Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.
Jose Luis Patrola is a history professor, farmer, and member of the Brazilian land reform group, the Rural Landless Workers’ Movement, or MST. He has lived in Haiti for three years. There, he coordinates the MST’s program, an exchange of agricultural and technical cooperation between Haitians and Brazilians. In a departure from many international programs of “teaching” and “aiding” Haitians, Patrola speaks here about mutual learning and respect.
We are here in Haiti in an educational solidarity exchange program. We’re not here to teach. We are here to learn.
In our work, there’s great respect for Haitian farmers and movements. That’s something that has been greatly lacking: respect. Not only from foreigners, but from Haitian elites who don’t acknowledge their own peoples.
The MST and the Vía Campesina [a coalition of farmers and landless people’s organizations from around the world] in Brazil have had contact with small farmers in Haiti for many years now. Since 2004, we’d been thinking about a solidarity exchange program between campesino [small farmer] movements in Brazil and Haiti. We were finally able to make this possible starting in January 2009, when the MST and other small farmers’ organizations from Brazil sent a brigade of four people to identify what the solidarity exchange would look like. The exchange now works to achieve horizontal solidarity between these farmers.
With the earthquake in January , things changed a little, and movements in Haiti suggested to us the possibility of strengthening the brigade with more Brazilians. We organized a brigade
of 31 people, who sleep and eat in the Haitian farmers’ homes.
There are different farmer movements from Brazil that are participating. The MST is the biggest group, but there’s also the Movement of Small-scale Agriculturalists, the Movement of Women Campesinas, the Movement of Dam-Affected People, and the Pastoral Commission of the Earth that’s part of the Catholic Church, and a representative of the Movement of Unemployed Workers.
The brigade consists of people with different skills. We have farmers. We have technical agronomists that are also children of farmers. We have veterinarians, professors, construction specialists, and two medics. We’re doing a little bit of everything; the diversity is very important. A doctor, for example, helped install a cistern for water catchment, and professors are also working the land.
The program works at two levels: an organizational level to strengthen peasant organization and autonomy, and a technical level with programs of cooperation, including agricultural production and training schools.
We can say that this exchange is organized in four fundamental components. First is the exchange, a big opportunity for cultural and intellectual training. We have 30 Brazilians here, which is like a training school in itself, because the starting point of their time here is learning.
And we have sent [Haitians] from here to over there as a form of horizontal solidarity. The people spent one month in a school in Brazil where they had history, geography, and Portuguese classes. And after 30 days, the Haitians went to different parts of Brazil to get to know about the different things we’re doing. We want Haitians to have the opportunity to understand what’s happening in Brazil, so when they come back here they can contribute to their organizations.
The second phase of the work is producing seeds, which is fundamental in food sovereignty. We started strengthening the national production of seeds so people can save, maintain, and produce their own seeds. We’re establishing six centers of seed production of legumes and other seeds like corn. We’d like to grow stronger in the area of legume production based on our experiences in Brazil, because in Haiti all the seeds for legumes come from other places; they aren’t produced here. We don't just want to build a program to produce seeds, we want it to be controlled by the farmers.
Third, we started a program of reforestation. It’s true that Haiti has serious issues with deforestation that’s not easy to work on. A lot of trees are cut to make charcoal to assure [the farmers] a steady income. We've worked on reforestation by planting avocados and mangoes, other things, so the farmers can [have other sources of income].
The fourth area is the construction of intermediate-level technical schools to train young farmers in agricultural technologies. Like in other sectors of society, the investigative and technical side of agriculture has been abandoned. Five or six technical schools have been closed. We have plans to open one. We have many examples in Brazil to work with; it’s a dream of peasant movements.
So these programs - the exchanges, the seeds, reforestation, and technical schools - have a fundamental objective: to help them strengthen their autonomy and their organizational capacity, the base of social movements. That’s the principal philosophy of the cooperation.
A lot of money has entered Haiti, but far away from the real necessities. People here are dying of cholera, for example. What’s the solution? Potable water to live. We’re installing 1,200 cisterns for water catchment.
All the work we’ve done has been voluntary. All the resources we’ve gotten are from a foundation in Boston called Grassroots International and two Brazilians who have supported the brigade. There are movements back in Brazil that are assuming responsibility for supporting the families, providing monthly contributions, because some left children [back home]. There are also the hosts [for the Haitians] there in Brazil.
Social movements all over the world have forgotten the concept of internationalism. Small farmers’ movements through Vía Campesina have revitalized this, and the example of Haiti has proven it. The exchange proves that a solidarity exchange is possible between peoples, not just between governments. Not that that isn't important, but social organizations can also articulate their exchange programs of alliances.
What we are doing doesn't consist of donating things, it consists of identifying and constructing alongside Haitians. The Haitian people have to be respected and we have to get to know them, we have to speak their language. It’s very symbolic, what we are doing.
Thanks to Sylvia Gonzalez for translating, and to Deepa Panchang for her help editing.
Copyleft Beverly Bell. You may reprint this article in whole or in part. Please credit any text or original research you use to Beverly Bell, Other Worlds.
March 23rd, 2013
This evening is going be a big moment in turning our country around on the issue of gun violence. That's why I desperately want you ...
March 21st, 2013
I am hosting a nationwide series of house parties this Saturday night where tens of thousands of people will gather together in living rooms to ...
March 15th, 2013
The response to my Newtown letter this week has been overwhelming. It is so very clear to everyone that the majority of Americans have had ...
March 13th, 2013
The year was 1955. Emmett Till was a young African American boy from Chicago visiting relatives in Mississippi. One day Emmett was seen "flirting" with ...
February 26th, 2013
Thanks to everyone for bearing with me as I spend so much time on what happened to Emad Burnat. It's important to me because he's ...
February 26th, 2013
On Tuesday, February 19th, Emad Burnat, the Palestianian co-director of the Oscar-nominated documentary '5 Broken Cameras,' was detained with his wife and son at Los ...
February 20th, 2013
Last night was the Motion Picture Academy-sponsored dinner in Beverly Hills honoring the directors and producers of this year's five nominated films for Best Documentary. ...
September 11th, 2010
OpenMike 9/11/10 Michael Moore's daily blog I am opposed to the building of the "mosque" two blocks from Ground Zero. I want it built on ...
December 14th, 2010
Yesterday, in the Westminster Magistrates Court in London, the lawyers for WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange presented to the judge a document from me stating that ...
May 12th, 2011
"The Nazis killed tens of MILLIONS. They got a trial. Why? Because we're not like them. We're Americans. We roll different." – Michael Moore in ...
November 22nd, 2011
This past weekend I participated in a four-hour meeting of Occupy Wall Street activists whose job it is to come up with the vision and ...
September 22nd, 2011
I encourage everyone I know to never travel to Georgia, never buy anything made in Georgia, to never do business in Georgia. I will ask ...
December 16th, 2010
Dear Swedish Government: Hi there -- or as you all say, Hallå! You know, all of us here in the U.S. love your country. Your ...
November 2nd, 2010
This letter contains (almost) no criticisms of how the Democrats have brought this day of reckoning upon themselves. That -- and where to go from ...