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By Colectivo Bioptimistas
The war for the economic power of the world takes increasingly subtle forms. When the multinational Monsanto began acquiring patents on genetically modified seeds, few foresaw how far it could go with its plans.
The Heritage Seed of the Peoples at the Service of Humanity
An underhanded war led by multinationals is exterminating the life, environment and culture of the peasant and indigenous population of Paraguay: transgenic soy
The war for the economic power of the world takes increasingly subtle forms.
When the multinational Monsanto began acquiring patents on genetically modified seeds, few foresaw how far it could go with its plans. Paraguay is an example of the consequences that this model produced, like Argentina, and Uruguay is not lagging behind (we already have 300 thousand hectares of RR soybeans) (USDA 2005). The aim is to control the food industry, that is, it is not enough to have patents on some modified seeds, but the rest must be exterminated. In Mexico, the cradle of corn with thousands of varieties, it is difficult to find non-transgenic corn, since the genetic contamination is enormous. Several western agri-food companies are buying seed companies in underdeveloped countries to sell transgenic seeds and thus control the world food market, eliminating traditional seeds.
The cultivation of transgenic soybeans in Paraguay began in 1999. It entered illegally, smuggled, with the complicity of the authorities. The cultivated area increased to 1,600,000 hectares in the 2003/04 cycle, practically two million hectares the following year. The crops spread over hundreds of kilometers and affect areas very close to communities, colonies and other peasant and indigenous settlements, including schools, homes, family and community farms.
Traditional crops and seeds are gradually disappearing. It is an agriculture that uses seeds owned by multinationals, imported machinery, implements and pesticides, it hardly hires labor and when it does it is foreign, and the profits are deposited in foreign banks. The only thing it leaves the country is eroded soil and poisoned water.
The RR (Roundup Ready) soybean, owned by the multinational Monsanto, was genetically engineered to resist the Roundup herbicide, which is sold together with the seed as it is also the creation of this company. The objective that this "invention" aims to achieve is that only the modified crop survives the application of this herbicide. Besides soybeans, there are other RR crops, such as corn and eucalyptus.
Glyphosate-based products also contain other compounds that can be toxic, although they are misleadingly called "inert" and are not specified on product labels. Therefore, the toxicological characteristics of market products are different from those of glyphosate alone. The most commonly used herbicidal formulation (Roundup) contains polyoxyethylene amine surfactant (POEA), related glyphosate organic acids, isopropylamine, and water. POEA has an acute toxicity three to five times greater than that of the herbicide alone.
Other herbicides such as endosulfan or cypermethrin are included in this package. Tordon (2,4,5-T), a herbicide that was used in combination with 2,4 D to constitute the famous "agent orange" used in the Vietnam War, has also been applied. 2,4,5-T is on the list of the so-called "dirty dozen", which includes twelve extremely dangerous pesticides. Another pesticide that is often used is dodecachlor (mirex), used to combat cutter ant. Mirex is one of the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), toxic, polluting, organic, persistent, bioaccumulating chemicals that can travel long distances, and therefore have serious impacts on human health and the environment. (Cárcamo, 2004)
During our visit to Paraguay we verified that 2.4 D was being used in the soybean fields; crops increasingly require more powerful pesticides due to the adaptation of weeds. In other words, the cultivation of RR soy has substantially increased the use of pesticides, which is exactly the opposite of the argument used by those who promote the technology of transgenic crops.
Living in the countryside for Paraguayans implies living with a deadly poison that flies through the air, is deposited on land, water and food. The extension of the crops devastated the jungle, the mountains, the lands of the peasants and indigenous people. The peasants are expelled from the field, those who remain run the constant risk of poisoning from the pesticides that are used. Many people, including children, have already died as a result of the fumigations.
The peasants formed coordinators for the defense of the lands. They have carried out actions to block crops and fumigations and threatened to occupy land. The expulsion of the population from the countryside where they have lived for hundreds of years led to an increase in poverty in the cities and an increase in emigration. Self-consumption crops, maintained since ancient times, are destroyed or contaminated by Roundup and other pesticides that are added to it, at the same time that the life of terrestrial and fish fauna is destroyed. The indigenous people who traditionally lived on the mountain no longer have a forest; The rivers and the earth accumulate the poison that does not degrade in a few days as the multinational that produces them assures, the countryside is an endless "green desert" where only transgenic soy is planted and where pesticides leave almost no plant or animal life behind. his step.
Since the production of transgenic soybeans began in Paraguay, dependence on exports has increased, as well as Monsanto's intervention in soybean monocultures. The price of land increased, there is a total lack of government control over the problems caused by its production and consumption. The transgressions of environmental legislation and the ineffectiveness of the National Biosafety Commission continue. The justice apparatus is allied with the large landowners to silence the complaints of the victims, as in the case of the child Silvino Talavera, who died as a result of the fumigations, or to repress the protest actions of peasants and indigenous people.
Faced with the lack of solutions, those affected sell their lands and emigrate to the poverty belts of the towns or large cities (it is estimated that some 100,000 people abandoned their lands) or organize themselves into departmental coordinators for the defense of life and environment (although at the moment this has not worked, due to corruption and government inefficiency), or they organize to occupy land, burn soybeans, block the entry of machinery and personnel for fumigation. In these cases, the brutal repression has claimed many lives.
The organization and mobilization are very complicated for the peasants because the distances are enormous and there is no money for transport, food and other necessities that arise in the trips, not to mention that when the clashes leave injuries, they must also be sought medicines, because in hospitals there is practically nothing.
The case of Silvino Talavera
On January 8, 2003, Silvino Talavera, an 11-year-old boy from a peasant family with whom the group was with, died. This family has lived for 24 years in Pirapey 35, a place surrounded by transgenic soy plantations. In the middle of this landscape they try to maintain their small garden and some animals (the ones that survived the poison). They have twelve children.
At the time Silvino was going to the warehouse, which is several kilometers from his house (something normal in the Paraguayan countryside), a neighbor was spraying his roadside plantation with Roundup. The emanations reached Silvino, who immediately fell ill and was transferred to Encarnación because he could not be treated in Itapúa. He was seriously ill for several days until he was discharged; Then, another neighbor had to fumigate, not caring about the requests of Petrona Villasboas, the mother. The wind was responsible for moving the poison to the wooden house where they live, intoxicating the child again and causing death.
The mother is a member of Conamuri (National Coordinator of Rural and Indigenous Women's Organizations), and with this support she immediately began a trial, despite the bribes and death threats she received. They are having a lot of difficulties moving forward, because the distances are great and to get around they need money that they don't have. The process was on the right track, but the defendants have had the result modified. This was the first case of death from intoxication that reaches the Justice, but according to Petrona herself and confirmed Julia Franco, also a member of Conamuri, it is not the first death of a child but there have been many throughout the country, which they are not reported because of threats or bribes or simply because of the lack of money to carry out the different instances of a trial.
In fact, in the book Advancement of transgenic soy monoculture in Paraguay, edited by Tomás Palau, dozens of cases of poisoning, deaths and contamination of water sources, and murders of peasants in police attacks on resistance actions are reported. For example, on January 22, 2004, in Caaguazú, police forces attacked with firearms a group of peasants who were on their way to demonstrate against the use of pesticides on a 70-hectare soybean plot, leaving two peasants dead, nine injured, a dozen injured and more than 40 arrested.
Soil and water pollution
Contrary to what the Roundup label says (according to which the herbicide that falls to the ground is immediately inactivated by a chemical reaction that occurs with the clays, without leaving residues that can affect subsequent plantings, nor does it penetrate through the roots of already established crops) glyphosate can be released from particles and be very mobile in the soil environment, and it does so in large percentages. In one type of soil studied, 80% of the added glyphosate was released in two hours. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in field studies the residues are found the following year.
Glyphosate is highly soluble in water (12 grams / liter at 25ºC). It has polluted the water in Canada. It has been found to persist for 12 to 60 days in pond waters, but persists longer in bottom sediments. The half-life in sediments was 120 days in a study in Missouri, United States. Persistence was greater than one year in sediments in Michigan and Oregon.
In Denmark, the Environment Minister announced never-before-seen restrictions on the use of glyphosate, due to an investigation that showed the presence of glyphosate in groundwater, from which most of the country's drinking water is obtained. Glyphosate and one of its by-products reached unacceptable levels in groundwater.
It seeps through the ground, contaminating the groundwater at a rate five times higher than the level allowed for drinking water. Bacteria in the soil do not degrade it before reaching the water in the groundwater. (RAPAL, 2004; Kaczewer, 2004)
Paraguay never overcame the devastation of the Triple Alliance war, in which Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil joined forces to fulfill the wishes of England and exterminate the country, its population and its culture with the objective of not expanding the " bad example "of economic independence and, practically, self-sufficiency.
Currently, the IMF is putting pressure on the government to achieve higher growth than the population, which can only be achieved with an increase in agricultural GDP, which in turn depends on transgenic soybeans. The last expansion of these plantations (426 thousand hectares) was made mainly on peasant lands. (Palau, 2004)
The loss of economic sovereignty is accentuated by depending on the export of a single product whose seeds are provided by a single company (Monsanto), and therefore depending on larger imports. Territorial sovereignty is also lost, since the lands pass into foreign hands, and food sovereignty, because diversification and subsistence crops are displaced, expelling the peasants towards the cities. There is no better form of domination than to maintain a hungry population, without its own food resources.
The struggles and mobilizations demand a new type of agrarian reform. Not only the distribution of land, but the defense of food sovereignty, the right to produce with one's own seed and to develop adequate agricultural techniques in accordance with the peasant economy and the balance of the environment, the development of social forms of production and the democratization of education in rural areas.
The group also visited a community of ten Guaraní indigenous families, in Pirapey 35, Itapúa. Many years ago these families lived in the mountains but were deprived of their lands. They struggled for years to recover them, and they only managed to recover a quarter of that territory because it was already totally devastated. As they did not know how to survive in any way other than the forest, an organization called Prodeco (Community Development Project), based in Asunción, offered them to participate in a project from which they would receive money to build barns and develop their agriculture. In return they had to plant transgenic soybeans. However, even though they started to plant soybeans, they never received the money. Now they are looking for alternatives that will allow them to survive in an impoverished land that can no longer meet their needs. They live in a situation of extreme poverty, they drink the water and bathe in a river that crosses the soybeans. What they are most concerned about is learning to read and write, so as not to be scammed again.
Some of the cases of poisoning, deaths or mobilizations due to the soybean model (Palau, 2004)01/08/03 (Pirapey 35, Itapúa) Seven children were admitted to Encarnación with the same gastrointestinal symptoms as Silvino Talavera.
06/06/03 (Minga Pora, Alto Paraná) The Seda y Fibras Company denounced the poisoning of hundreds of small producers, blackberry plantations and the larvae production laboratory, due to aerial spraying of soybeans with mono- tophos.
07/02/03 (February 3, 5th line, Caaguazú) A woman dies, presumably affected by fumigations
02/26/03 (Juan E. O´Leary, Alto Paraná) Toxic pesticides cause great fish mortality in the area because the Brazilians spray their plantations and wash their machines in the stream.
12/1/03 (San Pedro del Paraná, Itapúa) In emergency 10 companies from the district near La Paz and Fram, due to the total destruction of crops, death of poultry animals and even the death of a minor, supposedly due to the indiscriminate use of the pesticide "matayuyos".
12/03/03 (Potrerito, San Pedro del Paraná, Itapúa) Itapúa on alert for possible pesticide poisoning, some 300 families would be affected. A child under 9 years old died in one of the affected companies and 7 people hospitalized with skin problems, stomach pain and vomiting.
12/12/03 (Same case) Government confirms contamination of farmers with pesticides. MAG prohibited fumigation in populated areas and in watercourses within a 100-meter radius. They found toxic glyphosates and carbonates in the water and urine of villagers.
01/22/04 (Ypekúa, Repatrición, Caaguazú) Two peasants are killed in a police attack, 9 injured, a dozen injured and more than 40 detained. They were going to join the resistance against the use of pesticides in a plot of 70 hectares of soybeans. ONAC denounces the use of weapons of war to pepper peasants. Subsequently, the torture of 35 detainees by police officers was reported.
01/29/04 (K.18, Route 1, Encarnación, Itapúa) Neighbors denounce the contamination of a small stream with agrochemicals used in the fumigation of soybeans. Several children have pimples on their legs and faces, vomiting, dizziness and fever. They also denounce great mortality of fish and farmyard animals
02/13/04 (María Auxiliadora, Los Cedrales, Alto Paraná) Some 80 families in the area are affected by the contamination of a stream (all the fish and frogs died), and dogs that drank the water also died.
02/21/04 Due to the high toxicity that affects people and the entire environment, the National Congress was asked to prohibit the use of the powerful pesticides Paraquat and 2.4 D, used on a large scale to eliminate weeds in extensive crops.
02/27/04 (Paso Yobai, Guairá) 10 people destroyed 5 hectares of soybeans out of a total of 14.
02/29/04 (La Paloma, Canindeyú) Unknown people burn about 10 hectares of soybeans and 15 hectares. In Mcal. López, Caaguazú
03/03/04 (San Agustín, Repatriation, Caaguazú) A group of unknown peasants destroyed 4 hectares of soybeans with a machete.
The cases are many more, we only list a few, both of intoxications and peasant actions. As we said at the beginning of the note, it is a sneaky war that is spreading in many countries, especially in South America, and is justified with totally ridiculous arguments such as ending world hunger, to cite one example.
Cárcamo, María Isabel (2004) "Report on the situation of transgenics in Uruguay and biosafety"
Kaczewer, Jorge (2004) "Toxicology of glyphosate: risks for human health"
Palau, Tomás (2004), "Agrarian capitalism and peasant expulsion - Advancement of transgenic soy monoculture in Paraguay", CEIDRA, Asunción
RAP-AL Uruguay (2004) "What Uruguay do we want? A Natural Uruguay or a Transgenic Uruguay? Transgenic soy and glyphosate impacts"
USDA, US Department of Agriculture (2005), Crop Data for 2004/2005 from the Official Foreign Estimates page, Foreign Agricultural Service, accessed 4/19/05