La Via Campesina: the birth and evolution of a transnational social movement

By Maria Elena Martinez-Torres and Peter Rosset
Thursday 18 March 2010 by LRAN

The origin and evolution of the transnational peasant movement La V a Campesina is analysed through five evolutionary stages. In the 1980s the withdrawal of the state from rural areas simultaneously weakened corporativist and clientelist control over rural organisations, even as conditions worsened in the countryside.

This gave rise to a new generation of more autonomous peasant organisations, who saw the origins of their similar problems as largely coming from beyond the national borders of weakened nation-states. A transnational social movement defending peasant life, La V a Campesina emerged out of these autonomous organisations, first in Latin America, and then at a global scale, during the 1980s and early 1990s (phase 1).

Subsequent stages saw leaders of peasant organisations take their place at the table in international debates (1992-1999, phase 2), muscling aside other actors who sought to speak on their behalf; take on a leadership role in global struggles (2000-2003, phase 3); and engage in internal strengthening (2004-2008, phase 4). More recently (late 2008-present, phase 5) the movement has taken on gender issues more squarely and defined itself more clearly in opposition to transnational corporations. Particular emphasis is given to La V a Campesina’s fight to gain legitimacy for the food sovereignty paradigm, to its internal structure, and to the ways in which the (re)construction of a shared peasant identity is a key glue that holds the struggle together despite widely different internal cultures, creating a true peasant internationalism.

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