Jason Tockman: Chavez Dumps Monsanto


Richard Moore

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Venezuela: Chavez Dumps Monsanto
By Jason Tockman
Green Left Weekly
May 5, 2004

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez Frias has announced that the cultivation of 
genetically modified crops will be prohibited on Venezuelan soil, possibly 
establishing the most sweeping restrictions on transgenic crops in the western 

Though full details of the administration¹s policy on genetically modified 
organisms (GMOs) are still forthcoming, the statement by President Hugo Chavez 
will lead most immediately to the cancellation of a contract that Venezuela had 
negotiated with the US-based Monsanto Corporation.

Before a recent international gathering of supporters in Caracas, Chavez 
admonished genetically engineered crops as contrary to interests and needs of 
the nation¹s farmers and farmworkers. He then zeroed in on Monsanto¹s plans to 
plant up to 500,000 acres of transgenic soybeans in Venezuela.

³I ordered an end to the project², said Chavez, upon learning that transgenic 
crops were involved. ³This project is terminated.²

Chavez emphasised the importance of food sovereignty and security ‹ required by 
the Venezuelan Constitution ‹ as the basis of his decision. Instead of allowing 
Monsanto to grow its transgenic crops, these fields will be used to plant yuca, 
an indigenous crop, Chavez explained. He also announced the creation of a large 
seed bank facility to maintain indigenous seeds for peasants¹ movements around 
the world.

The international peasants¹ organisation Via Campesina, representing more than 
60 million farmers and farmworkers, had brought the issue to the attention of 
the Chavez administration when it learned of the contract with Monsanto. 
According to Rafael Alegria, secretary for international operations of Via 
Campesina, both Monsanto and Cargill are seeking authorisation to produce 
transgenic soy products in Venezuela.

³The agreement was against the principles of food sovereignty that guide the 
agricultural policy of Venezuela², said Alegria when informed of the president¹s
decision. ³This is a very important thing for the peasants and indigenous people
of Latin America and the world.²

Alegria has good reason to be concerned. With a long history of social and 
environmental problems, Monsanto won early international fame with its 
production of the chemical Agent Orange ‹ the Vietnam War defoliant linked to 
miscarriages, tremors, and memory loss that more than 1 million people were 
exposed to. More recently, the company has been criticised for side-effects that
its transgenic crops and bovine growth hormone (rBGH) are believed to have on 
human health and the environment.

Closer to home in Venezuela, Monsanto manufactures the pesticide ³glyphosate², 
which is used by the neighbouring Colombian government as part of its Plan 
Colombia offensive against coca production and rebel groups. The Colombian 
government aerially sprays hundreds of thousands of acres, destroying legitimate
farms and natural areas like the Putomayo rainforest, and posing a direct threat
to human health, including that of indigenous communities.

³If we want to achieve food sovereignty, we cannot rely on transnationals like 
Monsanto², said Maximilien Arvelaiz, an adviser to Chavez. ³We need to 
strengthen local production, respecting our heritage and diversity.²

Alegria hopes that Venezuela¹s move will serve as encouragement to other nations
contemplating how to address the issue of GMOs.

³The people of the United States, of Latin America, and of the world need to 
follow the example of a Venezuela free of transgenics², he said.

More Information on Social and Economic Policy
More General Analysis on Transnational Corporations
More Information on Genetically Modified Organisms

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