Statement on Harvard’s Intimidation Tactics in Argentina

The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition has received disturbing reports that Harvard’s companies have resorted to intimidation tactics in Argentina, following the release of a report that revealed that Harvard’s timber plantations in Argentina are degrading the world’s second largest wetlands. At the same time, President Faust refused last week to speak with local community leaders affected by two of Harvard’s timber plantations, EVASA and Las Misiones.

According to local sources, the senior management of Harvard’s timber companies have visited the homes of at least three of the report’s sources.

“They are trying to scare us,” said Cristian Piriz, a resident of San Miguel, a town next to Harvard’s plantations. “They are knocking on our doors in order to intimidate us instead of engaging in dialogue with all of us, as I’ve asked the companies to do over and over again.” We are shocked and alarmed that Harvard’s companies have resorted to such intimidation tactics. This kind of conduct does not befit our university.

Instead, we have asked that Harvard respond substantively to the demands made by community members. Last Friday, four undergraduates in the RI@H Coalition met with Harvard President Drew Faust to discuss Harvard’s management of EVASA and Las Misiones during her office hour.

Two weeks earlier, RI@H delivered a letter from seven community organizations in Corrientes to Faust demanding that she stop expanding plantations, conduct a participatory review of current practices, comply with legal employment practices, and respond within 15 days. Although Friday’s meeting took place in the last business hour before the deadline, Faust had no response to the letter.

President Faust then refused to speak with representatives of the communities adjacent to Harvard’s plantations and would not listen to a message for her recorded by community leaders. Faust’s refusal to hear from community leaders is deeply troubling; denying these issues will not make them go away.

We would like to invite President Faust and other Harvard administrators to attend a screening of “Harvard in Iberá,” this Thursday (11/14) from 8-9PM in the HKS Littauer Building 130, hosted by RI@H and the HKS Hispanic Policy Journal. After the ten-minute video, Emilio Spataro, the Coordinator of Guardianes del Iberá, and Cristian Piriz will speak about their experiences with Harvard’s timber plantations. We hope that Harvard administrators will be in attendance to hear the voices of their Argentinian neighbors.

The RI at Harvard Coalition calls for an end to intimidation tactics in Argentina and asks again that Harvard provide a response to the letter presented three weeks ago. In the letter, community groups wrote, “Your university’s lands are dedicated to an exploitive and extractive activity that is the worst enemy of our communities and our ecosystems. You are leaving our territory in poverty and forcing us to leave our homes.”

Harvard can ensure that EVASA and Las Misiones follow local labor laws and end practices that are endangering the Iberá wetlands and neighboring communities. But such responsible ownership requires engagement with community members, not acts of intimidation.

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