Indigenous and peasant farmers mobilize in Cancun

By Jane Kelsey

CANCUN, Mexico, September 10, 2003 -- CropChoice news -- Scoop, 09/08/03: More than a thousand campesina crammed into a steaming hot gymnasium today for the first day of the indigenous and peasant farmers forum. There was no mistaking their message to the trade ministers of the US, EU and Cairns Group as they began arriving for the fifth ministerial meeting of the WTO. Standard-issue green scarves proclaimed “taking agriculture out of the WTO”. T-shirts, identifying where people were from, added their own messages of resistance to the pool. Everywhere, banners proclaimed an end to the WTO, NAFTA and the proposed Free Trade Agreement for the Americas and pledged solidarity to secure victory for the indigenous and peasant farmers’ movement.

Small farmers speak out
The following extracts provide a flavor of the challenges that indigenous and peasant farmers are placing before their governments around the world and here in Cancun.

The opening speech from the Mexican convenors described “the devastating effects of liberalization of agriculture, forestry and fishing in Mexico. We have been forced to compete in an internal market with lower cost subsidised imports and higher crop yields. The country’s food needs are increasing with poverty and migration to the cities and beyond."

The Permanent Agrarian Congress declared that “The countryside has had enough. We reject the policy of trade opening, the globalizing policies, the neoliberal model and imperialism that are devastating our economy day by day and our agricultural systems. This meeting expresses its deep rejection of the WTO and demands they take their hands or of our agricultural systems.”

The Indigenous movement of Chiapas: “Dignity comes before everything. Those who say they represent our people are liars. We are here, ready to struggle. We are deeply concerned to develop proposals based on knowledge and ability of farm producers in every one of our countries. We do not believe that development can only be achieved through trade discussions in the WTO. We need to build up our own alternatives and the right to biodiversity.

Campesina in Geneva “we oppose policies that destroy the capacity of being campesina in Mexico and in Europe. The struggle in Cancun is not North versus South, it is against the neoliberal model that oppresses the people of the North and the South.”

From the small farmers of Thailand: “The WTO is war against farmers and is destroying our lives. WTO Director General Supachai is from Thailand, but he does not represent the Thai small scale farmer or the Thai poor. We say to the WTO stop lying, stop ruling the world.”

The landless movement of South Africa “Our political leadership long ago succumbed to the forces of globalization, which is just a code word for imperialism. Freed from colonialism and apartheid, the same imperialists are using new-style gunships of the IMF, World Bank and WTO to steal land and force us to remain in poverty.

Outside, truckloads of rice, vegetables and watermelons were unloaded in preparation for the many thousands who are expected tomorrow. The two day forum is being held in the center of Cancun, provided free by the local Cancun Council. It culminates in a march of indigenous peoples and farmers today (September 10), to coincide with the opening of the formal WTO meeting. Despite a determination to remain peaceful, an equally strong determination to have their message heard seems bound to confront both philosophical and physical barriers.

The mood of the forum was genial, but there was no mistaking the determination of indigenous, peasant and small farmers’ movements from around the world to have control over food removed from the WTO. The proceedings were opened by the local Mayan people in a dignified traditional ceremony, made more poignant by the backdrop of heroes Che Guevara and General Emiliano Zapata.

Protests are planned

Campesina in Geneva have already symbolically closed the WTO offices. When the WTO meeting begins, at the northern border of Mexico they will close the border for several hours and declare the cancellation of NAFTA. They will shut down some ports and border sites for the importation of agricultural products, especially from the US. Campesina will be engaging in different demonstrations and mobilizations to show our rejection of the WTO and strive for alternatives that are the alternatives of the farmers’ movement.”

The President of Via Campesina: “There are 100 million farmers around the world. Yet many of them and their people are starving because of the policies of the IMF, World Bank and WTO. Who is more violent? They have imposed on us an economic dictatorship and economic war. Linked to that is military war. The US sees people resisting their advance. After invading Iraq they will do the same to other countries that get in their way.

“People are here to manifest themselves in different ways, to organize pacific resistance, to mobilize ourselves, to send a message to the WTO that we hate them and the corporations behind them. They cannot negotiate away our natural resources, our forests, land and seeds. The people have not given the governments the authority to negotiate in Cancun. We have come to summons those criminals in Cancun. We are sure we will celebrate the victory. It is evident that they can’t even agree among themselves; that strengthens us in our mobilizations.

“We are here also to strengthen the alternative project of food sovereignty of the people. We must defend creole seeds and indigenous seeds, we do not want transgenic corn, we want indigenous corn. They are the patrimony of the people in the service of mankind. Our demand is the right of producing our own food, to define our agricultural policies without the intervention of the WTO.”


Recent news and research

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Stay Up-to-Date –
Sign up for our Newsletter changes daily! Don't miss out on the latest interactive features, columns and news. Sign up now for our monthly e-newsletter and stay connected.


•Free the meat markets! End packer ownership and stop closed-door deals

• Support Saskatchewan farmers in efforts to block GM wheat

• Stop budget cuts to conservation programs--the one's that help you pay for environmentally sound farming practices!

Share Your Stories

Are you a farmer? A consumer? Whatever story you have to tell, let it be an inspiration to others.
Share it with us now...

T H E    N E W    F A R M – R E G E N E R A T I V E    A G R I C U L T U R E    W O R L D W I D E