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News :: Human Rights
International Solidarity Activists Successfully Talk to Seaboard President Despite Two Arrests
27 Apr 2004
Modified: 11:35:00 PM
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International activists successfully penetrated SEABOARD Corporation annual shareholder’s meeting outside of Boston yesterday (Monday, April 26). SEABOARD, responsible for the eviction of at least two indigenous Guarani communities in Salta, Argentina, was confronted with photographs and the powerful stories of the Kolla and the Ava Guarani. Armed only with cameras and their voices, the activists were able to redirect the shareholders meeting to the issue of indigenous land rights in Salta, Argentina.

Despite two arrests and the activist’s forceable removal from the room, the elderly Harry Bresky had to admit that their land holding in Salta, which was once the most important forest in Argentina, scanned an area "larger than the state of Rhode Island … but we only use a small part of it for sugar." One concerned shareholder at the meeting, long after the activist had been dragged out of the room, questioned, "well if it’s only a question of land, and we have so much, why can’t we just give part of it back to them?"

Holding a "GUILTY" sign above Harry Bresky’s head, Cha Cha Connor held Seaboard Corporation and their subsidiary, the Tabacal Sugar Industry, responsible for the violent removal of the Guarani from their ancestral lands. "SEABOARD and the men who control Seaboard should do the just and honorable thing, if they are in fact just and honorable men. Seaboard, you have the power to return the land to the Guarani. Do what is right."

Although the activists may have been drawn to the boardroom by motives of justice and morality, the high-power business suits suggested that investments and wealth were what interested the other attendees. The activists apparently were able to pull at the very heart-strings of the corporate executives, as one shareholder stated, "this looks like an important issue we should look into. If this is true it could risk our financial investments."

Mr. Bresky made every attempt to refuse accountability. It took him several minutes before he could manage a response, but he finally articulated his perspective on the disturbance made by the activists, he said, "What do they want? For us to abandon our land? They’ve never been down there, they don’t know the real story".

In fact, each activist who had entered the shareholders meeting were responding to direct personal relationships with the Guarani. Alerta-Salta was established through two years of intense relationships between international activists in the United States and Argentina. The internationals had stayed in Guarani communities, went regularly to planning meetings in Argentina, and maintained regular monthly phone conversations between the US and Salta. In the Shareholders meeting activists made these relationships clear by showing photographs and addressing Bresky directly concerning their companeros in Salta, Argentina.

Activists were surprised just how much SEABOARD financial officers knew about the Guarani situation in Salta. It was clear that SEABOARD had felt pressured by the several month campaign by Guarani supporters, including escraches (pubic revealings) at the SEABOARD offices and numerous mailings. Robert Steer, Seaboard Chief Financial Officer, appeared very aware of the details of the situation. At one point Steer argued about the exact quantity of 5000 hectares and expressed confusion about which Guarani community deserved the land.

SEABOARD was very clear about their ownership of Tabacal sugar industry, but denied Tabacal’s responsibility, emphatically, "None of these issues has anything to do with Seaboard!" Steer addressed questions from the shareholders as to whether or not this was a legitimate land claim. Steer responded that there are various claims to the land that they inherited from the previous owners and they are being adjudicated in court, but, "it is a regional indigenous rights issue that the government must respond to, not companies."

SEABOARD wanted to place blame on the local government. The government of Romero, a long-term friend of Tabacal and SEABOARD, according to Steer, "was taking an interest in the issue". The notoriously corrupt government in Salta, indeed seemed to have taken interest. An interest fixated on silencing the Guarani through more violence and arbitrary arrests, such as the April 2nd arrest of Pablo Badano, independent indymedia reporter, and Horacio Guzmán, representative of the Ava Guarani community, following a march planned by the Guarani.

Despite Seaboard’s attempt to dump blame on the local government, it’s clear that the company has acted like thugs despite what the court has ordered. Tabacal representatives woke Ava Guarani in their own homes at 3:00 A.M. to ask about their meetings and then disrupted meetings using clearly marked company vehicles. Despite Judge’s (Cristina del Valle de Barbará de Morales) ruling against the Kolla eviction order demanding that Tabacal "abstain from detroying crops and houses," on March 13 the business demolished their thirty year homes and continued to burn their crops. Meanwhile, the Kolla learned hunger and homelessness camped by the highway.

As activists were released from jail in the afternoon they returned to Sheraton Hotel to finish their stories. Facing charges of disorderly conduct and trespassing Kevin Ksen stated, "We want you to know we are here today in solidarity with the Kolla and the Guarani communities. We had an important victory today. But the fight doesn’t end here. Sigue la lucha!"
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