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Why Are People Hungry And What's The Beef?
Mindfield Interviews Peter Rosset, former Executive Director of Food First!

MINDFIELD: First, tell our readers a little bit about your organization...

ROSSET: Okay. Food First! is the popular name of The Institute for Food and Development Policy, founded by Francis Moore Lappé twenty three years ago after her book, Diet for a Small Planet, was a world-wide bestseller -- published in twenty two languages. That book was the one that really, for a whole generation of people, made the connection between their own personal lifestyle in countries in the north, and poverty and hunger and environmental problems in countries in the south. It showed how people could take steps in their own lives, by changing their consumption of food and the food system, that would then lead them towards greater political activism later on. So that was really important, and I know many people have a copy of that book on their shelves.

So, after that book came out and she (Lappé) became a celebrity, hooked up with Joseph Collins, and they decided that the world needed an institution that would always be around analyzing problems of food and hunger and poverty from the other side, the point of view other than the "official" viewpoint ...one that would have a grass roots view -- the viewpoint of those people who are negatively affected by the global food system, and expose some of the myths that block real change and help mobilize people to change the food system. So they created Food First! and it's been around now for twenty-three years.

We do public education, we write books, we do research and analysis, we work with lots of activist organizations and coalitions around issues that have to do with food, hunger, agriculture, world development -- the Third World, U. S., you name it...

MINDFIELD: What is the food system?

ROSSET: The food system -- which is kind of global now -- is composed, on the end here, that people see in the U. S., of supermarkets and chains --part of transnational corporations that consists of giant food processors, like Continental Foods or Beatrice Foods, or whatever. These are huge international food trading companies like the Banana companies -- United Brands, Dole, Del Monte -- and grain companies like Cargill. Those companies own plantations in Third World countries, or farmers grow under exclusive contract to them ...[Then there are] shipping companies, advertising companies, distributors, trucking companies -- that's sort of the global food system and it's becoming more and more consolidated and more and more globalized.

MINDFIELD: And more centralized...

ROSSET: ...More centralized and fewer and fewer companies. So, for example, if we look at different food items in the United States, there's been a huge change. Chicken, for example -- the chicken industry has become extremely concentrated. It's now about seventy per cent in the hands of about three or four transnational corporations. The same has happened with pork, and it's just started to happen with beef. But the whole move is toward factory farming of chickens and integrated farming of pigs as part of that sort of transnational takeover, integration, and concentration of the food industry.

The same thing is happening with supermarkets. We've seen a wave of supermarket mergers, takeovers, and consolidations in the last twenty years which has led to fewer and fewer companies controlling more and more of our supermarkets in the U. S.... As these few mega-chains get locked into this competition of colossuses fighting against each other, they each lop off their weaker limbs in order to make themselves more efficient and competitive. That has led to a wave of supermarket closures in inner- city and minority neighborhoods.

I don't have the exact figures but I think Los Angeles lost something like five hundred supermarkets in the eighties and early nineties. Boston lost some fifty supermarkets, several hundred were lost in Chicago. Right here locally in West Oakland and South Berkeley, there used to be three supermarkets. All three are closed now. The only thing left in those neighborhoods are liquor stores, which sell a few dry and frozen goods, but no fresh produce, no fresh meat -- and those things that they DO sell cost almost fifty per cent more than if you were able to go to a supermarket.

What we have is this increasingly consolidated and concentrated global food system starting to leave people out of it altogether: minority inner-city consumers in the U. S., small farmers in the Third World who are driven off their land by banana or pineapple companies or cattle ranching corporations. Small farmers in the U. S. -- we lost four million of the six million of the farmers that we had at the end of World War II ...[These were] family farmers.

MINDFIELD: What is the connection between this increased concentration and other corporate mergers?

ROSSET: Well we have the same wave of mergers happening with the banks, of course, right now. It's banks who put up the speculative capital for one corporation to do a takeover or a merger or whatever. Banks are investment houses, so they're playing a very big role. It used to be that banks thought they could make profits by lending money to companies that produce something and create some jobs with that money. But now they have found they can make more lucrative profits by lending money to somebody who, instead of producing something or creating jobs, is just going to buy another company that already exists, downsize it, and, in fact, produce less things and less jobs but make a bigger profit on that money that the bank is lending out. So banks have gone totally into this speculative, non-productive use of money, which is having a very damaging effect on the lives of people all over the world.

MINDFIELD: Driven only by the desire to make a short-term profit...

ROSSET: Sure, it's just the profit motive and speculation and gambling that now seems to them to be more profitable than actual production.

MINDFIELD: If someone asked you why are some people hungry while the garbage bins behind a supermarket are full of food, how would you answer them?

ROSSET: Because we have a food system which is dominated and owned by a few and, therefore, serves the interests of a few and puts profits before feeding people. As long as we have two or three giant corporations that own practically all of our retail food outlets, and that only care about profits rather than feeding people, that's basically going to be the kind of situation that we find.

MINDFIELD: What would be an alternative to that?

ROSSET: Well, I think an alternative has to start with consumers organizing themselves, farmworkers organizing themselves, small farmers, inner-city community organizations, all realizing right off the bat that instead of fighting with each other, in fact they are all being hurt by the way the food system is currently constructed. Although there are differences between them, essentially they all are on the same side. And if they pressure and organize together, the possibility is there for change.

For example, we've tried to pull together here in the Bay Area the issue of the supermarket closures, or what we call "red-lining" food or "food flight" from the inner city. The union of the supermarket workers who were laid off by the closures, African-American church leaders, the neighborhoods affected by the closures, residents of homes for seniors -- because seniors have a really hard time traveling to supermarkets that are far outside of their neighborhood -- they all joined to fight the supermarket closures and at the same time to develop alternatives to help people to get by.

Among those alternatives have been a lot of projects on urban agriculture and urban farming -- taking vacant lots and creating opportunities for people to grow food, generate jobs for teenagers, and improve the environment in neighborhoods that are pretty physically devastated. We've also been hooking them up with small farmers who are live near the city and are being squeezed out at the other end of the food system by the middlemen, i.e., the buyers for the supermarkets, but who can benefit by selling directly to consumers. The farmers can actually get a higher profit than from Safeway and the consumers can actually get a cheaper price than at a Safeway or a Lucky [two supermarket chains in the western U. S.]. There are a lot of farmers who are already getting into this. It's called subscription sales. But low-income consumers often don't know about those opportunities. These things are combined with fighting the supermarket closures because right now there isn't really a complete substitute for the services a supermarket provides.

One interesting example is in the community of Newark, New Jersey. All their supermarkets closed. The local community development corporation, which is owned by the local city government, together with neighborhood organizations and a local non-chain, non-mergered bank, got together and bought a franchise from one of the supermarket chains that actually works by franchises rather than chain-owned stores. They developed a community-owned franchise. They benefited from the cheaper purchasing through the chains but they were also able to provide all kids of community services, including profit sharing. In fact, in that particular chain, that store has turned out to be the highest profit margin store in the country because the community believes in it.

Now most of the inner-city stores were low profit margin, and that's why they were closed. But if it's a community-owned store and the community believes in it, and it provides services to the community, then it can be turned around.

MINDFIELD: What about the Co-Op Movement?

ROSSET: I think the Co-Op movement maybe failed because it didn't reach broadly enough into society. It was pretty much for alternative consumers who only wanted health food or dry grains or something like that. So by and large it served those needs, but it didn't reach people who were hungry, or low-income consumers, with the possible exception of the Co- Ops in Berkeley and Oakland which, because they had a broader variety of food items, did appeal to low-income, more needy consumers.

I don't know exactly why they [the Co-Ops in the U. S.] failed. I understand there were a lot of internal problems and management issues. But I see that as a model that we ought to study. I always thought that those Co-Ops [Berkeley-Oakland, California] were very good.

MINDFIELD: You recently went to Japan for a conference about organic farming. Did you discuss large scale farming or...

ROSSET: Well, Japan only has small-scale farming. That's one of the things I find most interesting about it. This was a conference to bring together alternative agriculture, organic farming folks from the U. S. and Japan to talk about what things looked like in our two countries. Japan has no large farms. A law was passed after World War II that broke up all the large farms and in fact each farm there is less than a hectare.

MINDFIELD: Why did they do that?

ROSSET: To break up the control of the old landlord class, the old feudal class. They did it to create basically a domestic market for their economy by having small farmers become middle class, and support their growing industry after the war as consumers rather than have farmers become progressively poorer and driven out of business because they couldn't compete with large corporate farms. They basically banned the corporate farms. In fact, when you study Japan, it turns out that their incredible post- war economic success is built on a small farm, rural economy. You see farmers with these tiny farms, which are incredibly productive per unit area -- much more than the United States -- have achieved comfortable middle-class standards of living on these small farms. So it's really an interesting model to look at, I think, for other countries. Unfortunately, the United States is trying to destroy the basis for the Japanese economy by forcing them to buy California rice produced on mega-corporate farms.

MINDFIELD: What's the relationship between the farmer and the huge conglomerates in Japan?

ROSSET: Well, I don't think you want to copy everything from the Japanese model. But those conglomerates, whether you like them or don't like them, couldn't have become strong and dominant in the international market if they hadn't had a domestic market inside Japan to sell to before they became so strong. That industrial might, if you will, was nurtured by rural people as consumers in Japanese society before Japan started trying to export to the rest of the world.

MINDFIELD: You lived in Nicaragua when the Sandinistas were in power for five years. They attempted land reform there. What was their view of how to deal with the enormous problems of feeding people and farming?

ROSSET: The Sandinista Revolution was very exciting, and it appeared to be a broad-based peasant and worker revolution. However, as we all know, it met somewhat of a tragic end. I feel one of the fatal flaws, or the Achilles Heel of the Sandinista Revolution, was their failure to really understand agriculture and the food system in their own country. They believed in distributing land to landless peasants, not to make those peasants the backbone of economic development. Basically they conceived of land reform as a social program, almost like welfare. Well, give them some land, but not the best land -- but at least they'll have something. But we don't expect them to really produce very much. So the good land, the big land, either stayed in the hands of the original capitalist owners, or was turned into large-scale state farms, which pretty much mimicked the old capitalist farms that were alongside them.

That kind of large-scale production turned out to be impossible under conditions of war and economic blockade and de-stabilization from the U. S. You can't do large-scale production without tractors, tractor tires, petroleum, agro-chemicals, and all of that kind of stuff.

Their goal was production on a large scale and the U. S. blocked that. That meant that production suffered. It also meant they [The Sandinista government] were focusing investment on the large farms and that they were ignoring the small farmers who had received some land but then didn't get any credit, didn't get any market opportunities, and faced low prices for what they produced. So bit-by-bit, those small farmers became fertile recruiting grounds for the counter-revolution financed by the CIA. It allowed the United States to drive a wedge into Nicaraguan society through the rural areas. Any way you look at it -- and I'm really convinced this is true -- agricultural policy was what eventually allowed the United States to destroy the Nicaraguan Revolution. Had they taken their land reform more seriously -- not just as a social program but as the basis of food production and economic development, and put investment into small farms rather than large farms, and distributed the good land, then they would have built a strong base of political support in the countryside that would not have been susceptible to de-stabilization by the CIA or recruitment by the CIA.

At the same time, small farmers are able to produce without the use of tractors, mechanical harvesters, tires and petroleum, so they would have been able to maintain or boost production even during wartime conditions. One thing that I learned there was how important it is to look at small farmers -- not as a social problem, but as the potential basis for a vital rural economy. I think Japan as a capitalist country gives a good example of that, and I think there are also socialist countries that are good examples of that today.

For example, Cuba originally made a lot of the same mistakes that the Sandinistas made. But they changed recently and now have a small farm-dominated rural economy and revitalized rural areas. You can sort of see it in both the socialist camp and the capitalist camp -- the potential benefits of small farms as opposed to large corporate farms or large state farms.

MINDFIELD: What about countries like the former Soviet Union or China?

ROSSET: Well, I think the Soviet Union was plagued by agricultural production problems in the large-scale collectives that they created, and they were never able to overcome that weakness. That is one of the things that made them weak right from the beginning. I think China's was much stronger and has survived in large part because they had a much more peasant-based agricultural system. Even when they went to large-scale units, they were peasant collectives rather than state farms...

MINDFIELD: China also had state farms...

ROSSET...The Soviet Union had both. But also if you look at China you can sort of do a `periodization' of agricultural production. First when they overthrew the landlords in the first agrarian reform after the revolution, and they created the large scale units, they had somewhat of an increase of production just because the peasants now owned the land ...but not nearly as much as they had post `78 when they reduced the size of the units to small farms. Now there are both pluses and minuses about the way that they did it in that particular case. But if we just look at it from a production point of view -- can you feed a large country based on small farm agriculture? -- China definitely shows that you can. In fact, they have had the most sustained increase in food production over the last thirty years of any country in the world, as well as the biggest drop in the proportion of their population that is considered to be `hungry' by international standards over the same time period.

MINDFIELD: There are also a very large number of people leaving the countryside looking for work in the cities who...

ROSSET: Yeah. That's interesting and it seems that it's not do so much to problems in agriculture but to the boom in industrial and urban production. So when we talk about people leaving the country and going to the city, we can talk about push effects, which could be agriculture is collapsing and you have to leave, or pull effects, which would be you can make much more money in the city. The city is where the boom economy is. It really seems to be a combination of two things: major pull effects taking place with industrial expansion, which is taking place in urban China, and at the same time, low international grain prices and the fact that the Chinese government has allowed international prices to affect domestic prices, making agriculture temporarily less profitable. It is causing a lot of dislocations, and I wouldn't want to say that everything that is happening is good. But it certainly is not an example of the kind of collapse or misery by that's generated in rural areas in most Third World capitalist countries.

MINDFIELD: To make a comparison closer to home, how would you compare agriculture in Cuba to Mexico to...

ROSSET: Mexico and Cuba are interesting cases right now. Cuba because it is cut out from the global economy, first by the U. S. trade embargo -- which, while I oppose vehemently, has created interesting conditions of self reliance in Cuba. Cuba is secondly cut off because of the collapse of trade relations with the former socialist bloc. So there we have an example of a country that is isolated, that's forced to be self-reliant.

Mexico, on the other hand, is one of the Third World countries that was most forced to open its economy -- first, through structural adjustment, which means the lowering of all kinds of import barriers -- and then, of course, by NAFTA [the North American "Free Trade" Agreement] of course, which has made the whole thing worse for them. Mexican farmers have had to face massive dumping of cheap grain, by the United States and other countries, into their economy, making it impossible for local farmers to compete, causing small farmers to go out of business and into misery. They have to move into the city, or have to rise up in revolution, as in the case of the Zapatistas ...It is an absolute crisis and disaster in rural Mexico, because it's been forced open to the world economy.

Cuba, on the other hand, while there has been untold suffering as the result of the embargo -- for example, medicines are not being imported, and all that -- ironically, Cuba is much better off in rural areas because they were forced to become self reliant in food production, and that actually stimulated the rural economy and improved the living standards of farmers, because they had a market of domestic consumers to sell where they didn't face competition of dump-cheap food from northern countries.

MINDFIELD: Wasn't their previous strategy to be part of the so-called "Socialist Camp," and what the Russians referred to as the "international division of labor" which meant sugar production and not self-reliance?

ROSSET: Sure. Before 1989, Cuba's role in the socialist camp was like the typical Third World country in the capitalist camp: Export raw agricultural commodities, import food and manufactured goods. Cuba did a lot better at that than most Third World countries because the Socialist Bloc paid them a lot more than the Capitalist Bloc did -- they had much fairer prices. So Cubans achieved a much higher standard of living. But when the "socialist bloc" collapsed, that model was revealed as still a form of dependency of a Third World country on northern countries. Since Cuba has been thrown on its own, the population has suffered enormous hardship because to go from an economy integrated into an international trading system to self-reliance is not an easy change. However, at least in the food area, the suffering is over. They've gone through several lean, hungry years, but now they're back to self reliant, fairly good eating times with quite a positive change for rural areas as a result.

MINDFIELD: If you read the corporate-owned news regarding Cuba, you would think that everyone there is starving, unhappy, standing in long lines, etc., though a few members of the press have interviewed individuals who supported the revolution, perhaps because they couldn't avoid them. But the overall picture is that there are still a large number of people who are doing without food, among other things...

ROSSET: Cuba is a complex place, like many countries in the world. It's possible to do a snapshot of a country from different perspectives that show it in a different light. For example, I could come here to the [San Francisco] Bay Area with a video camera and I could show opulence, wealth, and happy people ...If I went to Pacific Heights and Piedmont and a few other neighborhoods like that, or the Berkeley Hills -- or I could show angry, violent, and hungry people if I went to Bay View/Hunters Point, or West Oakland, or other places like that. So the first thing we have to realize is when you see a country like Cuba portrayed in the corporate media is that there might be an agenda behind a particular image that you see. So Cuba, like the United States, has happy people, angry people, and most people who aren't particularly one or the other, who are just regular folks. That has to be taken as a given in anything when interpreting anything that you see in the media.

Now Cuba, since 1989, has gone through very hard times. They lost eighty- five per cent of their trade with the collapse of the socialist bloc. The U. S. has kept the embargo on.... Cuba was extremely dependent on imports before 1989. Medicine -- and almost two thirds of their food. I say they made up their food with local production, but that's still quite a change -- to go from eating imported food -- one array of food items -- to locally grown food -- another array of food items. In one case, what you can grow in Europe, in another case, what you can grow in the Tropics. So people have gone through big changes in their diet. Many are happy about it, many are indifferent about it, and some are angry.

Also, food has gone from being extremely cheap and subsidized to being not subsided and, therefore, more expensive. So people who are used to very cheap food -- some are angry that they have to pay more money for their food.

Nevertheless, the evidence is that people were eating very well before 1989 -- among the top two or three countries in the Western Hemisphere in terms of food consumption, or certainly Latin America. In the early nineties, they were eating very poorly. Now, in terms of total consumption of calories and protein, they're back to where they were before. But some people are grumpy about it because it's more expensive, or it's different food items -- things they are not used to.

MINDFIELD: For example...

ROSSET: For example, before 1989, when two-thirds of the food was imported, they basically ate a northern European diet based on wheat, beef fed on imported balanced grain imported from Eastern Europe, and milk -- not things that do particularly well in the tropics. Now the diet is based on root crops that are traditional in the tropics, like cassava, sweet potatoes, taro, beans, corn, pork and chicken, instead of beef. This is because chickens and pigs can forage on local garbage and things like that. They don't require grain imported from the Soviet Union the way beef cattle and dairy cattle do. Therefore, there is much less milk and beef.

Some people are very upset. They don't have the beef and the milk and the wheat. Other people are happy because some of them were complaining before because they couldn't get enough casaba and they couldn't get enough pork. So it sort of depends on what you're into. But if you're a foreign journalist, you can go into a situation like that and you can pretty much present any kind of a situation that you like.

MINDFIELD: There are authors and others who suggest that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara had differences about self-reliance in Cuba and the role of the Soviet Union in denying them that. Are you familiar with that discussion?

ROSSET: A little bit. I tried to follow -- basically, since the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the Cuban government has released a lot of the early writings of Che that they were reluctant to release while they might have offended the former Soviet Union. It does seem that perhaps Che was more critical of the Soviet model than perhaps Fidel was willing to be. I suspect that Fidel himself was also, but didn't feel that he was in a position to do anything about it given that they had been cut off by the United States, and the only country extending a hand was the Soviet Union. So you might call Fidel a pragmatist and Che the idealist.

Che felt that the Soviet Union had become tremendously bureaucratic and he predicted that it would collapse under its own weight at some point in the future. So there is some evidence that maybe there was a little bit of a clash -- I don't think a very serious one -- but between Fidel and Che there was a clash between `we have no other choice' versus `this is not what we should be doing' ...But I think that more of Che leaving was due to the fact that he wasn't cut out to be a bureaucrat -- he was cut out to be a guerilla leader.

MINDFIELD: You lived in Chiapas and are very familiar with the Zapatistas. How do you see the Zapatistas and their role as revolutionaries?

ROSSET: I lived there for a couple of years. I think that the Zapatistas are a very, very important social movement right now because I feel that with the globalization of the economy and corporate global control, the only way we can make social change -- we being ordinary people -- is by forging international links and social movements ourselves. If you're just in West Oakland and you say we want living wages here and we don't want toxic waste dumps in our community, companies just pull up and move somewhere else where people are not organized to demand living wages or to stop toxic waste dumps. So as a great Midwestern union organizer, Baldamar Valesquez, of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee once said, what we have to realize if we are employees of one of these companies is that we're not citizens of the country that we live in -- the United States, or Mexico or the Philippines ...in a certain sense, we're citizens of the company we work for, in that we have to demand the same rights for all citizens of that company. That means that workers in the Philippines, in Mexico, in Ohio, all have the same right to a living wage, to health insurance, to time off, to safe working conditions, to a healthy environment. Companies can't run and they can't hide from demands for basic human rights and environmental protection.

Now that doesn't mean corporate/government trade agreements with side-riders on the environment and labor. It means unions and other social movements and environmental movements linking up across borders to enforce the popular will that companies have to obey the same basic demands wherever they are. Companies and societies.

MINDFIELD: So concretely, how do they do that?

ROSSET: So the Zapatistas are very exciting, I think, because they are one of the most successful movements in building international solidarity and support, and using new media to do it. I think that sometimes we find that popular movements get left behind the curve in the evolution of technology. Clearly where it's at today is the internet, CNN -- things like that. The Zapatistas have proved themselves to be very adept at building international support and movement-building in that new sort of globalized technological reality. In a sense they're showing a lot of other social movements the way that it can be done.

MINDFIELD: What is your understanding of the Zapatista's vision for Mexico?

ROSSET: They have a lot of different visions at different levels. Basically, I think their overall goal is a more democratic Mexico.... Not democratic in the sense that the U.S . State Department calls on countries to become `democratic,' but in the sense of real people having real control over the real things that effect their real lives. It's very interesting what they are dong in the areas they control.

We recently published a report about how they [The Zapatistas] are trying to build a strengthened local economy as both a buffer from the global economy as well as a platform from which they can participate in the global economy on fairer terms. Sort of what Japan did as a country, they are trying to do in their own little territory, which is re-establish the local circuits of food production and consumption -- organizing their communities in what they call guilds or associations of producers who will trade with each other so that people don't have to depend on the vagaries of the international market for the food they eat -- or farmers don't have to depend on the vagaries of international prices for what they sell.

On a small scale, they are struggling to develop an alternative model. Now that's not very easy. They're completely encircled by the Mexican military, there are paramilitary death squads, there's a lot of de-stabilization, a lot of divide-and-conquer tactics going on.... So they've been under extreme duress. Nevertheless, they're very interesting, and maybe we see the seeds of some alternative economic models being developed there.

MINDFIELD: What about political models?

ROSSET: I think the Zapatistas as a guerilla movement are new in the sense that they came with a critique of previous generations of guerilla movements. For example, in Central America -- where they [the Zapatistas] felt that they [Central American guerilla organizations] were overly top- down, vertically organized vanguard parties -- whatever you want to call it -- and, therefore, became detached from their social base. So if we go back, for instance, to my critique of the Sandinistas, if they had not been so top-down in their organization, or so vanguard oriented, maybe they would have realized how they were at risk of losing their social base in the countryside through their agricultural policy.

That is not to say that they were distant from the people in the way that Donald Trump or Michael Eisner are distant from people -- but relatively speaking, they were a relatively top-down organization, and that introduced a certain kind of weakness. The weakness is the danger of becoming somewhat detached from reality on the ground.

The Zapatistas reject the top-down organization and the whole idea of a vanguard party. They are extremely democratically organized. No decisions are made without a town meeting in every community inside the Zapatista territory. Things are debated, and then decided by consensus. So there's really no way then for their big decisions to be made in a way that is detached from reality on the ground. It's a different kind of model, a truly democratic model.

Once again, you can't say it's an enormous success because, to a certain extent, they're hungry, they're starving in those communities, because They're under a continual attack and they're cut off. Yet they're still doing something that is very interesting.

MINDFIELD: How would that political model work in a situation like that faced by the FMLN [Farabundo Martí Liberación Nacional, the umbrella guerilla group that fought the Salvadorean government to a standstill] in El Salvador? The FMLN was a united front with very different political groups within it, organized militarily and politically to try to overthrow the corrupt...

ROSSET: Well, I think the FMLN was, in my opinion -- if you compare it to the Zapatistas, without completely dismissing the difference between the five -- the diversity among those five organizations [within the FMLN united front] -- nevertheless, all of them were relatively top-down, vanguard kind of organizations within the FMLN compared to the new more horizontal-democratic model of the Zapatistas. So I think the Zapatistas developed in contra-position to the style of the FMLN in El Salvador, the FSLN in Nicaragua, the UNRG in Guatemala, and the Communist Party in Cuba. They [the Zapatistas] viewed all of those [organizations] as overly top-down, and therefore always running the risk of the leadership becoming, to a greater or lesser extent, detached from ground zero reality.

MINDFIELD: That's interesting. Yet in the course of a guerrilla war, which the Zapatistas aren't really fighting at the...

ROSSET: I guess what you're getting at is that top-down has its importance in terms of military operations. Maybe what the Zapatistas are also showing, in terms of tactics, is with the overwhelming military might of government(s) and armies in today's world, it's unlikely that a current guerilla movement is going to triumph via arms. However, arms can be very useful when deployed in the Zapatistas deployed them, which was to open a space for media attention, publicity -- and as a lever to affect opinion and develop solidarity. So I think what the Zapatistas are showing is that the real, potential strength in the new world order is to build these trans-national movements. Arms can be used as a tool to do that in a sort of a public relations sense, but the victory is more likely to come through that kind of organization -- they believe, and the future will obviously tell if they are right or wrong -- then through the old means and through the armed overthrow.

MINDFIELD: Of the Gramsci model...

ROSSET: Sure, Gramsci's notion that battling for hearts and minds and for the strategic position in the ideology of a society and people's thought, maybe is more important ...and they discovered how tools like the internet and the world wide web and the media, CNN, are tools that, while they certainly serve the ends of corporate interests many times, also can be used to the advantage of popular movements.

MINDFIELD: But how many working people and poor people really have access to those kinds of `tools?'

ROSSET: Well, certainly everyone has a television, so to the extent that they use CNN, or Telemundo, if we are talking about Spanish-speaking audiences -- that reaches an enormous number of people. I think that in terms of the internet, maybe not so much individuals in their homes, but certainly organizations, movements, what are called NGO's in the Third World -- non-governmental organizations, and what we call Not For Profit, or community organizations, in developed countries. And so, on the one hand, they can reach individual people through their ability to access the media through their creative media strategies, and on the other hand, they reach people's organizations through the internet and those kinds of media.

MINDFIELD: You cited CNN. Isn't that based on the assumption that CNN is going to put something that they've done on TV.? Isn't there a...

ROSSET: ...As I said before, CNN as corporate-owned media is a double-edged sword. Certainly it's part of the homogenization of culture, the dominance of consumer, materialist, advertising values over other kinds of values. It's one thing, however, to sit back and lament that that's the case, it's another thing to creatively and opportunistically think about ways that we can make the other edge of that sword serve our needs. And I think that the Zapatistas have been really geniuses in understanding the media mentality and be able to create space for themselves in a very accessible media -- accessible in terms of viewers -- but that usually doesn't offer access to alternative movements. But by having the right kind of creativity and savvy, they've been able to take advantage of that...

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Illegals: A Novel by J.P. Bone

Illegals: A Novel

by J.P. Bone

www.illegalsthebook.com

Reviews of Illegals

Contact the Author: jpbone1996@gmail.com

 

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