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On 10 June 2014, the Guatemalan Congress approved Decree 19-2014, more commonly known as Plant Varieties Protection Bill or the Monsanto Law (because of Monsanto’s, a multinational company, promotion of the law) and it was planned to take effect on 26 September 2014. The Monsanto Law outlawed the replanting, transportation, or selling of privatized seeds without permission, and made these actions punishable by one to four years in jail and a fine of 1,000 to 10,000 quetzals (130 to 1,300 US dollars). Privatised seeds were seeds that had been specially bred or genetically modified by an individual, group, or corporation and were protected under a patent or copyright. The ownership of patented or copyrighted seed varieties belonged to whomever created the new seed variety. The ownership of the new seed variety included the offspring of seeds bred with the privatized seed and a non-privatized seed. Patents for seeds lasted around 20 to 25 years.
The United States introduced the Monsanto Law through the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) as a mandatory statute to being a member of DR-CAFTA . DR-CAFTA was established in 2004 and required signatories to adhere to the International Convention for the Protection of New Plant Varieties, which strived to protect new varieties of seeds through intellectual property rights. DR-CAFTA included the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the United States.
Many indigenous communities, farmers, and environmentalist groups argued that the law was unconstitutional, because it violated the human right to food and the indigenous right to cultivate their land. Farmers who possessed privatized seeds or crops of the privatized plant variety, intentionally or unintentionally, could lose ownership of their crop and their seeds. This meant that if privatized seeds migrated via natural processes (the wind, animals, water, etc.) to the field of a farmer without rights to these seeds, the privatized seeds could mix with the farmer’s crop, and the farmer would lose ownership of their crop. Privatized seeds were not allowed to be saved, and once a crop mixed with the privatized plant variety the next generation of plants would have the privatized seed’s genetic material and would belong to the corporation or individual that created the seed variety.
In Guatemala over 70 percent of the population was involved in small scale agriculture, and many people lived under the poverty line. The Monsanto Law threatened the health and safety of farmers and citizens, their food sovereignty, and Guatemala’s seed biodiversity, according to Antonio Gonzales of the National Network in Defense of Food Sovereignty. Many indigenous groups, environmental groups, scientists, and farmers publicly declared their opposition to the Monsanto Law via press conferences, newspapers, and online sources in late July through early August. The Indigenous Observatory, the Maya Ukux Be Association, the Social Collective for the Right to Food, the Latin American Agroecological Movement, the National Network in Defense of Food Sovereignty, Rural Studies Collective (Cer-lxim), and the National Alliance for Biodiversity Protection all issued public statements against the Monsanto Law and warned against its detrimental effects on farmers, the agricultural economy, indigenous communities, and national food security. The Rural Studies Collective (Cer-lxim) published a report warning the Guatemalan people about the effects of the Monsanto Law.
The Union of Indigenous and Peasant Movement filed a writ of amparo, a legal action used to protect constitutional rights not explicitly in the constitution, to the Guatemalan Constitutional Court, stating that the Monsanto Law was unconstitutional because it violated several articles of the Constitution that related to the Protection of Individuals, Cultural Identity, and Natural Heritage, Right to Health, and the obligation of the state to protect consumers. Environmentalist and indigenous groups began an online petition on 16 August 2014 that demanded for President of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina to reject the Monsanto Law, Decree 19-2014. The petition stated that the Monsanto law was unconstitutional. It gained 26,955 signatures.
On 26 August 2014 thousands of Guatemalan farmers, indigenous people, and citizens gathered in protest in Guatemala City outside the Congress building and at the Rural Department of Guatemala. Guatemalan Constitutional Court were discussing their response to the writ of amparo and the unconstitutional violations of the law. The Guatemalan Constitutional Court decided to suspend the law on 26 August, while they further discussed the law’s constitutional violations.
Sololá was a major agricultural center of Guatemala with one of the largest indigenous people populations in Guatemala (96 percent of the population identified as Kaqchikel, T’zutujil, or Kiche Maya). The Mayan community regards maize (corn) as sacred, and they had depended on it for centuries. Therefore it was very important to preserve their seeds that had been passed down for thousands of years. Edgar René Cojtín Acetún from the municipality of Solola stated, “We cannot live without our corn. It makes up all of our lives. We consume it for our food, we sell it, it is us.” In response to the Monsanto Law, women created seed banks to store, archive, and protect heirloom varieties of corn. Community leaders of Sololá and the local municipality also organized an education campaign throughout Sololá on 31 August 2014. Community leaders presented material in the native language, Kaqchikel, and discussed the benefits and consequences of the Decree 19-2014 or the Monsanto Law .They also discussed the company Monsanto and their history in other countries.
On 2 September 2014, two days after the educational event, 25,000 to 30,000 indigenous community members from Sololá gathered to shut down the Inter-American highway going towards Guatemala City, Guatemala’s capital. They formed three blockades along the highway which stopped traffic for nine hours. Community members carried signs expressing their opposition of the Monsanto law such as, “Monsanto Kills” and “No to Genetically Modified Seeds.”
On 2 September 2014, Congress announced their plans to repeal the law over the next three days. After 10 days of protest, on 4 September 2014, the Guatemalan Congress members voted 117 in favor, 3 against, and 38 abstaining in favor of repealing the “Monsanto Law.” This was a victory for the farmer, indigenous, and environmental organizations of Guatemala.
Anon. 2015. “CAFTA-DR (Dominican Republic-Central America FTA).” Office of the United States Trade Representatives. https://web.archive.org/web/20151226232815/https://ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/cafta-dr-dominican-republic-central-america-ft
Anon. 2014. “Guatemala Organizing Against ‘Monsanto Law.’” PMS Media Solutions: US Official News .
Anon. 2014. “Guatemala Rejects U.S. Trade Law Protecting Monsanto And GMOs.” Legal Monitor Worldwide.
Anon. 2014. “United, We Will Never Be Defeated: Guatemala’s Victory Over Monsanto.” PMS Media Solutions: US Official News .
Anon. 2015. “Seed Laws That Criminalize Farmers: Additional Country Experiences .” Grain . https://web.archive.org/web/20151220103048/https://www.grain.org/article/entries/5147-seed-laws-that-criminalise-farmers-additional-country-experiences
Baker , Jennifer. 2014. “Guatemala: Mobilizing Against ‘Monsanto Law.” Revolution News. https://web.archive.org/web/20151226232132/http://revolution-news.com/guatemala-mobilizing-monsanto-law/
Callaghan, Heather. 2014. “Guatemala Rejects U.S. Trade Law Protecting Monsanto And GMOs.” Activist Post. Retrieved 2015. https://web.archive.org/save/http://www.activistpost.com/2014/09/guatemala-rejects-us-trade-law.html
Carlos , Juan R. 2014. “Presidente De Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina: Que Desaprueben La Ley Monsanto, Decreto 19-2014 (Transgénicos).” Azaaz: Peticiones De La Comunidad. https://web.archive.org/web/20151220102356/https://secure.avaaz.org/es/petition/Presidente_de_Guatemala_Otto_Perez_Molina_Que_desaprueben_la_Ley_Monsanto_Decreto_192014_pesticidas/?pv=13
Modena , Carolina. 2015. “Guatemala Mass Mobilisations Win In Defeating the ‘Monsanto Law’ Pushed by US.”Environmental Justice Atlas. https://web.archive.org/web/20151227164125/https://ejatlas.org/conflict/guatemala-mass-mobilisations-win-in-defeating-the-monsanto-law-pushed-by-us