JASS Blog Archives for June 2018

by JASS on June 15, 2018 on 4:35 pm

Written by Laura Carlsen


Today we talk about strategies. The day begins with JASS’s presentation on the power framework. What do we know about power? Lisa VeneKlasen, JASS Executive Director, explains that power is dynamic; that it’s an ever-changing relationship; that it’s not a closed system in which if someone wins, another person loses. She points out that it is important to distinguish between types of power: power over, power to, power within, and power with - this positive power that’s capable of transforming reality towards our vision of a better world.

We share several examples of the different forms of power and the need to do a power analysis alongside the analysis of context, in specific terms. The purpose of the power framework is to strengthen our organizations and our collective power, so it’s really important to expose and name the visible and invisible powers that operate in our communities.

We break  into groups by country to talk about the situations we face with one basic question: What would help us to move forward? The discussion helps us to better understand each person’s battles. The list turns out to be very long. The next question seeks to shorten it in practical terms: What are two things that JASS can provide?

Between these two questions, we highlight the following areas of joint work:

  • Building power to and new leaderships: The importance of continuing to work on "the construction of collective power and leadership - because we believe in it and for protection." In this, the Alquimia School has played a key role and the framework of power can be used to clarify both the capabilities we have and the powers we face.
  • Advocacy: We need to work for better laws, justice, forms of protection and precautionary measures when necessary, and further deepening of international advocacy work. Opportunities include CEDAW’s evaluation of Mexico in July and the possibility of including a paragraph on the impact of extractive industries, and the relevance of advocacy work in the United States and Canada where extractive companies have their headquarters.
  • Improve and broaden communications work: Narratives are fundamental to be able to communicate to others and to understand our own history as movements and organizations. We need to craft the stories that can not only reach the minds, but also the hearts of the people. We need to strengthen communication capacity in all our groups with more distribution and information to larger audiences. In many cases, we have to shift a false dominant narrative, taking into account that in a difficult world our message is more appealing when it’s positive. One of the participants proposed, "We invite people to be part of taking care of the world" to motivate the youth and the community in general to participate and expand the movements.
  • Research and information: We need help in collecting information about extractive companies operating in our regions. Patricia mentioned that JASS is working in alliance with CMI! to analyze the companies and their decision-making mechanisms. At certain moments, specific information can be key to advancing the movement.
  • Training and education: We need training in the legal framework in our countries-- what the laws say and how they are implemented, who is responsible for enforcement, which institutions and officials one should look to. We want to understand better how neoliberal capital operates and the processes of exploitation and extractivism.

We note that our organizations and communities have skills and knowledge that we can rescue and promote. "The grandmothers have a lot of wisdom, but they often depart with this knowledge," says Miriam. We talk about creating "living schools", participatory diagnostics, and teams of technicians to support knowledge-building. One priority is the task of drawing up "baselines" to register the current characteristics of the communities and measure future impacts of extractive industries.

  • Protection and care at a personal and collective level: This includes safety and protection measures and also self-care. We want to live life fully and freely in all areas and all moments, and this means finding tools to face challenges on all levels, the personal and organizational. We need to overcome the fear that can cripple us as individuals and movements—the fear in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec after the earthquake, the fear in Honduras caused by persecution and assassination, the fear of repression and criminalization. We can identify external and internal protection mechanisms that the community already has-- like recovering traditional medicine, ceremonies and spirituality--and develop a capacity for rapid response with selected allies.
  • Exchanges and alliances: We need a database of like-minded organizations, with contacts and references, to better know the strengths of each organization, to coordinate efforts and to map potential allies. We need to strengthen links at the national, regional and international levels with other women in other regions, such as learning more about the anti-extractivist movements in South Africa and developing more direct contact. We can also develop partnerships with specialists - in the international legal field, the UN, the IACHR, scientists and scientific organizations, technical support, etc. on local, national, regional and international levels.
  • Meetings of women: Gatherings of women give us strength and ideas, such as the Gathering of Women Who Struggle in Chiapas. The National Indigenous Congress in Mexico has been holding meetings of women who fight against extractivism in their lands and we have to continue to organize gatherings between women defenders of the land and territory. Having organizing spaces for women is fundamental to growing and strengthening our movements.
  • Technical support: Honduran women identify a great need for an interdisciplinary feminist team that would have ideally a communicator, lawyer, engineer, biologist, agronomist, doctor, psychologist and researcher. This team can help with documentation, research, legal care and defense, and also train other women to increase skills within the organization.

We come to the conclusion that there’s a firm base built between JASS as an international and regional organization and women's organizations that fight against extractivism in the region, a base of work and trust. Lilian says, "Some organizations divide us, they accuse us of being radical feminists ... I thank JASS because I have been able to get to know the experience of other compañeras, and that gives me strength."

Three days of learning, reflecting and dreaming together come to end. Felicita highlights the challenges, "We have a double fight - defending the rights of women and defending the territory is double work."

Patricia Ardón of JASS reminds us that "part of building a horizontal relationship is to be honest about what we can do and we cannot do ... What we have to do now is define what we can do." Lisa closes by pointing out that as JASS "we’ve had the privilege of continuing to build with you" and concludes, "We’re trying to articulate capacities locally and globally. Our struggles are incredibly difficult, but with the relationships of trust and the networks that we’re building we’ll be able to do a lot more."


*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the individual.


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by JASS on June 15, 2018 on 4:28 pm

Written by Laura Carlsen


Today was a day of coming together—getting to know each other, talking about how to work together in networks and alliances, and there was even an intercontinental virtual meeting with JASS Southern Africa. From these encounters, we acquired new tools, knowledge and strategies, and we realized that we have vast internal and external resources on hand that we can use for our protection and to strengthen our movements.

In the opening ceremony, Miriam tells us that it is the day of obsidian for the Mayan calendar, a day to cut through obstacles. Overcoming the obstacles of technology, we heard the voice of Phumi Mtetwa, of JASS Southern Africa, who told us that extractivism there has been a constant battle since colonialism that changed little with independence and is now taking new forms. Politicians often have strong links with extractivist companies and their interests. Many see mining as a way out of inequality, while growing local movements are recognizing the costs and fighting back against the injustices that so-called development projects bring.

We’re struck by the fact that the power dynamics faced by African women are different – there, the chiefs, or traditional authorities, in the villages make direct agreements with the companies and the extractivist companies are usually Chinese rather than Canadian or U.S. But the exclusion of women from decision-making, the lack of consultation with the people and the tremendous economic and political power wielded by transnational corporations-supported by governments--are shared elements. Sadly, so is the use of violence against miners and local opposition. We reflect that we are clearly interconnected in our fight against extractivism, but we also know that we need to understand better in what ways and how to build mutually supportive networks ourselves.

On the other side of the world, Lisa Rankin of Canadian organization Breaking the Silence explains how they have formed links between organizations in the countries of origin of transnational corporations and local opposition. Their groups accompany Guatemalan communities in resistance, especially those facing repression for standing up to the mines.

Other tools they’ve used include Investor Alerts to warn mining company shareholders about the on-the-ground impact of their investments, although Lisa notes that the results have not been great since investors have a maximum profit mentality that does not allow much progress in raising concerns. The organization has also done studies to document the damages and violations of the mines. Along with other organizations they filed lawsuits against mining companies for crimes committed in Guatemala. The HudBay case is the first time in history that a Canadian company has been sued in the courts of their country for rape and murder in another country. The case is moving slowly, but opening up the legal process there is a milestone.
Results have also been mixed in advocacy work with embassies, due to the generally pro-business stance of governments, but they have managed to obtain information and call attention to conflicts and human rights violations. She mentions that other important ways of putting the issue before the public are delegations and working with media.

Lisa’s talk provides us with useful tools, presented with self-criticism that encourages a constant assessment to avoid using the same strategies and tactics when they don’t work. We saw that feedback between levels is a critical factor in building alliances - international work has to be defined from the local agenda, and local work must be enriched by international work.

In the discussion, several women comment that the Canadian government's recent commitment to design a feminist foreign policy is an opportunity for us to define more precisely what a "feminist foreign policy" should be and how it should be implemented. There is a danger that it gets stuck in financial support to women’s groups, or equality is understood as parity within a fundamentally unfair system. How can it go further and reach deeper definitions, which transform the patriarchal / capitalist system and protect life?

We don’t know how to answer the question, but one thing is clear: promoting mega-mining is not a feminist policy. The Guatemalan lawyer Liliana Hernández confirms this conclusion in her presentation on the impact of extractive industries on women. She describes the damage to our bodies, to our families and to our communities caused by extractivism and the many obstacles that exist to guaranteeing human rights when it comes to confronting large companies. A major problem is the complicity of the governments that should be the guarantors of those rights.

With all this information swirling around in our heads, the afternoon is the moment to apply it to our own experience. We divide into small groups to reflect on what all this implies in our bodies and lives by filling in the figure of a woman’s body with the pains and forms of violence we suffer- headaches, pressure in the chest, stress-related illness, and the physical and psychological toll of living with fear. Then we move on to the question of what we do to take care of ourselves, what makes us feel good, and we realize that there’s a lot we can do as individuals and collectives to bring more relief and joy into our lives.

Women from far apart and distinct contexts mentioned many of the same things—we love to dance, listen to music, have sex, hang out with friends, be part of organizations, get training to feel stronger and know how to defend ourselves, rest, enjoy plants and animals and nature, laugh (we did a lot of that during the activity), play with our children and grandchildren, watch television series, eat delicious food, have a drink. Sharing all this we see that it’s really important to give ourselves permission to say when we feel good and to say when we feel bad, to know and enjoy our bodies, and have the trust to share our emotions.

And that night, we came together on the terrace under the quarter-moon of Antigua and we danced and we ate good food and we drank and we did a lot of the things that make us feel good and happy and cared for in this world.


*Names have been changes to protect the privacy of individuals.

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by JASS on June 15, 2018 on 4:23 pm

Written by Laura Carlsen

Our Power and Our Protection: Sharing Information and Knowledge on Extractivism, Antigua, Guatemala. May 21-23, 2018

After the hugs - among friends who hadn’t seen each other in ages, among friends who just met - six candles are lit for the opening ceremony. The Mayan calendar favors us. Today is the day of wisdom, the day of ideas, but, as Miriam Pixtún de La Puya tells us, "ideas with feet", ideas that don’t remain abstract but help us to walk along the paths we have chosen.

The first session of the day is a mega-dose of information, first about mining: the process, its impacts, the companies and the different forms of resistance. With a simple and participatory style that invites mutual learning, a Guatemalan researcher and environmentalist explains the "ecological vision, understood as the relationship of everything with everything everywhere" that encompasses environmental, social and economic impacts of extractivism that go far beyond what we think of direct impacts.

Miriam Pixtun and Ana Sandoval of La Puya Peaceful Resistance follow and they have experienced these impacts. When they started the organization in their communities, the members established certain criteria, among them, inclusion (women and men, people of different ages, etc.) in all planning and activities; no direct dialogue with the company, instead requiring public institutions to fulfill their duties; and the development of collective processes, with no appointed leader, for both organizational and security reasons.

La Puya combines strategies of direct action, battles in the courts, information and training, working for local power, strengthening identity, and building alliances and international impact. They have faced repression, criminalization and defamation and had to address contradictions within the communities, including machismo. With the motto of "No to mining, Yes to life" the organization has won court injunctions and temporarily suspended the operations of the mine.

Although sometimes not considered an extractive industry, mega-plantations of African palm have spread and threaten communities in the region. It’s extractive because it extracts water, nutrients from the land and income from nature for the transnationals. Laura Hurtado, from Action Aid Guatemala, reports that the crop has taken over large tracts of land on our continent. Guatemala is the tenth country in African palm production in the world, and Honduras the seventh. Latin America is the region where this industry is growing fastest.

Dalila Vasquez, from Madre Tierra and a graduate of JASS’s Alquimia School, says that her seven communities on the southern coast of Guatemala have become "small islands in the sea of monocultures".

"We have to walk through their monocultures, and if they’re fumigating, we get bathed in poison," says Dalila. In a survey of community residents, Madre Tierra found: loss of access to land and water ("people have no choice left but to sell their labor to farms that don’t pay even the minimum wage," Dalila points out), disease and illnesses related to exposure to toxic chemicals, and few jobs - almost all for men, who are forced to work with pesticides without protective equipment and in sub-standard working conditions. She repeats a constant refrain in today’s testimonies: people have nowhere to go to defend their rights and interests because the government institutions in charge of monitoring take the companies’ side.

"For example, they warn the plantations when they’re going to inspect and the managers issue protective equipment only these days," she notes. The Red Sur organization in the region denounces the impacts and abuses of monoculture companies, but there is a lot of fear. "There have been deaths of leaders who have complained about this and communities are already dependent on the jobs so people could be left without work and without land."

Bettina Cruz, of the Assembly of Indigenous Peoples of the Isthmus in Defense of the Land and the Territory in Oaxaca, is up against the same kinds of corporations, but with a green façade. Large wind energy companies have taken land away from indigenous communities, pollute the water and soil, and harm the health of local people and animals. With the commodification of green energy in international carbon markets, this industry has become a new opportunity for "looting capitalism", she tells us. The large-scale projects cause inter-community conflicts, displacement and migration, destruction of ritual and planting areas and the loss of women's traditional economic activities. Several opposition members, including Bettina, have faced criminalization and jail.

Maria Felicita Lopez, of the Independent Lenca Peace Movement of Honduras (MILPAH), describes the efforts of her organization to defend their land and territory from encroaching megaprojects. In that effort, which has cost lives, "the recovery of the Lenca worldview, testimonial therapy, and using our traditional beliefs have helped us to continue working.”

Lilian Borja, also from Honduras, recounts her experience of persecution in the defense of landand territory, "Entrepreneurs have a lot of land in a few hands, but peasant farmers have no land to work. We’re fighting against a monster that is the sugar industry ... and against a murderous government-- For us, there are no laws, there are no rights," she says through her tears.

Honduras is experiencing a boom in megaprojects and accompanying violence. JASS Honduras carried out a mapping in 10 departments, which identified 199 areas affected by extractivism. Daysi Flores, JASS Honduras Country Coordinator, tells us that these projects are causing conflicts with private landowners, local governments and national and international companies. It’s hard for women to join the defense of their lands. In many communities, men prohibit women from participating in meetings, women have little access to leadership positions, and there is a "fiction of equality that is not transforming reality" by understanding it as just creating some spaces for participation of women but without considering the necessary contribution of diversity in the struggle.

María Guadalupe from Guatemala closes a long day with a historical tour of the extractive industry and how it affects the lives of women and of Mother Earth. She points out several stages: first, the World Bank and others issued personal titles to collective land to individualize ownership. Then women had to struggle for and eventually gained the right to co-ownership. Then came a new offensive with the extractive projects that forced women to broaden their analysis. She highlights the need to "take care of each other among others; to recover our bodies and develop power - not to dominate, but to share."

The day ended with these many facets and effects of extractivism, a day that left us with a broad overview and many ideas to walk with: the need for more studies, such as environmental and health baselines that allow us to monitor impacts; how to build more alliances at all levels; how to fill gaps in knowledge and strengthen organizations.

Faced with the ravages of extractivism to communities and the land, we’re more convinced than ever that, as our environmentalist colleague put it, "The destiny of the land in the hands of patriarchy is finite." The sad fact raises the challenge: How do we build a future in the hands of the people, organized, and with a vision of equality, justice and life?

 *Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.


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