Interview with Diego Montón: The Peasant Way, building food sovereignty and defending natural resources with Socialism as the horizon

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By: Marcelo Otero / / The Dawn / October 24, 2015


October 16 was designated by the La Vía Campesina (Peasant’s Way – International Peasant’s Movement) as a day of active struggle and confrontation with the spread of multinational corporations. We chatted about this and other topics with Diego Montón, member of the National Indigenous Farmer Movement (Movimiento Nacional Campesino Indígena, MNCI) and representative of the Latin American Coordination of Movements (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo, CLOC).


What is the history of October 16? Why did you choose that day to highlight the fight against transnational companies?

In 1979, as part of the international conference of the FAO, the World Food Day was proclaimed, with the goal of raising the issue of hunger, but within the framework of the “Green Revolution”. Thus, FAO encouraged and promoted public policies that, with the alleged goal of ending hunger, have intensified the offensive of transnational corporations in agriculture, privatization and land concentration.

The creation of the La Vía Campesina International was intended to dispute those tendencies, because clearly the FAO significantly influences the agricultural policies worldwide. Thus, at the Global Food Summit of 1996, where the FAO insisted with the proposal of Food Safety, La Vía Campesina counter-proposed Food Sovereignty. With this goal we launched an international campaign to denounce the role of transnational companies in agriculture and as main cause of the food crisis, and we established our ethical horizon: the right of the peoples to define their agro-alimentary systems, and the Peasant Agriculture as the true solution to hunger. This can only be possible through an Integral and Popular Agrarian Reform, that puts lands back on the table as a social need for the peoples.


Today we have given important steps in the FAO, which already recognizes the strategic role of peasant farming and agroecology in the struggle against food crisis. Apart from the need for the democratization of land, which was embodied in our Voluntary Guidelines on Land, Water and Forests. This creates ample room for national struggles regarding public agrarian policy.


The transnational corporations have played a significant role in the expansion of capitalism in America Latina, as we can see when we go back to the history of the hold that the United Fruit Company had on the Central American States at the beginning of the XIX century, or the lands controlled and devastated by the English Forestal Land, Timber and Railways Company Limited in the North of Argentina, or, closer in time, the intervention of the ITT Corporation in the overthrow of the people’s President Salvador Allende. What is the role of corporations in the Latin American politics today?

They are, in part, the materialisation of financial capital. In the agricultural sector, they represent the perspective of the capitalist development on the land. They push forward to submit agriculture and natural resources to the speculative logic of the international bank. They do so by privatising and mercantilism of food and by imposing (violently, but also by a cultural and ideological battle) a technological package based on monoculture, transgenics and agrotoxics. It is a model highly dependant on the international market and its ups and downs. It is not at all sustainable, it destroys local markets, affects health of peasants and urban consumer, and decimates biological diversity, threatening the development of future generations.


On the environmental level, we can see that corporations have built a strong ability to avoid or manipulate State control, as is demonstrated by the resistance Chevron opposed to the sanctions of the State of Ecuador or the recent news of Volkswagen’s evasion of controls. What are the tools of the popular movements against this?

There is a whole international legal architecture, established during Neoliberalism through the WTO and NAFTA, which offers a shield for corporations against national laws. That is, they build a way to protect the capital from the actions of the people. Corporations managed to weave that global jurisprudence that gives them major advantages, so the struggle for sovereignty and strengthening of national States is essential at this stage. Because many environmental demands of the States have been aborted by counterclaims of these companies before the ICSID.

That is also why the open front against vulture funds in the UN and the treaty process on transnationals and human rights within the Human Rights Council of the UN are essential.


What is the position of the MNCI regarding the installation of Monsanto in Córdoba and Barrick Gold in San Juan, Argentina?

We fight against all transnational corporations and their attempt to subordinate and condition our economy. We sympathize with the people of Malvinas Argentinas town (in Córdoba, Argentina) and have done everything we could to accompany their struggle. And we have celebrated every victory that their heroic struggle has achieved.

Against Barrick Gold, the MNCI has also accompanied the struggle of the people of San Juan. The jobs that the company had promised were a lie. The State didn’t even receive much money for the devastation —merely a 3% of the profit… of the amount that Barrick Gold declares. For that, we got irreversibly polluted water. It is obvious that this model needs to be reformulated.

It is urgent to debate the nationalization of mineral resources and a policy based on national sovereignty and on the needs of our people.


The National government has maintained over the last years a policy of openness to Monsanto and, from the Ministry of Science and Technology, to the development of transgenic research. Recently there were two presidential announcements by Cristina Kirchner of two transgenic inventions: genetically modified soybean and potato. How do these policies impact on the development of a popular economy?

It’s a cultural and ideological battle to be given in all scenarios. Facing the challenges of our highly dependent economies, with the feet and the heart next to the most humble, to understand their priorities and needs, and to be able propose transition policies consistent and ethical in terms of that perspective; that is what popular economy is about, because it has the potential to produce and create jobs, under a logic different from that of capital.


We have been making great efforts for this, that is why we created Agro-ecology schools in several provinces and we developed agro-ecological territories around the country. We even created our own university, the Peasant University (Universidad Campesina, UNICAM) of the the Rural Indigenous-peasant University Systems (Sistemas Universitarios Rurales Indocampesinos, SURI) network. We want to multiply and develop agroecology, which is an essential philosophical and technological component of food sovereignty.

The struggle for indigenous peasant land, the return to the farm from the cities, they are all struggles in the same direction. Also the development of public policies and new institutions, that strengthen family agriculture and the presence of the peasant voice in the debate arenas of public policy.

That is, to take the contradictions inside the State, strengthening at the same time the struggles of the territory. The debate on the Law of Seeds is a clear example, we debate it in the communities, in the towns and in the institutions. And this is possible in the current juncture that, although it emerged thanks to the popular resistance and struggle, Kirchnerism included popular struggles inside the administration. The best scenario for our struggle is democracy. Of course, we have the challenge of continuing to increase participation and progressing towards a participative and plebeian democracy.


In the context of an imperialist / corporative advance, what is the incidence of a regional articulation like the  Latin American Coordination of Movements (CLOC)? What are your tools against that offensive?

In the context of multiple crises, the class struggle worldwide deepens and internationalism acquires a huge moral and ethical value in the struggle of peoples. Solidarity, humanism and the possibility of global strategies to fight against capital and imperialism are the necessary response to an offense that is becoming more aggressive and inhuman each day.

In Latin America they intend to install the idea of ​​an end of cycle and we depend on our ability to articulate regional and Latin American struggles, so that class struggle takes us forward, with more integration, deepening the political transformation, and building cultural, economic and political conditions in order to advance in sovereignty, independence and social justice of our Latin American conditions. Organizations and continental networks have a major challenge in this regard. To disarm dogmatism and personalities, to build unity through mobilization and continental campaigns for integration, against FTAs ​​and corporations, for the releasing of  political prisoners, the closing of Guantanamo, against pesticides, in defense of native seeds, etc.

In this context the struggle for Food Sovereignty and Integral and Popular Agrarian Reform throughout the continent is pressing, and from there the Via Campesina – CLOC brings the power and voice of peasants, indigenous peoples, blacks and peasants, with the prospect of the unity of the country and the city with Socialism as our horizon.


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