8/6/03 San Cristobal Today, we leave for the city of Comitan, approximately an hour and a half from San Cristobal. We took Combis, collective Suburban type SUVs, to the city. We transferred to the back of pickup trucks for the bumpy ride into the neighboring villages. The first village we entered was Las Laureleas (sp?), a village of approximately 45 families, comprising about 200 people. Under a big tree and while the children of farmers scatted about, we listened as each of the designated speakers took turns talking about an aspect of life in their community.
The woman who spoke about “economics” really had an impact. She spoke of how the plummeting prices for their main agriculture product, corn (thanks WTO, IMF and World Bank!) had forced many of the men to leave the community to look for work. Many went to the US, she said, and some were very lucky, sending back money to their wives and children. Others weren’t so lucky, she said. Some came back dead, the victims of violence or the harsh working conditions for immigrants in the US.
Another speaker talked about how the biotechnology companies, including Monsanto, have come into the villages buying meals and cokes for the village and offering genetically modified corn to them. Las Laureleas has repeatedly turned down the company’s offers. Some of the neighboring villages have tried the corn, which has caused concern that the rogue crops are contaminating their fields. The good news, at east so far, is that the engineered corn is much more resource intensive and hasn’t performed well in the harsh conditions of the area.
In a country where the safety net for many is non-existent or weak at best, it’s amazing to be around people who choose to work together collectively for the best of the group. In the villages, if a person needs medical care, everyone contributes to pay the person’s medical expenses and others work their fields while they are away.
Again, I was struck by how aware these remote villages were to issues like globalization and genetically modified foods. It gives me hope that we can still organize and demand change in our own backyard.