dorset chiapas solidarity

August 23, 2015

The Dirty War against the Peoples of Corn

Filed under: Indigenous, Maize — Tags: , , , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 8:21 am


The Dirty War against the Peoples of Corn


Silvia Ribeiro*

La Jornada, 22nd August 2015

On August 19, 2015, Judge Francisco Peñaloza Heras, presiding over the Twelfth District Court for Civil Matters, cancelled the precautionary measure [injunction] suspending the planting of transgenic corn in Mexico. The injunction was issued two years ago in response to a class action lawsuit for the damages these grains cause to biodiversity and health. However, the suspension remains in force, since the judge’s decision was immediately appealed by Collectivas AC, the legal representatives of the group of 53 people and 20 organizations that filed the class action suit in 2013.

The way Judge Peñaloza made the decision—ignoring arguments made by the plaintiffs and independent scientists, but basing it on the sayings of Monsanto and other companies—is another step in the dirty war against campesino corn and the peoples of the corn.

In sync with the judge’s decision, the transnationals of genetically modified organisms unleashed a barrage of comments to the press assuring that planting was permitted. As René Sánchez Galindo, a lawyer for the plaintiff group, reported: “Monsanto launched a new campaign of lies, since it is false that the planting of GM corn was permitted.”

Monsanto’s lies are not limited to legal aspects of the lawsuit. They devote significant time and resources to falsifying data in order to hide what’s really happening with GMOs in countries where planting is massive, like the United States, the country where Monsanto is headquartered.

Based on almost two decades of official statistics (not specific studies funded by enterprises that take partial data) in the country, the reality shows that GMOs are more expensive than existing hybrids, that GMO crop yields are lower on average, and that GMOs have resulted in an exponential increase in the use of pesticides, with devastating effects on soil, water, and the emergence of more than 20 glyphosate-resistant “superweeds”.

The industry claims that corn engineered with Bt toxin [Bacillus thuringiensis] decreased the use of pesticides, but fails to explain either that pests have been becoming resistant to Bt or that after an initial decline, pesticide use has increased every year. Therefore, companies are abandoning the sale of Bt corn seeds in order to sell GM corn seeds with stacked traits; that is, with Bt, tolerant to one or more highly toxic herbicides such as glyphosate, glufosinate, dicamba and even 2.4-d, thereby dramatically increasing the use of toxins.

Companies also claim that GM corn can “coexist” with native corn. But many scientific studies and statistics in many countries demonstrate the opposite: where GM crops are cultivated, there will always be contamination, whether by pollen carried on the wind or by insects (at much greater distances than those “anticipated” by the laws) or by the activities of transporting, storing or selling in retail outlets where GM products are not segregated from other seeds.

Many studies conducted in Mexico, including those carried out by Semarnat [Secretariat for the Environment and Natural Resources] itself, show hundreds of cases of GM contamination of native corn—even when planting GM corn is illegal. Legalizing the planting would brutally increase the contamination that directly threatens biodiversity and Mexico’s most important agricultural genetic heritage, bequeathed by the millions of campesino and indigenous peoples who created it and continue to maintain it.

In the United States, contamination from GMOs is pervasive. Monsanto made it a business: suing victims of genetic contamination for using their patented genes, which has yielded the company hundreds of millions of dollars in judgments or out of court settlements. Monsanto recently declared that it is not going to sue farmers in Mexico. It would be absurd to believe it. Of course they will, when they have the right conditions.

Since 2004, Monsanto has already published notices in newspapers in Chiapas warning that anyone engaged in the “illegal” use of their patented genes in “importing, planting, cultivating, selling or exporting” could suffer imprisonment and incur major fines. They also warned that anyone who is “familiar with any irregular situation” must contact Monsanto in order to avoid being accused of complicity. If someone didn’t follow through because he had no legal framework for doing so, one fears that now they [Monsanto] are exerting pressure to correct the situation.

The transnationals lie when they claim that GMOs are harmless to health. For starters, GM crops have a level of glyphosate—the herbicide declared carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation in March 2015—up to 200 times higher [than native corn]. Almost every month, new articles are published with evidence of damage to health or the environment from GMOs.

For example, on July 14, 2015, the peer-reviewed journal Agricultural Sciences published Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai’s research, which shows that GM soybean stores formaldehyde, a carcinogen, with a drastic decrease of glutathione, an antioxidant essential for cellular detoxification. The study analysed 6,497 experiments from 184 scientific institutions in 23 countries. The study lays bare the invalidity of the principle of “substantial equivalence” applied to assess GMOs—falsely claiming that [GMOs] are “equivalent” to conventional organisms. There is little knowledge of how GMOs affect corn biology and what impact GMOs have on biodiversity and the health of Mexico’s populace, who consume more corn than the people in any other country.

The war intensifies, but so does the resistance, like the “popular moratorium” against allowing GMOs in our fields and tables. And that’s not going to end.

*Silvia Ribeiro is Latin America Director for ETC (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), which is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights. Ribeiro is based in Mexico.

Translated by Jane Brundage



February 8, 2015

Mexico’s Small and Indigenous Farmers Keep on Planting

Filed under: Indigenous, Maize — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 9:48 am


Mexico’s Small and Indigenous Farmers Keep on Planting


Madre de Maiz Huichol

Madre de Maiz

Silvia Ribeiro*

La Jornada, 7th February, 2015

Despite the fact that small farmers feed a majority of the world population with better quality and fewer resources, government policies in most of the world are directed at ending peasant life. Food is just one of the many vital functions that campesinos contribute to society.

Mexico has a unique situation won by the Mexican Revolution of 1910: more than half of its territory is under collective forms of land ownership:** 2,360 agrarian communities and more than 29,500 ejidos make up about 60 percent of forests and farmland. It isn’t just about agricultural and forestry producers, but ways of life that make up an economic, social, cultural and political whole.

In Mexico, the rancour against campesino and indigenous people is manifested in a surreal mix of decades-long adverse policies, assistance and patronage programs, crimes such as Ayotzinapa, repression and denial. In the face of all this, with an amazing stubbornness and creativity that the powerful fail to decipher, they manifest persistent resistance and, beyond that, the affirmation of identity, community and the common good.

One of the most serious attacks broke out in 2014 with approval of the constitutional reform to privatize energy and its accompanying string of secondary laws, which among other outrages, legalized the dispossession of land held in collective ownership and deepened the looting of water on behalf of oil, mining and other transnational companies. To understand the issue, its scope and possible defenses, the Center of Studies for Change in the Mexican Countryside(CECCAM) and Grain, just published the brochure Energy Reforms, Dispossession and Defense of the Social Ownership of Land. The brochure is part of the Sowing the Wind series, which is characterized by rigorous information management in a popular format, including a bulletin board.

With energy reform, the government and legislators opened the floodgates for delivering to transnational companies [the country’s] natural resources (gas, oil, electricity, water and minerals) and the infrastructure for extracting them, which taken together represent over 50 percent of [Mexico’s] GNP. As the brochure summarizes, although formally they deny it, the reform package de facto put an end both to “state custody” of the Nation’s assets and to the very concept of “original [indigenous] ownership of the nation,” an innovation of the Mexican Constitution that has been key in defence of the territorial rights of peoples and communities.

In 1992 with the reform to Article 27 of the Constitution and subsequent implementation of the World Bank-sponsored PROCEDE (Program of Certification of Ejido Rights and Ownership of Urban Plots), privatization of collective land ownership had already been tried. According to research by Ana de Ita, by conditioning the delivery of support and various bureaucratic procedures to certification of the land, the majority of ejidos had to enter the programme, but nearly three-quarters of them did so by certifying collective ownership of the land. In just 4.4 percent of land in collective ownership, the entire process was undertaken to exercise private ownership and [with an eye to] potentially entering the land market. Concurrently, and contrary to what the government intended, in the last decade and by the action of campesinos themselves, both the regimen and the area of land in collective ownership actually increased.

The intention of the successive reforms and programs was to end the “inalienable, not subject to seizure and unrestricted nature” of collective property in order to convert the land into a commodity, mere real estate or property, divesting it in passing “of the concrete and symbolic structure that it has always been in order to destroy the relationship of communities with their territory, the very ground of [their] subsistence, collective reproduction and the civilizational continuity of the peoples.”

The secondary laws [accompanying energy reform] legalized the establishment of “energy easements” on any land that might contain potential for extracting hydrocarbons, electricity, minerals and water, declaring such exploitation to take priority over any other activity. Absurdly, they declared these activities to be of the “public order” (inalienable for the collective interest) and “public utility” (with ends for the general benefit), despite the fact that they will be in the hands of transnational corporations that seek to exploit for profit and private purposes; thus, they will sabotage agricultural, food and forestry uses, whose vocation is in many ways more necessary, concrete and useful.

To this were added legal concepts like “seasonal occupation” in the nature of a loose partnership are also absurd, because land returned after decades of energy development will be devastated and unserviceable, even though some minimal compensation might be paid.

The government aims to kill two birds with one stone: open the market to transnational energy corporations while ending hindrances to privatizing the land and getting rid of the communities and ejidos.

They seek to create divisions, addressing the occupants of the plots that they want to exploit, not the collectivity itself. Therefore, it is essential that ejidos and communities reaffirm their right to free, prior and informed consent, not just to consultation, whose outcome can be manipulated. But above all, the brochure emphasizes the need for the communities to prepare themselves to reaffirm the assemblea [assembly], [which represents] their collective capacity to defend themselves [with actions that can range] from keeping their own seeds [storing them for planting the following year; a key protection against genetically modified seeds] to strengthening community statutes that could be used against these new attacks.

Translated by Jane Brundage

*Silvia Ribeiro is Latin America Director for ETC (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), which is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights. Ribeiro is based in Mexico.

**MV Note: Communities refer to land granted back to Mexico’s original people by the Spanish king after the conquest. These communal lands are owned and worked land collectively. Article 2 of Mexico’s Constitution recognizes the right of indigenous communities to choose self-government under traditional uses and customs, which includes a system of justice.

 Ejidos are lands expropriated from large landholders by the Mexican government after the Mexican Revolution (1910-17). In turn, these lands were given to indigenous and mestizo (mixed heritage) groups to satisfy the demands of campesinos led by such populist leaders as Emiliano Zapata, whose rallying cry was “La tierra es de quien la trabaja” [The land is for those who work it]Like communities, ejido lands are owned and worked collectively. As part of the preparations to sign NAFTA (1994), a law was passed allowing ejido lands to be divided and sold privately.

In communities and ejidos, the assembly is the traditional mechanism for making decisions, which are both communal and consensual.


March 24, 2014

Planters, witches and fighters

Filed under: Maize, Women — Tags: — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 6:09 pm


Planters, witches and fighters

Silvia Ribeiro*

429512_101092893394420_214880888_nAgriculture, food and biodiversity are definitely feminine nouns. It was women who invented agriculture, and it was rural and indigenous women who, 10,000 years ago, with curiosity, need, necessity, intelligence, patience, wisdom and collective work, searched, bred, selected, shaped and shared an enormous diversity of seeds which are the staple food of mankind today. They shared with many other women, the major part of whose contributions and tasks are invisible, and despite being those who created and still retain the seeds, the basis of the whole food network and the survival of all, many parties do not have access to land, housing and many basic rights.

Gender discrimination is useful to those who hold power in systems of exploitation and domination, because it creates the illusion that it is a fate which handicaps no less than half of the population. But this device does not work alone and, to maintain it, the patriarchy requires many mechanisms, from the imaginary integration of the oppressed to the violence which is suffered directly by one in three women throughout the world, the majority in their homes, at some point in their life.

According to the FAO, 43 percent of the economically active rural population, on a global level, are women. This figure falls short because it does not take into account many jobs that women do, and indeed many do not even fall within the definition “economically active population”, because they have never had a paid job. The FAO itself admits that in that this statistic does not include work like fetching water and firewood, nor the care of home and family. In most cases the care of the vegetable garden and domestic animals, the collection herbs and wild fruits, the selection of seeds, grains and fruit and their storage and processing do not appear, in addition to the magic of creating and preparing food each day, as a game of repeating a thousand times without ever repeating the same thing, with a pinch more of this and a drop less of that. We must add that many of these tasks persist when women have to migrate to cities, where they remain invisible, although urban gardens, mostly attended by women, represent 15 to 20 percent of the global food supply.

It is also mostly women who, since long before the days of agriculture, have collected medicinal herbs and cared for the health of the family and the community, skills and wisdom so important to all societies that the powerful had to brand them as witchcraft to try to conjure the power and the fear that they inspire.

To create diversity, of seeds, of plants, of foods, is not a position or a destination, it is a result of the dedication of millions of people, decentralized, in different cultures, climates and geographies, adapting what they found and increasing diversity in dialogue with others and with nature, through tastes, needs, ceremonies, ways to prevent climate variations affecting the entire crop. For all this, which still exists and persists, despite continued attacks to make rural life disappear, campesino seeds and their creators are still crucial to the survival of all, and to addressing climate chaos.

Although this has been so for thousands of years, to recognize and strengthen life and campesino food production becomes even more relevant faced with the food, climate and environmental crisis. We are facing a multi-pronged attack against these. The background is a handful of transnational corporations – the same who have largely caused the crisis – who want to take over the entire agricultural and food system, from the seeds to the supermarkets, so you have no other choice than their GM seeds, their industrialized food filled with poisons and to submit ourselves to the supermarkets deciding what, how and at what price we eat. To facilitate this advance they promote laws and reforms which allow more privatization of the land, more impunity for GM contamination, and more destruction of community assemblies.

One more facet of this attack on campesino life is the making invisible of its central role in survival, together with physical violence against women. Therefore the members of Via Campesina declared this March 8, that they reaffirm their struggle against patriarchy and capitalism, for food sovereignty and for “the sovereignty of the land, the territory and the body, saying NO to any expression of violence against women.”

In Mexico, where violence against women takes a thousand forms of cruelly symbolic execution and impunity, the session on “Femicide and Gender Violence” of the  Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal is preparing its prehearings and final hearing for this year, collecting evidence from this and many other aspects and regions of the country. No doubt, we will continue. Denouncing struggling and celebrating with many different women in camps and cities defending the corn, the seeds, the words, the bodies, the cultures, the assemblies and many other manifestations of life.

* ETC Research Group







December 29, 2013

Zapatista 20th Anniversary: The Paths of the Wind

Filed under: Maize, Zapatista — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 2:50 pm

Zapatista 20th Anniversary:

The Paths of the Wind

Silvia Ribeiro*

La Jornada, 28th December 2013

Oh, that we might be capable of continuing to walk the paths of the wind,

despite the setbacks and betrayals and defeats, because history goes on,

beyond us, and when she says adiós [goodbye],

she is saying: hasta luego [until the next time].

Eduardo Galeano

1438_Mayan_CornThe most outrageous legal assault in Mexico’s recent history, the privatization of oil, was barely accomplished when the multinationals went after another of Mexico’s treasures: corn. On December 19, Agrobio (the “civil” association of Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer, Dow and Bayer multinationals) issued a bulletin celebrating that the court that in September had ordered suspension of the planting of transgenic maize to settle the demands of a collective civil lawsuit, had now rejected the claim in its entirety and, therefore, could authorize planting of the genetically-modified seed. The celebration was cut short, because the Unitary Court accepted the appeal of the plaintiffs and in the same week reaffirmed the suspension. (Angélica Enciso, La Jornada, 24/12/13).

In recent decades, the looting of Mexico’s natural resources has been brutal: water systems have been privatized, directly or indirectly, by pollution, dams and absurdly beneficial concessions for large corporations. It is the same in mining, where more than a quarter of the national territory is covered by concessions, accompanied by environmental devastation and plunder with impunity by multinational mining companies. All accompanied by a process of savage urbanization, again in favour of corporate profits, which pollutes and steals peasant and indigenous territories leaving behind shanty towns that resemble jail cells, garbage dumps, highways for accelerating the devastation…and much more, as has been documented by the National Assembly of the Environmentally Affected.

Many initiatives spread the lawlessness (high impact projects go forward, despite contrary court decisions), but the majority are supposedly legal, approved by governments and legislative manoeuvres, which like oil, corn, mining and water, as well as in the indigenous counter-reform of 2001, rely on the participation of all political parties. In all cases, communities and grassroots organizations, both rural and urban, democratic unions, push back; they maintain their resistance despite the ongoing repression and the majority media siege that oscillates between silence and slander.

Given this devastation, the silencing, the legal farce and lack of representation, an international indictment began to be woven together from below for presentation before the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal based on a charge of diverting power: the use of the State apparatus and various public resources in order to favour a minority business interest against the interests of the majority of the population. In its first thematic sentences in November 2013, this International Court ruled, inter alia, that the offenses presented (more than 300 cases in three hearings) “can be placed in the category of crimes against humanity, as defined in the Statute of Rome of the International Criminal Court, as verified in the context of a widespread and systematic attack against the Mexican civilian population” ( The Court pointed out the responsibility for degradation and progressive suppression by successive Mexican governments beginning with the presidency of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970), and the aggravation that began with the signing of NAFTA [1994].

37643_1507925108214_6637097_n-549x330Therefore, it is even more significant and worthy of recognition that it has been twenty years since the Zapatista uprising and many more of the organization from below and in the communities of the Chiapas territory where “the people command and the government obeys.” As they declared in 1994, they are “the product of over five-hundred years of struggle”; therefore, their times and ways are very different and go beyond “setbacks, betrayals and defeats,” although they know and recognize them. Twenty years ago, the Zapatista uprising changed the political landscape of Mexico and many parts of the world, inspiring millions of young people and grassroots organizations with a different way of talking and being–a communitarian and self-managing way of organizing themselves, a live footprint that continues marking [the path]. In these decades, while the country has been ravaged by privatization, with a consequent increase in poverty and economic, social and environmental devastation, the Zapatista communities have built their own systems of education, health, and self-government.

The “trick” of the Zapatista communities, who do not understand those from above, is that every step, every day, every construction of self-management and resistance makes sense in itself. They do not ask for approval or crumbs from those who arrogate power. They do not hope or despair, they keep on walking. The Zapatistas have passed on to us many messages but perhaps this is the most important. A message that also comes to us from the many ongoing struggles of original peoples, campesinos, urban communities, in defence of the corn, of their territories, of the water, of their right to decide about their lives, of dignity.

So, faced with so many betrayals and looting, it is good to remember that many times the big cities prevent us from seeing the horizon. They do not let us see what is growing from the bottom, tough as the flower that cracks the asphalt and offers its pollen to the wind. History is constructed like this, as Galeano reminds us, it only says hasta luego‘until the next time’.


*Silvia Ribeiro is Latin America Director for ETC (Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration), which is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights. She is based in Mexico. 

Translated by Jane Brundage

Dorset Chiapas Solidarity


September 21, 2013

Who Will Feed Us?

Filed under: Corporations, Indigenous, Maize — Tags: , — dorsetchiapassolidarity @ 4:55 pm


Who Will Feed Us?

Silvia Ribeiro

La Jornada, 21st September, 2013

20130512_maiz-391x293Given the growing world population, the issue of hunger and food needs is crucial, but it is rife with erroneous assumptions.

Almost all governments and the international community that deals with the issue of food start with the premise that we need the industrial chain and its technologies to feed ourselves, both in the present and to meet future challenges. Farmers and other small food producers are seen as almost folkloric: they exist, but they are marginal, and they don’t play an important role in food. It is also the slogan of the transnationals and scientists who are funded by them: given population growth and climate chaos, without industrial and transgenic seeds, without industrial monocultures, machinery and lots of supplies and pesticides, the world will be even hungrier.

But the hard data show an inverse reality: it is precisely the industrial chain, the multinationals and their technologies,that are exacerbating the crisis and producing more hunger, while the campesino networks and other “small” farmers are those who feed the majority.

Faced with the contradictions between real data and false assumptions based on national and international policies, the ETC Group, which has followed the agricultural and food issue and its corporate manifestations since the 1970s, decided to compile the research over several decades and compare in one document the realities of the industrial food chain and the rural networks. We synthesize the compilation into a series of six posters that compare both realities by posing Twenty Questions and juxtaposing the answers. The first question is, Who feeds us today? It is followed by Who will feed us in 2030? [Available for download Poster: Who Will Feed Us?]

Since 2009, the global food market, from seeds and agriculture to supermarkets, has been the world’s largest market, surpassing energy. Being also an essential item for survival, it is not surprising that the multinationals have acted aggressively to control it. The process didn’t take long: in technology some fifty years, with the so-called “Green Revolution”, and in new regulations to favour market oligopolies, just a couple of decades. From Monsanto to Walmart, a score of multinationals now control most of this lucrative market.

That the multinationals dominate the industrial chain of food production does not mean that they feed the most. Although they control about 70 per cent of the global agricultural resources (land, water, supplies), what they produce reaches only 30 per cent of the world’s population. Most of the food still comes from the hands of rural farmers, indigenous people, fishermen, pickers, neighbourhood and urban gardens and orchards and other small producers. With just 30 per cent of agricultural resources, they feed 70 per cent of humanity.

The industrial chain wastes two-thirds of its food production, destroys soils and ecosystems, causes enormous damage to health and the environment, and for that, 3.4 billion people, half the world’s population, are malnourished: hungry, malnourished or obese. The peasant and small producer network of food suppliers have a minimum level of waste, use and care for an enormous variety of foods that are healthier and have much higher nutritional content, and with low or no environmental impact. Even negative, because they counteract the devastation caused by the chain, as in the case of climate change. This is even taking into account that most of the farmers use some agrochemical.

In order to provide that 30 per cent of food, the industrial chain uses 70-80 per cent of the arable land, 80 per cent of fossil fuels, and 70 per cent of the water destined for agricultural use. It also causes 44-57 per cent of greenhouse gases, deforests 13 million hectares [32 million acres] of forests and destroys 75 million tons of vegetative cover [shrubs, trees] each year.

The peasant network harvests 60-70 per cent of food crops with 20-30 per cent of the arable land, uses less than 20 per cent of fossil fuels and 30 per cent of the water intended for agricultural uses, nourishes and uses the biodiversity and is responsible for most of the 85 per cent of food produced within national borders. It is the chief, and often the only, provider of foodstuffs that reach two billion people suffering from hunger and malnutrition.

To these data are added many others about the output per hectare, jobs, land, water, fisheries, forests, seed and microbial diversity, pollinators, agricultural research, patents and monopolies, animal production and related impact, health and environmental impact, which shows similar and often unknown realities not only for governments, but also for many of us.

The document, entitled “Who will feed us? Industrial Chain versus Peasant Network”, has been compiled from more than a hundred sources, of which the majority come from such United Nations agencies as FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization], UNEP [UN Environmental Program], UNDP [UN Development Programs], UNCTAD [UN Conference on Trade and Development]. The remaining data come from academic or civilian research institutions, which cite reports that are in turn based on hundreds of sources, such as those produced by GRAIN and OXFAM.

*Silvia Ribeiro is a researcher with the ETC Group, Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration.

Translated by Jane Brundage




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