The Disruptive Program of Sembrando Vida

by Heber Uc

The Peninsula of Yucatan represents, particularly for this government, one of the most important strategic points of geopolitical control in order to impose its development megaprojects on a large scale, more than anything for the signed international agreements, like T-MEC (The Mexico United States Canada Agreement) which without a double will continue to benefit the same sectors of economic power. Of course, agrobusiness maintains an active role with full freedom to continue with the deforestation of the Mayan jungle and at the same time fulfilling its function of destroying life in the ancestral territories, which consolidates political control through the monopolization of a large part of the territory protected by the indigenous communities of the  peninsular Mayan people.  

Land grabbing is a constant in our peninsular region, cemented in the structural reforms to our Constitution that gave way to this type of act, like the presence of Mennonite settlements or camps in different regions of the Peninsula. This view has been covered up and promoted by the current government agencies that maintain the continuity of the same system of dispossession of the indigenous territories. The role that the Agrarian Procurator plays intervening in ejidal assemblies has been so damaging in many cases as to tip the balance to dispossessions that are called cessions or sales — which are based on laws that favor the sale of agrarian rights —, as has been documented in the community of Ixil, Yucatán.

In the face of the escalating deforestation by businessmen who are appropriating the land, there has already been a desertification of at least 1 million hectares of land in the last 10 years or so at the peninsular level.

One of the responses of the current government is to promote the program Sembrando Vida, whose stated objective is the reforestation of affected areas based on a monthly payment of 5 thousand pesos to each beneficiary. This repeats the formula of the previous governments, which is to say, concealment for those responsible in exchange for false solutions to those affected. Who are those directly responsible for these environmental damages, and what is the justice that this government proposes to address this problem? The response appears automatic. It doesn’t matter who damages, but those who pay for those damages and so the incentive obscures the faces and the names of those responsible for the wrongs committed in the diverse territories of the peninsula over the last years.

Beyond the economic and forestry benefit of the program for those who are a part of it, one must look in detail at its impact at the community level. It would seem that Sembrando Vida has a fundamental commitment to the refunctionalization of political power within the communities. Newly and sectored and constituted “assemblies” are configured, of course exclusively for the direct beneficiaries, not necessarily for the members of ejidos who hold land rights. This way, these new assemblies acquire political power and authority with government backing that gains relevance and formality on a daily basis.

The program is promoting a power and decision-making structure on behalf of the communities. It is no wonder: this aspect responds to an influence from political processes distinct from the indigenous perspective, where the full exercise of the individual takes precedence over the community and this is reinforced with the information that is shared within these assemblies which is to say, biased in order to validate the “positive side” (economic) of the government programs.

The structuring of the indigenous communities located to the west of Bacalar, Quintana Roo, has been a long process with a historical charge that makes up their identity, their philosophy, their organization and their cultural and spiritual practices. This is the result of collective a fabric where agreements are being unveiled within the community under principles that sustain the integrity of life and territory. The assembly is decisive in configuring the community organizing system. From the Mayan people,  participation makes sense when everyone builds community in that assembly. The irruption of this program destabilizes this historic and collective construction, and has nothing  to do with the current organizational fragility within each community, but rather the abuse of power of the government to impose its programs without respecting their own spaces of decision and of formulation of the necessities which guarantee the full right to self-determination. 

The different groups that make up the Sembrando Vida program in the communities, have in common the homogenization of production, that is,  the training (or un-training) of the campesinas and campesinos seeks to make them forget the ancestral practices of management and care of seeds, plants, the land, etc. We see then that the program corresponds to the annihilation of the milpa system that the officials confuse with conventional slash-and-burn, when it preserves deep knowledge in order to sustain biodiversity. Today, thanks to these knowledges,
we can appreciate so much life in the spaces that have community protection.

This program strongly condemns the handling of fire for the (understory) cleaning and input of nutrients to the soils through burning, but doesn’t oppose patented seeds. This is the operation of  a program that is breaking the heart of communities on a daily basis.  

Another decisive factor that Sembrando Vida determines within the communities is that of full-time availability to the continuous and emerging requirements of the program, that don’t allow the full freedom of the beneficiaries to participate in other independent spaces since they are always required to receive their supervisors on un-scheduled days, and non-attendance at these events is punished with excessive fines or with expulsion from the program. So, the State takes advantage of this control mechanism over community time demanded by a program with so few benefits and such great needs in order to dismantle movements that over years have woven an organization to care for life. 

Along these same lines of dispossession, we see the concrete case of the Paraíso ejido where the entry of the Mennonite population with the accompaniment of the Agrarian Inspector’s Office (AI) has led to a series of grievances that affect community life. The first is the information and handling that the Agrarian Law was given, so that if the ejido landholders for some reason had to sell part of their land, they wouldn’t retain their rights, which was a demand that they had. This wasn’t respected by the AI, who constrained them into entering into a process of ceding their rights and not of usufruct, in a way that they lost possession and decision-making over the lands. In this ejido three sales-cessions of ejidal rights have been carried out in 2011, 2014, and 2018 which correspond to 2, 300 of the 5,300 hectares of the ejido. This situation reconfigures the socio-organizational dynamic and community life by changing the territory. In recent days, Sembrando Vida was proposed as an “alternative” for constituting a new group that could fulfill the function of healing the damages caused by agribusiness in that ejido, as if the breaking of the community fabric wasn’t enough after these sales and the economic and labor dependency on the Mennonites.

As has been witnessed in the day-to-day, this type of program tears at the community fabric. We must give it its rightful dimension, because it is from these same scenarios that the Mayan Train megaproject is being promoted, and its approval from the spaces of Sembrando Vida and the other programs that try to give legitimacy to the policies of this government. The Regional Council of Indigenous Maya of Bacalar (CRIMB) and the Much’ Kanan I’inaj Seed Collective have been clear in their statements . In the context of the anniversary of the community of Blanca Flor this past December 7th, Alfredo Tun stated, “The megaprojects and their programs that they want to impose on our territory are trying to kill our ancestral way of life and we are not going to allow it, because the land is ours and we are of the land.”

Today, again we find ourselves in a plot of sakbej that the grandmothers and grandfathers taught us to to see and to understand: to differentiate its crossroads in order to continue walking with dignified rebellion, constructing collective spaces, our own, from our indigenous being and not conditioned by programs that rob us of our freedom and our territory. 

This article appeared originally in Spanish in the Ojarasca supplement of La Jornada on January 9th, 2020. https://ojarasca.jornada.com.mx/2021/01/09/el-disruptivo-programa-sembrando-vida-en-el-ambito-comunitario-6775.html This English interpretation has been re-published by Schools for Chiapas.