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Archive for June, 2009

Friends,

The response from this blog to Obama protesting the massacre in Peru earlier this month was stunning. THANK YOU. Here is an update from our friends at the Quixote Center:

 

Thank you again for your strong response to our urgent action alert in response to the June 5th massacre of indigenous protestors in the Peruvian Amazon.   Over 1200 of you sent letters and faxes asking the Obama Administration to denounce the violent repression of peaceful protests organized in response to the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement.

The groundswell of international solidarity in support of the struggle of Peru’s Amazonian indigenous was immediate. Protests organized in Peru and locations around the world helped to prevent further violence.  The UN Special Rapporteur’s Office for Indigenous Rights and the International Federation of Human Rights both sent representatives to Peru and recommended the creation of an independent investigation Commission.

In the aftermath of the massacre, expanding protests forced the government of Peru to negotiate with Indigenous leaders.  Two of the most egregious decrees issued under the U.S-Peru Implementation process were revoked and the Prime Minister of Peru agreed to resign.  Once this agreement was reached, AIDESEP (Inter-ethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Amazon) lifted the barricades in the Amazon.

However, criminal charges are still pending against several Indigenous leaders and negotiations continue regarding the repeal of 9 more decrees and the violation of indigenous rights under the U.S.-Peru FTA.

In a strongly worded “Dear Colleague” letter, Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ) urged members of the House of Representatives to pay close attention to this matter and consider the consequence for indigenous peoples if and when another “Free Trade” agreement is considered by this House.”

Ben Powless, a Mohawk from Six Nations Ontario, Canada, was with AIDESEP leaders in Bagua just after the massacre. To read his powerful story click here:   

The Obama Administration remains silent on the massacre in Peru. 

Next Monday President Obama will receive Colombia’s President Uribe at the White House to discuss passage of the “free trade” agreement with Colombia.  Protests are being organized in D.C. in response to the FTA and this endorsement of a regime responsible for massive human rights violations and acts of corruption.

We will continue to monitor the situation in Peru and will do all we can to make sure that your voices for change are heard here in Washington.   

For the Quixote Center, Jenny

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I just learned of the following news from Fresh Cut Magazine:

 

Monsanto Co. has entered into a collaboration with Dole Fresh Vegetables Inc. to develop new products that will enhance consumer vegetable choices.

The five-year collaboration will focus on broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce and spinach. Plant breeding will be used to improve the nutrition, flavor, color, texture, taste and aroma of these vegetables. Any new products realized from this collaboration could be commercialized by Dole in North America.

“The consumer wins because Dole’s market knowledge combined with our research and development capabilities will help bring new, flavorful, and healthy products to consumers,” said David Stark, vice president of consumer traits at Monsanto. “We are very excited and pleased to bring this focus to our business via this collaboration with Dole and its strong brand.”

“Dole prides itself on innovation and bringing consumers high-quality, nutritious, and great-tasting products,” said Roger Billingsley, senior vice-president of research and development for Dole Fresh Vegetables. “We are looking forward to collaborating closely with Monsanto to do just that.”

 

What more can be said?

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I’m on vacation this week! So it might be quiet on the blog, but I wanted to leave you all with this question: do you think the goals of the Buy Local movement and the Fair Trade movement are more compatible than they are contradictory?

Underneath the slogans and the sound bytes, it seems to me that the goals are about supporting small farmers, sustainable agriculture, local economies, community control, human connections, direct relationships, and a healthy planet.

If that’s so, let’s see those commonalities and work together to build a more transparent, just and democratic food system!

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Miguel PazThe following letter (translated from its original Spanish) was sent to us earlier this week from Miguel Paz, Export Manager for CECOVASA, long-time friend and business partner of Equal Exchange. Click here to read more about a past visit to CECOVASA.

 

Dear Friends,

I’m sending you a few comments from Peru.

Politically, the situation is very interesting. Up until a week ago, the government was taking an offensive position, trying to privatize and sell everything and award the best conditions possible to large national capital interests (planting large areas for agro export and agro industry) because the small farmers and the indigenous that live in these areas “don’t know how to develop them”. As President Alan Garcia said, these “second-class citizens” are like the “farmer’s dog who doesn’t eat or let anyone else eat.”

 

Using their control over the media and money that they must have received from transnational companies, they have been running a disinformation campaign, telling people that this is good for Peru, that mining investment will result in development, that this is a requirement in order to sign a free trade agreement with the United States. And they have been making progress, to the point that the Awajun-Wampis indigenous population rose up in northeast Bagua.

 
The government’s initial strategy was to ignore the demands, try to wait them out, then let the tenant farmers in the jungle (including coffee growers) turn against the indigenous population because they wouldn’t allow them to enter with food supplies or leave with production. After two months, the police unblocked the highways. It has been confirmed that 24 police officers and 10 indigenous have been killed and almost 150 people have been disappeared. There have been so many police officers killed because they were sent to be killed and the indigenous have military training and a long tradition of struggle. The tenant farmers helped them when the forced evacuation occurred. The government took a risk and criminalized the protest and then united the country against the “savages that kill the poor police officers.” Subsequently, in other areas where protests occurred, more radical methods were used and the protests moved to other parts of the country, including Lima (for the first time in many years, students went to the streets to march against the government). Eventually the government had to retract some of the controversial laws, but others have been left intact and this means that there is room for the problems to continue.

 

The situation has now calmed down, but it could become very complicated if there is not an adequate response. The farmer is very scared of the dogs.

 

In Peru, incredible things happen. A week ago, the government joined with the right and with Fujimori supporters to approve the “Law of the jungle”. Now it is trying to get these same people to repeal the law. The minister that said that these laws were necessary in order to be a part of the free trade agreement, now says that there is no risk in losing the agreement.

In the month of March, the Ministry of Education took a poll in which .1% approved and now they say that in another poll, 75% was approved. Additionally the daughter of ex-President Fujimori is leading the electoral polls.

 
Another important topic is that the government, by way of SUNAT (the national revenue service), intervened with the Panamericana television station because it wanted to collect on a debt of more than 100 million Peruvian sols. After 48 hours it had been determined that the situation would be handled by another agency due to insolvency. Then the judicial system made a resolution turning the station over to a former administrator who had received US$10 million from the Fujimori government.

 

The coffee situation is, in part, complicated by prices that continue to drop and by the fact that some clients are waiting to buy, hoping that they will drop even further. There are few remaining buyers from Colombia in Northeastern Peru (Jaen, Bagua, Amazonas). The differentials for conventional coffee (22 defects) from Peru are between +2 and +15. A separate issue is a drop in production. Cecovasa could see a reduction of as much as 50%. Very little coffee is being brought to the collection centers.

 

A final note: On June 5th, Cecovasa won a national BioTrade competition in the category for businesses. This happened on the same day that police officers and indigenous people were killed in Bagua. We went to the Palace to receive the award and we circulated a press release a week later.

 

We will continue to be in touch.

 

Miguel Paz

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The TRADE Act, one of the few positive trade bills to come before Congress in a long time, could be voted on ANY DAY now. Our friends at the American Friends Service Committee have sent out this alert. Please take a moment to call your representatives and ask them to cosponsor the bill. It’s truly one of the few times you can call IN SUPPORT of something that will really improve the livelihoods of people on both sides of the border, protect labor rights and the environment. How often do you get that opportunity? Please call today! Below, the AFSC does a great job of summarizing the bill’s key points and reasons to advocate for its passage.

 

Click here to see a web version of this alert or access background materials

 

TAKE ACTION: Change the future of trade policy!

 

Last year, with your support, over 80 members of the U.S. House and Senate cosponsored landmark legislation setting forth a progressive vision for future trade agreements.  The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act is a positive bill that outlines a trade agenda that will support livelihoods and development in both rich and poor countries.

 

Your help is needed now to urge your congressional members to once again cosponsor the 2009 TRADE Act.  This groundbreaking initiative will likely be reintroduced next week and it needs as many original cosponsors as possible.  The bill has already won the support of hundreds of faith, farm, labor and environmental groups.  The more cosponsors the TRADE Act has when reintroduced, the more momentum we will gain for a fair trade agenda. 

 

 

Call your two U.S. representatives
and urge her/him to be an original cosponsor of the 2009 House TRADE Act.

 Call the Capitol Switchboard (212) 224-3121
 Click here to find your representative.   

 

Background: 

 

The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act was first put forward in the 110th session by Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Mike Michaud.  AFSC together with other faith-based organizations requested changes to that bill that reflect our values and Mr. Michaud’s office incorporated almost all of them!

With your help, the future of trade policy can be shaped today.

A Balanced Way to Expand Trade

 

  • The TRADE Act maps out a fair path forward, explaining what we care about in a good agreement. 
  • It lays out the blueprint for how we can fix the existing model, showing what a responsible pacts would look like, and the procedures needed to get us there.
  • The bill shifts the debate towards discussing a new and improved globalization model.
  • It moves beyond repeatedly fighting against expansions of failed policies, and sets a marker for where new discussion should start later this year.

 

Answering Failed Policies of the Past

 

  • Pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Peru Free Trade Agreement have not met up to their basic promises. 
  • These agreements should be serving a majority of people on issues such as wages, public health, the environment, human rights, food and consumer safety and access to essential services. 
  • Instead, these “free trade” policies have come at great costs.  The price we’ve paid in offshoring of jobs, downward pressure on wages, and damage to our environment and loss of family farms is far too great. 

 

The Purpose of the Trade Act

 

  • This initiative sets forth what we are for – shutting down the bogus claim that we oppose trade or have no alternative vision because we oppose these old failed agreements of the past.
  • This bill sets forth concrete ways to push our shared conviction that trade and investment are not ends unto themselves, but must also serve as a means for achieving greater societal goals.
  • This bill also serves as a litmus test.  By seeing who cosponsors — and who does not — we know who our trade champions are in the future.

 

 

Call the Capitol Switchboard TODAY

(212) 224-3121

 

For more information, click here.

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Our coffee co-op partner, CECOVASA has just received an award for the impact their work has had on promoting and protecting bio-diversity in the region.  The award was presented to them by Alan Garcia Perez, President of Peru.  We have just received the following press release about this impressive accomplishment which we have translated below from its original Spanish. For more information about CECOVASA, click here.

 

CECOVASA WINS NATIONAL BIOTRADE PRIZE

On World Environment Day

 

On June 5 at the National Palace, Cecovasa was awarded first place in the category for businesses dedicated to biotrade. This competition was organized by the Ministry of Environment and participants included 152 different businesses and communities located in 19 regions around the country. Cecovasa won the prize in the category for businesses, the Junín Pablo de Ucayali community and the San Juan Bautista (Loreto) municipality won prizes in the categories for communities and local governments, respectively. The prize was awarded by the Peruvian President in the presence of the Minister of Environment, Ambassadors, Congress people, and hundreds of intellectuals and individuals that are well known for their defense of the environment and promotion of sustainable businesses.

 

The Minister of Environment, Antonio Brack, said that this is the first time that the competition is being held. He said that Peru has a rich biodiversity that allows for the country to generate wealth and move its people out of poverty.

 

The President (though we don’t believe it) said the following: “the environment is a fundamental issue for the future and, therefore, a fundamental issue for the government.”  The Chief of State, Alan Garcia Perez, highlighted the work that is being done by those who promote biodiversity using biotrade and added, “this is included among the government’s objective—the defense of Peru’s biodiversity.” He then said that our country is an “extraordinary bank that allows us for an almost infinite amount of goods, some domesticated throughout history, others built by the original population of Peru, and others in the process of investigation and recognition.”

 

In speaking with the press, Cecovasa president Agustin Mollinedo Trujillo expressed satisfaction for this recognition. “Cecovasa is made up of small producers. We are farmers that work the land; but we are winners. We have an average of 2 hectares ( less than 5 acres) of coffee and we have created the most successful biotrade business in Peru.  Small-scale agriculture is not only possible, it is sustainable when there exists an economy of scales and an effort to reach markets that pay more money and demand higher quality.”  Mr. Mollinedo asserted that, during 2008-2009, exports reached US$14,876,118. Of this amount, US$8,448,958 was generated from sales of organic coffee gathered by the 1,934 members that participate in the Organic and Sustainable Coffee Program.

 

 


 

Upon being asked about the needs of the producers, the Cecovasa President expressed that what is most needed is communication channels that are in good condition. “We spend as many as 18 hours traveling 350 kilometers to transfer coffee from Putina Punco to Juliaca. If the Sina-Yanahuaya highway were built, this trip could be made in 12 hours. Mollinedo congratulated the producers and leaders of the grassroots co-operative, the leaders of the Organic Program, and the Technical Department—especially Leonardo Mamani, head of Projects. The Cecovasa president said, “our members have children who have become professionals and this is providing us with results that are favorable for everyone.”

 

Mr. Leonardo Mamani said that the prize awarded to Cecovasa is in the amount of US$ 15,000, but this has not been given in cash, rather it will be used for trainings and for the purchase of equipment in accordance to the plan that we presented.” Mamani said that in order to achieve this award, we have undergone a rigorous evaluation. “The inspectors traveled to the production zone and saw the work in the fields, the work of the technicians, the work of the cooperatives. The verification process then moved to Lima, where they saw the dry processing that, though it does not belong to us, is in accordance with environmental standards and good treatment of workers. Leonardo concluded, “We are champions in biotrade, we are Cecovasa: Quechua and Aymara coffee from Peru.”



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I just learned about a new documentary, “Bananas” that is supposed to be released this Saturday at the L.A. Film Festival. I say “supposed to be” because even before its official release, the film has hit a nerve for the Dole Food Company, the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world. And they are trying to prevent the Los Angeles Film Festival from showing the film. Read about the controversy in the article, “Dole Food Company dislikes “Bananas” in the June 16th edition of the Los Angeles Times.

 

El Dragón, our friend over at Fair Food Fight has written a great piece with a lot of interesting comments on the subject so I think I will just take the liberty to share his post with all of you here. Do check out Fair Food Fight for more information and commentary on today’s food industry because what’s going on in front of us and behind our backs is affecting every last one of us and in no uncertain terms.

 

Tue, 06/16/2009

 


A new foodumentary, Bananas! (trailer), has Dole Food Co.’s full attention. From the LA Times:

In the eyes of Dole Food Co., [Fredrik] Gertten’s film [Banana’s] is an egregiously flawed document based on what Dole lawyer Scott Edelman calls “a phony story” that has been discredited by the allegedly fraudulent conduct of the L.A. attorney, Juan J. Dominguez, at the film’s center. Dole, the world’s largest producer of fruits and vegetables, is vowing to sue both the filmmaker and the Los Angeles Film Festival for defamation if it screens the movie this week.

Them’s fightin’ words, and one can see Dole’s point of view. After all, Dominguez managed to score a number of court victories against Dole, only to have two of those rulings overturned when it came to light that Dominguez had concocted evidence and testimony.

In a 2007 jury trial before Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victoria G. Chaney, Dole lost and was ordered to pay $1.58 million to four of the dozen Nicaraguans claiming injury in that case, several of whom are depicted in Gertten’s film. Dole is appealing that case.

Then this spring, in a dramatic reversal of events, Chaney threw out two other lawsuits against Dole after being presented by Dole investigators with evidence gathered from Nicaraguans who said that they had been recruited and coached by lawyers, outfitted with false work histories and falsified medical lab reports, and promised payouts to pose as pesticide victims.

In her April 23, 2009 ruling on the case, Chaney said that “the actions of the attorneys in Nicaragua and some of the attorneys in the United States, specifically the Law Offices of Juan Dominguez, have perverted the court’s ability to deliver justice to those parties that come before it.”

“What has occurred here is not just a fraud on this court, but it is blatant extortion of the defendants,” i.e. Dole, the judge said in her ruling. The “plaintiffs’ fraud,” the judge said, “permeates every aspect of this case.”

Goal scored for Goliath.

But while that disclosure taints one lawyer’s legal arguments (and the principle character of Bananas!), it doesn’t undo the reality of the sad situation that Dole and other fruit companies created — or the larger truth of this film. Namely, it doesn’t undo the fact that Dole acknowledges that it used a devastating pesticide (called DBCP and known by friends as “nemagon”) in banana planations in Nicaragua, the Philippines, Honduras, the Ivory Coast, Costa Rica, and other banana-growing countries, and that that pesticide in all likelihood caused sterility in thousands of male banana plantation workers, miscarriages in women, and other serious health effects back into the mid-seventies. Nemagon is an organophosphate and a hormone disruptor and was banned in the United States in 1979, though its use continued in banana-producing countries well into the nineties. It also does not undo the fact that Dow Chemical, the producer of DBCP, said it wouldn’t sell the pesticide to Dole anymore because the chemical was too dangerous, or the fact that Dole threatened Dow Chemical with a breach-of-contract lawsuit if it didn’t keep selling the chemical to the fruit company (from the book Banana by Dan Koeppel). It also ignores the fact that Dole has settled quite a few of these farm worker cases out of court.

Dole is trying to control and create truth by threatening filmmaker Gertten with legal action (and frankly, given the years of bad press generated by these lawsuits, I don’t think it’s a mere threat). Dominguez was just one lawyer, representing some workers in one country. The fact is, there are thousands of farm workers in each of the countries mentioned above who’ve stepped forward to file allegations against Dole. If the company succeeds in shutting down this documentary and preventing it from circulating in film festivals and theaters, the experience of all those farm workers, a generation of them across the planet, and the indignities they suffered for the sake of a fruit company, will also be prevented from being witnessed in America.

(On a side note, the revelations about Dominguez also fail to answer other disturbing allegations against Dole. Please read up on Fair Food Fight’s Screw the Tallyman initiative, and call for an investigation into Dole for allegedly funding Colombian paramilitary groups and driving small banana farmers from their land.)

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