“Spring without Monsanto” is the slogan of a new campaign launched last week, in time for the turn of spring, in Malvinas Argentinas, a municipality in the province of Córdoba.
Last Thursday, environmental activists and residents of this municipality ran a big event, inviting artists, scientists, and human rights organisations to a stop on route 88, where Monsanto, a global agricultural corporation specialising in genetically modified (GM) crops, is building Latin America’s biggest seed plant.
The event brought over 2,000 people together, with participants from the provinces of Córdoba and Buenos Aires, as well as visitors from other countries, such as Colombia and Brazil.
As the festival organisers were afraid of possible obstacles by the provincial government and Monsanto itself, they set up an encampment at the company’s entrance on Wednesday night to ensure the event would take place as planned. Since then, the encampment has remained in place, expanding into a “selective roadblock.”
Celina Molina, from the organisation ‘Malvinas Assembly Fights for Life’ told The Indy: “Our objective was to make the fight against Monsanto visible, to demand enforcement of the [environmental] law, scientific studies, and a public audience.”
The rapid expansion of Argentina’s agricultural sector – particularly the soy industry – has created tensions along the agricultural frontier, with disputes over territory, particularly in northern Argentina, resulting in violence and repression of peasant farmers and indigenous communities.
The controversial decision to build Monsanto’s plant in Malvinas Argentinas came just a few days after an unprecedented trial on the excessive use of agrochemicals that took place in August 2012 in Ituzaingó Anexo, also in the province of Córdoba. After a decade of legal struggles, a group of mothers convinced that excessive use of chemicals on nearby soy fields was behind high levels of disease and deformations in the town, received vindication in a court ruling that condemned two agricultural workers to a three-year suspended sentence for contamination.
However, in the same month as the historic verdict was delivered, the national government also approved the use of new GM seeds, including new soybean and corn varieties, the latter of which will be “conditioned” in the plant in Malvinas Argentinas, due to be inaugurated in 2014.
Monsanto denies any risks of contamination, claiming that it promotes “sustainable agriculture”. However, social media campaigns like Millones contra Monsanto (Millions against Monsanto) and Fuera Monsanto (Go away Monsanto) have emerged in Argentina, gathering thousands of volunteers who organise regular marches, conferences, and seminars, spreading information on agrochemicals around the country. The anti-Monsanto movement has received a lot of support from other environmental movements, like anti-fracking, anti-mining, and others.
Molina lives in Malvinas Argentinas and is very concerned about the current situation: “We are not given these basic rights and no one can guarantee there will be no impact on our health”. She and other protesters are demanding that a referendum is held to give local residents the chance to make their own decision on the new plant.
She says she doesn’t like to use the word “roadblock” to describe the current protest, opting instead for “selective manifestation” as the idea is to limit further progress on construction works without harming the workers. “We let workers pass as we understand they need this job to feed their families”, continues Molina and adds: “This measure is very strong, but we’ve already done everything we could by informing the local population about the risks and filing the lawsuits against Monsanto.”
So far, protesters say neither the government or Monsanto have offered dialogue. “We knew it would be hard,” Molina confesses. “We were not used to this struggle, and we basically didn’t know anything about Monsanto.”
The assembly says they ran a survey among local residents some time ago and determined that over 60% were against Monsanto’s presence in the vicinity. “Unfortunately, only 5% take to the streets,” Molina adds.
Those that are there say the ‘selective roadblock’ doesn’t have an end date, with volunteers planning to “keep up the fight” until their demands are met. All updates and information about the protest and further events can be found on two Facebook pages, here and here.