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POLICY /BUSINESS: Allied with Brazilian agribusiness, Syngentaresists governor's decree to expropriate site

------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------
TITLE:  Allied with Brazilian agribusiness, Syngenta resists governor's
        decree to expropriate site
SOURCE: Americas Program, International Relations Center, USA
AUTHOR: Rennie Lee
DATE:   17.05.2007

Allied with Brazilian agribusiness, Syngenta resists governor's decree
to expropriate site

March 14 marked the one-year anniversary of the Via Campesina's non-
violent occupation of Syngenta Seeds' experimental test site in Brazil.
Last year 600 members of the Via Campesina occupied the 123-hectare site
in Santa Tereza do Oeste, in the state of Paraná, after it was
discovered that Syngenta had illegally planted 12 hectares of
genetically modified soybeans at the site. Syngenta's plantation was
located within the protective boundary zone of the Iguaçu National Park
(the boundary distance has since been modified), which was declared
Patrimony of Humanity by the United Nations in 1986. The occupation has
become one the most powerful symbols in the world of civil society's
resistance to agribusiness, as it continues to paralyze all of
Syngenta's activities at the site, costing the corporation tens of
millions of dollars. It also spurred Paraná state Governor Roberto
Requião to sign a decree on November 9, 2006 to expropriate the site for
the public interest. Yet despite Requião's decree, the magnitude of
Syngenta's environmental crime, and continuous pressure from social
movements and civil society around the world, the realization of the
expropriation of the site from Syngenta is threatened due to the immense
power of agribusiness in Brazilian politics.


Syngenta is a multinational agribusiness corporation headquartered in
Switzerland. Sygnenta has operations in over 90 countries, and employs
over 19,500 people. In 2006, Syngenta's sales totaled US$8.1 billion,
with 80% of its revenue deriving from agrochemicals and 20% from seed
production. The corporation ranks third in global seed sales.

Syngenta is the result of more than two centuries of mergers of European
chemical companies. According to Brian Tokar, author of Earth for Sale ,
Syngenta's oldest predecessor was J.R. Geigy Ltd., which was founded in
Switzerland in 1758, and commenced to produce industrial chemicals
including paints, dyes, and other products. Geigy's rise to fame and
fortune began in 1939, when it discovered the insecticidal efficacy of
Dicloro Difenil Tricloroetano (DDT). Syngenta also has roots in
Industrial Chemical Industries (ICI), an explosives company founded in
Britain in 1926 by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. ICI would
supply the Allied Forces during WWII with both explosives and chemicals
for chemical warfare. In 1940, ICI discovered the selective properties
of alphanapthylacetic acid, leading to the synthesis of the herbicides
MCPA and 2,4-D. T he herbicide Agent Orange, derived from ICI's 2,4-D,
would later be used by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War to
obliterate dense jungles. In 1970 Geigy and Ciba merged to form Ciba-
Giegy, a massive corporation with operations in over 50 countries. In
1994 Zeneca Group PLC was established after ICI demerged its
pharmaceutical, pesticide, and specialty chemicals. Zeneca merged with
Astra AB of Sweden in 1998, becoming AstraZeneca. In 1996, Sandoz,
another Swiss company formed in 1876, merged with Ciba-Giegy to form
Novartis, the largest corporate merger in history to that date. In 2000,
Novartis merged with AstraZeneca's agribusiness to form Syngenta, the
first global group to focus exclusively on agribusiness.

Biotechnology is particularly important to Syngenta. Between 2001 and
2004, Syngenta was responsible for the largest case of genetic
contamination in history, when it illegally sold unapproved genetically-
modified (GM) Bt10 corn seeds to farmers in the United States, resulting
in the entrance of this corn into human and animal food chains. Syngenta
has also been at the helm of the development of "Terminator Technology,"
a process of genetic engineering which renders the seeds of crops
sterile in an effort to force farmers to repeatedly purchase its seeds,
as opposed to small farmers' traditional practice of selecting, saving,
and sharing seeds independently.

Syngenta's Crime and the Occupation

Ciba-Geigy began operations in Brazil in 1971 and became Syngenta in
2001. In early March of 2006, Terra de Direitos, a non-governmental
human rights organization in Curitiba that works closely with social
movements, filed a grievance against the corporation with the Brazilian
Institute for the Environment (IBAMA) accusing it and 12 farmers of
illegally planting transgenic soy within the protective zone of the
Iguaçu National Park. Given their threats to biodiversity, under
Brazilian federal law, it is illegal to plant GM crops within the
protective zones of national parks. An IBAMA investigation confirmed
that Syngenta and the farms were in violation of federal environmental
law and fined each one. Syngenta's fine came to about US$465,000.
However, while all of the farmers appealed the fine, lost, and
subsequently paid their fines, Syngenta has refused to acknowledge that
it broke the law and is the only producer to fail to pay the fine.

Following the IBAMA investigation that found Syngenta in violation of
environmental law, the Via Campesina non-violently occupied the Syngenta
site. The movements and Terra de Direitos legally defend the occupation
based on a constitutional clause that states that land must serve a
social function. They argue that the Syngenta farm was not fulfilling
its social function, and that the illegal cultivation of transgenic soy
within the protective boundary zone of the Iguaçu National Park
constituted a direct threat to Brazilian society since it put at risk
the nation's biodiversity, natural resource wealth, and food system.

In July, Terra de Direitos and Via Campesina launched an international
solidarity campaign to support the occupation, garnering the support of
over 75 organizations around the world. The campaign sent emails
directly to Pedro Rugeroni, the head of Syngenta in Brazil, demanding
that the corporation pay the fine to IBAMA, and acknowledge its
wrongdoing. The campaign also sent emails to Requião, urging him to
expropriate the site from Syngenta. In response, Syngenta bought a full-
page ad in two of Brazil's largest newspapers, and published a PR
message in its defense. In its hostile response to campaign supporters,
it continued to deny any crime and attacked the "illegal invasion" of
its site.

Requião's Decree to Expropriate

Throughout the occupation, Governor Requião has been sympathetic to the
Via Campesina. Days after the occupation, a state judge ordered the
"return of property" to Syngenta, whereby the state was required to
evict the occupiers (with police force if necessary) and return the
property to Syngenta. Requião appealed the decision. In October, a state
judge ruled that unless Requião complied with the order of "return of
property" by Nov. 3, he would incur a daily fine of US$25,000. In a
strategic move to avoid the fine to be levied against Requião, on Nov. 1
the Via Campesina de-occupied the Syngenta farm and camped on the
roadside just outside of the property.

On Nov. 9, days after Requião was re-elected as governor, he signed a
decree to expropriate the site from Syngenta, and the Via Campesina
reoccupied the site in anticipation of the expropriation. According to a
statement released by the Paraná government, the legal basis for the
expropriation decree is founded on a constitutional clause that gives
Brazilian states the sovereignty to "protect notable natural areas and
the environment, combat pollution of whatever form, and to preserve the
forests, fauna, and flora." The decree also emphasizes "the significant
fragility of the biggest and most important remnant of the semi-
deciduous seasonal forest in the country, in the Iguaçu National Park."
Requião announced his intent to turn the site into a center for research
and education in sustainable agriculture for small farmers and landless

According to Maria Rita Reis, lawyer for Terra de Direitos, "The decree
is totally legal because the government in Brazil has the option to
expropriate anything under the concept of public interest. In Brazil,
the municipality can expropriate, just as the state or the federal
government can utilize expropriation." Reis notes that the state is
required to pay Syngenta for the infrastructure and market value of the land.

The implications of the expropriation decree are significant for the
social movements as well as multinational and Brazilian agribusiness
interests . The decision by the State of Paraná to expropriate land from
a multinational agribusiness corporation is unprecedented in Brazil, and
indeed worldwide. It has dealt a blow to agribusiness, shaking its power
in the country. The decree is also an important political win for the
social movements. All around the world, Via Campesina's occupation of
Syngenta has become one of the most powerful symbols of the ability of
civil society to resist and challenge agribusiness.

However, the combined power of Syngenta and Brazilian agribusiness
threatens to block implementation of the expropriation decree. Syngenta
has vowed to fight the decree and has formed a strategic political
alliance with the rural caucus (bancada ruralista) in the Brazilian
legislature, a group of federal and state politicians representing the
interests of the Brazilian rural elite. Rural caucus members and
multinational agribusiness are determined to maintain the dominant
economic model of agricultural production for export, through which both
groups derive their power. Since Requião's decree would strengthen
opposition to this model of agricultural production, the rural caucus
has a strong interest in overturning the decree.

Land Concentration, the Rural Caucus, and the MST

Agroexport production has dominated the Brazilian rural landscape since
Portuguese colonization. The model, based on the extensive monoculture
of commodity crops (historically of sugarcane), has sacrificed food
production to generate capital. Although Brazil is one of the world's
leading agricultural producers, with the ninth largest economy in the
world, according to the Brazilian Institute for Geography and
Statistics, almost 40% of Brazilians do not have enough to eat. The
agroexport model of economic development has resulted in Brazil having
one of the highest rates of land distribution inequality in the world,
and one of the most unequal rates of income distribution.

In the early 1980s, the Movement of the Landless Rural Workers (MST)
began to organize poor, rural families in southern Brazil to non-
violently occupy the idle lands of large landowners to pressure the
government to expropriate the land for agrarian reform. Over the past
nearly 30 years, the MST has successfully organized to pressure the
government to expropriate land for 370,000 families. The MST advocates a
model of rural development in direct contrast to the agroexport model.
Its model emphasizes family farmers working small and medium-sized plots
of land, producing food for Brazilians, and using agro-ecological
production techniques.

As the MST's organization and power expanded, the rural caucus formed to
oppose this powerful movement, and represent and protect the interests
of those few Brazilians who benefit from the agroexport model. According
to Nilton Tubino, parliamentary assistant to Adão Pretto, a federal
deputy of the Workers Party (PT) from Rio Grande do Sul, "The web of
relationships of the rural caucus is very large, in diverse regions of
the country. Its members have always had influence in congress, but the
caucus began to organize during the discussion and vote on the
constitution of 1988, when the question of ownership of land and its
expropriation for agrarian reform was introduced."

Brazil's Strategic Importance to Multinational Agribusiness

The alliance between the Brazilian rural elite and multinational
agribusiness began during the military dictatorship, when the
government, with pressure and financing from the United States, adopted
the Green Revolution. The chemical corporations that had boomed during
wartime needed to reinvent themselves to survive; industrialized,
chemical-intensive agriculture was their answer. The Green Revolution
exacerbated landlessness, rural unemployment, and food scarcity,
expelling millions of Brazilians from the countryside. Within a decade,
Brazil's population changed from being primarily rural to mostly urban.
Today, 82% of Brazilians live in urban areas.

In the early 2000s, Brazil assumed strategic importance to the survival
and expansion of agribusiness. Both Brazilian landowners and
multinational agribusiness have greatly profited from the country's soy
production and export boom. Today, Brazil is the second largest exporter
of soybeans in the world, second only to the United States. While
Brazilian landowners control the land and cultivation of soy,
multinational agribusinesses control the international grain trade and
inputs, including agrotoxins, fertilizers, and transgenic seeds. Given
Brazil's vast size, natural resource wealth, and favorable climate for
agricultural production, opening up Brazil to transgenic crops has been
a huge boon for agribusiness.

Soon after he was elected in 2002, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva
legalized the cultivation of GM soy in Brazil. Darci Frigo, lawyer and
director of Terra de Direitos, explains that the government in effect
legalized transgenic soy through an illegal process of fait acompli. In
2001, when all transgenics were illegal in Brazil, the U.S.-based
Monsanto Corporation knew that farmers in Rio Grande do Sul were
illegally importing and planting its patented Roundup Ready soybeans
from farmers in Argentina. Monsanto then pressured Lula into legalizing
its Roundup Ready soybeans by claiming a legal right to collect
royalties for 'its' seeds that were already being cultivated in the
country. Under the same pretext, Monsanto, Syngenta, Du Pont, and Bayer
are currently pressuring the National Technical Commission for
Biodiversity (CTNBio) to legalize transgenic corn.

In recent years, as the power and illegal activities of multinational
agribusinesses have increased in Brazil, the social movements have begun
targeting these corporations. In 2003, various social movements occupied
Monsanto's experimental site in Paraná, destroying its plantation of
transgenic corn. The MST remained at the site for more than one year.

The occupations of the multinationals by the Via Campesina also
represent the growing force of the global, popular struggle against
agribusiness. While all of the occupants of Syngenta are members of the
MST, they are also members of the international La Via Campesina social
movement. The MST is one movement of more than 150 social movements from
five continents that compose La Via Campesina, which was founded in
1993. In order to highlight the global nature of the struggle against
agribusiness, the organizers of the occupation of Syngenta have been
careful to maintain that it is an occupation of the Via Campesina.

Rural Caucus Moves to Block Expropriation

Because of the potential impacts of Requião's decree, the rural caucus
is racing to Syngenta's aid in an alliance that has strengthened
Syngenta's political battle against the decree, and maintained its
impunity for its violation. According to Reis, caucus members played a
major role in reducing the distance of the protective zone for national
parks from 10 kilometers to 500 meters. This change, signed into law by
Lula in March, confounds the effort to hold Syngenta accountable for the
environmental violation since the experimental site is located six
kilometers from the Iguaçu National Park.

Within the Rural Caucus, Federal Deputy Abelardo Lupion, of the Liberal
Front Party (PFL) from western Paraná, is Syngenta's most important ally
in its political battle to overturn Requião's decree. Lupion is a
longtime caucus member, and a staunch supporter of agribusiness. Almost
every single one of the 34 companies that contributed electoral funds to
Lupion's 2006 election is an agribusiness, including two that were found
to practice slave labor. While Tubino maintains that no direct financial
connection between Syngenta and Lupion has been discovered, he points
out that Lupion receives money from other seed companies.

Lupion has a personal vendetta against the social movements. He was one
of the primary authors of the official report published by the CPMI da
Terra, a federal investigation into the root causes of rural violence in
Brazil. The legislative investigation that led to the report was
initiated in 2005, after U.S.-born Sister Dorothy Stang was murdered by
two landowners in the Amazonian state of Pará. The original report,
written mostly by members of the PT, concludes that rural violence is
due to Brazil's highly unequal land distribution, and because the
country has yet to realize an agrarian reform.

Immediately following release of the first report, Lupion, along with
other members of the Rural Caucus, succeeded in annulling it. They
published a second report that concludes that rural violence is caused
by land occupations. The second report also proposes that land
occupation be considered an "Act of Terror" and a "Crime of Hedonism,"
which would increase the legal penalty for an occupation. According to
Tubino, the caucus members used the report to "criminalize and
delegitimize social movements in society." The second report was the
officially accepted report of the CPMI da Terra .

Not long after the official report of the CPMI da Terra was published,
in May of 2006, journalist Solano Nascimento published an article in the
Correio Braziliense that linked Lupion to Monsanto in a corrupt
relationship. After successfully forcing Lula to legalize transgenic soy
in Brazil, Monsanto sought to legalize glyphosate, a toxic herbicide
sold commercially by the corporation as Roundup. In 2004, Lupion pushed
through a series of federal amendments that legalized glyphosate in
Brazil. After its legalization, Monsanto's sales of Roundup increased by
more than 30%. Nascimento reports that in the same year, Monsanto sold
Lupion the Santa Rita farm in western Paraná for one-third of its market
value. After Nascimento's story was published, various politicians,
social movements, and civil society organizations (including Terra de
Direitos) opened a federal investigation into Lupion's alleged
corruption. Days before the national elections last November, when the
MST camped in front of the Santa Rita farm to bring public attention to
the case, Lupion publicly vowed that he would "destroy the MST."

On June 27 Lupion proposed that the federal Commission of Agriculture,
Livestock, Supply, and Rural Development (CAPADR) undertake an
investigation into the Via Campesina's occupation of Syngenta, and in
December the proposal was approved. The commission "is almost entirely
made up of members of the Rural Caucus, and it has the agenda to
represent the interests of agribusiness," says Tubino. The CAPADR
investigation is attacking Requião's decree in several ways.

First, the CAPADR investigation is attempting to negate Syngenta's crime
by attempting to criminalize the manner in which IBAMA found out about
the crime--via the grievance filed by Terra de Direitos. "It is
ridiculous to try and impede an organization of civil society from
filing a grievance," says Reis. "The grievance filed by Terra de
Direitos was totally legal. In Brazil social movements, indeed any
organization or citizen, has the right to file a grievance with public
bodies. IBAMA is a public body and these exist to serve the public
interest. Syngenta acted illegally and IBAMA complied with the law."

The CAPADR investigation is also an attempt to criminalize Requião's
relationship with the social movements, and his unwillingness to comply
with the judicial order for the "return of property" to Syngenta. On
this point, according to Tubino, CAPADR has overstepped its legal
mandate because "it has limits of investigation, and cannot investigate
the state. The state has autonomy."

The Rural Caucus has also been organizing at the state level to stop
Requião's decree. In 2006, Rural Caucus members in the Legislative
Assembly of Paraná proposed and won approval to form a Special
Investigative Commission of Farm Invasions in the West of Paraná, which
published its final report in December. Almost the entire document is
focused on the occupation of Syngenta. The final report claims that the
social movements, with Requião's acceptance, are "creating areas without
law within the territory of Paraná ... as for example, the case of the
invasion of Syngenta Seeds." The report makes no reference to Syngenta's

In addition to political attacks by the Rural Caucus, Syngenta has filed
several judicial actions against Requião's decree in the courts. On
April 20 the Paraná Supreme Court annulled Requião's decree, ruling that
the proposal to install an agroecological research and education center
is not a valid reason for expropriation in the public interest. On April
27 Requião suffered yet another blow in the justice system when a judge
decided once again that unless the governor complies with the court
order of return of property, he will again face a personal fine of about
US$25,000. At this moment, Requião faces enormous political and
juridical pressure to expel the occupants from the Syngenta site.

According to José Maria Tardin, of the MST's Sector of Production and
Coordinator of the Via Campesina's Latin American School for Agroecology
in Paraná, "Syngenta acts as though Brazil is its backyard and the
Brazilian people its vassal. When the Judicial Power refuses to see and
consider this sad reality, and decides for the return of property in
favor of Syngenta, it shows once again its dominant, bourgeoisie,
elitist, exclusive, anti-democratic, and violent face. Or, rather, its
historic face: conservative, anti-popular, at the service of the rich. A
powerful rein which impedes us from creating a sovereign nation and people."

Much is at stake in the battle to maintain the expropriation decree. The
decree questions the public benefits of Brazil's agroexport model that
enriches primarily wealthy landowners and multinational agribusiness
corporations, and strengthens the hand of the movements calling for an
agricultural model geared toward producing food and jobs for the
majority of Brazilians. This transformation would necessarily entail a
reorganization of Brazilian society, and a redistribution of land and wealth.

What is at Stake?

Through its alliance with the Rural Caucus, Syngenta has managed to
seriously weaken Requião's decree to expropriate its experimental site.
The group is supporting Syngenta's fight against Requião's decree in the
political sphere because of the implications of the decree to its power.
If the expropriation is realized, it will deal an enormous blow to the
power of both multinational agribusiness and the interests defended by
the Rural Caucus . For this reason, they are determined to stop the

If Requião's decree is overturned, agribusiness' power will gain greater
influence over Brazil's agricultural system and public politics, setting
the stage for increased environmental destruction, human rights abuses,
and concentration of land and wealth by these corporations. According to
Tardin, "Agriculture occupies a strategic place in the accumulation of
wealth, and biotechnology especially offers the multinationals the best
techniques to gain absolute global control, and to manipulate that to
their interests and necessities. It is through biotechnology that the
multinationals make a concerted effort to achieve the maximum
concentration of power over humanity's food system, and biotechnology
therefore offers them an instrument of geopolitical-military control as
never before."

The ability of the Rural Caucus to repress social movements will also be
strengthened if Requião's decree is overturned. Through its discourse of
'land invasions,' the caucus is building an image of grassroots
movements as 'violent,' 'lawless,' and even 'terrorist.' The increased
dominance of agribusiness in the Brazilian countryside through illegal
activities, influence-buying, and the criminalization of social
movements could lead to heightened conflicts.

Says Reis, "If the agribusiness corporations continue to introduce GM
crops illegally, without studies of their environmental impacts, I am
certain that the social movements in Brazil are going to react.
Agribusiness in Brazil promotes the concentration of land, concentration
of wealth, and the violation of human rights, and we cannot remain
paralyzed in the face of this. Brazil has strong social movements that
are ready to confront this model of development."

Alternatively, if Requião's decree is upheld, the expropriation of
Syngenta would force agribusiness to be more accountable and would
weaken its hegemony in Brazil. The expropriation would also serve to
expand public debate on the social function of land in Brazil to include
issues of biosecurity, food sovereignty, food production, and agroecology.

Expanded public debate on what's good for the nation--not just the
powerful elite--would set new precedents for Brazil's agricultural
policies and the world. Additionally, the expropriation of Syngenta
would offer civil society worldwide a tangible, popular method to resist
and attack the behemoth of agribusiness power: non-violent occupations.

Rennie Lee is a freelance journalist covering Brazil and collaborating
with the Americas Program at

For More Information
La Via Campesina
Movement of the Landless Rural Workers
Terra de Direitos

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