Patricia Blanco

Interviewee: Patricia Blanco
Interviewer: Stephanie Williamson of PAN-UK
Location: Offices of PAN-UK, London
Date: 29th August 2018
Key Words: pineapple production; monocultivation; export crops; food security; pesticide abuse; contamination; supermarkets; transnational corporations.

 

 

 

Stephanie Williamson (SW): This is for the newsletter. 

Patricia Blanco (PB): I’m Patricia Blanco; I’m a Costa Rican journalist, and I work in the University of Costa Rica.

Other PAN-UK representative: Yes, the questions. OK, so when you are ready, just carry on.

SW: So, we’ll go with the first question. Well, since we had the pleasure of interviewing you in 2000, 18 years ago, when we talked about the state of pineapple production in Costa Rica, could you explain a bit to us about what has changed in the pineapple production system in Costa Rica – perhaps things like what has improved, what’s got worse, and well, in terms of human health, environmental health, socioeconomic aspects, workers’ rights, occupational health, etcetera. So, in order to introduce the subject.

PB: Perfect, OK Stephanie, firstly, many thanks to PAN for the opportunity to talk a little about pineapple cultivation in Costa Rica.

Really, from 18 years ago up to today, pineapple production in the country has changed a lot; principally as pineapple has become an extensive monocrop. Back then we could say that pineapple production was concentrated in the south of the country, whilst today it covers various areas of the country; mainly the south, the Caribbean coast and the northern part. So, this means that pineapple has expanded from approximately 5,000 hectares of pineapples sown at the end of the 1980s; whilst today there are more than 50,000 hectares sown. The data are not exact and there are different data. But there is agreement that there are more than 50,000 hectares sown.

So, with things as they are, the problems have increased. One very interesting thing to say is that this expansion follows an agro-export model and a diversification of agro-exports which governments decided to promote from the 1980s decade. So the pineapple became, as we would say, the star agro-export product. In macro-economic terms, it’s been successful such that it’s become one of the top export products and today it’s the third most important export product in the country.

SW: After what?

PB: After the banana. In first place: medical devices – a manufacturing product which we would say is produced in something like a maquila style; and although it’s also a result of research, it’s more than anything a manufacturing product. And in second place, the banana; and in third place pineapple. It’s exported principally to the United States – around 60% to the US; and 40% to the countries of the European Union; and the rest to other countries.

So, this pineapple expansion has magnified the problems. The problems range from environmental to social and health as well, although there isn’t any research in this field, despite the fact that there are reports of complaints from affected communities. But I think that later on I’ll go into more detail about the consequences.

SW: Well, at that time in 2000 when you came here, you were working and collaborating with the Popular Front Against Pollution. I’d like to know if the lawsuits that you had as a coalition against PINDECO, the biggest pineapple company at that time, lawsuits concerning more precautionary measures to protect the environment, social rights, etc, had any successful results, or not?

PB: Well, as regards the companies and the struggle in the 1980s of the Front Against Pollution by pineapples in the south of the country, one result was the creation of a union, which is actually very difficult to achieve in the private sector. It’s something which is demonised; unions in the country are not wanted in several sectors, despite the fact that they defend the workers’ rights. I think that was an important achievement which still has some validity, as there’s a union of agricultural workers which defends the rights of this sector.

However, with the pineapple expansion, control of the activity has gone out of the hands of the government because it’s very difficult to keep control over an activity that has become so extensive in different parts of the country.

I was forgetting to say that one thing which has changed compared with the 1980s is that in the 80s the only producer of pineapples was PINDECO, a subsidiary of Dole. Whereas now there are other very large companies involved, so it’s the transnationals which are in control of the activity. Also, we have a large number of producers, small and medium-sized producers who decided to leave their own parcels of land producing basic grains for our country, producing for our national diet – such as rice, beans, corn – and decided to change to the production of pineapple. They were encouraged to do so by the incentives given by the government and by the high prices on international markets.

It’s also very important to say that we are not dealing with an isolated activity within the country, but with something that is tied into an international economic model, with the markets, with free trade.

So, many producers changed, left their former activities and began to produce pineapples. As you can see, and returning to your question, we had immediate results, but we never imagined that such an expansion would occur.

This expansion also had its origins in research carried out by PINDECO and Dole on a variety of pineapple, called Pineapple Gold, if I’m not mistaken. The research was conducted here and showed that this variety would adapt very well to the climatic conditions; and the results were very, very successful. This type is a very sweet pineapple and very small compared to endogenous varieties or at least the varieties we have here. So, this helped the expansion.

Thus, we can talk about how the pineapple changed from being a local problem in the south of the country to being a national problem.

What effects have we had since the expansion of the crop?

Well, I’ll cite some of them:

  • Change in the land use. As I said, many producers left their parcels of land or changed from producing the basic grains to growing pineapples.
  • Destruction of protected areas, especially of wetlands which had been declared as RAMSAR sites in Costa Rica. This is very serious.
  • Environmental contamination from the use and abuse of agro-chemicals, of pesticides, especially leading to water pollution.
  • Intensive use of pesticides. I don’t have the figures to hand, but we already know in this country that there is abuse of chemical substances and that pineapple cultivation contributes in large part to this situation.
  • There is also an impact on food security, originating in the abandonment of the growing of basic grains.

SW: Well, the third question – and you were already beginning to say that we had to think that there is that demand for the pineapple at the international level – consumers, supermarkets, all those companies in the chain from producer to consumer. My question is: have you seen changes in attitudes or in the behaviour along this pineapple chain? That is, the supermarkets in Europe or the States, those who are buying Tica pineapples or also their consumers.

PB: Well, as regards the changes in attitude of consumers, of supermarkets, and of everybody involved in the chain of distribution of pineapples or of associated products, in Costa Rica, we aren’t aware of these. The information on that doesn’t reach us, even though it’s extremely important. Why? Because in all this the consumers are very important, because it’s they who make the purchases and who eat them, even many times without knowing how they are produced or even what they are consuming.

So, international campaigns are very important and put a lot of pressure on the country.

I’ll give you an example: in 2017 on German television, Deutsche Welle, there was a report, a journalistic investigation into the cultivation of pineapple in Costa Rica. And later it was distributed through all the channels. That had a big impact on Costa Rica because the country depends on, and fears, its international image. It’s very important to have a good international image, especially because it’s a country which sells itself as an ecotourism destination of great importance. So, here you see there is a tremendous contradiction. Well, this TV report, made by German TV, had a big impact. These types of things, I think, are very important. If each time [they see the report], the consumers, consumer organisations, and some of the companies too, become more aware, they can get involved in lawsuits and spread awareness of the problems associated with pineapple cultivation: that is, as I said before, it’s a monoculture which has spread throughout the country.

SW: OK, now the fourth question. I understand from my Tico colleague, Fernando in IRET, that the current Tico government takes a very welcome position, more proactive in certain aspects of environmental conservation and in aspects of sustainability. Could you comment and give us any examples of governmental policies on improved or stricter regulations which have to be followed with pesticide use on pineapples or bananas or other large-scale export crops?

PB: Well, I think governments ….

SW: And in particular the Tico government.

PB: Yes, Costa Rican governments are worried about getting foreign currency into the country, and also about generating employment. And that’s how they see it and how they justify their support for an activity like this. In the case of pineapple, as I said before, I believe that control [of the activity] has gone out of their hands.

In recent years, however, it’s important to point out that scientific studies have been conducted by the public universities, the University of Costa Rica and the National University, along with the state institution that is associated with and has responsibility for the agricultural sector. These researches detected the presence of pesticides in sources of water, in surface water as much as in subterranean water, which is the water that people drink. Many years back, there was a terrible case in our country of various communities in the Atlantic zone which had to stop using water from the wells and the government had to supply water daily by tanker. I don’t know how you would say it in English, but they’re like ‘trucks’ which transport the water and supply it to the population because the water in the wells is contaminated.

And for several years now, the presence of various agro-chemicals in the water supply has been documented. For example: in the northern zone of the country, where 53 per cent of pineapple production is concentrated, since 2015 we have seen the presence of pesticides like bromasil, ametrina, exaxinona and diuron.

As a result of this the government took the decision in 2017, and I think that it is a positive action, to prohibit the import and the use of bromasil in pineapple cultivation. To me that seems like a positive action.

Another positive action is the carrying out of studies to monitor the state of the soil and water and the existing levels of contamination. That wasn’t done previously – although IRET has been very consistent for many years, but most times the university researches haven’t got to the level of political decision-making.

[Both talking at the same time.]

PB: Another very positive thing is that now there are more complaints and denunciations from the communities, from environmental organisations and they’ve even presented judicial lawsuits against companies which have contaminated their natural resources and which have threatened personal health. This is very important in a country like ours, which is very legally based and where there is recourse to the law for everyone. This type of action has important effects. And it has also generated more information in the public domain and a greater concern about the negative effects of pineapple production.

SW: OK, the fifth question. In your opinion, what would be the single most, or two most important actions for priority and decision-making that could achieve most in turning pineapple production into a healthier, safer and more sustainable system?

PB: Well, that’s very ambitious. Really, with the current model of pineapple production that we have, I doubt that it can be turned into a sustainable system. I would say that what needs to be done, from some time ago, is that the communities and associations should be making demands of the government and the municipalities. In the first place, a moratorium on the cultivation of pineapple should be declared – that is to say that the dedication of more land to pineapple cultivation should be suspended.

That’s a very important thing because up to now we haven’t had any such declaration and if it’s going to continue increasing, I think it would be really impossible for it to become sustainable.

Now, I think that in order to gain greater control we need much stricter public policies; we need to establish a series of measures with which the companies have to comply.

I think that this is also a matter of economic power because, as I said before, there are some transnationals that control this activity. With the small and medium-sized national producers there has been work done to improve agricultural practices. But they aren’t the only ones involved in this activity. There are the big companies which, although they certainly have their teams of professional agronomists and the rest, they still follow a system, a model of intensive agro-chemical use. We already know that pineapple cultivation uses practices that are very toxic for the environment.

So, what is the government’s margin for manoeuver? It’s limited. Recently a former Minister of Agriculture of the country said in an informal conversation that for all the will that he had, in this particular activity there are very strong economic interests in operation. However, I’m certain that the government and the institutions of the state must have greater control.

SW: And a follow-up question. What actions, what decisions could be made by and what role could be played by, for example, the British supermarkets that import pineapple from Costa Rica?

PB: Well, I’m not especially knowledgeable about how the distribution chain functions; it’s not an issue that I’ve researched or read about. But I believe that, as regards the transnationals, the only entities or actors that could have influence are the supermarkets. They’re the purchasing companies and they are the ones that distribute the product. The Tico farmers who grow them don’t distribute them. They sell them to the transnationals and the transnationals are responsible for selling them in the different markets.

It seems to me that the consumer countries’ supermarkets should have better information about the effects of the production, in this case of pineapple cultivation, on the origin countries; on the social and environmental conditions of the production. That could be really important. From our countries, under current conditions, I see that as difficult.

SW: OK, the last question and an issue that is a bit more positive. I’d like to know a bit more about what is being done? If there’s an agroecology movement in Costa Rica? If so, what type? And what kind of activities do they do? What kind of agricultural practices? What type of people are involved?

And a little about any level of governmental or municipal support, or support from the food sector for promoting organic or agroecological systems of production?

PB: I think there is a tendency – I would say at the global level – to move towards more environmentally friendly production. And Costa Rica is also in that tendency. I think that peoples’ awareness that chemicals, agrochemicals are toxic for our health and for the environment is increasing all the time. And there’s a greater desire to eat more healthily.

However, that implies that in a country there are decisions and policies which government authorities can take to make this possible in many cases. In the case of Costa Rica, how do I see that situation at the moment? There is greater availability of organic products than before. There are many more organic markets in different towns. Also, in a limited way, you can find a section of the supermarkets dedicated to organics.

And also, I could say that there are changes in the teaching and in university courses concerning agriculture. That’s very important because in that way there begins a change in the mentality of people and of future professionals who are going to work in different places. So, for example in public universities where there was a teaching model based on the use of chemicals, they’ve changed to a bio-model, more in league with Mother Earth, with the environment.

For me that is really a source of great hope, because it’s the new generations who are going to be able to make the major changes.

Also, I see an important agroecology movement in the communities, with the campesinos, with people, supported in many cases by small associations of students, of professionals, who have major information resources, for the transfer of technological information and on many other aspects. So, for me that’s a source of hope, because if there is really an important movement from the communities, I believe that it can reach up to the state. That is, so that the state takes effective measures, determines policies and supports those small movements that there are in different communities because they want to have a healthier environment free of agro-chemicals.

But it still seems to me that this kind of movement continues to be limited. The greatest availability of products continues to be, unfortunately, those grown with agro-chemicals, and with unsustainable practices.

SW: And can you end perhaps with some examples of how it affects your own work, or that of your colleagues in the university where you work? What evidence is there of ecology or bio-production? I don’t know if there are any examples of research or work on ….

PB: Yes, I think there are some that you can use for reference. I’ll give you a link to our website at the University of Costa Rica. Recently, last June, we did some journalistic work to see how the university is contributing to making pineapple production more sustainable – what you were asking me about. And we realised that there is a series of researches which have been done especially looking to reduce the environmental and social impact of pineapple production.

An example: the use of the stubble, the waste from the pineapple, which gives rise to a lot of pollution because there’s so much of it and because in order to get rid of these remains, what the producers do is burn it. And that has a strong impact on the soil. So, some research has looked at how they can make use of these wastes in a sustainable way. There are several investigations into this – so that’s one case I can cite.

The other involves alternative ways of reducing the impact of the stable fly which propagates itself on these wastes and which strongly affects cattle. On that also the universities have collaborated on research into how to control this insect, but without causing more pollution; but doing it in a more natural way, with the use of biodegradable technologies.

Also, another way in which the universities have contributed, along with the government, is with training for the producers in good agricultural practices. For example, there is a project that the University of Costa Rica has carried out in the north of the country, and I understand that the National University has also been involved in that. For example, there has been work on the environmental properties of agro-chemicals so that the farmers are informed about these.

On water and the management of waste water; alternatives to reduce the use of agro-chemicals; also, to reduce pests such as the stable fly, as I was saying. And the wastes, which we call stubble, amongst other things. So, not everything is bad – there is work in various sectors that are aware and concerned about the impact of pineapple production.

And I think that perhaps in several years we might not manage to reduce the area that’s dedicated to pineapples because that will depend on the international market. Probably in several years another product will come along and supplant the pineapple, but there’s a lot of work to be done in that respect.

Daryl Loth

Interviewee: Daryl Loth, resident, guide and hotelier in Tortuguero
Interviewers: Martin Mowforth, Karis McLaughlin and Alice Klein
Location: Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Date: 19th August 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Notes:

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Martin Mowforth (MM): Re. the road about which you and Simon Tompsett wrote in an ENCA Newsletter a number of years ago, what has happened about that?

Daryl Loth (DL): The people who were pushing the road were the municipality, a couple of the diputados, were trying to push for the road to improve the economic development of the area. But it was challenged. Someone went to the Sala IV, and SETENA, who do the environmental impact assessments, had to approve the proposal and demonstrate that the road would not have any harmful effect.

Karis McLaughlin (KM): Where was this road to be from and to?

DL: I’ll show you on the map; but basically, if you go round the corner here (pointing to around the bend of the canal) and you’ll find a gasoline filling station – that{s where the electrical lines come in from the mainland. It would follow the electrical line right from Cariari potentially to that last turn before going off to La Pavona … right to the edge of the river here. So they’re talking about putting a parking lot over there and it would cut right through an extension of the National Park which connects the National Park with the wildlife refuge, land that was purchased by the European Community 16 years ago with Fundación Neotropica. It was purchased with European Union money with the local parliament to purchase the land to convert it into national park to create a biological corridor. And then a couple of years later, someone wanted to build a road through it, which would be a giant slap in the face for the European Community.

Anyway, that’s where it stands until they can prove that it won’t have any environmental consequences.

MM: So SETENA turned it down on the grounds that it would have environmental consequences?

DL: I don’t think it even went to SETENA. It was challenged I believe in the Constitutional Court and they didn’t let it go further.

MM: OK. Well the other issue which you once explained to me on one of the treks I did with you round the Cerro, was the problem of squatters and colonizers – perhaps people who have been dispossessed elsewhere and who are looking for somewhere new. And you explained about a 30 day rule – I don’t know whether this still exists – where if they could prove that they had been on this land for 30 days or more they would be granted a kind of titling which meant that they could not be thrown off.

DL: I don’t know about the 30 days any longer, but there is a certain amount of time which must be respected. Some people move onto land and will plant fruit trees that are a few years old and will say that they have been here for this long – I’ve been here for this long, see, I planted this tree. And of course all their neighbours, who will be in the same boat as them, will be witnesses and will vouch for them. I was speaking to the folks at Caño Palma (Biological Station) just yesterday. They did a census and there are now over 300 people in the area of the Cerro. Fifteen years ago, there were none. Now there’s a school.

MM: So there’s a degree of permanence. Within the National Park (further south of there), do you have the same problem of squatters, colonizers coming in in the same way?

DL: I don’t think there are squatters in the National Park. I haven’t heard of any. The problems are with people using the buffer areas, which are demarcated as buffer areas. Now people are moving onto those and clearing those.

MM: The protection is not the same then?

DL: It’s difficult. There’s plenty of protection right here by the National Park offices where the principal entrances are, but if you’re a hunter or you’re doing something illegal, you’re not going to come in the principal entrance. There’s a 100 square miles, it’s huge, and it’s mostly bordered by people’s farms and banana plantations; so there’s an infinite number of places to come in and out.

MM: And the Cerro is one of those buffer zones is it?

DL: The Cerro is actually inside the Wildlife Refuge. (6:08) They call it the rebajo, the refugio; It’s officially inside, but the village is outside. But they push right up to the limit. They go in there with a GPS and they’ve marked it out. (6:23) People still go in, even if not in terms of settlement, but in terms of gathering wood for building things, cutting down trees and things like that; they are going in to the refuge to get their building material and firewood.

MM: Well that’s very helpful and has brought me up-to-date. So, what do you consider to be the pressures on the park at the moment in terms of this so-called development?

DL: You mean sustainable development, as opposed to raw material?

MM: I’m concerned about raw material extraction and illegal development, and whether there are any pressures from specific sectors such as hunting, or farming, or maybe the plantations?

DL: Every once in a while there are stories of people coming into this forest, coming down the river and squatting on some land, National Park land, cutting down trees and taking the wood out. It’s land that some people claim is theirs, or people sell it to them. I don’t know how legitimate they are or not. But the Park is pretty good at getting onto those people; and people do come in from the road and they hunt and they take out things.

MM: So there are no large-scale threats at the moment from big plantations or mining operations, or whatever?

DL: I believe that (8:12) that there are a couple of things where banana plantations have not respected the rule about the edge of the river – it’s supposed to be 50 metres, as I understand – in the buffer zone.

MM: The Rainforest Alliance has these standards.

DL: ISO. …. I think there’s still a lot of pressure from weekend hunters – you see people are allowed to hunt for their lives, to feed themselves. That’s legal, but some are trying to claim it’s legal and that they’re surviving on it. But they have their land cruiser and their boat on a trailer and have high-powered weapons – they’re not just taking wood pigeons, they’re taking deer and anything that moves. There are a lot of people who come just athe weekend just to bag a mapuche or a deer or a wild pig. And people start on the coast taking a few turtles, babies – right here in front of the village. Four days ago, between mile 5 and mile 18 on the public access beach, it was estimated that about 10,000 eggs were taken at night, in one night – over 100 nests were dug up by people from Limón in ocean-going flat boats. They pulled up – it was calm that night when they set out. They landed about 10 – 15 people and just dug up 100 nests.

MM: That would be for sale of the eggs?

DL: Yes. People like to have their eggs with yoke. And after a couple of weeks, they’re going to have a lot of little baby turtles in there, and people don’t like to have them in there. In the first few days, they want to buy them fresh with a yoke and white. And people from the new community at the base of the Cerro – that’s where most of the people are coming from – are involved to keep trouble off the beach, at that end out near the airport. There have been several arrests but it’s hit and miss. A lot of the people don’t survive on tourism, they are not …

MM: The people in the village are probably not involved in any way, are they?

DL: They are. There are people in the village who aren’t getting the trickle-down, and some of them – well, you have them everywhere – in every country – people who think that National Parks take their constitutional rights away. Those who hunt and gather, and so they against ……

MM: The reason I made that assumption is that there are so many people who make their living from tourism.

DL: You wouldn’t believe how many of the long-standing guides, local people, who show up at the meetings and talk about the importance of conservation and the importance of maintaining this resource that provides them with their daily bread, and at night they’ll join in the feast of the turtle or the turtle eggs. There’s one guy here who used to work for one of the hotels, one of the bigger hotels in the area, and who used to do the patrolling of the beach for the CCC to do their survey. He used to walk the full length of the beach. He got paid $75 each time he did that – four times a month. So he’s getting $300 per month which is an average Costa Rican wage. He got that for doing one day a week, and he worked for one of the biggest conservation organizations in the area, and worked for one of the foremost hotels in the area that had a reputation for conservation, and was a turtle guide. In the off-season, when the turtle season ended, someone caught him with a gill net, fishing illegally on the other side of the river, trying to catch fish. I don’t know whether he was going to sell them or what; but he had the net confiscated; he had his boat confiscated; he had his turtle guiding license revoked; he was fired from his job at the hotel; he was fired from his job at the CCC. This is the kind of mentality that some of the people here exhibit, which I find shocking.

MM: Are there any extra pressures from tourism itself on the integrity of the National Park, but also on biodiversity?

DL: Biodiversity. I would say not. I don’t think it’s affecting a lot in terms of biodiversity. They’ve gone from two cycle outboard (motors) to four cycle outboards which are a lot less …. I don’t think there are problems from the fumes or the wakes given by the boats – I don’t think there are any effects on biodiversity in the park due to those. The people walking on the trails in the park that are temporarily closed – the main trail in the park – because the footpath was getting wider and wider because people were walking off the trails to avoid the mud. They need a big cash injection in the park to build trails that people will stay on, and therefore will not have an impact on biodiversity. But it was being affected, not necessarily by numbers of people, but by people walking through and round to avoid the puddles and then turning the sides into puddles – this was destroying some of the habitat at the side. So that was happening, but the Park stopped that. And we have to raise money – and there seems to be no money in the public coffers to rebuild the trail.

MM: But in your experience, over the last 15 or 16 years that you’ve been in the area, you haven’t noticed any loss of wildlife?

DL: Not due to tourism. You’ve seen at night how the turtle tours are managed. We used to go out when there were 250 people on the beach – 10-15 people per guide – might be 20 guides – all walking up and down on the beach looking for the turtles. Then the National Park put on a limit as more and more people came. They said (16:09) OK, 400 people per night – that’s the limit – 200 from 8 till 10 pm, 100 in the public beach, 100 in the National Park. Then this was repeated from 10 till 12. That was up until about 4 years ago, I think. But the number was being exceeded – the demand was greater than the supply of spots on the beach during part of the year. So they devised a new system – they’re using a system of scouts on the beach. They have news of where the turtles are, and they manage where the groups can go – one group at a time to see a turtle. There’s a trail system just inside the National Park parallel to the beach, just inside the beach, with an exit every 100 metres. So we are not walking up and down the beach any more, we’re not tripping over logs, we’re not scaring turtles back into the ocean as we used to do, especially when we’re coming back after seeing everything, and people just want to get back home, but the turtles see us and get scared back into the water. (17:16) That’s called a false call, when they come out and …. . There are far fewer false calls now than there used to be because the tourists are only going out on the beach exactly where the turtle is – or within 50 metres of where the turtle is. So there are more people than there have ever been and there is less impact on the turtles that there has ever been. It’s a very well managed system, but I guess the walking trails are the ones where you can see the turtle tours are having an impact. (17:54) But it’s partially it’s not just for saving the trails, but it was the legal issue as well, the liability – if someone were to hurt themselves, then the National park trail was open saying that it was adequate for walking but it was not, and it could be proved that it was negligent to allow people to go out there, then it could be sued. (18:28)

MM:

DL: There are limits to the number of boats that are allowed on the canal, (Names of rivers, canals, such as Caño Palma, Tortuguero Canal) each one has a specific number of boats that are allowed to navigate in the canal for certain time periods ……

MM: There are certainly a lot more boats now that use the electric motors. You were the first to use one.

DL: Yes, I’ve been using one now for some years.

MM: Also there were several today that were just rowing.

DL: Yes, and there are some rivers that you are only allowed to go into if you have an electric motor, and some where no four cycle motors are allowed. (19:47)

MM: Gave thanks and asked for further recommendations for interviews.

DL: One other interesting thing is a greater number of jaguar sightings recently (20:28). That could be a result of the diminishing buffer zones. What were traditionally jaguar hunting grounds are now turning into farm fields; so there’s a concentration inside the Park. So there might be more jaguars per sq km than there have ever been here. It’s nature’s balance. I was in a photo studio a couple of months back and someone was doing some re-touching of a photo of a jaguar that looked like it had a strange pose to it. I asked what kind of pose is that? Well, it’s actually been propped up by sticks and I’m air-brushing out the sticks. Oh, really, what happened? Well, some farmer in Siquirres shot the jaguar because it was eating his farm animals. A trophy picture. So this is showing us again the conflict between humans and biodiversity.

MM: Anything else you’d like to add?

DL: (21:52) One of the effects we get here is that we get agricultural chemicals washed down from the banana plantations, fungicides and vermicides and pesticides and herbicides. I think it’s the fungicide which is the one that they know in Nicaragua – nemagon.

MM: They use that because they’re exported over the Atlantic.

DL: Apparently, it causes birth defects and sterility. And they have been found at levels – in the river, coming down from the banana plantations up there – at ten times the level that in a laboratory would cause changes in protein – the synthesis of protein could lead to birth defects and genetic problems. And they’re finding levels of these toxins at ten times higher in a laboratory that would be necessary to cause these problems. We think that may be having an effect on the manatis. These heavy substances come down the river in the sediment, and when that gets churned up they are absorbed by plants which are eaten by manati; they’re absorbed by fish which are eaten by crocodiles. So it comes right into the food chain. We have seen in the past fish kills on the level of thousands. By the time they get here, they’ve been in the river for a couple of days, so finding the smoking gun is very difficult. So the banana plantations have gotten off scott-free. We all know what’s causing it, but we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt where the spill took place.

KM: Have there been any health effects on humans?

DL: Well, probably the biggest human health problems from agricultural runoff have been in Siquirres where their water supply has been decimated by the pineapples. One plantation was closed down – I don’t know whether it was Del Monte or who, but they were shut down by the Ministry of Health, and some of the local people were complaining about the water, and others were saying you can’t shut them down – that’s where we work.

END

Ross Ballard

Interviewee: Ros Ballard, resident, guide and hotelier in Tortuguero
Interviewers: Martin Mowforth, Karis McLaughlin and Alice Klein
Location: Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Date: 20th August 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Notes:

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Martin Mowforth (MM): Having explained what we’re all about now, the particular problems we wanted to ask you about were first of all the possible over-regulation that is practiced by the National Park authorities, particularly in respect of guides, but maybe in other activities in and around the National Park here.

Karis McLaughlin (KM): the objections that people may make – the people that live here.

Ross Ballard (RB): Ok, the feeling locally amongst the guides is that (1:04) the administrator of the National Park has been the administrator for too long. And they have enough instinct to know – this certainly happens in other places – that when an administrator of a National Park has been around too long he has a tendency to treat the Park as if it were his own private garden. And this seems to be what is happening here. There used to be trails inside the National Park when we would do canoe tours that were ideal because on a three hour tour not everyone can sit comfortably for three hours in the bottom of a canoe. So this gave them the chance to stretch a little bit, to walk around a little bit, and it gave them a different aspect of the Park and to get into the forest a little. That has all been closed now. The only trail that is open is the one behind the National Park office. There are two trails back there. They’ve allowed the worst of the two to remain open. We can’t even go into the other one. It’s interesting if you go into there with someone who really knows what they’re talking about. It can be made interesting. But it’s very close to the beach, the salt air has affected what plants can grow there. A shortage of plants means a shortage of habitats for animals, and a person doesn’t see all that much – some of the glitzier things, monkeys, but that’s about it.

KM: Is that based on XXX – what’s the reasoning?

RB: they’re concerned about the condition of the trail. So, they’re closing it. They’re going to work on it. But it’s been closed now for over a year – the better trail behind the National Park – and that’s a good trail. A guide can do 3 hours in there quite easily – not as good aforest as the one we were in this morning. There seems to be very little sensitivity. The park is very high-handed with the guides. There seems to be very little sensitivity. These people are paid by the national government, and if nobody came through the Park, they would still draw their salary. (3:29)  For guides, it’s different; and for people visiting this area it’s different. There’s very little for them to do. It’s not damaging to a trail to have people going through it. They have made some good regulations such as people having to wear rubber boots – the idea being that people won’t walk round puddles – which they do anyway – but they walk through them instead, rather than widening the trails and destroying the habitat. So there have been some good regulations, but to be closing off trails that have been in the same condition that they’re in at this moment after it’s been closed for a year – there’s no sense to it.

MM: What about the new trail that they’re building up the Cerro?

RB: I don’t know what it’s going to finish looking like, but we’ve seen the beginning of it down at the base, and, as we were saying, it’s wide enough to take a small car. There’s no need for that at all. The old trail is very much like the trail on which we conducted our tour – small, single file, which is how people travel on trails in any case, with a great deal more charm than a straight line slash through the forest.

MM: Well, the second comment we’d like to get from you is your explanation this morning about the settlers who represent something of a problem, not just to this area but also to many others, but particularly in this area, not so much to the National Park but to the buffer zones around the Park – that is the problem of settlers coming in and establishing themselves so that they manage eventually to get some title. And you were talking about some of them who make a business of it. Can you tell us a bit about that as well?

RB: Allright. (5:32) Firstly, I don’t think that’s what most of these people are doing. Most of these people are rural Nicaraguans. They have come here to make a better life for themselves. Mostly they are responsible citizens who are working for the lodges and other businesses, but mostly for the lodges here.  What was population zero about 14 years ago is now about 440 people. They have their own school; they’re well established in the area; frequently as rural people they cook  with wood. The wood has to come from somewhere. It comes from the Hill, which is officially protected, although, as you noticed this morning, it’s very, very rare to see anyone out there. They cook with wood. They build with wood. And they eat meat. And their attitude is that anything that they don’t have to buy from the shop they take from the forest – that includes all of the things I’ve just mentioned – wood to burn, wood to build and meat. (6:39)  there are hunting blinds on the side of the hill where we didn’t go, but I go sometimes on my own – hunting blinds which are built, fresh, so that they can spend an evening there and shoot whatever comes by. Wildlife has gone way, way down on the hill as a result of this. The National Park, in its wisdom, has closed it, but has done nothing to preserve it; and in this case, it is the most unique area here. It is the only hill for many, many miles around, and there are things living there which don’t live elsewhere. This is mostly to do with plants, although I collected insects as well; and we found insects there of which there were no records in Costa Rica or were not supposed to be found in this part of Costa Rica – that sort of thing. A new species of tarantula was found there – it was endemic to the hill and nowhere else.

MM: What about those who were making a business out of it – out of settling, clearing and then selling?

RB: (7:53) Costa Rica has very strong homesteading rights, and people – a minority of the squatters, put it that way – are coming in and using it as a source of income. They pay nothing for the land. If they can hold it for a stipulated period of time – and I’m sorry but I don’t remember the number – but it’s not a long time, and they pay nothing for it, for something that is a gravy train for them. Having got title to the land, they will sell it and then move onto another area and do the same. It’s sort of a family business.

KM: Do you think that’s the fault of the law then?

RB: Oh, yes. (8:52)  I think that probably most countries in the world need to reform their homesteading law. There are some ridiculous, archaic laws which don’t function well in today’s ….

I know you have them in Britain. I know we have them in the United States.

MM: Many thanks.

END

Isabel MacDonald

Interviewee: Isabel MacDonald, Coordinator of the Centro de Amigos Para la Paz
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: San José, Costa Rica
Date: 24th September 2009
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Notes:

 

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Martin Mowforth (MM): Depleted Uranium Campaign….. Is there a problem of DU in Central America? Can you tell us a bit about that and its relevance to Central America?

Isabel MacDonald (IM): I joined the Peace Centre (PC) about 5/6 years ago because this coincided with the thread of occupying Iraq, and that happened about 6 years ago. I had heard of the PC and actually been there at 2 or 3 meeting coinciding with the forming of the PC around 1983, because I was living in Nicaragua at the time and heard there was a talk, and it was basically about contra attacks against the Nicaraguan civilian population. So I came to the PC and found like minded people. At the time I was working as a translator for…..name in Spanish….. in Nicaragua, translating for mostly Christian groups from the states and Europe who wanted to see the revolution first hand. So I came here and then years passed by and I really didn’t hear anything more from the PC. Then coinciding with the thread of invading Iraq, I called the PC and said what are you guys going to do about it….they said come over and meet the coordinator at the time. So I joined the PC and have been here since. About 4 or 5 years ago, a friend of ours …name….from New Mexico walked in and she spoke to us about Depleted Uranium, and we had heard about the use of this, and the victims and veterans of it coming back from the 1st Gulf war and how they were suffering with a disease called …… something war syndrome. We had seen many other victims, but we forget these things, but this man brought it back to us, and he gave us a documentary produced by a French Director….name…… called ‘The Invisible War’, which has testimonies of the men and women veterans who had been to the 1st Gulf War and who are very sick now, and also Testimonies from the US Military denying the use of DU. He told us that he had been involved in a campaign to ban the use of DU and one of their goals was to get a ban with the UN. He told us about their efforts. He brought some land and wanted to work on the campaign on a Latin American level. Seeing again his photographs, especially of the kids, and hearing his testimony and hearing about the work he’d been doing, we included the campaign to ban DU with our work plan at the PC. So basically I’d say we have been working on the National Level in Coast Rica, with civil organisations who are working on different issues of …. something human rights and a lot of them environmental. And on the international level we have been working more on denouncing the war on Iraq and on the campaign to ban DU weapons and come on the Palestinian issue. His father died, he believed, due to contamination of the weapons on the US military testing ground near to his home in New Mexico. His son came here every year and we would try to get information and documentation from him to show we support his cause. We decided because of him and his suggestion, that we would hold one of the big conferences of the coalition that he helped to form, which is the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons. We took up the challenge because it is an issue that is very little known about in Costa Rica. We wondered how we were going to pull this off, and how many people were going to come, but actually people were very interested and we gathered a lot of support. So for 3 days in March, with the information we had, we held the conference and wonderful people came from Japan…name, a journalist, Belgians…..name, Gretel Monroe from Massachusetts, and Doug Weir from Manchester-the coordinator of the coalition at present. We had a wonderful conference. Basically what we want to do is as the Quaker PC, be part of this movement, IC, which has 100 members in 30 countries, but with very little Latin American attendance. So one of our goals is to get the issue out, starting with Central America, moving down to South America, then spread the integration of this Coalition, and get involved with the heart of the UN. So we showed the documentary- we produced our own documentary ‘Uranium 238’ by ‘Pablo Ortega’, who has done a lot of work denouncing free trade and on environmental issues. One of our goals was to get information out in Spanish, because most info is in English. So we translated the documents of the coalition into Spanish, which also has photographs of the victims, because all the info as you can see here is mostly in English. Another thing we were able to get were 20 original photos of (Naomi someone) to show the harm that DU is causing to the civilian population. We were almost able to bring Dr Ali from Basra. We had great support from the ministry of External Relations of Costa Rica, who tried their best to get him a Visa, and actually got a visa, so that Doctor Ali could travel from Basra to Jordan, but then the Spanish government would not give him his transit visa. We were very chagrined by this. We wanted to hear his testimony of how children have leukaemia and cancer, and the rates are going up 500% in his area. This is part of the work IC is doing. We are trying to get funding to do a lobby at the UN with a different country, but also to do an ecological study in Iraq. Right now they’re (UN) funding a researcher to see what is the movement of these arms and where are they being produced and being used. So basically our idea was how we can involve Latin America in this issue. Our goal is to see how, when we go to the UN, we can talk to ….name….the scientist from Japan, who has worked on this issue for many years, and Gretel Monroe also, is how we can meet the efforts from Latin America at the UN and talk to them about this issue, and also ask how Latin America as a region can stand up with a position for this issue. That’s basically our goal.

Votes have been taken at the UN, so in Nov 2008 with about 144 countries. Because of this lobby, because of the alliances with the non-aligned movement, Cuba and Indonesia particularly, a vote was passed where 144 countries have to come up with health and environmental reform on the effects of the use of DU. 5 countries abstained, and 5 voted against this (producers of these weapons). About 32 countries have stayed. So my goal is to work full time on this issue, and so I’m leaving my current position as coordinator, but not the PC.

After our conference in March, I asked the ‘steering committee’ I said how about I’m your Latin American person, so they invited me to be a member of their committee, and I sent them a proposal to work on the whole Latin American, South American and Caribbean region. So hopefully I’ll get some funding to do this and work in the programme……something in Spanish……to work on DU.

So Why is Central American important…not because we’re using these weapons, and not because we’re mining Uranium, although we are following up some information that came out in December about a mine in Talamanca where we believe they are mining Uranium- but we haven’t followed this up yet, but because of our interest thanks to our lobby and the warmth of legislators in our human rights congress here, to pass a ban locally. Even though Costa Rica is not producing or using these weapons, Costa Rica would be the second country in the world after Belgium, to ban the transport or use of these Uranium weapons- and that would be big. It would be an example of a country without and army and with a democracy taking the lead. It will be step by step. As soon as I finish here, I need to get the reports from Honduras, Guatemala, from their ministries of foreign affairs- coordinating the local NGO’s.

We heard about a conference in …somewhere in Honduras, where a lot of organisations from Central and South America are interested in issues of …‘something in Spanish ’. After a five year break from a meeting in …..somewhere…..We want to get them to help us, get their reports and get other countries in the Latin American region to make a ‘….something in spanish’, and it works when you dedicate time to this, because after our conference in March, the master was invited by the ….something….. President of the …human rights group, and he actually went from Costa Rica to Argentina where he joined a meeting of …….. something Spanish……, where he presented a proposal to this group in March, and now in May, June, July or August, 5 months later there’s already a resolution to this group ‘something spanish’ of their commission on Human Rights in ‘pan americano……. It’s very interesting because they’re talking about how these arms are being used in wars, and how they’re radioactive and toxic. They’re also asking for every state of the Latin American parliament to make a promotion…, to ask for a moratorium, and to be careful because many Latin Americans are, right now, in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s no word about what’s happening in Afghanistan on this issue. So there is a connection on a moral and solidarity level.

MM: I was going to ask about that, it’s not just a case of getting solidarity between the Latin American Nations which have nothing to do with DU, because they all have something to do with it. For instance the first soldier in the last war in Iraq to be killed was a Guatemalan.

IM: And the first conscientious objector to the war this was in Iraq was Nicaraguan- there’s a great documentary on that.

MM: So it does affect people directly.

IM: And they’re even talking about a follow up on this, they’re talking about asking the state member s of the Latin American Parliaments, for future operations, to avoid the use of arms with DU in operations with police, security and defence. And to avoid sending military personnel and civilians to those regions where there’s no guarantee that DU hasn’t been used. So this is big, and obviously at the UN-a week from now, I will meet all theses representatives and let them know about this and get information out. (I’ll be at the UN for just a week). Doug in Manchester is setting up all these meetings for us. Hopefully we will be accompanied by a …….something from somewhere…….her name is ‘Jean Von Herald’, who is working not only to ban Uranium weapons in the ……something…. but also they’re also having a new initiative of a law, which has to do with toxic materials and fissionable materials. Someone…. has met with them and they’re planning to form a scientific body to monitor this, and some of these people are from the University of Costa Rica.

MM: Do you know which 5 countries objected to the UN lobby vote?

IM: of course….UK, USA, Israel, France, and …. Don’t know. Not Australia (although they produce Uranium). I have all this information. We have a lot of press on this issue, which is not even a Costa Rican issue. …………….Some Spanish………………………. It was a wonderful article by…………, she interviewed with Dr Ali over the phone. This is a lot of information because it’s not only the Ban, but the people who know, they talk about 6 years for this to pass, so you never know. People are fighting the US government like….name……who was a soldier who came here to Casa Ridgeway with a respirator, so he has got a law suit going on. Then there are the environmental aspects- how you can decontaminate the water and the soil. Then there’s the whole issue of bringing the people who have committed these crimes to justice. So its huge.

MM: you mentioned……. Can’t hear……

IM: For the process at the UN, it’s a long case scenario.

MM: When you come back from the UN you’ll be based here then. Will you have a list of correspondents to whom you send updates?

IM: We have a Canadian friend ‘Brad something’. We have funds from the Peace Development Fund that haven’t arrived yet. He’s the one who puts up things on the web right now on the Centro De Amigos Para La Paz site, where theres information on the conference. He wants to help the PC on this. The best site is bandepleteduranium.org out of Manchester, for updated info.

After talking to some people in Nicaragua, I met with a man, when we were looking for info there was nothing in Spanish, but we found the name of ‘Antonio Hakim’ he is from medicines without borders from Nicaragua. And we met with him about 2 weeks ago. He is part of the group that has…….. something world crisis….. and they’re connected to a Dutch man here called …crazy Dutch name…. and he does a lot of talks on environmental issues and globalization- He is part of this group of 6 people. Antonio was very interested, he was saying that with everything that’s happened now with Honduras, Columbia etc…how to tie it all in to this package……I’ve got to think about that.

MM: Is there a chance I could have a copy of the video you made about DU?

IM: Sure, it’s a very good documentary. The people from the network said it would be good for our work because it’s in English and it’s not in Spanish, and it’s not like the Invisible war, it’s much shorter and more recent.

MM: My local peace group in England will be interested in this. And I’ll tell them about your work. You know you mentioned this possible mining in Talamanca a year ago….have you got any contacts?

IM: The person who got us off the list of the Coalition of the willing that went into Iraq was a young man called ‘Roberto Tamora’, he would be a good person for you to contact. He‘s the one who organizes the protests and marches in Costa Rica. And he’s the one who went to the court buildings here…..something in Spanish…….despite the fact that Costa Rica is part of the coalition of the …………something in Spanish…..of course all our laws say you have to get off this list. It was very hard to get off this list. So he did that and is now working to do the same against the Central American Free trade agreement. One of the concerns in the CAFTA is annex 3.3 where Costa Rica, unlike other Central American countries, left in the annex, possibilities of movement among borders, the possibility of importing tanks and importing missiles, and having DU in the country. So he is working on this right now. That would be important. And he put a …..spanish…. to prohibit mining of Uranium in Costa Rica, and I have that document for you. He would be a good person for you. I can also give you the number of an anthropologist who teaches at the University of Costa Rica, ‘Nicole Sole’, who works a lot with people from the …..communial something…..and she also wants follow up on this issue of mining Uranium.

MM: I’m doing a lot on mining, its nearly all gold though, and nearly all Canadian companies conducting themselves in a really gangsterish way. The destruction is incredible and they leave only about 1% of the profits, alongside a lot of pollution and contamination.

One other thing, broadening out from the EU but still on the Peace issue….

Costa Rica has a great reputation for not having an army, but during the 80s it was quite heavily militarized by the US and police forces and for instance, training in the use of heavy artillery and that kind of thing. So am I right in thinking that actually its reputation is a little overblown as far as it’s peaceful intensions are concerned?

IM: There is a really good group of women from the US, including Nicole, who can talk a lot on this issue….and it is one of our campaigns ….I don’t know when the Honduran mission from Costa Rica met up with the people from the school of Americas Watch, who are in Honduras also. We had the honor of meeting with ‘Father Roy Boyshua’?….. about 2/3 years ago, and that was precisely the question of this wonderful women who lives here called ‘Rita Calver’ who is a great admirer of Father Roy. She said why would you come and want to be with a …?…. training with arms, when we are a disarmed country. It turned out that then something was born ……..missing……….. and I think it was in the 50s, and they were kicked out by the president of Panama, against their policies of intensions and goals, and is now in planning, 2700 police of Costa Rica, as compared to 1500 militaries from Mexico have trained up for….. So we met with ….Spanish names…..about 2 years ago and we said ‘Oscar we can’t do this!’, these people who are also reading at the school in Honduras now, are being trained at this school. They got classified information that was hard to get, but they got it concerning Rita and her friends, and he went with them. They met with Father Roy and……someone….to read these papers, and he promised to father Roy and Lisa Sullivan from the school of the Americas, but didn’t keep his promise, that the 4 Police that were training at this moment would b the last. Soon after, ….name in Spanish……who used to be …..job title in Spanish…., before he quit to run for presidency, was very edgy at this moment. We could tell he wasn’t happy with this, and sure enough a couple of weeks later, and we have paper clippings if you’re interested, he said no, we need to have the training to combat narco-terrorism and trafficking, so we’re going to continue. That’s why the lobby was done and met with Vice minister of public security…a woman who’s name I forget, and we met with the head of the police academy, very nice people all of them, and we gave them information and books on the situation, but the situation right now is on standby, and that is part of the work we need to do on this issue. And then again CAFTA-why was this not taken out. Thank goodness for people like…name I can’t hear… who are picking up the …?…in our free trade agreements.

MM: The current one that’s being negotiated is of course with the EU, and I suppose you have to keep your eyes on that and other amendments.

IM: Right now we are not participating in the discussion, so it would be important maybe through other NGOs to stay on top of that.

MM: Is there anything that the Centro de Amigos Para la Paz, can do apart from hosting certain people like….., about exerting pressure over the Honduran coup, within the Costa Rican government?

IM: This will be decided later at the meeting….I can ask …Sanfrisco/name….who is heading this group right now, to put your name on the email list so you can stay in touch. There were specific needs for following up with specific violations of people who are beat up, in jail, especially women who have been abused, and to record these, and get help from lawyers, and to get this information out to International Human rights courts and organizations. We met with people from international peace brigades, and people are interested in helping out and playing an important role right now……… But with little resources we need to decide what the most important thing to do right now is, is it just a presence?

MM: I remember when the coup first took place…………..chat about coup, false document etc….what a liar etc.

IM: The day of the coup, I knew it was going to be so difficult for them to back up their lies………. Now they’re blocking electricity and water etc, they don’t care. It’s amazing.

MM: Anyway, Were you the director of FECON?

IM: Yes I was the director of FECON, that was in Sabanilla. The great thing about working here at the PC and having the hostel Casa Ridgway, is that more and more organizations who have coordinated efforts in the past, are using the PC’s installations here. People from Indigenous communities, people like…. Bel Christiano who was one of the reasons …name of org ….was founded, especially to help…..people fighting HEP, people fighting illegal logging etc . We’re strengthening a network to help leadership of human rights in communities. We’re still in touch with these peoples, like friends of the Earth, the…something…. people fighting for water rights in Guanacaste, and seeing how we can be of help is more the nice of the PC. Right now members of the PC are working closely with the communidad…something Spanish, who are fighting right now the issues of big hotels and desorollo on the coast, and people who have lived in these areas, especially the fishermen who are being affected. There’s a law right now in the ….Spanish …..so we’ll be in touch and trying to support them.

MM: Did the ‘No’ campaign of/for CAFTA, bring a lot of NGO groups together who haven’t previously worked together?

IM: Definitely, for ‘FECON’, that was an important moment, through the …Spanish……..and through the resistance again CAFTA, they were very active in getting a lot information out. Bringing new people, who probably didn’t become members, but a lot of the NGOs managed to work collectively, apart from the ………Spanish name……,which are a lot of committees around the country who worked against CAFTA in communities on different concerns.

MM: I have a lot of material there, thank you…………

END

Amilcar Castañeda

Interviewee: Amilcar Castañeda, Consultant in indigenous rights to the InterAmerican Institute for Human Rights. UNED
Interviewers: Martin Mowforth, Karis McLaughlin and Alice Klein
Location: San José, Costa Rica
Date: 21st July 2009
Theme: Indigenous issues in Central America.
Keywords: TBC
Notes:

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Amilcar Castañeda (AC): [about the Indigenous book] There was a conference/congress XXX in 1999, it had a big effect. The advantage of this publication is that it gives a general view of the indigenous world in Central America, what is being done in diverse fields; in the field of natural resources, the environment, sustainable development, the strengthening of cultural XXX, matters of indigenous territory, legislation… It gives a profile of what these same organisations are doing, and the people that accompany them, or be it, the NGOs. Also some government offices XXX. Although it is now 10 years old, but it gives you an idea, the problems in general continue, what changes are the answers, but the base is there. Finally, it contains a directory of organisations from Central America , Mesoamerica, Mexico and South American because XXX 22 countries. Also for you!

Q: For us? Very nice! All in Spanish, it’s possible to read it, speak it, understand it…

AC: Well, it’s a source, it’s there to read.

Q: Very well. Like you have said in our correspondence, you have been busy with various activities. Can you tell us a bit more about what you do?

AC: Ok, right now I am practically a consultant. After working for Native Lands which was 8…7… 8 years. Then I worked as XXX with the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights, they have a department for indigenous peoples. You have to see what is coming out from there – laws, policies to do with indigenous peoples, it worked at a global level, throughout all of the continent, they are doing work producing materials, and training for organisations, for people from NGOs and from the government, who need to know about the rights of indigenous people. Often, a series of rights are violated, because they aren’t aware of ILO convention 169. There are international laws that protect the rights of the indigenous towns, they don’t know.

So, XXX, by mistake they are making a series of violations. Also, there is the task of increasing awareness in the public sector. After, I am also working with an intercultural university in Nicaragua, called ‘Huracán’, you’ve heard of it? Also, I’m teaching a masters in ‘intercultural health’, so, much of this functions on a virtual level where Latin America students meet other students, for the most part indigenous, who work in hospitals, the Ministry of Health – on that I’m working part time.

Q: So is your speciality ‘health’?

AC: My speciality in this, is the matter of indigenous rights, human rights – this is global, it can relate to health, territories, education, everything. I have more predilection for health, and yes, I’m working in this right now.

Q: How long have you worked at Huracán?

AC: I’ve worked at Huracán almost since the start of the project, no, the University emerged in 93-94, and now nearly 15 years later and…

Q: Do you know Jane Freeland from England?

AC: No, no

Q: She has worked for Huracán. Sorry for the interruption.

AC: No, Don’t worry. Huracán is a university XXX, it must be. There are various people that support it and right now Huracán works with maybe 30-40 organisations with international cooperation from governments, the World Bank, XXX, Fondo Indigena. It has grown a lot. Right now it has 8,000 students.

Q: How many?

AC: 8,000 students, around 350 teachers, so it has grown. There are lots of cooperatives, XXX. So here I am. I’ve worked in various consultancies with them, organising the IV International XXX of autonomy, which is a huge project, basically as a consultant to all the XXX, no! And after, another about traditional medicine…
I’m also right now independent consultant with the Institute of Human Rights, making materials, organising events. We did one also about health, about migration, indigenous migration in the Americas, about which a book has been published, and another is coming out, I was the project designer and administrator, no… It’s about indigenous women in migratory  processes. I’ll send you the digital version when it comes out….
I was helping teach in the University of Costa Rica, here at UNED, there’s a program with ‘Consejo Nacional de Rectores’ that groups all the universities, the project’s called “Pueblos y territories indigenas”. The idea is to raise awareness in society, especially in the public sector, about indigenous peoples, their cultures, their needs, the need to have an intercultural dialogue. Then, series of courses are starting for government employees, and I’m going to run one about political legal anthropology.

Q: In your personal opinion, what are the greatest problems for indigenous peoples?

AC:  An element you will commonly find in whatever indigenous movement in Central America and in the continent, is the issue of territory – the issue that they don’t have security, they don’t have definite land, territories, and if they do have it, they don’t have security of it, or be it, they have a legal problem there, or it could be that there is a law that guarantees them land, but it’s not defined or demarcated, it has to be mapped and everything. Of this, part of the experience of XXX (Native Lands?) was en this, helping the indigenous peoples themselves demarcate, defend the borders of their territory and map them.

The other is the issue of recognition of indigenous peoples as specific cultures, as peoples, this is also an issue that is on the agenda. There is recognition in some countries, it is a low level recognition via a legal decree. For example, the political constitutions of the Central American countries say absolutely nothing about the indigenous, they’re not even mentioned. The rapprochement that we can find is that they speak a little about the native languages, the case of Honduras and here the same, no? But there is no mention of who speak the native languages, who the people are, and those individuals have rights, no? So it is very important to them to be recognised as people, as cultural social groups, different from the rest of society with XXX specifics. This is a second very important point.

Then also, the issue of improving their standard of living because the indigenous peoples… you are going to find a second map and using this map, the World Bank has crossed, has made a map of Central America, and has overlaid the map of poverty and the map of indigenous peoples. You will find that, according to the World Bank definition of poverty, it matches up – the areas where the indigenous live are the areas with the greatest indicators of poverty. There is a very serious problem for the indigenous peoples, of access to services or the use of collective rights granted by the states, so, despite the fact that they are common citizens, they’re not in the same position as the rest of national society to use their rights. So, there’s a problem of citizenship. You have to look at their political participation. You have to look at their access to goods, services, and their ability to use and to claim from the State, let’s say, a type of service and access which according to indigenous culture – no, they’re also talking about in this sense a system of intercultural justice, systems of intercultural medicine, systems of intercultural education, and furthermore, the need to conserve and develop their own cultures on the margins of having participation in national society, but also to conserve their own culture through a degree of autonomy, as stated in the ILO convention 169, the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is another very important point.

From there on, the national situations vary. In the case of El Salavdor, they do not have territories, so the fight for territories is at first place. First on the agenda is the recognition, because there is not any legal decree, law, nothing, that says that indigenous people exist in El Salvador. The the case of Costa Rica and others, at least they have ratified the convention 169, there is internal legislation that states that indigenous peoples exisit and that they have some rights, no? But for the countries where there is legislation, where the rights are guaranteed in the law, there is a problem which is global – the problem of applying these rights. There is a breach between what these laws and rights say, and what actually happens in reality.

Q: Do you think that there is a conflict between conservationists and indigenous peoples. Tiene algunos ejemplos?

AC: There are various articles with respect to Mac Chapin. You have read them? My answers are more or less the same. There has been a change of attitude for the conservationists. The article recalls what was happening, various fears and misunderstandings, not only of Mac, but other people. This other article by Mark Dowie, who is a North American journalist. He wrote an article called ‘conservation refugees’…………
But if there is a change. Like it says in Mac Chapin’s and Mark Dowie’s articles, and in others, in some way there is a misunderstanding between the indigenous peoples and these big conservation organisation – they are called BINGOS, they’re like big octopuses, those which more or less determine the direction of the global conservation movement, which have the resources and which finance other groups of NGOs, scientific or otherwise. They direct, they have the money, they need an idealogy, no… so there is a misunderstanding with them, and well there you saw, they don’t have a vision, a clear perspective on what ecologism should be.
You see that they are receiving money from oil companies and industrial mining companies – those which have direct problems with the indigenous peoples. In whichever country, you’ve seen it with VAGO in Peru, the rising of the indigenous, the killing..XXX… we know that these oil and mining companies are financing and donating to Conservation International, the WWF and others.

Q: Conservation International?

AC: Especially Conservation International.

Q: We are talking about links, at a national level, in the Central American countries, are there other organisations that behave in the same way, accepting money from transnationals or from the government? I’m thinking in specific organisations but I don’t want to mention….

AC: In some cases, or be it that they are the same transnationals that are intervening, learning even the use of convention 169 which says that the indigenous peoples, the communities have to be consulted. In many cases which matter to them, it is the state that has to be consulted, not the companies, so what is happening is that the oil and mining companies, and others, are consulting, which they shouldn’t be.

Q: I was thinking about organisations such as in El Salvador there is ‘Salvanatura’ that receives money from Nissan and Toyota, from oil companies also, but is that the same as Conservation International?

AC: No. In some cases they receive… or how to negotiate with the oil companies, at times it is through Conservation International or sometimes directly. It’s that this is a network, Conservation International has networks, those which finance, who also have more or less this way of thinking. They aren’t very worried, let’s say, about the right to territory. This isn’t for them a point which has to be secured, or the issue of political participation. The conservationists say that the issue of poverty isn’t of their concern. They vision is much more biological, and so they don’t get involved with this because it is political. So, in all the countries yes there are ogranisations, a type of NGOs that are channeling resources directly from ‘Merck Sharp y Dohme’ this pharmaceutical. They are giving money to Conservation International and for ‘INBio’. INBio is a state institute but functions like a private entity. Since the state has direct access to the indigenous territories and national parks, and since it is private, it can make business negotiations, in this case with Merck Sharp y Dohme for bioprospecting.
In each country there are similar processes which are basically with the private sector, but the state participates in its own way through INBio. So they enter with their money or their experts into the indigenous territories using some public figure and public laws and this is happening in all of the countries. INBio has an award from the King of Spain, Prince Astaurias, who are doing some interesting things, but who in the name of science, are entering…. But the indigenous people have already said that they don’t want INBio here, with ‘biopirates’, that is those that are looking for butterflies, insects, birds, “go and look elsewhere” they say.

Q: What do you think about development with reference to the indigenous communities and also the influence of Western culture?

AC: The issue of development is linked with the issue of poverty. Some indigenous people are the beneficiaries of social policies when they exist and when they find that they can be beneficiaries. When they become beneficiaries, as always they called that ‘development’, making roads, bringing electricity, doing a series of things according to the view of the state or the political class which directs the state. This is what produces development, a better standard of living, ‘index of needs provided’. They aim at the indigenous people that don’t have a television, don’t have electricity, don’t have a bathroom, as we have in the house. So they work with other indicators of poverty and development. But the indigenous are raising other issues – are speaking about a term which you will find in many documents “el buen vivir”. This was a term with Quechua origin, CHUMA, cause and effect. The Ecuadorian Quechuas coined this “el buen vivir”. This is the alternative conception that has been taken on by the indigenous movement throughout all the continent. What we want is to live well, el “buen vivir”. What does this mean for them? First, to have a territory, because we can’t do nice projects of innovative technology, There are nice projects where the women can participate, the children and everyone, but the point is on what foundation if we don’t have territory! We can’t assert our autonomy, our identity if we don’t have an actual base, a place to live. You have to look at the habitat, in relation to the environment, in relation to the natural resources. All of that is very important for the vision of the indigenous. It is important not to fall into a romantic vision…

There is the right, according to international standards, that the indigenous, like whatever other human group, has the right to develop, to enjoy the achievements of science and technology, the knowledge which enables one to meet human needs.  And also the right to live as they wish, in a way that strengthens and protects their cultural value and their identity. This is the point; it’s not that the indigenous is against development, it’s not that they don’t want roads, it’s not that they shouldn’t study. In the 70s, and maybe part of the 80s, a lot of anthropologists came and prohibited the indigenous from watching television, because with that comes acculturation. Or that they don’t use clocks, that they don’t use mobile phones, that if they use mobile phones then they are no longer Indians. Then why do we have to make the indigenous a showcase for conserving, a type of zoo or museum, a vision which the indigenous peoples themselves do not agree with. This comes from anthropology, the romantics. But you have to see that this existed, and does much damage.

About development, it is a development which agrees with what they want and for them it is a priority to conserve their culture, the historical continuation of their peoples because the greatest risk right now is the extinction of their culture and of them, as people, which is happening. There are many indigenous languages which have disappeared in this century, in a way overwhelming due to politics, on the large part from the state, and also the church, the same school.

Q: Question from Martin about the evictions of the Naso people in Panama

AC: The problem with them is, it is with respect to a property from which they were evicted by the police, cattle ranching company, yes… That is part of it, but there is another problem with a dam and that is much more complex, because right now the town is divided. There are two kings; one in favour of the dam, the cattle ranches and all that, and the other more in the line of defending their identity, their resources, their territory. Just two weeks ago, the students of Panama that are studying here in the program XXX of indigenous peoples about XXX and rights, here in UNED, they presented this case. They made a study of the case of the Naso people. I don’t know the details but I think the case was taken to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights. You have to take it there, it’s not working, the report arrives at the Ombudsman office, but more is needed because the company is shooting XXX indigenous. More competent action is needed.,.

Q:  Can you comment on the institutional attitude towards indigenous peoples?

AC: In reality, looking at 10 years ago, things have advanced, if the states are the same. Has there been progress in the awareness of indigenous peoples? Yes and no. You can see that in various states, there are now specialised offices for indigenous peoples, in many of them a product of the same fight of the indigenous peoples. In Honduras you will find that it is PRONEEAC which is “Programa Nacional de Educación a las Etnias Autóctonas del Caribe”. There is also a program in the Ministry of Justice about the development of indigenous peoples. There is also a small office for “salud de las etnias” as they call it there in Honduras. But they are small, they are applications almost invisible inside the machine of the state, without resources, without technically specialised personnel, with few possibilities for making an impact on the indigenous peoples. There is a problem but but the states have to open their spaces, they have to change their policies. But in the majority the rest of the public bodies which don’t have specialised personnel, they are working as if indigenous people didn’t exist, as if they were any another Hondureñan, any other citizen…

At a political level the Pan American Health Organisation carried out an evaluation on 24 Latin American countries. They found that 19 countries of Latin America had created specific units for the indigenous peoples, inside the Ministerial body. Similarly these are emerging in the education sector as well. The problem with much of this is that it is done, but without guarantee that it will be monitored. It depends wholly on the current government or some high level civil servants that have some awareness, or some experience with Indigenous peoples and thus want to do something. But then the government changes, another comes in, and it has to start again from scratch. So these policies that are from the government collapse, so there isn’t guarantee that there will be a follow-up or a state policy with respect to the right of indigenous peoples or about the issue of territory. This is why the problems persist. There is much to be done in changing people’s attitudes. There needs to be an increase in awareness amongst the government employees.  Work needs to be done with them, and with the indigenous people.

In the case of Costa Rica this University program ‘Consejo Nacional de Rectores’ is very interesting. It has seen the necessity. The four public universities are working and have a range of projects, so that the government employees can take course on the internet… about indigenous rights and their cultures. This program includes studies on archaeology, about their culture, legal aspects… So something is happening, but there is still a lot to be done.

…………………..

AC: Well, now that I have your agenda I’m going to send you more documents. In the UICN (World Conservation Union, IUCN), they did a map on protected areas and indigenous peoples, and another by the World Bank on poverty and indigenous sectors

Q: This is a committee on the IUCN?

AC: The point is, the Holand committee of the IUCN is a bit more open. Even the WWF office in Geneva has a different vision to Washington. So in this time we could work with them, and receive resources from then for some aspects of the event. But after, when….. written, the whole world cut…. Not even a colon more, and we closed Native Lands. It’s difficult. They even threatened to close the magazine de WOLA in Washington, they said that if this article is published, they’d cut that as well.

END

Didier Leiton Valverde

Interviewee: Didier Leiton Valverde of SITRAP Costa Rica
Interviewer: Presentation for ENCA
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date: 17th June 2010
Theme: TBC
Keywords: TBC
Notes: This is a transcript of a presentation by Didier for ENCA and the subsequent conversation. Translation by Stephanie Williamson

Didier Leiton Valverde (DLV): My name is Didier Leiton Valverde, I am a union organiser in the banana and pineapple plantations in the Caribbean cost of Costa Rica. Before that I had almost 19 years experience working as an agricultural labourer working in these plantations, but for the last ten years I’ve been working as an organiser promoting trade unions and labour rights in the plantations. I have been invited here by British organisations who have fraternal links with my trade union in Costa Rica.

Martin Mowforth (MM): We’re conscious because of our work of the problems caused by the cultivation of pineapples in the South and South West of Costa Rica, through of the work of our partners, such as Unaproa and El Frente Contra la Contaminacion de Pindeco. But we’re not aware of the new things that are happening in Costa Rica surrounding the expansion of pineapple cultivation. Can you tell us a little about this recent expansion please?

DLV: Well, in Costa Rica, the pineapple cultivations have been in the South for 25 years or so. But in the last few years, this has expanded in to the Caribbean side of the country and the Northern zone of Costa Rica.

In the last ten years but especially in the last two, the expansion in the Caribbean North zone has been incredible, increasing the total area under pineapple cultivation in the country up to 47,000 ha. This is compared back in 2005 when there were only 20,000 ha. But this increase has been specifically in the North and Caribbean zone.

The worst thing about this expansion is that this is totally uncontrolled, occurring day by day. Each day there are more and more small campesinos losing their land as the plantations expand, and this is often done with support from the government.

Even though Costa Rica has a law saying that any new agricultural activity must have an environmental impact assessment, that just doesn’t happen in reality. The expansion is being supported by the general policies of the Costa Rican government, who support large scale capitalist projects and monoculture.

In the new zones there is more and more environmental contamination and human health impacts daily, including contamination of groundwater.

Stephanie Williamson (SW): One question, because I thought that there were also smaller campesino farms produciENCA members who attended Didier’s talkng pineapples in Costa Rica, not just these large plantations.

DLV: Yes, there are some smaller farms and producers too, but they’re not that small, and only really in the North. In the Caribbean zone all the production is by the large companies such as Chiquita, Dole, and Del Monte and Pindeco. Although there are some smaller independent producers, they still have to sell their produce to the multinationals, who have control of the distribution and marketing chains for export.

Two years ago Pindeco bought a company called Caribana (?) that has banana and pineapple plantations in the Caribbean and Northern zones, for more than 500 million dollars. Pindeco is a subsidiary of Del Monte, and this buy out has now made them the by far the strongest and most dominant plantation company in Costa Rica.

ENCA member: In England at the moment there is a strong push for Fairtrade. I’d like to know if there is a difference, or big difference with the pineapple production that is grown under Fairtrade programs.

DLV: In Costa Rica, and I believe in all the banana producing countries of Latin America, the producers obviously want Fairtrade, because it means more money – the consumers pay a higher price, and this is better in general. But although Fairtrade’s aim is to improve the working and social conditions for the workers, in practice plantations are pretty much the same, under Fairtrade or not.

There’s a very strong anti-trade union culture in Costa Rica, and the companies of the plantations generally don’t permit real trade unions. We have tried to find out why there isn’t more of a difference with Fair trade – I’m part of a Latin American regional coordination of Banana Workers’ unions called Cociba. We have shared our experiences with people in Colombia and Peru regarding Fairtrade programs, and they say the same thing about them not providing much of a difference. I’ve worked as a union promoter in Costa Rica in companies that sell their products under Faritrade, but it’s still been impossible to establish a trade union.

We know that the premium that the consumer pays for Fairtrade actually stays in the hands of the companies.

SW: And what about the people who do the certification for Fairtrade? Why is this clear violation happening – is it something to do with what they call ‘yellow’ trade unions?

DLV: The unions constantly have to work with a very wide range of people, including very anti-union companies and the anti-union government. We also work with the certifiers from Fairtrade (The FLO) and from Rainforest Alliance. There is a struggle to get the foreign certifiers to come in to the country and realise the reality of the plantation conditions -the companies have people inside the certifying agencies to make it very difficult.

The unions, we are planning for alliances for a campaign to make a stronger link with the European consumers, to let them know what’s happening. Our organisation is totally pro Fairtrade but it has to be Fairtrade that actually delivers on its promises.

MM: We received something last November saying that Chiquita bananas now have Rainforest Alliance certification – they of course are one of the worst companies. Pindeco also have advertised the ISO (international standards organisation) 14001 certificaiton on their plantations. It’s hard to believe that these companies are able to get certification for good environmental practice.

Dominic McCann (DM): Are there any lands that are no longer fertile due to pineapple or banana growing that have been abandoned, and is that part of the reason for the expansion up into the North and Caribbean regions?

DLV: Not really, despite the expansion in to new regions, the companies are still producing over their old areas in the South.

James Watson (JW): Is there any particular reason for the recent expansion?

DLV: I believe that the consumer markets have been expanding – globally there is more consumption of pineapples, in Europe and the US. So they’ve needed to expand production to cover this market expansion. For example in the last year in Costa Rica, there’s been a Russian backed company coming in, to try and find production for the expanded demand in Eastern Europe and Russia. And China is getting involved as well – I don;t think anything’s likely to put the brakes on this expansion, as long as the demand is increasing. There’s a lot of profit to be had by these companies.

ENCA member: What kind of regulations or pressure would you like to see to control this expansion, either from the government of Costa Rica, or possibly from consumers?

DLV: The government is very pro-capitalist, and has shifted further to the right in recent years – they’re very pro big-business. There are trade unions and environmental NGOs in Costa Rica, but at the moment the government and the big companies don’t allow them to develop. For example, the companies will set up so called representative organisations in place of unions, but which they run themselves. So the only thing that has really worked in favour of the unions in the last few years has been getting international media attention on to what’s happening there. For example, through Banana link, we’ve had people working with Fairtrade unions in Costa Rica for over two years, and the government and the companies see Banana Link as an enemy.

MM: But internationally Banana Link has a very good reputation. They can put pressure on the companies.

SW: I’ve a question, because Banana Link had an international forum with supermarkets and others in December 2009, which we wanted to go to but couldn’t. They were trying to create a basic minimum for social and environmental standards. What came out of that forum, and from Banana Link’s influence?

DLV: Yes, this was the ‘World Banana Forum’. It went well – supermarkets, unions and NGOs and some producer governments participated, and talked particularly about social and labour issues. The supermarkets and government representatives of course said they wanted improvement, but in practice there haven’t yet been any changes from the companies.

The conversations are continuing, trying to get some practical change, but at the moment we haven’t seen changes in the supermarkets or organisations. Costa Rica is unique in some ways around this – they’ve been trying to set up something called a forum for social dialogue. But this process has caused difficulties for Banana Link and the trade unions as part of it involves recognising the ‘representative organisations’ that the companies have set up. This is difficult for us.

We also need to look in more detail at exactly what Costa Rican labour law involves. For over 10 years we’ve had investigations and monitoring by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in to the conditions in Costa Rica, and they’ve said that Costa Rica needs modifications to its labour laws. In particular, they’ve said that Costa Rica needs to show proof that it’s adhering to laws Costa Rica has signed on to protecting workers’ rights and regarding the recognition of trade unions. But the government isn’t supporting the unions, and are now creating laws that are really against trade union rights. At the moment the ILO has a global summit and they’re really pushing for proof from Costa Rica that it’s improved in its union recognition.

We’re always fighting, and we’re optimistic, but the recognition is very limited and the Costa Rican government’s attitude is that the ILO isn’t that important and doesn’t have the influence to enforce changes. They feel that as long as they’ve got the support of the US, what the ILO or the rest of the world says doesn’t make any difference,.

SW: So what can we as consumers, or NGOs, do about something like this, around this issue with the ILO?

DLV: I think the way to help is, we have to work together, the trade unions, NGOs and people in Europe to put pressure on our governments and companies to push for change. Much of the bananas and pineapples produced in Costa Rica go to English supermarkets.

Some supermarkets have already gone out to Costa Rica and met up with Banana Link. On the seventh and eighth of June we’re having a meeting with a person responsible for Tesco’s social responsibility program in Costa Rica, for example.

But it’s difficult to get these people to understand the reality, because people think that Costa Rica is a nice stable country with a democracy and with strongly protected rights, and the government and companies hide behind this. The supermarket representatives don’t see the bad things that happen – they get hosted by the companies and taken to the beach, and so on. So when they do have a visit to the plantation the workers groups they meet will be carefully selected by the company beforehand, briefed and led by so-called representatives. The representatives get good salaries and perks for towing the company line, and so the corporate social responsibility auditors are deceived.

ENCA member: Can you explain a little bit about how you and your organisation is organised in the country and how your network works?

DLV: Our union’s headquarters are in the Caribbean area, and we’ve got five unions in the pineapple sector, of which three are active, and the other two have more or less died out. There’s also a banana sector network among them. The groups are subdivided by region, and each person works in their regional area. Together they make up the ‘Cociba’ banana and pineapple trade union network. Cociba is then also affiliated with the Latin American regional network.

Daily work involves going out and talking to workers. We make formal complaints to the company bosses and government on behalf of the workers, and send out info and updates to consumer countries including the UK.

SW: Does Cociba have any involvement with the NGO Fora N Aus (?) which was active on pineapple campaigns?

DLV: Yes, we’ve worked with Fora. The Fora is an organisation that networks across the different areas, environmental groups, church groups, and unions. It was very active but it’s been weakened in recent years as a direct result of attacks by the big companies, including through court cases that have been used to weaken them financially, so they can’t do so much awareness raising work. It’s now more or less disappeared.

SW: Didn’t the fora receive funds from progressive European government sources?

DLV: No, though they were receiving funds from the organisation Bread for the World, but that project ended and the funding stopped. The attacks have been made on individuals within the network rather than the network itself, to make the individuals unable to afford their work. Two months ago the individual members of the network stopped supporting their last staff member, who had been a half time person at their secretariat. Now, there have been some attempts to revive the network by one of the member organisations, under the new umbrella of national front of communities affected by pineapple expansion.

And now there are other organisations that have been trying to support the movement, including with legal support. For example Del Monte has a farm called Babylonia in the Caribbean coast, which has contaminated the water used by the nearby communities, making it unfit for consumption. The pineapple workers have been fighting for the last 2 or 3 years, making studies showing that the farm’s activities are responsible for this. They found the carcinogenic herbicides bromacil, and diaron in the drinking water. The government has been bringing in clean water by truck for the last few years, so far costing 316 million colones (about 630,000 US dollars). To set up a new reservoir for the communities would cost 80 million dollars.

So the environmental groups, the unions and others are trying to set up a court case against Del Monte and the government. They’re currently looking for funding to get the legal support for this. The minister for health has tried to show they’re doing something, so they held a health exhibition in the area, but people have got skin problems and respiratory problems.

SW: I can suggest a little help by getting an article in a journal about this court case.

DLV: Yes, we’ve already got a lot of information about it, and we can ask the community members to formally make statements and testimonials about the problem.

SW: And did you know that Felicity Laurence from the Guardian is currently in Costa Rica looking at these issues?

DLV: Yes, these journalists were actually there when there was a fire in a chemical store at one of the farms, which collapsed sending these chemicals in to the canals, and then in to the sea on the Caribbean. There were thousands of dead fish.

We were also at a plantation with the journalists and banana link talking to the workers, making sure they could talk to all of them.

MM: Are these workers associations that you’re talking about the same as the ‘Solidarismo’ unions that we’ve heard of?

DLV: No, the Solidarismo is more of a philosophical approach, like a movement, with kind of an evangelical root. It says that disputes between the workers and the bosses can be solved by Christian principles, and they have a tool for collective negotiation called ‘areglo directo’ (something like ‘direct fixing’). This Solidarismo movement also has a legal financial element – they’re supported by a law and they have a savings and lending style fund. The people in the associations are generally plantation admin staff, and it helps them to build up their own savings by making regular payments from their wages. ‘Areglo directo’ works through unofficial means through a three member permanent committee supposedly selected by the workers but really put forward by the company. This is a way around collective bargaining such as through unions.

There’s a priest called Claudio Maria Solano who promotes this philosophy. He’s the head of an organisation in the Catholic church, called the Escuela Social Juan XXIII (from the Pope of that name). The school has a massive admin staff who promote Solidarismo with the full support of the management of the companies. They and their permanent committees have been formally recognised by the companies to represent the workers, and they maintain the associations among the workers.

They’ve got access to all the resources they need on their farms, as soon as a real trade union nucleus of workers tries to set up, the Escuela Social Juan group will be the first ones to try to pressurise them out. They say that it’s a God given process, and that the trade unions are of the Devil! They threaten workers with putting them on a black list if they join a trade union, or say that the company will have to shut down if they insist on creating a trade union. There’s all sorts of tactics they use.

SW: And this is just in Costa Rica?

DLV: Yes, this orgainsation is just in Costa Rica.

Some of them have gone further, to physical violence, threats, even death threats against the workers who are interested in forming a union. Or they’ll ring up their wife and kids and threaten them over the phone. It’s a very complicated and delicate situation.

MM: Is there any form of Socialismo in other countries in Latin America?

DLV: Yes, the philosophy has tried to spread to other places, such as Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The priest has gone to Guatemala, for example, but they don’t have the force there that they have in Costa Rica.

When they were talking about the ILO putting pressure on Costa Rica to improve its labour legislation, the Solidarismo groups were trying to counter this. For example, one of Oscar Arias’ government’s last acts before they left office was to pass a law that enshrined the Solidarismo movement in their constitution. The new president and her MPs and friends in big business are trying to go one step further and give more formal power to these ‘areglo directo’ arrangements, and make Solidarismo a recognised and legitimate beneficiary of state funds.

END

Nela Perle

Interviewee: Nela Perle
Interviewer: Martin Mowforth
Location: San José, Costa Rica
Date: 28th September 2010
Theme: Labour conditions and free trade banana cultivation in Costa Rica; organic food production in Costa Rica
Keywords: TBC
Notes:

.

.

Martin began by explaining the origins of the wish to interview Nela – namely, the talk given to ENCA’s last meeting in June this year, by Didier Leitón Valverde in which he told us that there was little or no difference between fair trade pineapples or bananas and non-fair trade pineapples or bananas. Nela had previously explained that the issue was a complex one. So this interview was an aim to try to understand some of that complexity.

Martin begins by asking Nela to expand on this issue, which she did on the second of the three voice files.

Nela Perle (NP): First of all I ask about the recording. The trades unions have a view; the producers have a view; the consumers have a view. I am in the situation that I can see this and this.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Well, I assure you that I will recognise that and acknowledge that and I will not align you with any particular group.

NP: And the other thing is that I’m not the person who can talk to you about the production of fair trade and to compare the production situation directly; I cannot tell you so many details of that – how they are produced. I can just tell you about my view of the fair trade organisation. I know about the struggle between the two unions and the fair trade organisation and I know about critics [1:30] that produce this view in Central America have against fair trade. So this is what I can share with you – my knowledge about that. I don’t have the detailed knowledge. Fair trade produced pineapple is better.

MM: Ok. Given all that, I fully understand that and I won’t misrepresent you. Also, if I use your words in any depth, if I use a lot of them, I will check with you that it’s OK.

NP: For me it’s important because [2:13] anything I say will be treated as something against fair trade or against the trade unions, because it’s so complex the topic. So it’s just the thinking of one person.

MM: OK. The conditions are noted.

NP: The thing is I know about the critics over here and the trade union people – they are quite critical against fair trade production, meaning that from the point of view of the trade unions there is a problem in the sense of, for example, the Agroparena who produce the pineapples, the fair trade pineapples in Costa Rica. These are small producers and they don’t have trade unions of course. There is a different kind of organisation on these farms and they don’t have trade unions. So that’s not the point, but they have to produce so many pineapples for the market in Europe that they don’t have enough pineapples produced on their own farms, so they buy at other farms, conventional farms; and when they buy from conventional farms, there is no trade union. So when they sell part of the pineapples from the fair trade production in Costa Rica [4:03] doesn’t come from these small producers, but comes from conventional pineapple farms that are even worse than the normal conventional farms because the normal conventional pineapple farms at least have trade unions. So this is one of the criticisms that Didier I’m sure he mentioned it.

MM: Yes, he talked about solidarismo.

NP: Yes. That’s the big problem – the solidarismo movement. The solidarismo movement is near to the cooperativas. It’s this kind of organisation, a completely different concept. And I think the concept of cooperativism and solidarismo is not bad. Cooperativism isn’t bad at all, but solidarismo which is linked to cooperativism is not bad per se. The problem is that it was used in Costa Rica to reduce the power of the trade unions and to delegitimise the trade unions. So this is a big problem, and for example, I’m completely suspicious of the solidarismo, but I think that the solidarismo comes from a concept of cooperativism [5:43] , and cooperativism is not bad, but given the way it was used it’s understandable that there is a really big gap …???… and I completely on the side of the trade unions. So this is one point.

The other point is the one I already told you in the exhibition is that – and I think this is really a Costa Rican problem because I can only tell this about Costa Rica – I cannot tell that about other countries. But the way that fair trade is dealt with in Costa Rica, the way they manage it, the way they promote it, the way they interact with the different stakeholders in Costa Rica is really – para mi, es …???… – it’s not OK, it’s a big deficit. [6:45] And this is very personal because it depends on the persons who are in charge here, but I’ve been in two situations personally directly where I could really see how they work and I … – well, if all fair trading works like that, I must say “well, thankyou”. But I don’t believe that. I think it’s really just a problem with Costa Rica. And so that you understand what I am talking about is, for example, there was a fair trade delegation from Austria which was meant to come to Costa Rica, two weeks at the different fair trade productions in Costa Rica. And before this trip to Costa Rica, there was another organisation, Global 2000, an Austrian organisation, an environmental organisation – they were also working on the … issue for Rewe, a supermarket in Austria, and they came to check out the traditional pineapple market in Costa Rica for this environmental organisation.

MM: What was the name of the supermarket?

NP: Rewe. It’s a huge supermarket, also in Germany. And it was [8:07] a little bit like you said with Sainsburys. They buy a lot of pineapples in Costa Rica and they wanted to make sure that the pineapples are produced under fair conditions. So they asked Global 2000, this environmental organisation in Austria, to check the farms. So this organisation contacted us, ASEPROLA, to help them. And this would be another story I would like to tell you about the production and how it works, but it’s another story. So we were already in contact with them, and they, Global 2000 together with Fair Trade Austria, organised this trip to Costa Rica for a delegation of 15 Austrians and Germans. So Fair Trade Austria of course contacted Fair Trade Costa Rica to organise it and at the same time Global 2000 got in contact with me to cooperate also. [9:14]

So Fair Trade Costa Rica, knowing that ASEPROLA is close to the trade unions, they ignored it, they just ignored it, they never took part, because the thing Global 2000 in Austria and Fair Trade Austria us to work together. So Fair Trade Costa Rica didn’t. We thought it was OK. It was easier if they would, but it was fine. But then at the end after the process, after three months, Global 2000 again said to us “Yes, Fair Trade Costa Rica did everything, so thank you very much, but it’s OK. But we would still like you to organise the programme of one day because we want to contrast the fair trade production with the conventional production. [10:04] And then it came out that of course we would do that with the trade unions because if you want to talk about the conditions of pineapple production, you need to talk to the communities, the trade unions, the municipalities. And it was at this point that Fair Trade Costa Rica – and I’m still angry when I think about it – they were so silly and politically incorrect, I don’t know. But they refused to integrate the trade union, not even on this day, because they were so worried about meeting the journalists with the trade unionists. And I think I can understand that it would be a problem if the trade unions would say some bad things about fair trade and then they go back to Austria – I mean the problem I can see, but the way you have to keep it …, I think, is that people from Fair Trade Costa Rica should in the process meet the trade unions, should sit around the table – OK, there were problems in the past, we know that, we are working on that, we are improving on that, you are also committed to that; now here in two weeks or in two months here is the delegation coming, journalists from Austria. Let’s sit together, I ask you please don’t criticise fair trade in front of them because [11:55] they can, you know, they would have done everything the trade unions, but the Fair Trade here just excluded them and in a very ugly way. So of course we had the mechanism – the trade union is even more angry with Fair Trade. It is not the way to solve the problem. And it was a similar situation last year. It was the Forum of CENADE [???] about climate change, which was organised by Fair Trade and which was organised by UICN, Pacto Por la Vida, CONGES – we were involved in it, and they were here. In our inauguration party, everybody small-talking, the Director of Fair Trade, she comes, completely angry and starts to talk around to the people who didn’t know that it was so open and that there other stakeholders participating in this Forum. They wanted that only the fair trade producers and they themselves. There were a lot of international fair trade representatives and again they didn’t want it to have external stakeholders being together with international representatives. And so this is for me, and so either they were not transparent [13:31] and they want to hide something – I cannot say what. But if I do work well and it is transparent, I have no problem, even I am happy that there are other stakeholders around me, CONGES, UICN, Pacto Por la Vida, to share and promote. So you see, I think there is a Costa Rican problem, and I know then after that, after seeing this operation, this escandolo – because it was kind of a scandal because she was really like [funny noise]. She was looking at everybody’s name label and asking what are you doing?

But the other day I was in one of the workshops, and then I could see what was the problem, because there was obviously quite a tension between the administration of Fair Trade Costa Rica and the producers. I don’t know about the details of this, but it’s about costs and certification and the way they do the certification. So they just do this internal fair trade. They do no more, but it was visible for all the external visitors that there was a fight going on between the producers and the administration. So this is very important for Costa Rica. But I want to think that it’s just Costa Rica. I cannot say that in other countries it’s the same.

So, my personal opinion is – and this is something I’ve heard from other people – I think the fair trade idea is good, but fair trade nowadays is too big and the idea cannot be realised at this level of extension [15:35], so that’s the main … because fair trade is as good as the people working there, and now there are so many people – everyone agrees – not everybody – many of the people that I talk to – agree that the head office in Germany, probably they are real hardcore fair trade people and they are to be trusted and they want to change the world for the better. But what then happens in the regional offices and the regional administrations, so there is obviously a big problem … And it’s obvious that the system is too big to be controlled [16:28] in that everybody realises …???… of fair trade. So this is, I think, the main problem of fair trade. So this is one view I have.

The other view I have, and this is just my very personal experience also with my work, I’m here in Costa Rica with EED. EED is the development agency of the Lutheran Church in Germany. So they pay me and this programme that they pay – they pay experts, they call them experts, they pay professional people to support organisations.

MM: And the organisation you’re supporting here is CONGES?

NP: At first, it was ASEPROLA, which was the region we came to Costa Rica; and now after 4 years my contract ended, and now I’m supporting CONGES. And so EED is an organisation which also supports GEPA. GEPA in Germany is the fair trade movement. EED also supports for example here in Costa Rica CEDECO. CEDECO is one of the organisations that promotes organic cultivation. So there is, let’s say, there is no criticism for this background to the fair trade. [18:35] At the same time, Pan Por el Mundo (Bread for the World), they are supporting the Lutheran Church also the EED, the Lutheran Church Development Agency and they are managing more the money from the state to put it into the projects, and Pan Por el Mundo is part of the Lutheran Church from the bases – the money they also give to the projects. It’s more a solidarity movement. And so Pan Por el Mundo is supporting in eleven countries in Latin America – they are supporting a new approach which is the campesino-a-campesino approach which is more the production for the local market that is sustainable. And if you talk to them, and lately I talked to them, you can obviously see fair trade, as good as fair trade can be, is bad! If you have this other approach, that it is increasing, which is a very important approach at times of economic crisis, in terms of the environmental crisis, you can really see that the fair trade production – although it’s fair in the salaries and in the treatment of persons, but fair trade is always for export to Europe [20:28] and to the States. Fair trade always depends on international markets, on international trade. And so this other initiative which has grown and is increasing, and you can see it in Costa Rica, is more and more criticising fair trade. Of course they’re criticising the conventional products, but it’s criticising fair trade more because fair trade pretends to improve something which in reality doesn’t improve with fair trade. I mean the other they don’t even pretend to improve – the other one’s just business, but fair trade pretends to do something better. [21:19] And so that makes you think OK, I’ll buy the fair trade pineapple, coffee and banana, and so I do. But it’s really stupid, that they’re thinking of more and more sales. So fair trade is a problem because people shouldn’t consume pineapples in Austria and Germany. They should do it once a year, at Christmas, and then they should really pay a lot of money for it and then it should be fair trade. In reality, fair trade is not the solution to trade. It’s just a …???…

MM: Fair trade will still deal with conventional production for export as well because it’s for export, so it’s taking land away from people growing for themselves and for local and national markets.

NP: [22:40] For example, I have been now this weekend, by coincidence we joined a forestry engineer from COOProbalde. They are developing with producers in Costa Rica, but it’s a model which works also in Nicaragua and Bolivia and Ecuador, an agro-forestry model where you produce food but in the wood without cutting the trees. There are a 200 – 300 year old tradition, but they produce everything they would need and everything a whole village would need. But they produce it on this ages old not cutting the trees and not exploiting the soil. And if you have a good year you can produce even for 2,000 …???… And this kind of sustainable agriculture never gives for export.

MM: What’s the name of the organisation which is supporting this kind of …?

NP: Cooprobalde.

MM: Do they have a website?

NP: Probably, but it’s a very small organisation. But if you want to contact them …

MM: Yes. We aren’t going to contact them now because on Friday we both go off in different directions, but I can contact them from England.

NP: Because the forestry engineer, he’s my contact, also like me a cooperante from EED.[24:44] And he worked for many years in Bolivia, and in Bolivia they worked with indigenous people; and I think it’s a group of a couple of forestry engineers all over Latin America. I understand it’s 5 or 10 – it’s really a small group – they are developing it. And Vini, our colleague here, he’s doing it in Costa Rica with Cooprobalde. So you can find it also in Nicaragua. I think where they are perfecting the system, in the sense that they bring from all over Latin America indigenous people and campesinos from Bolivia.

MM: The campesino a campesino approach.

NP: Yes, but in Bolivia it’s also like a demonstration farm. So they bring groups there so people can see and discuss. So Bolivia is – they are the absolute [tops]. The other parts are also developing. And for Costa Rica [26:09] …

MM: Yes, I’ll look out for it, but if you have a specific contact that would be very useful. This kind of approach is being taken by a number of organisations in El Salvador as well. There’s an organisation called COMUS, the United Communities of Usulután, and they have been trying to develop a similar model for the communities that they work with, so that they don’t deforest. They’ve been promoting a lot of fruit trees and integrating coffee bushes with other crops – just trying to get them not to fell trees a lot less than they otherwise would, and to rear their animals and to grow their crops around them. There’s another organisation in El Salvador called IPES, which is the Permaculture Institute of El Salvador.

NP: I think this model goes even farther than the ones I’m talking about because it’s not their fault, because they grow their crops in the woods. So, for example on Saturday, we were doing it, we were putting in beans, rice, bamboo, milpa [27:47], so with this model the system is that you have a terreno and you grow the woods because they also do the madera, and you grow everything together. So the first months the crops grow because the bushes and the trees need more time, so in the meantime you have the crops, and then when the bushes are too big, then you have to move – you have to do it again in another area [28:15], but it’s the same thing. So this is the way you grow the trees, and you have all the things you need.

MM: One of the things which prompted me to tell you about that organisation IPES, is that they have a demonstration plot which they bring farmers to from the communities; and COMUS has not a demonstration plot, but it has a number of demonstration farmers so that other farmers are brought to them in order to spread the idea.

NP: Maybe just to close, it’s so difficult to talk about fair trade because of course if you ask me what do I think in Costa Rica, because you can buy fair trade here in Costa Rica. For example, I don’t buy fair trade coffee here. Obviously I buy coffee from the producers because it’s much better; but if I go to Austria I still buy the fair trade coffee. So it’s not the solution. It’s important that the consumers cannot be …???… with the fair trade, but it’s still better than nothing. It’s really a difficult issue for a person that needs to talk about it, because I don’t want to discredit [30:09] fair trade people because I know they want to do good things, but in the end, talking honestly, I think they don’t. But of course I don’t want to go around …; but also the trade unions are also …; in the end I also have to say, you are trade unions with conventional monocultures, and if we don’t eat the conventional monoculture crops I would take away the workers’ livelihoods. It’s a very difficult issue.

MM: Yes, it’s problematic, and problematic for the consumers in our countries as well [31:05], especially if you get this kind of insight into the problems. What do you do? I agree with you that pineapples and bananas are not our natural products, so if we have them, as you say, we should have them once a year as a special treat. We should be eating and growing our own fruit.

Then more thanks from Martin, plus promise to check with Nela if I use much of her words.

A final part of interview with Nela Perle – an extra – (on the third file).

NP: … to contact us for all the information we had, and so we worked together, and I think she also made it transparent to Rewe, the supermarket in Austria, that she was working with me because of the language, and so I was helping her with translation. And for Rewe it was completely OK. And the thing is, Rewe – I think it’s the biggest supermarket in Austria – and Rewe buys from a Spanish retailers, San Lucas. So Rewe wanted to make sure that the pineapples they buy from San Lucas are produced under acceptable conditions. So Rewe contracts Global 2000 to take her around. So this person starts with me to get the basic information, and she also gets in contact with San Lucas, the retailer, and together we build up a whole programme. She tells me exactly which fincas she’s going to visit. She will be coordinating a little bit in terms of questions. And Rewe was completely informed, and it was no problem for them. [1:33] And then it came near to do the visiting to the fincas, and then the heat started because it was obvious that I recommended them to her also. I said “I think it’s great that the supermarket wants that, so let’s do it.” Really good. So you go, but you need to have someone with you from the trade union; you need to have someone with you like a second pair of ears and a second pair of eyes because while you are talking to them, somebody else may … We really tried to do a good full picture. And she made the proposal to San Lucas and she said “there is coming this guy from wherever, this guy from wherever, this guy from wherever.” And San Lucas didn’t say a lot. And then when it came to the visit, 2 or 3 days before, they would prefer that nobody from the trade union visit. I don’t remember what was the explanation that they … So she wanted to have a good ambience still, but I don’t think it was a problem – it was just the three of us – it would have been me and another colleague from the university – he’s independent because we suspected that they wouldn’t want to come because they would know ASEPROLA. [3:04]

So this other guy, from New York City had no links. And then Rewe said this guy shouldn’t come because – the relationship they made up – they said he was a neo-Nazi. They said he had neo-Nazi connections. Can you imagine a neo-Nazi in Costa Rica? But ‘neo-Nazi’ of course goes through everybody’s alarm sounds. So probably they found a neo-Nazi in Austria. It was completely …???… So he was out.

Then we found another colleague from university, a philosopher. And then in the end they said the girl and the philosopher could come. And the morning of the visit, they said no, there is no space for a philosopher. And they mentioned . [ASEPROLA?] You see all the process – we really did good. And it was San Lucas, the retailer; it was not Rewe, it was San Lucas. But in the end, they [4:26], well this one was the trade union, the other one was the neo-Nazi, I was ASEPROLA, and then in the end for the philosopher there was no space. So this is how they manage, and of course it was classic – she could go to the workers only when the boss was around. She was shown only certain …

MM: That’s exactly how Didier explained the visits from Austria, from other countries in western Europe – they are stage-managed, so that the inspectors come over and get a very stilted and tainted view of what is happening without any kind of criticism.

NP: In this case it was so impressive to see how they managed in the process to – because of course at the very beginning they wouldn’t say we don’t want you to come with the delegation, we don’t want you to do it this way. They just managed to do it slowly, and in the end they came through with it, because in the end Rewe was not interested at all in the inspection. In the end they just bought it. In the end it was just er … They made a good intent, I guess. They wanted to have …???… The result was just …???…

MM: Thank you for that information, and that does support …

NP: For the Rainforest Alliance one of the criticisms is that when they started their standards for pineapples they also approached ASEPROLA. ASEPROLA refused. They [ASEPROLA] said OK, we’ll check it, but we don’t want to be mentioned with you. But in the end the standards were not so bad. There were some complaints. There was some discussion about meters – would the Rainforest Alliance have enough meters from the acuiferos, and some of the communities said no, it should be more. But in the end the main problem is that the standards may be good, but if they are not checked regularly when they go there, they do an inspection, and then nobody does any monitoring / follow-up. [7:10]

END

Juan Luis Salas Villalobos

Interviewee: Juan Luis Salas Villalobos: Producer of organic vegetables and spices and the Executive Secretary of the Costa Rican Organic Agriculture Movement (MAOCO)
Interviewer: Genna West and Martin Mowforth
Location: San José, Costa Rica
Date: 28th September 2010
Theme: Organic food production in Costa Rica
Keywords: TBC
Notes:

.

Martin Mowforth (MM): Can you tell us about Maoco?

Juan Luis Salas Villalobos (JV): The organic movement in Costa Rica is turning ten years old. It was born through regional strategies, which came about due to the need for producers to come together and seek solutions to concerns. From there a strategy was formed in each region and later a national strategy, to find solutions to problems, each with three, five and ten year goals. There is still much to be done. We were very occupied making the organic agriculture law, working for four years doing advocacy and lobbying at the Legislative Assembly to ensure that a law was passed for organic agriculture. The law was passed and right now the regulations are being put into effect. This law has many benefits for producers and for the environment, because as well as strengthening the producers, it recognises environmental benefits, you know that the producers contribute to benefits for the environment from their activities. There are other aspects within the law which are still under way, such as bank loans, concessional credits according to the activity concerned, tax exemptions, exemptions for purchasing equipment, agricultural machinery and support for promoting and spreading organic farming.

In Costa Rica growth of organic farming has stagnated a lot, in recent years it has grown very little. It started to grow for export, but there came a time when exports did not grow much, so farming stayed there. It has not been exploited much in the domestic market. We have tried to encourage the local markets to promote organic production within the country, because we have seen that we only look for exports and our people are not entitled to what we produce, so we have to fight so that our neighbours can eat what we produce. We have worked on it; there are different places for selling in agricultural markets and markets exclusively for organic products. There has also been work on certification, so that the producers are trained and realise what certification is, what the standards are, what types of certification exist, and right now we are trying to implement participatory certification for the domestic market.

This is what we have been working with most. Right now I have the job of fighting for credit, because right now this is what we need most to produce, access to credit, along with production to be able to arrive at marketing the produce.

MM: what percentage of the total country’s agriculture is organic?

JV: 2.38% of national production is organic.

MM: It is relatively little in our country too, in all countries as well I imagine, but at least there are movements that are trying to promote it. The majority of people with whom you work are small producers.

JV: Small and medium producers.

MM: But are there big producers with whom you work too?

JV: Yes, what we are doing is not discriminating against anyone. The movement is not exclusive, rather it is inclusive, but the law was made for the micro, small and medium producers, therefore it is for those we fight. Anyone can join the movement, it is organic farming and there is not discrimination.

MM: How many organic markets are there in San José?

JV: In San José there are two markets exclusively for organic produce: one here, the Carmén de Paso Ancho neighbourhood, ‘la Feria del Trueque’, and another in the Aranjuez neighbourhood, ‘la Feria Verde’. They are both held once a week on Saturdays. Outside San José there is one in Turrialba and another in Upala. The rest are points of sale within conventional agricultural markets, like in San Ramón, Pérez Zeledón, Guápiles, Pavas, Coronado.

Genna West (GW): Do many people go to these markets?

JV: Not many people go to those which are exclusive to organic produce, but they do have their clientele and the product gets sold. In those for conventional produce, there is a great influx of people, but they come for other types of non-organic produce, because organic produce still needs to make a real impact and there needs to be a lots more awareness to get people to understand what organic farming is.

END