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LAB Newsletter 22 May 2012

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The focus this week is on Latin America’s land grab

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23rd May 2012
Dear LAB supporter and friend,

Latin America’s land grab

With the world facing prolonged financial turmoil and food shortages because of the deepening climate crisis, land has become a ‘commodity’. Investors are confident that it will increase in value and give them a good return on their capital.

Our partners all over Latin America are reporting growing foreign interest in purchasing land. Foreign companies are buying it to grow food to export, to plant biofuels, for its timber and as a speculative investment. While it is widely agreed that the region needs some foreign investment, most Latin Americans believe that there must be limits and controls so that it doesn’t destroy local livelihoods.

All this seems self-evident but not, it seems, to the United Nation’s FAO (Food and Agricultural Organisation), which in a recent report claimed that “the land grabbing phenomenon is in its early stages and only found in two large countries: Argentina and Brazil”. Over 100 organisations from 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, who met in Buenos Aires in late March, disagreed. They discovered that FAO only regarded foreign purchases of land to be ‘land-grabbing’ if they were carried out by foreign governments; private investment, it seems, is inherently benign. The social movements disagree and issued a strong rebuttal. Read more.

While President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil is making modest advances on some social issues, land has long been a blind spot. Determined to ‘develop’ Brazil, she fails to realise how important it is for Brazil’s future to preserve biodiversity and to give rural Brazilians tenure over their land. The changes to the forest code, approved by the Brazilian Congress, will give an amnesty to landowners who have illegally cleared forest and will undoubtedly encourage more deforestation in the future. Social movements and environmental organisations have been speaking out loudly, calling on the president to veto the bill. Will she? LAB’s Francis McDonagh says President Dilma will have to take a decision this week. Read more.

The same Congressional lobby that turned the forest code into a landowners’ charter is also blocking an amendment to the Brazilian Constitution that would make properties where slave labour is discovered liable to expropriation. This is not just a rural issue – Bolivian women have been slaving in sweat-shops in the city of Sao Paulo that supply the fashion chain Zara. LAB’s Francis McDonagh explains. Read more.

Brazil’s singers and writers have a long and proud tradition of political engagement. The well-known rapper, Mano Brown is the latest to add his voice to those demanding that the government take action over land. Listen to his interview and hear him rapping. Read more. Another issue that has involved the artistic community is the demand that those responsible for the massacre of Eldorado dos Carajás back in 1996 (when 19 landless peasants were killed in cold blood) be punished. LAB’s Nayana Fernandez looks at the significance of the court decision finally to convict the two military commanders. Read more.

Winning the right to return to your traditional land is only half the battle. ABColombia visits 43 Afro-Colombian communities which after a 12 year struggle have won the title to their land. A huge victory, yes, but serious problems still remain. Read more.

Meanwhile, in Honduras, much state-owned and empty land was earlier occupied by peasants and indigenous communities, often with official encouragement, but land titles were never given. Now, as we reported previously, land in Bajo Aguán is being sold off or simply seized by rich farmers to sow African palm and sugar for bio-fuel. Read more. Elsewhere it is being seized for illegal logging. In both cases, local communities and indigenous groups are displaced, often violently. Details of the long-running disputes are given in an IPS article from 2005. Read more.

In recent days tension has increased because of anti-narcotics activities. The latest flashpoint was the shooting from a helicopter by US and Honduran soldiers of Miskito fishermen, with six deaths. Human rights organisations have expressed outrage. Read more. Berta Cáceres from COPINH gives an impassioned interview to Radio Mundo Real in which she says that the indigenous community is under siege on all fronts. Read more.

Other news

Brazil: Information is finally emerging about the atrocities committed by the secret services during the military dictatorship. Many big private companies collude, with one sugar mill allowing its furnace to be used to incinerate the bodies of political activists killed under torture. We have an interview with Bernardo Kucinski, whose sister was allegedly incinerated in this fashion. Read more.

Colombia: the USA says that within weeks US military personnel will operate from a military base there with the newly-formed Vulcan Task Force. Read more.

Honduras: Two journalists were recently abducted and killed. Read more (in Spanish).

Events

Go to What’s On

Best wishes from

The LAB team