Another major Argentine newspaper—La Nacion—wrote a story about the campaign for justice at Harvard’s timber plantations in the Iberá Wetlands.
A translated version appears below, and the original Spanish version can be found here.
Harvard students protest in defense of the Iberá Wetlands
Written by Laura Rocha (La Nacion); Translated by Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition
The Iberá Wetlands in Corrientes are in the news again this week: A report on plantations owned by Harvard University denounced the school’s unsustainable business practices in this national treasure.
“The report’s findings contradict recent statements by Harvard’s president, Drew Faust about the university’s investment practices. Two weeks ago, she wrote of Harvard’s “commitment to sustainable investment” and its “distinctive responsibilities to society,'” said Sam Wohns, a Harvard College senior and a member of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition. The Coalition co-published the report with The Oakland Institute, a public policy group in California.
The Harvard Management Company (HMC) manages the university’s $32 billion endowment fund. In recent years, much of that money has been invested in natural resources. There is a long list of countries in which there are active investments: from the Cayman Islands to New Zealand, and most of South America.
“When I saw how the plantations had invaded the wetlands, I felt sick to my stomach” said Sam Wohns, the report’s author. “As a Harvard student, I should not be benefiting from environmental destruction in Argentina.”
The forestry companies in Corrientes, Argentina—EVASA and Las Misiones—are together valued at $55.2 million and cover 217,166 acres. Since the university bought the companies in 2007, it has rapidly expanded the plantations into protected areas, and even into nearby communities.
According to residents of local communities quoted in the report, the plantations reduce their fields’ productivity, create health problems, and damage public roads.
“Harvard’s plantations are destroying our way of life,” said Adrián Obregón, a member of the Association of Small Producers in San Miguel, an organization of small farmers living near Harvard’s plantations. “We want to stop Harvard’s expansion of their plantations within our communities.”
Despite their negative impacts, most of the plantations are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) for sustainable management practices. But according to the FSC audits, Harvard has failed to fully implement responsible practices.
Official representatives from Harvard said that all regulations are being complied with and that the Argentine government has not filed any complaints.
Today, about 40 students from Harvard gathered to demonstrate against the expansion of timber plantations in the second largest region of wetlands in the world, the Iberá Wetlands in northern Argentina.
During the protest, the students delivered a letter to President Faust, which was written by farmers whose lives have been threatened by the plantations owned by Harvard. The letter demanded that the university stop the expansion of plantations in the region and deal with the concerns that have been raised in the surrounding communities.
“Faust is responsible for this university’s conduct and these plantations are no exception,” said Gabriel Bayard, a Harvard student who has visited the plantations in Argentina. “The blatant disregard for Harvard’s values is shocking. I hope that the university stops the expansion of these plantations immediately. ”