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The battle of the candles: How Entre Ríos stopped a pro-pesticide law

The battle of the candles: How Entre Ríos stopped a pro-pesticide law

In Entre Ríos everything was normal:

* 760 students from three rural schools in the department of Colón had to be evacuated due to a massive fumigation that lasted three days.

* Another fumigated rural school in Santa Anita took its case to trial and three people (the producer, the owner of the applicator company and the aviator) were sentenced with suspended prison. The fumigations continued throughout the province, and even on that same school.

* Antonella González, from Gualeguaychú, 9 years old, died of leukemia. Her family asked for the donor networks for the bone marrow transplant, which spread their story with the photo of the girl shaved by chemotherapy. It helped the proximity of the singer Abel Pintos with that little fan of his songs. Antonella died on November 6, 2017. Her mother also warned about the large percentage of children who arrived from Entre Ríos to the Garrahan Hospital with illnesses like her daughter's. A group of self-convened neighbors called Stop Cancer was born in Gualeguaychú.

* There were more cases of schools fumigated in Maciá and Espinillo, with a teacher and two kindergarten children hospitalized for reactions to poisons. The provincial Ministry of Health had to order the director of the Falucho Hospital to report cases of poisoning by pesticides, an issue that had been omitted, so many cases were hidden.

* The University of Rosario continued to organize health surveys that discovered unexpected diseases in Bovril, Basavilvaso, Gobernador Mansilla, San Salvador and Larroque until now, arising from the massive application of pesticides. (Mu 77 and 90).

* The Multidisciplinary Space for Socio-Environmental Interaction (EMISA) of the University of La Plata detected the presence of pesticides in the water and mud of the Paraná River, from which the water is obtained. Purification does not eliminate these toxins, which reach each tap in each home.

* In cities like San Salvador, the neighbors themselves had to create censuses and maps showing more than 30 crosses concentrated in three blocks, indicating the dead and the sick. (Mu 75).

* The Hospital Italiano de Buenos Aires also detected cases of cancer in young people in Villa Elisa, which prompted a project of the institution to investigate and debate in the area the possibility of producing without poisons (Mu 118).

* Senators from the Front for Victory, with the support of those from Cambiemos, presented and approved a Phytosanitary Law that increases the use of pesticides to metaphysical levels, eliminating, for example, the application distances that existed until now.

In Entre Ríos everything was normal.

Then the candles appeared.

Horror series

There are laws that curiously are always voted at the end of December, with people thinking of Santa Claus and approaching April Fools' Day. The so-called Law of

Phytosanitary products of senators Ángel Giano and Mario Torres (FpV) won 14 to 3 on December 26, 2017 and went to the Chamber of Deputies.

The news about this kind of chemical warfare over the province had already led to the creation of the Coordinator for a Life without Agrotoxins in Entre Ríos Basta is enough, with a strong presence of the Paraná Ecological Forum, which for two decades has been a biochemist already retired: Daniel Verzeñassi. Before the approval of the law, Enough is Enough convened neighbors on Tuesday, January 9, in front of the Gray House of Paraná, headquarters of the Executive and the Provincial Legislative.

With the chimes of the tower, at 8.15pm, some 80 people with candles began to walk around the Gray House. Thus was born the Round of Tuesdays. It is impressive to see those people lighting up only with the small flames in some dark passages of the round. They walk without slogans or songs, because everyone already knows what is happening. They are talking and exchanging the news of the week. They carry a flag that says Stop Fumigating as the Children's Guild scampers around.

"If to make the issue visible, we had to keep waiting for deaths and tragedies, it is because we were not placing the emphasis so that society was definitely aware of it," explains Daniel Verzeñassi. “We think about the Round of the Mothers, and we leave on Tuesdays. There is a much greater commotion than a year or two ago by that succession of tremendous news. It was very annoying, says Daniel, that Luis Etchevehere from Paraná took over as Agroindustry Minister in November 2017, declaring: “Glyphosate is harmless. It deactivates when it hits the ground ”. The famous straw that broke the camel's back: “The law approved in the Senate fell very badly, which I think wanted to cut off the growing mobilization against the scandalous situation in the province. But it was the other way around ”. In Esquel they have posed these situations as the doctrine of the Coyote, which meticulously prepares traps to catch the Roadrunner, but the traps explode in his face.

The Rounds are not suspended due to rain, thunder, Tuesday the 13th (they already had two), or holidays. They are already being replicated in 17 cities and towns throughout Entre Ríos, and they have news from 30 towns in the country, starting with Trenque Lauquen (Buenos Aires).

What do they want to achieve? Verzeñassi: “Breathe safely, drink water without poison, stop the cancer epidemic and that people who are going to have a child are not afraid of knowing if the baby will be born, and how, due to the large number of spontaneous abortions and of babies born with malformations ”.

A memory clouds his eyes with anguish. He was a biochemist at the San Roque de Paraná children's hospital. Between 2002 and 2003 reality swept their test tubes: cleft lips, interrupted palates, gastroschisis (the viscera totally outside the body), anencephalic babies (without a brain) and cases of sirenomelia, born with their legs joined like a tail of siren. “They are unviable, obviously. All of them, just one spoke with the family, they came from being exposed to the fumigations ”. The number of cases forced the creation of a Malformations Committee. It went from two beds for cancer patients to 17: "The relatives ended up building an entire apartment, out of so many sick people there were." In the laboratory, from three tubes of oncology tests per day, he went to 15 in 2013 (upon retirement). "But there was a co-optation of professionals so that what is happening is not disclosed."

To that experience of a horror series, Verzeñassi adds a positive one: in 1996 with the Ecological Forum he faced the construction of the Paraná Medio dam. Governor Jorge Busti had declared it of provincial interest, and one of the companies was Halyburton, with George Bush and Dick Cheney. But the mobilization and the protection resources managed to stop the project and Busti himself ended up speaking out against it ”.

The members of Enough is Enough came up with an idea: not only to walk around the Gray House but to enter that building to see if it is possible to find other colors, and try to turn history around.

Look who's talking

Daniel Verzeñassi is a neighbor of Pedro Báez, a deputy close to the former governor and current president of the Entre Ríos Chamber of Deputies Sergio Urribarri. “I met with Báez, I explained to him the general situation of the province on these issues, I talked to him about how even the Guaraní Aquifer (the second world reserve of fresh water on the planet) is at risk and I think he was half surprised, and enabled the dialogue with Urribarri. We met him and three more deputies, Mariela Leiva (the director of the fumigated school in Santa Anita) came. They were from the FpV, but that did not interest us: we wanted to speak with deputies, as had also done with the councilor of Villa Elisa Alejandra Barbosa, who is from Cambiemos and invited me to give a talk in Chajarí, at the Radical Youth camp where the deputy "Pepo" Artusi was also. Our attitude is: talk to everyone we can, explain and convince them ”. Enough is enough decided not to look at the party cards or the saints to decide who to meet.

The meeting with Urribarri culminated with a request: "That we give them names to organize an activity that would allow the deputies to get to know a different look than the usual lobbyists of the Rural Society, Aapresid and similar groups." The door was opened to an unprecedented call. It was called the Knowledge Socialization Cycle - Towards a new food production model. They participated in different days:

* The doctor in Chemistry Damián Marino, inspirer of EMISA, explained to deputies how 80% of the fruits and vegetables we eat are contaminated with herbicides and reported on the findings of pesticides in the mud and waters of the Paraná, among other things . He added that these are not good or bad practices, but rather that with some 400 million liters of herbicides thrown into the country each year, the problem is systemic.

* Dr. Damián Verzeñassi (Daniel's son, a doctor) explained the results of the Health Camps of the Rosario School of Medical Sciences in the fumigated towns.

* The chemical engineer Marcos Tomasoni shared his research on how it is impossible to control the poison, which also remains in the soil, water and air, accumulates and does not degrade harmlessly.

* The engineer Eduardo Cerdá, field advisor and inspiration for the National Network of Municipalities and Communities that Promote Agroecology (RENAMA), explained how a transition to agroecological modes of production can be made. It showed that they are productive and profitable (by not using chemical inputs, the gross profit margin increases with respect to the conventional producer), in addition to being human and environmentally healthy. He explained that this not only works for small orchards, but also for extensive productions, in fields such as La Aurora de Benito Juárez (Mu 79) and La Primavera de Bolívar (Mu 112) among others. Another fact: the massive model of fumigation was inaugurated in 1996 killing all known weeds. Today there are already 32 glyphosate-resistant weeds, which is why fumigators have to use more and more poisons, in increasingly harmful doses and cocktails.

What was the reaction? Daniel Verzeñassi's eye: “One looked at them and an apparent surprise was visible at what they were hearing, especially in the case of Cerdá's exhibition. Because the other was more or less known, but the opening to a new model was something that they had not heard in such concrete terms.

During the cycle itself, Urribarri announced that he would vote against the Phytosanitary Law sent by the Senate. Ricardo Troncoso (Let's change), María Elena Tassistro (PJ), Alejandro Bahler (Frente Renovador) also announced their rejection. Outside, the Tuesday Round continued.

Deputy Gustavo Guzmán (FpV) explains to MU: “The cycle gave us arguments, scientific support. I did not have the panorama that I have now. To the rejection of the Law, we must now add another Law with tax measures that reward producers who do agroecology ”.

The Phytosanitary Law was presented by the FpV itself: ”I think the senators had a productivist look. The person comes first, but if they want to be productive, let's also do agroecology ”. Guzmán rescues the unprecedented. "For a community to organize itself, summon scientists and intervene in the Legislature would have to be counter-natural, but nevertheless it was unprecedented." Is it also a trend towards a more participatory democracy? “Welcome the crisis of representativeness, and that people do not delegate in the face of a production system that has generated so much damage. When there is more participation, the culture grows. When representation wins, participation and culture fall, I say ”.

The failure of success

Under a portrait of Arturo Illia, Alberto Rotman (doctor and deputy of Cambiemos) reveals MU. “I am going to vote against the Phytosanitary Law. It became clear that the economic benefit that the model supposedly brings redounds to failure if we continue like this. The European Community is phasing out glyphosate entirely in 5 years. We will not be able to sell you anything. But the greatest capital of a country is the human being. The problem is that agrochemicals poison in a chronic and cumulative way, not acutely. Then it seems that nothing happens, but later the disease manifests itself. If the World Health Organization says that glyphosate is possibly carcinogenic, I, as a doctor, say that it should no longer be used. You have to prevent. That's what the precautionary principle is for. There is a clash of this idea with

very large economic interests. That is why constant mobilization, assemblies, awareness are important. When it was the Menemista privatization attempt of Salto Grande, in Concordia we did that: roadblocks, assemblies, and thus the project was stopped. The same thing happens here ”.

Miriam Lambert is a deputy for the department of Colón (FpV): “I had already done an agroecological promotion project and there is another project by Senator Melchiori. What is certain is that the production model has to change because it is wearing us, it is killing us. It's not about spraying a little further. Verzeñassi spoke of pathologies, tumors, diabetes, thyroid, hypertension. And Cerdá explained the agroecological way. We already invited him to Colón, to speak directly with the producers ”.

Lucas Larrarte was one of the three senators who presented and voted against the Phytosanitary Law presented by his own colleagues from the FpV. “We argued all the international antecedents and in my case I explained that the right to health, the environment and production are not on an equal footing. Health and environment are rights of universal nature, which are above. The control resources in the Law were going to be about 2,500 pesos per month per municipality, imagine. I think that now we have to think about how to apply a transition to the agroecological model, as the engineer Cerdá explained very well in the cycle ”. In the Gray House there is a suspicion: that the FpV is opposition at the national level makes it easier for its legislators to have more independent positions than those they would have held a few years ago. Governor Gustavo Bordet did not comment on this issue, although he appeared quite embraced by Minister Etchevehere.

The president of the Chamber of Deputies, Sergio Urribarri: "Here we are going to try to create an agroecology model for the province, and hopefully for the country." Why didn't you push it during your tenure as governor? “There were projects like Senator Melchiori's, but we were highly conditioned by the conflict with the countryside. They wanted to take the government house from us. State limits were not established on agriculture with glyphosate, but this cycle served for legislators to become aware and know that there are other production models ”. Due to a complaint for illicit enrichment, Urribarri revealed that he is a producer of transgenic soybeans and rice. He says: “I am a partner with a friend because I am not dedicated. Soy we do not do more. And rice yes, but with minimal fumigation ”. Did you think about doing agroecology in your own productions? "No, I have very limited time and you have to dedicate yourself." It remains to be seen if legislators like Urribarri manage to convince producers like Urribarri.

Deputy Carmen Toller will also vote against: “We cannot sacrifice human beings for economic reasons. Society came to knock on the doors of the State, there are many of us who want to preserve the environment, when more than 50% of the children with cancer in Garrahan are from Entre Ríos ”. The Garrahan nurse and member of the internal board of ATE Mercedes "Mechi" Méndez told MU that precise data cannot be established "and that is a problem, because there are many boys from Entre Ríos and other provinces such as Chaco, but What are the figures in other care centers? In any case, it is a look at the disease and not at prevention. The crucial thing is that epidemiological studies are carried out that associate

to the model with diseases. How can oncologists see this and do nothing? They say they have no certainties. Nobody asks them, they are asked to have doubts, to wonder what is happening ”.

Life models

In this climate, the councilor for Cambiemos en Paraná Claudia Acevedo presented a law prohibiting glyphosate that her alleged partner, Mayor Sergio Varisco, promulgated although vetoing its main article. On the other hand, in Gualeguaychú a perhaps unprecedented ordinance was enacted to prohibit fumigations that covers not only the urban area but the entire municipal commons. Rubén “Kika” Kneeteman (rural teacher and companion of all these stories): “Gualeguaychú has been a beacon in environmental struggles and this time, instead of demanding things from Uruguay or the pastoralists, he is demanding it from himself. And the ordinance is the first that touches specific interests ”. Eduardo Cerdá has also been there, where the municipality joined RENAMA.

Verzeñassi has a daughter, Daniela, an architect and teacher, who has been central to the organization of Basta es Basta. “There are colleagues who question that we have added certain politicians: before we criticized them because they did not support our demands, and now we criticize them if they accompany them. I don't want more people to die. For that we need to change the model not only the small ones, but the large fields. By reflection or by law they make a turn in their production, because if we are not in the oven. Cerdá raised how to make a transition, the need even for sufficient technicians to accompany her and achieve a productive reconversion ”.

Daniela says: “One may want an agrarian reform, but if we wait for that to change the model, we don't get there. Am I going to build the world I want with Etchevehere? No, but we are going to invite him because we were always polite. He does not. If what you want is to keep the lands of Etchevehere, you are screwing it up. It is not a question of crazy fundamentalists, as they told us, now it is understood that what we defend is life and healthy production. We had almost all the media against it, but they can no longer cover what is happening, even if it is late. The legislators, not all, understood it at the cost of having so many deaths on their backs. We are talking about public health, about pain, about disease. Now is the time to seriously win this battle. The first revolution must be carried out in the peripheral cords of the cities where it is no longer possible to spray but to do agroecology. And once you start, as Cerdá says, the experience is contagious. I believe in that contagion ”.

Daniela says that the College of Agricultural Engineers is organizing discussion sessions, INTA joins, the Faculty of Agronomy is giving postgraduate courses in agroecology, and that they do not provide enough for the talks and training that include the Food Sovereignty category.

How long are they going to hold the Rounds? Daniela has made the following calculation: "Until the model changes."

There is a series called Endeavor that investigates sophisticated British crimes, a relaxation in front of the Creole reality. In one episode it is argued that cruelty is like cancer, it first takes a cell, multiplies and advances. It could be thought that it is the other way around, that cancer is like cruelty, a sophisticated weapon for many crimes of the present. And that an old Chinese wisdom works against that: better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.

In Entre Ríos more and more candles are lit. Perhaps they are part of the most powerful lights that shine on us at this time.

By Sergio Ciancaglini

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