Magical Mystery Tour...

1 October 2001

The third international gathering of the Peoples Global Action (PGA) network has formed a peoples caravan which is crossing the Latin American continent. Starting in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the caravan, made up of people from over 15 countries, has arrived in Ecuador after visiting a number of peasant communities across Peru.

The third conference of PGA was attended by over 400 delegates from more than 50 countries. Discussions ranged from North/South solidarity to Plan Columbia, indigenous peoples struggles, gender struggles, and many more. In addition, two international days of action have been called, the first to coincide with the WTO's next meeting in Doha, Qatar November 9th-13th 2001, and the second to coincide with the FTAA meeting in Quito, Ecuador in March 2002.

The aim of the caravan is to exchange information regarding our respective campaigns and issues and to witness first hand the impacts of neo-liberal and military expansion in Latin America. Its not hard to pose as tourists at the almost hourly police and army checks we are being subjected to, when the contingent comprises of delegates from South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, Ecuador, Bolivia, Honduras, USA, Australia, Mexico, Spain, Basque Country, India, Nepal and Columbia.

With the imminent expansion of both the Free Trade Area of the Americas treaty (FTAA) and Plan Columbia throughout this region it is pertinent to witness the devastating effects policies of this kind have already unleashed here. In addition to the negative effects of capitalism we are learning about the positive elements of widespread and diverse resistance being mounted by people across this continent.

Unfortunately after leaving Cochabamba and battling for visas in La Paz two Bangladeshi and one Sri Lankan delegate were forced to leave and were unable to continue with the caravan. Next stop was Puno, on the border of Bolivia and Peru where a bus of delegates was stopped a week earlier en route to Cochabamba. After the happy reunion we continued north.

A bus load of tired people arrived at Cusco, the Southern Peruvian town and gateway to the infamous Machu Pichu ruins. We were warmly welcomed by the FDCC - the Peruvian Peasants Federation - and put up in one of their training centres, a cosy and amusing scene of thirty bunks in one room!

Some of the more gung-ho among the crew embarked on a late night tour of local Inca ruins, pricey, guarded and over run with tourists during the day, by the almost-full-moon-light the five hour trek was by all reports quite magical.

The next morning after a 6am rise we set off on a two hour ascent to over 3900 metres to visit the peasant communities of Jabomayo. Five years ago these communities had to travel miles to get food and relied on pesticides and chemicals for limited local production. Now they have organic green houses, fields of alfalfa and and increased variety of vegetables. The health of the community has increased markedly and techniques of sustainable chemical free agriculture are being shared throughout neighbouring communities.

Started in 1994 aided by the Institute for Alternative Agriculture, the training project, which has already involved over 1500 families, is wide ranging and includes a number of different areas including conservation, organic agriculture, agricultural techniques, business management, leadership skills, civic education and communication skills. All training is organised locally through a model of skill sharing. Once trained, families pass on the knowledge to others in the community, to other communities, districts and so on.

The curriculum was developed in consultation with the communities and comprises of a blend of traditional Inca agricultural models and modern techniques. The agricultural practices of the Cusco area are being viewed as a test-case, if successful agricultural reform of this kind could be implemented across the country.

The IAA is completely independent from the government and emerged from the grass roots, largely funded by 'The Fund for Social Development', a Belgian NGO. Training is completely free and has two main aims. Firstly democracy and organisational training and secondly land management and agricultural skills.

For these communities the fundamental thread running through all of this training is that of food sovereignty. Under former President Fujimori food imports were increased from $250M USD to $1.4B USD despite the rich agricultural industries of Peru. In response to this, and the push towards big agro-businesses, small peasant farmers are organising through Peasant Federations and setting up sustainable local alternatives and thus becoming more autonomous.

Furthermore the increased production in the Cusco area since the shift in agricultural practice feeds in to a 'Food Aid' program, whereupon after individual families and local communities are fed, excess production is used to feed over 30M people through schools etc.

The forty strong group were invited for breakfast and lunch at the home of Theodore and Segundina. This family were one of the first to undertake the training and now have organic vegetable gardens and produce organic dairy products. It was with much pride that they give us a tour of their stables, from which manure is transformed to garden fertiliser by worm farms, allowing them to do away with chemical fertilisers.

That evening we had a slumber party of sorts at the IAA back in Cusco, and were treated to a late night meeting with Carlos Paredes of the FDCC. He informed us about the history of the peasants movement in Peru, an inspiring and rich history of struggle from feudalism to neo-liberalism, which has had a profound impact on Peruvian politics. He outlined the idea of participatory democracy being practised in Limatambo and the Act of Commitment which they are developing to influence government policies. This 'act' is essentially a contract where the FDCC commits its members to voting for a particular candidate based on their commitments to instigate favourable policies once in office.

Another early rise, with little sleep for some who chose to party on in Cusco and share the celebration with others upon their return at 4am! At 6am we piled in to the bus and headed for Limatambo where we were introduced to their model of participatory democracy which they have been developing since 1991.

This model allows for the estimated 10,500 members of the community to set the agenda for public works to be undertaken by the council and gives them full rights to oversee local council budgets and the councillors themselves. Alejandro Toledo, the recently elected President of Peru, who prior to his election signed an Act of Commitment with the FDCC, is set to visit Limatambo in early October with a view to enacting this model of local community autonomy across Peru.

After leaving Cusco we travelled non stop by bus to Lima, a mad overnight trip through the awesome mountains of Peru, sometimes reaching over altitudes of 4500 metres!

Delayed by a stuck bus blocking the road we unfortunately arrived in Lima only to catch the final half and hour of the Third Annual Peruvian Peasants Conference, where Toledo had been the day before. We were treated to lunch, shook lots of hands, expressed solidarity and took lots of photos, it was a shame we arrived late, but we were greeted warmly nonetheless.

Further complications ensued when the four russians and other travelling companions did not arrive in Lima as expected and we were forced to leave minus another of our comrades who stayed in Peru to look for them!

The rest of us continue en route for Quito and Sucumbias, unfortunately we had to cancel our trip to the Peasant community in Saragayu as once again we are running behind schedule.

Much time is spent on the bus, the Australians can be seen practising yoga at any opportunity and there are some cosy relationships being developed. Surprisingly, given the bumpy roads, lack of showers and the levels of tolerance required to live with forty people on a bus for weeks straight, the morale is high. Furthermore the long days on the bus are spent with presentations on local struggles from Plan Columbia to the Landless Peoples Movement in South Africa, and some amusing karaoke sessions to boot!

From here the caravan will travel to Sucumbias far north Ecuador and then through Columbia with a view to learning more about Plan Columbia, arriving in Bogota around the 12th October.

More in depth reports on the PGA conference, Jabomayo, Limatambo and different peasant communities across Latin America are being collated, hopefully a caravan reader will be published in Spanish and English in several months, in the mean time we plan to put out a few more reports from the road...

kids in sandpit on M41
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Updated 26 October 2001