Enjoy your consumer civilisation.
Withdraw completely your interest, companies, investment, tourist resorts, and good humanitarian intentions from our countries.
Leave us to confront ourselves and face our own cultural values.
Leave us to pursue our own indigenous road of self-development. It shall be hard and long. But it will be our own choices to determine it.
And we will never find ourselves worse off than we are today."
(Message conveyed to the G7 in Naples, July 1994, by 7 activists from the global South.)
The G8 is a farce - the idea that anyone fighting for a decent life in the South wants the G8, the WTO, the IMF, corporations, investment, capital, etc, etc, to have anything to do with their communities!
We are not investment opportunities, we are not a market, we are not factors of production, we are people.
WE are the South too (the Zapatistas say, 'We are YOU'!)
When we are not the South, we are against the South (we are inferno (Calvino)). Capital is NEVER the South, no not even when it pretends to be. Capitalism is, indeed, organised crime (Refused).
I've been trying today to work out Starbucks' fair trade policy. Following the thread beyond official Starbucks websites unravels a tentacular network of deception, oppression, destruction and profiteering (and this is what comes from following the clue of their 'fair trade' side!)
It works something like this.
Starbucks does not sell very much fair trade coffee. When it does, it does not carry the Fair Trade Foundation's mark of approval (not that I would ever enter a Starbucks, but I understand that maybe they do offer FTF coffee to take home, and brew it once a month), but one that they have established and regulate themselves as part of their 'Commitment to Origins' corporate responsibility. Starbucks fair trade coffee is selected and traded with the help of Conservation International, the well-known environmental organisation. Conservation International receives funding from sources which include: the Exxon Mobil Foundation, Citigroup, Chiquita, Ford, Gap, JP Morgan, McDonalds, Sony, Disney, United Airlines, Intel and Starbucks. It is a conservation initiative subsidised by some of the world's most profitable operations. Oh, and the World Bank too. The purpose of CI is to successfully "greenwash" the same old exploitation, violence and extraction as ever. CI is in league with the profit motive, corporate greed, top-down globalisation, the Bush administration, the G8, and the Mexican government's repression of the Zapatista indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico.
Now guess the major source of Starbucks own-brand 'fair trade' coffee... yep it's the much-reduced jungle of the Lacandona, Chiapas, Mexico. But Starbucks does not purchase fair trade coffee from Zapatista communities (you can, by the way, if you google it). CI does not favour the Zapatista communities; it accuses them and indigenous villagers who support them of abusing the rainforest by the way they live and work, which is apparently unsustainable; this is the message from an organisation supported by McDonalds and Exxon Mobil to indigenous peoples in Central America. In my opinion, the last time this could have carried any ethical weight was about 1491. This is what the Mexican Attorney General for Environmental Affairs had to say about the area in 2001: 'these regions suffer from high ungovernability, which deters private investment. They [the Army] will guarantee the security for private investment'. Thus an environment official on the autonomous, grass-roots democracy of the Zapatistas and his concern to safeguard the ecology and biodiversity of their lands. The worst environmental destruction in these forests is undoubtedly that caused by the numerous Mexican army bases; branding Zapatista supporters as environmentally irresponsible is a ridiculous pretext for further engaging the military in the region, pursuing an agenda of privatisation, investment and industrialisation as set out in Plan Puebla-Panama, and for bringing down the resistance. The villagers themselves have not been slashing and burning forest for at least a decade; "if the jungle dies, we die with it," explains one villager in Montes Azules, the district at the centre of corporate intentions in Chiapas. Except that he probably won't be in Montes Azules much longer if the Mexican government and Conservation International have their way; they intend to relocate communities out of that district. CI is so tightly entwined with the policy of relocation that it shared photographs it took from its plane for putative environmental research with the Mexican forces who have been expelling communities by force.
There are at least three levels to the motivations to displace the inhabitants of the Lacandona: the Zapatista resistance itself; the 'ungovernability' of their region, in which corporations desire to operate a kind of investment called 'bio-prospecting'; and the wider PPP programme to launch all manner of production, energy and communications infrastructure, in a network weaving the length of tropical Central America. Bio-prospecting involves the exploitation of bio-diversity, flora, fauna and fungi; the Chiapas rainforest is behind only Amazonia in these terms. The most valuable part of Chiapas is Montes Azules. Diverse chemical compounds, along with traditional indigenous medicinal knowledge, both being found here, are of extreme value to agricultural and pharmaceutical companies, are a huge treasure-store of profit opportunities. Bio-prospecting involves the removal of the inhabitants of the rainforest. The intention is to isolate useful compounds, patent their use as or in drugs, and to sell them to us. And to the indigenous people who have been using them for some time without paying. Biopiracy is one more arm of corporate globalisation and imperialism; the raping of natural diversity and cultural tradition for profit. The rainforest and traditional knowledge are useless to global capital so long as they are not yet in commodity format. Biopiracy goes further even than the buying up of seeds by agro firms; this is buying up biology itself as if it were something to note down in one's assets column. Globalisation from above turns everything it can into private property; communal ownership and traditions, like those of Chiapas, do not fit into the neo-liberal scheme of things. The real use of CI is to gain access to biodiverse ecosystems and lay them open to corporate exploitation. To create "corporate-administered genetic colonies" (Bill Weinberg).
Autonomous communities threaten the viability of the Plan Puebla-Panama (a plan for more hydroelectric dams, gas and oil exploration, maquilas, agribusiness, road and rail construction, and import/export infrastructure - suggestive of environmental concern and social justice or what?). They control water and energy resources; these must be privatised, and come under corporate control. Industry, investment, capitalisation, privatisation, reduction of autonomous communities to wage-labour, this is the even bigger project in which CI participates: can you imagine the corporations listed as funders and partners wanting anything less? The Rainforest Action Network called Citigroup "the most destructive bank in the world." PPP is impossible without attacking the forest in a catastrophic assault.
Let's bring Starbucks back into the picture. For a start, it partly bankrolls all this, under the name of fair trade, but there is more. One link is that Conservation International has identified organic coffee-growers in Chiapas to whom it offers fair trade prices, but on condition that the beans go to certain firms for sale, of which Starbucks has been included, who were the retail customers of a front company set up to buy the beans. Since deceptively tying growers into the sales, the corporations have been imposing stricter demands on them, and using their monopoly buying position to exert concentrated market power and reduce the freedom of growers to sell to whom they wish. The corporations make the growers co-operatives pay to be certified green, and do not credit them for the product. For really fair trade, it is crucial that consumers choose products certified independently of the retailer, which in the UK is by the Fair Trade Foundation, or produced by the autonomous Chiapas co-operatives which trade under the Zapatistas' and others' names. CI and coffee corporations seek to gain control of coffee harvests, under the pretext of ensuring environmentally sustainable production. But Starbucks is also linked into neoliberalism's grand Central American projects, because it does and will not buy from and support coffee production in the areas where CI will not certify environmental standards, and what a surprise when these turn out to be just those areas which CI, the Mexican government and bio-pirates want emptied of their indigenous inhabitants. This fact puts Starbucks coffee exploitation firmly in immediate complicity with the environmental rape the avoidance of which it claims to work against. Starbucks is complicit with the violent conflict to displace the indigenous of Chiapas, whose coffee it will not buy unless they locate themselves both firmly under their market power and outside those districts of most profitable biodiversity. Starbucks is the enemy of the Zapatistas; Starbucks is the enemy of the global South.
Even Starbucks 'fair trade' is a sham. It supports evictions from and exploitation of the rainforest, the destruction of rainforest for industrial development, and deliberately tricks sustainable coffee growers into tying themselves to its demands; it supports profiteering on the pretexts of ecology and fair trade. Starbucks and Conservation International care nothing for trade justice or environmental protection. CI in particular is a Trojan horse for capitalism. They are driven by profit: even when they pretend to have other motives, these are only disguises. If Starbucks did care about producers' communities and environmental sustainability, it would fund organisations to assist the indigenous people in working sustainably, and especially so in those areas must at risk of exploitation, whose inhabitants it would support. Social justice and environmentalism are possible only through radical anti-capitalist transformation, when other drives than profit will actuate our relations with each other, when resources will not be commodities, when people will not be obstacles, factors and markets.
Radicalism is the realisation that our lifestyle is not tolerable; it is throwing off the myth that we are peaceful, clean, responsible, that we are not violent, destructive, corrupting, polluting, ignorant, and complicit in injustices around the world, everywhere, every day. In every word and every act which does not subvert injustice, we confirm and participate in it, accept it, agree that it is okay, display, again, our unwillingness to see. When one buys a cup of Starbucks coffee, one confirms, accepts and participates in the destruction of the indigenous way of life in the jungle of Chiapas. The place where you live IS THE SAME PLACE as the Lacandon rainforest. Since capital has globalised, so have we. Do you believe that a capitalist corporation might really be concerned with social justice and environmental sustainability? Unless it were profitable to be so? If you can think of a reason, please let us know in a comment!
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is never the South either, no not even when it pretends to be. It is too late for me to write about this fully, but it is certainly important that Gates' philanthropic media image is challenged. Gates supports the international intellectual property rules which net him such huge monopoly profits as Microsoft does. The other main profiteer from these rights is Big Pharma. The BMG Foundation has $200 million invested in pharmaceutical giants. This is not a joke. Gates does invest in providing AIDS drugs programmes - but he supports the rules which keep AIDS drugs expensive and unnecessarily scarce. He does this for personal profit. His Foundation invests, along with pharmaceutical firms like Merck, in AIDS programmes in places like Botswana; but they do this only when the country threatens to expropriate the patented drug knowlege and start producing medicines cheaply for itself. Seen in this light, it becomes more obvious that Gates' AIDS money and public image are devoted to one cause alone: protecting the intellectual property regime which so enriches him. His is a false generosity in every way: generosity premised on the vary injustice which it pretends to allay.
"An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this 'generosity,' which is nourished by death, despair and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source. True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the 'rejects of life,' to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands - whether of individuals or entire peoples - need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world." (Paulo Freire, 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed', trans. Myra Bergman Ramos, Penguin, 1996, revised edition.) SO RIGHT!
Capital is never the South, war is never the South, police, fences, courthouses, security-guards, CCTV cameras, ID cards, detention centres, prisons, punishments, debt and investment are never the South, not stock exchanges, civil services, international development agencies, pop concerts, the press nor your charity standing order.
Shut up and let the South speak a moment. It has its own voice, but it wells up from below.
WE in the South do not want your investment; we do not want your charity; we do not even want your ideas of justice: we want you OUT!
We are Zapatista, we are Aymara, we are MST, we are asylum-seekers, we are sans-papiers, we are migrant labourers, we are Palestine, Chechnya, Tibet, Chiapas, we are pulling down fences, we are shutting down roads (we are opening roads), we are the colonised, we are the displaced, we are the oppressed, the enclosed, the sold, we have no unions, we have your problems on our shoulders, we owe YOU??!!! We are women, men, children who want their lives in their hands. You want to have to really declare a state of emergency?! We are not waiting to be given our lives; we are going to take them from you.
We want our food, we want our water, our seeds, our space, we want our movement, our AIDS drugs, our words and our ideas, we want our lives back. We don't want to conform our lives to the arrangements most conformable to productivity. We don't want the places we live conformed to their most efficient arrangment. WE WILL NOT BE STRUCTURALLY ADJUSTED. We don't BELIEVE that the G8, the WTO, the IMF, corporations, investment, capital, etc, etc, have anything to offer us. We want our lives, local and global at the same time... a world that is nothing but South.
Good luck to everyone going to Scotland to fight for their lives and others'. How much more can there be left to privatise, package and sell? The world is ours for the taking.