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Mexico: Mayan farmers defeat ‘Gene Giant’ in latest court ruling


First published by Devon G. Peña | Seattle, WA | March 15, 2014

I think Monsanto is about to become to biotech what Enron was to the energy markets.
– A secretive doppelganger in the derivatives market

The State of Campeche was named after the ancient classic Maya city-state of Ah Kin Pech (Canpech). The State is located in the southwestern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico. This remains some of the most remote wild, self-willing land in México. The entire region has a relatively sparse, mostly city- and tourism-bound population of around 754,000 (2005 census). This is significantly less than you’ll count in the smallest Mexico City neighborhood.

This is jungle-bound limestone cavern country. Like the nation of Belize, which borders it to the southeast, and the Petén in Guatemala, to the south, Campeche has some amazing beachfront along 404 kilometers (251 miles) of coastline with the Gulf of Mexico to the west and northwest.

The contemporary Mayan heirs of great millennial civilizations are the pivotal inhabitants of this land and everywhere match the state’s rich biodiversity. The great transnational corporation Monsanto just learned this the hard way. A company fabricated out of thin air; based essentially on bits of paper filed somewhere in a secretary of state office in the U.S. less than a half generation ago; this fictive entity that is now considered a person by the delusional Supremes just found out what it is like to go up against a bunch of deep rooted angry Indians [sic].  Why the anger? Essentially, because Native beekeepers are against the presence of GMOs of any kind in the pollen that bee populations are exposed to.

There is probably nothing quite like finding out you don’t carry much weight in the kind of place where people are born everyday with a deeper history than any form of credit, capital, or patent. Patents don’t matter much to people who participated in the invention of corn, bean, squash, cacao, peanut, avocado, and much more. Monsanto – Mon-Diablo – is less than a bug to them. Millennial civilizations versus capitalist upstarts? I’ll bet with the Natives every time.

But this is exactly what just happened last week when on March 11, a federal judge in Campeche, Mexico ruled in favor of Mayan farmers. The lawsuit, which has been two years in the making, involves efforts by indigenous farmers to ban the planting of Monsanto transgenic soybean crops.

The judge rendered a decision that should shake Monsanto to the core since it has implications that could actually reverberate in U.S. courts in the near future when plant breeders’ and seed savers rights’ become the focus of litigation. Over-ruling a decision by Mexico’s Department of Agriculture (SAGARPA) for issuing a permit allowing for the planting, the judge ruled that the “agency did not give certainty to define indigenous land and territory on their communities” and also failed to establish “an adequate, appropriate and consistent mechanism with their customs and traditions to consider culturally appropriate procedures, taking into account traditional methods for decision making.”

According to press reports in Proceso No.1950 (Mar 11, 2014) the court “determined that the effective protection of indigenous rights requires the exercise of certain human rights of a procedural nature, mainly the access to information, participation in decision-making and access to ensure justice.” Specifically, the judge ruled in favor of plaintiff’s arguments highlighting the violation of the right to free, prior and informed consultation protected by Article 2 of the Mexican Constitution and Convention 169 of the ILO (International Labor Organization), a legally binding international instrument open to ratification, which deals specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.  Mexico ratified ILO 169 on May 9, 1990. The US, of course, has not ratified this convention.

Rosa Santana, writing for Proceso, explains that the judge agreed with plaintiffs counsel that at the time of granting approval of the permit, the General Directorate of Environmental Impact and Risk of SEMARNAT (Mexico’s EPA) violated the procedure laid down in its own Rules of Procedure while ignoring three binding opinions of the National Commission of the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity (CONABIO), the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP), and National Institute of Ecology (INE), which advised against planting genetically modified soy in marked polygons. Plaintiffs argued that even though the suit was filed by only two communities in Holpechén, to define the scope of the judgment, and an advanced the interpretation of Articles 1 and 2 of the Constitution, the judge clearly determined that the effects of the same applied to all municipalities affected by the permit and so a statewide ban was issued for the state of Campeche. Consequently, for now SAGARPA has an obligation to ensure that only non-transgenic soybean is planted in the state.

Monsanto Roundup Corn. Artwork courtesy of Morral Campesino.“If Sagarpa plans to reactivate the permit in the state, will have to meet two prerequisites: a new opinion that considers environmental impact reviews of Conabio, Conanp, and INE, and a process of free, prior and informed consultation of all Mayan communities settled in the affected municipalities with permission, in accordance with the highest standards of protection of human rights and rights of indigenous peoples.” Thus it appears that Mexican courts are establishing the legal precedent that some treaties matter more than NAFTA sidebars and in this case ILO (OIT) Convention 169 requires a form of consultation with and protection of indigenous cultures and rights. This allows tribal [sic] communities to exercise veto power over these rulings if due process rights have been violated. The ruling is clearly endorsing the “right of the Mayan people to be consulted and [to] decide on the projects to be implemented in their communities and their country.”

Santana further reports that in the plaintiff’s note this is a “historic resolution” and represents an opportunity to search for options that are compatible with the environment and cultural practices in the region: “The policy of monoculture, it has become evident, is harmful not only for the environment but for the economy and the majority of the inhabitants of the peninsula, affecting practices as important as beekeeping,” the plaintiffs noted, and

This is for the good of all the Mayan communities, since the government can not deny the voice of an ancient culture. We hope that this ruling as well as the planting of GMOs in Campeche stop, action brought against the tremendous deforestation currently suffering in the mountains of the interior of the state, which is where we live and we eat, besides the excessive use pesticides that affect our health and environment.

The Mayan plaintiffs believe this ruling is consistent with other recent Mexican court decisions, including the October ruling in the case of Acción Colectiva v. Monsanto that are effectively challenging the pro-transgenic public policies promoted by the previous federal government.  In addition, the District Courts in Chiapas and Yucatan must solve two other shelters that had beekeepers associations and communities of both entities, and it is expected that the decision in favor of the two Mayan communities sets a precedent for the trial of Collective Action against introduction of transgenic maize in Mexico.

These cases may also have implications for U.S. tribes and First Nations in Canada since they too are granted special sovereign powers in the management of natural, cultural, and historical resources under various acts and laws as well as under executive orders. This is getting interesting.

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