Monsantos Caribbean experiment

By Eliván Martínez

The largest producer of transgenic seeds in the world is leasing some of the best agricultural lands on the Island with a pattern of questionable legality, while receiving incentives from the Fortuño administration.

When environmentalist Juan Rosario traveled to an Amish religious community in Iowa, to learn to make compost, he was surprised that they had a laboratory and the services of an expert in chemistry. What was a scientist doing in a place where people live far from technology and practice ecological farming with the simplest of methods?

An Amish dressed in their style, with a wide-brimmed black hat, white shirt, and black pants and black jacket, pointed toward a large cornfield on a nearby farm. “The scientist helps us verify that pollen from genetically modified corn does not contaminate our crops,” he told Juan Rosario. “It’s the same corn that you develop in Salinas.”

Puerto Rico, laboratory for corn, sorghum, cotton and transgenic soybeans.

The island is hosting a reality that the government hides and sponsors: the island is an important center for eight companies, seven of them multinationals, that are developing the first generation of genetically modified seeds for distribution to United States and around the world. The strongholds of these corporations extend into public and private farms, especially in the best farmland along the island’s southern coast, which in the last century was under the rule of His Majesty sugarcane, exalted by large landowners that sought to take over the land.

Most of these seed developers occupy more than the 500-acre limit that the Constitution of Puerto Rico allows, while receiving hefty government benefits and advantages under the Law to Promote and Develop Agricultural Biotechnology Companies of 2009, tailored to favor them.

Among them is the world’s main transgenic seed developer, Monsanto, which leases about 1,500 acres of land between Juana Díaz, Santa Isabel, Isabela and Aguadilla. Of these acres, 500 are public property administered by the Land Authority, and the rest belongs mostly to the Succession Serrallés in several southern towns, confirmed Juan Santiago, the company’s chief operating officer in Puerto Rico.

But having more than 500 acres is an apparent violation to the provisions of the Constitution of Puerto Rico, which prevents an agricultural corporation to own more than 500 acres. The purpose of Section 14 of Article VI was to prevent American landlords to come implement a monopoly and squeeze out the smaller local farmer.

New settlers

Are we facing a new colonization of agriculture? Is it the beginning of a new monopoly? “While Monsanto is leasing those lands, and although many of these lands are private, I believe they may be violating the Constitution because its intention was to prevent a single corporation from having control of more than 500 acres to dominate agriculture,” says professor Carlos Ramos, specialist in the field and professor at the at Interamerican University Law School. “If this law no longer makes sense, let’s open the debate. The intent of the law is as valid today as in the 1900’s. The Justice Secretary is required to enforce the Constitution and must act.”

The events of the agricultural history are repeating themselves. As was the case with some sugar corporations over the past century, one of these companies, Monsanto, changes names to access more land than allowed by law, said a source at the Center for Investigative Journalism. So this media outlet went to the corporation registry at State Department to confirm this. Carlos Morales Figueroa, who was the vice president of the company at that time, incorporated Monsanto Caribe LLC in 2004 . Two years later, he incorporated Monsanto AG Products LLC.

What is this scheme about? “It was done to be able to lease more land … They are both Monsanto. The two entities belong to the parent company,” admitted Carlos Morales’s successor, Juan Santiago. “I’d have to check the data, but Monsanto AG has not yet been a lease contract.” However, a source told this media outlet that the other corporation also rents land in Juana Díaz.

Puerto Rico’s Constitution also prohibits any member of an agricultural corporation to have an interest in a corporation of that nature. “That scheme, to create another company under another name makes the situation more dramatic. Now we have to see if the government takes a blind eye to the situation because they believe these people are creating jobs,” said Carlos Ramos.

The government itself is putting the best land on a silver platter for the seed producers. A source at the Center for Investigative Journalism said that the Land Authority offers is offering them some 2,518 cuerdas (2,445 acres), about 8% of all publicly owned land in the south of the island. All of them occupy a combined 6,000 acres of public and private land all around the island, according to Juan Carlos Justiniano, who represents the seed producers as chairman of the Association of Agricultural Biotechnology Industry of Puerto Rico.

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