Agrarian rights artivist addresses globalization’s negative effects

Agrarian and indigenous-rights activist William Trujillo gave the final lecture of International Week, entitled “Resisting the FTAA and Corporate Globalization: Ecuador’s Struggle for Human and Environmental Justice” on Sunday. His lecture, given in Spanish and translated into English, focused on the negative impact which the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) could have on the Ecuadorian population and the campaign to stop the treaty.

Trujillo began by telling the audience that his talk would come from “the perspective of one of campesino [farmer/peasant] origin in Ecuador” rather than that of an intellectual or expert. His campaign began ten years ago in a fight for land reform; Ecuadorian agriculture was still based on an hacienda, or feudal, system at that point in time. Protestors physically occupied the land and achieved positive results; today, many farmers now have their own land.

Another of his campaigns has been to make the Ecuadorian government recognize that Ecuador is a diverse nation, with many ethnicities and nationalities. For example, public education was completely in Spanish, despite the fact that numerous languages are spoken in Ecuador. Due to campaigning, there is now bilingual education.

One of the main problems is Ecuador is that the government does not support small-scale agriculture, and much of the population is small farmers who are continually endangered by the larger international agriculture businesses. Trujillo said that there were massive cheap importations of milk from abroad which hurt many small farmers since their milk then became too expensive. In many instances, farmers were forced to leave the countryside and move to the city in order to find work.

The FTAA is a treaty proposing to create the world’s largest free market zone among the 34 nations of North and South America (not including Cuba). Trujillo says that the FTAA benefits only big business, and makes it difficult for a small country like Ecuador to compete. He used corn as an example; U.S. corn exported to Ecuador costs only $4, while Ecuadorian corn costs $6.

This price discrepancy drives Ecuadorian farmers out of the market and many even leave the country in the search for work, leaving a profound impact on the social infrastructure of the nation. If the workers don’t leave the country, they often end up working for low wages in American-owned factories producing clothing and other goods. These American businesses also don’t pay taxes in Ecuador since they are based in the US, so there is essentially no benefit to the Ecuadorian people as a whole.

According to Trujillo, Ecuador needs a clear policy of solidarity and cooperation so that Ecuadorian products, rather than those of international businesses, become predominant, strengthening both the economy and the population.

After speaking, Trujillo responded to a variety of questions from the audience. One student asked about the ways in which we, as students at Williams as well as American students can help Trujillo in his fight against the FTAA. He responded that the most important thing is our own education and that of others, so that the situation can fully understood and people can fight against the FTAA.

Trujillo is currently organizing a counter-summit to the meeting of the foreign relations ministers of the FTAA at which the views of the people can be heard. He also heads “FTAA Nunca [Never],” which is designed to create sister organizations between North and South America in order to create a more direct relationship between the two.