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Agrofuels: the threats of green imperialism

Agrofuels: the threats of green imperialism

By Gerardo Cerdas Vega

In the framework of the VI Hemispheric Encounter to Fight FTAs ​​and for the Integration of Peoples, in Havana, an important panel was held that put into discussion the issue of agrofuels, whose mass production, encouraged by the desperation of the States United in the face of its imminent energy crisis, it threatens to drag Latin America in a race towards productive, environmental, social and cultural devastation.


During the afternoon of May 4, in the framework of the VI Hemispheric Encounter to Fight against FTAs ​​and for the Integration of Peoples, in Havana, an important panel was held that discussed the issue of biofuels, whose production A massive force, fueled by the desperation of the United States in the face of its impending energy crisis, threatens to drag Latin America on a race to productive, environmental, social and cultural devastation. The panelists, comrade Francisca Rodríguez (Chile, National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women), Maria Luisa Mendonça (Brazil, Social Network for Justice and Human Rights) and panelist Horacio Martins (Brazil, Landless Workers Movement), They did a broad approach to the subject, whose content we seek to share with you in this article.

Some elements to locate the discussion

For Maria Luisa Mendonça, it is necessary to remember that most of the wars in recent centuries are closely related to the control of energy sources by the great powers, especially in the framework of industrial capitalism. Currently, in fact, this is a central issue in the foreign policy of the United States, which seeks to ensure energy control at a global level in the face of the already undeniable fact that its own oil sources have only 10 to 15 years of useful life and in the face of growing competition between economic blocs for access to fossil fuels, to which the Chinese giant's hunger for oil is now added.

This data is essential to understand the urgency and aggressiveness with which the United States is encouraging the massive production of agrofuels in Latin America, since it responds to the energy consumption needs of its entire industrial structure and of a population whose consumption patterns are overwhelming. a constant and growing supply of energy. For the panellist, energy consumption at a global level and in the United States in particular, is on the one hand very high and on the other, it is concentrated in privileged sectors, industry and population groups with greater economic power, so all humanity pays a high cost to power a few million people in a privileged way.

The massive production of agrofuels, in this sense, follows a historical pattern that since the colony has favored the great oligarchies of our countries and the central capitalist countries, today our countries offer cheap energy to rich countries and this is a new moment within of the neocolonial projects of those powers.

In this same sense, Horacio Martins pointed out that it is necessary that we locate the problem related to agrofuels within the framework of the paradigm of contemporary, monopoly and transnational capitalism, which controls financial capital and does not give the least importance to what happens with the environment, with peoples and with the structure of society. The discussion on the current energy crisis is a false discussion, what is sought is to build an energy matrix of a new type but always controlled by the same transnational capitals that not only control oil but now biomass energy sources. The so-called energy crisis, in this way, hides that what is in crisis is the production model itself, predatory industrial capitalism, for whose energy needs it is intended to sacrifice the cultural and natural wealth of a good part of humanity.

Agrofuels and food sovereignty

Comrade Francisca Rodríguez was emphatic in pointing out that the massive production of biofuels directly threatens the right of the peoples to food sovereignty. She rejected the use of the term "biofuels" because for her, by using the prefix "bio" she wants to imply that it is something positive, good for the environment, when in reality they are fuels extracted from the earth that pollute as much or more than the fossil fuels: “We cannot talk about biofuels, because“ bio ”means life, it is something positive, but that hides the harmful nature of these proposals, we must call them 'biofuels' because they will come out of the earth and they will be expelled from that land the peasants and indigenous people to be controlled by the large consortia, the large estates will dedicate the land to produce to feed the engines and not the people ”, the panelist said.

At the same time, he recalled that at first the peasant and indigenous organizations did not perceive the full magnitude of the danger posed by the production of agrofuels, but that they have now fully identified what this means and how it aims to further oppress peasant and indigenous peoples. to solve the serious problems that the central capitalist countries are going through, which is also done with intensive media manipulation: we are going to take care of the environment, we are not going to pollute, they are less harmful fuels, etc., hiding that it is an energy policy that will bring peoples to the brink of extermination. This manipulation is one more deception for the peasantry, because many will think that it is a way out of the poverty they are in and the urban sectors will think that how the peasants oppose development, if biofuels are good for the environment and all that. .

Faced with these threats, he pointed out that the indigenous and peasant world must preserve their seeds, keeping them away from the privatization of life. The need to recover and claim traditional knowledge and the right to territories is an inseparable part of food sovereignty. Peasant and indigenous organizations face enormous challenges, because what is happening with the production of biofuels directly affects these populations, who are the first to be affected, although the effect will be negative for the entire society. Thus, for the panelist:

“Faced with these challenges, we have to make a commitment to defend the land, unmasking what is behind these projects and give a deep discussion about what the current model of energy consumption and production means in capitalism, in large cities and factories. What we want is to reverse the genocide that is intended with the land, we know what extensive monoculture means, Central America already suffers, South America suffers, in Chile Monsanto has already been because in their plans it is that Chile is the great producer of transgenic seeds, because all countries are assigned a part in this perverse picture. All this endangers both our life and biodiversity and the very life of planet Earth, that is why we have to be able to do great actions, we cannot stay in the fact that the fight is only against agrofuels, we have to fight for our own agenda which is food sovereignty, agrarian reform, the fight against savage capitalism that destroys our peoples ”, he pointed out.

The avalanche of "green imperialism"

This "green imperialism", which is dressed in the guise of concern for the environment and global warming, hides a perverse reality due to its environmental, cultural and social implications, as we have indicated. "Let us remember that in relation to agrofuels, their base is biomass and for this we must control the land, water and all natural resources, agricultural areas around the world are those that are subjected to a wild dispute to subject them to the production of these fuels, ”said Horacio Martins.


Martins made extensive reference to the current situation in Brazil in terms of ethanol production and the projections for the next 25 years, since for the panelist, what is happening in his country will mark the path that many other countries in our country will follow. continent. Brazil is now experiencing a fierce dispute for control of some 150 million cultivable hectares in the Amazon, which would be dedicated exclusively to the cultivation of various types of plantations for the production of ethanol or biodiesel.

The FAO estimates that within the next 15 to 20 years, biofuels will supply 25% of the world's energy consumption, that is why Brazil is a territory disputed by large capitals, let's see some data: world ethanol production for 2006 is controlled between Brazil and the United States because between them they produce 60% of the world total. It is estimated that in 2010 70 billion liters of ethanol will be produced, production that will go mainly to the United States since this country has more than 40% of the world's cars and, at the same time, is not willing to assume in its own territory the production of the grains (corn, for example) necessary for the production of that volume of ethanol, so that the burden will fall on Brazil. The trend towards mass consumption of ethanol mixed with fossil fuels is clear: the United States, Japan and Europe will increasingly import millions of liters of ethanol, in the United States by 2030 ethanol will be mixed up to 30% with fossil fuels And what that means is that production must be taken from the current 58 billion liters to 260 billion liters, which represents a colossal waste of resources and food that will be used to fill the tanks, not the stomachs of the persons.

Another sensitive issue is that of the latifundio. The lands are being increasingly occupied by transnationals, even in Brazil the lands are even being sold online for the production of soybeans, sugarcane and other monoculture products. This process is accompanied by the expulsion of thousands of peasant and indigenous families; In effect, the control of biomass entails the control of the territories, this is also a territorial imperialism, which grants all kinds of facilities to the capital, the control of land by the transnationals and the expulsion of the peasants will be established on a massive scale. and indigenous. The destruction of the peasantry and indigenous people is the destruction of cultures, of original cultures as well. For the panelist, “We are living a true avalanche of 'green imperialism', which will bring increasing devastation of land, especially in the Amazon forest and in the savannah, it is believed that within 30 years the entire Brazilian savanna will be destined to the production of agrofuel, which will pollute waters for example in the Guaraní aquifer, which we share with four other countries and which is being increasingly controlled by transnationals such as Coca Cola and Nestlé ”. The outlook is not encouraging.

In addition to the above, the international geopolitics of the North American empire demands social stability in Brazil, that is, it cannot tolerate struggle for land, nor strong movements, it is to be expected that repression and social control will grow, especially of movements peasants who like the MST fight for access to land and productive resources for the more than 8 million peasant families in Brazil.

Precarious work and slavery: the brutal face of monoculture

As if all this were not enough to demonstrate the perversity of the new energy matrix that is being built, we have the issue of job insecurity and slavery, which in countries like Brazil are a painful reality, which allows us to understand the brutal side of monoculture . In the sugarcane monoculture, for example, the hiring regime is based on the exploitation of cheap and even slave labor, wages are extremely low, and occupational risks range from illness to physical injuries. grave and death are daily bread. The São Paulo Ministry of Labor says that sugar is bathed in blood, sweat and death: in 2005 alone there were 400 deaths in the sugarcane industry, for various reasons: accidents with machines, charred workers, heart attacks due to exhaustion, skin cancer related to the use of agrochemicals and many other occupational diseases.

On the other hand, slave labor is a reality in all sugar mills, in 2006 the Public Ministry inspected 74 sugar mills in São Paulo alone and all were prosecuted for having dozens of slave workers, all of whom work without a contract, without implements of protection, in precarious housing, without adequate food, without water, without being able to escape, forced to pay huge debts to their employers, among many other things. But the labor reality that exists in the sugar mills and cane fields of Brazil is not exclusive to this country. We now know that it is the same situation in all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean where sugar cane is massively produced, either for the production of sugar or ethanol; With the growth in the production of the latter, it is to be expected that the depredation of the workforce of thousands of peasants and indigenous people will also increase throughout the continent.

What to do in front of this reality?

From the interventions of the table, some proposals are derived to face all this problem. The need to articulate four levels of struggle was raised:

to) Public complaint: It is necessary to continue deepening the complaint about the impacts and significance of all this agrofuel production, a complaint of a new type that has a very strong empirical scientific basis because we are facing a strategy of capital that shows things as something positive; We have to demystify the "ecological" propaganda about biofuels, considering the negative effects of these energy sources, for example that ethanol production involves a very high water consumption (12 liters of water are used for every liter of ethanol), pollution soil and groundwater sources, greenhouse gas production, among many other negative impacts.
b) Social resistance: the hypothesis of building an alternative society assumes that peasants and peoples in general have energy autonomy, a project of society must be proposed capable of denying the capitalist project and that can only be achieved by articulating an enormous social resistance that advocates for real alternatives to the model.
c) Direct action: We have to confront capital in the countryside, occupy the mills, occupy the lands that are used for sugarcane, soybeans or transgenic corn, directly confront capital in conjunction with the rural proletariat, the day laborers, those who are temporary and precarious.
d) Articulation of the struggle at the international levelDue to the size of the problem, it is not possible to fight in isolation, common strategies are needed and this is an area in which it is urgent to advance.

The panel on agroenergy was one of the most attended of the event, which shows the enormous interest that the topic is arousing within the social movements of our continent. The problems that the massive production of biofuels entails concerns us all, not only the peasantry or indigenous populations. Undoubtedly, in the coming months and years this issue will become an essential part of the movements' struggles, but as Francisca Rodríguez recalled, the struggle must be oriented towards the affirmation and construction of our own agenda as an alternative to the accelerated advance of the environmental, social and cultural destruction of this phase of capitalism in the world: struggle for agrarian reform, for food sovereignty, for an energy model that respects the balances of nature and for the overcoming of capitalism through forms of social and productive organization innovative, democratic and inclusive.

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