Latin America: marchers reject Monsanto, back food sovereignty

According to organizers, hundreds of thousands of environmentalists and other activists participated in marches in 436 cities and 52 countries on May 25 to protest the Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto Company, whose products include genetically modified (GM) seeds and the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. The global March Against Monsanto generated events in countries including Australia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, the UK and the US. (La Jornada, Mexico, May 26, some from AFP, Prensa Latina)

A few dozen Argentines reportedly protested in front of Monsanto's Buenos Aires offices on May 25, and protests were planned for Tucumán, Mendoza, Rosario, Misiones and Calafate. One of Argentina's largest protests took place two days earlier, on May 23, when hundreds of residents marched in Córdoba City, the capital of the central province of Córdoba. Malvinas Argentinas, a working-class suburb located 14 km from the provincial capital, is the site Monsanto has picked for its largest facility in Latin America, and the company is also building an experimental station in Río Cuarto in the same province. "Monsanto out of Malvinas Argentinas, Córdoba and Latin America" is a popular slogan in the Córdoba metropolitan area, where residents blame fumigation with agricultural chemicals for cancer, respiratory diseases and deformed fetuses. At the May 23 march the Malvinas Struggles Assembly called for a popular consultation on the construction of the plant. According to a recent poll by researchers from local universities, nine out of 10 Malvinas Argentinas residents want a vote and 58% of them oppose the construction.

Most of Argentina's soy is transgenic, and soy is now Argentina's biggest crop, taking up nearly 20 million hectares, 59% of the country's farmland. The center-left government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is pushing to expand soy production, while Congress is working on a new Seed Law, one so favorable to the GM industry that critics are calling it the Monsanto Law. (El Mundo, Spain, May 25)

Activists also held protests against Monsanto in Montevideo, Uruguay, and Santiago and other cities in Chile. (LJ, May 26, some from AFP and PL; Diario de Mendoza, Argentina, May 26, from Russia Today)

In Mexico activists marked May 25 with protests in 20 of the country's 32 states. The focus was on recent requests from Monsanto and other biotech firms for permission to expand the commercial planting of GM corn; environmentalists and campesinos fear that the massive sowing will contaminate the 59 native corn strains, threatening both biodiversity and Mexico's ability to produce its own food. In the Federal District (DF, Mexico City), organizations like Vía Orgánica ("Organic Way") and the Without Corn There Is No Country campaign sponsored a march from the Bellas Artes Palace to the Monument to the Revolution; they also organized a "Carnival of Corn," with pictures, music and theatrical performances that attracted hundreds of visitors. (LJ, May 26)

Activists in the southeastern state of Chiapas held a similar festival in the plaza in front of the cathedral in San Cristóbal de las Casas. The organizers called for Chiapas municipalities to be declared GM-free zones; they also expressed their concerns about Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto's "National Crusade Against Hunger," which they said was oriented toward the distribution of food from industrialized farming rather than from campesino production.

In the western state of Nayarit campesinos from Santiago Ixcuintla, Sauta, Villa Hidalgo and La Presa demanded the removal of Monsanto, which they said had taken over some 1,800 hectares of their lands since 2010 and was irrigating the crops with water from the Santiago River. In Jalisco some eight groups, including the Honda de México Workers Union, demonstrated in a plaza in the state capital, Guadalajara. GM corn is a death sentence which would leave Mexican producers at the mercy of giant multinationals, said Jesús Quiroz Pérez, a campesino from the community of Ixcatán in Zapopan municipality. In Morelia, the capital of the southwestern state of Michoacán, the protest was led by some 500 members and supporters of the #YoSoy132 ("I'm number 132") student movement. (LJ, May 26)

Hundreds of Puerto Ricans marched in San Juan's Santurce neighborhood on May 25 with the slogan "Nothing is holy [santo] about Monsanto." Protesters noted that Monsanto and Dow Chemical were the main producers of the defoliant Agent Orange, which was tested in Puerto Rico during the 1960s before being used by the US military in Vietnam. The protest's main speaker, attorney Salvador Tió, called for support for a law proposed by pro-independence senator María de Lourdes Santiago to require labels identifying GM products. Tió also demanded that Monsanto be required to comply with a law limiting individual farms to 500 acres. According to the Investigative Journalism Center (CPI), the Puerto Rican government's Land Authority is negotiating with Monsanto to renew contracts for land in the Juana Díaz plains totaling 768 acres, in violation of the law. Guillermo Somoza Colombani, justice secretary in the 2009-2013 administration of former governor Luis Fortuño, supported Monsanto's claim that the law didn't apply because the firm is registered as a biotech company, not an agricultural company. Current agriculture secretary Myrna Comas has said that the administration of Gov. Alejandro García Padilla will review all the contracts signed by previous governments. (Prensa Latina, May 25)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 26.