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Without Our Land, We Cease To Be a People: Defending Indigenous Territory and Resources in Honduras

7:45 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

Flag of the Garifuna

Miriam Miranda is a leader of the Honduran Black Fraternal Organization (OFRANEH), which works with the 46 communities of the Afro-indigenous Garífuna of Honduras, to defend their territories, natural resources, identity, and rights. Miriam’s narrative below is from an interview with Beverly Bell in Washington, D.C.

We live on the Atlantic coast of Honduras. We are a mix of African descendants and indigenous peoples who came about more than 200 years ago in the island of San Vicente. Without our land, we cease to be a people. Our lands and identities are critical to our lives, our waters, our forests, our culture, our global commons, our territories. For us, the struggle for our territories and our commons and our natural resources is of primary importance to preserve ourselves as a people.

The people, for their way of being, were declared part of the Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2004. We don’t know what that means exactly, but we suppose it implies that the state must take action to protect and preserve the Garífuna people’s identity.

What we Garífuna face is largely the same things faced by people all over Latin America, and in fact the world. Also, the problems of the South are not a problem just for us, but of all of us and the whole planet.

If you map out the conflicts that are threatening our country, you’ll see they reflect exactly where transnational capital is trying to take more resources from indigenous peoples. Maybe you believe that president Mel Zelaya was ousted in a coup d’état [in 2009] because he was a leftist. No. It was because [those with wealth] wanted to take land and resources, which they are now doing. Look at the search for so-called alternatives to oil – through mining, the mega-dams, the biofuels, the production of African palm oil. All these resources are being taken from indigenous areas. There is more pressure on us every day for our territories, our resources, and our global commons.

In Honduras, they’re taking land that we were using to grow beans and rice so they can grow African palm for bio-fuel. The intention is to stop the production of food that humans need so they can produce fuel that cars need. The more food scarcity that exists, the more expensive food will become. The mono-cultivation of some of these crops [for bio-fuel] requires thousands of millions of acres of land. Food sovereignty is being threatened everywhere.

Also we have a problem that is rarely spoken of: narco-trafficking. The Atlantic Coast of Honduras is the main trafficking route. A study showed that almost 90% of the drugs that are going to the North pass through Honduras. We’re exactly in the way of the trafficking and we’re so vulnerable. Honduras has one of the highest levels of crime and violence [per capita] of any country that is not actually at war. We have to fight not only for the permanence of our community, but also to not be kidnapped by traffickers.

Another of our main challenges is the tourism industry. We live almost on the sea, right on the beach. It’s a blessing but recently it’s also become a curse, because of course all those with power want to have a place on the beach. The Honduran government has started on some tourism mega-projects. The displacement of communities and the loss of cultures that come with the development of tourism [is increasing].

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We Don’t Have Life without Land: Holding Ground in Honduras

11:10 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell. Co-authored by Lauren Elliott

Part 25 of the Harvesting Justice series 

Honduras coffee plantation

Land reform is desperately needed in Honduras.

For the next three articles, we will pause to linger on Honduras. On vivid display there is the search for solutions to the problems addressed in this Harvesting Justice series: the piracy of land, indigenous territories, agriculture, food systems, and the global commons.

We also focus on Honduras because it is home to the highest homicide rate of any country in the world that is not at war. A lot of that violence is directed against communities trying to defend what is theirs. One of our colleagues there, Tomás Garcia, a leader of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), was assassinated on July 15. Many more live under continual threat of death.

We at Other Worlds hold a great concern for Honduras for a third reason. We are based in New Orleans, a city with the one of the highest populations of Hondurans outside of Tegucigalpa. More than 80,000 Hondurans now reside in New Orleans in large part because of global policies, including those of the U.S. government, that have resulted in high levels of poverty, landlessness, and violence. Challenging the root causes of the migration, in the hopes that Hondurans may one day be able to live with peace and well-being in their homeland, is part of our definition of being good neighbors.

Bajo Aguán, a fertile agricultural region in the north of Honduras, might at first glance look like a bucolic paradise. In fact, it is part of a historic land struggle. It is also the site of a war – a strange war, undeclared and largely invisible, where only one side has arms.

Consuelo Castillo, a community organizer in Lempira, a land reform settlement in Bajo Aguán, said, “Our goal is for everyone who is part of the land occupations to have access to land. Land is our first mother. For us farmers, we don’t have life without land.”

“We’re fighting for our kids. We’ve started this movement for our children so they can have their basic needs met, live in dignity, and have access to education. The political assassinations have left some children without mothers, without brothers. The kids are the ones that are impacted the most.”

Consuelo and her neighbors live in homes made of blue tarps, surrounded by patches of corn and rows of African oil palms. The 3,000 residents of Lempira and five other settlements have been peacefully occupying land for three years. They insist the land has been taken from them, mainly by wealthy landowners and palm oil companies who are making money off the global craze for biofuel. In the Lempira settlement, the families have reclaimed the area from the country’s largest and most infamous landowner, Miguel Facussé.

In response to the occupation, Facussé and other land owners, together with palm oil companies and the backing of government forces and the World Bank, are waging their war. In Bajo Aguán alone, between January 2010 and February 2013, 89 small farmers – many of them also leaders in the land movement – have been murdered. Facussé and the others also use arrests and death threats among their arsenal of weapons to try to eject the settlers.

While the communities fight for legal right to the land, they also pursue their long-term vision. Lempira, for example, has created homes, turned the plantation into a working cooperative, laid the concrete foundation for a school, and created a collectively owned store. Residents are working towards food sovereignty, liberatory education systems, and collectively run media.

The History and the Stakes in Land Reform

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Inherit the Earth: Land Reform in Brazil

11:32 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell
Part 24 of the Harvesting Justice series

As a key determinant of who has power and who doesn’t, battles over land have been fought from time immemorial. One of the earliest may have been led by Adam and Eve as they attempted to reclaim their garden after having been evicted. Even before the Crusades, through centuries of colonization, to the oil- and water-motivated wars of the present day, land has long been the currency of religious, national, and imperial power.

In the 1950s and 1960s, struggles for land reform throughout the global South had some success. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, economic policies, development ideology, and military crackdowns quashed government-reform advances and the social movements that drove them.[1]

In recent years, the voice and visibility of movements opposing land grabs and displacement, and demanding land reform, are increasing. Though relatively little land has been redistributed, organized movements of small farmers, indigenous peoples, and landless people are developing in size, strength, and organization. They are uniting across borders to break the nexus between land, agriculture, power, and profit.

The Landless Workers Movement

Brazil is home to one of the most powerful land reform movements in the world. Its work has both changed the lives and fates of millions of people within the country, and inspired land and housing struggles everywhere, including here in the US.

Brazil’s land reform has roots in the 1800s, as a response to unequal land distribution that began with the arrival of European colonists more than 500 years ago. Brazil has one of the world’s highest levels of unequal land distribution. Vast properties over 1,000 hectares (2,472 acres) – many of them owned by multinational corporations – have taken over 46% of all farmland. Small and family farms are still producing much of the country’s food needs, only on less land and with more labor. Unable to compete with agribusiness, an estimated 90,000 of them disappear each year.[2]

The 1988 constitution gave Brazilians the right to challenge ownership of tracts over a certain size in two ways: by going after the title’s authenticity or by claiming that the land is not fulfilling its “social function.” Social function means that at least 80% of the land is used effectively, environmental and labor standards are respected, and both owners and workers benefit.

Many rural organizations form the land reform movement, with the Landless Rural Workers’ Movement (MST by its Portuguese acronym) leading the way. The MST’s solution to ending the country’s poverty and hunger is to put agriculturally rich land back into the hands of small farmers. Since the mid-1980s, the MST has won title to 7.5 million hectares of land, on which 370,000 families now live.  An additional 150,000 families live in approximately 900 squatter communities on land that is being contested.

João Pedro Stédile, MST co-founder and co-coordinator, said, “Before, the line had been: ‘No need to worry, you’ll have your land in heaven.’ Now it was: ‘Since you’ve already got your land in heaven, let’s struggle for it here as well.’”

Redistribution of land works this way: The organization researches large holdings that meet the legal criteria for redistribution. When they find one, word goes out and interested families – often totaling up to 100, both landless people and unemployed city-dwellers – take up residence there. They wait it out in tents, on average for two to five years. Meanwhile, MST lawyers battle with the courts to gain collective title to the property. If the MST loses, those in the camp move to another plot of land and, together with the lawyers, start over. If the court orders the tract redistributed, settlers begin creating their collectively owned communities.

In the communities, MST members engage in collective agro-ecological farming and other cooperative ventures, like a honey business or a tractor repair shop. They run their own education systems, resolve conflicts using restorative justice, and develop their own media and cultural empowerment programs. They also run experiments in participatory democracy, equitable social relations, and self-governance.

Brazil’s land reform movement is united with other social movements in challenging the root cause of the problem, which resides in unequal distribution of power and resources. Without deep structural change and the creation of a more just and equitable nation, land distribution will simply revert to the status quo, as struggling farmers lose their land again.

Of course, much work remains, yet the MST shows that solutions to landlessness, homelessness, and social exclusion are available, even without an overhaul of the Brazilian state or political economy. The MST has created living, breathing examples of these solutions thousands of times over.

Women and Land Reform in Brazil

“Back in the early days, most women on land reform settlements didn’t have a vote. It wasn’t until after you’d been part of the movement that you realized you’d had an invisible role.” said Neneide Eliane, an organizer with Deciding to Win, one of many organizations dedicated to obtaining rights, benefits, and power for rural and landless women. In those days, some women were handed the age-old line that their problems would be resolved when rural workers as a whole won justice. Women in the MST reported that for a long time, the group was so focused on unity among its members that it ploughed under the need to specifically address gender.

An organized women’s movement evolved in Brazil in the 1970s, aiming not only for women’s rights but also for an end to the dictatorship. A decade later, a rural women’s movement was born to address gender inequity. In the MST, women formed a national women’s collective in 1995. They have pushed the organization to prioritize gender equality. “Gender” is now an official department of the MST, with a range of programs and policies. Of the leaders that are elected to coordinate each local, regional, and national committee, at least half must be women. Other goals include an end to gender-based violence, access to free birth control, promotion of women’s micro-enterprises and cooperatives, the establishment of childcare centers, and help for women in getting the social benefits they deserve from the state. Gender analysis is a formal part of the MST’s training.

In addition to their ascending integration and leadership into landless organizations, rural women have won legal right to land and social protections – on paper, at least. The 1988 constitution enshrined women’s ability to gain land rights and benefit from land reform directly, not as dependents of their husbands. The constitution also accorded women new labor rights, including unemployment and disability insurance, retirement benefits, and maternity leave.

In practice, today women still account for only a small percentage of all beneficiaries of land redistribution, and overall receive far less revenue than their male counterparts. Many women farmers receive no salary at all, or only a symbolic income.[2]

Rural women still have a long row to hoe. Yet their intensive mobilizing is winning them, slowly but surely, more land titles and greater benefits. They are also advancing toward more just distribution of labor, reduced violence by men, the right to contraception, and the right to education.

Speaking from her land reform settlement in the state of São Paulo, MST organizer Ilda Martines de Souza said, “Without firing a shot, we’ve brought a revolution.” Read the rest of this entry →

Food for Body, Food for Thought, Food for Justice: People’s Grocery in Oakland, California

10:26 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell
Part 21 of the Harvesting Justice series
Deepa Panchang co-authored this article.

People’s Grocery

The neighborhood of West Oakland in California has long been without a large grocery store, let alone one that offers healthy, fresh food. With unemployment at about 10% and nearly half the population of 30,000 residents living at or below the poverty line, West Oakland is a neighborhood that grocery store chains have claimed isn’t able to sustain a full-functioning store.[1]

But the logic that West Oakland lacks buying power isn’t sound. Its residents spend almost $42 million a year on food outside their community.[2] “The math is simple,” said local activist and cofounder of the organization People’s Grocery, Brahm Ahmadi. “In West Oakland, we assessed a $60 million market. There’s a very affluent neighborhood nearby with a $60 million market. It’s the same aggregate spending power. You actually have parallel markets. They just look different.”

It was vital to prove that this was true because, said Brahm, “The number one cause of death in West Oakland is heart disease. It’s not gunshots. It’s food, the way people eat. There’s a correlation between lack of grocery stores and rates of chronic disease. People in West Oakland are seeing that health-care costs are too high, and a critical mass is growing to say enough is enough.”

When individuals are forced to travel outside their community for groceries, not only does their access to healthy food suffer. The economy does, too. Money continuously flows out of the area instead of building job opportunities and tax revenues locally.

The problem is national in scope. A research sampling in New York, Maryland, and North Carolina found that neighborhoods of color and racially mixed areas had half as many supermarkets as predominantly white neighborhoods.[3] Residents without cars or adequate public transportation systems are often left to shop for highly processed food at corner liquor or convenience stores, where prices are usually higher and healthy options fewer than those at suburban supermarkets. A fast-food franchise may provide the only other nearby option.

In the US, unhealthy food is creating unprecedented levels of heart disease and other diet-related illnesses. One in four deaths in 2009 was caused by heart disease.At the same time, people continue to go hungry; 14.5% of households were deemed ‘food insecure’ in 2010. Even when a farmers’ market or community-supported agriculture (CSA) program is nearby, many households cannot afford the higher cost of local, organic vegetables or the upfront deposit required by most CSAs. Unfortunately, just demanding lower prices for local, organic food is not a viable solution, because most small farmers can barely survive on their current incomes while trying to compete in an industrialized system not designed in their favor.

Inequitable access to healthy food is a symptom of larger structural injustices such as racism, poverty, lack of community control and representation in local government and organizations, inequity in housing and healthcare, and ecological degradation. These inequities can also play out among groups in the food movement.

Organized communities, together with their allies in national advocacy groups, are taking on all of these elements as part of a movement for food justice. They are working on solutions that, first, support local production; second, make healthy food available to everyone, not just those who can access it by virtue of income or where they live; third, ensure that their communities have democratic control over the food they eat; and fourth, addressing structural injustices like racism.

People’s Grocery: Nourishing Food and Transformation

The grassroots community organization, People’s Grocery, is situated Oakland, a city that has played a starring role in the history of the food justice movement. It was there, in 1969, that the Black Panthers began their free breakfast program, through which they fed children breakfast at over 45 branches around the country. The Panthers’ larger goals were ending racism and oppression and the stated objective for the breakfast program was “survival pending revolution.” Not only were the free breakfast sites filling bellies so that children had a fighting chance of learning something once they got to school, they also served as places to gather community for discussion and education towards deeper social transformation. The Panthers’ food program also helped elevate public demands on the federal government to expand and improve national school nutrition programs.[4]

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Putting the Culture Back in Agriculture: Reviving Native Food and Farming

10:06 am in Uncategorized by Other Worlds

By Tory Field and Beverly Bell

Part 17 of the Harvesting Justice series

Winona LaDuke at a podium

Winona LaDuke helps protect the crops and agriculture of indigenous people.

“At one point ‘agriculture’ was about the culture of food. Losing that culture, in favor of an American cultural monocrop, joined with an agricultural monocrop, puts us in a perilous state…” says food and Native activist Winona LaDuke.[i]

Her lament is an agribusiness executive’s dream. The CEO of the H.J. Heinz Company said, “Once television is there, people, whatever shade, culture, or origin, want roughly the same things.”[ii] The same things are based on the same technology, same media sources, same global economy, and same food.

Together with the loss of cultural diversity, the growth of industrial agriculture has led to an enormous depletion in biodiversity. Throughout history, humans have cultivated about 7,000 species of plants. In the last century, three-quarters of the genetic diversity of agricultural crops have been lost. Thirty crops now provide 95% of our food needs, with rice, wheat, maize, and potato alone providing 60%. Eighty-five percent of the apple varieties that once existed in the US have been lost. Vast fields of genetically identical crops are much more susceptible to pests, necessitating increased pesticide use. The lack of diversity also endangers the food supply, as an influx of pests or disease can wipe out enormous quantities of crops in one fell swoop.

Native peoples’ efforts to protect their crop varieties and agricultural heritage in the US go back 500 years to when the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Today, Native communities throughout the US are reclaiming and reviving land, water, seeds, and traditional food and farming practices, thereby putting the culture back in agriculture and agriculture back in local hands.

One such initiative is the White Earth Land Recovery Project in Minnesota, which is recovering healthy stewardship of local tribes’ original land base. They are harvesting and selling traditional foods such as wild rice, planting gardens and raising greenhouses, and growing food for farm-to-school and feeding-our-elders programs. They are reintroducing native sturgeon to local waters as well as working to stop pesticide spraying at nearby industrial farms. They are also strengthening relationships with food sovereignty projects around the country. Winona LaDuke, the founding director of the project, told us, “My father used to say, ‘I don’t want to hear your philosophy if you can’t grow corn’… I now grow corn.”

Another revival effort involves buffalo herds. In the 1800s, European-American settlers drove wild buffalo close to extinction, decimating a source of survival for many Native communities. Just one example of the resurgence is the Lakota Buffalo Caretakers Cooperative, a cooperative of small-family buffalo caretakers, on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The cooperative sees its work as threefold, to “restore the buffalo, restore the native ecology on Pine Ridge, and help renew the sacred connection between the Lakota people and the buffalo nation.” At the national level, the Inter-Tribal Bison Cooperative is a network of 56 tribal bison programs from around the country with a collective herd of over 15,000.

In New Mexico, Native communities are organizing a wealth of initiatives. Around the state, they have started educational and production farms, youth-elder farming exchanges, buffalo revitalization programs, seed-saving initiatives, herb-based diabetes treatment programs, a credit union that invests in green and sustainable projects, and more. Schools like the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and the Santa Fe Indian School – along with grammar schools, high schools, and non-profit programs – have developed agricultural education programs. The Traditional Native American Farmers’ Association helps farmers get back onto the land, hosts workshops on seed saving and agricultural techniques, and has a youth program.

The annual Sustainable Food and Seed Sovereignty Symposium at the Tesuque [Indian] Pueblo in northern New Mexico brings together farmers, herbalists, natural dyers, healers, cooks, seed savers, educators, water protectors, and community organizers. From the 2006 symposium came the Declaration of Seed Sovereignty, which denounced genetically engineered seeds and corporate ownership of Native seeds and crops as “a continuation of genocide upon indigenous people and as malicious and sacrilegious acts toward our ancestry, culture, and future generations.”

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