João Pedro Stédile is an economist, co-founder and co-coordinator of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil, and leader among Latin American social movements. He gave the following talk to hundreds of Haitian farmers at the 40th anniversary assembly of the Peasant Movement of Papay (MPP) on March 18, 2013.
I’d like to bring to you the perspective of the Landless Workers Movement on this complex historic moment, and on the social movements we’re building in Latin America.
Just when it seemed like the capitalist system was eternal, a crisis in the system exploded in 2008. The first consequence has been the ideological defeat of neoliberalism, because neoliberalism says that the market will resolve everything, and that idea has been shot down. The second consequence has been the decline of the political power of the US. They still have the strength but no one believes in them anymore. On the contrary, the whole world is mad at the gringo capital.
Periods of crisis in capitalism are always a sign that the door is open for change in the world, but at this point, we don’t know in which direction. For that reason it’s very important what [deceased Venezuelan president Hugo] Chávez told us: study, reflect, and comprehend reality in order to be able to change it.
At this moment, there is a strong project of recolonization of the continent according to the US’s interests. We defeated them with the Free Trade Area of Americas (FTAA), but now they come with their military forces, bilateral trade treaties with Mexico and with Colombia and with Chile, a treaty for the Pacific, and the control of Central America and the Carribean. And all of the politics of Obama are in that direction: reconquer the continent for the interests of his businesses. Don’t be fooled by the color of his skin; he is a representative of gringo capitalism.
There’s also a sector of the domestic bourgeoisie in our countries that wants to profit from our riches. They propose a international integration, but of the capitalist type. Companies from Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia are running around Latin America making investments and profits, with the support of those governments.
But another key element of this moment is that of integration among our peoples. No people from a single country can liberate itself, because the enemy now is international capitalism with its banks and its companies. In all countries of Latin America, for example, Monsanto controls the transgenetic seeds and the agrochemicals, the market for corn and soy. It finances our governments, buying senators, congresspeople, mayors, and yes, even bishops to bless the transgenic seeds. So, when you rise up against Monsanto here in Haiti, you are helping all of the farmers of Latin America. When we in Brazil take experimental farms from Monsanto and destroy them, we are also helping all of Latin America.
To help us integrate and fight our common enemies, we have to have programs of economic integration. We have to fight against the dollarization of our economies, and force our governments to create a new Latin American-wide currency. It’s essential that the governments on the left and the progressives of Latin America leave the sphere of the dollar. Chávez even proposed a name for this new currency, the sucre.
We also have to build up our integration through communication. In the old days, the capitalists used the churches to dominate us ideologically. Now they can’t, so they use the television. But the television is just an instrument of communication, so it can be a weapon of education as well. And for that reason as well, Chávez was a visionary. He proposed that we construct TeleSUR, a Latin American TV network under the control of the people, to deliver news.
In the political field, we in the South are advancing with the construction of the [regionally integrated] Southern Zone and, throughout all of Latin America, CELAC [the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States]. This is very important because CELAC is the grave of the OAS [Organization of American States], the political arm of the gringos. It was the OAS that first proposed MINUSTAH [UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, the UN force occupying the country] and that provided soldiers. If we had only CELAC, which doesn’t include Canada and the US, there would be no foreign troops in Haiti.
For integration among our peoples, we also have to educate a new generation of youth for liberation. The capitalists want the youth only for consuming drugs and cell phones, but we need them to be teachers and doctors and engineers. Here Fidel gave us a great lesson with the construction of the ELAM [the Latin American School of Medicine], that’s a great school for training doctors. I want to tell you that in Brazil, more Black doctors have been trained in Cuba than in all of the faculties of medicine in Brazil. Put another way, the poor of Brazil that want to be doctors go to Cuba. We in Via Campesina [the worldwide coalition of farmers, peasants, and landless people] are doing our part by creating a network of agro-ecology schools.
What you are doing here in this school [the agro-ecology training center of the Peasant Movement of Haiti] is revolutionary. It’s anti-imperialist. It’s anti-capitalist. The imperialists want to control our seeds to control our plates and our lives. Building a school of agro-ecology in the countryside, and taking control of your seeds, is the same as building a fort of guerrillas. Guerrillas of Black descent.
We need to take one more step in integrating peoples, which is to organize mass struggles. When people stay seated, they’re no good for anything. We have to put our energy in each country to build struggles against our principal enemies: the banks, the transnational companies, and the media controlled by the bourgeoisie. And I hope we will join together the fights from our countries and create a common struggle. I hope we achieve very soon one united battle to definitively defeat Monsanto, Nestlé in milk, Cargill in corn, and mining companies.
To conclude: I’d like you to understand that the situation in Latin America in this moment is in a permanent face-off between [capitalist integration and integration of the peoples]. This face-off occurs from the setting of prices in the seed market to every governmental election. The enemies are the same, so to defeat them, we have to unite and undertake continent-wide actions.
For more information on the MST, on the farmer-led mass movement against Monsanto and corporate agriculture, and on the worldwide campaign for food sovereignty, please see Other Worlds’ new book, Harvesting Justice: Transformations in Food, Land, and Agriculture
Many thanks to Paige Schneider, Tim Burke, and Ereeni Roulakis for transcribing and translating this presentation.
João Pedro Stédile is an economist, co-founder and co-coordinator of the Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil, and leader among Latin American social movements.