Environmentalism and the campesino movement

[Leer en español]

In western, relatively high income countries, environmentalists are often – perhaps mistakenly, perhaps appropriately – assumed to be middle class professionals. Environmental issues and environment-centred organisations are seen as benevolent causes, attract widespread interest and support and are associated with a growth of interest in sustainable lifestyles. The increasing development of middle class fractions and the growth of what may be termed the new middle classes have been accompanied by and are associated with a concern with ‘otherness’ which includes an interest in minority cultures, religion, ethnicity and, arguably most significant, a concern with environment and ecology.

Such a trend can also be seen in the growth of environmentalism in low income countries of the global south. But a more conspicuous trend is for environmental causes to be represented by the campesino population, a population certainly not associated with the new middle classes of the western world. It is campesinos whose land and resources are coveted by transnational corporations and it is they who suffer the losses caused by the associated development projects. It is campesinos who face up to the threats to their environment and resources and who stand in the way of the bulldozers, tractors and lorries of the companies which aim to profit from their environment.

The following short article uses reports in Guatemala’s daily newspapers ‘Nuestro Diario’ and ‘Prensa Libre’ and from Martin Mowforth’s own experience of events at the time. It illustrates the significance of the campesino movement to struggles which can be defined as environmental.

Guatemala paralyzed by campesino road blocks

On Wednesday 11th May much of Guatemala was paralyzed by road blocks set up by campesino groups demanding, among other things, the nationalisation of the electrical energy supply in the country. From the early hours of the day, thousands of people were mobilised to block the country’s main roads. In total nineteen major highways were affected by the road blocks which in some cases lasted up to 9 hours.

The blockages were organised principally by CODECA (the Committee of Campesino Development), although three other organisations were also involved.

The demands of the campesino groups included the following.

  • The end to tax subsidies for large companies
  • Denunciation and punishment for corrupt deputies in the National Congress
  • Renationalisation of services and commons that have been privatised in the country
  • A minimum of 15% of cultivable land in the country should be destined for the cultivation of basic grains for the sake of food security
  • The prohibition of the expropriation and diverting of the rivers, lakes and other  sources of water by private companies
  • The beginning of the process of creating a People’s Constituent Assembly made up of representatives of communities.

Neftalí López, a CODECA representative, indicated that “If we don’t get positive replies, above all from President Jimmy Morales, we’ll take to the streets again.”

A delegation of the campesinos were received by the Congress President, Mario Taracena, who offered to set up working technical groups to analyse each demand.

A delegation of the campesinos were received by the Congress President, Mario Taracena, who offered to set up working technical groups to analyse each demand.


Ambientalismo y el Movimiento Campesinado

En los países ricos del mundo occidental, a menudo se asumen que los ambientalistas sean miembros de la clase media y profesionales – tal vez en error, tal vez apropiadamente. Los temas ambientales y las organizaciones ambientalistas se ven como causas benévolas, atrayendo interés extendido y apoyo amplio y se asocian con un crecimiento de interés en estilos de vida sostenibles. El desarrollo creciendo de las fracciones de la media clase y el crecimiento de las así llamadas nuevas clases medias han sido acompañado por y se asocian con una preocupación con ‘alteridad’ que incluye un interés en las culturas minoritarias, religión, etnicidad y, podría decirse, la cosa la más significativa, una preocupación con el medio ambiente y la ecología.

También se puede ver tal tendencia en el crecimiento del ambientalismo en los paises de bajos ingresos del Sur – los países en vía del desarrollo. Sin embargo, una tendencia más clara es la representación de las causas ambientales por la populación campesina, una populación no asociada con las nuevas clases medias del mundo occidental. Son las tierras y los recursos de los campesinos que son buscado por las corporaciones transnacionales y son los campesinos que sufren las pérdidas causado por los proyectos de desarrollo. Son los campesinos que enfrentan a las amenazas a sus medios ambientes y sus recursos y los que se interponen en el camino de las excavadoras, los tractores y camiones de las compañías que intentan hacer ganancias del medio ambiente.

El breve artículo siguiente se aprovecha de informes en los periódicos guatemaltecos ‘Nuestro Diario’ y ‘Prense Libre’ y de la experiencia de los eventos en el momento de Martin Mowforth. Ilustra el significado del movimiento campesino para las luchas definido como luchas ambientales.

Paralizan el País

Amenazan con más bloqueos

Desde tempranas horas, miles de personas fueron movilizadas para bloquear las principales rutas del país, exigiendo al Estado respetar las propuestas hechas a la población.

El Comité de Desarrollo Campesino (CODECA) fue el organizador de la movilización que exigía a las autoridades pago de salarios atrasados, nacionalización de la energía eléctrica, anulación de los subsidios tributarios a las grandes empresas, castigar el apropiamiento y desvío de ríos, lagos y fuentes de agua por parte de las empresas privadas.

El Zarco (Retalhuleu), Patulul (Suchitepéquez), El Boquerón y Taxisco (Santa Rosa), La Ruidosa (Izabal), Cuatro Caminos (Totonicapán), Nahualá y Las Trampas (Sololá), Cubilgüitz y Fray Bartolomé (Alta Verapaz) y Pajapita (San Marcos) fueron algunos de los puntos más afectados.

Estudiantes, trabajadores e inclusive pacientes de hospitales tuvieron que esperar horas para poder cruzar las rutas.

Los manifestantes fueron recibidos por el presidente del Congreso, Mario Taracena, quien los ofreció efectuar mesas técnicas para analizar cada petición.

“Si no tenemos respuestas positivas, sobre todo del presidente Jimmy Morales, volveremos a salir a las carreteras”, señaló Neftalí López, representante de CODECA.

Guatemala paralyzed by campesino road blocks

[Leer en español]

In western, relatively high income countries, environmentalists are often – perhaps mistakenly, perhaps appropriately – assumed to be middle class professionals. Environmental issues and environment-centred organisations are seen as benevolent causes, attract widespread interest and support and are associated with a growth of interest in sustainable lifestyles. The increasing development of middle class fractions and the growth of what may be termed the new middle classes have been accompanied by and are associated with a concern with ‘otherness’ which includes an interest in minority cultures, religion, ethnicity and, arguably most significant, a concern with environment and ecology.

Such a trend can also be seen in the growth of environmentalism in low income countries of the global south. But a more conspicuous trend is for environmental causes to be represented by the campesino population, a population certainly not associated with the new middle classes of the western world. It is campesinos whose land and resources are coveted by transnational corporations and it is they who suffer the losses caused by the associated development projects. It is campesinos who face up to the threats to their environment and resources and who stand in the way of the bulldozers, tractors and lorries of the companies which aim to profit from their environment.

The following short article uses reports in Guatemala’s daily newspapers ‘Nuestro Diario’ and ‘Prensa Libre’ and from Martin Mowforth’s own experience of events at the time. It illustrates the significance of the campesino movement to struggles which can be defined as environmental.

Guatemala paralyzed by campesino road blocks

On Wednesday 11th May much of Guatemala was paralyzed by road blocks set up by campesino groups demanding, among other things, the nationalisation of the electrical energy supply in the country. From the early hours of the day, thousands of people were mobilised to block the country’s main roads. In total nineteen major highways were affected by the road blocks which in some cases lasted up to 9 hours.

The blockages were organised principally by CODECA (the Committee of Campesino Development), although three other organisations were also involved.

The demands of the campesino groups included the following.

  • The end to tax subsidies for large companies
  • Denunciation and punishment for corrupt deputies in the National Congress
  • Renationalisation of services and commons that have been privatised in the country
  • A minimum of 15% of cultivable land in the country should be destined for the cultivation of basic grains for the sake of food security
  • The prohibition of the expropriation and diverting of the rivers, lakes and other sources of water by private companies
  • The beginning of the process of creating a People’s Constituent Assembly made up of representatives of communities.

Neftalí López, a CODECA representative, indicated that “If we don’t get positive replies, above all from President Jimmy Morales, we’ll take to the streets again.”

A delegation of the campesinos were received by the Congress President, Mario Taracena, who offered to set up working technical groups to analyse each demand.

A delegation of the campesinos were received by the Congress President, Mario Taracena, who offered to set up working technical groups to analyse each demand.


Ambientalismo y el Movimiento Campesinado

En los países ricos del mundo occidental, a menudo se asumen que los ambientalistas sean miembros de la clase media y profesionales – tal vez en error, tal vez apropiadamente. Los temas ambientales y las organizaciones ambientalistas se ven como causas benévolas, atrayendo interés extendido y apoyo amplio y se asocian con un crecimiento de interés en estilos de vida sostenibles. El desarrollo creciendo de las fracciones de la media clase y el crecimiento de las así llamadas nuevas clases medias han sido acompañado por y se asocian con una preocupación con ‘alteridad’ que incluye un interés en las culturas minoritarias, religión, etnicidad y, podría decirse, la cosa la más significativa, una preocupación con el medio ambiente y la ecología.

También se puede ver tal tendencia en el crecimiento del ambientalismo en los paises de bajos ingresos del Sur – los países en vía del desarrollo. Sin embargo, una tendencia más clara es la representación de las causas ambientales por la populación campesina, una populación no asociada con las nuevas clases medias del mundo occidental. Son las tierras y los recursos de los campesinos que son buscado por las corporaciones transnacionales y son los campesinos que sufren las pérdidas causado por los proyectos de desarrollo. Son los campesinos que enfrentan a las amenazas a sus medios ambientes y sus recursos y los que se interponen en el camino de las excavadoras, los tractores y camiones de las compañías que intentan hacer ganancias del medio ambiente.

El breve artículo siguiente se aprovecha de informes en los periódicos guatemaltecos ‘Nuestro Diario’ y ‘Prense Libre’ y de la experiencia de los eventos en el momento de Martin Mowforth. Ilustra el significado del movimiento campesino para las luchas definido como luchas ambientales.

Paralizan el País

Amenazan con más bloqueos

Desde tempranas horas, miles de personas fueron movilizadas para bloquear las principales rutas del país, exigiendo al Estado respetar las propuestas hechas a la población.

El Comité de Desarrollo Campesino (CODECA) fue el organizador de la movilización que exigía a las autoridades pago de salarios atrasados, nacionalización de la energía eléctrica, anulación de los subsidios tributarios a las grandes empresas, castigar el apropiamiento y desvío de ríos, lagos y fuentes de agua por parte de las empresas privadas.

El Zarco (Retalhuleu), Patulul (Suchitepéquez), El Boquerón y Taxisco (Santa Rosa), La Ruidosa (Izabal), Cuatro Caminos (Totonicapán), Nahualá y Las Trampas (Sololá), Cubilgüitz y Fray Bartolomé (Alta Verapaz) y Pajapita (San Marcos) fueron algunos de los puntos más afectados.

Estudiantes, trabajadores e inclusive pacientes de hospitales tuvieron que esperar horas para poder cruzar las rutas.

Los manifestantes fueron recibidos por el presidente del Congreso, Mario Taracena, quien los ofreció efectuar mesas técnicas para analizar cada petición.

“Si no tenemos respuestas positivas, sobre todo del presidente Jimmy Morales, volveremos a salir a las carreteras”, señaló Neftalí López, representante de CODECA.

Environmentalism, the water melon theory and the violence of development

watermelonIf development is the primary theme of this book, a second and overlapping theme is that of the environment. All of the human indices briefly discussed in the previous section are also indices which relate to the environment in which humans live. We cannot divorce the two: human development and human environment. When we talk of the quality of the environment, some people refer solely to the natural environment; but the natural environment is also the social environment, the human environment. From my point of view these are the same; they are inter-twined and completely integrated.

Many indicators and examples which reflect the integration of these two issues are illustrated in the substantive chapters of the book. The indicators include measures which relate to pesticide residues, water quality, deforestation rates, biodiversity, CO2 emissions and similar, and these are given in the appropriate chapters rather than in this introductory chapter. Indicators such as these might normally be understood as measures of the quality of the natural environment, but it seems obvious to me that they are also integral parts of the social and human environment.

Despite this integration of the issues and the need to view developmental and environmental issues in a holistic light, there is still a widespread tendency to treat environmental problems as separate and apart from society. In the western capitalist world, environmentalists themselves are often ridiculed for their supposed divorce from realpolitik and characterised as tree-huggers and as successors to the hippy generation.

The view from right wing circles in Central America, however, is sometimes rather different where those who protest on environmental grounds are viewed as ‘water melons’ – that is, they are green on the outside and red on the inside, alluding to the colour of their politics. This is a hangover from the days when the enemy perceived by the established forces of society (that is oligarchic government and the military forces which protected the oligarchy) was communism. Those who protested during the insurgencies and wars of the second half of last century were simply deemed to be ‘communists’, a label that needed no further explanation to justify repression, violence and assassination. The use of the water melon label is intended to provide the same simple justification for repression against those who today protest against illegal logging, water pollution incidents, open cast mining, campesino displacements and the like. As we shall see in the following chapters, it is no exaggeration to say that the dark forces of the death squads and all they represent and protect are just as active now against the water melons as they were when the enemy was more easily identifiable as communists. If this sounds a little extreme, I refer the reader to several of the text boxes in Chapter 9, especially those headed ‘You couldn’t make it up’.

Such labels would be amusing if they were not seriously used by some of those who perpetrate the violence against a wide range of their fellow citizens, the environmentalists, social activists, trade unionists, journalists, community participants, and many others who seek social and environmental justice. As witnessed by the case studies, those who seek to defend their communities and their environment from damage are usually at the receiving end of the violence whilst those who pursue what are often called ‘development projects’ (especially on their websites) are those who practice violence in pursuit of the profits associated with the project.