Women in Brazil Protest Bush's Visit: The poor refuse to grow fuel for the rich
When George Bush arrives tomorrow—International Women’s Day—in Sao Paulo, Brazil to clinch the US-Brazil ethanol mega-deal the New York Times billed as an “energy partnership plan to create jobs and decrease poverty and inequality,” he will have a surprise waiting for him: 900 poor peasant women from Via Campesina are occupying Cargill’s CEVASA sugar mill in Ribeirao Prieto in the Sao Paulo State.
They are not exactly a welcoming committee.
According to a communiqué from the MST—Rural Workers Movement, “The women want to contradict the false idea that the production of ethanol can benefit small farmers and protect the environment. They denounce the air and water pollution and respiratory diseases caused by sugarcane monoculture [and] the expansion [that] creates greater land concentration, increases poverty and other social problems.”
The women should know, they are the most exploited sector in Brazil’s sugar cane industry—an industry that maps almost perfectly with the world’s poorest regions and continues to be denounced for its the use of slave labor. The women have launched a national week of struggle called “Women in Defense of Food Sovereignty.”
The “Food versus Fuel” wars have begun.
In February of 2007, the United States government announced its interest in establishing a biofuels partnership with Brazil. This move was immediately denounced by Brazilian social justice groups as part of a “geopolitical strategy of the United States to weaken the influence of countries such as Venezuela and Bolivia in the region.” In a declaration called “Full Tanks at the Cost of Empty Stomachs” they stated:
“We, representatives of organizations and social movements of Brasil, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, gathered at a forum on the expansion of the sugarcane industry in Latin America, declare that:
“The current model of production of bioenergy is sustained by the same elements that have always caused the oppression of our peoples: appropriation of territory, of natural resources, and the labor force….
“Taking advantage of the legitimate concern of international public opinion on global warming, large agricultural companies, biotechnology companies, oil companies, and auto companies now perceive that biofuels represent an important source for the accumulation of capital.
“Biomass is falsely presented as the new energy matrix, the ideal of which is renewable energy. We know that biomass will not actually be able to substitute fossil fuels, nor is it renewable.
“Some characteristics inherent to the sugar industry are the destruction of the environment and the overexploitation of labor. The principal workforce is migrant labor. “As a result, processes of migration are stimulated, making workers more vulnerable and attempts at organization more difficult. The rigorous work of cutting sugarcane has caused the death of hundreds of workers.
“Female workers who cut sugarcane are exploited even more, as they receive lower salaries or, in some countries such as Costa Rica, do not directly receive salaries. Payment is made to the husband or partner. Child labor is commonly practiced in the industry throughout Latin America, as well as the exploitation of youth as the main labor force in the suffocating process of cutting sugarcane…
“The Brazilian State stimulates the use of resettled lands under agrarian reform and lands of small producers, currently responsible for 70% of the production of food, for biofuel crops, compromising food sovereignty.
“As a result, we assume the commitment of:
Expanding and strengthening the struggles of social movements in Latin America and the Caribbean, through a network among existing workers' organizations and support groups.
“Denouncing and combating any agrarian model based on monocultures and concentration of land and profit, destructive of the environment, responsible for slave labor and the overexploitation of the working force. Changing the current agrarian model implies a full realization of a profound Agrarian Reform that eliminates latinfundios.
“Strengthening rural workers' organizations, salaried workers, and farmworkers to construct a new model that is closely cemented to farmworker agriculture and agroecology, with diversified production, prioritizing internal consumption. It is important to fight for a policy of subsidies for the production of food. Our principal objective is to guarantee food sovereignty, as the expansion of the production of biofuels aggravates hunger in the world. WE CANNOT MAINTAIN OUR TANKS FULL WHILE STOMACHS GO EMPTY.”
São Paulo, February 28, 2007
Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT)
Grito dos Excluídos
Movimento Sem Terra (MST)
Serviço Pastoral dos Migrantes (SPM)
Rede Social de Justiça e Direitos Humanos
The less-than-popular George Bush will also visit Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico—all rising agro-fuel states with whom the U.S. would like to extend energy partnerships. Warmer receptions are unlikely. Not only is he widely unpopular because of the Iraq war, Latin America’s poor are in no mood to produce fuel for the rich…
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