Latin America: protests target Monsanto, Chevron

Latin American activists joined thousands of environmentalists and farmers around the world in an international protest May 24 against genetically modified (GM) crops and Monsanto, the Missouri-based multinational that dominates the transgenic seed industry. This was the third March Against Monsanto since May 25 last year, and organizers expected the day of action to include protests in some 351 cities in 52 countries.

In Chile, where a farmer won more than $65,000 in December 2013 by challenging the contracting methods of Monsanto's local affiliate, organizations including Chile Without Transgenics and I Don't Want Transgenics (YNQT) sponsored protests in eight cities.

Mexicans held a total of 13 different protests. In the southeastern state of Chiapas, Without Corn There Is No Country and other groups organized an informational event in front of the cathedral in San Cristóbal de las Casas to raise awareness about the consequences of GM crops, while about 60 protesters marched in Santiago de Querétaro, the capital of the central state of Querétaro. Rubén Albarrán, of the band Café Tacvba, joined the painter and environmentalist Francisco Toledo to protest in the southern state of Oaxaca, and hundreds marched in Mexico City chanting: "We want beans; we want corn; we want Monsanto out of the country!" GM planting is limited in Mexico, but researchers say that even the current level of sowing has contaminated some of the many varieties of native corn; the plant was first cultivated in Mexico.

In Puerto Rico activists marched from San Juan's Luis Muñoz Rivera Park to the Capitol. Monsanto doesn't sell GM seeds on the island, but along with other multinationals like Pioneer and Syngenta it uses large tracts of farmland for experiments, according to Jesús Vázquez Negrón, the spokesperson for the Nothing Saintly About Monsanto collective. Activists claim Monsanto uses more land than it is entitled to under Puerto Rican law. (Aporrea, Venezuela, May 24, from TeleSUR and unidentified wire services; Primera Hora, Puerto Rico, May 24; La Jornada, Mexico, May 25, May 25)

Three days earlier, on May 21, activists held a similar international action against another multinational, the California-based Chevron Corporation. With protests in 13 countries-—Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, Nigeria, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and the US—International #AntiChevron Day targeted the petroleum giant for damage to the environment and to people living near the company's operations. (Adital, Brazil, May 20; TeleSUR, May 21)

Latin American activists focused on Chevron's refusal to settle a $19 billion judgment (later reduced to $9.5 billion) by a court in Ecuador in favor of indigenous people there whose territory was damaged by oil exploitation that the Texaco Company carried out from the 1960s to the 1990s, before its merger with Chevron in 2001. On March 4 this year a New York court ruled that the plaintiffs and their lawyers obtained the Ecuadorian judgment through fraud and that the company could ignore it. Chevron insists that Texaco cleaned up the damage in the 1990s and that all existing problems are the fault of Ecuador's own state-owned oil company, Empresa Estatal Petróleos del Ecuador (EP Petroecuador). Ecuador's government responded the week of May 19 by releasing the results of 2013 tests by the US-based Louis Berger Group indicating that Chevron is in fact responsible for the ongoing pollution. (Reuters, May 22)

While Ecuador's center-left government supports the demand that Chevron settle the judgment, similar governments in the region continue to do business with the multinational. In April Chevron joined with Argentina's state-owned oil company, Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), to announce plans for an additional $1.6 billion investment for hydrofracking at the Vaca Muerta shale deposit in the southwestern province of Neuquén. "The shale play in Argentina is unique because of the rock," Chevron spokesperson Kent Robertson told the Reuters wire service on May 22. "Argentina has kind of won the geological lottery." (Reuters, May 22)

Meanwhile, as of May 24 Venezuelan oil minister Rafael Ramírez had signed an agreement with Ali Moshiri, Chevron's head of Latin America and Africa operations, for the multinational to provide a $2 billion low-interest loan to the state-owned oil giant Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) to help increase oil output at the two companies' Petroboscan oil joint venture. "We will continue to collaborate and cooperate with PDVSA because we believe the resources that are here in Venezuela are significant enough that we will be able to increase production not just in our current project but also in future projects," Moshiri said, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Latin Post, New York, May 24)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, May 25.