Raúl Zibechi: Land, Water and Resistance

Land, Water and Resistance

 By: Raúl Zibechi

 Para español: http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/02/10/opinion/024a2pol

What is happening in Latin America in relation to the commons (water, land, biodiversity) is something more than a succession of local conflicts. At times the intensity of the confrontations gives the impression that we are marching toward a general conflagration, which for now has local and regional expressions, but which is repeated in almost every country.

The Big National March for Water, which began on February 1 in Cajamarca [Peru], is the popular movements’ response to the repression and to the state of emergency in three provinces by Ollanta Humala’s government, faced with the 11-day strike in Cajamarca against the Conga mining project. The caravan will arrive in Lima this Friday to stop the use of contaminants like mercury and to declare water as a human right.

Conga is a project of the Yanacocha Mining Company, first in gold extraction in South America, which foresees investing almost 5 billion dollars and draining four lakes, two to extract gold and another two for storing waste. The activities at Conga have been paralyzed since the November strike. The most important thing is that the movement has achieved transcending the local to become the confluence of the most important social organizations for a large action with a national character.

Resistance to mining has been reactivated in Northern Argentina. In January, citizen assemblies impelled mass mobilizations, in La Rioja, Catamarca and Tucumán, against the Famatina and Bajo La Alumbrera mining projects. The popular mobilization in La Rioja forced the communal chief of the provincial capital to state that he was against mega-mining, although he is aligned with the national government.

The blockage of trucks that are headed to Bajo La Alumbrera in Catamarca led the company to license the personnel and delay the exploitation due to a lack of inputs and provisions at the mine. More than three weeks ago, members of the Citizens Assembly in Defense of Life and Water blocked the transit of trucks that belong to the mining company and that circulate through Tinogasta, Belén and Santa María.

One of the less visible conflicts but with great destabilizing potential is that which is happening in Paraguay between campesinos and settlers of Brazilian origin, known popularly as Brasiguayos. It is estimated that there are 8 million hectares, 20 percent of the country’s surface, illegally adjudicated, above all under the Alfredo Stroessner dictatorship (1954-1989). An important part was delivered to settlers coming from Brazil, at up to one dollar per hectare in the border zone.

Now they are large producers son of soy that take out their product through Brazil without even paying taxes. Tranquilo Favero, “the soy king,” owns 45, 000 hectares of high quality lands on which he harvests up to 130, 000 tons each year, which renders him some 50 million dollars, in the Ñacunday zone, Alto Paraná. This is the hottest region of the current conflict, in which landless and landholders confront each other, but in which the governments of Fernando Lugo and Dilma Rousseff are also involved.

If the production of soy, with its consequent contamination and expulsion of campesinos, is grave, so is the border question. Of the 400, 000 Brazilians that live in Paraguay, some 250, 000 occupy the border with Brazil. In 2007 the Paraguayan government approved the Border Law because of which foreigners cannot have lands at least 50 kilometers from the border, as a way of affirming national sovereignty. Brazil has similar law, although stricter.

In 2011, The National Coordinator of Struggle for the Recuperation of Ill-Gotten Lands was formed –in which more than 20 campesino organizations, social organizations and leftist parties participate–, which held its first march last October 25. The leaders maintain that the recuperation of those lands could favor 400, 000 campesinos.

The land question is one of the most delicate themes in Paraguay, because of the long history of corruption, abuse and repression that forced the plunder of campesinos. Lugo took government power in large measure because of his close relationship to the struggle for agrarian reform when he was a bishop. The agrarian reform struggle did not advance under his government, but in recent months the campesinos grouped together in the National League of Tent Dwellers (because they camp in tents) are occupying the Brasiguayos lands.

The League was born two years ago faced with the inaction of the campesino movement in the struggle for land, but in a recent communication the Coordinator estimates that their actions form part of a “destabilizing strategy” against the Lugo government and that at its interior is “excelling the influence of provocateurs that objectively prejudice the historic struggle for land and agrarian reform.”

In the complex panorama of the Paraguayan movements, it is not convenient to simplify. The “tent-dwellers” [occupiers?] struggle is legitimate but everything indicates that grouped together with a new layer of popular leaders one is able to perceive the influence of traditional right-wing politicians, now reds or liberals, those allied with Lugo, and opportunists that are always present. Nevertheless, it is also certain that the historic movements, which make up the Coordinator, prioritize negotiations instead of pressure for agrarian reform from below, and seem to be very worried about the presidential succession in the 2013 elections.

The struggle for the commons is in first place on the agenda in the whole region. It is possible, as a union leader from Chilecito points out, that the multi-national mining companies are suffering “a catastrophic defeat” in Northern Argentina. Small groups like the citizen assemblies, in remote places of the mountain range (cordillera), have achieved stopping gigantic corporations that enjoyed state support for everything. It is a lot. It is the product of tenacity, which at any moment renders fruits.


Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada

English Translation: Chiapas Support Committee

Friday, February 10, 2012


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