On November 2nd, when the news showed Native Americans and other DAPL protesters get shot by rubber bullets, my mind immediately went to an indigenous group that I had visited in northern Argentina, MOCASE, and their own protesters who showed me the rubber bullet wounds on their chests.
MOCASE is an organization formed with the aim of vindicating the rights of the peasants (farmers), demonstrating that even in the XXI century we can fight in solidarity… -from their YouTube video
The tribes gathered at Standing Rock today are trying to stop a natural gas pipeline operator from bulldozing what they say are sacred sites to construct an 1,172-mile oil pipeline. The tribes also want to protect the Missouri River, the primary water source for the Standing Rock Reservation, from a potential pipeline leak. – NPR
In July of 2015, I published a blog about the Farmers’ Movement of Santiago del Estero (MOCASE, Movimiento de Campesinos de Santiago del Estero) after spending one month within their community. A year and a half later, I’ve finished the video, and find now is a perfect time to share it: MOCASE and the DAPL protest have much in common and both have so much to teach us about the power of working together.
The North Dakota winter is where the DAPL protesters continue to stand. We have seen police use tear gas, rubber bullets, and water canons against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protesters in below freezing weather (25 degree F) along with limiting access to vehicles. In a short time period of time, their resiliency has already been tested.
I spent a month living with families that have been a part of MOCASE for 26 years, located in the province of Santiago del Estero, northern Argentina. A long pick-up truck drive into what appeared to be a vast arid land took me to a small town, El Rincon del Saladillo, where the MOCASE movement began. I was very fortunate to interview one of the remaining founding five members, Mirta Coronel, and hear her story of how a movement that now counts 16,000 families began a quarter century ago.
The answer is: slowly, with a lot of patience, sacrifice and persistence.
During my time with them, I made friends and heard stories from the adults and the youth of the movement. Some of the hardships they’ve confronted and endured were astounding to hear as I watched how they continue their work today: united and ready. (I’ll share this very briefly because I have footage of these interviews that will be in another video.)
These hardships include: having their homes burned down, their community’s well polluted, and their forests bulldozed. I saw rubber bullet wounds in the chest of men and saw images of Cristian Ferreyra, a 25 year old farmer that was shot dead while protecting his land, flying over meetings. Thousands of indigenous farmers have been forced to relocate entire communities throughout the years.
The violence on the indigenous peoples continues today, in the United States and around the world. It remains to be seen if the DAPL protesters will have luck in reaching their goals of diverting the oil pipeline away from the Missouri River. But they only have a chance because they organized. MOCASE has only been able to realize their many successes because they did the same thing, at a larger scale and over a longer period of time. This video shows their first organized success, creating a cooperative of farmers to sell their products on their own, at their price, without being taken advantage of by intermediaries.
Following their first cooperative, they organized to establish a school in their community, without the support of their local government. Moving forward, education has been a large part of their work including: educating farmers on their land rights, helping women find and use their voice, developing markets and marketing strategies, creating and running a high school for many of their youth that hadn’t had one available to them, and finally they are currently in the process of establishing a university specific to their needs.
In this university, a high school diploma will not be mandatory (as it is prohibitively difficult to acquire in many small towns in Argentina) and all classes will be co-taught by a farmer and a university professor from another university. Upon graduation, graduates will be recognized on a national level as having a university degree.
I found one website in English that has a brief description of MOCASE and I like it.
The farmers’ movement MOCASE in Santiago del Estero, Argentina, is reclaiming this fundamental human right. But the multinationals, along with their local collaborators, are campaigning to drive farmers off
their farms to make way for more soya (soy). Farmers’ homes have been bulldozed, paramilitaries have tortured MOCASE members, who also suffer political persecution.
MOCASE is recreating what Monsanto’s genetically modified monoculture is destroying: organic agriculture; reforestation; solar and wind power;
local crafts; and a sustainable way of living and farming for future generations.
The intention of this blog was to flesh out the stories in the video, but my thoughts these days resoundingly revolve around the DAPL news and the power and necessity of solidarity and organizing. I could not dedicate this article to anything other than that. Still, the topics in the video itself deserve a paragraph or three of explanation.
This article on the Organic Consumers website gives a brief yet thorough history of soy in Argentina and brings it to current date.
The soy situation that is referred to in the video is in response to Argentina’s desire to join the global market. The Argentinian government, located far away in Buenos Aires, was selling land that they had determined was un-owned in the Province of Santiago del Estero. They were wrong in this; it had been farmed continuously for generations by the indigenous peoples of that area, and none had titles. That was the beginning of the mass evictions of farmers and indigenous peoples.
It has gotten worse in recent years as Monsanto developed a drought resistance soy. All of a sudden, the arid Chaco desert became a place that could grow and produce at an industrial level. The Biotechnology Information Center says:
The U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay dominate global soybean exports, while China is the world’s top importer. Demand for soybeans has surged in recent years for use as animal feed to sate the world’s growing hunger for meat.
Many websites discussing soy in Argentina talk about how it provides food and economic stability to Argentina. Maybe it provides a strong income for few, but in sowing soy, we are not feeding people. We are in fact increasing food insecurity by taking the land from farmers and indigenous peoples and leaving them homeless and without employment. Luckily, MOCASE is organizing. By not accepting this as their future, they act as an example for others around the world.
Soy or oil, the large corporations that are often being supported by policy and regulators at local, national and international levels are able to damage to our lands and the communities that are dependent on them. I continue to be inspired by brave acts of people coming together to show that we are here, we do see, we also have rights, and we can make our voices heard.
Watching the DAPL protesters continue to mobilize, organize, and protest, I think about how MOCASE and the DAPL protest both are incredible examples of solidarity in the face of violence and hardships for the social, environmental and spiritual benefit of their world community.
“A bird with only one wing can’t fly, it has to have two; then it can go much farther.”
Mirta Coronel, MOCASE Via Campesina
For more information on MOCASE, in Spanish.