Brazil: unprecedented action against global capitalism

2006-12-21

Richard Moore

        "..Article 186 in the Brazilian constitution stipulates that
        private property, including land, must serve a social
        function."

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Original source URL:
http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=48&ItemID=11580

ZNet | Brazil

Brazilian Governor Moves to Expropriate Land From Agribusiness Multinational 
Syngenta

by Isabella Kenfield; December 08, 2006


Curitiba, Brazil - On November 9th Roberto Requião, Governor of the state of 
Paraná, dealt a blow to agribusiness when he signed a decree to expropriate the 
experimental test site owned by the Swiss multinational corporation Syngenta, 
located in Santa Tereza do Oeste.  The decree was made in the public interest 
because Syngenta illegally planted 12 hectares of genetically-modified (GM) 
soybeans at the site.  The decree is unprecedented in Brazil and Latin America 
(indeed, the world), as never before has any state or the federal government 
moved to expropriate land from an agribusiness multinational corporation.  The 
action is representative of the growing sentiment among Latin American 
politicians to resist the increasing power of agribusiness corporations, and is 
evidence of the increasing organization and power of civil society in the 
region.


Requião's decision to expropriate the 127-hectare site is undoubtedly the result
of pressure from civil society.  The decree to expropriate the site came after 
an eight-month, non-violent occupation of the site by members of the rural 
social movements the Via Campesina and the Movement of the Landless Rural 
Workers (MST), which occupied the site on March 14th after the Brazilian 
Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA), the federal 
environmental agency, confirmed that Syngenta had illegally planted GM soybeans 
there.  While GM soy is legal in Brazil, Syngenta's planting was illegal because
the experimental site is located within the protective boundary zone of the 
Iguaçu National Park, which was declared the Patrimony of Humanity by the United
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1986.   The 
occupation stopped all of Syngenta's activities at the site, and according to 
statements made by Syngenta to the press, cost the corporation more than US $50 
million.  The occupation also pressured IBAMA to fine the corporation US 
$465,000 - a fine Syngenta still has not paid.  Throughout the occupation and 
since Requião's decree, Syngenta has denied any criminal activity.

"This is really a historic moment in the global struggle against transgenics, 
and it is proof that the social movements can control the actions of 
transnationals," says Maria Rita Reis, an attorney for Terra de Direitos, a 
human rights organization in Curitiba representing the legal proceedings against
Syngenta.

According to Roberto Baggio, state leader of the Via Campesina and the MST, "The
conquest of Syngenta was only possible through a large alliance of the rural 
social movementsŠin alliance with a firm and courageous position of Governor 
Requião, in the defense of a diversified, national agriculture that preserves 
biodiversity.  This action is a referential international mark in the struggle 
against the powerful interests of the agribusiness transnationals that want to 
dominate global agriculture and impose their project, but here in Paraná there 
are strong signals of popular resistance, which should stimulate militancy to 
combat the transnationals all over the planet."

The legal argument for the government's decree to expropriate the site from 
Syngenta for the public interest is based in the Brazilian constitution.  
According to the statement released by the state press agency, Governor Requião,
who has a history of anti-GM politics,  is drawing upon Brazilian states' 
sovereignty to "protect notable natural areas and the environment, to combat 
pollution of whatever form, and to preserve the forests, fauna and flora," 
emphasizing "the fragility of the biggest and most important remnant of the 
semideciduous forest of the country, situated in the Iguaçu National Park." 
Additionally, Article 186 in the Brazilian constitution stipulates that private 
property, including land, must serve a social function.  Since the early 1980s, 
the MST has used Article 186 to justify non-violent occupations of unproductive 
land owned by large landowners, in order to pressure the government to 
expropriate the land for the purpose of agrarian reform.  More recently, with 
their growing economic power, control of natural resources and criminal acts in 
the country, multinational agribusiness corporations are becoming the targets of
these occupations.  Terra de Direitos argues that the land at Syngenta's 
experimental site was not serving its social function, and that by illegally 
planting GM soybeans there Syngenta committed a human rights violation by 
endanging Brazil's biodiversity and biosecurity, as all Brazilians depend on the
country's natural resources.

According to João Pedro Stedile, of the national coordination of the MST, 
"Governor Requião had a courageous attitude to fulfill the constitution of the 
state to protect natural resources, and at the same time the law of biosecurity 
which states that no one can make experiments with transgenics within national 
parks. Thus he penalized Syngenta.  I hope that other state governors and the 
federal government will follow in [Requião's] example, and help us to defend 
Brazilian biodiversity, and the struggle for food sovereignty, and against the 
transnationals that want to control the food and biodiversity throughout the 
world."

Yet just because Requião has signed the decree does not mean the process of 
expropriation will be simple.  There is little doubt Syngenta will appeal the 
decision in federal courts.  This will complicate the effort to expropriate the 
site because the administration of President Luis Inacio 'Lula' da Silva is more
disposed to yield to the interests of agribusiness.  Brazil is currently 
experiencing an economic boom from agricultural production, especially from the 
production of GM soy.  The planting of GM soy was legalized in 2003 during the 
Lula administration, and the country is now the second largest producer and 
exporter of soybeans in the world, second only to the U.S.  Syngenta, which 
realized profits of over US $8.1 billion in 2005, wields considerable economic 
and political power in Brazil, and has a strong interest in maintaining its 
business in the country.

Syngenta has not publicly responded to Requião's decree, and did not answer 
press inquiries into the case.  Yet it is clear that its strategy to fight the 
decision has been to use its political and economic power to change Brazilian 
law in order to complicate the effort to find it guilty of criminal behavior.  
On October 31st, President Lula signed a measure that reduced the distance of 
the protective boundary zone for national parks from 10 kilometers to just 500 
meters, a move which was almost certainly the result of pressure from Syngenta.
This maneuver complicates the effort to find that Syngenta illegally planted GM 
soy within the protective boundary zone, as it planted the soy six kilometers 
from the park.  On November 30th the Federal Public Minister of Paraná, through 
the Municipal Prosecutor of Cascavel, annulled a public inquiry into the illegal
planting of Syngenta filed by Terra de Direitos in October, and ruled that 
Syngenta is in accord with all of the regulatory and legal requirements at the 
experimental site.  This decision is currently en route to Brasília, where it 
must be accepted by Minister of Justice Márcio Thomaz Bastos before it is 
official.

Yet despite the political and juridical opposition he faces in Brazil over the 
decision, Requião's effort to expropriate the site will be bolstered by other 
regional forces that are working to his advantage, most importantly the leftist 
wave currently sweeping Latin America.   Leaders such as Venezuela's Hugo Chávez
and Bolivia's Evo Morales will undoubtedly provide Requião with regional 
support.  Chávez himself has ties to the MST and the Via Campesina, and is an 
outspoken critic of GM technology.  Bolivia recently began to implement a 
progressive agrarian reform program that will benefit small farmers and landless
workers.

Requião's move to expropriate the site from Syngenta will, at the very least, 
send a message to agribusiness multinationals that they can no longer illegally 
exploit Brazil's natural resources as they wish, and commit crimes with 
impunity.  It will also no doubt bolster the strength and confidence of the 
social movements.   According to state Via Campesina and MST leader Celso 
Ribeiro, "for the coordination of the Via Campesina this signifies a huge 
victory and a grand conquest.  Syngenta is the 2nd largest producer of seeds in 
the world, producing both transgenic corn and soy.  Now the site will be used as
a center for us to create native and creole seed varieties."
-- 

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