless people’s organizations from around the world] in Brazil have had contact with small farmers in Haiti for many years now. Since 2004, we’d been thinking about a solidarity exchange program between campesino movements in Brazil and Haiti. We were finally able to make this possible starting in January 2009, when the MST and other small farmers’ organizations from Brazil sent a brigade of four people to identify what the solidarity exchange would look like. The exchange now works to achieve horizontal solidarity between these farmers.

 

With the earthquake in January [2010], things changed a little, and movements in Haiti suggested to us the possibility of strengthening the brigade with more Brazilians. We organized a brigade

of 31 people, who sleep and eat in the Haitian farmers’ homes.

 

There are different farmer movements from Brazil that are participating. The MST is the biggest group, but there’s also the Movement of Small-scale Agriculturalists, the Movement of Women Campesinas, the Movement of Dam-Affected People, the Pastoral Commission of the Earth that’s part of the Catholic Church, and a representative of the Movement of Unemployed Workers.

 

The brigade consists of people with different skills. We have farmers. We have technical agronomists that are also children of farmers. We have veterinarians, professors, construction specialists, and two medics. We’re doing a little bit of everything; the diversity is very important. A doctor, for example, helped install a cistern for water catchment, and professors are also working the land.

 

The program works at two levels: an organizational level to strengthen peasant organization and autonomy, and a technical level with programs of cooperation, including agricultural production and training schools.

 

This exchange is organized in four fundamental components. First is the exchange, a big opportunity for cultural and intellectual training. We have 30 Brazilians here, which is like a training school in itself, because the starting point of their time here is learning.

 

And we sent Haitians to Brazil as a form of horizontal solidarity. The people spent one month in a school in Brazil where they had history, geography, and Portuguese classes. Then Haitians went to different parts of Brazil to get to know about the different things we’re doing. We want Haitians to have the opportunity to understand what’s happening in Brazil so when they come back home, they can contribute to their organizations.

 

The second phase of the work is producing seeds, which is fundamental to food sovereignty. We started strengthening the national production of seeds so people can save, maintain, and produce their own seeds. We’re establishing six centers of seed production of legumes and other seeds like corn. We’d like to grow stronger in the area of legume production based on our experiences in Brazil, because in Haiti all the seeds for legumes come from other places; they aren’t produced here. We don’t just want to build a program to produce seeds, we want it to be controlled by the farmers.

 

Third, we started a program of reforestation. It’s true that Haiti has serious issues with deforestation that’s not easy to work on. A lot of trees are cut to make charcoal to assure the farmers a steady income. We’ve worked on reforestation by planting avocados and mangos, other things, so the farmers can [have other sources of income].

 

The fourth area is the construction of intermediate-level technical schools to train young farmers in agricultural technologies. Like in other sectors of society, the investigative and technical side of agriculture has been abandoned. Five or six technical schools have been closed. We have plans to open one. We have many examples in Brazil to work with; it’s a dream of peasant movements.

 

[One piece of technical support] is water catchment. People here are dying of cholera. What’s the solution? Potable water to live. We’re installing 1,200 cisterns.

 

So these programs – the exchanges, the seeds, reforestation, and technical schools – have a fundamental objective: to help them strengthen their autonomy and their organizational capacity, the base of social movements. That’s the principal philosophy of the cooperation.

 

All the work we’ve done has been voluntary. All the resources we’ve gotten are from a foundation in Boston called Grassroots International and from two Brazilians who’ve supported the brigade. There are movements back in Brazil that are assuming responsibility for supporting the families, providing monthly contributions, because some [Brazilians here] left children [back home]. There are also the volunteer hosts [for the Haitians] there in Brazil.

 

Social movements all over the world have forgotten the concept of internationalism. Small farmers’ movements through Via Campesina have revitalized this, and the example of Haiti has proven it. The exchange proves that a solidarity exchange is possible between peoples, not just between governments. Not that that isn’t important, but social organizations can also articulate their exchange programs of alliances.

 

What we are doing doesn’t consist of donating things, it consists of identifying and constructing alongside Haitians. The Haitian people have to be respected and we have to get to know them, we have to speak their language. It’s very symbolic, what we are doing.