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The Ancestral Values We Inherited: Protecting Indigenous Water, Land, and Culture in Mexico

10:25 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

The following is from an interview with Saúl Atanasio Roque Morales, a Xoxocotla indigenous man from the state of Morelos, Mexico. He is a member of the Council of Peoples and the Xoxocotla Drinking Water Association.

Moreles landscape

Indigenous people are fighting for their land in Mexico.

Within our indigenous community of Xoxocotla, we continue to hold the ancestral values we inherited. It never crosses our mind to leave them behind. Because in daily life we are always in contact with nature, with our lands, with our water, with our air. We live in harmony with nature because we don’t like the way that modernity is advancing, destroying our territory and our environment. We believe technological modernity is better named a death threat.

We still watch our children chase the butterflies and the birds. We see the harmony between the crops and the land. Above all, we respect our water and we continue to perform ceremonies that give thanks for the water.

There is a ceremony we do together with a group of neighboring peoples at a sacred place. In this ceremony, we predict what the coming season will be like in order to predict the harvest, to know if it will be good or if it’s going to be bad. After, the participants return to the community and share what they observed, joyfully dancing with music, to let the community know about the weather predictions and what the water will be like. It never crosses our mind to leave this tradition behind. On the contrary, we believe that we should keep instilling these values in our children.

And so we have potable water that comes from a spring 12 kilometers away. During the time of the government of Lázaro Cárdenas [1934-1940] the community participated, with pick and shovel, in a 12-kilometer excavation to bring water to the community. The water is very good and very clean. Since that time, we have been the ones that administer and control our water system, without having to be responsible to government authorities.

In more recent times since the 80’s, in the state of Morelos, they wanted to privatize the water. We were not in agreement with this. Together with other communities, we organized and went before the lower house of the state congress in order to protest these laws. We occupied the buildings and the politicians agreed to change the law. In the new law, they included our demand that indigenous peoples can control and administer their water.

But in the past few years, industrial and housing projects have been growing and multiplying, invading crop lands. Crop lands normally serve as a buffer for filtration during the rainy season.  They filter water and replenish aquifers that give life to our springs. We’re witnessing an increase in devastation and paving-over of lands and that inhibits normal water filtration. We attribute the lowering of water levels to these activities.

We learned that there were to be construction projects erected, including ones to build [more than 37,000] houses, close to our spring. There are also plans to build a golf course. Other companies are opening up [plant] nurseries. There’s another company that’s devastating a mountain called Montenegro to extract material to produce cement.

[In 2005] we started to speak out against the government’s actions, and they didn’t pay attention. We blockaded the roads, but the government didn’t respect the agreements that resulted from those blockades. For this reason we organized 13 communities to defend the springs. We didn’t get much attention, so we decided to block highways. We did it to communicate our problem, but we were met with repression and some people got wounded. The people also fought back: they made the police run, they destroyed a couple patrol cars, they took arms from the cops and because of this, some of our people were detained.

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Facing Off: The Integration of Capital v. The Integration of Peoples in the Americas

10:21 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

from a speech by João Pedro Stédile,

Co-coordinator of the Landless Workers Movement of Brazil

Edited by Beverly Bell

João Pedro Stédile is an economist, co-founder and co-coordinator of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil, and leader among Latin American social movements. He gave the following talk to hundreds of Haitian farmers at the 40th anniversary assembly of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) on March 18, 2013.

Anti-Monsanto activist with skull & crossed bones flag, gas mask

International anti-Monsanto activists are natural allies of South American agricultural workers movements.

I’d like to bring to you the perspective of the Landless Workers Movement on this complex historic moment, and on the social movements we’re building in Latin America.

Just when it seemed like the capitalist system was eternal, a crisis in the system exploded in 2008. The first consequence has been the ideological defeat of neoliberalism, because neoliberalism says that the market will resolve everything, and that idea has been shot down. The second consequence has been the decline of the political power of the US. They still have the strength but no one believes in them anymore. On the contrary, the whole world is mad at the gringo capital.

Periods of crisis in capitalism are always a sign that the door is open for change in the world, but at this point, we don’t know in which direction. For that reason it’s very important what [deceased Venezuelan president Hugo] Chávez told us: study, reflect, and comprehend reality in order to be able to change it.

At this moment, there is a strong project of recolonization of the continent according to the US’s interests. We defeated them with the Free Trade Area of Americas (FTAA), but now they come with their military forces, bilateral trade treaties with Mexico and with Colombia and with Chile, a treaty for the Pacific, and the control of Central America and the Carribean. And all of the politics of Obama are in that direction: reconquer the continent for the interests of his businesses. Don’t be fooled by the color of his skin; he is a representative of gringo capitalism.

There’s also a sector of the domestic bourgeoisie in our countries that wants to profit from our riches. They propose a international integration, but of the capitalist type. Companies from Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia are running around Latin America making investments and profits, with the support of those governments.

But another key element of this moment is that of integration among our peoples. No people from a single country can liberate itself, because the enemy now is international capitalism with its banks and its companies. In all countries of Latin America, for example, Monsanto controls the transgenetic seeds and the agrochemicals, the market for corn and soy. It finances our governments, buying senators, congresspeople, mayors, and yes, even bishops to bless the transgenic seeds. So, when you rise up against Monsanto here in Haiti, you are helping all of the farmers of Latin America. When we in Brazil take experimental farms from Monsanto and destroy them, we are also helping all of Latin America.

To help us integrate and fight our common enemies, we have to have programs of economic integration. We have to fight against the dollarization of our economies, and force our governments to create a new Latin American-wide currency. It’s essential that the governments on the left and the progressives of Latin America leave the sphere of the dollar. Chávez even proposed a name for this new currency, the sucre.

We also have to build up our integration through communication. In the old days, the capitalists used the churches to dominate us ideologically. Now they can’t, so they use the television. But the television is just an instrument of communication, so it can be a weapon of education as well. And for that reason as well, Chávez was a visionary. He proposed that we construct TeleSUR, a Latin American TV network under the control of the people, to deliver news.

In the political field, we in the South are advancing with the construction of the [regionally integrated] Southern Zone and, throughout all of Latin America, CELAC [the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States]. This is very important because CELAC is the grave of the OAS [Organization of American States], the political arm of the gringos. It was the OAS that first proposed MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the UN force occupying the country] and that provided soldiers. If we had only CELAC, which doesn’t include Canada and the US, there would be no foreign troops in Haiti.

For integration among our peoples, we also have to educate a new generation of youth for liberation. The capitalists want the youth only for consuming drugs and cell phones, but we need them to be teachers and doctors and engineers. Here Fidel gave us a great lesson with the construction of the ELAM [the Latin American School of Medicine], that’s a great school for training doctors. I want to tell you that in Brazil, more Black doctors have been trained in Cuba than in all of the faculties of medicine in Brazil. Put another way, the poor of Brazil that want to be doctors go to Cuba. We in Via Campesina [the worldwide coalition of farmers, peasants, and landless people] are doing our part by creating a network of agro-ecology schools.

What you are doing here in this school [the agro-ecology training center of the Peasant Movement of Haiti] is revolutionary. It’s anti-imperialist. It’s anti-capitalist. The imperialists want to control our seeds to control our plates and our lives. Building a school of agro-ecology in the countryside, and taking control of your seeds, is the same as building a fort of guerrillas. Guerrillas of Black descent.

We need to take one more step in integrating peoples, which is to organize mass struggles. When people stay seated, they’re no good for anything. We have to put our energy in each country to build struggles against our principal enemies: the banks, the transnational companies, and the media controlled by the bourgeoisie. And I hope we will join together the fights from our countries and create a common struggle. I hope we achieve very soon one united battle to definitively defeat Monsanto, Nestlé in milk, Cargill in corn, and mining companies.

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Jobs and Justice: Raising the Floor On Worker Rights and Wages In Haiti

11:04 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

by Beverly Bell, Alexis Erkert, and Deepa Panchang

May 23, 2013

Over the past few weeks in this article series, we’ve heard firsthand from Haitian garment workers about low wages, sexual abuse, labor rights violations, and work-related injuries they suffered in sweatshops.

Meanwhile, the world has watched the death toll in last month’s factory collapse in Bangladesh creep to above 1,100. Global activists have joined the calls of protesting workers, ramping up pressure on clothing retailers against the regular mistreatment and deaths of workers. Slowly, the public is realizing that exploitation within the garment assembly industry is not the exception, it’s the rule. Today, we take a deep dive into the economics of this sector in Haiti to look at how it has come to be, and at what alternative pathways might look like.

Palacio presidencial de Haití

Haiti Presidential Palace

In discussions among foreigners about working conditions and wages in the assembly industry, we often hear, “But Haitians need jobs. Wouldn’t things be worse without them?”

The question creates a false choice between no job and a grinding, exploitative job. Looking at the factors that led to low factory wages in the first place helps expose the myth. Western governments and their international financial institution (IFI) partners have played an active role in creating the dearth of options that exists for Haitian workers. For example, trade policies from the 1980s onward caused the decimation of the Haitian agricultural sector. Out-of-work farmers fled on masse to cities, and many had no better option but a factory job. Foreign policies imposed on the Haitian government have also contributed to a near-complete lack of public services and a weak, dependent domestic economy, which ramp up desperation; desperation, in turn, forced workers to accept the low wages.

The offshore assembly model creates a race to the bottom. In it, businesses circle the globe seeking the lowest cost of production – which involves the lowest health and safety standards and suppressed union organizing. As factories move to the next country, they create dirt-poor workers.

Despite this, governments, the UN, and the IFIs tout the garment assembly industry as a path to development in global South countries. The UN places the expansion of free trade zones (groupings of export-producing factories that enjoy tax exemptions and fewer safety, health, and environment regulations) toward the center of its development road map for Haiti. A 2009 report it commissioned argued that Haiti’s duty-free, quota-free preferential access to the American market, combined with low labor costs and a lack of protectionist policies, makes the country “the world’s safest production location for garments.” Weeks after the earthquake, that paper’s author, Oxford University economics professor Paul Collier, likened the catastrophic moment to 19th Century development of the US West, with its “investment booms, financed by enthusiastic outsiders. The earthquake could usher in such a boom in Haiti.”

Apparently sharing this view, four months after the earthquake the US Congress extended US trade preferences for assembled garments to Haiti in a law that was portrayed as a relief measure. Also since the earthquake, the US and other global players came up with $224 million to subsidize the development of a new free trade zone in northern Haiti, Caracol. Developers, who displaced 366 farmers from arable farmland for the project, promised more than 20,000 jobs. In actuality, fewer than 1,500 people are employed in the park; and after paying for transportation and meals, workers reportedly end each day with an average of US $1.36. More free-trade zones are in the offing.

For all the funding and attention the sector has received, the 24 factories currently making garments for export to the US employ very few people: 25,924, or approximately 0.5% of the working-age population. No matter the numbers, the industry’s contribution to the national economy is false development, said economist Camille Chalmers with the Platform to Advocate Alternative Development in Haiti. “Almost all of the primary materials used in manufacturing come from outside. When they say that Haiti exports hundreds of millions of dollars in products, a lot of that goes to [foreign companies to] pay for the inputs like cloth and equipment. Once assembled, the goods aren’t consumed in Haiti but are shipped abroad. The government doesn’t even benefit from taxes or tariffs. Haiti’s only role is as a stopover in the production process, where cheap labor keeps profit margins high.”

Haiti does need work opportunities, as any cash-desperate person there will tell you. But not at any price or under any conditions. Former factory worker Ghislene Deloné said, “It can’t be based on the exploitation of people. We need to be treated like human beings.” And Camille Chalmers said, “When we speak of employment, we have to talk about the quality of employment. [This sector] doesn’t create work that can develop our human resources or reduce poverty. These comparative advantages just reproduce misery.”
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