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The Casualties of Development

December 2009

As one of the articles today in the German newspaper In Spiegel points out, the conference in Copenhagen around climate change is largely defined by wish-washy intentions and the introduction (or redefinition) new words: Green, Bio, Organic, Renewable and…Development. On one side of the Development debate are those who advocate for economic growth, while on the other side are the farmers, indigenous people and urban workers who claim that Development has contributed to their social and economic plight.

In this battle of stories, whose understanding of “Development” will win?   That’s mostly a rhetorical question, because the dominant view of development has already won, despite its steep costs –including global warming and the suffering for those on the losing end. That includes U.S. citizens concerned about social and economic disparities. It is the farmer who is losing his land. It is the indigenous community that is being displaced by a mega-wind farm in the Mexican Isthmus region, or an agro-fuel palm oil plantation in the Brazilian Amazon. It is the mother forced to work in a sweat shop or maquiladora in Haiti to feed her family after her rice growing region failed because of subsidized U.S. imports.   And one casualty from the front lines of development and unchecked economic growth was a man called Mariano Abarca Robeldo. Mariano had led conversations in his community about the environmental atrocities perpetrated in his village of Chicomuselo in Chiapas, Mexico by the Canadian BlackFire Mining Company. He also helped to organize a street demonstration in his village and presented a complaint against BlackFire.   Mariano was shot to death in front of his house two weeks ago, on November 27. Our colleague was killed and his friend was shot in the leg in front of his children who were playing soccer.    Who could possibly want to kill this simple community leader and farmer from Chiapas?   So far, the Mexican government has not come up with suspects. After the shooting, two men fled the scene on a motorcycle. They were probably hired for the job, but Mariano’s shooters were not his real enemy.  Mariano’s enemy was the same “development” that is at the root causes of climate change that threatens all of us.   ############  

On a more personal note, I join all my colleagues at Grassroots International in sending condolences to Mariano’s family and community in Chiapas and to our colleagues at the Mexican Network of Those Affected by Mining (REMA). We hope the organizers of COP15 in Copenhagen will guarantee the well-deserved space at the negotiations table for peasants and indigenous peoples. Only then can we globalize the wisdom from below, and globalize hope.


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