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Pre-Trial Hearing Judgement : People’s Permanent Tribunal Regarding Corn

Despite everything that successive governments have done to dismantle the Constitution of Mexico, its social and political commitments, and its sense of nationhood that Mexicans formed almost 100 years ago, the Constitution is still its Carta Magna: a document that remains a source of both rights and national union.

Article 39 of the Constitution deems that national sovereignty belongs to the people of Mexico. It belongs to each and every one of those who came to present their cases and offer testimony to us. They are not representating Mexicans. They are Mexican people. They are holders of national sovereignty.

They came to this pre-trial hearing to denounce the systematic violation of the sovereignty which they are granted by the Constitution.

We listened carefully to the cases and testimonies which demonstrated this very serious fact. Much of sovereign Mexican territory, a territory that has been cared for and protected for thousands of years by its original inhabitants, has been handed over to private interests and foreign entities.

Besides the right to culture, indigenous peoples have the right to ownership of the land they have traditionally occupied. The government has acted as owner of these territories, claiming them. The government, for example, is transferring ownership of the subsoil through concessions to transnational companies in violation indigenous peoples’ rights over their territories.

It’s clear that for indigenous peoples it’s not enough to be owners of their land and territory. The planting of GMO corn and mining affects the lives of both indigenous and non-indigenous.

All this implies a misuse of power, which we can see in the testimonies, through new laws, policies and programs. The powers that be have used their powers to dismantle the laws and regulations that protect indigenous sovereignty and territory, as well as the rights of small farmers, in order to accommodate the interests of private corporations and foreign entities. Policies and programs that have been implemented are clearly against the interests of farmers.

This pre-trial hearing focuses on corn. We have heard many voices about what corn means to the Mexican people. Here are some of them, which we share verbatim:

• The Oaxacan people could not understand life without corn. It is our main staple and the foundation of our culture.

• Corn takes care of our community. It’s what’s allowed us to live and resist for thousands of years.

• We farmers have no choice but to continute planting corn, in order to keep our way of life

• We can not live without corn. We will fight to maintain our way of life and corn in it.

• I want to leave my corn to my children, my grandchildren. I want my children to be healthy, living with native corn and everything around them, beans, squash and quelites because they are life.

• I want to continue taking care of my native corn and my country because my corn and my land are sacred and I want to leave them to my children and grandchildren

• Corn is our life.

• Through corn we recreate our spirituality as an indigenous people.

• Corn is our flesh and bones, our health, history and autonomy

• Corn is us and is our national heritage.

• We grow corn to give life to our communities and humanity

• Our relationship with corn is sacred: it is the most precious treasure that men and women have.

This is the experience of corn. This is what governments have refused to see, in their anxiousness to reduce it to a commodity, an object to be bought and sold in the market and offered to the highest bidder.

As said yesterday, in one of the cases: “We denounce the cynicism, irresponsibility and wickedness with which government institutions have addressed the problem. The men and women of Oaxaca are planting our corn even in a system that wants to do away with the Mexican and Oaxacan countryside.”

One of the most serious crimes that the Mexican government has committed is to try to do away with small farmers, destroying an ancient wisdom which is the historical and cultural basis of our nation.

For 60 years this seems to have been one of their obsessions. Many leaders have even said that Mexico would never be a modern country while more than a third of the population lives in the countryside. They repeated again and again that Mexico should imitate the U.S. model, where only 2.5% of the working population produce food. Several Secretaries of Agriculture stated publicly that their duty was to get rid of millions of small farmers. Specific policies and programs were designed for this purpose. Several examples of this criminal mentality were mentioned:

• Farmers fought to have small shops in their communities (CONASUPO) administered by them, in order to access low price staples that they couldn’t produce. For many years, the network of stores DICONSA, with 23,000 establishments in 93% of the country’s municipalities, has been used with a perverse purpose. Under the pretext of lowering the price of food, it has instead discouraged local production of corn and created the risk of transgenic contamination.

• One by one, governments eliminated public projects supporting rural life. It’s true that some programs were corrupt and suffered from patronage. But they represented an economic help for farmers, who began to rely on it in order to continue farming. Many small farmers suffered when it was canceled.

In 1945, 75% of the Mexican population was rural. Half a century later, it was the reverse. While it’s true that many farmers migrated to cities dazzled by the neon lights and promises of modernization, it is clear that many were literally driven out of their communities, because of environmental destruction for which they weren’t responsible, as well as as policies and programs that prevented rural prosperity. Young people left without worthy prospects worthy in their own communities – which also became a cause of emigration.

The reform of Article 27 of the Constitution, made with the purpose of launching ejidos into the open market, was clearly associated with the obsession of the governmentto to get rid of small farmers.

The GMO invasion is part of that strategy. As clearly revealed in the testimonies, the GMO cornoffers no advantage for farmers or our nation. In contrast, transgenic crops have been used as a tool to control agriculture to destruct people’s autonomy. Furthermore, it’s been repeatedly demonstrated through studies that GMOs decrease production.

Indeed, the government has been preparing this transgenic invasion in the service of corporations that created and marketed GMOs. This perverse strategy was thoroughly described at the pre-trial hearing. This is mainly through controling the seed market in Mexico, which is worth 200 000 thousand tons and 1,200 million dollars a year. To this end, they have been laws to the benefit of large corporations and the detriment of small producers, placing them outside the law when they sell or trade the seeds they produce.

The other part of this strategy has to do with food insecurity. Mexico now imports a third of the corn Mexicans consume. In ten years we would be importing half. The government disseminates the falsity that GMOs could solve this problem by increasing production. This position lacks any support and shows the seriousness of the danger Mexico faces. In five of the eight million hectares devoted to corn production, GMO corn cannot work. In much of the Corn Belt, only native corn will work. Is this the crime that want to commit? With GMO corn, the soil’s capacity to produce would be lost. If corn no longer yields, if it can’t be grown because everything is contaminated and can not prosper, farmers must abandon their land. And that is perhaps in the end what the government is looking for. So their lands can be given over ot other interests.

Transgenic contamination can be seen as a direct effect of NAFTA. It was discovered when there was a moratorium on GMO crops. But there was a provision of NAFTA which favored the free movement of transgenics under the false premise of substantial equivalence. Which is this idea that GMO corn is the same as native corn. This premise was adopted by international bodies.

Since 2001, corn imports have grown exponentially. Although it was protected under NAFTA, the government encouraged these imports above the quotas and tariffs agreed upon. It allowed agressive dumping on domestic producers, discouraging them, and forcing them to abandon their crops and their land. With CONASUPO gone, nine transnational corporations absorbed 50% of imports.

Distributed by DICONSA, imported corn reached all parts of our country. People did not know that it was transgenic. Bringing it to Mexico was big business: Mexico did not charge tariffs and the United States supported it through subsidies.

And so one of the perverse effects of NAFTA was the destrucion of communities’ food sovereignty.

This is a historical crime of immense proportions and consequences.

We heard testimonies that clearly demonstrate that GMO contamination is intentional and represents a misuse ofpower, using the state apparatus in favor of private interests.

GMOs are a corporate tool. They belong to six transnational corporations that form an oligopoly. Monsanto controls 85% of the market.

All GMOs are protected under intellectual property rights. To reproduce them or use them without permission of the owners of these rights is a crime. Monsanto genes are patented. The company knows that contamination is inevitable, once extensive planting is done. It’s a premeditated and treacherous crime because it seeks to intentionally appropriate food systems. In the U.S., Monsanto and Dupont trials have already won $ 23 million and out of court settlements for $ 200 million. Soon it will begin to sue Mexican producers.

The crime is even more serious because Mexico is the center of corn’s origin, and therefore holds the gene pool of one of the three main crops of the world, one of the foundations of global food supply. It also holds a reservoir of knowledge necessary to keep corn alive.

We denounce to UN bodies, which know that protecting the birthplace of corn is essential to keep the crops alive. It would be the first time that a center of origin has been contaminated and so far these UN bodies have done nothing about it.

This is even more serious because of the threat of climate change. We know the threat well : where there’s drought there will be more drought, where there is rain there will be more rain. Native seeds have the genetic memory that will contain the solution to changes in climate conditions. These breeds and varieties have the characteristics we need.

Letting these breeds and varieties of corn disappear is a heinous crime, that under no circumstances should be permitted.

This unbearable crime is even more serious if we consider what we mentioned before, that the government’s policies and programs and its misuse of power have undermined food sovereignty in communities, through the exercise of systematic, social and police violence.

“Losing the native corn of our people is losing autonomy,” a witness said in the presentation of one case. Here is the crux of the matter.

In a centuries’ old struggle, communities have strengthened their autonomy and build their own forms of life and government. In Oaxaca, as highlighted in the presentations, they’re still “practicing and strengthening” communities. Thus high levels of self-sufficiency and food sovereignty were achieved. All of this is based on corn. Every family, every community, and every region strivess to produce enough corn for daily consumption. And there are complex mechanisms to cope with periodic difficulties when natural disasters or climate irregularities impede this self-sufficiency.

This organization is the basis of indigenous cultures. It’s the social fabric that allows us to exist as a nation. The slogan “No corn, no country”, which has been around for a decade, is an effective expression of this. Here corn was born, in deep harmony with nature. Here it multiplied, diversified, and adapted to the thousand different conditions of our reality. In that process corn influenced us as a people and was established as the basis of our culture.

A clear example was expressed in the pre-trial hearing: Mexican cuisine is built around corn. Much of what we still cook and eat is only possible with native seeds. Transgenic contamination would disappear much of what we eat.

This pattern of survival and prosperity is now seriously weakened by systematic aggression which peoples have suffered, and by a set of policies and programs against them. In the same way that community lives are affected, so are the ives of all Mexicans. Mexico’s sovereignty is threatened, and it depends on other countries for food security.

In 1971 we exported corn. It’s true that in those years there were families who didn’t have enough, but the fact is that surplus was generated and exported. The loss of self-sufficiency was not a consequence of population growth or adverse weather conditions. It was because the producers decided to neglect their tasks and focus on something else. It was because the government invested immense resources to provoke corn deficiency.

In the late ’70s, when the small farmers’ situation stared to become unbearable, the government was forced to shift its rural policies and programs, directly supporting corn production. In the three years of the Mexican Food System, substantial increases in production and yields were achieved, demonstrating that modest support for small farmer production offered good results.

Through the testimonies and documents of this pre-trial hearing, it was demonstrated with sound scientific basis that there is enormous productive potential in native corn, which could fully restore its self-sufficienty.

Enrique Peña Nieto and his officials are not legally responsible for these serial crimes committed over 60 years. But they are morally and politically responsible, because it was the party they belong to which is. We denounce that not only is this anti-farmer orientation continuing, but that the current administration is deepening it.

One witness said: “Programs are no longer created with the lie of supporting the lands, but really only supporting agribusiness who are friendly with politicians. They don’t try to fool us by giving supposedly nutritious food, because we know that all they want is to rid us of the food we produce locally.”

This is clearly one of the programs of the new administration. Its campaign against hunger is not really directed against this enemy of humanity.

The testimonies presented at the pre-trial hearing clearly showed the serious complicity that the scientific establishment has had in these crimes. Not only have there been campaigns to discredit those who honestly presented the results of their investigations and proved the first evidence of transgenic contamination, openly acknowledging that their work would have been impossible without help from indigenous communities. There was also a systematic boycott against anyone who showed interest in the topic, and finally of corruption in the scientific community.

We heard compelling testimonies about falsification of data, methodological distortions, and the hiding of information. It seems there was a real conspiracy in which government officials, corporations, and supposed scientists concealed criminal activity and GMo contamination. They also tried to convince the public that it was possible to contain its spread and eliminate risks.

It’s important to mention that the testimonies presented us with information based on serious scientific studies, that this is not an irreparable and irreversible situation. Community action, within the framework of policies and programs which intend to do the opposite of what they’ve done so far, could remedy the damage so far caused and present another option. This would require another kind of science, which would use indigenous science and concepts, which created corn and its hundreds of thousands of varieties which adapted to diverse ecological niches over the course of ten thousand years.

This is very different from what some of the scientific community attempted to do with distorted information. Since it was impossible to discard the evidence of contamination, they tried to show that in those places where it was gone, it was possible to limit or contain contamination. The cases presented in this pre-trial hearing refute this vile attempt by perverse scientists – in collusion with authorities and private corporations – to hide information from the public and continue their shameless promotion of GMOs.

“Men and women of corn,” people said at the pre-trial hearing, “we demand the return to rule of law”.

It’s important to note that this demand is being made by people who have suffered for more than 500 years through the perverse use of legal instruments against them. They have suffered not only unjust laws, which ignore and discriminate, but corrupt and racist courts. They are people who have been able to recognize and maintain the concept of law, the validity and legitimacy of formal procedures, and the need for standards that promote peaceful coexistence.

It’s these people who are now demanding that the rule of law so laboriously built by Mexicans should be returned to them. They’re aware of the limitations of this demand. They are asking serial criminals to stop their mad race to the abyss, in which they hope to drag us to natural and social disaster. They do it because it’s their belief that authority should meet its obligations. And they do it because they are addressing the highest of all courts, the citizens, those who can impose the will of the people to save our communities, our cultures, our country and Mother Earth.

We endorse the demands that were presented at the pre-trial hearing, after modifying them based on the presentation of cases and testimonies, and include the following terms in our opinion:

· Immediately Repeal the Act of Biosecurity of GMO’s, its regulations, and other legal provisions that open the doors to the government to allow the planting of GMO corn in the country. Instead, prohibit the planting of GMOs in Oaxaca and all Mexican territory. Forbid the possibility of commercial planting.

· Reaffirm that corn is the basis of material and symbolic culture, the pillar of national sovereignty, and is critical to the survival of indigenous and peasant communities and their staple crop. Policies must be devised and implemented that support the culture of corn.

· Revise agricultural and trade policies that have caused the crisis in the Mexican countryside. Orient them towards strengthening the rural economy, small farmers and indigenous communities, national self-sufficiency in basic food production and assertion of sovereignty food.

· Review the agricultural chapter of NAFTA, especially regarding the trade of grains, among other things, to reverse the effects of systematic dumping practiced by U.S. agricultural exporters and major importers against the small farmer and Mexican economy.

· Fight corruption of scientific research in the area of genetically modified organisms, and its collusion with private corporations.

· Immediately suspend authorizations for the release of all kinds of transgenic corn, including existing fields, and completely prohibit the use of “terminator” technologies.

· Disseminate permantly and thoroughly, through public means, information on the risks of GMO contamination, demonstrating scientific studies showing its damage and its impacts on health, the environment and corn production.

· Respect the sovereignty and autonomy of indigenous peoples.

· Immediately suspend imports of GMO corn, as well as the distribution of “packages” of GMO contaminated food.

· Constitutionally ban genetically modified organisms in Mexico and immediately adopt secondary legislation.

· Establish a Protection System for native corn.

· Establish an effective standard for labeling all GMO foods with sufficient information to the consumer population on the risks involved.

· Rigorously apply free and informed consultation and consent procedures, as stated by law through international treaties, before implementing government programs in indigenous communities.

· Stop planting of transgenic grains and seeds such as soybeans, cotton and canola, in national territory.

· Restrict corn imports to when there is insufficient domestic harvest and once domestic production has been marketed, watching the border closely to ensure that no imports containing GMOs enter. No corn should enter above the quota without paying tariffs.

· Concentrate all DICONSA (the company responsible for GMO contamination in Mexico) purchases to farmer organizations, selling at a fair price. DICONSA should immediately withdraw transgenic corn that has circulated, warning their respective communities about the risks of their use.

· Send away multinational corporations responsible for GMO contamination, among which are Monsanto, Novartis, DuPont and Aventis.

· Officially oppose patents and intellectual property on life in Mexico and elsewhere in the world.

· Submit genebanks in Mexico, including CIMMYT, to careful reviews to ensure that their collections are free from GMO contamination.

· Constitutionally recognize indigenous rights, as found in the San Andres Agreements and use the instruments of Convention 169 of the ILO to ensure the self-determination of indigenous peoples over their natural resources, with absolute respect to free and informed “prior consultation.”

· Form just, sustainable environmental, agriculture and food production, together with civil society, based on self-determination of peoples over their natural resources, respect for indigenous and farmers’ rights, biodiversity conservation and the principle of food sovereignty.

· Legally establish that no living being, either in whole or in its components, can be claimed by intellectual property rights or subject to bioprospecting agreements.

As part of the pre-trial hearing, we reaffirm that indigenous constitutional reforms conducted to date are a mere cog and often not thorough. Hegemonic policies operate above the law. Unconstitutional arrangements are made, which are also in violation of international law. Such arrangements, for example, deny communites the character of subjects of law and implicitly reject their autonomy which was formally ariculated in 2001.

They have been passing laws regarding diversity which reinforce privatization and outline the gradual disappearance of public space and rights. The nation state becomes the enabler and certifier of “private” investors and operations. In this operation are, along with Latin American governments, multilateral agencies such as the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), and financial institutions like the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.

It’s important to note that in the text of the new Constitutional article 2, it was determined that autonomy be exercised “with respect to ownership patterns and land tenure established by the Constitution and material laws, as well as rights acquired by third parties or members of the community. “Thus, in an entirely abnormal and unacceptable manner, the alleged new constitutional right for indigenous peoples was born subject to laws.

The adjudicators share and fully embrace the demand to end all forms of violence against corn, food sovereignty and the people who grow corn. This requires ending all GMO contamination sources by agrochemicals, hybrid and other forms of technology that destroy corn and create dependency.

Corn, as we heard in the testimonies and cases, is a fundamental expression of the soul and body of the people of Mexico. It is vital that their demands reach the final hearing of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, possessing all the necessary strength and urgency. Therefore, it is useful to clearly set out the following:

The Biosafety of Genetically Modified Production Act, Certification and Marketing of Seeds and Plant Varieties Act are federal laws that manage the production, distribution and promotion of transgenic corn in Mexico. They must be stopped immediately, establishing a de facto ban, and then repealed through a constitutional reform that establishes a permanent ban on the introduction, planting, marketing, import, storage, distribution, research and testing of genetically modified corn. It should be declared that Mexico is corn’s birthplace. There are enough arguments and evidence of damage to health and the environment to support this ban.

The Biodiversity Law ignores that plant domestication and diversification is a living, continuous, and current process and leaves farmers and communities – who have been the creators of this genetic wealth which has made Mexico a center of diversification worldwide. – defensefless. The article on GMO-free zones provides unsuitable protection for conventional and organic producers. The first completely ignores, and the latter imposes insufficient protection and is difficult to enforce. It leaves most Mexican farmers defenseless, denying them the choice of whether or not to grow GMO crops. One of the central problems in this chapter is that the burden of proof is on the farmers to prove the impossibility of coexistence between GMO-free crops and those that incorporate this technology.

We propose that corn be declared as a common good of the peoples of the world, those who have freely exchanged seeds and know where and how to use them as a basic element of life and subsistence. It is the people themselves, not private or governmental entities, who must decide how, when and where to share.

The complaint filed in this pre-trial hearing proves that the devastation of farmer life, forced migration, loss of biodiversity and damage to the environment and to general health have been caused directly by agrarian and agricultural policies, public “assistance” policies (such as the Crusade Against Hunger), as well as economic and trade policies related to free trade treaties adopted by the Mexican government and other national and international bodies which encourage the authorization of GMOs, and promote monocultures, agro-industrialization and land grabbing.

We wish to state for the record that the Cartagena Convention requires signatory governments to accept GMOs, so far from being a tool of protection, it is part of what we reject. Similarly, the Convention on Biodiversity, as opposed to free trade agreements, is subject to the interpretation of the states, and deprives peoples of sovereignty over biodiversity, and turns it over to governments.

This international instrument is used as an umbrella, and which in the name of diversity and sustainability has introduced a conservationist stance, is prone to the development of capital, rather than social, cultural and environmental concerns. In contrast, we defend a position that links the people, atmosphere and transformation, considering them as individual and collective actors endowed with important insights into the natural environment and how to use it.

Similarly, it’s important to note that in characterizing the growing of transgenic corn as a crime, we must take into account that until now international tribunals do not address crimes whose base constitutes an “economic” offense.

Through their testimonies, the indigenous and farming communities affected are not only defending their rights and ways of life. They are defending all of humanity.

The adjudicators celebrate the process that has allowed for this pre-trial hearing. We commit to developing a final ruling in the coming weeks, one that allows us to speak to suggestions and recommendations regarding the cases and testimonies which were presented, in order to strengthen them for the final hearing before the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal.

Oaxaca, Mexico April 2013


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