WHAT BUSH'S 'FREEDOM & DEMOCRACY' MEANS FOR IRAQI FARMERS

by John Spritzler
March 17, 2005

[newdemocracyworld.org]

[This first appeared on Axisoflogic.com at http://www.axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/article_15988.shtml ]

 

Ever since it became evident that George W. Bush lied about his motives for invading Iraq, people have naturally been trying to figure out the real reason or reasons. After admitting that there really were no WMDs in Iraq, Bush stepped up the rhetoric about the U.S. invasion's purpose being to bring "freedom" and "democracy" to the Middle East. There was a time when these two words denoted something very positive to ordinary people around the world. Now they are the calling cards for a naked occupation by a foreign army. So just what exactly does U.S.-style "freedom and democracy" mean for ordinary Iraqis? To find out, let's see what it means for farmers in Iraq, where 29% of the population is rural.

L. Paul Bremmer III, the American appointed chief of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) which ruled  Iraq from April, 2003 until the recent handover of "sovereignty" to an Iraqi Interim Governing Council, promulgated 100 so-called "Orders" for Iraq. Orders, to cite the CPA's own language, "are binding instructions or directives to the Iraqi people that create penal consequences or have a direct bearing on the way Iraqis are regulated, including changes to Iraqi law." [http://www.iraqcoalition.org/regulations/index.html#Regulations] Furthermore, according to Waking Planet Chronicles, "laws from Bremmer's CPA will not only stay in force, but they will not be able to be revoked by a future Iraqi government." [http://www.wakingplanet.com/06-2004.asp]

Order 81, which directly affects farmers, is an order that amends Iraq's former law known as the "Patents, Industrial Design, Undisclosed Information, Integrated Circuits and Plant Variety Law." The Order is a document with the typical introductory "Whereas..." type paragraphs, one of which reads, "Recognizing that companies, lenders and entrepreneurs require a fair, efficient and predictable environment for protection of their intellectual property,". [http://www.iraqcoalition.org/regulations/20040426_CPAORD_81_Patents_Law.pdf]

On the surface, Order 81 merely brings Iraq's laws regarding patent rights and related issues in line with the modern global economy, so that inventors of better mouse traps will have proper incentives for being creative. That may sound harmless enough...until one looks closer at how this affects farmers.

Order 81 (section #51) starts a segment about the "protection of new varieties of plants" to protect the intellectual property rights of breeders of new crop seeds, like Monsanto Corporation which specializes in developing genetically modified plants. The Order (section #65 A) says that the breeder of a new plant variety may register that plant in a Plant Variety Protection (PVP) registry, and that "After registration of the variety, the following acts with respect to the propagating material of the protected variety shall require the authorization of the breeder: 1. production or reproduction (multiplication); 2. conditioning for the purpose of propagation; ..." Again, this may seem harmless enough. The Order only says that if a farmer decides to use some newfangled seed produced by the genetic engineers at Monsanto Corporation, and if Monsanto so wishes, then he or she must agree to buy the seed each year from Monsanto instead of just using this year's crop to get seeds for next year's.

If farmers don't like this arrangement, well then there is nothing to prevent them from using their traditional seeds and obtaining each year's seeds from their previous year's crops as they have done for 10,000 years. It is true that companies like Monsanto are working very hard to induce farmers to buy their seeds. Once a farmer does so, he or she becomes dependent on the Corporation for seeds; the Corporation acquires the same kind of control over the farmer that a drug dealer has over a drug addict. But farmers are not stupid, and they can just say no to the corporate seed suppliers, especially inasmuch as  Iraqi farmers have developed lots of excellent seed varieties of their own over the millennia.

But here is where one needs to look closer. As Jeremy Smith writes about Order 81 in The Ecologist (January 21, 2005):

"A new line has been added to the law which reads: ĎFarmers shall be prohibited from re-using seeds of protected varieties or any variety mentioned in items 1 and 2 of paragraph (C) of Article 14 of this Chapter.í

"The other varieties referred to are those that show similar characteristics to the PVP ["Plant Variety Protection"] varieties. If a corporation develops a variety resistant to a particular Iraqi pest, and somewhere in Iraq a farmer is growing another variety that does the same, itís now illegal for him/her to save that seed. It sounds mad, but itís happened before. A few years back a corporation called SunGene patented a sunflower variety with a very high oleic acid content. It didnít just patent the genetic structure though, it patented the characteristic. Subsequently SunGene notified other sunflower breeders that should they develop a variety high in oleic acid it would be considered an infringement of the patent."

It gets worse. If an Iraqi farmer shrewdly decides not to purchase seed from a corporation like Monsanto, but instead relies entirely upon traditional varieties, there is still no way for that farmer to prevent his crop from cross-pollinating with a corporate-owned variety planted up-wind from his farm. And once Monsanto finds "their" gene contaminating a farmer's crop, the corporation can take the farmer to court and charge him with intellectual property theft, even if the farmer had only used his own seed and had no knowledge of the cross-pollination. [Jeremy Smith in The Ecologist] Because of this, Iraqi farmers, 97 percent of whom currently save their own seed, will eventually be prohibited from that ancient practice. Corporate control will have been established over this sector of the Iraqi population.

In anticipation of corporate control of Iraqi farmers, an Arizona agri-research firm called World Wide Wheat Company plans to provide 1000 pounds of wheat seeds for Iraqi farmers north of Baghdad and half of those seed varieties are for pasta, which is not what Iraqis eat. Either the pasta is for the permanent American occupying force, or for export; in either case independence of Iraqi farmers from the international corporate elite will be undermined. [Jeremy Smith in The Ecologist]

Order 81 is just one of many others with the same basic purpose. Looking closely at any of them would illustrate the reality behind the lofty rhetoric of "freedom and democracy." "Freedom," for George Bush & Co., means the freedom to shape the world with their Orders, as they see fit. The real motive of the American plutocracy for invading Iraq, and more generally its motive for creating a permanent "war on terror," was certainly not just to control Iraqi farmers, but to control the people of the world in order to strengthen their wealth and privilege and power. One pillar of such control is control of the things people need, from oil to seeds. The other pillar is control of what people think, with big lies that turn ordinary people against each other the way they try to convince Americans that if Iraqis oppose the U.S. invasion of their nation then that proves they are evil terrorists who must die.  It's all about control.

Real democracy is about control too; it is about making a revolution to take power away from corporate elites and secure it in the hands of ordinary people presently in the grip of Order 81's everywhere from Iraq to the United States. Iraqi farmers and other Iraqi working class people and ordinary Americans are natural allies, and our solidarity with each other is what can bring real freedom and democracy to us all.

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Related articles by John Spritzler about the U.S. invasion of Iraq:

A WAR TO MAKE IRAQ DEMOCRATIC?

Abu Ghraib: We Have Met the Enemy and He Is NOT Us

Abu Ghraib Prison Torture: a Few Bad Apples or Long Standing Policy?

John Spritzler is the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda In World War II, and a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.

 

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