In Defense of Maize (and the Future)

CIP Americas Program Citizen Action Profile #6

By Ramón Vera Herrera

Maize is not a thing. Like the land, it is a set of relationships. The current offensive against maize is an attempt to erode the social web that has enabled Mexican peasant farmers to survive for centuries. It is an attack on the small farmers who still make up the majority of the world’s population, and feed most of the people on the planet.

Mexico is the world’s center of origin for maize. Nearly 3.2 million small farmers, most producing on ejido farms, cultivate maize. An estimated 35% of production goes to family consumption.1

In spite of the crucial role of maize in Mexico’s culture, diet, and economy, the basic grain was included in the negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Mexican government argued–over the protests of the nation’s small farmers–that liberalization would force crop conversion into more internationally competitive products.

Some Demands of the Movement in Defense of Maize

To the Mexican government:

  • Immediately release the results of contamination studies and listen to the victims of the contamination.
  • Maintain the moratorium on the cultivation of transgenic maize.
  • Suspend the importation of transgenic maize.
  • Initiate serious national and regional plans to detect and eradicate transgenic seed and begin programs to strengthen native seed that include the participation of communities and supervision by civic groups, from the design stage to evaluation.
  • Institute a new legal framework on biological security that protects animal and human health from all transgenic contamination and supports biological and cultural diversity. Reject the proposed Law on Biosecurity that the Senate sent to the Chamber of Deputies.

To international institutions:

  • Recognize that contamination represents a serious threat to biological diversity, particularly in the centers of origin or diversity for crops.
  • Recognize publicly that GM corn contamination exists in Mesoamérica.
  • Transfer control of the gene banks at CIMMYT, as well as the rice, potato, and other banks within the CGIAR system, to public international organisms controlled by farmers and indigenous peoples; guarantee that none of these materials or their components are patented in any form in any country, and that the multinational companies have no influence within them; provide small farmers with access to the samples.
  • Demand the strict application of the precautionary principle in all agencies of the FAO and the CGIAR.

According to researcher Luis Hernandez, “This put the 2.3 million maize producers who work fewer than five hectares in immediate danger, since their activity would no longer be competitive. According to governmental calculations, 4.7 million hectares would have to convert to another crop and 7.1 million tons of maize would cease to be produced.”2

NAFTA immediately led to a dramatic increase in corn imports. Between 1994 (the first year of NAFTA) and 2001 (the year when maize was discovered to be contaminated with transgenic traits), 35.22 million tons of maize were imported from the United States .3 But displacement of small corn farmers was mitigated by the stubborn attachment of the farmers to their crop. “What the experts did not predict,” says Hernández, “is that small farmers displaced from growing other crops affected by liberalization would take refuge in maize. Since NAFTA went into effect in 1994 and up to 2000, production has remained stable at around 18 million tons and 8.5 million hectares.”4

The massive importation of maize from the United States, accelerated under NAFTA, not only threatened farmers with displacement from their markets and lands. In 2001, it was discovered that native maize varieties had been contaminated with genetically modified traits. The immediate suspect was the millions of tons of imported grain. Mi xed with the normal corn, approximately one- to one-and-a-half million tons of genetically modified maize was entering Mexico each year from the United States .5

Mexican law prohibits the cultivation of transgenic maize owing to the risk of contaminating native varieties. Researchers Ana de Ita and Pilar López relate the history of how the prohibition came about: “In 1995, national and international maize specialists met at a meeting organized by the International Center for the Improvement of Maize and Wheat (CIMMYT ), the National Institute for Agricultural and Livestock Research and Promotion (INIFAP), and the National Committee on Agricultural Biosecurity (CNBA). Worried about the imminent release of Bt maize in the United States,6 they pointed out that ‘If the United States deregulates transgenic maize, it is probable that it will arrive in Mexico in a very short time. Even when part of this transgenic maize does not adapt well in Mexico, it is almost certain that there will be cross pollenization with time.’ In late 1998, the committee established a de facto moratorium by not accepting new requests to carry out genetically modified (GM) corn experiments in the countryside.”7

In spite of the moratorium on cultivation, Mexcian maize was soon contaminated because the Mexican government allowed imports of unlabeled transgenic maize, even surpassing the established quotas. Since the United States is the largest producer of GM corn in the world with 8 million hectares in production, and since it refuses to separate conventional corn from transgenic corn (and the Mexican government has not demanded it), contamination from imports was totally predictable. And that is exactly what happened.8




First Forum in Defense of Maize

Main Objectives of Community-Based Testing:

  • Establish the premise that food self-sufficiency is the basis of the peasant economy, while promoting commercial crops that are sold as excesses in regional or local markets.
  • Seek a balance between food security based on an increase in basic grain production and the conservation of soil and biodiversity.
  • Promote community reflection on a sense of place and self-sufficiency at the family and community levels.
  • Encourage women and men in communities to develop their capacities and abilities as promoters, farmers, and agrarian and traditional authorities, through the recovery of cultural values; the recuperation of the profound knowledge of traditional agriculture and biodiversity; and training in agrarian, administrative and self-help skills.
  • Facilitate communication between organizations, communities, and specialized centers of rural analysis to defend maize, biological diversity, intellectual property and farmers’ rights.
  • Seek to protect the integrity of ecosystems in indigenous territory through land-use plans, sustainable management of forests, ecological management of agricultural plots and promotion of appropriate technologies for saving energy.

In 2001, the communities of the Sierra Norte and Juárez in Oaxaca, along with researchers Ignacio Chapela and David Quist from the University of California at Berkeley, announced the discovery of Mexican maize contaminated with DNA from transgenic maize. When the findings were reported in Nature magazine a huge controversy broke out.

In September 2001 the Mexican government confirmed the findings, with studies in the states of Puebla and Oaxaca. The following month, Mexican civil organizations demanded an immediate halt to the importation of genetically modified corn and the presentation of a plan to “prevent and revert transgenic contamination, making the companies responsible for paying indemnity to affected farmers for damages.”9

On Jan. 23 and 24, 2002 the First Forum in Defense of Maize was held in Mexico City. Over 300 people took part, including community authorities from many states, members of non-governmental organizations and citizen groups, academics, local and international researchers, and a few government officials.10

The objective was to discuss how to defend native corn from gene contamination, evaluate government measures to address problem, and develop a strategy. In the forum, Eyeli Huerta, of the National Commission for Biodiversity (Conabio), announced the preliminary results of new studies that indicated traces of transgenic material in samples taken from 22 communities of the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca and the state of Puebla .

The forum concluded that the contamination of traditional maize was part of a broader attack on peasant life and economy. Nearly 85% of national territory is still sown in native seed, selected and saved year after year.11 The government’s so-called “modernization” models for the countryside and the campaigns of the giant seed companies are attempts to break existing food autonomy by popularizing patented seed that requires annual purchase from transnational companies and payment for licenses to use it.

In the case of genetically contaminated corn, the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC Group) has warned that companies like Monsanto could “sue and even incarcerate or charge huge fines to farmers whose fields were contaminated by GM seed designed by their company, alleging that these seeds or the genes of those seeds are patented by the mega-transnational.”12 Therefore, the penetration of GM corn into Mexico carries with it the hidden intention to guarantee that all of maize cultivation enters into the logic of the market. Maize contaminated with patented GM varieties poses a double risk: it not only displaces traditional varieties, it leads to dependency on the transnationals.

The forum concluded that the problem with maize goes beyond GM contamination, and since the situation is complex, its resolution requires a holistic approach. Participants reflected on ways to detect contamination in their regions, possibilities for regional organization to defend and expand local traditional and contemporary knowledge, and legal actions against the companies and the Mexican government.

“We need to open up spaces to get out information from different sources that otherwise would be diffuse and might not be picked up by communications media,” read the conclusions.

Looking back three years, perhaps the most important achievement of the First Forum in Defense of Maize was the horizontal, interdisciplinary, and plural discussion among farmers–indigenous and non-indigenous–academics, representatives of farmer’s organizations, and ecologists, as well as incipient and potential networks of consumers. Since that time, the movement in defense of maize has built on the demands formulated in the First Forum (see box).

Diverse Reactions from Government, Industry, International Organisms

Conclusions of Second Forum in Defense of Maize

  • Promote the defense, recognition and spread of traditional techniques of cultivation (agronomic, ecological, medicinal and others), combined with new techniques of organic production, to build a longterm process of decontamination.
  • Reinforce crop diversification and backyard gardening, using a combination of traditional and organic agriculture techniques.
  • Take care to only sow corn seed from known, traditional maize.
  • Seek autonomous subsidies and guarantee prices (regional), perhaps through partnerships with migrant organizations.
  • Strengthen autonomy and community organization, emphasizing the struggle for defense of maize along with the struggle for territory and self-government.
  • Build bridges with consumers of the cities to promote boycotts of food aid containing transgenics and of all soft drinks made of transgenic corn syrup. Seek rural and urban food alternatives and advance in organizing consumers.
  • Demand that the moratorium on the cultivation of transgenic maize be maintained, establishing alliances to strengthen it.
  • Build relations with independent migrants’ organizations, with the objective of dialogue on the problems of the communities, the importance of maize and the use of remittances.
  • On the international level, develop alliances to defend local and native corn varieties as the heritage of humanity, impeding and fighting against patenting.

Between March and October of 2002, declarations emerged from diverse forums, meetings, and interinstitutional agencies, on the national and international level. Maize contamination in Mexico became a major issue, spurred by media and public education work done by international groups like ETC Group and GRAIN, and civil society participation in Mexico. In the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in February 2002, grassroots organizations made a pronouncement in favor of an emergency plan to protect gene banks and emphasized the urgency of maintaining the moratorium on the release of transgenics. The global movement Via Campesina (and other organizations) denounced contamination in Mexico during the Food Summit+5 in Rome in June, and emphasized the threat of transgenics to food sovereignty and farmers’ rights.13

While society organized to defend maize, government officials, international organisms, and industry leaders reacted in very different ways to the growing debate on GM contamination.

Between October and December 2002, several Mexican agencies and officials actively sought to suspend the moratorium that prohibited the cultivation of GM corn, alleging that if the fields were already contaminated it no longer needed to be contained, and arguing that GM maize would benefit Mexico through higher yields and increased resistance, without taking into account the risks to biodiversity.14 Their attitude provoked criticism from social organizations:

“Since the discovery of contamination in 2001, to now, the Mexican government, through the Secretariat of Agriculture and the Intersectorial Commission on Biodiversity and Genetically Modified Organisms (CIBIOGEM), along with the biotechnology industry… have sought first to invent arguments to deny the existence of the problem and later to say that contamination is not important and in some cases even positive. The next step is to get (society) to accept it as an irreversible fact and resign itself to the presence of transgenics in the country, thereby sending out the message to the rest of the world that if the center of origin and diversity of maize is already contaminated, it doesn’t matter if it shows up in all the other countries.”15

Meanwhile, the international institutions charged with protecting the germ plasm of basic foods seemed not to know how to react. CIMMYT, which is located in Texcoco, Mexico, and forms part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), reacted ambiguously faced with the crisis of contamination. It affirmed it was fulfilling its responsibilities by testing for transgenic contamination in its gene banks, but it refused to recognize the growing evidence of contamination in the field.16

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) asked CIMMYT to clarify the implications of contamination and the Mexican government requested concrete information. At the annual General Assembly of the CGIAR in October 2002, the issue of GM contamination in the crop’s center of origin was purposely avoided.

In the meetings on the Convention on Biological Diversity in The Hague and on the Protocol on Biosecurity, the Mexican government had no official declaration or comment on the issue. However, Ezequiel Ezcurra, director of the National Institute of Ecology (INE) privately confirmed “alarming levels of transgenic contamination” in Mexican maize.

CIMMYT finally published a document in which it recognized the need for studies on genetic flow in maize, but publicly declared “its support for the use of transgenic maize.” This ambivalent position toward the grave problem of contamination led one group of organizations to declare:

“International institutions like CIMMYT–which has the largest public gene bank for maize in the world, taken from thousands of varieties of maize developed by small farmers in Mexico and other places–has not even recognized the existence of the contamination and has said only that more studies are needed, at the same time as it has several programs to develop transgenic maize and wheat. This attitude of CIMMYT is deplorable and shows that it is not worthy of being in charge of such an historic reserve.”17

Meanwhile, various international institutions defended their collaboration with agribusiness and their acceptance of the patent system within the CGIAR. This position triumphed in the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in August 2002, where transnational corporations acquired status as “principle actors in sustainable development.” However, the issues of corn contamination in Mexico, transgenic food aid to African countries and the efforts of certain institutions and transnationals to present transgenics as “the solution to world hunger” were heatedly discussed.18

In August 2002, the INE and CONABIO announced that subsequent tests carried out by two separate academic institutions not only confirmed the original findings but revealed even higher levels of contamination.19 INE Director Ezcurra affirmed that “the most important conclusion of the studies is that the transgenic traits move around much faster in the natural environment than what we previously thought, which obliges us to reconsider biosecurity measures.”20

That same month, the entire Scientific Advisory Committee of the Cibiogem resigned in protest of the Mexican government’s lack of commitment to dealing with biosecurity issues. In a public statement the committee members lamented: “The federal government does not consider it a priority to discuss genetically modified organisms and … our observations and opinions are not taken into account.”21

While the government took contradictory positions, the industry launched an offensive to counter criticism of GM corn and lift the moratorium. Five transnational companies own all the GM seed currently cultivated in the world: Monsanto (90% of the market), Syngenta (Novartis + AstraZeneca), Bayer (Aventis), Dupont (Pioneer Hi-Bred), and Dow. Conquering the Mexican market in GM corn became top priority for them because of consumers’ strong resistance and fears of risks to health and the environment, mostly in Europe and Japan.22

In December 2001, a group of scientists closely linked to the biotechnology industry initiated a campaign to discredit the Chapela and Quist article, affirming that GM contamination in Mexico had not been proven. Nature, pressured by industry and betraying its prestigious reputation, retracted the findings contained in the article, alleging that the evidence presented was not sufficient for publication. On Oct. 22, 2002, after Nature refused to publish the results of new contamination studies from the Mexican government, Ezcurra stated, “The arguments of the analysts at Nature are not scientific, they are ideological …. Our data suggests that transgenic are there (in Mexico).”23

Communities Decide on Independent Organizing


  • A process of permanent reflection has begun in different regions of the country that involves grassroots brainstorming on ways to prevent contamination and decontaminate contaminated zones.
  • Communities have been trained in detection of contaminated maize and protection of native varieties.
  • Processes for increasing the autonomy of Indian peoples have been enriched.
  • National and international public opinion has been alerted about the risks of contamination.

Reaction was brewing in communities throughout the country. Aldo González, of the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez of Oaxaca (UNOSJO), resumes many of the fears that arose in the months after the First Forum in Defense of Maize:

“For us the native seeds are a very important element of our culture. The pyramids may disappear, but a handful of corn seed is the inheritance we can leave to our children and grandchildren… In the Sierra Juárez we believe that it is very important to carry out work to differentiate transgenic seeds from those that aren’t. We don’t have enough resources. Many people don’t know what transgenic maize is yet. In Mexico City people can watch television, listen to the radio, read newspapers; in the Sierra Juarez that doesn’t exist. We have to go from community to community to inform them about what’s happening, and our fellow countrymen and women are upset about the situation.” (summarized)24

Throughout the country, a strong, invisible movement to defend maize was taking root and trying to interpret the implications of its contamination. Statements poured in from all over.

From January 2002 to date, in meetings and workshops of the National Indigenous Congress (CNI), Indian peoples and communities have discussed the problem of defense of maize. Many of their resolutions reflect the agreements reached in the first forum. In the CNI assembly of the Center-Pacific Region on July 21, 2002 , delegates demanded that the federal government “halt the introduction into our country of transgenic maize or maize of doubtful origin.” Two months later, in the National Forum in Defense of Traditional Medicine, the public statement was unambiguous with respect to corn contamination:

“As part of our defense of the mother earth and all that is born of her, we repudiate the introduction of transgenic maize in our country, since the mother maize is the primary foundation of our peoples. In consequence, we demand that the federal government declare an unlimited moratorium on the introduction of transgenic maize regardless of its intended use.”25

The meetings in Indian communities to discuss the problem of maize contamination occurred in the context of a breakdown in relations between the Mexican government and indigenous peoples. The rupture was caused by the government’s 2001 refusal to approve the indigenous rights reforms based on the San Andres Accords, negotiated and signed by the federal government and the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) in 1996.

This climate led to a decision to place a priority on independent action above making demands of the government. One of the first actions resulting from this strategy grew out of a resolution of the first forum: to carry out independent testing for genetic contamination of maize in sample communities. Beginning in October 2002, preparatory workshops were held to teach communities how to do these studies.

A Disappointing Dialogue

From the start, the campaign In Defense of Maize included small farmer and agricultural producer organizations. By late 2002 a farmers’ movement arose in Mexico , made up of a wide range of groups, from poor peasants to large farmer and agricultural associations, and dubbed The Countryside Can’t Take It Anymore. The movement mobilized thousands of farmers and supports, culminating in a 100,000-strong march in Mexico City in February of 2003.

The Countryside Can’t Take It Anymore placed the issues of defense of maize and food sovereignty at the center of its platform. Its demands included: renegotiate the agricultural and livestock chapter of NAFTA, reorient agricultural policy along the principles of food sovereignty, and undo the counterreform to Article 27 of the Constitution that allowed for privatization of collectively run farms (ejidos). By early 2002 the movement had forced the administration of President Vicente Fox to the negotiating table.

But the resulting National Rural Accord reflected almost exclusively government positions, promising funds that had already been earmarked and employing purposely vague language on key points.26 The only mention of corn contamination, for example, fell far short of movement demands: Point 73 reads, “Actions to protect agro- biodiversity will be implemented, such as monitoring contamination and genetic erosion.” Without a commitment to preventive measures, monitoring provides no protection against contamination. This way of viewing the problem closely echoed industry demands to allow contamination and simply monitor the results.27

The experience was questioned strongly by the National Union of Regional Autonomous Campesino Organizations (UNORCA), the Chihuahua Democratic Front, the Union of Forestry Organizations (Unofoc), and the Rural Defense Front. “The document negates from the outset farmers’ demands to revise and renegotiate the agriculture and livestock chapter, the exclusion of maize and beans from the liberalization process under NAFTA, and the reintroduction of tariffs/quotas on the import of products from strategic food and livestock chains, for reasons of food security and sovereignty.”28

This experience deepened the distance between the government and several organizations and sowed divisions within the farmers’ movement, without achieving the primary objectives of the movement, among them the defense of maize.

Meanwhile, the indigenous movement and part of the farmers’ movement reaffirmed their resolve to develop independent measures.

Community Studies

Various indigenous communities and producers’ organizations in the states of Chihuahua, Puebla, Oaxaca, Veracruz, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Durango, San Luis Potosí, and Tlaxcala began preparatory workshops to carry out testing for contamination themselves, without depending on the government. With the help of Misereor and Bread for the World, testing got underway. Support came from independent civic organizations, such as the Center for Studies of Rural Change in Mexico (Ceccam), National Support Center to Indigenous Missions (Cenami), Center for Social Analysis, Information and Popular Formation (Casifop), ETC Group, UNOSJO, Jaliscan Association to Support Indigenous Groups (AJAGI), Technical Consulting for Communities of Chihuahua, and a group of biologists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), whose participation was crucial in analysis of the samples.

From the outset it was clear to the organizers and participants that the main objective of the process was to deepen reflection starting at the grassroots level, and improve understanding of the conditions that affected the communities and small farmers in their specific regions, in Mexico, and the world. It was also a time to ponder the role of science and technology. The manual developed for the workshops lists a series of guidelines for the work:29

In late 2003, the organizations released the results of the independent testing to the public:30

“On Oct. 9 of this year, small farmers´ and indigenous organizations and civil society made public the results of our samples in 138 farmer and indigenous communities in Mexico, reporting transgenic contamination of native corn in 33 communities of Chihuahua, Morelos, Durango, México State, San Luis Potosí, Puebla, Oaxaca, Tlaxcala and Veracruz …. We found up to three different transgenics in the same plant, corresponding to herbicide-tolerant corn and pest-resistant corn with the toxin Bt. In these states we found contamination with genetically modified Starlink maize, prohibited for human consumption in the United States . All the (gene) sequences are patented by one of the five multinationals that control the production of transgenics worldwide.”31

An International Movement

The Cartagena Protocol on Biodiversity, to which Mexico is a signatory, took effect at the same time that the results of the independent testing were being released. Since Sept. 11, 2003, Mexico is in violation of the norms of the international protocol because of its imports of U.S. maize containing unmarked transgenics.

To evade these responsibilities, the undersecretary of agriculture and president of Cibiogem, Victor Villalobos, signed an agreement with the United Status and Canada to exempt them from complying with the requirements of the Cartagena Protocol and from paying compensation for contamination with transgenics, when exports from these two countries to Mexico “only” contain up to 5% contamination. The agreement also exempted them from declaring or paying if the contamination was unintentional.32 Mexico’s position not only gave a green light to continue to contaminate maize, but broke the consensus that had been attained in the conference on the Cartagena Protocol in Malaysia .33

This provoked an international response. In November 2003 a letter “to national and international opinion” was published, signed by 302 civic, environmental, social and political organizations all over the world. The signers stated:

“Contamination is an issue that concerns the whole world, since maize is one of our most important food crops and Mexico is a reserve of genetic diversity that we all depend on. The changes in polices that are being considered now could put the Mexican government in the tragic historic role of having permitted the destruction of a critical resource for the global future of food security, and having put in risk the most precious heritage of the small farmers and indigenous peoples of Mexico.”34

The letter demanded that the Mexican government maintain the moratorium on sowing genetically modified maize in Mexico , put an immediate stop to importation of GM or GM-mix corn, and throw out the proposal for the Law of Biosecurity, rejected by the majority of the movement In Defense of Maize. It also demanded that the government resist the extreme pressure of the biotechnology industry and scientists financed directly or indirectly by it, including those in the public sector.

The letter urged the FAO and the CGIAR to present a specific strategy to assure that genetic banks are protected from contamination, with no permissible tolerance levels, as well as guaranteeing the integrity of germ plasm under their protection, and prohibiting intellectual property claims on registered germ plasm or any of its components.35

Second Forum in Defense of Maize

Riding on the success of the community efforts, the Second Forum in Defense of Maize was held in December of 2003. One of the main concerns was to discuss viable proposals to independently prevent contamination in places where it had not yet been detected, and to decide if it was necessary to expand the testing in search of genetic contamination to other regions of the country.

Given that the contamination was already widespread and that the government had refused to close off the external sources of contamination, continued independent testing was deemed a waste of scarce time and resources. Although participants recognized a possible role for scientific research in decontamination, they stated that the problem of genetic contamination in maize can only be resolved over the long term, and the main actors of decontamination must be the farming and indigenous communities themselves.

Participants concluded that many communities can establish prohibitions on sowing GM organisms in their local statutes and ejido regulations, which would lead to a de facto moratorium for Indian peoples and small farmers on consumption, cultivation and spread of transgenic maize. An additional provision would imply blocking the entrance of foreign seed, while at the same time avoiding buying in Diconsa stores (governmental stores that distribute imported corn), favoring independent marketing where possible.36

Around this time a group of organizations petitioned the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC), the trilateral body charged with monitoring and alleviating the environmental effects of trade under NAFTA, to carry out an investigation of transgenic maize contamination in Mexico. The CEC accepted the case and began to develop its report and recommendations. On March 11-12, 2004 , the CEC presented its findings, before an unprecedented group of over 400 scientists, officials, business representatives, indigenous authorities and members of nongovernmental organizations.

The studies established the central role of maize in the diet of the Mexican people and confirmed GM contamination. In spite of the commitment to make public the recommendations, these were put off indefinitely. It was revealed that the recommendations, already agreed on by consensus, were being blocked by the U.S. government, closely linked to industry interests. Against the rules of the CEC and in violation of a public commitment to release the recommendations, they are still being held hostage by the U.S. and transnational interests.37

This experience demonstrated both the possibilities and limitations of carrying the case to governmental and intergovernmental bodies. Although the final results have been held up by the U.S. government, the process gave greater visibility to issues of genetic contamination and helped involve more communities, researchers and media in the process. 38

To defend maize is to defend life and the small farmer-indigenous worldview, and vice versa. On this path, city-dwellers also play a role that is only beginning to be recognized. Resistance to the plans of agribusiness, to global economic agencies, and to their administrators in national governments, strengthens the relationships between diverse actors and leads toward a still undefined conclusion, but one that reinforces a nascent vision developed over the past few years.39

Despite migration and desertion in the countryside, despite megaprojects and the looting of resources, despite maize contamination, despite the irresponsible attitude of government officials, despite the divisions purposely sown among rural groups, no-one can predict the outcome of this struggle. The marakate (or wise folk) of the Wixárika Indian community in west-central Mexico have dreamed that these are dark times and that the candles of life are dying in the four cardinal points. That only in the heart of the peoples “is there a tiny flickering flame.” But they also dream that there is an inexplicable, bright light appearing in many directions, and they have set forth, along with other Mexican indigenous peoples, to determine their own destiny. They are not trusting to miracles–they have decided to make them.


  1. Based on official statistics cited by Ana de Ita, from figures from the Banco de México, Sagarpa, and SIACON. In Ana de Ita and Pilar López Sierra: “La cultura maicera mexicana frente al libre comercio,” in Maíz, sustento y culturas en América Latina. Los impactos destructivos de la globalización. Redes, Amigos de la Tierra-Uruguay, Biodiversidad-sustento y culturas, Montevideo, 2004.
  2. Paper presented by Luis Hernández Navarro in the First Forum In Defense of Maize (not published).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. ETC Group, “GM Fallout from Mexico to Zambia : The Great Containment” Oct. 2002.
  6. Bt is the most common commercial form of genetically modified corn.
  7. De Ita and Sierra, op.cit: p. 28.
  8. Ibid., p. 29.
  9. etc Group, 2002, op.cit.
  10. See
  11. De Ita and López Sierra, op.cit., p. 29.
  12. Ribeiro, Silvia, interview by the author, June 2004.
  13. ETC Group, op.cit.
  14. In March 2003, after assuming the presidency of the Comisión on Biosecurity, Víctor Villalobos, Under-secretary of agriculture and adviser to transnational companies that produce transgenics, declared in El Financiero (Mar. 10, 2003) that he would “work to end the moratorium that impedes the cultivation of transgenic maize.”
  15. Pamphlet on the presentation of results of the campaign “In Defense of Maize” (unpublished document in Spanish, Sept. 2003)
  16. ETC Group, 2002, op cit.
  17. “In Defense of Maiz ” unpublished doc., op.cit.
  18. The information in this paragraph comes from “GM Fallout from Mexico to Zambia ” ETC Group, Oct. 2002. op.cit.
  19. Ibid. The new data shows that transgenic contamination reaches a range of 1 to 37% in 95% of the places tested in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla.
  20. “Confirma el INE la presencia de transgénicos en cultivos de Oaxaca,” in La Jornada, México, Aug. 12, 2002.
  21. “Renuncia el Consejo Consultivo de la Comisión de Bioseguridad” in La Jornada, México, Aug. 13, 2002.
  22. Ribeiro, Silvia. “Hood Robin y la Ley de bioseguridad,” La Jornada, Nov. 16, 2003.
  23. Nature se niega a publicar estudio sobre transgénicos,” Angélica Enciso and Andrés Morales, in La Jornada, México, Oct. 22, 2002.
  24. Ojarasca in La Jornada 58, Feb. 2002.
  25. The meeting took place Sept. 16, 2002 in Hñahñu territory of M’enhuani-Atlapulco, Mexico State, with the particpation of tradicional medics, authorities and delegates from indigenous communities and organizations of the peoples of Tohono O’odham, Mayo, Rarámuri, Cora, Wixaritari, Nahua, Huachichil, Tenek, Chichimeca, Purhépecha, Mazahua, Tlahuica, Matlatzinca, Hñahñu, Tepehua, Amuzgo, Tlapaneco, Mixteco, Huave, Zapoteco, Mixe, Mazateco, Maya peninsular, Tzeltal, Tzotzil, C’hol, Tojolabal, Mame, Zoque, Cluj, and Mochó, from twenty states, along with civil society organizations.
  26. De Ita and López Sierra Ibid. p. 33.
  27. See “Acuerdo Nacional para el Campo” Apr. 28, 2003
  28. De Ita and López Sierra, op. cit.
  29. Manual: Participation of indigenous and campesino communities in the “Defense of Native Maize” campaign. Internal document designed with the participation of those envolved and Cenami, Mexico, 2003.
  30. Signed by Casifop, Ceccam, el Colectivo de Educación y Desarrollo Integral de la Mujer (CEDIM), Cenami, la Comision de Solidaridad y Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (COSYDDHAC), Contec, el Centro Regional de Educación y Organización (CREO) el Grupo ETC, Greenpeace México, GEA, Guerreros Verdes, la Organización de Agricultores Biológicos (ORAB), Regionalización Tuxtleca, la Unidad Indígena Totonaca Nahua (Unitona), AJAGI, UNORCA, and UNOSJO.
  31. Letter of publication of results by the campaign In Defense of Native Maize, to Congreso; the Intersectorial Comisión on Biosecurity and Transgenic Organisms (Cibiogem); Secretariat of Agricultura, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food. Oct. 2003.
  32. ETC Group, 2003, op. cit.
  33. Ruiz, Carmelo, “The Genetic Contamination of Mexico Maize”
  34. Letter to national and international public signed by 302 organizations from 49 countries. Consult the ETC Group web site,
  35. Ibid.
  36. Andrés Barreda, researcher from Casifop.
  37. See Greenpeace, “México: no se publicará el informe de la contaminación de maíz.”
  39. The author wishes to thank Verónica Villa and Silvia Ribeiro of ETC Group. Without their help, this article would not have been possible.



Latin America will be all feminist!

March 8, International Women’s Day (IWD), serves as a barometer of the strength of feminist and women’s movements, especially in