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

10:10 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

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.

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Raising Hope Across Borders: Transnational Social Movements & Power

9:07 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

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?

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Solidarity Economies: A Guerrilla War Against Capitalism, Part 1

8:52 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

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.

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

1:36 pm in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

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.

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