Social Movements From Latin America Share Their Thoughts on COVID-19 Crisis

by Betty Fermin


April 17 was International Day of Peasants’ Struggle and La Via Campesina affirmed the importance of the unity of all people during this crisis. We, at WhyHunger, stand with the international peasant movement to say #StayHomeButNotSilent, and in this way we will build together the new society we want and need, putting life and people, not profit, as the focus. Throughout history and in this moment, we continue to resist, with solidarity, internationalism and respect for human dignity and life.

Over the past several weeks, our team at WhyHunger has spent time checking in with our allies and reaffirming solidarity and community in these uncertain times. There are similarities in what our allies in Latin America, Africa, North America and Asia are sharing, when it comes to access to resources, and the government’s preparedness and response. The need for food sovereignty has never been more critical. It is time for solidarity and mutual support to nourish our commitment for a more just food system and more just world.

Here in this report, we share some of the thoughts and opinions directly from our social movement allies. It is our hope that as we amplify their message, we can all #StayHomeButNotSilent in this time.

Dominican Republic, from CONAMUCA the National Federation of Peasant Women: “Food is less accessible. There is a solidarity debit card that the government gave out (similar to food stamps) but it’s been hard for all to get. There is a bi-national farmers’ market where Haitians and Dominicans go, but it is closed; folks are having a lot of problems feeding themselves daily. In most areas and regions, now is where they should be planting, but there is no food production yet. In April and May, and as early as March, families would regularly be preparing the soil and sharing seeds amongst them but that’s all been held up since folks have to remain at home.”

Nicaragua, from the Rural Workers Association (ATC): “This pandemic has grave impacts on the right to food and food sovereignty and how rural families are going to react to the crisis. It is imperative to guarantee that land is available for producing food. This article, titled Nicaragua and COVID-19, details how successfully Nicaragua has been tackling this, pointing to social and economic rights – like health, education and the right to food – that are prioritized in Nicaraguan law as a key factor.  The members of the ATC are part of community health brigades that are working with the ministry of health and the police to go out into communities. 3/25/20 was our 42nd anniversary. We didn’t hold a public celebration. What we did was go and work with the health groups in the communities. We celebrated our anniversary in our communities conducting health surveillance. This is a task for everyone because we believe the best way to attack this pandemic is through community health awareness. We’re using our organization to work and to continue producing food. Our political education schools and IALA (Latin American Agroecology School) are doing classes online.”

Panama, from the Kuna Youth Movement: “People are not permitted to come and go in indigenous communities, even if they are a tribe member; there are some exceptions since the networks know each other. Some people are crossing the mountains to reach the islands since they know that they’ll be hungry if they stay. Since a good portion of Kuna families live in islands, they have been dependent of the commerce from Colombia, like rice, and are dependent on those markets as some indigenous communities have no local markets. So, the state is buying canned foods and what we always have fought against is happening now, the state is pushing this food to marginalized communities and undermining our food sovereignty and since the communities can’t leave; this is what they have to deal with. So the question is how can we have the exchange between the city and the communities since they need products and food? Since we can’t move, farmers cannot bring the product to the city and are losing, like for example one farmer said that the plantains are rotting since he can’t come sell. So the system is not working since we can’t move the products and the state is prioritizing imported products, meat, rice, beef, and there’s no concrete support to the communities that they can buy food from and distribute it themselves. There are families that are having big problems because they’re isolated and they will be in a difficult situation when the food they have stored ends. When there’s not commerce for one month that’s very hard and if you can’t go fish or can’t go to the countryside. So, the lack of commerce is harming us. The communities are starting to work the land so in 4-6 months they can have food, but they need to find other ways to feed themselves. We have 8 communities in the cities that are neighborhoods were only Kuna live and it’s a problem because they can’t go work and can’t go sell their products, so they are depending on the state and they don’t have much.”

Paraguay, from IALA Guarani: “The majority of the families are staying put for now or going out just to satisfy their immediate needs. Families in urban areas are suffering the most. Folks haven’t been able to work and living costs went up and now a period of drought is beginning, which makes the situation more difficult. There are experiences of sharing and solidarity in communities though, people are getting together to cook for 3-4 families.”

International Solidarity as the long-term solution to COVID and other crises

Throughout WhyHunger’s 45 years, we have responded to different situations in which nations and entire continents were affected by food scarcity, homelessness and human casualties. Every single time, the first responders are local, grassroots organizations, religious communities and social movements. The COVID crisis is not different. Our support to those frontline organizations is necessary and urgent.

Through the International Solidarity Fund, WhyHunger has been able to quickly respond to organizations all over the world. Our support is not limited to funds. We provide technical, logistical and communications support long after the crisis is gone from newspaper headlines and policymakers’ discussions.

The solidarity from our people in the U.S. to other communities have also been returned from rural and urban families affiliated to the organizations we work with. They have shared information about best practices as well as the challenges our communities face. They have opened their homes to receive delegations from the United States. And we are sure they will be there for us when we need them.

As families are being devasted by an invisible enemy, highlighting social and economic inequalities, it is time for us to be physically apart to protect others, at the same time reaffirming our humanity and solidarity to each other. Stay home, if you can. If you do, stay in community and not silenced.

Message from CLOC, the Latin American Coordination of Rural Organizations of La Via Campesina:

In these circumstances, CLOC-Vía Campesina commemorates April 17, 2020, International Day of Peasant Struggles, calling for the consolidation of alliances, international cooperation, and friends of social movements for the articulation of solidarity actions for the defense and protection of life in the countryside and the city; the strengthening of peasant and agroecological family production as well as its commercialization, fair and equitable distribution; the permanent denunciation of the vulnerability in which public and private sector workers find themselves in the midst of this pandemic.

Now is the time for the implementation of the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants and Other Persons Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP). The adoption of the Declaration enriches the human rights system, putting the democratic debate of States above the lobby and interests of capital; it is a tool with a strong humanist content, a step forward for global governance and the peoples of the world.