Pubdate: Mon,  3 Mar 2003
Source: Harvard Crimson (MA Edu)
Copyright: 2003, The Harvard Crimson, Inc.
Author: Jeremy D. Olson, Contributing Writer
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


In front of a standing-room only crowd at the Graduate School of Education
Friday, MIT Professor of Linguistics Noam Chomsky and fellow activists urged
progressive groups to form alliances to bring about social change.

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

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

"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.

"Peasants are not producing drugs; peasants are against drugs," she said.

According to Vargas, the chemicals to convert the leaf into a controlled
substance come from the U.S.

When asked what Americans could do to help, she said, "We should campaign in
favor of Coca leaf - de-Satanize it. We should talk to our congressmen and
tell them, 'No more aid for alternative development.'"

Monetary aid sent by the American government in the past did not reach the
poor Bolivians for whom it was intended, she said. Instead, "it was turned
into machine guns and bullets, into casualties."

According to Vargas, change is only possible through coalitions. "We have to
fight for making alliances. We have to fight for the poor."

Contreras, who is a co-chair of the Somerville High School branch of
Atrevete, a Latino youth conference, said she strives to foster non-violence
by teaching mediation to elementary school students.

She told the audience of her vision for a brighter future, one that she said
she felt was achievable - but only if progressive groups work together.

"I used to believe that one person cannot make a big difference. I now know
this is completely false," she said. "By making alliances, by making
coalitions, we can make a bigger impact and a change in this world."

Still, she said, there is not enough attention paid to children. "We need
more support, we need more money to do some of the things we want to do,"
she said. "Help us - the youth - accomplish our goals."

King, founder of the Boston Rainbow Coalition, praised Contreras as a role
model and called for more active participation in social debate.

"We need to take the weight and place it where it belongs," he said.

He asked the audience whether they felt they were doing enough.

"This is all of our world. How much are you doing with your neighbors? Do
you bring them in and talk about these issues?" he asked.

The biggest impediment to change, he said, is an unwillingness to accept

"There are lots of us where our bodies are free, but our minds are in jail,"
he said. "We are not going to have the kind of world that we want, as long
as we don't believe we have the right to improve and change."

The forum ended with Grossman-Spivak reciting an original lyric on the
subject of the need and potential for change. 

"Only medicine for me, is a strong and healthy community, only chance to be
free," he said.
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