Eugene Debs: Demands

“The earth for all the people. That is the demand. The machinery of production and distribution for all the people. That is the demand. The collective ownership and control of industry and its democratic management in the interests of all the people. That is the demand. The elimination of rent, interest, profit, and the production of wealth to satisfy the wants of all the people. That is the demand. Cooperative industry in which all shall work together in harmony as a basis of a new social order, a higher civilization, a real republic. That is the demand.”

—Eugene V. Debs, 1902

Voices from the Field: Puebla’s Campesinos Resisting the Theft of Their Land

campesinos working in agricultural fieldsThe campesinos of the Texmelucan valley in Puebla, Mexico, depend on the land for their livelihood. Their cultures and identities spring from these rich volcanic soils in the foothills of mount Popcatepetl and mount Izatacihutl. Yet, this all could be lost with the construction of a new highway that threatens to forcibly displace them from their land.

On August 10, members of the Peoples Front in Defense of the Land and Water (FPDTA – the Spanish acronym) joined more than 10,000 supporters in a demonstration in the capital city of Puebla. Protesters were calling for Governor Rafael Moreno Valle to end to the repression of the movement, and for the freedom of their imprisoned leaders who have been incarcerated on questionable charges since April.

The campesinos of Texmeulucan valley have organized to challenge the construction of the Western Arch highway, which is commonly referred to as “the project of death.” Since 2012, the FPDTA has worked to unite the 19 communities that are impacted by the construction of the highway project, as well as connect with communities affected by other mega-projects in Tlaxcala, Puebla, and Morelos.

The 26-mile highway is being constructed in order to cut down transit through the state of Puebla. Yet the construction comes at a high social cost. It directly affects 1,200 collective farms (ejidos) and small property owners. But the impact goes well beyond just the landowners and ejidos; each one hires between eight and 12 local laborers to assist in the planting, harvesting, and maintaining of the fields.

The leadership of the FPDTA has expressed a willingness to work with the government to find a solution, but both the state government of Puebla and the federal government have shown little interest in the concerns of the campesinos of Puebla.

“We want a plan where the campesinos can stay on their land,” said Izabel Topetón Morelos, one of those affected by the construction of the highway. “But the government has been unwilling to listen and respect the rights of the campesino.”

Despite their willingness to pursue a plan, those affected are still unwilling to give up or sell their land. Many of those affected by the project believe that the government has used underhanded tactics to encourage them to sell their land.

“The government was coming around and telling the campesinos that their neighbors had sold,” said Mario Marin, one of the farmers affected by the development project. “But when we began to organize, we realized that the others were not selling.”

The farmers of the Texmeulucan valley maintain that the region that where the highway is to be built is productive land, with clean and abundant water.

Victor Garcia Rafael is an elderly farmer, and another of many who is affected by the highway. He has worked his small plot in San Martin Texmelucan his entire life. Here he grows spinach, corn, beans, and other fruits and vegetables which will go to the markets of Mexico City. His land lies in the path of the highway. He is concerned with what the highway will mean for the men who help him with the harvest, and for himself.

“What will they do?” asks Garcia Rafael, motioning to the eight men currently assisting him with the harvest. “There are no jobs for them to take other than those in the field. These projects break up the community.” […]

The construction of the Western Arch is accompanied by the construction of a number of projects tied to the energy reforms of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which includes a 100-mile natural gas pipeline, called the Morelos Integral Pipeline, that runs from the state of Tlaxcala, through Puebla, and to Morelos.

“This all comes in the wake of the energy reforms of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which was supposed to ‘save Mexico,’” said Omar Cordero Garcia, son of one of the imprisoned leaders of the Frente de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra y Agua, in an email. “But rather, the reforms destroy the environment, and deprives the poor of their land in order to sell Mexico’s energy resources. We are struggling to defend our natural resources, and our way of life.”

In this sense, the struggle of the campesinos of Puebla is one that is over the control of resources.

“These lands belong to the people who work them,” said Raul Rodriguez de la Fuente, FPDTA’s lawyer. “It is all about natural resources, and the taking of resources. These lands have been in these families for generations.”

In fact, the construction of mega-projects in Puebla has required the breaking of the traditional laws (usos y costumbres) that govern resource distribution. These projects take away the communities democratic management of land and water. And the expansions of mega projects in Puebla create a situation where, according to Rodriguez de la Fuente says, “only the government and business benefits.”

The atmosphere in Puebla for activists has become increasingly tense. Supporters and leaders of the movement have faced intimidation and repression for their resistance to the development projects that they refer to as “projects of death.”

Abraham Cordero Calderón, the Secretary of the Campesino Front in San Martin Texmelucan, was arrested without charges in April 2014, along with the two other leaders of the movement, Juan Carlos Flores Solís and Enedina Rosas Vélez.

Obdulia García Galicia, Cordero Calderón’s wife, has continued to participate in the movement to defend her husbands land. The stress of his imprisonment has taken a toll on their family economically. Despite the difficulty and fear that comes with fighting for his liberation, she expresses being thankful for the support of the others in the movement.

The repression has impacted more than just those who are directly affected by the development projects such as the Western Arch and the pipeline. Academics from the Autonomous University of Puebla (BUAP) and environmentalists, who have spoken out against the projects, have been targeted as well.

Armed gunmen dressed as campesinos showed up at the house of sociology and sustainable development professor Ricardo Pérez Avilés at the (BUAP) after he spoke out against the projects. The gunmen were unable to locate the professor, but the threats against Pérez Avilés still persist, and the professor has since gone into hiding.

Support for the resistance has come from around the globe. Intellectuals and social organizations issued a letter to the governments of Puebla and Morelos denouncing the repression against those resisting the Western Arch highway project and Morelos pipe line soon after the arrest of the leaders. MIT Linguistics professor emeritus Noam Chomsky and Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano were among those who signed the letter calling for the release of the leaders of the FPDTA, and demanding that the Mexican government ends the “projects of death.”

“Hereby we urge the governments of Rafael Moreno Valle in Puebla and Graco Ramirez in Morelos, to give freedom to detainees, to cease intimidating measures against social activists and academics,” the letter stated. “And the cancellation of mining, hydropower, highway projects, pipelines called rightly ‘death projects’ for affecting the lives and health of hundreds of thousands.”

Furthermore, Puebla’s draconian “Bullet Law,” which allows police to use deadly force against resisting protesters, hangs over the movement. But despite the repression and potential for deadly force, the campesinos of Puebla will continue their resistance.

“We are not afraid,” said Topetón Morales. “We are united.”

Read full article at:

Communal Lands: Theater of Operations for Counterinsurgency

(by Renata Bessi & Santiago Navarro F. via El Enemigo Comun)

Juchitán Oaxaca: Zapotec Indians show solidarity with resistance to building one of the largest wind farms in Latin America, despite death threats from paramilitary groups paid by companies and protected by the government. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)
Juchitán Oaxaca: Zapotec Indians show solidarity with resistance to building one of the largest wind farms in Latin America, despite death threats from paramilitary groups paid by companies and protected by the government. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

“In 2006, a team of geographers from the University of Kansas carried out a series of mapping projects of communal lands in southern Mexico’s Northern Sierra Mountains. Coordinated by Peter Herlihy and Geoffrey B. Demarest, a US lieutenant colonel, the objective was to achieve strategic military and geopolitical goals of particular interest for the United States. The objective was to incorporate indigenous territories into the transnational corporate model of private property, either by force or through agreements. Demarest’s essential argument is that peace cannot exist without private property.

“The Bowman Expeditions are taking places with the counterinsurgency logic of the United States, and we reported them in 2009. These expeditions were part of research regarding the geographic information that indigenous communities in the Sierra Juarez possess. The researchers hid the fact that they were being financed by the Pentagon. And we believe that this research was a type of pilot project to practice how they would undertake research in other parts of the world in relation to indigenous towns and their communal lands,” said Aldo Gonzales Rojas in an interview with Truthout. A director for the Secretary of Indigenous Affairs in the state of Oaxaca, Rojas ensures that indigenous laws are being instituted and applied correctly in the state.

According to researcher and anthropologist Gilberto López y Rivas, “The agents on the expeditions consider the types of communal property in these lands, both collective and autonomous, to be an obstacle for the development plans currently being very aggressively executed, where there is capital from mining companies, pharmaceuticals, energy companies, among others,” he told Truthout. This is despite the fact that these communal lands in Mexico, for example, were recognized after the Mexican Revolution in 1910 and are lands that indigenous communities have possessed since time immemorial.

In Oaxaca, a caravan of activists arrives to support those resisting the construction of the wind farm, in the face of more than 500 policemen attempting to take control of the territory. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)
In Oaxaca, a caravan of activists arrives to support those resisting the construction of the wind farm, in the face of more than 500 policemen attempting to take control of the territory. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

Geographer and University of Colorado professor Joe Bryan, affirmed in an interview with Truthout, that, as a point of reference in this offensive against communal lands, the Southern Command of the United States military, one of the 10 command units belonging to the US military that are deployed across the world, covers the area from South America, Central America, to the Caribbean. “They have turned their gaze to see that there is no state presence and an absence of private property. They are looking for communal areas and present these areas as belonging to drug trafficking and organized crime groups. In this way the Southern Command is looking to become a partner with the governments and nonprofit organizations in Latin America, and with this in mind, for example, that operation called Continuous Mission – that promotes health services to communities – [is] another way of occupying territories and of counterinsurgency.”

As the ideologue of these expeditions, Demarest considers collective land ownership to be the birthplace of delinquency and insurgency, and thus believes that collective property must be destroyed. He graduated from the School of the Americas, which is under the administration of the US Army and was founded in 1946 in Panama, with the objective of training Latin American soldiers in war and counterinsurgency tactics. In recent years, graduates from the School of the Americas have participated in assassinations in Colombia, formed part of the drug trafficking organization The Zetas, in Mexico, and were involved in the coup in Honduras in 2009, as was demonstrated by activists through a School of the Americas Watch lawsuit against the Department of Defense in February 2013. “Demarest is one of the coordinators of these expeditions. He was trained in the School of the Americas, later served as military attaché for the United States Embassy in Guatemala in 1988 and 1991, where a counterinsurgency project was implemented that caused terrible massacres of indigenous populations,” says López. […]

In Oaxaca, a police officer takes pictures, attempting to document the presence of activists in Oaxaca’s Triqui indigenous region. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)
In Oaxaca, a police officer takes pictures, attempting to document the presence of activists in Oaxaca’s Triqui indigenous region. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)


Read the full article “Communal Lands: Theater of Operations for Counterinsurgency” at El Enemigo Comun

China Has 8 Million Acres of Land That Are Now Too Polluted to Grow Food On

via Earth First Journal:

For as much news as China’s smog situation makes, another large problem has lagged in attention—the pollution of 8 million acres of farmland across the country.

The land is far too polluted with heavy metals and chemicals that it can’t be used to grow food, Wang Shiyuan, deputy minister of China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection said Monday.

The Ministry found “moderate to severe pollution” on 3.3 million hectares (8.3 million acres) of land, according to Huffington Post. The country needs at least 120 million hectares of arable land to meet the large population’s needs. The nation began the year with 135 million hectares of arable land, but contamination and efforts to convert farmland to forests, grasslands and wetlands dropped that amount to 120 million hectares, ThinkProgress reported.

“These areas cannot continue farming,” Wang said.

Read full article: “China Has 8 Million Acres of Land That Are Now Too Polluted to Grow Food On

On this day in history (December 15, 1890): The murder of Sitting Bull (Thatháŋka Íyotake)

Sitting BullOn this day in history, December 15, 1890: After a lifetime of resistance to the U.S. genocide of Native peoples, Sitting Bull (Thatháŋka Íyotake), was murdered by Indian agency police on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation during an attempt to arrest him for supporting the Ghost Dance movement.

He lived a truly amazing life. Here are some of his words for reflection:

“Behold, the Spring has come; the earth has received the embraces of the sun and we shall soon see the results of that love! Every seed is awakened and so has all animal life. It is through this mysterious power that we too have our being, and we therefore yield to our neighbors, even our animal neighbors, the same right as ourselves, to inhabit this land. 

Yet, hear me, people, we have now to deal with another race – small and feeble when our fathers first met them but now great and overbearing. Strangely enough they have a mind to till the soil and the love of possession is a disease with them. These people have made many rules that the rich may break but the poor may not. They take their tithes from the poor and weak to support the rich and those who rule. They claim this mother of ours, the earth, for their own and fence their neighbors away; they deface her with their buildings and their refuse. The nation is like a spring freshet that overruns its banks and destroys all that are in its path. 

We cannot dwell side by side. Only seven years ago we made a treaty by which we were assured that the buffalo country should be left to us forever. Now they threaten to take that away from us. My brothers, shall we submit or shall we say to them: “First kill me before you take possession of my land…””

(From a speech at the Powder River Council, 1877)

Linda Hogan: You are the result of love of thousands

“Walking, I can almost hear the redwoods beating. And the oceans are above me here, rolling clouds, heavy and dark. It is winter and there is smoke from the fires. It is a world of elemental attention, of all things working together, listening to what speaks in the blood. Whichever road I follow, I walk in the land of many gods, and they love and eat one another. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.”

— Linda Hogan

Spiderweb on juniper tree, covered in dew

We Already Grow Enough Food For 10 Billion People — and Still Can’t End Hunger

(by Eric Holt-Gimenez via Huffington Post)

A new a study from McGill University and the University of Minnesota published in the journal Nature compared organic and conventional yields from 66 studies and over 300 trials. Researchers found that on average, conventional systems out-yielded organic farms by 25 percent — mostly for grains, and depending on conditions.

Embracing the current conventional wisdom, the authors argue for a combination of conventional and organic farming to meet “the twin challenge of feeding a growing population, with rising demand for meat and high-calorie diets, while simultaneously minimizing its global environmental impacts.”

Unfortunately, neither the study nor the conventional wisdom addresses the real cause of hunger.

Hunger is caused by poverty and inequality, not scarcity. For the past two decades, the rate of global food production has increased faster than the rate of global population growth. The world already produces more than 1 ½ times enough food to feed everyone on the planet. That’s enough to feed 10 billion people, the population peak we expect by 2050. But the people making less than $2 a day — most of whom are resource-poor farmers cultivating unviably small plots of land — can’t afford to buy this food.

In reality, the bulk of industrially-produced grain crops goes to biofuels and confined animal feedlots rather than food for the 1 billion hungry. The call to double food production by 2050 only applies if we continue to prioritize the growing population of livestock and automobiles over hungry people.

But what about the contentious “yield gap” between conventional and organic farming?

Actually, what this new study does tell us is how much smaller the yield gap is between organic and conventional farming than what critics of organic agriculture have assumed. In fact, for many crops and in many instances, it is minimal. With new advances in seed breeding for organic systems, and with the transition of commercial organic farms to diversified farming systems that have been shown to “overyield,” this yield gap will close even further.

Rodale, the longest-running side-by-side study comparing conventional chemical agriculture with organic methods (now 47 years), found organic yields match conventional in good years and outperform them under drought conditions and environmental distress — a critical property as climate change increasingly serves up extreme weather conditions. Moreover, agroecological practices (basically, farming like a diversified ecosystem) render a higher resistance to extreme climate events which translate into lower vulnerability and higher long-term farm sustainability.

The Nature article examined yields in terms of tons per acre and did not address efficiency ( i.e. yields per units of water or energy) nor environmental externalities (i.e. the environmental costs of production in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion, biodiversity loss, etc) and fails to mention that conventional agricultural research enjoyed 60 years of massive private and public sector support for crop genetic improvement, dwarfing funding for organic agriculture by 99 to 1.

The higher performance of conventional over organic methods may hold between what are essentially both mono-cultural commodity farms. This misleading comparison sets organic agriculture as a straw man to be knocked down by its conventional counterpart. While it is rarely acknowledged, half the food in the world is produced by 1.5 billion farmers working small plots for which monocultures of any kind are unsustainable. Non-commercial poly-cultures are better for balancing diets and reducing risk, and can thrive without agrochemicals. Agroecological methods that emphasize rich crop diversity in time and space conserve soils and water and have proven to produce the most rapid, recognizable and sustainable results. In areas in which soils have already been degraded by conventional agriculture’s chemical “packages”, agroecological methods can increase productivity by 100-300 percent.

This is why the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food released a report advocating for structural reforms and a shift to agroecology. It is why the 400 experts commissioned for the four-year International Assessment on Agriculture, Science and Knowledge for Development (IAASTD 2008) also concluded that agroecology and locally-based food economies (rather than the global market) where the best strategies for combating poverty and hunger.

Raising productivity for resource-poor farmers is one piece of ending hunger, but how this is done — and whether these farmers can gain access to more land — will make a big difference in combating poverty and ensuring sustainable livelihoods. The conventional methods already employed for decades by poor farmers have a poor track record in this regard.

Can conventional agriculture provide the yields we need to feed 10 billion people by 2050? Given climate change, the answer is an unsustainable “maybe.” The question is, at what social and environmental cost? To end hunger we must end poverty and inequality. For this challenge, agroecological approaches and structural reforms that ensure that resource-poor farmers have the land and resources they need for sustainable livelihoods are the best way forward.