Land Conflicts in Argentina

… from Resistance to Systemic Transformation – Published on Upside Down World (first on Food First.org), by Zoe Brent, Jan 2, 2014.
Download FULL report: Land & Sovereignty in the Americas, Issue Brief no 4, 2013.

Following Argentina’s economic crisis in 2001, the country leaned heavily on mining and large-scale agribusiness (especially soy) to reinvigorate its ailing economy. The expansion of these industries requires the accumulation of new lands and the violent displacement of rural communities. Many farmers and indigenous communities don’t have titles to their lands, leaving them vulnerable to displacement or criminal charges for squatting. 

Peasant movements like Argentina’s National Peasant and Indigenous Movement (MNCI) are resisting this assault on their lands and fighting to transform the system through political education and collective action.

Background: Argentina’s Soy and Mining Explosion: … //

… Resistance Strategies – Land Occupation and Beyond:

  • Land occupation is a common resistance strategy used by rural social movements throughout Latin America seeking to protest corporate control of land or to gain control over land for peasant production. But while land occupation may—when successful—establish control over land, it does not necessarily alter the dominant regime of private property. Recognizing that private land titles do little to stem economic concentration, groups like the National Peasant and Indigenous Movement (MNCI) are promoting collective territorial rights that, unlike individual land titles, can’t be bought and sold and better reflect the peasant and indigenous communal land use practices. Communal land use for animal grazing, for instance, also crucial to many peasant farmers’ survival.
  • However, the Argentine judicial system is prone to a lack of political accountability, making this kind of meaningful change difficult. In Jujuy, for example, by 2011 only 15 percent of the communal titles promised in a 1996 land-titling program had been granted by the provincial government. Thus, social movements have begun appealing to international human rights frameworks, invoking ethnicity or identity, in order to gain greater legitimacy for their struggles for collective rights. The 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, for instance, provides further legal legitimacy to land rights claims, even in places like Jujuy, where the provincial government has not advanced a strong indigenous rights agenda.
  • Additionally, the recent approval of the FAO voluntary guidelines on land tenure and governance in 2012 is the result of a participatory negotiation process that involved representatives from the MNCI. While this document is non-binding, it serves as another reference point for internationally sanctioned land governance practices that recognize collective land rights and other protections for peasant and indigenous communities. In order to use it to strengthen demands for land at the local level, the MNCI is creating a manual for its members, which uses popular language. They also plan to monitor the implementation of the guidelines. In this way, local social movements are using international legal instruments in a politicized way to promote systemic changes with regards to land use and ownership.
  • These two strategies—1) demanding communal land titles and 2) appealing to international human rights instruments for collective territorial rights—go beyond the typical strategy of occupation in that they seek broader systemic transformation. Nonetheless, movements have recognized that titling efforts alone—whether individual or collective—do not change the system of commodity production that is fueling dispossession in Argentina’s countryside.

Political Education for Systemic Change:

  • For MNCI, the struggle for land titles must be part of a larger political project of food sovereignty, defined as “the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.”
  • To achieve this, MNCI seeks to mobilize support by developing a collective analysis of what is wrong with dominant production models, what needs to be done, and why. In 2013, after over ten years of developing different educational models throughout the country, MNCI’s Peasant University (Universidad Campesina) opened its doors. It plans to offer four courses of study: Agroecology and Rural Development; Human Rights and Territory; Music and Popular Culture; and Alternative Media and Communications Management.
  • The university draws on the experiences of a number of political education initiatives in Argentina and Latin America. Through these education initiatives, land rights are politicized—in other words, they are linked to other rights and a larger project of social change. Marcos Vargas, age 35, will begin his studies at the Universidad Campesina after living his whole life in the rural northern region of Córdoba. He explains, “Where I was born, we were never made aware of [human] rights in school, nor in church. We thought we didn’t have rights, but after a long time we realized that we do have rights and we discovered that not only do we have a right to land, we also have a right to education and health…”
  • If rural communities and peasant movements are to achieve more than precarious land titles within a violent system of land grabbing by soy and mining interests, then political education is needed in order to promote a more integrated vision of land and food sovereignty.

Conclusion:

  • As conflicts over land have increased in Argentina, resistance efforts by peasant farmers and indigenous communities have taken many forms. From land occupation to a politics of participation and appealing to international human rights declarations, indigenous communities and peasants are using a combination of legal tools, international appeals and direct action to resist dispossession. The legal strategies have had mixed results, but are strongest when understood as political tools with the intention of actually changing the rules of the game. In order to directly challenge dominant systems of production in Argentina, the MNCI embeds these legal strategies in a broader political project of promoting food sovereignty through collective action. Now inaugurating its first Peasant University, the MNCI is not only teaching students how to secure land titles, it is using education to create legally literate and politically engaged peasants and indigenous peoples who feel empowered to demand systemic change.

(full text).

Links:

Book: Undoing Border Imperialism, on Upside Down World, by Harsha Walia, introduction by Andrea Smith, AK Press, 2013 -  Review written by Dawn Paley, Jan 1, 2014;

New Forms of Revolution (Part 1): The Lacandona Commune, on Upside Down World, by Gustavo Esteva, Dec 31, 2013;

SOA-Trained Honduran Colonel Threatens US Human Rights Activist, on Food First.org, Dec 19, 2013;

Bring Back Bees To Mexico’s Degraded Farmlands, on Global Giving.org;

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