Juan Almendares – Social Movements and struggles for territory

Juan Almendares – medical doctor and Honduran rights activist – delivered a  rousing speach on the social movements and the struggle for territory which became one of the defining moments of the San Salvador conference Cambio Climatico Movimientos Sociales Y Territorio. Fiercely and revolutionarily political, it underlines a strong Central American sense of being on the receiving end of a climate assault from developed countries. This speach was live translated into English from Spanish during the conference, and is reproduced from exptensive notes.

CESTA/ MOVIAC Climate Change Conference at San Salvador University, November 2012 (click to enlarge)

I want to talk about human visions. Our first vision is about objects, possessions. Our second vision must be he negation of the first, and must include the unity of society with nature. Since the capitalist world has started to develop and expand, this idea of possession has been imposed on us. The idea of a seperation between what is human and what is natural has taken place in order to satisfy the needs of labour. Humans are separated from nature. We’ve decided that humans are on a pedastool, are more important, and that plants and animals have secondary rights. This concept violates all the rights of nature and of people.

In this context, I believe we have three central ideas for our understanding of the world:

  • Space – a social and historical idea that comes before territory. This is related to power.
  • Territory – This becomes real as a result of power. It’s closely linked to culture and power. It’s also linked to conflict. Having land and territory are very different things.
  • Territory place – The idea of a community, living together and solidarity. A deeper idea, it implies the historical memory of the people.

Historically, the colonialists and capitalists have invaded. This has been a technological invasion with a philsophy of domination. The whole objective was to evict indigneous peoples, and it’s come hand in hand with militarization, and with extreme forms of violence. This shows that ideology is implied in the denial of indigenous people, their role as ‘savages’. Aztecs and Incas, for exxample, were extrordinary peoples that were destroyed and painted as savages by colonial influxes. The destruction of nature through biotechnology and pesticides, through destructive industries, are ways to increase disorder and produce sickness. The whole of the mining industry, for example, has done nothing but exploit and polute, and continues to do so today.

There are always changes in culture, as culture is the political capacity of our society to organize itself and make decisions. We’re repressed, yet we see the strengths in social movements, music and arts that show that we can overcome this kind of repression.

Central American society starts out from the idea that the process of colonization and exploitation has been accompanied by occupation. The idea of security in Latin America is oppression, as well as the growth of military bodies and police forces. People are frequently repressed to protect the interest of transnational organizations. Destructive industries in Central America are growth industries.

World map scaled to demonstrate relative carbon emissions (click to enlarge)

All over Latin America, health problems are caused in the name of ‘sustainable mining’, by industries that have no conscience. This continues in tremendous areas of deforestation, use of pesticides and herbicides on a huge scale and megatourism development that has destroyed indigenous and local communities. In the 21st century, what is happening is the destruction of nature and human beings in the name of ‘development’, which is a denial of our very being. Those organizations that talk about “the development of being” create the political conditions that destroy the rights of women and minority groups. There are a lot of organizations representing different groups, but they’re all fragmented. It’s important that we build one movement. We have to re-insist on being, and feel the idea that we are a community. As long as we manage to recover this idea and share ideas, we will be able to strengthen movements and understand why the peasant movement and indigenous movements, why other minority movements are important.

What stands out to me is that are often few intellectuals joining this struggle. It is uneducated people who are demonstrating, and uneducated people who are suffering. The truth is that decisions don’t change anything, and governments and corporations are continuing to agrovate the problem. The insistence on a capitalist system is the problem. I wonder if democracy is truly compatible with capitalism. I think not. I think true democracy is based on economic power, on big business interests not on the interests of people. It’s very important for us to start thinking differently.

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