Campesino Activist Assassinated in Brazil by Transnational Corporation with Cascadia Ties
A corporate agri-tech giant with its fingers prodding suspiciously around Cascadia has blood on its hands, and you should know about it. Agri-giant Syngenta has secretly tested its genetically modified crops on Oregon farmland, against the will of the majority of Cascadians. This same transnational corporation secretly helped to funnel more than $5 million into an Oregon election to defeat a ballot measure that would have required, for the first time in the nation, that GM crops be labeled before being foisted off on consumers. Bizarrely, Syngenta is also a sustaining member of the "Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation," a pro-industry propaganda generator that seeks to colonize the minds of our children. And now, Syngenta is a corporate killer.
Two weeks ago, pro-agri-business henchmen bankrolled by Syngetna Corp raided a campsite being used by the Via Campesinos and the Landless Workers' Movement (MST). Witnesses report that more than 40 gunmen entered the campsite, armed with machine guns, and opened fire on the campesinos. They appeared to be targeting the movement's leaders. Two of the leaders were pursued and fired upon, but escaped. A third, Valmir Mota de Oliveira, a young activist and father of three children who was known to his friends and comrades as Keno, was shot twice in the chest, point-blank, and executed. His crime? Speaking up for the rights of landless workers over the rights of transnational mega-corporations. At least 6 other workers were seriously wounded in the attack. Isabel Nacimiento de Sousa was gravely wounded, left comatose, and lost an eye. One of the attacking gunmen was also killed in the assault, though it is unclear whether he was killed by campesinos in self defense, or by his fellow attackers.
This was one more in a long series of corporate assassinations carried out in the service of the so-called "free market." You should know about this, because you need to understand the connection between the corporations that you interact with, and the worldwide fallout that is the price of their profit margins. We need to know who our comrades are, and we need to appreciate that the same corporations that are subverting democracy and poisoning the environment here in Cascadia are also threatening, intimidating, attacking, and yes, killing people in other parts of the world. And finally, we must recognize the cost of doing nothing about the rise of the corporate police state that is threatening to swallow us all. The indigenous campesinos in Parana, Brazil are our comrades, and the jaded faces peering out of suits in biotech boardrooms are a common enemy. Here is the story of what is happening in Parana, Brazil, and how it cost the life of a comrade in arms.
SYNGENTA: A QUICK OVERVIEW
Syngenta identifies itself as a Swiss entity, but appears to be only nominally a Swiss corporation. In point of fact, the only member of the executive committee who is actually a Swiss national is Christopher Mader, whose position, ironically enough, is entitled "Head of Legal and Taxes." The rest of the committee is composed of British and American citizens. The major corporate headquarters for Syngenta are located in the United States, although they also maintain corporate offices in Basel, Switzerland. It is not difficult to guess why a transnational corporation like Syngenta would choose to operate as a Swiss entity, given the pro-business, anti-accountability tax and corporate laws in Switzerland. In the same way that freighters are usually registered in Liberia or Panama, regardless of the national affiliations of those who own and operate the ships, corporate interests often find the advantages of a Swiss identity too enticing to resist. (Offshore Corporation, a service that assists corporate interests with hiding assets and avoiding taxes, calls Switzerland "the offshore banking center of choice.") In short, the Swiss identity is a means for Syngenta to escape the bonds of corporate responsibility.
A leader in the biotech and agricultural industries, Syngenta raked in sales exceeding $8 billion in 2006. That's more money than one can find circulating through the economies of some countries. It almost goes without saying that, with this much economic muscle, they are well-suited to the task of buying off politicians and influencing legislation wherever they go. Indeed, Michael Pragnell, Syngenta's CEO, became the president of the biotech lobby group CropLife in 2003. In that capacity, Pragnell helped to dump more than $5 million into an Oregon election, intent upon preventing Oregonians from learning the content of the foods they eat. Oregon would have been the first state in the nation to require that genetically modified organisms (GMOs)in the food supply be labeled. CropLife, and by extension Syngenta, subverted the will of the people by dumping millions of dollars through the so-called "Coalition to Defeat the Costly labeling Law" to prevent consumers from ever gaining the right to choose what they will feed to their children. They banked on voters being foolish enough to be easily brainwashed by their expensive advertising campaigns. Alas, it seems their calculation paid off. The measure was narrowly defeated, because voters apparently could not decipher their own interests from those they were sold by the media. (Corporateers generally talk a lot about the "free market." What they mean, though, is their own freedom to exploit and oppress others in the name of profit. If they were really interested in market freedom, they would have applauded the labeling of GMO foods. After all, if the market is really so wise, why not let the market decide whether GMOs belong in the food chain or not? Why fear consumer choice in the matter?)
Syngenta's product line includes many of the most potent poisons and most troubling hazards on the new biotech frontier. A pioneer in the manufacture of toxic fungicides, pesticides and herbicides (including the now infamous Paraquat), Syngenta is now in the market for a way in which to control, and profit from, the world's food supply. Like Monsanto and other biotech corporations intent upon profiting from hunger, they are attempting to patent the very stuff of life. Much of their research to date is focused upon crops such as soybeans, cotton, rice, corn, potatoes, and sugar beets -- crops for which there is already a surplus, but which hold a very strategic position as staple crops. Although they say that they are all about "sustainable agriculture," there is nothing sustainable in the methods or product lines of Syngenta. Rural farmers point out that Syngenta is taking land away from them and using it to experiment with chemicals and products that they, themselves, could never afford to use. Products which, in fact, hold the potential to irreparably damage the delicate ecosystems in which most rural farmers must survive. The Syngenta lines all require tremendous inputs of artificial fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and all their GM lines are patented, meaning that farmers are forbidden from saving and planting their own seeds.
Although Syngenta public relations documents claim that they are not working on "Terminator technology" (the quotes are their own), at least not "solely for the purpose of restricting farmer-saved seed," they do concede that they are working on "other methods of controlling the activity of genes, such as chemical switch technology and genetic use restriction technologies (GURTs)." In other words, they are working on Terminator technology, but by a different name. Although they obfuscate around the issue by claiming that they are not using the one, specific method that they refer to as "terminator technology," the fact is they are working to create sterile seed lines, so that farmers will have to re-purchase seeds from their corporation year after year, and will be unable to use seeds saved from their own fields. Needless to say, if other fields are contaminated with this technology, it could render them lifeless.
If you visit Syngenta's website, you will see a lot of really condescending pictures of peasant farmers, standing out in fields, squinting enigmatically at stalks of grain or gazing expansively over rolling, green fields. This co-optation of the rural farmer seems to be important to Syngenta's corporate mythology. They claim to be working to "help" the rural farmer by educating him or her, and by providing helpful products to make their lives better. In the case of Paraquat, a toxic substance that has been banned or heavily restricted in most of the world now due to the dangers of exposure to it, Syngenta expresses dismay that the world has not accepted Paraquat more charitably and asks us to reconsider the bans. After all, Syngenta is only trying to help. They say they that Paraquat "improves people's lives in developing countries by enabling farmers and their families to escape the constant requirement for hand-weeding that is a burden for millions of people in subsistence farming and undeveloped rural communities."
In reality, of course, farmers are not nearly so burdened by the need to weed their crops as they are by the lack of land, by artificially-induced inflation of seed prices, by exposure to toxic chemicals, and by the bullets of hired assassins (for more on that last one, see below). Regarding Paraquat, by the way, I'm not sure that the people of the Dominican Republic would agree that this toxin is "improving" anyone's life there. On October 22, 2002, more than 150 textile workers in that nation were poisoned in a single afternoon when Paraquat was applied to a nearby field. Apparently, in the hope of "escaping the constant requirement for hand-weeding," someone sprayed the chemical over a field adjacent to a textile mill, and the breeze carried it in to the workers.
A HISTORY OF THE CONFLICT BETWEEN THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE OF BRAZIL AND SYNGENTA
For all of the reasons cited above, the people of Brazil have been dubious about the emergence of the agro- and biotech industries in their backyard. The people of Brazil are no more eager to see GMOs planted in their fields or fed to their children than the people of Cascadia. To compound the problem, corporate agricultural interests have taken advantage of the tremendous disparity of wealth in Brazil. In a vastly unequal nation where more than half of all the farmland is owned by fewer than 1% of the population, corporate agricultural giants are adding fuel to the fires of land reform when they come in and take over vast tracks of artificially scarce farmland for their experiments. The presence of Syngenta and other biotech firms has added to mounting anger and frustration in rural Brazil over the unequal allocation of resources.
Fiercely protective of the last of their vanishing resources, and reeling from a history of corporate colonialism and destruction of those resources, Brazilians have enacted a number of laws that Syngenta began to find inconvenient. The Brazilian constitution, for example, mandates that all private property fulfills a "social function," and authorizes the expropriation of land that does not meet that requirement (Articles 184 and 186 of the Brazilian constitution). (Yeah!) To make matters worse for Syngenta, there was a law in Parana that made it illegal to plant GM crops within 10km of any natural park or sensitive conservation area. Since Syngenta's research site was located only 6km from the environmentally sensitive Iguacu National Park, and since Syngenta had planted roughly 15 hectares of GMO soybeans there, they were clearly in violation of that law.
The Movement of Landless Workers (MST) and La Via Campesinos, two groups representing the landless workers movement, pressured the Brazilian government to uphold the law and hold Sygenta accountable for violating that law. In response to complaints from these two organizations, the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA), the federal agency charged with protecting the environment, investigated and then upheld the allegations. IBAMA declared Syngenta's activities on the site to be illegal and fined the corporation approximately $500,000. To date, Syngenta has not paid up. Instead, they used their economic might to subvert the democratic process in Brazil, and had the buffer zone around national parks modified by President Lula himself. Instead of requiring a minimum of 10 km around sensitive areas, the law now requires only 500 meters. The small matter of Brazil's constitution still stood in Syngenta's way.
In response to the initial declaration that Syngenta was illegally planting GM crops near the national park of Iguanca, the Landless Workers Movement demanded that the land be expropriated on the grounds that Syngenta was in violation of articles 184 through 186 of the Brazilian Constitution. On March 14, 2006, about 600 people belonging to MST and La Via Campesinos occupied the site. Tossing out the illegal Syngenta, they moved their families onto the site and demanded that the land be used to support landless workers rather than corporate polluters. A long battle ensued, in which workers received death threats from corporate agricultural interests in the region, and private militias fired live rounds into the campesinos' encampment. Various political entities connected with the agricultural industry began to demand that the campesinos be removed from the land. Syngenta's activities in the region were halted, their bottom line suffered, and the conflict became the front lines of a fierce and global battle between corporate and human interests.
Governor Roberto Requião of Parana steadfastly supported the campesinos, even in the face of court orders and mounting political pressure to evict them from the site. In a back-and-forth struggle, the campesinos occupied, de-occupied, and re-occupied the area several times. On November 9 2006, Governor Requião signed a decree to expropriate the site, removing it from the hands of Syngenta on the grounds that the state had the responsibility to ensure that the constitution be upheld, and to ensure the protection of the Brazilian environment. As soon as the decree was signed, the campesinos returned to occupy the site again. At the same time, Syngenta banded together with corporate agricultural interests across the region, who recognized this as an important battle-ground in their common fight against the landless workers. Syngenta and their fellow corporateers vowed to overcome the expropriation, and put the people back in their place. To that end, campesinos marching to the site last November were attacked by gun-wielding representatives of the agricultural industry. The SRO, an agri-corp front group headed by Alessandro Meneghel, organized the attack. Shots were fired into the crowd, and campesinos were battered with sticks, rocks, and other weapons. Meneghel later explained that the attack was meant to show that his group "will no longer peacefully accept land invasions and political provocations." In other words, they would not allow the expropriations of the lands that their corporations currently occupied, and they were willing to use gunpowder to prevent that from happening. This was to be a prelude to things to come.
(Ironically, his group is quick to accept the "political provocations," corrupt relationships and political meddling between the agro-industry and the Brazilian government. The well-known and cozy relationship between President Lula and Monsanto officials, for example, does not raise any concerns for Mr. Meneghel. Nor do the suspicious financial contributions pouring from Syngenta into the coffers of certain Brazilian political officials in the region of Parana. It is only the "provocations" having to do with the rights of rural workers that seem to get the SRO worked into a killing frenzy.)
Meneghel went on to say, "For every invasion of land that occurs in the region, there will be a similar action by the Society. We are not going to permit the rural producers ... to be insulted by ideological political movements of any kind."
IT ALL COMES TO A HEAD
Syngenta fought to block the expropriation, while the campesinos fought to take back the land formerly littered with GM soybeans. The struggle went back and forth, with Syngenta exercising its considerable might to have Governor Requião's expropriation decree overturned in July, and the campesinos were evicted at that time. The campesinos re-located to the MST's Olga Benário settlement, located adjacent to the Syngenta site. At this time, Syngenta hired a private security firm (NF Securities) to keep the campesinos away. Witnesses report that Syngenta security forces frequently fired weapons from Syngenta property into the settlement site. Other security agents and representatives from the SRO made death threats against campesinos, and illegally entered the camp on at least one occasion with weapons in hand. As a result, the Brazilian federal police raided the security firm's headquarters in October, confiscating weapons and ammunition. According to Isabella Kenfield and Roger Burbach of NaclaNews, "The police report concludes that the NF Security company contracts individuals, many with criminal records, to form armed militias that carry out forced land evictions, and that the [SRO] numbers among its clients."
At approximately 1pm on October 21st, the NF Security militia attacked the campesinos with deadly force. The campesinos had attempted to re-occupy the Syngenta site earlier in the day, and at around 1pm the militia men drove to the camp in a bus, armed with machine guns and other weapons. They fired the machine guns into the encampment, and then stormed in, targeting the leaders of the movement. Keno, who had reported numerous death threats from the agri-interests, was assassinated in the attack.
The owner of the private security firm has been arrested and charged with homicide, along with several of his employees. He has admitted that he ordered the attack, at the behest of the agricultural industry. Syngenta claims to be baffled by the occurrence, stating that they had nothing to do with it, even though they had paid the salaries of the assassins. They claimed that they did not authorize the use of the weapons, and they underlined in a press release that "no Syngenta employee was present at the site at the time of the incident." Their website expresses "shock" at the incident. This is what is usually referred to as "plausible deniability." Syngenta had the resources to hire someone else to do their dirty work. This is a common corporate tactic: From the police-dressed minions of the Portland Business Alliance's "operation clean and safe" to the sadistic Blackwater killers in Iraq, to the private milita men of NF security in Brazil, corporateers are increasingly coming to use private contractors such as these to deal with the human obstacles that they perceive to be in the way of the new world order. In that way, they can distance themselves from the inevitable public relations fallout.
This has been a quick and dirty tracing of the line from one corporate profiteer's dirty dealings here in Cascadia to the blood on its hands in Brazil, to its offshore bank accounts in Switzerland. A little digging will uncover even more unsavory details about this particular corporation's dealings, and a lot of digging will reveal that the entire economic New World Order that has been forced upon the world is stained with blood from one end of the globe to the other. (Ford Motors, for example, was donating Ford Falcons to the brutal death squads of the Argentine Junta government in the 1970s and turning its Argentine factory into torture cells used to "disappear" labor organizers, at the same time that its US headquarters were happily and knowingly selling explosive Pintos to unsuspecting consumers here in the US because their cost-benefit analysis had revealed that it would be cheaper to pay off the families of the dead and wounded than to fix the car's defective fuel tanks. A corporation that would hurt our comrades would hurt us too.)
The people of the landless worker's movement of Brazil are asking for our solidarity in the face of this oppression. They have asked that we contact Syngenta US to tell them that we know what they've done in Brazil, and to demand that they leave that nation immediately. (See below for contact information.) It seems to me like the very least we can do for our comrades on the front lines. We cannot let Syngenta get away with assassinating a brother in arms.
We cannot feign ignorance of the real price of the New World Order. We cannot pretend that the people who are actually dying in the undeclared war between the corporate police state and The People do not matter, and we cannot fool ourselves into thinking that we are somehow insulated from either risk or culpability in this war. And it is a war, make no mistake about that. We must choose our side carefully, and understand the stakes. If we choose to do nothing, then we are siding with the oppressor. If we choose to continue to drink Coke and drive Fords and buy GMO products from corporations like Syngenta, then, again, we are siding with the oppressor. But if we awaken and rise up with our comrades in the Global South, who are increasingly teaching us the way to resist, then we are siding with humanity.
Either way, the risks are great. Because if we fight back, then we must know that the oppressor will fight us as viciously as they are fighting the campesinos of Brazil. But if we do not fight back, then we are allowing corporate interests to poison us, maim us, and oppress us and our comrades. And if we do not resist, if we do not stand up and fight for what is right, then how can we justify our existence on this planet for another day?
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