Southern activism – Peasant movements in Latin America

Activism can be a noble act to support a cause that does not concretely or fundamentally affect our everyday life. By some it may even be used as a lifestyle choice or “image”. In open and democratic societies and with access to social media, it can be comparatively easy to take a public stand. Activism in the south often happens under very different circumstances with significantly more limited resources.

Peasant’s movements in Latin America, pleading for land redistribution and agrarian reform trying to counteract land grabbing are an example. Peasant movements have historically generally occurred in feudal or feudal-like societies where the peasant population is revolting against any oppressive institution, such as the state or the unjust power of some landowners in general. The peasant movements along with agricultural development have been central elements of the revolutions and modernization of most industrialized countries in the 19th and 20th century.

In Sweden, for example, peasants have subsequently reorganized themselves through the commercialization of agriculture and by establishing peasant organizations and lobby groups, the biggest being LRF, the federation of Swedish farmers. The significance of these movements can still today be found in the degree of the peasant’s -despite their numerical minority- influence on contemporary policies in Western Europe and North America.

The new generation of peasant’s movements in the global south seek to build alternatives to the neoliberal agriculture through the concept of food sovereignty, ecological protection and a communal control of land and resources. Peasant insurgencies are often silenced by rulers, which causes them to rarely receive the attention and support of the outside world. Broad peasant movements are found in for example Brazil, Honduras, Cuba, Argentina and Paraguay. They usually address a variety of developmental issues but their main concern constitutes the extremely concentrated land ownership on the Latin American continent destroying nature and habitat of people and animals. 

Paraguay, for example, is facing one of the most unequal land distribution in Latin America. The Paraguayan movement “Federación Nacional Campesina” is a joint movement established by various local organizations and raises its voice against experienced political wrongdoings and antidemocratic institutions in Paraguay. The movement has for over two decades struggled for land access, agrarian reform and a structural change, such as exporting the foreign agricultural model responsible for expanding soy monocultures. Additionally to fighting big agricultural enterprises, the FNC faces an autocratic government shutting down and silencing critique. 

While it for industrialized countries was enough to cooperate and work for democratic change, due to neocolonialism from Europeans and their clients and monopolization of land ownership, many of today’s movements have felt the need of using methods such as physical land occupation and demanding an ambitious land reform through redistribution of land from landowner to peasants. 

Peasant movements have long had a global connection through the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, IFAP, established in 1943. The IFAP however encountered financial and political problems and was liquidated by the French Tribunal de Grande Instance in 2010. Via Campesina, another international peasant organisation, has since 1993 grown bigger and provided global support to its local partner organizations. 

Find out about the peasants movement’s communication and communication obstacles in my next post!

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4 Responses to Southern activism – Peasant movements in Latin America

  1. Jacinta Rivera Trobo says:

    Truly interesting topic! Just to share a bit more about latinamerican experiences I would like to share with you the work of the National Institute of Colonization in Uruguay. Whenever a landowner wants to sell some a piece of ground, he/she has to sell it to the goverment. Thus, the government rent this ground to groups of peasant families who move there and start any productive activity.
    Waiting for your new post on alternative communication and peasants movement’s!

    • Ronja-Chantal Pertoft says:

      Hi Jacinta!

      That sounds like a good procedure as long as the government is working in the interest of the peasants and not against them. I think the political situation in Uruguay is a lot better than the situation in Paraguay in that sense. In Paraguay, the Colorado party is not looking at the peasants interests but rather their own and the rich elites interests in economic profits as I have experienced it.

      I guess the government has to help out in Uruguay because big farming companies can afford to pay more for the land than the peasants are able to pay? It is good the peasants will receive some land to farm, but needing to rent it also creates a dependency towards the government that might not be ideal? However it surely seems better than the situation for Paraguayan peasants.

      Thank you for your input!

  2. Cajsa Mosbakk Martinsson says:

    I always appreciate to read about social movements is Latin America since I lived there, working on projects connected to indigenous rights. I believe the key is to take the conversation further than food security and as mentioned in your blog, focus on food sovereignty. Bolivia is for example in the initiation face (3 or 4 regions so far) of establishing autonomies in order to give indigenous regions the ability to self govern. I believe it is a way to protect the land from foreign interests, preserve traditions and shy away from neoliberal agriculture. Looking forward to read your next post!

    • Ronja-Chantal Pertoft says:

      That would of course be ideal. I am happy the indigenous peoples rights have increased so much in Bolivia. ¡Viva la libertad! The situations of for example the Guaraní in Paraguay and Brazil and the Mapuche in Patagonia look more depressing. Even here in Sweden the Sámi people, their land and cultural rights stand in conflict with the Swedish state’s interests. Giving up power over a territory voluntarily is not common in history from what I have learnt. But from an idealistic environmental point of view, that could be part of the solution.

      If the draft of “the decalaration of the rights of mother nature”, shaped by representatives of indigenous people all around the world was proclaimed as “a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations” by the general assembly of the UN just like the universal declaration of human rights has been, it would help not only achieve indigenous peoples land and food sovereignty but also further a much healthier and more sustainable attitude towards and coexistence with nature. Bolivia and Ecuador have already introduced similar laws nationally.

      There would still need to be a smart strategy to handle the conflicts between peasants and indigenous peoples land interests, but if we’d just get rid of the big international companies grabbing the most of the farmable land, there would be a lot more space available for sustainable coliving.

      Thanks for your comment!

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