Guatemalan Protesters Effect Change–10 Days of Protests Convince Congress to Reverse GMO Patent Exclusivity Law

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Ten days of widespread street protests led to a Sept. 4 move by Guatemala’s congress to repeal legislation that would have given a small group of transnational corporations exclusive rights to patented seeds in a nation where the majority of the population is engaged in small-scale agriculture, and in one that suffers from significant poverty and malnutrition.

Demonstrations were concentrated around the Congress and Consitutional Court in the capital. Defending food sovereignty, several communities and organizations demanded court injunctions to stop their president, Otto Perez Molina, from allowing new legislation that had been approved in June take effect.

The law, named the “Monsanto law” after the biotech giant, had been approved without discussion, information or participation by the people of Guatemala.

Guatemalan demonstrators demanded a complete cancellation of the law–although such an outcome is uncommon in the nation.

The law purposed to give exclusivity on patented seeds to a small group of transnational companies. Demonstrators asserted that the law violated the Constitution of the Mayan people–particularly, their right to traditional cultivation of the land.

If passed, natural seeds may have been displaced by genetically modified seeds. Also, an imbalance between local Guatemalan producers–70 percent of the significantly impoverished population are engaged in small-scale agricultural activities–and transnational companies.

The law, was cancelled by a decision of congress.

One activist, Lolita Chavez of the Mayan People’s Council, said of the protests, “Corn taught us Mayan people about community life and its diversity, because when one cultivates corn one realizes that there is a variety of crops such as herbs and medical plants depending on the corn plant as well. We see that in this coexistence the corn is not selfish, the corn shows us how to resist and how to relate with the surrounding world.”

By James Haleavy