InterContinental Caravan for Solidarity and Resistance

issue no.1, 30 May 1999

500 activists from India and other countries of the South arrive in Europe Spread over several days and places, the participants of the Inter-Continental Caravan for Solidarity and Resistance (ICC) have arrived in Europe. Now, this Totally Crazy Project has completed its first week. In these days the Caravan has visited places in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the UK. In this first ICC news Bulletin you will find updates on the events so far.

"La lunac, "Chandra ma" - the moon is familiar to all. In this night of Whitsuntide it is shining through the broken windows of the church of the Dambeck Monastery in Sachsen-Anhalt, a village in the north of Germany, while hundreds of women and men get out of the buses. Women dressed in saris, men with the famous green shawls of the Indian farmer movement KRRS. The Caravan for Solidarity and Resistance has started. From here, 500 people from countries of the South will travel through Europe for one month, to protest together with local people against the world economic system, against gene technology, against war and against the nuclear threat.

The colour of green

"Green means that something is growing", the Indians explain during the opening meeting the following day. The participants of this Caravan put high hopes in this respect. Originated in India, the idea of this Caravan was dubbed Totally Crazy Project by its European supporters – hundreds of people suffering from the world economic structures want to protest against them at the very spot where the decisions are made. >From global to local "You know, I am not interested in the political aspect", a journalist says. Instead he wants to report on how an Indian man tells him his fortune. "I am a local reporter. How can I explain the international context to the people here?" But that is exactly what the 500 want to achieve: "We want another politics, with which we can live in dignity. We are all affected by this world economic system – and most not in a positive sense." With the ongoing trade liberalisation, small firms have to compete with large scale producing multinational companies. This is what has happened in Europe since years; for India it started when the government decided to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in the beginning of the 90s. In Europe this has caused mass unemployment. In India, where most people still depend on agriculture, this means complete uncertainty on their very survival.

The Caravan for Solidarity and Resistance calls upon all, not to accept any longer the current state of affairs, in which the wealth of a few destroys the lives of many. It is our version of Che Guevarra’s famous words: Be realistic, do the impossible!

Participants in the Caravan

The Indian part of the Caravan consists of people from 9 States: Karnataka, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Andra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharastra.

As mentioned above, small groups of people from other countries and continents are also taking part in the Caravan. From Bangladesh 2 people of the landless movement are present, from Nepal 6 people of INHURED (human rights, environment), two people from Mexican Zapatista support groups, one person from Colombia (Black Community Movement), 2 women from Argentina (Madres de la Plaza de Mayo), 10 people from Movimiento Sem Terra (Brazil), one person from the Mapuches (Chile), and 2 Ukrainian women of the Rainbow Keepers. Also, a Venezuelan journalist joined the Caravan. Unfortunately, right on the first day one Indian man had to go to the hospital because of his kidney stones, and needed immediate operation. He will not be able to join the Caravan any more.

ICC participants refused entry into Poland, the Czech Republic, Finland Switzerland and UK.

Although the Schengen and most Swiss visas miraculously turned up at the very last moment, the Caravan will not be able to go to either Poland or the Czech Republic. Now the route of the bus going to Eastern Europe has been rescheduled, and the people will spend more time in Cologne during the EU summit next week.

Also, a large number of people were refused clearance at the UK High Commission in Madras, even though they had fulfilled all the relevant criteria. It is still unclear whether this is connected to the "Operation Cremate Monsanto" recently launched by KRRS members. Farmers in Karnataka burned down fields of genetically manipulated cotton being used as trial crops by Monsanto. Since the remaining 81 Indians did get UK visas, solicitors acting on behalf of the Indians insist that there has been discrimination in the procedure.

For Switzerland, curiously, only a few people have not been granted visas, most of them women. This could still work out. In the case of Finland, where a small delegation of 3 Indians would have joined a speakers’ tour, it appeared that it was too late to get the visas.

Reclaim the Streets Party in Bielefeld
Two Caravans meet

On Monday 24th, the Geld oder Leben (Money or Life) Caravan met with the ICC, already in a party mood because of a pumping sound system. Just when the GoL Caravan arrived in Bielefeld and celebrated this with a bike dance, the ICC bus no.11 arrived. A Reclaim the Streets party was joined by the Caravaneers who sang their slogans against the WTO through a megaphone, and seemed pretty OK. When the police started to collect more forces, it was hard to convince the Indians that for their own sake it was better to leave. In an attempt to show their power, the police came on to the sound system. As the partying crowd would not allow this, the team in blue used trun-cheons and tear gas, and arrested some people. Nevertheless, both European and Southern ICC participants had a great time.

Cargill action in Amsterdam

In Amsterdam, a two-day program had been prepared, including an action at a Cargill factory and various debates and workshops. After the tiring journey >from Salzwedel to Amsterdam, some people immediately started preparing the next day's action at a Cargill plant in the harbour area of Amsterdam. The Indians and Bangladeshi walked together with a small group of Dutch people to the factory and main office of Cargill in Europe. They held banners saying 'No genetech food' and 'United against Cargill'. A Cargill spokes person asked the demonstrators for a petition. Prof. Nanjundaswamy (president of the KRRS) said: 'We don't have a petition. We don't believe in petitions, we believe in direct action'.

A woman from the Bangladesh landless peoples' movement also expressed her anger at Cargill: 'We know you are producing food that is unhealthy. For this reason we came to protest. You have to stop immediately, otherwise the women from Bangladesh will stop you'.

The spokesperson had no better arguments than stating that 'GM foods are not forbidden'.

According to a personal report by one of the bus coordinators (we want more of those!!), it was a really emotional and powerful event that 'totally blew away the management who came in amazement out of the building to be overwhelmed by this rather unexpected and uniquely special scenario. The fact that there was only a handful of local participants (though it was a real disappointment to the Indians who were somewhat confused about it) didn't in any way weaken the image of this demo, because in a way it displayed an astounding presence of strength to see this intimate confrontation between only Cargill and Karnataka green scarved Indians who were shouting with such cheerful determination "Cargill-DOWN!" alongside the stunning speeches -amplified by the soundystem on bus 1 (thanx to the enthusiastic driver).

Their being there WITHOUT a few hundred local people behind them, made their presence somehow even more amazing, as if they had come all the way from India only to stand face to face with their ultimate villain, strong enough to stand and face them alone and set them straight. I really need to stop now, ’cos there is hardly a moment in the day when I have time to do anything besides looking out, for and after my extremely lovely group of Indians (from the Karnataka bus no. 1) who I have had an undesribably lovely time with, which cannot be even compared to anything have ever experienced in my life. See you all in Geneva. Love from Chris'

Another event in Amsterdam was a debate on the effects of seed multinationals on the rural population in the South. Speakers at this debate were Prof. Nanjundaswamy, Peter Gabriels (a representative of Pioneer Hi-Breed), and Peter Custers (Dutch Platform on Gene Technology). The farmers explained that, with the results of the Green Revolution in their minds, they had great worries about the consequences of the introduction of GM crops. A woman from Bangladesh said that after a period of big floods in Bangladesh, about 500.000 packets of hybrid vegetable seeds had been distributed. These hybrid seeds are combined with loan packages, which makes them financially attractive at first sight. The aim of foreign seed companies is, in her opinion, only to make profit out of the South's agriculture, and therefore to replace the traditional seeds.

The Caravan in Belgium: walking and acting!

In Belgium, the buses no. 6 and 8 joined the For Mother Earth 2000 march for nuclear disarmament in Antwerp. The walk had started in The Hague and was bound for Brussels, to end with a big anti-NATO demonstration at the NATO headquarters.

As expected, there was a lot of police troubles with this action. During the action, someone went inside the building to try to get some answers >from a NATO representative. When he did not get what he wanted, people started trying to enter the building, to find the answers themselves. This was the moment when the aggression started in full force, in the end nearly 70 people were arrested. By this time, the Caravan buses had left in order not to get the Indians into trouble.

The next day, the whole bunch headed for Belgium's Silicon Valley of Biotechnology (Louvain La Neuve - Nieuw Leuven), to do an action at the Monsanto Technical European Center. Support for this action was given by the European Farmers' Co-ordination (CPE - Coordination Paysanne Européenne). According to their press release, the Vlaams Agrarisch Centrum (VAC) and the Front Uni des Jeunes Agriculteurs (FUJA), Belgian members of the CPE, are participating in this demonstration. The press release states that 'many of the farmers from India are opposed to the control by Monsanto of resources necessary to agricultural production such as seeds, and to the introduction of genetically modified seeds and genetically modified agriculture products into the market of their countries, and without their agreement.

The food sovereignty of populations is completely flouted from South to North and from East to West. The will of the WTO to completely deregulate the agricultural trade and to let transnational companies privatise natural resources as seeds and genetic resources, water, is unacceptable. Meanwhile the resistance of the European public opinion against genetically modified organisms is becoming more and more evident to governments and retailing sector. It is necessary today to explain the international stakes and to mobilise the public opinion in favour of food sovereignty, sustainable way of agriculture production and fair trade without dumping.'

Events in the UK

After a "People vs. Corporations" Public Hearing, an impromptu action took place. Since the Nuffield Institute issued its report saying that GM foods could have a useful place in world health, the whole meeting decamped from Friends House to the Nuffield office in the West End, occupying the whole of a 4-lane carriageway into the bargain. Once there, many Indian farmers and others occupied the office and had a long dialogue while noise was made and banners hung up outside. All in all a real taste of 'the united colours of resistance', UK activists trying out Indian anti-WTO slogans and Indian farmers giving it a bit of ye olde RTS.

Farmers’ blockades in Poland

Polish farmers have started road blockades on over 50 locations in Poland. In Nowy Dwor Gdanski, a city on the estuary of the Vistula, there were heavy fights between the riot police and the farmers. 29 women and men were wounded by rubber bullets. Heavy clouds of tear gas floated over the city, and four police cars were destroyed by molotovs. In Eastern Europe, farmers face the same problems as the Indians are now facing. A process of market liberalisation puts the existence of small farmers at great risk, a process that has already destroyed most of the small farms in the rich industrialised countries. Now the ICC participants cannot physically show their solidarity with the Polish farmers, they have been asked to send solidarity letters or flags to the farmers' unions in Poland.

The Caravan in France: 1000 cows and a few bears

In France, the Caravan is making an intensive tour visiting many places, varying from Paris and Toulouse to Plateau Millevaches and Vallée d'Aspe (that is where the few bears are). Buses 9 and 10 went together to Lille, where a 'giant picnic' was organised. They then both took a different route, bus 9 going on to Spain, via Vallée d'Aspe (Pyrrenees). This bus spent a few days in and around Limoges in the Limousin region (Plateau Millevaches). One of the local organisers wrote that there had been many, interesting and warm exchanges. "Our Indian friends seem to have enjoyed a lot the welcome, the organisation and the program. The nine people’s accommodation (7 Indian and two guides) was spread over 4 farms, which allowed intimate meeting between several local agricultural aspects and what the Indian farmers are living.

Not enough external visitors during the afternoon for the ferme ouverte – opened farm – operation (due to enjoyable weather, lack of informa-tion?) Good beginning of debate in Eymoudalers, unfortunately limited by translation constraints (misunder-standing and timing). Only spoken about our lack of preparation from both groups. We should spend more time to build something together. This is also involving the point of what is to be possibly done afterwards.

Some questions and remarks :

  • Do we understand the word "problème" (point, problem ...) in the same way?
  • In Europe, many farmers take advantage of the European subsidies, they are protecting the actual system (and they do not attend our meetings – we are convincing convinced peoples)
  • Is it right and just for us to talk about our "problèmes", being privileged on a world-wide scale, is it decent to talk and to complain? So, how could we not mislead the Indians about our agricultural model (subsidies and so on), for which they could yearn.
  • We have definitively to find out ways to increase the agricultural working population awareness – above all in Europe, given the low percentage of agricultural population – perhaps by spreading the debate beyond the mere agricultural points (because the same financial and economical origins involve the same consequences, for all sectors of the economy).

So, we have to place the human being in the centre, not the money (economy being used by people, not people being used by the economy, and so on, and so on. It’s only a beginning. Friendly yours, Jean-Luc. The South participates in the final Euromarch demonstration in Cologne Cologne is basically the focus of the Caravan, with the EU Summit and the G8. At the camp, there were (as in many other places) problems with finding more blankets for the Indians, as theirs are not made for European weather (even if it seemed really warm to us). The demonstration on Saturday 29th, despite the heat and provoking police men, marched quietly through the centre of Cologne. At the end however, a group of Antifa people was encircled for some time by the police, which created a very agressive atmosphere.

Although there were quite a number of peoples, they were fewer than two years ago in Amsterdam. A group of Dutch wanted to travel Italian-style (jargon for squatting a train during the time of the journey of your liking), but they were forced out in Emmerich, and they're probably still blocking the railroads as this is being written.

Europe and India both at war

The anti-nuclear and anti-war element of the Caravan could not have been more relevant – not only is Europe participating in the bombings on Yugoslavia, but India and Pakistan are now also at war. Is this bombing becoming a global hype or what?!

Needless to say, the Indian partici-pants of the Caravan are quite worried and eager to find out more. The only ‘good’ thing to come out of this situation is that it created a direct motivation for the Europeans and Indians to start discussions on nationalism and militarism. The Indians in the Euromarch demo carried a banner 'Bombs? Save soil and seed!' (this is what we remember).

Demo in Cologne

Press ignorance: Business as usual?

Media attention has not immediately been as overwhelming as we hoped. Despite all the troubles we went through, and despite the splendid delegation, only 2 journalists appeared at the Cologne press conference. In Aachen, it was even worse – nobody showed up.

On the other hand, we are now seeing a growing interest, with articles published in Libération (F), La Strada (I), WochenZeitung (CH), Tageszeitung (G), and we are on the front page of One World Online with a great article on the start of the Caravan in India by an Indian reporter. Also we received quite a few articles that had appeared in regional papers, from the groups in and around Limoges.

And again, we want more of that!!

Check out the website, Cargill did too!! http://stad.dsl.nl/~caravan

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