A disturbing video circulated online earlier this week. This is not breaking news but a lot of Colombians seemed to think this video should be widely circulated. It shows a young Columbian farmer being tortured by ESMAD while tied to a post. We are told this video was taken sometime during the farmer’s strike in August 2013.
When we asked local Colombians, “What did this boy do? What crime did he commit?” Here is the response we received:
“He is a young farmer who participated in the agrarian protests. He was captured by police for protesting the FTA (Free Trade Agreement). He committed no crime, he is a farmer asking for his rights.”
Farmers have been protesting in Colombia for several years. A national strike took place in August 2013. Tens of thousands of farmers staged protests and roadblocks sparked by implications of free trade agreements that went into effect in 2012.
Photo from August 2013
The strike resulted in the successful suspension of Resolution 970, a controversial seed law (known locally as the Monsanto Law) that had gone into effect as part of legislative measures of a free trade agreement with USA.
Essentially Resolution 970 protected the intellectual property rights of big agro-corporations such as Monsanto. To give you an idea of the some of the headaches Resolution 970 would have caused Colombian farmers here are a few examples of what complying with the Monsanto Law entailed:
- Farmers would have been prohibited by law to replant seeds from previous year’s harvest
- Farmers would have been required to buy new certified seeds every time they plant
- Farmers would have been required to register as “breeders”of certified seeds
- Registration would have involved a series of complicated processes that would have made it difficult for humble farmers to be in compliance
- Farmers also would have been required to buy corresponding treatment products (i.e. Monsanto RoundUp) and sometimes to rent special equipment to harvest certified crops
- Farmers caught with unregistered certified seeds would have faced 3-4 years in jail
- Rice dryers caught with unregistered GM seeds would have faced fines sometimes as high as 1 month salary and/or possibly had their businesses shuttered (drying unregistered GM rice is deemed as “enabling criminals”)
The Colombian government attempted to enforce the resolution in 2012 and sent riot squads to confiscate and destroy all “illegal” crops. In total 2 million tons of food were destroyed in the raids. Ironic how a law designed to benefit corporations that proclaim they can solve the world’s food shortage ended up destroying massive quantities of food.
The ICA (Instituto Colombiano de Agropecuaria) claims they held meetings to advise farmers of the new law going into effect and also say they posted a notice on their website 2 months in advance. Farmers said they were not given notice that the law was going into effect. They were not invited to the ICA meetings. They were never notified via traditional sources of media (TV/radio/newspaper) that the ancestral farming practice of saving seeds, a practice that had been done for 3,500,000 years in Colombia, all of a sudden was a crime.
Resolution 970 is currently suspended for 2 years while the government tries to rework the legislation so it doesn’t turn farmers into criminals just for growing food. The suspension may only be a temporary measure to placate farmers.
Many free trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have “patent clauses” enforcing the intellectual property rights of multinational corporations like Monsanto. TPP has been negotiated mostly in secret so we are unsure of the details involved in TPP or the expected long term goals of this particular free trade agreement. If it contains legislation like Resolution 970 in Colombia, small farmers in countries affected by TPP and similar free trade agreements are in for a rude awakening.
Clementina Productions made an excellent documentary explaining more about resolution 970 and the effects it had on small farmers in Colombia.
The young farmer being tortured on camera above is another unfortunate outcome from Resolution 970 and he was not the only case of human rights abuse against farmers recorded recently in Colombia. Human Rights Watch has issued many reports on serious violations taking place in Colombia thanks to free trade agreements.