Monday, February 20, 2012

WNU #1118: Monsanto GMOs to Start Occupying Mexico

Weekly News Update on the Americas
Issue #1118, February 19, 2012

1. Mexico: Monsanto to Start Commercial GMO Planting
2. Argentina: Government Launches Pro-Mining Campaign
3. Puerto Rico: Thousands Protest Gas Pipeline
4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Caribbean

ISSN#: 1084 922X. Weekly News Update on the Americas covers news from Latin America and the Caribbean, compiled and written from a progressive perspective. It has been published weekly by the Nicaragua Solidarity Network of Greater New York since 1990. It is archived at For a subscription, write to  Follow us on Twitter at

*1. Mexico: Monsanto to Start Commercial GMO Planting
After a decade of small-scale experimental planting [see Update #1080], biotech multinationals are now free to start commercial development of transgenic corn in Mexico. On Dec. 31 the government’s Secretariat of Agriculture, Cattle Raising, Rural Development, Fishing and Food (Sagarpa) quietly lifted the last barrier to the use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) for corn sold to consumers. The Missouri-based biotech giant Monsanto will lead the way by sowing 63 hectares in the northern state of Sinaloa, to be followed with genetically modified corn in other northern states: Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Sonora.

Sowing in Tamaulipas will begin a little later, bringing the total land under cultivation to 1,000 hectares, and commercial production is eventually to include some 2 million hectares. Other multinationals—Bayer AG, Dow Chemical Company, Pioneer Hi-Bred (owned by DuPont) and Syngenta AG)—apparently will be involved in the project, with public relations handled by a Mexican firm, AgroBIO México. The left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada devoted a three-part series, starting on Feb. 13, to the change in policy; otherwise it seems to have received little coverage in the media.

As with the experimental planting over the past decade, the commercial transgenic corn will be grown mostly in the relatively arid north, where the government claims there are few native varieties of corn at risk of being contaminated. Corn diversity is a major concern in Mexico, where the crop was first cultivated; the country now has 52 to 70 different varieties. But even the small quantity of experimental transgenic corn that was grown under controlled conditions in the north may have spread as far as the southern state of Oaxaca. Evidence of transgenic corn was found there as early as 2000, according to a 2001 article in the US journal Nature by University of California Berkeley microbiologist Ignacio Chapela and then-graduate student David Quist. The biotech industry responded with a campaign to discredit the article and its authors, but the main contention was confirmed by a later study.

GMO proponents claim the benefits of transgenic crops outweigh the threat to biodiversity. Elena Álvarez Bullya, a biologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and president of the Union of Socially Committed Scientists, counters that the industry has had 20 years to prove that it could dramatically improve food production. “Globally, there are more hungry people than there were two decades ago,” she told La Jornada. She noted that in the US transgenic planting is becoming more costly as weeds develop resistance to the herbicide glyphosate (sold by Monsanto as Roundup); one of the benefits of transgenic crops was supposed to be that the herbicide could be used on weeds without harming the crops. The industry “wants to present itself as leading edge,” Álvarez Bullya said, “but it’s already an obsolete technology.” (LJ 2/13/12, ___, 2/14/12)

In other news, authorities in the southwestern state of Guerrero reportedly found human remains in San Luis la Loma, Tecpan de Galeano municipality, on Feb. 16 that might be those of Eva Alarcón Ortiz and Marcial Bautista Valle, environmental activists who were kidnapped on Dec. 7 [see Update #1116]. As of Feb. 18 there had been no official confirmation, and Javier Monroy Hernández, the coordinator of the Community Development Workshop (Tadeco), said human rights organizations were skeptical about the report. Ortiz and Bautista are leaders in the Organization of Ecologist Campesinos of the Sierra de Petatlán and Coyuca de Catalán (OCESP), which has been a target for drug traffickers and the authorities since it was started in 1998 to fight deforestation in the Guerrero highlands. (La Jornada de Guerrero 2/19/12)

*2. Argentina: Government Launches Pro-Mining Campaign
In response to a judicial order, on Feb. 16 supporters of open-pit mining at the Bajo de la Alumbrera gold and copper deposit in northwestern Argentina ended a roadblock they had set up in Andalgalá in Catamarca province. The mining supporters began their protest on Feb. 11 after the repression of similar roadblocks that local opponents of mining had set up in several towns and cities in Catamarca and neighboring Tucumán province. Provinicial authorities violently dispersed three of the anti-mining protests on Feb. 8 and Feb. 10, with dozens of protesters arrested or injured [see Update #1117].

Some sources describe the mining supporters in Andalgalá as miners, their families, and suppliers for La Alumbrera. But Radio Popular Che Guevara, a station in the northeastern province of Santa Fe, described the counter-protesters as “a street gang” (“una patota”) that blocked reporters and human rights investigators’ access to the area. On Feb. 12 the mining supporters attacked a delegation sent by the Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ), a human rights organization, and the police only intervened to warn the human rights activists to leave, according to the station. The delegation was followed for 50 km by a van without license plates. Local residents say the counter-protesters also blocked access to residents who opposed the mine, and journalist Gabriel Levinas, a columnist for Radio Mitre and the website, told BBC Mundo that he was kept from entering the area by counter-protesters who had the assent of the police.

Although there seems to be no definite proof of what forces are behind the counter-protest, the national government and various provincial governments have partial ownership or some other financial interest in many mining operations; the mines themselves are largely controlled by foreign multinational corporations.

Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner backs the expansion of open-pit mining, and her center-left faction of the Justicialist Party (PJ, Peronist) has the capacity to mobilize demonstrations through unions and some grassroots organizations. On Feb. 9, as the anti-mining protests were growing, Fernández appeared on a nationally televised program. During the show she spoke by video conferencing with a worker identified only as “Antonio” in the city of Olavarría, in Buenos Aires province. “We mineworkers want to work in peace,” “Antonio” said, “and we don’t want four or five pseudo-environmentalists blocking our roadway.” He insisted there were no environmental dangers: “We’re the ones who know the work best… We’re not suicidal, we want to live, so we’re not going to put ourselves in an unsafe place.” Fernández thanked him and added: “You’re not a political director, you’re a worker defending his source of work.”

The media quickly discovered that “Antonio” was actually Armando Domínguez, secretary general of the Olavarría section of the Mine Workers’ Association (AOM), which is an affiliate of the country’s largest union federation, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT). Domínguez is also vice president of the local Justicialist Party branch.

Journalists like Gabriel Levinas believe the president’s support for mining reflects the government’s need to generate more resources as the country’s deficit grows. Miguel Bonasso, a former legislative deputy and a leader in the political wing of the Montoneros rebel group of the 1960s and 1970s, has accused Fernández herself of having ties with the Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corporation, which is developing the Pascua Lama mine [see Update #1089]. (Adital (Brazil) 2/16/12 from Radio Popular Che Guevara; Página 12 (Argentina) 2/17/12; BBC Mundo 2/17/12; La Razón (Buenos Aires) 2/11/12)

On Feb. 18 Julián Rooney--vice president of the local subsidiary of Swiss-British mining company Xstrata PLC, which operates La Alumbrera—weighed in by denying anti-mining protesters’ charge that the mine uses cyanide in the extraction process. He claimed a study shows that “there are no effects on the health of the people who live around the project.” Rooney admitted that the mining companies had sometimes had failures of communication. (La Nueva Provincia (Bahía Blanca) 2/18/12 from DyN (Agencia Diarios y Noticias))

*3. Puerto Rico: Thousands Protest Gas Pipeline
Thousands of Puerto Ricans marched to La Fortaleza, the governor’s residence in San Juan, on Feb. 19 to protest rightwing governor Luis Fortuño’s plan for a 92-mile, $450-million natural gas pipeline cutting through the island [see Update #1089]. The march included political figures like Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), a US Congress member of Puerto Rican descent, and Puerto Rican senator Alejandro García Padilla, the gubernatorial candidate of the centrist Popular Democratic Party (PPD); environmental activists like Alexis Massol, founder of People’s House (“Casa Pueblo”), which has organized opposition to the pipeline; and youths in street theater acts representing potential dangers of the pipeline, which is popularly known as the “Gasoducto.” A support march was reportedly taking place in New York City at about the same time.

Fortuño insists that the imported gas the pipeline would bring to San Juan is necessary to keep down the cost of electricity, while pipeline opponents say this wouldn’t make up for the dangers of explosions and the damage to farmland, forests and archeological sites that the Gasoducto would create. Opponents also cite the cost of the project and claim that its real purpose is to create business for friends of the governor and of Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner (non-voting representative) to the US Congress.

At the San Juan demonstration, Sen. García Padilla charged that Puerto Rico’s Electric Energy Authority (AEE) has already spent $100 million even though nothing has been built. The senator said the expenses include $20 million for consultants, $3.5 million for publicity, $10.3 million for acquiring houses and vacant lots along the pipeline’s route, and $116,000 on promotional materials like pens and brochures. He demanded that the US Justice Department investigate what he called “the largest misappropriation of funds in the history of Puerto Rico.” (El Nuevo Día (Guaynabo) 2/19/12; Prensa Latina 2/19/12)

*4. Links to alternative sources on: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Haiti, Caribbean

Argentine union to boycott UK ships

Victims of State Terrorism in Argentina No Longer on Their Own

Brazil: Police Allegedly Killed 30 People During Strike

Bolivia’s TIPNIS Conflict: In Search of an Alternative Highway Route

Peru: The Many Faces of Human Rights Terrorism

Ecuador journalist seeks asylum from libel suit

Indigenous Leaders Call for Ecuador Government to Stop Oil Leasing Plans

President Santos and the Question of Land Reform in Colombia (Part II)

Action Alert! Colombian Police Violently Remove Anti-dam Protestors

Venezuela: The Sham that was the Opposition Primaries

Chavista anti-Semitism —again

Honduras: at least 360 killed as prison "time bomb" explodes

Honduras in Flames

Mining Debate in Guatemala Rages On

Interview With Javier Sicilia Part II: Reweaving Mexico’s Social Fabric

Mexico: at least 44 dead in Nuevo León prison riot

Santiago Xanica: A Zapotec Village's Fight for Autonomy in Mexico

Mexico: Tensions Flare over Canadian-owned Mine in Oaxaca

Mexican Students Demand Justice for Protestors Killed by Police

Please Join the Fight to Defend the Labor Rights of Mexican Workers During the International Days of Action -- February 19 - 25!

López Obrador Forms Alliance with Electrical Workers' Union

Stratfor’s Myth in Mexico

New Survey Shows that Residents of Port-au-Prince Want MINUSTAH to Leave and Compensate Victims of Cholera

ALBA Expands its Allies in the Caribbean (Part 1 of 2)

For more Latin America news stories from mainstream and alternative sources:

For immigration updates and events:


Your support is appreciated. Back issues and source materials are available on request. Our weekly Immigration News Briefs has ended publication.

Order The Politics of Immigration: Questions & Answers, from Monthly Review Press, by Update editors Jane Guskin and David Wilson:

No comments: