Latin American summit confronts hunger crisis
Published May 15, 2008 10:36 PM
With the theme “Sovereignty and Food Security: Food for
Life,” delegations from 15 countries met in Managua, Nicaragua, on May 7 to
discuss and plan strategies to confront the serious hunger crisis that is
affecting the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.
This presidential summit was the result of an April 23 emergency meeting of
four of the five ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our America)
countries held in Caracas, Venezuela. At that time, Bolivian President Evo
Morales, Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and Cuban Vice President Carlos
Lage met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to sign a special agreement
that would develop agricultural and industrial sectors to increase the
production of grains like rice and corn, oil-containing beans, meat and milk.
According to Prensa Latina, “The agreement reached by the ALBA member
countries also favors the setting up of a food commercialization network and
includes a joint commitment to create a fund with $100-million initial capital
to allow the implementation of the programs and plans with the
However, since the essence of ALBA is the integration and well-being of all the
peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean, a larger summit was necessary to
address the current food crisis.
The May 7 summit in Managua was attended by delegations from Bolivia, Ecuador,
Costa Rica, Honduras, Haiti, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba, Venezuela,
El Salvador, Guatemala, Belize, Panama, Dominican Republic, Mexico and
Nicaragua. There were also representatives of the U.N. Food and Agriculture
Organization, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, U.N. World Food
Program, UNICEF, PARLACEN (Central American Parliament) and PARLATINO (Latin
Opening remarks from each country addressed concerns and proposals about the
crisis, but also overwhelmingly pointed to the policies of the imperialist
countries as the main culprit of the catastrophe. The television network
TeleSUR covered the session.
Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, eloquently
stated the need to include fishing in the agricultural and food discussions,
noting that small island countries such as his do not have the space for cattle
raising and depend more on small farm animals and sea products, but global
warming is affecting fishing, since the fish tend to go deeper in the sea. He
concluded, “I do not see the Americans helping us, or the Europeans, and
in fact, many times when they bring programs for diversification, agriculture
production, etc., they perpetuate a fraud among the people, they increase their
expectations and there are few things they deliver.”
Vice President Lage from Cuba summed up the real basis of the current crisis:
“The essence of the crisis is not in these recent phenomena, but in the
unequal and unjust distribution of the wealth at global level, and in the
untenable neoliberal economic model, imposed with irresponsibility and
fanaticism over the last 20 years.”
President Ortega, who chaired the meeting, conveyed the hunger crisis through
the facts: “Data from the international organizations tells us that every
5 seconds a child under 10 years of age dies from undernourishment, from
hunger. Every minute that we are here talking, exchanging ideas about this
problem, 12 children are dying. And every hour, 720 children under 10 years are
dying from hunger!”
The final declaration signed by 12 countries rejected subsidies in the
developed countries and the unfair trade that affects the underdeveloped
countries. They also rejected the use of food for biofuel. A detailed Action
Plan was proposed that would help strengthen the countries’ economies and
food production in a sustainable way. A proposal from Mexico, which volunteered
to host a high-level meeting on technology at the end of May, was accepted.
Other gatherings about the issue have been taking place in Latin America. The
Cuban News Agency (ACN) reported that more than 100 representatives from 30
Latin American and Caribbean countries participated in a conference on child
malnutrition in Santiago de Chile on May 6. On May 16-17, the Fifth European
Union-Latin America and Caribbean Summit (EU-LAC) will take place in Lima,
Peru. The main themes will be “Poverty, inequality and inclusion”
and “Sustainable Development: the environment, climate change and
energy.” At the May 7 presidential summit, it was decided that the food
crisis be raised at the EU-LAC and all other international meetings in the near
Imperialists meet behind closed doors
Nine days before the Managua summit, on April 28, World Food Program Executive
Director Josette Sheeran and World Bank President Robert Zoellick met behind
closed doors in Berne, Switzerland, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and
executives from 27 U.N. agencies to discuss rising food prices and uprisings in
37 countries due to extreme hunger.
According to ACN, Ban demanded $2.5 billion in aid to help fight the world food
crisis during a press conference in Berne on April 22.
What was Zoellick’s solution to the food crisis? Showing his real class
interest, he called on not restricting the export of oil products.
How can the imperialists solve a crisis they created? As Via Campesina, an
organization of Indigenous, small farmers and peasants throughout the world,
stated in a document entitled “An Answer to the Global Food Crisis”
(www.viacampesina.org), neoliberal policies have destroyed the capacity of the
countries to feed themselves.
Although they mention biofuel and global warming that affects harvests as
causes for the food crisis, they see the lack of sovereignty in food as the
most prominent cause: “This crisis is also the result of many years of
destructive policies that have undermined domestic food production. ... Farmers
have been forced to produce cash crops for transnational corporations (TNCs)
and buy their food on the world market.”
The article shows the example of Mexico, which, after NAFTA, went from being a
corn-exporting country to one dependent for 30 percent of its corn on imports
from the U.S. However, now that U.S. corn production is increasingly used for
fuel, there is less available for Mexico. It also mentions the case of
Indonesia, which in 1992 produced enough soy to satisfy domestic consumption of
the staples tofu and tempeh. After opening its doors to neoliberal policies,
cheap soy from the U.S. inundated its market, bringing domestic production
down. Sixty percent now is imported from the U.S. and prices have doubled.
Therefore, without the ability to produce their own food due to neoliberal
prescriptions, combined with severe climate changes, poor countries are victims
to the speculation of the food market and the diversion of food production to
biofuel. While food consumption accounts for probably 10 to 20 percent of a
person’s income in most developed countries, in the Third World it is 60
to 80 percent. And the products most affected by the current crisis are staples
of poor people’s tables, like rice and corn.
No wonder masses have been rising up in Mexico, Indonesia, Yemen, the
Philippines, Cambodia, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan, Guinea, Mauritania, Egypt,
Cameroon, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Peru, Bolivia and Haiti.
Haiti merits special attention, since it is one of the poorest nations on Earth
where the genocidal greed of the transnational corporations is obscenely and
patently clear. Eighty percent of the population lives under the poverty line
and 54 percent in abject poverty. According to Servicio Paz y Justicia en
América Latina, “Twenty years ago Haiti produced 95 percent of the
rice that its people consumed; today it imports from the U.S. 80 percent of
that product.” (www.serpajamericalatina.org).
The extreme hunger in Haiti has forced people to feed their children with
“Pica” crackers made of mud, a poisonous remedy against hunger. In
Cité-Soleil, the crackers are made with yellow mud from the
country’s central plateau, mixed with salt and oil. It costs $5 to make
100 crackers, but even at that price, many Haitians cannot afford a cracker
made of dirt! It might fill a child’s belly, but the mud also carries
parasites and potentially deadly substances.
Cuba and Venezuela have stepped up to help the Haitian people. Among other
actions, Venezuela sent 600 tons of food on April 13 and 50 farm trucks. Cuba
has been providing medical care to the most poor, who did not have access to
doctors. For five years, 400 Cuban doctors have been working in Haiti; and 600
Haitian students study medicine in Cuba. According to Haitian President
René Préval, for the Haitian people “after God, there are the
People starve while food corporations thrive
In an April 14 press release, U.S. food giant Cargill reported “net
earnings of $1.03 billion in the 2008 third quarter ended Feb. 29, up 86
percent from $553 million in the same period a year ago. Earnings in the first
nine months totaled $2.9 billion, a 69 percent increase from $1.71 billion a
year ago.” (www.cargill.com)
The release continues: “‘Cargill posted a third consecutive strong
quarter in a year in which the dimensions of change in global agriculture are
striking,’ said Greg Page, Cargill chairman and chief executive officer.
‘Demand for food in developing economies and for energy worldwide is
boosting demand for agricultural goods, at the same time that investment monies
have streamed into commodity markets. Relative to demand, world grain stocks
today are at their lowest levels in 35 years. Prices are setting new highs and
markets are extraordinarily volatile.’”
Monsanto, another U.S. company, also reported huge profits. In a newswire on
May 6, the company stated: “As a technology company in agriculture, we
have a unique opportunity because our technology creates value for our farmer
customers regardless of which crop they grow, where they ultimately sell their
grain, or at what price that grain is sold on the commodity markets. ...
Monsanto’s strong earnings growth continues to be reflected in dividend
payouts. Monsanto has increased its dividend six times—an increase of 200
percent—since 2001.” (www.monsanto.com)
Monsanto is the main culprit behind the genetically engineered seeds that have
inundated and destroyed agriculture in Third World countries, making them
dependent on Monsanto’s seeds and products.
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