Free Trade and Climate Change Resistance: Voices from the South

07 December 2009

As a farmer from Paraguay afected by genetically modified soy monoculture plantation, Jorge Galeano is part of the resistance against false solutions to climate change. He is a part of Trade to Climate Caravan, travelling from the 7th WTO ministerial conference in Geneva to the UN climate summit in Copenhagen (COP15), drawing the attention to the consequences neoliberal globalization and climate change have on the lives of the people in the south. 

As a farmer from Paraguay affected by genetically modified (GM) soy monoculture plantations, JORGE GALEANO is part of the resistance against false solutions to climate change. He is on the way to Copenhagen (COP15)  from Geneva (7th WTO Ministerial) with the Trade to Climate Caravan to advocate for the reversion of the land occupied by transgenic monoculture in favour of the landless. While on the Caravan, he spoke to MARY LOU MALIG of Focus on the Global South and CECILIA OLIVET of Transnational Institute about the struggles and historic demands of the farmers in Paraguay during the 40 years of dictatorship period, 60 years of one party government and the new period under left-wing President Fernando Lugo.

How did you get involved in the struggles for social justice?
I come from a peasant-indigenous community in the East Region of Paraguay. I am part of a family that, for decades, has struggled for the rights of peasant to their land. I have followed the same path as my family. Paraguay, for 40 years, has been submerged in a dark process of a dictatorship period, during which many peasants were killed or disappeared, including close friends of my family.  The post-dictatorship period, allowed us to advance certain social battles. But, only since April 2008 when, after 60 years of the same party ruling, we had a change in government, we got the opportunity to further our demands. Also, with the new political process, we have started to re-organise ourselves and to reclaim historical demands that had been postponed for decades.

What organization are you representing now and your main campaigns?
I am the Secretary General of a grassroots peasants’ organization called Movimiento Agrario Popular (People’s Agrarian Movement) (MAP). MAP promotes small peasants’ family agriculture and opposes land evictions, pesticide poisoning and criminalisation of peasants. Our concrete struggle is against  genetically modified (GM) soy monoculture plantations.

How are farmers in your country affected by the climate crisis?
Countries like mine -with a weak economy and underdeveloped- are the most vulnerable  from climate change in terms of territorial, economy, cultural and food sovereignty. We are being affected by decisions taken outside our country without effective participation of popular sectors and for the benefit of big corporations. Transnational corporations (TNCs) have taken advantage of the institutional weakness of our country to pillage our natural resources.  Furthermore, the development by TNCs of large scale production has aggravated the climate crisis. This situation is repeating itself all over the Global South.

What do you think of the market-based solutions being presented to solve the climate crisis?
The irony of the matter is that while our country is being affected by droughts due to the predatory actions of TNCs, these same TNCs, such as Monsanto, are looking for false solutions such as the introduction of a genetically modified seed that can resist the droughts. TNCs are not interested in addressing the problems of the climate crisis, instead they look for ways to make more money out if it. Furthermore, this way of operating by TNCs, is being supported by the governments in power in our countries through trade and investment agreements.

International organisations such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and even  in some cases the Food and Agricuture Organisation, FAO have acted as facilitators for TNCs to continue with their destructive practices.

We consider these false mechanisms make a fool out of our people. We believe that developed countries should assume their responsibility in their own territory and not in ours.

What are your strategies of resistance?
For years, we have followed multiple strategies to stop the advances of GM Soy in Paraguay. Among those we have done occupations of plantations of GM soy, particularly  lands that have been given illegally to the producers. Also, since April 2008, we have lobbied to influence the different decision making institutions at the National level, such as the National Congress and the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. A third strategy has been to present denounces to the Justice System and International Organisations of violations of Human Rights of the indigenous-peasants communities.

What solutions do you propose to solve the climate crisis?
We are in a process called Popular Congress of peasants, workers, indigenous peoples and intellectuals. This Congress works in parallel to the official Congress and is a mechanism for advancing proposals to deal with the the climate crisis in general and with the situation of the family agriculture in Paraguay in particular. The proposals include:  agrarian reform, the creation of a Ministry of Family  Agriculture that should be in charge of strengthening the local communities and their production activities, as well as the local exchanges and local markets, all in harmony with nature.
Furthermore, we are also advancing concrete proposals to contribute to stopping climate change such as: a moratorium on the external debt and use instead part of the international reserves to reforest some areas in the country; and introduce taxes and tariffs to the exports and imports of transgenic products.

Why are you on the Caravan?
To raise awareness about our struggle and learn from other people facing similar circumstances in order to join forces.