Will the Czech Anti-Bases Movement Take the Bait?

by Gwendolyn Albert, World War 4 Report

From the perspective of the Czech Republic, the transition from the Bush to the Obama administration has been followed primarily through the lens of one issue, the country’s potential participation in the US missile defense system. Since 2006, the issue of locating a US radar base on Czech territory has generated some of the most genuinely spontaneous grassroots activism in the country for the past decade—mostly through the “No to Bases” (NE zĂĄkladnĂĄm) coalition of individuals, local mayors and organizations.

The arguments of those opposed to the radar combine nationalist concerns over Czech sovereignty and references to previous military occupations of Czech territory with a dose of pacifism. Along with the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (which the coalition has officially distanced itself from), radar opponents have been calling for a referendum on the issue, a goal they have yet to realize. Opinion polls consistently show 70% of the public were opposed to the Bush administration plan for “the radar,” as it came to be known.

Seeing the genuine participation the movement was generating and sustaining over time, the opposition Social Democrats decided to play to the anti-radar crowd around regional election time. Last year, party chair Jiri Paroubek sliced himself a hefty chunk of publicity by suggesting hunger striking activists start eating and instead institute a “chain hunger strike” including prominent celebrities to get their point across. For his part, Czech President Klaus accused the hunger strikers of “emotional blackmail.”

Proponents of the radar were former Czech President VĂĄclav Havel and the now-defunct center-right government of former Czech PM Mirek TopolĂĄnek, which included the Czech Greens and the Christian Democrats. The Czech media echoed both the US scenario of Iran as a potential aggressor and Russia’s claims that it was the real “target” of the radar installation and the “anti-missile missiles” to be placed in Poland as part of the scheme.

In March of this year, the TopolĂĄnek government withdrew a motion it had submitted to the Czech Parliament for approving the installation of a US military radar base on Czech territory. While those opposed to the radar did their best to spin the government’s move as a capitulation to public pressure, sadly, their analysis was not credible. The move was actually a tactical step by TopolĂĄnek to guarantee political support for ratification of the Lisbon Treaty (a whole other drama in itself).

The TopolĂĄnek government was toppled in a fifth attempt at a vote of no-confidence, square in the middle of the country’s first-ever EU presidency. A new caretaker cabinet was sworn in, headed by Czech PM Jan Fischer. Meanwhile, the Obama administration had launched its “reset” of diplomacy with Russia. In September, the Czech press reported that the country had “suffered yet another blow” when the Obama administration withdrew the Bush radar plan. The administration’s timing—on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939—was a gift to all those on the Czech scene who perpetually warn of a renewed Russian threat to Central Europe, EU membership notwithstanding. Poland’s staunch support for the US in Afghanistan and Iraq was also invoked by critics. US Vice President Joseph Biden later apologized for the poor timing.

Havel and other Central European leaders immediately sent a letter warning the new US administration insisting that Russia remains a threat to Central Europe and that they will essentially not rest easy until US troops are on their soil. Iran (by now undergoing its own political upheaval) was cast aside entirely as a pretext, and Czech pundits alleged that Obama was suffering from “naivetĂ©” when it came to understanding the nature of the Russian beast he was accused of trying to “appease.” Some compared the Obama administration’s move to the 1938 Munich agreement signed by Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, France and the UK to permit the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland. Meanwhile, those opposed to the radar were celebrating the Obama administration’s move as yet another victory of their own—prematurely, as it turns out, and without paying attention to the fine print.

The emotional discussion of the radar on the Czech scene—which combines agonized soul-searching over the country’s reputation as a NATO ally, dire predictions of future betrayals by “the West” or a resumption of tyranny from “the East,” and the anti-radar movement’s idealization of “people power” (which borders on the delusional in its attempts to connect the dots between its actions and those of Czech government)—was somewhat revived in October when the Obama administration sent Vice President Biden to the Czech Republic and Poland to offer a scaled-down version of the missile defense plan.

Instead of focusing on the potential for an eventual Iranian ICBM threat and the need for a “missile shield” to protect the entire West, the new plan is ostensibly designed to address Iran’s supposed ability to strike at NATO allies such as Turkey with medium-range missiles. The New York Times reported the Obama administration plans to deploy smaller, more mobile SM-3 interceptor missiles by 2011, first aboard ships and later on land in Europe—likely in either the Czech Republic or Poland. The primary difference between the Bush and Obama plans is that the Obama plan is clearly labeled as a NATO project and will involve a mobile missile system, not permanent bases.

So far, the Obama plan has not proven nearly as polarizing in the Czech Republic as the Bush one—which is a bit strange. After all, it could well result in locating not just radar but mobile missiles in the country. For some reason, however, the energy of the many demonstrations and public events that characterized anti-radar campaign over the past few years has not yet revived. For example, the turnout of those protesting Biden’s visit was less than 40 people altogether.

The “No to Bases” movement says it does indeed plan to keep protesting, as they do not believe Iran poses a threat to either Europe or the USA. In their view, ant missile defense plan is a cover for the next phase of militarizing space. “No to Bases” also analyzes missile defense as a US attempt to make the Czech Republic and Poland “Trojan horses” for destabilizing the rise of the EU as a military superpower.

In the “No to Bases” view, Iran will only pose a threat to Europe should Europe pose a threat to it. The location of mobile missiles on Czech territory would make the entire Czech Republic a target in the event of an actual attack, and would therefore decrease, not increase, Czech security. Moreover, “No to Bases” claim Iran is now and will remain militarily much weaker than nuclear powers Russia, Israel, India, Pakistan or the USA. They identify the possible threat to Iran posed by US military forces in neighboring Iraq as a major motivating factor for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. Lastly, they criticize the fact that even though the current Czech caretaker government has no “mandate” to negotiate on the Biden offer, the Czech Defense Ministry is clearly doing so anyway.

On November 3, the World Peace March (a largely European effort mostly led by the International Humanist Party) arrived in Prague with a general “Peace Party” demonstration involving celebrity musicians. Unlike previous events specifically focused on the radar issue and involving many of the same actors from the Humanist and other movements, this particular event was not promoted as related to the Biden offer or missile defense. It received almost no domestic media coverage except for brief reports that the protesters had blocked traffic in Wenceslas Square. Estimates of the numbers attending vary so widely that it is all but impossible to know how many people attended or what it even meant as a political event. While police reports and most Czech media reported 750 people in attendance, the independent electronic media gave estimates as high as 5 000, while adding that most in attendance were there for the celebrity performances. Organizers claim as many as 8 000 turned out. This was either the most underreported political event of the year, or it was just, as advertised, a “party”—and one that seems to have been made little use of by those opposed to a very specific military-related agenda for this country.

Missed opportunities seem to keep accumulating. November 17 marked the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, and “No to Bases” took a strange tactic towards what could be an important day for reiterating their demands—indeed, a day that usually saw some of their highest turnouts in past years. In a press release, organizers said that this year they did not want to be part of any “false celebrations” and have decided not to hold any events. The statement said they did not want to support the “uncritical adoration of the post-November developments”—especially as all those promoting the celebrations are ardent missile defense supporters who will “misuse it as a day of renewal of ‘Euro-Atlantic ties.'”

It is hard to avoid the sensation that the wind is going out of “No to Bases” sails even as the possibility of the location of US military and missiles on their territory is rising—and even as official Russian protest over the issue has died down and progress is being reported on its nuclear pacts with the USA. Is the “reset” of Russia-US relations a factor in the domestic Czech calculus?

At the start of 2010, the Czech Republic will add nuclear fuel to the list of natural resources it imports almost exclusively from Russia (natural gas and oil are the others). This is fuel that will fire up the reactors of the country’s power plants, owned and operated by CEZ, the world’s most profitable power company, in which the Czech government owns a two-thirds stake. CEZ is on the brink of becoming a major exporter of electricity further east, but it will be dependent on Russian resources to do so. The TopolĂĄnek government made energy independence from Russia a major platform during its EU presidency, but for some reason those who have been willing to take to the streets about the presence of US troops on Czech soil are less fired up about the stranglehold Russia will soon hold over everyday power production in the country. It seems that where notions of sovereignty are concerned, the emotional weight of the threat of a foreign military presence is a much stronger force in the Czech imagination than are notions of “self-sufficiency” with respect to energy. A virtual fight against past injustices, after all, can be waged indefinitely.


Gwendolyn Albert, a US citizen, is a permanent resident of the Czech Republic, a member of the Czech government’s Human Rights Council representing civil society, and director of the Women’s Initiatives Network at the Peacework Development Fund.


World March for Peace and Nonviolence

See also:

Czech Dissidents Stand Up Again—This Time to the Pentagon!
by Gwendolyn Albert, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, June, 2007

From our Daily Report:

Victory for Czech anti-radar campaign
World War 4 Report, March 19, 2009

Czech hunger strike against US radar base
World War 4 Report, May 26, 2008


Special to World War 4 Report, December 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Assessing the Legacy of Norman Borlaug

by Alexis Lathem, Toward Freedom

Following the announcement of the death of Norman Borlaug in September, we have been reminded of the sweeping claims that have been made about the successes of the green revolution. Borlaug was an agricultural scientist who, under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation, developed dwarf varieties of wheat and rice that are widely reported to have produced miraculous yields, and which “saved the lives of millions of people” in the developing world who would otherwise have starved.

“Father of green revolution saved millions of lives” reads one headline. “The Nobel winner who fed the world” reads another. It would seem that any claim that a single human being could have achieved these miracles, let alone a technician—should arouse at least a measure of skepticism. Although some of the commentary that appeared following the announcement of Borlaug’s death admitted that the green revolution has had its critics—it has after all, increased poverty in the world, widened the gap between rich and poor, caused water tables to drop to dangerous levels, caused widespread chemical contamination, and led to staggering losses of topsoil and soil fertility—the claim that Borlaug’s innovations in plant genetics “saved millions of lives” has gone by virtually without challenge.

The moniker “green revolution,” which refers to the United States’ aggressive campaign to “modernize” third world agriculture, has been one of the most successful public relations ploys in the history of political marketing. For what could be more politically benign than the wholesome images it evokes—images of green fields and amber waves of grain—or less objectionable than an effort to grow food to feed the hungry and the poor? For all the criticisms of the industrial agricultural system that the green revolution introduced to India, Pakistan, the Philippines and other countries, these concerns must be measured against the claim that “millions of people” would otherwise have starved.

What, however, is the basis for the claim that the green revolution saved millions of lives? It is repeated often enough, although source documentation is never provided—it is as generally accepted as, for instance, the claim that the civil war ended the institution of slavery in the United States. No source documentation is needed. But how do you measure, scientifically speaking, what would have happened? Have the alternatives to the agricultural model that prevailed be taken into account? Is it possible—given that the predicted famines did not occur—that these projections were flawed? Can we assume that there were no alternatives to ramping up food production in the industrial style? Is it impossible that there might be another explanation to India’s avoidance of widespread famines since Independence, other than the intervention of the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and Borlaug’s miracle seeds?

The persistence of the belief that so-called high yielding seeds (they produce high yields only because they are tolerant of large doses of chemical fertilizers) saved millions of people from famine, is all the more remarkable given that the scholarship has thoroughly discredited it. What is implied here is that industrial methods produce more food than small farms that integrate a diversity of crops and rely on natural fertilizers and hand labor—which has been disproved by innumerable scientific studies.[1]

What is also implied by the argument is the Malthusian logic, which holds that famines are a consequence of a lack of food, and a lack a food is a consequence of the failure of agricultural systems to produce enough to keep up with population growth. Naturally, where there is hunger, we assume that there is a lack of food. Historians and economists—most notably Amartya Sen, another Nobel laureate, who has examined the causes of hunger and famine in dozens of scholarly books—have found that famine and hunger have historically been unrelated to food availability.[2] Malthus, in other words, is thoroughly irrelevant to any understanding of the causes of hunger in the world. What was true in Ireland during the potato famine of 1845-1852 was also true in Bengal in 1943, and it remains true today—which is that millions died of starvation in the midst of agricultural abundance.

According to the Malthusian view, which Borlaug himself adopted, the world had run out of land on which to grow food and the only way to increase food production was to find a way to increase the crop yields on any given piece of land through technological innovation. Malthus, however, did not take into account patterns of land ownership, or issues of who controls the land and what it is used for. Neither did Borlaug, who accepted that if there was hunger, there must be a scarcity of food. But one cannot, after all, eat cotton or jute, nor can one eat coffee or tea, nor for that matter, can a poor Indian peasant eat the food that she herself produces, because it is destined for export and for the tables of the affluent of distant cities.

This understanding of the lack of a relationship between food scarcity and hunger, although it has been deepened by the work of Sen and other scholars, it is not new; the Royal Commission of Famines established by the British in India in the nineteenth century understood it—namely, that hunger and famine under its rule were not a consequence of a scarcity of food. In the year 1880 the Commission found that:

The effect of drought is to diminish greatly and at last to stop, all field labor, and to throw out of employment the great mass of people who live on the wages of such labor 
distress arises, not so much from an actual want of food, as from a loss of wages – in other words, money to buy food
as a general rule, there is an abundance of food procurable, even in the worst districts and the worst time; but when men who at their best, live from hand to mouth, are deprived of their means of earning wages, they starve, not from the impossibility of getting food, but for want of the necessary money to buy it.[3]

Later, in its report on the Bengal famine of 1943 (the last major famine to occur in India, which claimed one and a half a million lives) the Commission also attributed other factors—namely greed and opportunism—as causes of the disaster: “Enormous profits were made out of this calamity, and in the circumstances, profits for some meant death for others. A large part of the community lived in plenty while others starved, and there was much indifference in the face of suffering.”[4]

Historians who have examined the periodic famines that plagued India during the colonial and modern periods have concurred with the Famine Commission that occurrences of famine were not a function of food scarcity, nor were they a result of a Malthusian imbalance between the size of India’s population and the food producing capacity of the land. Under British rule, the commercialization of agriculture that would be stepped up in the late twentieth century had already begun, with an emphasis on industrial and export crops over food crops, as Daniel and Alice Thorner describe in their 1962 book, Land and Labor in India:

Wheat poured out of the Punjab, cotton out of Bombay, and jute out of Bengal. As commercial agriculture and money economy spread, the older practices associated with a self-subsisting economy declined… In some districts the peasant shifted over completely to industrial corps… villagers sent to market the cereal reserves traditionally kept for poor years… Years of successive droughts in the 1870s, and 1890s led to great famines and agrarian unrest. [5]

The landless laborers who lived “from hand to mouth” could scarcely feed themselves even in a good harvest year. As one agricultural laborer from Bihar, India put it, “If you don’t own any land, you never get enough to eat, even if the land is producing well.” [6]

It was the Malthusian argument however, that framed the justification for an aggressive intervention in the agricultural economies of developing nations that we call the green revolution. India, it was predicted in the 1960s, faced widespread food shortages and famine. What was the basis for this projection? The prediction of widespread famines, which gained such currency through in the popular books Famine—1975! by William and Paul Paddock andThe Population Bomb by Paul Erlich, had its genesis in a 1959 Ford Foundation report prepared by an Agricultural Production team from the United States, that examined demographic trends and food production in India and predicted widespread famines would occur in the year 1967. Given that India did not experience the massive die-offs that were predicted, we might allow that, quite possibly, the predictions were based on a flawed analysis. This was the conclusion of the economist Daniel Thorner, who examined the statistical methods of the 1959 report and judged that “this is the sort of jugglery that gives statistics a bad name.”

Noting that the report’s authors found it necessary to project their panic into the future, Thorner wrote: “The fuss and the furor, the ‘crisis of overwhelming gravity’…are not a matter of 1959, but of 1966… one wonders whether an ominous crisis came to India along with the team…” [7]

If the threat of famine looming over the horizon was not what motivated the United States to invest billions of taxpayer dollars into revitalizing agriculture in the third world, there was a very real menace, which was the growing social unrest among the rural populations and a very real potential for communist insurgencies. Peasants all over the world were demanding land. “If in 1945,” wrote Ford Foundation chair Paul Hoffman in a letter to the Unites States ambassador to India, “we had embarked on such a program and carried it on a cost of not over 200 million a year, the end result would have been a China completely immunized against the appeal of the Communists. India, in my opinion, is today what China was in 1945.” [8]

After two billion dollars in aid from the United States over ten years, India had established an industrial agriculture system with a complex of dams, irrigation systems, roads, grain elevators, and petrochemical plants. India became one of the leading wheat producers in the world. What remains invisible behind the statistics of its enormous wheat production is the enormous social, economic and ecological disruption that this transformation had caused, and which, in fact, increased poverty and hunger rather than reduced it. “The food systems that have maintained humankind through most of its history are disintegrating,” wrote Andrew Pearse, the author of the United Nation’s 15-nation study of the results of the green revolution, who concluded that “emergence of more capital intensive farming” and the “dissolution of self provisioning agriculture” were the leading causes of the “crisis of livelihood”—in other words, poverty—in the developing world. [9]

Prior to the green revolution, wheat had never been an important crop in India, and it was not a staple of the Indian diet. What does it mean to boast that India increased its wheat yields under the green revolution other than to say that it grew more wheat in place of traditional cereal crops—at the insistence of the United States? Crops produced by subsistence farms are statistically invisible, and so too are the declines in the production of traditional food crops as a consequence of the commercialization of its agriculture.

If the commercialization of agriculture increased poverty in India rather than alleviated it, we must look elsewhere to explain the avoidance of famines since the middle of the last century. In 1947, India won its independence from Britain and became a democracy, and democracies do not allow millions of people to drop dead on the streets from hunger where food is available. In an exhaustive study of the occurrence of famines in India over the last two hundred years, Jean Druze offers an alternative explanation to the appearance of miracle seeds for the avoidance of famines in India since Independence, which is political and administrative rather that technological or even agricultural. If the food-to-head ratio had remained steady, as Druze found, what had changed since Independence was development of an effective emergency relief system and a commitment on the part of its leadership to avoid famines that has amounted, in Druze’s words, to a “political compulsion.” [10]

If India’s food situation was precarious in the middle of the last century, which it was, we might ask if there were alternatives to the industrialization of its agriculture. Paul Erlich, typically, suggests that what the “under producing” countries of the world needed was the interference of more agricultural scientists from the West—however, maybe what they needed was to be left to continue the agricultural practices that had served them for millennia. Maybe what they needed was access to lands that had been taken from them by European colonizers and their descendants. What might have been the result if the United States had directed its two billion dollars in subsidies toward a peasant-based, labor-intensive agriculture, rather than for the purchase of machines and agro-chemicals that displaced human labor and the more sophisticated agricultural wisdom that had served Indian farmers for centuries?

There was an alternative, and it had its proponents, besides the peasants themselves. Sir Albert Howard, an agricultural officer with the British colonial government, who is considered to be the grandfather of the modern organic farming movement, published An Agricultural Testament in 1943, which was based on his years of patient observations of traditional faming in India. “Instead of breaking up the subject into fragments,” he wrote, “and studying agriculture in piece meal fashion by the analytical method of science, appropriate only to the discovery of new facts, we must adopt a synthetic approach and look at the wheel of life as one great subject and not as if it were a patchwork of unrelated things.” [11] But it would be the reductionistic model that would prevail, and that is still misunderstood to be more “efficient” and superior, although it is based on an outmoded mechanistic model rather than on a scientific understanding of the complexity of biological systems.

While an industrial system of monocultures, mechanical tilling, and over-fertilization is ill-suited to any ecological—or social—environment, it is particularly ill-suited to a tropical environment, and the environmental consequences of introducing this technology to the tropics has been devastating. Today, as a consequence of technologies introduced by the green revolution, India loses 6 billion tons of topsoil every year. Ten million hectares of India’s irrigated land is now waterlogged and saline. Pesticide poisoning has caused epidemics of cancers. Water tables are falling by twenty feet every year. The soil fertility and water resources that had been carefully managed for generations in the Punjab were wasted in a few short years of industrial abuses. [12]

If India’s masses have avoided starvation, they have endured chronic and debilitating hunger and poverty. Over 200 million people in India are hungry, according to the 2008 Global Hunger Index, although India is a leading food exporter. The ongoing commercialization of agriculture in India continues to this day, and the result—which is exacerbated by climate change—is a swelling slum population that is growing at 250 times the rate of population growth. [13]

The alternative, as proposed by Howard, and as practiced for thousands of years by Indian farmers, is a multi-tiered system of agro-forestry that is capable of supplying food, fuel, and fiber needs, while providing year-round employment, and a surplus, over the long term. [14]

In addition to these benefits there are those that are impossible to quantify because the values are immeasurable—the value of clean water, meaningful work, biological diversity, and the cultural, social and physical vitality of thriving farming communities.

Such a system of small holdings would have required land reform, and it would have done little to feed the larger industrial economy; although it may have benefited the rural poor in India, it would not have helped the economic security of the United States, which benefited greatly from the sales of fertilizers and machinery as a result of the green revolution. If the green revolution failed as a humanitarian program, it succeeded as an economic stimulus plan for the United States by creating unprecedented opportunities for western capital.

The industrialization of agriculture has never been a means of meeting human needs, but of feeding the demands of an industrial economy, which requires cheap grain and a cheap pool of surplus labor. Malthus originally wrote his essay as an argument against the poor laws; Malthusian arguments about ratios of population growth and food production have always been ideologically motivated, and have been used to advance the view that hunger in the world is “natural,” deflecting criticisms away from the inequalities of colonial or capitalistic systems and onto the poor themselves. [15]

While these considerations may be important to correct the historical record, they are more than of academic interest. The same justifications for a second-generation green revolution are being advanced in the promotion of genetically modified crops, to the detriment of the world’s small farmers but to the benefit of companies like Monsanto. (“Nine billion people. A Changing climate.”—we have all seen the advertisements.) In cooperation with the World Food Program, well-meaning philanthropic organizations, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are subsidizing the purchase of agro-chemicals and hybrid and GM seeds for small farmers in Africa, where agriculture is in dire need of support and development. But is this the most suitable form of agriculture for Africa? The world has at least grown wiser from the lessons of the green revolution. Or has it?

Discussions about the legacy of Norman Borlaug—saint or sinner?—over-estimate his contribution on both sides of the debate. To misunderstand this is to exaggerate the importance of the genetics of crops, which has so perilously little to do with the persistence of hunger in the world. Borlaug’s seeds are the equivalent of the proverbial stone in the soup—for what would these seeds have meant without, not just the technological package of machines and agrochemicals, but the entire ideological package that constituted the green revolution? As much as the “red” revolution it was designed to contest, the green revolution was ideologically inspired; it was a form of social and political engineering necessary for the global triumph of industrial capitalism. This was no miracle, and there was no wizardry involved. Our culture is all too easily seduced by the make-believe of technological magic, and our faith that technology will solve our problems is as irrational as it is dangerous. Behind the curtain, as it turns out, there is only a little old man with a cook stove.


1] See, for instance, LappĂ©, Francis Moore, et al. World Hunger: Twelve Myths, 2nd ed. Grove Press, New York 1998; Johda, N.S., “Famine and famine policies: some empirical evidence,” International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics 1975; Rosset, Peter, “The Multiple Functions and Benefits of Small Farm Agriculture,” Policy Brief N. 4, Institute for Food and Development Policy, 1999.

[2] Sen, Amartya. “Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlements and Deprivation,” Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1982.

[3] Quoted in Dreze, Jean. “Famine Prevention in India,” in The Political Economy of Hunger,Jean DrĂšze, Amartya Sen, and Athar Hussain, eds., Clarendon Press 1995. p. 92.

[4] Quoted in Lappé, Frances Moore, Food First: Beyond the Myth of Scarcity, Balantine 1978. p. 80.

[5] Quoted in Ross, Eric. The Malthus Factor: Poverty, Politics and Population in Capitalist Development, Zed Books, London 1998. p.49-50.

[6] Quoted from the New York Times in Lappé, Food First, p. 147.

[7] Thorner, Daniel and Alice, Land and Labor in India, Asia Publishing House, London 1962. p. 114.

[8] Quoted in Ross, p. 153.

[9] Pearse, Andrew, Seeds of Plenty, Seeds of Want: Social and Economic Implications of the Green Revolution, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, Clarendeon Press, 1980. p. vii

[10] Druze, Jean. Famine Prevention in India, United Nations University, Helsinki

[11] Howard, Sir Albert, An Agricultural Testament, Oxford University Press, 1943.

[12] Rathindra, Nath Roy, “Trees: Appropriate tools for Water and Soil Management,” in The Green Revolution Revisited: Critique and Alternatives, Bernhard Glaeser, ed., Allen & Unwin, London, 1987.

[13] Davis, Mike, Planet of Slums, Verso, London, 2006.

[14] Rathindra, Nath Roy, “Trees: Appropriate tools for Water and Soil Management,” op cit

[15] See Ross, Eric, The Malthus Factor, op cit


Alexis Lathem is a freelance journalist and award-winnig poet, and teaches writing at the Community College of Vermont.

This article first appeared Oct. 8 in Toward Freedom.

See related story, this issue:

Government Approves Genetically Modified Corn Cultivation
by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, CIP Americas Program
World War 4 Report, December 2009

From our Daily Report:

India: landless peasants march on New Delhi
World War 4 Report, Oct. 28, 2007

African peasants receive Zapatista maize at Nairobi WSF
World War 4 Report, Feb. 25, 2007

Oil shock: denial in the New York Times (on the Malthusian legacy)
World War 4 Report, Aug. 23, 2005


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, December 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution



Government Approves Genetically Modified Corn Cultivation

by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, CIP Americas Program

In October the Mexican government approved requests from U.S. biotechnology companies Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, and Pioneer to cultivate “experimental” GM corn. The approved cultivation, that will cover a total of 120,000 square meters, will be located in the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Tamaulipas, Coahuila, and Durango.

This act puts an end to the moratorium on GM corn cultivation that governed the country for 10 years. The moratorium had been established in response to demands made by scientists and environmentalists who warned that in Mexico, being the center of corn origins and diversity, GM corn pollen could irreversibly contaminate other corn cultivations. The surreptitious and illegal presence of GM corn in Mexico has been documented since 2001. The consensus among experts is that this contamination is due to corn imports from the United States that have massively increased due to NAFTA.

The approval has caused angry protests from a variety of sectors, from academics and scientists to campesinos, indigenous peoples, and environmentalists. The Mexican daily La Jornada reports that in Chihuahua environmentalist, campesino, and indigenous groups have announced that they will not permit the cultivation of GM corn and that they will destroy the crops if necessary. In other parts of the country there have been local protests and more actions are planned.

According to ETC Group researcher Slivia Ribeiro, the approval is a violation of the country’s biosafety law, which is already quite favorable to the biotech industry: “The whole process has been plagued by irregularities, even within the framework demanded by the limited biosafety law… [I]n the public consultation on the experiment requests, the government ignored the vast majority of technical and scientific opinion as well as those of many social and citizen organizations because they were critical of the release.”

Ribeiro adds that the government “did not take into account the large quantity of opinions, protests, letters signed by a wide sector of the Mexican and international community, denouncements, demonstrations, and endless number of reasons continually presented for the past decade, solid arguments from a large variety of perspectives—scientific, economic, political, social, cultural, historical, geographic—against the liberation of GM corn in Mexico.”

“The introduction of GM corn in rural Mexico will be a coup de grace to our food independence, as our corn producers will be dependent on companies like Monsanto,” denounced Aleira Lara, who coordinates the Greenpeace campaign against GM products. “The rural workers will be sued by these companies when their lands are contaminated and no producer will be able to return to planting their own seeds, as they have done up to now. They will have to pay royalties to the corporations to return to their planting. To what interests is the Mexican government responding? Evidently, not to those of the people and the nation.”

The Union of Scientists Committed to Society (UniĂłn de CientĂ­ficos Comprometidos con la Sociedad) sent a letter to Mexican President Felipe Calderon against GM corn, signed by 700 distinguished national and international scientists and academics, including experts, intellectuals, and artists from the fields of biology, biotechnology, agronomy, and ecology, and even the humanities, social sciences, anthropology, economy, biosafety, politics, and law. “This year, you have the historic responsibility of preventing the irreversible damage to one of the most valuable natural resources in the world: the diversity of Mexican maize,” states the beginning paragraph of the document.

“We are convinced, with the knowledge base that we have from available scientific evidence, that this decision represents a disproportionate and unnecessary risk. This should be avoided at all costs for the good of Mexico and the world. United by a well-grounded ethical commitment to preserve this resource for humanity, we demand that your administration take drastic measures to guarantee that no strain of GM maize be planted in Mexico, the place of origin and diversity of this important food.”

With respect to the issue of genetic contamination, the declaration affirms that the effects “of the introduction of trans-genes into the germplasm of maize—a botanical heritage watched over by campesinos and indigenous peoples in Mexico—could be irreversible and progressive due to the gradual accumulation of trans-genes in this germplasm. This would undoubtedly mean that the responsibility that you have over this issue will transcend to future generations like no other.”


This article first appeared Nov. 19 on the website of the Center for International Policy’s Americas Program.

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is director of the Proyecto de Bioseguridad Puerto Rico, a research associate at the Institute for Social Ecology and a senior fellow at the Environmental Leadership Program. His blog is on-line at: http://carmeloruiz.blogspot.com


ETC Group

UniĂłn de CientĂ­ficos Comprometidos con la Sociedad

See also:

Malthus, Biofuels and Free-Market Environmentalism
by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, August-September 2009

by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, December 2004

How Bob Geldof De-Contextualizes African Hunger
by Carmelo Ruiz Marrero, World War 4 Report
World War 4 Report, August 2005

From our Daily Report:

Econo-protests paralyze Mexico City, JuĂĄrez-El Paso bridge
World War 4 Report, Jan. 31, 2009

From our Archive:

Greenpeace blocks GM corn at Veracruz
World War 4 Report, Sept. 12, 2003


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, December 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution

The Andes
guardia 2008


Aymara leader Walter Aduviri was elected governor of Peru's Puno region—just two days after the country's Supreme Court declared void a seven-year prison term against him for "disturbing public order" during a 2011 protest wave in which he was the principal leader. Aduviri had carried out his campaign from hiding, and only emerged from clandestinity with announcement of the high court ruling. He will now face a new trial on the charges related to the so-called "Aymarazo"—an Aymara uprising against an unpopular mineral development project, which was ultimately suspended. His Mi Casita Movement for Regional Integration and Development won 48% of the vote in the race, ahead of the other candidates. It also took several municipal races in Puno region. (Photo: Diario Uno)


The Challenges of Popular Movements

by Micheál Ó Tuathail and Manuel Rozental, Upside Down World

Indigenous guard of the Minga, 2008. Photo: UDW
Last fall, Colombia’s social and popular movements captured the world’s attention. Emerging initially from the indigenous territories in Northern Cauca and expanding to unite diverse sectors, the Social and Community Minga burst onto the national and international scene with a popular agenda for radical change, a “country of the peoples without owners.” The collective cry of the indigenous movement, Afro-Colombian communities, women’s, worker, student and other social organizations across the country reached a fever pitch, garnering much attention from abroad. A year later, the Minga appears to have arrived at a crossroads, where a once powerful popular agenda risks being manipulated in favor of a narrow and domesticating one. While its capacity to mobilize remains strong, the Minga’s direction is increasingly contested.

The one-year anniversary of the Minga featured renewed spaces of convergence in three regional pre-congresses held in Cali, Cartagena and BogotĂĄ in mid-October. Marches and other acts of solidarity took place in other parts of the continent.

In Cali, roughly 30,000 people from eight of the country’s southwest departments came together to discuss the Minga’s next steps. Some loaded into colorfully painted “chivas” and buses. Others chose to “walk the word,” in scorching sun and torrential rain, for days from the towns of Villa Rica and JamundĂ­ through the concrete maze of Cali to the Coliseo del Pueblo, camping there for three days of discussion and debate.

Advancing occupation and the urgency of a common agenda
The Minga did not come out of nowhere. Its agenda and spirit reflect a deep analysis and understanding of the context of the communities and individuals that gave the mobilization its force and the urgency of a popular and collective agenda.

The spirit of the Minga sought to name and expose a dynamic regime of occupation, one that extends beyond the administration of the country’s current president, Álvaro Uribe VĂ©lez. In the analysis of the indigenous of Northern Cauca, an “integral plan of aggression” is at play in Colombia. It involves three broad strategies:

First is the use of war and terror to displace people from their land and hand over nature and people (land and labor) to transnational capital. Armed actors (left and right, illegal and official) use war and terror to advance and legitimize their existence, interests and actions. In a community assembly in Corinto, Cauca, last year, one leader explained the situation this way: “Here, there’s a group called the National Army, and another called the People’s Army. But neither one of them respects us. They won’t let us live in peace.”

The second strategy involves legislation and laws of eviction to privatize public services and collective territories and goods. Providing legal frameworks favorable to investors over communities and peoples, these laws are locked in permanently through so-called “free trade agreements.”

Finally, there is the constant and strategic use of propaganda and the mass media to attack the regime’s opponents, obscure reality and make invisible the misery lived by millions. Communities are alienated from one another through a mass media that entertains and saturates public opinion with an obsessive focus on the despicable actions of the FARC over all else. By not addressing other issues with similar effect—such as the re-emergence of paramilitary groups and their deepening infiltration of the state, scandals over constitutional reforms, illegal wire-tapping and drug-trafficking by state agencies and officials—propaganda is turned into a tool of aggression, debilitating the people’s ability to confront it.

At the Pre-Congress in Cali last week, indigenous communicators from the Tejido de ComunicaciĂłn of Northern Cauca held a series of video-forums, spaces where they show documentaries and hold discussions with the communities. It is a form of communication aimed at raising consciousness and constructing collective analyses of local realities in a global context.

“Last night, we showed a documentary on Plan Puebla-Panama,” the massive infrastructure project in Central America, said a member of the Tejido. “During the discussion, an old man from Tierradentro stood up and said, ‘that’s exactly what they’re trying to do in our territories. They’re trying to build a bridge there, but it’s not for us. It’s for the multinationals. They’re going to throw us out so they can build that bridge.”

Faced with the advancing occupation through an integral plan of aggression, the urgency of the Minga evolved into a need to recognize and name the threats faced by diverse communities across Colombia and beyond, threats of a transnational regime that goes beyond the tyrannical leaders at its service. The challenge of the Minga was in confronting an aggression lived in Colombia but also projected from Colombia and intended for the region. The first task was to recognize it.

The Hope of the Social and Community Minga
Across Latin America, social and popular movements have returned, awakening a new era of social and political change that, in varying degrees, confronts an economic model imposed from abroad and accepted by a powerful few from within Latin American societies.

The Minga has the potential to expose the contemporary confrontation of two incompatible paradigms that are also present beyond Colombia. One is hegemonic, premised on the principle of transforming life and labor into tools for accumulation, where anything or anyone not at the service of greed is perceived and treated as an obstacle to progress. This paradigm is in crisis, as the planet, its creatures and cultures face the risk of extinction. Colombia’s indigenous peoples have named this the “death project.”

The other paradigm is ancestral in origin as the essence of indigenous peoples throughout the planet. It is fragmented and now being woven together, promoting the sacredness of life and demanding that the economy serve the wellbeing of people in harmony with nature, rather than life being exploited for the insatiable greed of an all-powerful minority. In contrast with the “death project,” this paradigm encompasses the “life plans” of indigenous peoples.

When the Social and Community Minga arrived in Bogotá in November of last year—in a 60,000-person march from the ancestral territory for Peace, Dialogue and Reconciliation, located at the La María-Piendamó reservation, to the capital—a five-point popular agenda was presented to the country:

1. No to the Free Trade Agreements and the so-called “free trade” economic model.

2. No to terror, an instrument of the global system to dispossess peoples of their territories, rights and freedoms and deliver these to corporate interests through all the armed actors, each of whose presence reinforces that of the others and threatens the permanence of people in their communities, as well as the survival of democratic opposition and unions.

3. No to laws and constitutional reforms which are the backbone of a political agenda designed to evict people from their lands, deny basic and essential rights and freedoms and deliver the country to the interests of transnational capital and accumulation.

4. Yes to the Colombian state honoring its previous agreements and obligations, regardless of who heads the government, with all Colombians, including indigenous, Afro-Colombian and other communities and sectors.

5. Yes to the weaving of a common agenda of the peoples. All causes are our own.

In essence, these points denounce the global transnational regime of corporate capital and its “free trade” model as responsible for the economic and ecological crises leading to the imminent risk of collapse for the reproduction of societies, cultures and life itself throughout the planet; they call upon peoples to weave a collective agenda, and they demand that state obligations achieved through struggle be respected.

The power of these five points is that they represent the dignity of peoples with an agenda of their own, illuminating a path for peoples in resistance. Recognition of the aggression was the first step towards rejection of a model through which few have benefited, and the collective construction of alternatives where life can no longer be owned.

The Minga sought a space from which to construct a new country, where everyone is included and conscious of the project’s urgency and possibilities. It was not a strategy or platform for one group over others but an inclusive and shared process, bringing together the collective pain, struggles and hopes of all sectors. Rather than making demands of or trying to reform the system (comprised of legal and illegal armed actors, the state and the multinationals), the Minga called for an autonomous agenda of the peoples to be woven, for the construction of an entirely new country.

“The Minga is such a beautiful idea,” said an elder outside the Coliseo in Cali. “It has moved from here and around the world, and the reason is because of the spirit of these people. Many of them don’t understand the opportunity, the immense power of what they’re doing.”

He also noted that the current challenge of the Minga is not only in confronting external powers but also the contradictions of powerful interests internal to the process itself.

This was echoed by Ricardo, a teacher from a rural community in Cauca: “This Minga means so much to people. They walk because they have so much hope in the process. The Minga is projected to the world in a certain way, but it’s like no one pays attention to what’s going on internally.”

“Authorized” Resistance? The changing word of the Minga
Since last year, the Minga has garnered much attention from within Colombia and abroad, attention that has left an impact on the process as an autonomous political possibility.

The spirit of the Minga is such that it has the capacity to mobilize thousands in an instant. The image of resistance and hope is thus projected outwards, collecting sympathy and support, some genuine and some opportunistic.

A number of leaders have risen to prominent positions, and diverse organizations have latched on to the Minga, in some cases modifying its agenda for narrow interests. This has occurred in a number of ways.

Little more than a month after the Minga’s five-point agenda was proclaimed in BogotĂĄ in November 2008, the Regional Indigenous Councils of Cauca (CRIC) presented a document to a meeting of the Indigenous Social Alliance (ASI), an indigenous-led political party. That document outlined what was claimed to be “the five points defended by the Social and Community Minga of Resistance”:

1. Respect for human rights and the “good name” of the indigenous movement;

2. Respect for international declarations, agreements and conventions, in particular the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;

3. The halt and reversal of legislation of eviction, where “the national debate on the FTA is a fundamental requirement” (emphasis added);

4. Compliance with pending agreements between the government and “processes of social mobilization”; and

5. “The construction of a country where differences are understood and included within the national territory and a state that responds to the dreams of the popular majority.”

These five points differ substantially from those presented to the world a month earlier. First, they focus on issues faced by indigenous peoples in particular, though the Minga was intended to be a process that spoke to the issues faced by all sectors. Second, the emphasis on opposing the FTAs was downgraded from outright rejection to a call for “a national debate,” as just another law of eviction. This allowed the first point to focus on human rights and the “good name” of the indigenous movement. The issue of human rights is included out of context from the social and economic rights that the original agenda defended and insisted upon. Moreover, the demands are for “respect,” not transformation. In sum, the changes proposed by the CRIC do not seek to challenge the current situation in Colombia fundamentally. While the original spirit of the Minga sought to engage Colombia “from below,” the agenda of the CRIC seeks to demand a response from the state “from above” and within the hierarchies of the leading organizations.

Moreover, there is a fundamental problem in how the modified agenda has come about: through the organizations and among their leaderships, without the input of the communities that have continually breathed life into the Minga as a process from the grassroots. In the current discourse of the Minga, the original five points appear to have survived attempts to change them. But these attempts are dangerous signs for any popular process.

Referring to the varieties of the five-point agenda that have arisen since November 2008, one Minga participant exclaimed, “The only word being walked here is ‘confusion.'” This has undoubtedly had an impact on the coherence of the Minga.

There is also the emergence of a political-electoral direction for the Minga. Last year, indigenous leader and Minga spokesperson Feliciano Valencia told the crowds in BogotĂĄ, “This Minga must not end in an election, no sir. This Minga is not a trampoline for candidates that want to use discourses to get into those spaces, no way. This effort must not be betrayed by small-minded things. We have to care for this like a birth, like a seed that we are planting today, a process with a long life ahead.”

In Cali, one year later, the Pre-Congress’ introduction speeches included those introduced as “key promoters of the Minga,” two ASI political candidates, Aida QuilcuĂ© and Alcibiades EscuĂ©. Addressing an anxious crowd, QuilcuĂ© spoke of the Minga as a process that “is not individual but collective, one with a long history coming from the people.” As a senatorial candidate, she probably could not have avoided the spotlight, but the mass media covering the event still surrounded and followed her in swarms. It is what they do: identify protagonists and provide the means through which collective processes become reduced to individual trampolines for political-electoral campaigns.

EscuĂ©’s speech indicated much more explicitly an attempt at re-orienting the Minga. “I want to outline three important aspects for our work here,” he told the crowd: “1) Why are we here and for what? Human rights!… 2) What are we going to think about? Distributing land and pushing for education!… And 3) How do we get more people involved?”

Without mention of the five points of the people’s agenda, EscuĂ© appeared to be outlining a campaign platform, not a popular agenda. The opportunism of such statements is also evident in his calling for the expansion of mobilization in the absence of a clear direction.

As a number of interests swarm towards the action, the picture is further obscured. Marches become demonstrations of mobilization capacity and nothing more. The leaders walk at the front, and the people are confused and left behind, projecting the image of massive popular support for narrow interests. Meanwhile, the regime does not even flinch.

The Minga will continue. But if it loses its essence, it risks becoming a form of resistance that is considered acceptable to power. Charles Hale and Rosamel MillamĂĄn use the concept of “indio permitido” (“authorized Indian”) to categorize a subject that functions within the project of neoliberalism. In a similar vein, there is the emergence of forms of resistance that are authorized by power, toned down and accepted for their symbolic value. Rather than threatening power, an authorized resistance reinforces existing social relations by providing examples, however superficial, of tolerance and popular representation.

Nurturing the seed of the Minga
What is emerging is a dual system of power within the Minga itself. On the one hand, there are the leaders and representatives of organizations and NGOs, who have played an active role in re-orienting the Minga as a way of legitimizing themselves to funding agencies and colleagues. On the other hand, there are the participants, the marchers from the communities that believe so strongly in the Minga as a process that is of them. This confrontation is the primary challenge currently facing the Minga.

Evidence of the confrontation is emerging among some participants. One noted, “What really kills me is to see those people walking barefoot for miles in the march. Barefoot! To show how much they believe in this process. They have so much hope in the leaders without knowing what’s going on behind the scenes.”

Of the current direction of the leadership, one elder lamented, “They think of the here and now, of immediate things, and not all that came before this and could come after. That’s why they collect a little more here and there to satisfy the immediate needs of the organizations and lose sight of the process, the seed that this Minga has planted not just for Colombia but for the world.”

For now, burning questions stand out with respect to the health of that seed. How can the Minga be strengthened to avoid being susceptible to the narrow interests of a few prominent organizations and protagonists?

As in the past and across different contexts, cooptation has looked and felt like mobilization for change, yet rarely contesting the fundamentals of a brutal system. We need to ask why popular agendas are removed from the control of those barefooted walkers, and also how they allow them to slip away?

As the mingueros march, they walk the word. But which word? And for what?

As an indigenous Nasa proverb tells us: “The word without action is empty, action without the word is blind, and action and the word outside the spirit of the community is death.”

An annual march changes nothing. The necessity of critical self-reflection is urgent. It is one thing to find ways to defend the Minga by returning the action and word to the spirit of the communities. It is also important to be able to name the contradictions of our own processes without destroying their original spirit, embodied in the hopes of those barefooted walkers. That is how the seed of the Minga can be nurtured and cared for.

Recognizing these challenges is the first step in overcoming them, so that the Minga and other popular and collective initiatives can prepare to face them from the outset.

Thanks to the people in Minga, especially those who shared their stories and experiences. We are also grateful to two wonderful compas (they know who they are) for their comments on earlier drafts of this article and for their friendship, guidance and love.


This article first appeared Nov. 5 on Upside Down World.


“Minga” is the name given by indigenous people in the Andes to an ancestral practice that involves entire communities in efforts towards the achievement of a common goal. It is a collective process, and as such, cannot be owned.

Country of the Peoples without Owners” is the title of an excellent documentary produced by the Tejido de ComunicaciĂłn on the Minga in 2008. For excellent coverage from the Minga last year, see also Mario Murillo’s blog, MamaRadio.

See also:

Indigenous Leader Assassinated on Massacre Anniversary
by Mario A. Murillo, MAMA Radio
World War 4 Report, January 2009

From our Daily Report:

Latin America: indigenous mark Oct. 12 with protests
World War 4 Report, Oct. 20, 2009

UN approves Indigenous Declaration
World War 4 Report, Sept. 17, 2007


Reprinted by World War 4 Report, December 1, 2009
Reprinting permissible with attribution