Chomsky was joined by Leonida Zurita Vargas, the leader of a women’s peasant movement in Bolivia; Carolina Contreras, a socially active Somerville High School sophomore; Mel King, a former Massachusetts state representative; and Lev Grossman-Spivack, a Boston University junior who creates activist lyrics and poetry, at the forum, entitled “Another World is Possible”.
The forum was set against the backdrop of the second World Social Forum (WSF), which took place last month in Porto Alegre, Brazil, and from which Chomsky recently returned.
The WSF is an international meeting scheduled concurrently with the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in an attempt to provide an alternative for groups and individuals interested in what Chomsky described as “global justice, social futures and international immigration.”
Chomsky said efforts like the WSF bring together progressive groups from numerous countries. Such global efforts are important to the progressive cause, he said, lauding labor and peasants as two constituencies which have formed successful international movements.
“Peasant farmers are trying to preserve not only their way of life but trying to develop a sustainable system that meets the needs and cooperates with consumers,” Chomsky said.
A representative of such farmers, Vargas is secretary general of Bartolina Sisa, the National Federation of the Women’s Peasant Movement and president of the Six Federations of Coca Growers in Bolivia.
Wearing a traditional Bolivian hat, she told the audience through an interpreter of her childhood in Chapare, a poverty-stricken region she said is largely populated by coca farmers.
She said she received only a seventh grade education because a government intervention to allow coca farmers to switch to less internationally controversial crops failed, forcing her to return home in order to help her family survive.
Vargas pointed out what she viewed as the negative side effects of U.S. intervention in her country.
“I really want to think there’s another world possible,” she said. But because of free trade policies in the Americas, outside interests are stripping Bolivia of its natural resources.
People in her country “are living in a state of undeclared war” against the “neo-liberal, modern world,” Vargas said. “We are fighting for our natural resources—gas, water, oil—against the free trade of the American Agreement.”
She said her people are also unwilling participants in a hot war.
The U.S. has supported the Bolivian government in its violent campaign against coca growers because of its potential to be turned into cocaine, she said.
“Neo-liberalism has brought war, a war on drugs. Now it’s a war against terrorism. Still, the bullets are getting to us,” Vargas said. “We are fighting on two levels—for our land, the ‘mother of life’, and for coca leaf which is part of our culture, part of our heritage.”
But she argued that the coca leaf is not the same as cocaine.