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Planting seeds of regime change

Hugo Chavez and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva visit a soy farm in El Tigre in Venezuela’s Anzoategui state, Oct. 30, 2009.

How GMO seeds and Monsanto are driving US policy in Venezuela

| Whitney Webb | As the political crisis in Venezuela has unfolded, much has been said about the Trump administration’s clear interest in the privatisation and exploitation of Venezuela’s oil reserves, the largest in the world, by American oil giants like Chevron and ExxonMobil.

Yet the influence of another notorious American company, Monsanto — now a subsidiary of Bayer — has gone largely unmentioned.

While numerous other Latin American nations have become a “free for all” for the biotech company and its affiliates, Venezuela has been one of the few countries to fight Monsanto and other international agrochemical giants and win. However, since that victory — which was won under Chavista rule — the U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition has been working to undo it.

Now, with Juan Guaidó’s parallel government attempting to take power with the backing of the U.S., it is telling that the top political donors of those in the U.S. most fervently pushing regime change in Venezuela have close ties to Monsanto and major financial stakes in Bayer.

In recent months, Monsanto’s most controversial and notorious product — the pesticide glyphosate, branded as Roundup, and linked to cancer in recent U.S. court rulings — has threatened Bayer’s financial future as never before, with a litany of new court cases barking at Bayer’s door. It appears that many of the forces in the U.S. now seeking to overthrow the Venezuelan government are hoping that a new Guaidó-led government will provide Bayer with a fresh, much-needed market for its agrochemicals and transgenic seeds, particularly those products that now face bans in countries all over the world, including once-defoliated and still-poisoned Vietnam.

In 2004, then-president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez, surprised many when he announced the cancellation of Monsanto’s plans to plant 500,000 acres of Venezuelan agricultural land in genetically modified (GM) soybeans. The cancellation of Monsanto’s Venezuela contract led to what became an ad hoc ban on all GM seeds in the entire country, a move that was praised by local farmer groups and environmental activists. In contrast to anti-GM movements that have sprung up in other countries, Venezuela’s resistance to GM crops was based more on concerns about the country’s food sovereignty and protecting the livelihoods of farmers.

Although the ban has failed to keep GM products out of Venezuela — as Venezuela has long imported a majority of its food, much of it originating in countries that are among the world’s largest producers of genetically modified foods — one clear effect has been preventing companies like Monsanto and other major agrochemical and seed companies from gaining any significant foothold in the Venezuelan market.

In 2013, a new seed law was nearly passed that would have allowed GM seeds to be sold in Venezuela through a legal loophole. That law, which was authored by a member of the Chavista United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), was widely protested by farmers, indigenous activists, environmentalists, and eco-socialist groups, which led to the law’s transformation into what has been nicknamed the “People’s Seed Law.” That law, passed in 2015, went even farther than the original 2004 ban by banning not just GM seeds but several toxic agrochemicals, while also strengthening heirloom seed varieties through the creation of the National Seed Institute.

Soon after the new seed law was passed in 2015, the U.S.-backed Venezuelan opposition led by the Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) — a group comprised of numerous U.S.-funded political parties, including Guaidó’s Popular Will — took control of the country’s National Assembly. Until Venezuela’s Supreme Court dissolved the assembly in 2017, the MUD-legislature attempted to repeal the seed law on several occasions. Those in favour of the repeal called the seed bill “anti-scientific” and damaging to the economy.

Despite the 2017 Supreme Court decision, the National Assembly has continued to meet, but the body holds no real power in the current Venezuelan government. However, if the current government is overthrown and Guaidó  — the “interim president” who is also president of the dissolved National Assembly — comes to power, it seems almost certain that the “People’s Seed Law” will be one of the first pieces of legislation on the chopping block.

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