Bush-MNC onslaught on Latin America (10/3/2007)

GM WATCH comment: As Bush headed into Latin America this week, 2007 was being heralded by his Administration as the "year of engagement" for the United States in Latin America.

EXTRACTS: "Bush is coming to Brazil as a messenger boy for the multinational companies..." (item 4)

"The CNA was joined in its petition to the agriculture secretary to vacate the ban on growing genetically-modified corn by the National Association of Supermarkets and Retail Stores which is controlled by the US transnational Wal-Mart..." (item 1)

"We have 80 million hectares in the Amazon that are going to be converted into the Saudi Arabia of biodiesel" (item 3)

1.Mexico: The plot against maize
2.Colombia approves GM corn
3.Snubbing Chavez and Seducing Brazil Are Two Sides of Same Bush Game
4.Brazilians protest Bush visit
5.Clashes with Police and 22 Injured in Anti-Bush Protests
1.The plot against maize
John Ross 
Latinamerica Press, Mar 7 2007

Big biotechnology firms take advantage of corn crisis to force farmers to purchase genetically-modified seeds.

World corn prices are currently at an all-time high due to burgeoning interest in ethanol production as a petroleum substitute. In Mexico the price of corn has been pushed upwards by the cost of diesel and petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides despite the fact that Mexico is a major oil producer.

Crop failures due to drought, flooding, and even ice storms have contributed to the price surge. But whatever the immediate causes, the dismantlement of government agricultural programs and the brutal impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have deepened the Mexican corn production crisis.

Competing with highly subsidized US farmers is driving Mexican farmers into bankruptcy. Guaranteed prices for farmers' crops is a thing of the past in Mexico, while corporate corn growers in the United States can receive up to US$21,000 an acre in subsidies from their government, enabling them to dump their corn over the border. The impact of this inundation has been to force 6 million farmers and their families to abandon their plots and leap into the migration stream, according to a 2004 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace study.

Problem will only worsen

This assault on poor farmers down at the bottom of the food chain will be exacerbated at the end of this year when all tariffs on US corn are abolished.

President Felipe Calderon seeks to tame tortilla price hikes, such as one early this year, by importing up to 2 million duty free tons to augment what Mexican farmers can or cannot produce. Such a solution is guaranteed to drive more farmers off the land. Even worse is that much of the new influx of NAFTA corn will be transgenic.

The environmental group Greenpeace estimates that of the 36 million tons of corn Mexico has imported from the US over the past six years, 40 to 60 percent is genetically-modified. The group reasons that US producers, barred from dealing genetically-modified corn in Europe and Japan are using Mexico as a dumping ground for the grain.

Transgenic corn began pouring into Mexico in 1998. By 2001 it was being detected in the remote sierras of the Oaxaca and Puebla states, where maize was first domesticated 7,000 years ago. Both BT and Starlink strains (Monsanto and Novartis brands) were found in Oaxaca’s Sierra de Juarez in 2001 and 2002.

Although Mexico imports millions of tons of transgenic corn, it remains a crime here to plant genetically modified seed.

In 1998, the National Biosecurity Commission, an interdisciplinary body that involves the health and agricultural secretariats, declared a moratorium on planting genetically modified corn until its impacts could be determined, and the ban remains in place although under heavy attack from big biotechnology and agricultural firms.

To keep the industry at bay, the Biosecurity commission now grants permits for "experimental" stations where the grain can be grown under government supervision - the Monsanto corporation is now testing its "YieldGuard" brand corn on hundreds of hectares in Sinaloa state, the most prolific corn-producing state in Mexico.

A spillover of YieldGuard in Sinaloa could contaminate a big chunk of the existing corn supply.

Although more and more licenses are issued every year for experimental planting, producers groups are now threatening to plant genetically-modified corn without government permission. "If the moratorium is not relaxed, we will start planting the transgenic corn in the spring cycle" warns Perfecto Solis, director of the US-Mexican agricultural giant Corn Products Systems.

But big corn growers have been sewing transgenic maize without government permission for years. Roberto Gonzalez Barrera, "El Rey de la Tortilla," or "The Tortilla King," whose Maseca-Gruma company, rules the corn flour and tortilla market, once boasted that he had thousands of hectares under transgenic corn.

During the administration of the now-reviled Carlos Salinas (1988-94), Gonzalez Barrera Gonzalez began marketing an instant corn flour mix milled from both genetically modified and natural corn.

Large agricultural companies are already petitioning the Biosecurity Commission to permit widespread planting in 2007.

"Bio-tech is the only solution to growing more corn and keeping the tortilla affordable," advises Jaime Yesaki, director of the National Agriculture and Livestock Council or CNA the principal agro-business federation in the country.

The CNA was joined in its petition to the agriculture secretary to vacate the ban on growing genetically-modified corn by the National Association of Supermarkets and Retail Stores which is controlled by the US transnational Wal-Mart, which is now Mexico's number one retailer of tortillas and other foodstuffs and, with 700 mega-stores, the nation's largest employer.
2.Colombia approves GM corn
Lisbeth Fog

Colombia has allowed genetically modified (GM) corn to enter its borders for the first time, and will authorise plantations of other GM products later in the year.

The Colombian Institute of Agriculture (ICA) approved one hundred kilograms of GM corn for import last month, half of which is resistant to a herbicide and the other half to insects.

Andres F. Arias, from the Ministry of Agriculture, says growers from four regions of Colombia - Cordoba, Huila, Sucre and Tolima - will be allowed to buy the seeds.

Ana Luisa Diaz, of ICA, told SciDev.Net that authorisation has been given only to regions where the Institute has done controlled biosafety assessments.

The ICA will conduct follow-up biosafety studies of the seed from planting until harvest.

The ICA later approved the import of two other varieties of GM corn, both resistant to insects, for use in the Caribbean region of the country. The quantity imported will based on the interest expressed by farmers in the region.

At a meeting this week (3 March) Arias also announced approval of semi-commercial plantations of GM cassava, rice, roses, sugarcane and coffee later this year, with commercial approval to be granted in 2008.

But some are concerned about the developments. German Velez, from the non-governmental organisation Grupo Semillas says, "The biosafety policies and rules in this country are nonsense."

Velez is concerned that the GM products will cross-pollinate and therefore alter the natural species of these plants. He pointed to a case in Mexico, where he says natural corn has been contaminated by GM corn.

"These technologies have been designed for big agricultural companies and won't benefit the poor," he said. However, he acknowledged that studies have not yet determined GM products' effect on human health.

Arias defended GM products, saying they increase crop production per hectare and therefore boost farmers' incomes while reducing pressure on natural ecosystems.

Osiris Ocando, from Agro-Bio, a non-profit organisation, applauded the government's decision. She hoped Colombian farmers could make use of a wide variety of GM corn seeds, as it is "essential that the Colombian agricultural sector is able to use modern technology to enhance its competitiveness". Colombia is one of the 22 countries to have planted GM seeds. Of its cotton plantations, 41 per cent (22.7 hectares) are the GM variety Bt.
3.Snubbing Chavez and Seducing Brazil Are Two Sides of Same Bush Game       
Raul Zibechi    
Brazzil, 09 March 2007  [extracts only]

George W. Bush's trip to Latin America this month is the most ambitious attempt to reposition the United States in the region since the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas died in Mar del Plata in November of 2005. The trip, which includes Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico, Guatemala, and Colombia has a dual purpose: to counteract the growing influence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in the region and to form a strategic alliance with Brazil for the production of ethanol. Although it may not appear on the surface, the two objectives are profoundly related.

"We have 80 million hectares in the Amazon that are going to be converted into the Saudi Arabia of biodiesel," affirmed the Brazilian engineer Expedito Parente to the newspaper O Globo.

In Colombia, with his friend Alvaro Uribe, Bush will seek to strengthen Plan Colombia given Correa's recent announcement that Ecuador will not renew the agreement to allow the U.S. military base in Manta - a key piece of the Pentagon's strategy in the region.
4.Brazilians protest Bush visit
March 9 2007

SAO PAULO - Landless farmers invaded a mine, a bank and other corporate property in Brazil on Wednesday to protest the impact of big companies on the poor and US President George W Bush's upcoming visit to Latin America's largest nation.
Protesters, most of them women from the Via Campesina farmworkers movement, briefly shut down an iron ore mine, invaded an ethanol distillery and took over the Rio de Janeiro offices of Brazil's National Development Bank on the eve of Bush's visit.

Fresh graffiti reading "Get Out, Bush! Assassin!" in bright red letters popped up along busy highways near the locations in Sao Paulo where Bush will appear as he begins a Latin American tour that also includes stops in Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

Bush says the United States does not get much credit for its generosity in the poverty-ridden Latin American region and plans during his tour to emphasise US programmes of health care, housing aid and job creation for the poor.

On Wednesday, Bush said US aid to Latin America has gone from US$800 million to US$1,6 billion - "and yet we don't get much credit for it" - during an interview with CNN en Espanol.

Protest leaders in Brazil plan to draw as many as 15 000 people for a three-kilometre march today before Bush arrives in South America's largest city to forge an ethanol energy alliance with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Bush has spoken approvingly of Brazil's ethanol programme, which converts sugar cane to fuel and powers eight out of every 10 new Brazilian cars.

The proposed accord would develop standards to help turn ethanol into an internationally traded commodity, and to promote sugar cane-based ethanol production in Central America and the Caribbean to meet rising international demand.

Joao Pedro Stedile, leader of the powerful Landless Rural Workers' Movement that helped organise Wednesday's protests, condemned the ethanol pact.

"Bush is coming to Brazil as a messenger boy for the multinational companies, the agribusiness companies, the oil companies and the automobile companies that want to control the biofuels," Stedile said.

Organisers denounced foreign investment in the vast sugarcane fields that are used to produce Brazil's ethanol.

5.Clashes with Police and 22 Injured in Anti-Bush Protests in Brazil    [extracts only]        
Brazzil, 09 March 2007 

A caravan of 40 vehicles with members of the Secret Service and Brazilian security forces escorted the armored presidential limousines specially flown in from the United States for the occasion.

Hours before at Avenida Paulista, Sao Paulo's main avenue, riot police fired tear gas at protesters and beat them with batons after more than 6,000 people held a largely peaceful march, sending hundreds of demonstrators fleeing and ducking into businesses to avoid the gas.

Authorities did not immediately report any injuries, but Brazilian media said at least 22 people were hurt after marching two miles through the financial heart of South America's largest city.

Presidents Bush and Lula agenda for early morning Friday includes biofuels, particularly ethanol, of which the two countries are responsible for 70% of the world's production. Both countries are intent in a strategic alliance to promote alternative fuels and produce ethanol in African and Latinamerican countries.

The security operation to protect President Bush, the largest ever organized by Brazil involved 4.0000 members from the Armed Forces and police, an estimated 250 US Secret Service plus all the air and land logistics.

From Brazil late Friday President Bush and the whole display of security will be flying to Uruguay for the second leg of the Latinamerican trip that also includes Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico.

Huge protest demonstrations have been planned or are on course in all cities to be visited by President Bush who is particularly unpopular in the region because of the Iraq war, the US "imperialist attitude" and the soaring economic gap between rich and poor countries.


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