A version of this piece originally appeared on the Landless Workers Movement’s website. English translation was done by Grassroots International.
Peasants from more than 70 countries will gather in Derio, in the Basque Country, between July 16 and 24, where the 7th International Conference of La Via Campesina will be held. The event seeks to reaffirm the commitment member organizations that are part of this articulation working to build a united path towards food sovereignty and to guarantee the rights of peasants, rural populations, indigenous peoples and small-scale food producers.
The VII Conference will be preceded by the Fourth International Youth Assembly and the Fifth International Women’s Assembly. The idea is that these two spaces serve to build discussions and strategic analysis that will be brought into the VII Conference.
With the objective of guaranteeing gender equality and the renewal of Via Campesina’s political frameworks, delegates will be made up of 50% women and a third will be young people.
Under the slogan “We feed our peoples and build movements to feed the world, the VII La Via Campesina Conference will discuss topics related to peasant organizing in different regions of the world. This will include issues directly related to food production and the contradictions between agricultural production models, seed preservation and responses to climate change.
In an interview with Marina dos Santos, of the National Director of the Landless Workers Movement (MST), she explains the central purpose of the peasant articulation, the political context in which it is happening and how the MST plans to participate. Read the interview below.
WHAT IS THE POLITICAL CONTEXT OF THE CONFERENCE?
The VII Conference is taking place in a difficult context, a time of serious crises facing humanity – an economic, political, environmental, and values crisis with profound contradictions between capital and labor. In rural communities all over the world it’s the same. Therefore it is very important to be able to gather, to look at and evaluate the situation, the political moment, the challenges facing the working class, and to organize ourselves strategically.
The MST has a proposed model for the countryside that is in contrast with the model of agribusiness and capital. In what way will the discussion of contrasting models be present at the conference?
In the last few decades, peasants, indigenous peoples and people of African descent on all continents have been living out an ongoing dispute between two agricultural projects: one of capital and the other of the workers. In the project of capital there are landowners, national and multinational capitalist companies, banks, corporate media and conservative governments. This project has been concentrating land, water and minerals; producing monocultures primarily for export; using fewer and fewer workers and increasing the use of pesticides; appropriating seeds and creating private patents for them. In addition, this sector uses genetic modification and appropriates more and more territories of traditional populations, putting all natural goods at risk.
On the other hand, peasants, indigenous communities, agricultural workers, people of African descent, fisher people and women have been resisting and building a model of production based on making life in the countryside viable, producing healthy food for themselves and for urban workers, and preserving and restoring the environment.
At the end of the twentieth century, capitalism entered a new phase dominated by transnational corporations, which included the domination of agriculture. With the advance of neoliberalism on rural communities – the liberalization of agricultural markets, the creation of the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with consequences impacting the countryside and agriculture throughout the world – the need arose to articulate a popular resistance on an international scale. This is how La Via Campesina was born, in a global articulation of peasants and agricultural workers. Its emergence is strongly based on the solidarity actions of peasants who faced (and continue to face) land evictions, repression, imprisonment, and even massacres in many areas of the world. And all this spirit of solidarity will be present at the VII Conference.
WILL ALTERNATIVES TO THE AGRIBUSINESS MODEL BE DISCUSSED?
Beyond the quest for alternatives to the current model, I believe that the main topics that will be addressed will be how to develop the ongoing struggle against transnational corporations and the model of hydro-business, mineral-business and industrial agriculture, which undermine the rights of life, of the planet and of rural peoples.
In addition, we will need to discuss how to overcome bureaucracy and maintain the anti-capitalist, anti-neoliberal, anti-patriarchal and anti-imperialist character of La Via Campesina, committed to building mass social movements and struggles.
The VII Conference is also tasked with helping to understand the process and projected forms of struggle to defend and win agrarian reform, both in terms of discussion around rural development and for the social movements that are struggling to defend agrarian reform and working to present counter-hegemonic proposals against the current system.
IN GENERAL, WHAT WILL BE THE TOPICS DISCUSSED AT THE CONFERENCE?
The theme of the conference is, “We feed our people and build movements to feed the world.” But there are several common topics that will be worked on and defended, such as the People’s Comprehensive Agrarian Reform, the struggle to defend peasant agriculture, and the strategic struggle for food sovereignty, gender equality, the defense and care of land and territory, the defense of natural resources, seeds as patrimony of the people, agroecology and biodiversity.
At this conference, we will advance important themes such as the real participation of women, youth and LGBT people in La Via Campesina. Women will discuss Popular Peasant Feminism, from the understanding that women must be fully engaged in the struggles of peasant social movements and that the struggle for gender equality must go hand in hand with the struggle to end private property, the right to land and territory, and for agrarian reform. It will be a time to reaffirm that socialism and Popular Peasant Feminism are unyielding and to question patriarchal and bourgeois concepts that further policies of capitalist exploitation.
WHAT IS THE OBJECTIVE OF THE VII LA VIA CAMPESINA CONFERENCE?
The objectives of the Conference are linked to the general objectives of La Via Campesina, which are based on building solidarity, unity in diversity among member organizations to promote equal economic relations, gender parity, social justice, defense and access to land, water, seeds and other natural resources, food sovereignty, sustainable agricultural and equality based on small and medium-scale production. Discussions will seek to define and coordinate better ways to improve the practical implementation of the objectives, as well as to identify challenges and ways to mobilize that are currently used in the struggles for agrarian reform.
WHO PARTICIPATES? THAT IS, WHAT IS THE PROFILE OF ORGANIZATIONS?
La Via Campesina is the best known international peasant movement in the world, making it the most important social movement of our time. It is organized in nine regions (with the new North Africa/Middle East region in process), on four continents, with the operational secretariat in Harare, Zimbabwe. More than 150 organizations are part of La Via Campesina, from seventy countries. Each member organization will participate in the conference with its delegates and representatives. Around 400 delegates are expected to attend.
HOW WILL THE MST PARTICIPATE IN THE EVENT?
Our region, South America, will have 52 delegates. The MST will have a good representation and will continue to be part of the International Coordination of La Via Campesina.
The MST has been part of La Via Campesina since it began the process of coming together, and the MST has dedicated energy towards building this autonomous, pluralist, multicultural, non-partisan, economically independent movement, which ended up transforming into this great movement.
Many MST hands have contributed to this and at this conference we will remember our dear late Egidio Brunetto [long-time MST leader who helped found La Via Campesina], who contributed so much to building this movement! For us, to globalize the struggle is to globalize hope!
* Edited by Rafael Soriano