Michaela Nesson, Harvard College Class of 2019, spent a month in Argentina as part of a multi-country study abroad program during the Spring 2018 semester.
A Week Living La Via Campesina in Northern Argentina
By Michaela Nesson
I spent a week of my month in Argentina in a northern province called Santiago del Estero. There, I lived at the Universidad Campesina de Santiago del Estero, the UNICAM, one of eleven territorial bases of the Movimiento Campesino de Santiago del Estero (MOCASE) throughout the province. While there, I participated in community life and work, engaged with community members, and learned about La Via Campesina – the international peasant’s voice –and its manifestations at the local, provincial, national, and international levels.
I learned a great deal about the history of the UNICAM and the MOCASE movement and how it is situated in trends of globalization and political resistance. As food production became industrialized, GMOs and agrochemicals were introduced, and food prices and other commodities came to be determined by the global market, the Movimiento Nacional Campesino Indígena (MNCI) began. In a fight for food sovereignty and autonomy, communities created structures in which they based their food systems, economies, and cultures off of local life. I also learned in a workshop on Memoria Histórica – historic memory – with campesinos at the UNICAM that the past is very much part of the present for MOCASE. Campesinos rose in the late 20th century to fight terratenientes – large landowners – for their land. After British imperialists tried and failed to monopolize the wood production industry and force evictions upon campesinos, the campesinos returned to their land and began reclaiming their identity. Territorial fights throughout the province assembled, synthesized their movements, and created MOCASE in 1990. Today, there is also an important youth component to the movement, in which youth camps are held annually at the UNICAM to discuss and organize. One important achievement of the youth occurred in 2006, when they collected years of oral histories and memories of the campesinos and produced written books detailing their stories.
The community members of the UNICAM have a very particular history, one of resistance and fighting for dignity and autonomy. They belong to a broader fight connected to los Peronismos, los desaparecidos, and los Hacheros of Argentina’s history, but their own local fight against big landowners is the entire foundation upon which their communitarian society rests. Each instance of La Vía Campesina throughout Argentina is unique, and each instance of MOCASE throughout Santiago del Estero is unique. The people who come to the UNICAM localize the space by crafting conditions that will allow their community to run the way they want it to run. Meetings, meals, and work are driven completely by the community’s ideas, preferences, and values.
La Jauna at the UNICAM in Santiago del Estero, Argentina
One representation of this localization is La Jauna, a multi-purpose building that hosted all community events at the UNICAM. We congregated here for each meal we ate, as well as for all types of social, academic, and community gatherings. To me, La Jauna symbolizes the decentralized community organization and efficacy of communitarian living and governing of MOCASE. It also serves as a manifestation of the fight against global capitalism. MOCASE rejects capitalist economics for the inequality it promotes, and instead seeks political and economic autonomy. Though the movement doesn’t label itself as following any one political or economic ideology, its socialist undertones certainly reflect and reject capitalist patterns in our globalized world. La Jauna is a structure constructed and used by the local community of the UNICAM to represent its core values.
My experience participating in La Via Campesina, albeit for just one week, provided an important glimpse into the economic and political predicaments of rural communities in Argentina. Seeing the lifestyle and experiencing the legacy of political resistance at the UNICAM gave me an important comparison to urban life in wealthier provinces like Buenos Aires, where I spent the rest of my month in Argentina. I continue to think about how the people I met at the UNICAM celebrate autonomy, and about the importance of sharing our stories and histories.
A photo taken by my friend, Gabriella Wan (Georgetown University Class of 2019), at the UNICAM in Santiago del Estero, Argentina
If you liked this article, click here to read related articles from our issue On Social Justice, Food in the Americas, and Giving and Volunteering!