October 2002


Indigenous peasant farmers' organisations in Latin America are saying 'No' to the 'Free Trade Area of the Americas' - US President George W Bush's star trade project - based on their past experiences with free trade and bilateral plans with the US.

By Victor Quintana S

The Andean Forum 'The Rural Organisations against the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)' was held in Quito, Ecuador. The most important campesino indigenous organisations of the region were present: Peru's CCP, Colombia's Fenuagro, the National Confederation of Ecuadorean Indians (CONAIE), Ecuador's FENOCIN, and Bolivia's CIOEC. There were no Venezuelans present because of the coup attempt in the nation.

The campesino and civil society organisations of the area aimed to establish a stance towards the FTAA, George W Bush's star trade project, by first analysing other experiences as well as their own in two main aspects: free trade and bilateral plans between some of the countries and the United States.

The Mexican organisations presented their experience after eight years of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Since 1997 the country has imported more than 50 million tonnes of basic grain. In 2001 we imported more than six million tonnes of maize, a third of which was genetically modified. Our food dependence on foreign countries has grown to 95% for oil-rich seeds, 50% for rice, 40% for meat, 25% for maize and 20% for milk.

Even the businesses of the National Agricultural Council acknowledge the dire results of  the Agreement in terms of grain, oil-seed and meat producers.  In the past three years, the price of basic grains has fallen by 50% and that of inputs for agriculture has increased by 40-50%. The result is greater impoverishment in the rural areas for two-thirds of the 25 million people dependent on agriculture, and migration of 500,000 people per year.

One would think that in Mercosur [the Southern Common Market], due to its distance from the US, things would be better. That is not the case. The majority of farms in the fertile and well-irrigated Uruguayan pampas are not viable, and the same is true for 80% of products from the Mercosur countries. Despite having stocks of 50 million sheep and 10 million cattle, Uruguay now imports more than half of its food. Brazilian multinationals are reaping the benefits.

The representative of the organised family farmers said: 'Because we looked to the international market, we ended up losing the domestic market.' And, as if to underline this, the day after the presentation 100,000 people, many of them farmers, shook Montevideo in a protest against the economic policy of the Batlle government.

In Argentina, the old 'grain farmer of the world', there was a model that worked: agriculture and cattle farming were ingrated, without the need for aggressive agrochemicals that damage the fertile soil of the humid pampa. In all areas there were small local businesses that added value to agricultural products.

But since the 1980s, the multinationals have promoted soya cultivation, until they produced up to 10 million tonnes per year. An agrochemical package was introduced, with a high level of glyphosate which contaminates soil, currents, water tables, cattle and people.

The integrated model was broken, agribusinesses collapsed. It was the end of Argentina's food sovereignty. Some 114,000 farms were abandoned covering an area of 10 million hectares. This food-agro crisis is a very important factor of the economic crisis that erupted last December.

The Bolivian campesinos spoke of their experience with Plan Dignidad, negotiated between the US and Andean countries. Tired of cocaine consumption, the North Americans proposed replacing coca cultivation - a traditional crop - with others such as mango, coffee and yucca, in order to combat drugs trafficking. It failed completely: the alternative crops were not profitable. This resulted in governmental corruption in the use of subsidies and hunger for farmers.

Plan Colombia, which was imposed by [former US President] Clinton's government on this country, has led to the militarisation of the country, the establishment of a North American base in Manta, the devastation of crops and of the vegetable mass of many regions, through the use of defoliating chemicals under the pretext of combating coca. Greater impoverishment in the Colombian countryside followed.

With such precedents, no one wants the FTAA: It is not the way to a dignified life for campesino families, or for food sovereignty, political independence, or the conservation of the environment.

It is necessary to promote another agricultural model based on the protection of the contributions of campesino and family farmers. From one side of the Andes to the other people are saying, 'We don't want the FTAA; another type of agriculture is possible.' - Third World Network Features

About the writer: Victor Quintana S is a member of the Assembly on the board of DECA, Equipo Pueblo, AC, which publishes The Other Side of Mexico, in which the above article appeared (April-June 2002).

When reproducing this feature, please credit Third World Network Features and (if applicable) the cooperating magazine or agency involved in the article, and give the byline. Please send us cuttings.