MITCHEL COHEN: Genetic Engineering, Pesticides, and Resistance to the New Colonialism


Argentina is a leading producer of soy for export and cattle feed, and almost all of it is “Roundup Ready” soy, resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, and manufactured and patented by Monsanto.

Javiera Rulli, a biologist who works on issues of agriculture and food sovereignty in Argentina, lives and works in a Kolla community in the Yungas, the tropical montane forest region in the northwest of Argen­tina. She says that after the United States and Brazil, Argentina is the world’s largest producer of genetically modified crops. Although it was once known as the world’s grain barn, Argentina has become a soy dicta­torship of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, with a growing external debt.

Said Rulli, “The implementation of large-scale intensive agriculture has brought about a loss of agricultural biodiversity and the destruction of local economies,” Rulli wrote. “The industrial agriculture has resulted in the concentration of land in the hands of big landowners and giant corpora­tions, resulting in the expulsion of rural workers and small- and medium-sized producers. As a result, today more than half of the population survives under the poverty level.”

Rulli, who spoke in New York in 2005 at a forum co-sponsored by the No Spray Coalition, explained how the massive glyphosate spraying goes hand-in-hand with the militarization of neighboring countries such as Par­aguay and is directly related to the genetically engineered soy expansion: “Growers of GM soy from Brazil crossed the border and attacked a peasant community, Tekojoja, in Caaguazu, Paraguay, in order to drive them off their lands and to claim them for themselves for planting genetically engi­neered soy. They evicted 270 people, burned down 54 of the houses and all of the non-GMO crops. Two local farmers were killed—Angel Cristaldo and Lus Torres—many people were injured and 130 were arrested, among them many women and children.”

Genetically engineered foods, and the herbicides and pesticides required to maintain them, are weapons not only in Javiera Rulli’s Argentina but also in the U.S. government’s arsenal. U.S. capital imposes the technology on other countries through its aid packages as well as the International Mon­etary Fund’s and World Bank’s structural adjustment programs (SAPs).

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger approves of the IMF’s struc­tural adjustment and U.S. Aid for International Development (USAID) programs. He once portrayed America aid this way: “To give food aid to a country just because they are starving is a pretty weak reason.” For Kissinger, food is to be used as a weapon in the achievement of U.S. foreign policy objectives. And so, the United States systematically dumps cheap genetically engineered produce saturated with pesticides on foreign markets, under­mining local producers and forcing them to purchase the patented seeds from the company manufacturing them, along with the pesticides needed to kill off the plants’ competitors.3 Driven from their lands, local producers become dependent on the United States and its corporations, and a number of them try to flee across the border to the United States.

In his 2001 book, A Cook’s Tour, chef Anthony Bourdain had a very dif­ferent take on Kissinger, one worth savoring:

Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacher­ous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia—the fruits of his genius for statesmanship—and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milosevic.

Prior to the advent and initial proliferation of genetically modified organ­isms in the 1980s—a technology intricately tied to the manufacture of pesti­cides and in particular Monsanto’s Roundup—the tentacles of globalization expanded outward. U.S. foreign policy gathered the disparate needs of its corporations and unified them into a set of objectives that would expand the system, objectives that were enforced by U.S. military power. U.S. Marine Corps Commander Major General Smedley Darlington Butler explained his own role and that of the U.S. military in that period:

I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military ser­vice as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I suspected I was just part of a racket at the time. Now I am sure of it. Like all the members of the military profession, I never had a thought of my own until I left the service. My mental faculties remained in suspended animation while I obeyed the orders of higher-ups. This is typical with everyone in the military service.

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for Ameri­can oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909–1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.

During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

In 1934, Butler testified before the U.S. Congress that he had been offered millions of dollars to lead an insurrection and stage a fascist coup against President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. And he named names. The coup was to be funded by corporate behemoths headed by DuPont and J.P. Morgan.4

Fifty years later, DuPont—one of the key manufacturers of pesticides in the United States—patented the first genetically engineered mouse, following upon a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled that a pri­vate entity could legally patent a genetically engineered organism and use it for private profit. Thus, DuPont inaugurated an era of neocolonialism and enclosure of the living cell and of life within.


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