Zapatismo and Autonomous Development

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Zapatista members in an autonomous Zapatista community – Source: Dorset Chiapas Solidarity

Once a guerrilla army, and today a long standing social movement in Chiapas, Mexico, the Zapatistas may be the last place one may look for examples of development. A predominantly indigenous movement, the Zapatistas choose community autonomy over state support. This means Zapatistas refuse any funds from the Mexican state, an odd concept for some when trying to envision groups of people seeking to improve their material conditions. So what is it about this curious case that makes the Zapatistas relevant to development? The concept of autonomy, and thus self determination, are unique to Zapatista communities and provide an example of development which diverges, and in some was exists externally, from contemporary practices informed by neoliberal ideology.

But first a little background. The Zapatistas flew onto the world scene when seizing the city San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas on January 1, 1994 – the same day NAFTA passed. Twelve days of fighting ensued between the Mexican military and the Zapatistas, until the guerrillas chose to enter into dialogue with the government. Arms haven’t been taken up since. January first was chosen as a symbolic day to say “ya basta” (enough!) to the economic policies passed by “bad governments” on behalf of corporations and the ruling elite. For years, 500 to be exact, the indigenous people who make up the Zapatista movement have been struggling against colonial governments and policies which degrade indigenous life. Zapatismo, and the struggle against globalization, is just a new form of this long struggle. (El Kilombo Intergalático 2007).

The concept of Zapatista autonomy is founded upon two basic principles: resistance and self determination. First, resistance to global capitalism is central to Zapatista organizing, as is the creation of a world which exists externally from neoliberal globalization. As stated in the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, resistance is necessary to stop a system which “destroys what exists in [countries conquered by neoliberalism], it destroys their culture, their language, thier economic system, their political system, and it also destroys the ways in which those who live in that country relate to each other. So everything that makes a country a country is left destroyed” (EZLN 2005). Secondly, the concept of self determination emphasizes democracy and the right to determines one’s future. The latter is a right often stripped from indigenous groups in a colonized world. Both concepts of self determination and autonomy reject any aid or participation from the Mexican state. This is the view that, “the politics of the politicians is a sphere that functions through the simulation of public opinion… to administer the interests of transnational capital,” and thus, the state itself cannot divorce itself from the interests of business (El Kilombo Intergalático 2007, 7). Therefore, the Zapatistas can in no way align themselves with the “bad government”. It must also be noted that historically, the Mexican state has used aid projects in the Chiapas to buy off segments of poor and indigenous populations for political motivates, while leaving other sections destitute and without access to services (Harvey 2005).

But what does autonomy mean in a material sense, beyond the ideology? And how is it related to development?

Autonomous villages exist throughout the state of Chiapas, all of which have their own form of governance, laws, and right to the land. Each autonomous community organizes itself through a form of direct direct democracy, where all of the Zapatista villagers participate and serve on the governing council, Junta de Buen Gobierno (Good Governance Council). Decision making power then extends to a council of all autonomous villages which also has rotating representation. Decision are often made through discussion which flow from autonomous communities to the regional council and back down until consensus is reached. It is through the democratic structures that communities can set development goals which exclude business interests and are instead on behalf of the whole community.

The projects enacted by autonomous communities include the creation of hospitals, health promoter training programs, cooperative agricultural and goods production, potable water systems, autonomous elementary and middle schools, community-run transportation, and non-extractive banking practices (Forbis 2014). Autonomy allows community members to choose how each of these programs is implemented and decision making power is exercised over the composition of each program. For example, hospitals practice both Western medicine, as well as “traditional healing and herbal medicine.” The curriculum in Zapatista schools is designed by the community to promote collective living, women’s rights, and indigenous history.  And the judicial policies enacted by Zapatista communities emphasize restorative justice and the health of the community, in lieu of punitive “justice”.  All of these programs are meant to proportionately benefit each autonomous community, a goal which can only be achieved through direct democratic control by all community members (Forbis 2014).

Although the Zapatista case is unique, autonomous community practices point towards alternatives to development implemented by foreign, undemocratic NGOs, or top down economic policies forced upon state by the International Finance Institutions. It seems difficult to imagine Zapatista style autonomy popping up around the world, but that is not to say it does not currently exist, or cannot exist in the future. International solidarity plays a central part in Zapatista success. The countless numbers of organizations internationally donating funds and time to support the Zapatistas helps enable the continuation of the autonomous project. If solidarity is extended to other communities globally which fight for autonomy and democracy, we may be able to see other projects similar to the Zapatistas. Additionally, development agencies can also learn from the Zapatista’s democratic practices. Reforming NGO and development agency structure to emphasize direct democracy and community autonomy enables greater project success via wider community participation, while also emphasizing the right of developing countries and communities to choose their own development path. Democratic, self-determined development enables a world of many worlds to exist, not just the world of global neoliberal capitalism.

References

El Kilombo Intergalático. 2007. “Zapatismo: A Brief Manual on How to Change the World.” In Beyond Resistance: Everything. Durham: PaperBoat, 1-16.

Forbis, Melissa interviewed by Johanna Brenner. 2014. “The Zapatistas at 20: Building Autonomous Community.” Against the Current, March 23. https://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/4135.

Harvey, Neil. 2005. The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy. Durham: Duke University Press.

Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). 2005. “Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle.” In Beyond Resistance: Everything. 2007. Durham: PaperBoat, 62-86.

Indigenous Values Should Be a Key Component of Our Response to Climate Change

http://buzz.naturalnews.com/001148-Terminator_seeds-petition-ban.html
http://buzz.naturalnews.com/001148-Terminator_seeds-petition-ban.html

Thus far, I have written posts on what sustainable development is, sustainable development in Peru, the ways indigenous land entitlement can be seen as sustainable development, the differences between community sustaining development and government mandated development and the role of microfinance and digital payment in development in Peru. To conclude this set of blog posts, I would like to write more about agriculture and development with a focus on terminator seeds (seeds that are genetically modified so that the second generation of seeds are sterile). Many problems arise from terminator seeds including soil degradation and increased farmers’ dependency on large seed providers such as Monsanto and Syngenta because new seeds need to be bought each year.

An article in a Mexican news forum, Quadratin, points out that agricultural chemicals and nitrogen fertilizer were not actually invented for agriculture but were a product of war. They report that these strong chemicals, can have serious health consequences. For example, in Peru in 1999, 24 children died because they were poisoned by eating food contaminated by Parathion, an insecticide. Problems of contamination, however, are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the problems caused by terminator seeds and chemical farming.

The organization Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES) held a community meeting in 2005 to discuss the potential impacts of terminator seeds on Peruvian agriculture. About 70 indigenous leaders met together for this discussion and produced a report for the UN working group to submit at the next Convention on Biological Diversity. The main worries voiced included fear that the “pollen from terminator seeds could transfer sterility to and effectively kill off other crops and plant life (ANDES),” worry about increased dependence on monster seed distribution companies such as Monsanto and Syngenta, and concern that terminator seeds could put Peru’s 3,000 varieties of potatoes at risk as reported on History Commons. The concerns also include loss of biodiversity, “erosion of indigenous knowledge and innovation systems” which include knowledge of seed saving and exchange, loss of food sovereignty, cutting back of indigenous human rights and marginalization of women (quoted from the report itself). History Commons quoted Felipe Gonzalez, a member of the indigenous Pinchimoro community who said, “[t]erminator seeds do not have life…[l]ike a plague they will come infecting our crops and carrying sickness. We want to continue using our own seeds and our own customs of seed conservation and sharing.”

A letter signed by representatives of 34 indigenous communities provides another example of the struggle against ending the international de facto moratorium on terminator seeds. As IIED reports ‘the coalition says Syngenta’s claims that its patent for ‘terminator technology’ potatoes is neither relevant nor applicable in the region are “deeply offensive.”’ The coalition requests that Syngenta disown the patent of a genetic modification that can stop potatoes from sprouting. Despite the de facto moratorium, research continues and corporations want to see the ban revoked. One quote that really stuck out to me in this same article was said by Alejandro Argumendo who is part of ANDES. He said “We feel greatly disrespected by corporations that make a single genetic alteration to a plant and then claim private ownership when these plants are the result of thousands of years of careful breeding by indigenous people.” In the end, the moratorium on terminator seeds was not relaxed to the relief of the indigenous Quechua working so hard against it in Peru as well as to people all over the world yet an end to the moratorium in the future is still a very real possibility.

One prime example of a program ANDES operates that works with bio cultural conservation is the Potato Park where six Quechua communities live and cultivate about 1,500 varieties of potato. As the ANDES website explains “[t]he communities’ traditional knowledge, customary laws and spiritual beliefs that nurture these resources are in turn shaped and sustained by the Andean ancestral landscapes and their sacred mountain gods or Apus.”

Respect for indigenous values and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples “is a key component in the response to climate change.” Various organizations, including ANDES are coming together to bring attention to the power of having indigenous cultural and spiritual values as central in the fight to slow global warming.  The brief “Indigenous spiritual and cultural values to guide climate change adaptation” quotes Karenna Gore, the director of Center for Earth Ethics saying, “[i]ndigenous spirituality seeks powerful connection to larger purposes and meaning, celebrates biodiversity and promotes inclusion…[t]he world especially needs that kind of worldview at this time. This great body of knowledge has a wealth of adaptive capacity. It not only protects the wellbeing of indigenous peoples; it also promotes an awareness of our deep interconnected relationship with nature that can enhance our world as a whole.” This powerful quote resonates with me personally. I strongly believe that indigenous valuation of the earth must be central to a reformed society that is truly able to take care of the earth, which is why I chose to write my blog posts on the topic of sustainable development and the Quechua and Aymara peoples of Peru.

 

 

WORKS CITED:

Alcalá, Salvador. “Los Orgánicos.” Quadratin. 04 Mar. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <https://www.quadratin.com.mx/opinion/Los-organicosSalvador-Alcala-6/>.

“Biocultural Conservation – Sallqa Ayllu.” ANDES. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.andes.org.pe/program-biocultural-conservation-sallqa-ayllu-about>.

“COP21 ANDES in Paris.” Asociación ANDES. 9 Dec. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.andes.org.pe/note-cop21-andes-in-paris-2>.

“Indigenous Peoples of Cusco, Peru on the Potential Impacts of Terminator.” Letter to Hamdallah Zedan. 27 Sept. 2005. 27 Sept. 2005. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.

“‘Insulted’ Andean Farmers Pick GM Potato Fight with Multinational Syngenta.” International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). 12 Jan. 2007. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.iied.org/insulted-andean-farmers-pick-gm-potato-fight-multinational-syngenta>

Profile: Quechua-Aymara Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES).” History Commons. Web. 10 Apr. 2016. <http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=quechua-aymara_association_for_nature_and_sustainable_development>.

Blog 4: Indigenous People

Indigenous people are impacted by climate change to the point where in recent years many uprisings and rallies have occurred in attempts for change. These people are often overlooked due to their small population numbers and the land that is desired for which they live on and have rights to. One could insinuate that indigenous people are impacted heavily based on their dependence on the land around them, they live off the land and rely on its production for a livelihood. The fact that indigenous people’s rights for their land has become an issue in the last few decades shows that the land is changing and climate change is impacting our planet and its people who rely on it.

The book Climate Change and Indigenous People by Abate and Kronk discuss how and why climate change disproportionately burdens indigenous people. They first open up by sharing that a history of colonization and oppression is a major reason for lack of respect and increased vulnerability that indigenous peoples have, and that, “many indigenous communities also share unique legal and spiritual connections to their environment” (Abate and Kronk), which together results in depreciation for their environment impacting their traditional sustainable lives and rights. Environmental changes including: severe drought, higher temperatures, deforestation, vegetation loss, ice melt, and species loss; have all impacted indigenous people’s lives because they rely on the land for their livelihood. It is becoming more difficult for indigenous people to continue their traditional farming practice, carry a steady food supply, rely on the same diet, and many more losses in daily activities which are conglomerating to the point where indigenous people are being pushed to their limits unrightfully so.

Last December the UNFCCC came up with The Paris Agreement, which had a heavy focus on indigenous people’s rights when considering environmental projects and climate change. This all stemmed from indigenous people’s involvement in activities to fight for change, so the awareness was brought to the attention of the higher ups making the calls on this agreement. It was stated that, “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, (and) the rights of indigenous peoples” (United Nations). In the agreement it was also discussed that non-party stakeholders need to take into consideration indigenous people’s knowledge, technologies, practices and efforts when considering responding to climate change. This agreement is the right step into helping the indigenous people deserve and regain the rights that are theirs. Raising the awareness on a large scale like this will make it easier for indigenous people to remain indigenous and one with their land.

Awareness of these issues has been raised and action is settling in to hopefully begin taking place soon. In Indonesia specifically there is a pressure for the government to boost protection for indigenous people’s rights after 40 cases of violation had been identified and brought to their attention. The Dayak Benuaq indigenous people of Indonesia have been struggling since the 1970s to claim rights for their forests as they face the pressure of logging and mining operations which has inevitably, “Violated the Dayak Benuaq people’s rights to a healthy and safe environment, property ownership, cultural activities, education, traditional knowledge and a life free of fear” (Jakarta). These development issues have raised skepticism over the Presidents promise to protect indigenous peoples rights and has resulted in the urge to set up a task force to deal with indigenous issues.

In Latin America there has been illegal mining for gold which has resulted in abuse of human rights and destruction of the environment impacting its indigenous people. Many illegal miners are exploiting members of indigenous tribes and using them as slave style workers. This illegal gold rush in Latin America has led to major deforestation and produces 30 tons of waste mercury every year that is being released into the waterways poisoning fish and causing damage to humans. “Global Initiative, a network of prominent law enforcement, governance and development professionals” says corporations, “must adhere to the UN guiding principles on business and human rights and do a better job of mapping out supply chains and ensuring that gold is sourced responsibly and ethically” (The Guardian). These issues of indigenous people being impacted by environment degradation are happening all over our planet and awareness and government involvement is finally beginning to surface. These are the first steps necessary towards helping the indigenous people of regions around the world become recognized and being respected for what is theirs and their rights.

 

Works Cited

Abate, Randall, and Elizabeth Ann. Kronk. “Commonality among Unique Indigenous Communities: An Introduction to Climate Change and Its Impacts on Indigenous Peoples.” Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: The Search for Legal Remedies. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2013. N. pag. Print.

Jones, Sam. “Illegal Gold Mining Drives Human Rights Abuses in Latin America, Claims Study.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 07 Apr. 2016. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

“Pressure Grows on Indonesia to Tackle Indigenous Rights Abuses.” Jakarta. N.p., 28 Mar. 2016. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.

United Nations. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Adoption of the Paris Agreement. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

 

 

The Tainos

The year 1492 A.D. did not really mean much to me. With no impactful event to make me remember it, it was a bygone year floating in the history of time like so many other years. However, 1492 A.D. was the year that Christopher Columbus set sail in search of the New World and the first land his ship touched, was inhabited by the Tainos. The year that would change the fabric of the world we inhabit socially, environmentally, racially, economically.

The Tainos were a subgroup of the Arawak people, indigenous inhabitants of some areas of South America and the Caribbean, known for their amiable, gentle and peaceful nature. Little did they know that their population was to be drastically decimated, almost to the verge of extinction, when they greeted Columbus and his entourage.

The Tainos were the principal inhabitants of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola (present day Dominican Republic and Haiti) and Puerto Rico. In pre-Columbian times, their daily rituals consisted of farming, fishing, canoeing and sleeping in hammocks at the end of the day.

As peaceful as they were within the society, they were also very attuned to the environment surrounding them. Historians and archeologists call their agricultural practices to be very “environmentally friendly” and “maintenance free”. While the men cleaned the fields and fished, the women took care of crops for cultivation and managed household chores. The primary crops that the Tainos cultivated were cassava, corn, beans, peppers, and peanuts among others.

taino-plants

Cassava, better known as yam, was the major staple followed by sweet potato. The bitter variety of cassava, manioc, although containing toxic levels of cyanide and so used by the Tainos to commit suicide, was grown extensively because when processed not only was it edible, but also highly drought resistant, had high caloric content and did not perish (its flour could be stored for many months) as easily as the sweet variety.

The Tainos’s reliance on root crops, therefore, gave rise to a farming technique called conucos. Conucos were heaped up mounds of soil, often three feet high and nine feet in circumference and arranged in rows, tailored for efficient cultivation of root crops. The conucos were packed with leaves thus improving drainage, increasing fertility, aerating the soil, delaying soil erosion, and allowing for longer storage of crops in the ground.

The Tainos were also heedful of the paradoxical nature of the tropical forests they inhabited. Although the forests seemed nutrient rich with lush vegetation, the often impoverished and shallow soil was susceptible to erosion during heavy rains and to scorching during by the tropical sun. The heedful Tainos accordingly adopted the “slash and burn” horticulture technique- plots of land were cleared of trees and bushes which was burned releasing nutrients to the soil. The Tainos were also among the first to use aquaponics. Not having refrigeration they created ponds fed by fresh water and stocked them with fish so as to have easy access to them.

But with the arrival of Columbus and his entourage, the Tainos population gradually shrunk. What was initially a three million or three hundred thousand population (very contentious speculations) dwindled down to sixty thousand in 1507 A.D. and to a mere six hundred in 1531 A.D. The Tainos perished to European diseases to which they had no resistance, extreme working conditions in mines and farms to which they had no self-governance, and attacks by the invading Europeans to which they had no comprehension. Sadly their farming techniques also perished to Spanish methods and it is almost impossible to trace a human with full Taino lineage today.

To my dismay, there hasn’t been any governmental initiative to re-adopt the admirable farming techniques of the Tainos. Independent organizations in Dominican Republic like the Taino Farm and Schools for Sustainability, however, have realized the importance of the ecologically sound Taino methods and thus work to preserve them in this modern context. Schools for Sustainability strives to “honor and follow the example of the peaceful and innovative Taino, who were driven into extinction on Hispaniola by Columbus within 50 years of the Spanish having arrived on the island” by integrating water remediation, farming organic food, and relying on renewable energy for greater sustainability. Similarly Taino Farm relies on aquaponics, vermiculture and permaculture to “foster growth in community,  environment, and society with sustainable farming” clearly reflecting the Tainos’s influence.

Taino methods may not seem very viable in the present day scenario but its history definitely stresses on respecting one’s environment and greeting people with cordiality.

Citation:

Keegan, Bill. “Talking Taino: Eat Roots and Leaves”. Times of the Islands Magazine: Winter 2004/2005. http://www.timespub.tc/2005/01/talking-taino-eat-roots-and-leave/

“Taino Lifestyle”. Taino Gallery. http://tainogallery.com/history/lifestyle/

Figueroa, Ivonne. “Tainos”. El Boricua Magazine: July, 1996. http://www.elboricua.com/history.html

Look Back to Move Ahead?

That civilization came into existence because of agriculture is not an assumption but a fact. Agriculture was the cornerstone that marked Homo sapiens’ turn from nomadic gatherers and hunters to dwellers in a settlement. And these settlements are what constitute a civilization. In this way I find it intriguing to realize that agriculture was not just the basis of sustenance, but also the seed through which civilization was born.

And what intrigues me even more is how farming techniques all over the world were different, unique and thus reflected the collective and adaptive intuition of people molded according to the topography, climate and features of the space they inhabit for their need. From the idea of companion planting of crops, especially the Three Sisters (squash, maize and beans), practiced by the Native Americans to the instinctive choice, which can be traced back, to the techniques mentioned in ancient Roman literature, of planting legumes to naturally fixate nitrogen in the soil, to the economic use of manure for many purposes in villages of South Asia, it is evident that traditional farming techniques were creative, constructive and conscious.

But the environmentally sound practices of traditional farming were either swept away by or had to conform (and still do) to the demands of colonialism, postcolonial development projects and globalization. Monoculture farming usurped farming various crops. Chemical fertilizers increased yield in shorter period of time as opposed to traditional options like organic manure. And hybridized seeds replaced natural seeds.

Many will argue that with the booming population, industrialization of agriculture is the only answer but more than often being oblivious to its environmental repercussions. And my doubt over that notion may sound naively idealistic but I will be writing on how traditional or indigenous agricultural practices may be the better alternatives to commercial agriculture.

References:

Landon, Amanda J. “The “How” of the Three Sisters: The Origins of Agriculture in Mesoamerica and the Human Niche”. Nebraska Anthropologist (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska-Lincoln). 1 Jan.2008. Web. 18 Mar.2016.

Kolbert, Elizabeth. “Head Count”. The New Yorker. 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2016

Graber, Cynthia. “Framing Like the Incas”. Smithsonian. 6 Sept. 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2016