foe europe, the netherlands and uruguay: (ex)changing worlds!
Powerful transnational corporations drive the process, perpetuating the unsustainable transfer of natural resources between the two worlds. International trade can be devastating for people and their environment in exporting countries, and is squeezing the life out of local economies everywhere.
Friends of the Earth groups campaigning for economic justice aim to challenge these corporate giants head-on, and change the dynamics of international trade. To do this they need a thorough understanding of the different economic, political, social and cultural forces driving production, trade and consumption – and thus each other’s campaigns - in different parts of the world.
FoE Uruguay / REDES and FoE Paraguay / Sobrevivencia hosted European campaigners in the first step of a staff exchange designed to facilitate a deeper shared understanding of the different contexts within which their Economic Justice campaigns operate.
Anne van Schaik, head of FoE Netherlands’ campaign on globalization and the environment, was welcomed by FoE Uruguay and FoE Paraguay. They compared their approaches to campaigning on corporates and globalization, and deepened their understanding of the different political and economic contexts in Europe and Latin America. Anne also met local communities, gave radio interviews in both Uruguay and Paraguay, and talked to farmers and regional activists in Paraguay during training courses on sustainability. Field trips also gave her an opportunity to see the impacts of the expansion of transgenic soybean cultivation first-hand.
Christine Pohl, FoE Europe’s campaigner on pulp mills and plantations helped to prepare a dossier on the Botnia pulp mill and plantation with FoE Uruguay, working from their office in Montevideo. She traveled to Peru with FoE Uruguay and the Radio Mundo Real team, who submitted the dossier to the people’s tribunal on environmental and human rights violations committed by European companies in Latin America. (This tribunal was held on the 16-17 May 2008, and was part of the Enlazando Alternativas III peoples' summit.) Christine also presented the results of FoE Europe’s research on “European financing of agrofuel production in Latin America” to a workshop at the summit.
Christine said, “I was warmly and kindly welcomed and very well cared for, and when I had to leave again, I was sad to leave these lovely people behind. These friendships I now have with people on the other side of the world are the most motivating and encouraging experience of the exchange for me. I believe that such friendships and personal bonds form a very large and important part of effective international cooperation.”
The exchanges deepened campaigners’ understanding of each other’s work and the various forces shaping their campaigns on globalization, market mechanisms and corporations. Anne and Christine, for example, gained a much deeper insight into the way in which foreign politics impacts peoples’ day-to-day life in Latin America. This means that campaigns challenging neoliberal politics, which are considered radical in Europe, attract strong public support in Latin America. They also met and talked to communities and farmers living with the social and environmental problems created by international trade in commodities like soy.
All the participants benefited from a renewed focus on campaign communications. Together they considered how to strengthen Radio Mundo Real as a tool to communicate the Environmental Justice program’s activities, and planned ways of bringing the voices of affected peoples to a northern public. Christine learned about engaging the media in a Latin American context, from media work around the Botnia dossier.
The experience of working together closely on a day-to-day basis also helped to create friendships and build better working relationships across the federation. Anne, for example, is now working very closely with Sebastian Valdomir from FoE Uruguay as they jointly coordinate FoEI’s Economic Justice program.
It also gave all participants a better understanding of each others’ social and political contexts, which lead to different ways of working with people and the media in different regions.
Anne explained, “It has given me better understanding of why the groups in Uruguay and Paraguay work the way they do. I was very impressed with their local campaigns, like the seed-gathering project to prevent biodiversity being lost, and the organic farm which also acts as a base for national activists in Uruguay and their international visitors. These are new forms of organizing that we don’t have in the Netherlands.”
Anne has invited groups from the Latin American region to visit the Netherlands, Brussels and the UK in 2009, to participate in a return staff exchange.
The seeds have also been sown for future campaigning, including on deforestation, plantations and the cellulose chain. The first steps of this have happened already, when FoE Uruguay and other FoE groups prepared a photo exhibition on Paper and Ethanol, and met at the 2008 European Social Forum in Malmo, Sweden, to plan future cooperation on the cellulose chain campaign.
see: The picture exhibition at: http://www.foeeurope.org/exhibitions/spip.php?article2
with thanks to our funders: the dutch ministry of foreign affairs (dgis)