By Emilio Marín
Syngenta is a multinational company with headquarters in Switzerland. In July 2012, it had announced an investment of 775 million pesos to build a corn and sunflower seed plant in Córdoba. It would be in Villa María, where they said they were in permanent contact with the municipality to finalize details of their investment. The venture was going to report 400 jobs, although these figures must be taken with reserve because multinationals tend to enlarge them to gain a plus of sympathy.
The pompous announcements were made three years ago at the Casa Rosada by the company's worldwide CEO, Mike Mack, and the head of South America, Antonio Aracre. They were received by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and the Minister of Industry, Débora Giorgi, delighted with the news.
That happened in July 2012. As of September 2015 there were no news about the filing. And on 9/1 Aracre told Alejandro Rollán from La Voz del Interior and Juan Carlos Vaca, from Agroverdad-Channel 12, both from Clarín, that Syngenta had decided not to make the investment in Córdoba. He argued that Monsanto's problems for their establishment in the Malvinas Argentinas locality led them to reconsider their program. They will go to Zárate, province of Buenos Aires, and not to treat seeds but to manufacture herbicides and pesticides, in order to substitute imports and do better business.
Those media outlets blamed the environmental sectors that fought since 2012 to stop the corn seed plant in Malvinas. Monsanto's Director of Corporate Affairs, Fernando Giannoni, was the most extreme in disqualifying the activists, whom he came to compare with the "Islamic State."
In Syngenta's decision, while the presence of such activism may have been influential, the deciding factor may have been another: the profitability of corn is in question. This year the area sown, 3 million hectares, will be the smallest in a hundred years. The Maizar chamber of employers suffers political divisions with the withdrawal of the Rural Society and CRA.
The real reason for the change of the Swiss firm is deduced from that. Not only did he go from Córdoba to Buenos Aires, but he also changed the objective because instead of treating corn seeds, he is going to manufacture herbicides. In any case, tangentially, he blamed the environmental activists who firmly resisted Monsanto, preventing it from advancing on its seed plant 16 km from Córdoba Capital.
Another issue where Aracre may have lied is that they were always in communication with Villa María and did not obtain details. José Carignano, chief of staff of that Municipality, replied that Syngenta "never confirmed or formalized" the intention to locate a plant there. "We found out through the media that they gave up on something they had not confirmed" Who to believe? The chronicler opts for Villa María.
Faced with Syngenta's withdrawal, Monsanto took the opportunity to victimize itself and claim against the entire political and social spectrum of Cordoba, except for justice, where it awaits with interest and hope a ruling from the Superior Court of Justice.
The rest spoke pests, in statements of the aforementioned Giannoni to his namesake Walter Giannoni, of La Voz del Interior. He disqualified the activists as if they were members of ISIS. And the provincial government questioned its countermarches, because in February 2014 -after a ruling a month before the justice system- the Secretary of the Environment rejected the environmental impact report submitted untimely by the North American firm.
It is true that the Minister of Water, Environment and Energy, Manuel Calvo, on behalf of Governor De la Sota, authorized the company in 2012 to build its plant with only a pre-feasibility study. After the bitter social resistance in Malvinas and the entire province, which endured police repressions between 2012-2014, the Secretary of the Environment in charge of Javier Pretto demanded the environmental impact study and ended up rejecting it.
Giannoni put everyone in the same bag, except the TSJ and disqualified them as ignorant of scientific matters and mere political outsiders. In this last accusation he copied the disqualifications of neoliberal governments against "infiltrators" or those who came from other provinces. The military-civic dictatorship called them "stateless persons alien to being a national."
That ideological terrorism machine gun also targeted the National University of Córdoba and its rector Francisco Tamarit, whom they accused of unleashing Marcelo Conrero, dean of Agricultural Sciences linked to the UCR and pro Monsanto. Tamarit would be guilty of not having organized a scientific debate that would shed light and clear the way for the questioned plant.
The rector's response was overwhelming. “It is nonsense to say that we have to say that Monsanto is right or wrong. They have a problem with the Province and with the Malvinas neighbors, in which we don't have to get involved. They never invited us to participate and we couldn't do it, because different positions coexist at the University ”, he claimed. "The UNC does not discuss with the companies and no firm can impose the debate agenda on the Superior Council," he concluded.
Who to believe? Monsanto or a quatricentennial university? The chronicler presses key 2 again.
The debate on whether or not to set up these multinational plants that produce transgenic seeds and agro-toxic products is partly in the scientific area, but it is also political, to evaluate the pros and cons of these industries. In 1997 Felipe Solá, as Carlos Menem's Secretary of Agriculture, authorized the use of transgenic seeds, a Monsanto specialty. Its defenders continue to affirm that it is a great business, due to investment, jobs and above all due to greater agricultural production, especially soybean.
However, many studies in the country and the world have denounced the harmful effects on health and the environment caused by those seeds and the package tied by Monsanto and other monopolies. Round Up fumigations were blamed as causing various diseases, including cancer, for inhabitants of soybean areas fumigated in fields very close to towns. There has already been a trial and first conviction in Córdoba and in June of this year the mother case of the Ituzaingó Annex neighborhood was brought to trial against six producers, applicators and agronomists.
Also in June it was learned that France will ban the free sale of glyphosate-based herbicide as it is considered carcinogenic. The AP Agency reported that "the well-known Roundup herbicide can no longer be bought in gardens as an over-the-counter product." The decision was made by the French Minister of Ecology, Ségolène Royal, against the Roundup product marketed by Monsanto. Among other reasons, it was taken into account that in March of this year the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), dependent on the World Health Organization (WHO), declared glyphosate as “probable carcinogenic”.
A study carried out this year by doctors and researchers from the UNC in the town of Monte Maíz detected a high incidence of cancer. Another investigation by Conicet and the same university highlighted the serious health alterations in workers who apply pesticides.
This advises, as a minimum, to demand extreme compliance with national and provincial environmental laws, before giving free rein to projects such as the Monsanto and Syngenta plants. The directors of these multinationals, in line with the local industrial priests, such as Ercole Felippa, vice president of the Industrial Union of Córdoba and owner of Manfrey, reason with their own pockets. He regretted what happened “because Córdoba cannot afford to miss out on this type of investment. Agribusiness for the province is key ”.
On June 15, 2012, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner met with multinationals at the Council of Americas, in New York. There she expressed: “here I have - and this is the truth that I want to show you because I am very proud - the prospect of Monsanto. They saw that when they make a prospect it is because the investment has already been made, otherwise they do not make you a prospect. So a very important investment in Malvinas Argentinas, in Córdoba, in terms of corn with a new, let's say, transgenic seed, called Intact ”. This endorsement of the national government was extended to the provincial and municipal Malvinas.
What is almost intact is the soybean agro-export model. The announcements and blackmails by Monsanto and Syngenta may have a positive effect on restarting the debate on which is the economic and political model that is closest to material, social, environmental and sovereign achievements. Monsanto's is not, and the president should make some self-criticism before ending her term.