WikiCables: Brazilian agrofuels, GMO soybeans


Two cables after a couple of days’ delay [computer, personal problems], both dealing with Big Agra.

We also noticed that, as of very early Sunday 3 April, WikiLeaks hasn’t made any new diplomatic cable posts since 25 March. Very odd, and by far the longest timespan without any new releases.

WikiCable I: Brazil’s ethanol mania

Brazil’s betting on sugarcane to reduce petroleum dependence, something the Obama administration’s new Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future [available here (PDF)] singls out for a special mention:

In the Western Hemisphere, the United States collaborates with Brazil to help a number of countries develop bioenergy programs that promote economic development and energy security.

But there’s a dark side to the sugarcane craze, as noted in a new report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy:

The sweet sell on Brazilian ethanol

IATP is leading a delegation of U.S. environmentalists, academics and corn/biofuel producers down to Brazil to learn more about the intersection of agriculture, biofuels and land use.

On our last day in Brazil, we got the hard pitch on sugar ethanol from UNICA: an association of 110 companies producing 60 percent of the country’s ethanol and sugar production. UNICA has done a masterful job marketing sugarcane ethanol as the cleanest, lowest carbon fuel in the world—garnering a 2009 Bulldog Public Relations Award for their efforts. But our discussion was more than just a flashy powerpoint, there was a lot to be impressed by as well.

Brazil is the largest sugarcane producer in the world—and the world’s second largest ethanol producer (next to the U.S.). According to UNICA, sugarcane production uses less fertilizer than corn (the primary U.S. feedstock), needs only to be replanted every six years or so, and uses a variety of integrated pest management tools to help lower pesticide use. All sugarcane mills are energy self-sufficient because they burn both the leftover stalk from the sugarcane as well as bagasse (waste leftover after the sugarcane has been processed). About two-thirds of sugarcane processing plants can switch between ethanol or sugar, depending on what that market demands.

We asked UNICA about the harsh treatment of workers at sugarcane plantations we had heard about from the Landless Rural Workers Movement earlier in our trip. UNICA pointed to a recent joint government/industry/ NGO commitment on labor conditions it had made in 2009. The industry is also moving to lower the need for labor by increasing mechanization. In Sao Paulo—the largest sugarcane producing state in Brazil—all the plantations will be mechanized by 2017. What will happen to workers who formerly worked on these plantations is unclear. And there are still a lot of sugarcane plantations that operate both outside of UNICA, and outside of Sao Paulo.

On the environmental front, UNICA is pushing to reform (some would say weaken) Brazil’s Forest Code, which prohibits agricultural expansion into protected areas and requires landowners to set aside 35 percent of their land for forests. The Forest Code is currently being debated in Brazil’s legislature. UNICA claims that 90 percent of producers don’t comply and meeting the code’s requirements is burdensome and nearly impossible. While UNICA does not see sugar production directly extending into forests, they do hope to expand into pasture land, which could be affected by the Forest Code.

Read the rest.

With that, here’s a 21 May 2009 UNCLASSIFIED/FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY cable from Thomas J. White, Consul General in Sao Paulo on the struggle between Brazil’s indigenous peoples and the latifundistas and corporateeers of Big Agra over the future of Mato Grosso do Sul,

A relevant section:

Mato Grosso do Sul’s thriving agriculture, powered by sugarcane, cattle, wood, and soy production is moving the state forward economically. The agricultural boom, however, has cost indigenous groups, mostly Guarani and Terena Indians, their ancestral lands. During the 1950s, Indians were pushed off their lands in a variety of ways, ranging from purchases for artificially low prices to outright expulsion. Consequently, only 0.5 percent of the state’s territory remains in the hands of indigenous groups, according to State Prosecutor Marco Antonio Delfino. This contrasts with neighboring Mato Grosso State where 27 percent of the land remains in indigenous hands.

The cable is posted online here.

VZCZCXRO0248
RR RUEHRG
DE RUEHSO #0309/01 1411705
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 211705Z MAY 09
FM AMCONSUL SAO PAULO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9229
INFO RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0378
RUEHRG/AMCONSUL RECIFE 4366
RUEHRI/AMCONSUL RIO DE JANEIRO 9149
RUEHBU/AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 3509
RUEHAC/AMEMBASSY ASUNCION 3756
RUEHMN/AMEMBASSY MONTEVIDEO 2910
RUEHSG/AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 2756
RUEHLP/AMEMBASSY LA PAZ 4108
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 SAO PAULO 000309
SIPDIS
SENSITIVE
STATE PASS DRL FOR MITTELHAUSER
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR PHUM KPAO BR

SUBJECT: “Land is Life”: Indians vs. Agro-Industry in Mato Grosso do Sul

REF: A. Brasilia 1; B. Brasilia 349 SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED–PLEASE PROTECT ACCORDINGLY

¶1. (U) Summary: Indigenous groups and agriculturalists disagree vigorously over land rights in Mato Grosso do Sul state, and observers on both sides see no easy solution to a problem with economic and cultural dimensions. On one side, the GOB, NGOs and indigenous groups insist that state governments must return native lands to the Indians, who then intend to return to their traditional way of life. On the other, state and local political leaders scoff at the legitimacy of Indian demands, saying this would break the back of the region’s prosperity. In the background, the Indians are grappling to define themselves. Indian participation in democratic politics is rising, but there were also indications of possible increased polarization at the grassroots level. End Summary.

¶2. (U) During a March 10-13 visit to Mato Grosso do Sul State, Consul General and Poloff met with a variety of Federal and State government, private sector, and indigenous representatives. Poloff also visited an Indian reservation on the outskirts of the regional city of Dourados (pop. 200,000). Among those interviewed were: State Governor Andre Puccinelli, State Chief Justice Elpidio Helvecio Chaves, Federal Prosecutor and indigenous rights advocate Marco Antonio Delfino, Federal Anthropologist (Consultant to Prosecutor) Marcos Homero Ferreiro Lima, President of the local federation of industries (FIEMS) Sergio Marcolino Longen, Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) attorney Rogerio Battaglia, and Guarani indigenous leaders Otonicl Ricardo, Teodora de Souza, Edil Benites, and Norvaldo Mendes. Agriculturalists vs. Indians

¶3. (U) Mato Grosso do Sul’s thriving agriculture, powered by sugarcane, cattle, wood, and soy production is moving the state forward economically. The agricultural boom, however, has cost indigenous groups, mostly Guarani and Terena Indians, their ancestral lands. During the 1950s, Indians were pushed off their lands in a variety of ways, ranging from purchases for artificially low prices to outright expulsion. Consequently, only 0.5 percent of the state’s territory remains in the hands of indigenous groups, according to State Prosecutor Marco Antonio Delfino. This contrasts with neighboring Mato Grosso State where 27 percent of the land remains in indigenous hands.

Farmers Have Land, But Not Titles

¶4. (U) Mato Grosso do Sul’s agribusinesses possess the contested lands, in many cases for decades, but relatively few have legal title to those holdings. According to University of Sao Paulo geographer Professor Ariovaldo Umbelino de Oliveira, 30 to 40 percent of the big agriculturalists in states like Mato Grosso do Sul have no title to their holdings. Encouraged by the recent Raposa/Serra do Sol decision (Refs A and B), the Indians are now awaiting a Federal Government survey (“demarcation”) that promises to give back their ancestral territories. The Establishment: Just Say No!

¶5. (SBU) State and local leaders from the top down were adamant in their rejection of Indian land demands. They also had strong criticisms of Indian attitudes and culture. Among the views sampled:

– Governor Puccinelli scoffed at the idea that land, in an agricultural state like Mato Grosso to Sul, could be taken away from productive farmers who had cultivated these lands “for decades” and returned to Indian groups.

– State Chief Justice Chaves complained that Indian advocacy groups, including the Catholic Church NGO CIMI, regularly slander local law enforcement representatives, charging them with torture and racism, when local officials are simply trying to enforce the law.

–Chaves warned that trends toward separatism in the Indian community – concentrating Indians on expanded reservations – would only magnify their problems. Dourados has a neighboring reservation, which Chaves predicted would become “Brazil’s first indigenous favela” if tendencies to isolate and give separate treatment to indigenous peoples continue.

SAO PAULO 00000309 002 OF 003

–Chaves and other local officials clearly believed the Indian land claims and stated intentions to return to traditional life were baseless. City and state officials asked how the local Indians claim to be indigenous, when these same Indians “use cars, sneakers, drugs” They complained about state subsidies to the Indians, stating that the latter “would have to learn to work like everyone else.”

The Indians and Their Allies

¶6. (U) Indigenous advocates, including GOB officials, and indigenous representatives held diametrically opposed views: –Indigenous leaders were unrelenting in their land demands and would accept no substitute for their ancestral territories, where their forefathers are buried and where they can live in a more traditional, communal fashion. “The land is life,” they said. -

-GOB and CIMI representatives charged that local officials had used scare tactics, whipping up panic-inducing public campaigns that exaggerate how much land would be returned to the Indians. They also stated the indigenous make up a disproportional amount of the area’s prison population.

On the Reservation

¶7. (U) A visit to the Guarani/Terena Indian reservation just outside Dourados with Federal Anthropologist and Indian advocate Homero Ferreiro Lima confirmed elements from the accounts given by those on both sides of the conflict.

The State Has Provided Help…

¶8. (U) On the one hand, Federal and State officials, as well as Protestant missionaries, have provided the reservation with tangible benefits, including a hospital, two schools (one functioning, one under construction), and brick houses. Indians also receive a monthly stipend from the GOB. …But It Often Doesn’t Match Indians’ Needs

¶9. (U) On the other hand, much of what the government gives does not match the Indians’ needs, according to Ferreira Lima. Brick houses, for example, do not support the Indian’s nomadic lifestyle, which is how they have historically avoided intra-group conflict. Among those who do not abandon their government-constructed houses, reservation life has escalated interpersonal tensions, often resulting in assaults and murders.

¶10. (SBU) Lima Ferreira also noted that historically the Guarani had practiced infanticide. One possible legacy of this is a significant number of abandoned, undernourished children cared for in a special division of the reservation hospital, visited by Poloff. As Lima Ferreira acknowledged, child abandonment may still be culturally acceptable among some of the Indians, but constitutes a crime and a scandal in the eyes of the Brazilian State and society.

Indian Political Participation/Possible Polarization

¶11. (U) Indigenous groups are divided among the best course of action to achieve their political goals. Ferreira Lima noted that, in the face of public campaigns against Indian land claims, the Indians were making inroads into local politics, electing state-level congressional representatives and mayors in predominantly indigenous areas. At the same time, teachers at the reservation school advocated direct action. During Poloff’s visit, faculty were showing students a film about how Yanomami Indians had kidnapped and held hostage a bulldozer operator who threatened to cross into their lands. They released him when local law enforcement arrived. The local teachers asserted that this was a good “consciousness-raising” example for students.

Comment: No End in Sight

¶12. (SBU) It was difficult to see a potential middle ground in the Indian-agribusiness conflict over land in Dourados. Though the local Indians seem less radical than, for example, the non-ethnic Landless People’s Movement (MST), they appear no less dedicated to their eventual goal of regaining ancestral lands. Landowner

SAO PAULO 00000309 003 OF 003

opposition is similarly entrenched. Curiously, the Indians have never linked up with the MST, because they see their ethnically-based cause as distinct from that of those who are simply landless. While agribusiness often lack clear land title, they frequently can show long-term land utilization, and their activity is crucial to the state’s growing economic prosperity. The outcome of ongoing legal cases is unclear, but, in the meantime, indigenous land issues in Mato Grosso do Sul and other areas will continue to present challenges to Brazilian democracy. End Comment.

¶13. (U) This cable was coordinated/cleared by Embassy Brasilia.

WHITE

WikiCable II: A political schism fuel by GMO soybeans

Our second cable, sent 14 November 2003 by Ambassador Donna Jean Hrinak, describes the role played by genetically modified soybeans — perhaps strains developed by UC Berkeley’s Chris Somerville [previously] — in triggering the first significant schism in the government of then-Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

A relevant section, describing the defection of the charismatic Fernando Gabeira:

Gabeira announced his intention to leave the PT on October 6, charging that Lula was no longer listening to the rank-and-file on key issues. He was incensed by the recent issuance of a presidential decree legalizing the upcoming crop of biotech soybeans (ref A). Many in the PT’s environmental factions, including Environment Minister Marina Silva, were deeply troubled by the decree, and in particular by the fact that Lula made the decision without consulting the party.

The cable is posted online here.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BRASILIA 003323
SIPDIS
SENSITIVE
DEPT FOR WHA/BSC
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR BR

SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR’S CAPTOR FIRST TO BOLT PT PARTY

REF: A. BRASILIA 3125
¶B. BRASILIA 2655

¶1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Fernando Gabeira, a Brazilian Federal Deputy whose original claim to fame was as a revolutionary who kidnapped the US Ambassador in 1969, has become the first national figure to leave Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT) of his own volition since Lula took office. Over the years, Gabeira has been an outspoken environmentalist, and his break with the PT was triggered by Lula’s recent decision to legalize genetically-modified soybeans (ref A). Gabeira’s departure, along with the likelihood that three other Deputies will be expelled from the party for voting against a key reform bill, illustrates how the Workers’ Party has changed in recent months and years. Policy decisions, even on bedrock substantive issues, are no longer made after discussion and consensus-building within the party. Instead, the Lula government is making decisions animated by the practical necessities of leading a country and a fractious coalition. These compromises are at odds with some of the PT’s traditional positions and are unpalatable to many of the more determined leftists in the party, though no others seem inclined to leave the PT at present. END SUMMARY.

WHAT’S UP, COMRADE?
——————-

¶2. (U) Fernando Gabeira was a journalist who joined a small Brazilian revolutionary group called MR-8 that gained notoriety in 1969 when it kidnapped U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Charles Elbrick. The events were brought back to life in the 1997 movie “Four Days in September” – based on Gabeira’s novel about the kidnapping, “O Que E Isso, Companheiro?” (“What’s Up, Comrade?”). Elbrick was freed in exchange for the Brazilian regime releasing fifteen political prisoners and sending them into exile. Among the fifteen was Jose Dirceu, a Sao Paulo student leader who returned from exile in 1979 and co-founded the PT party with Lula the next year. Dirceu is now President Lula’s Chief of Staff and most-trusted advisor.

¶3. (SBU) Gabeira was shot and captured during the Elbrick kidnapping, but himself was later freed and sent into exile in exchange for the release of the kidnapped German ambassador. Like Dirceu, he returned to Brazil with the 1979 amnesty. In addition to his journalism, Gabeira became active in human rights and environmental causes, co-founding the Green Party (PV) in 1986. In 1994, he became the Green Party’s first Federal Deputy, winning a seat from Rio de Janeiro. He moved to the PT party in 2001 and was reelected to his third four-year term in 2002. Gabeira, now 62, serves on three Chamber committees: Environment, Human Rights, and the Ad Hoc Committee on FTAA negotiations. He is active in debates on biotechnology and free trade, being an outspoken skeptic of both.

BIOTECH SOY CAUSES PT’S FIRST DEFECTION
—————————————

¶4. (SBU) The PT is one of the few Brazilian political parties that requires some discipline of its members and frowns on party-switching. There have been 140 party changes in the Chamber in the past nine months, none involving the PT. Thus it is significant when a PT member decides to leave the party over a point of principle. Three Deputies are nearly certain to be expelled from the Workers’ Party in November for voting against Lula’s pension reform bill (ref B), and Gabeira’s departure comes against the soul-searching engendered by that mini-crisis. But Gabeira is seen as a respected voice who has earned his leftist stripes through the years. In the words of one columnist, “Fernando Gabeira can’t be accused of being a radical, furious, a political opportunist, nutty, undervalued, or hysterical” like some of the other PT rebels.

¶5. (SBU) Gabeira announced his intention to leave the PT on October 6, charging that Lula was no longer listening to the rank-and-file on key issues. He was incensed by the recent issuance of a presidential decree legalizing the upcoming crop of biotech soybeans (ref A). Many in the PT’s environmental factions, including Environment Minister Marina Silva, were deeply troubled by the decree, and in particular by the fact that Lula made the decision without consulting the party. Historically, the PT developed policy positions through long debates at party congresses. In interviews, Gabeira also complained that Lula recently met with Castro in Cuba without denouncing his human rights record.

¶6. (SBU) Last week, the PT scrambled to try to keep Gabeira in the party and there were rumors that he alone would be allowed to vote against the Biotechnology bill when it comes to the floor. Jose Dirceu invited him to an October 10 meeting at the presidential palace to be joined by Marina Silva and party president Jose Genoino. But Dirceu was an hour late to the meeting )-trapped in Congress mediating a coalition dispute– and a clearly-deflated Gabeira walked out before Dirceu arrived, grumbling to the press about Dirceu’s “inelegance”. Gabeira told the press that he will continue to vote for Lula’s initiatives when he can, but will remain “without party” for the time being. It seems likely that he will eventually rejoin the Green Party and its six Federal Deputies, as long as the Greens do not vote to legalize biotech crops.

COMMENT – “PT PRAGMATIC”
————————

¶7. (SBU) If Lula has evolved from the old fire-breathing union leader into “Lula Lite”, then the Workers’ Party has similarly evolved into “PT Pragmatic”. In his first few months in office, Lula established a dozen “councils” designed to forge consensus in nearly every policy sphere. But the councils seem nearly forgotten now. Increasingly, decisions are made by a small group including Lula, Dirceu, Finance Minister Palocci, and a handful of other PT insiders. The resulting policies –from fiscal austerity at the expense of social programs to pension reform to legalizing biotech soybeans– are pragmatic and centrist, but are often sharply at odds with historical positions of the Workers’ Party. Both the policies and the policy-making style are alienating to the party’s leftists, who charge the administration with “incoherence”, a Brazilian term roughly meaning “lack of continuity”, suggesting Lula has turned his back on both his constituents and his past. In the wake of Gabeira’s decision, even PT President Genoino, a moderate and a Lula insider, is calling for a review of the administration’s decision-making style. “The government”, he says, “needs to be more sensitive. The party has a tradition and an agenda. It has historical banners that can’t be forgotten”.

¶8. (SBU) With Gabeira’s departure and the expulsion of the three rebels, the PT’s Chamber caucus will slip to 90 members –it will remain the largest party in the Chamber by fifteen seats. In truth, those leaving the PT will move to parties farther on the left that are firmly in the PT-led coalition, so while they will be free to vote against the administration on any given bill, they will not really damage the government’s already fractious coalition. Instead, the departures serve to underline the distance that the PT has traveled towards the center over the past year. This is an evolution of choice, Lula and Dirceu and the inner circle have made the conscious decision to jettison some of their leftist ideology in the name of governability.

HRINAK

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