RI@H members Gabriel Bayard and Sam Wohns published an op-ed in the Crimson this morning entitled “A Steep Price for Harvard’s Investment.”
Adrian Obregon never used to worry about water. The 50-year-old farmer lives in Montaña, an indigenous community in Corrientes, Argentina that lies within the Iberá Wetlands, one of the largest wetlands in the world.
Today, though, enormous pine and eucalyptus plantations, operated by Las Misiones and owned by Harvard’s $32.7 billion endowment, have consumed the groundwater that Adrian’s family previously used for drinking and washing. Adrian told us that he has been forced to deepen his well every year since Harvard bought the plantations, each time spending money he doesn’t have.
Adrian and Chochón are just two of thousands of people affected by Las Misiones and EVASA, two timber plantations that we visited on a trip to Argentina last year. From April 5 until April 16, Adrian and Emilio Spataro, another Corrientes resident, are visiting Harvard. For the first time, the Harvard community and administration will be able to hear firsthand from those affected by Harvard’s investments in Argentina.
The extent to which Harvard’s companies mistreat, ignore, and abuse their neighbors was shocking. We saw trucks exiting the plantations driving on the wrong side of the road, making the roads undrivable for locals. Dominga told us about the time she woke up to find strange men building a plantation in her backyard, and Armando told us about the filthy dormitory he lived in for two years on an EVASA plantation.
Today, students join with environmentalists and local organizers like Emilio and Adrian in asking Harvard to be a responsible owner of the plantations it directly owns. It shouldn’t expand its plantations but instead should ensure that the plantations comply with all governmental and employment regulations.
Adrian and Emilio are not asking for the impossible; Harvard has direct control over these companies and can obligate them to operate in accordance with the University’s values. By responding to them in completing a comprehensive review of current practices and listening to communities in Corrientes at public forums, Harvard can uphold its commitment to sustainability abroad.
Being a student at Harvard is an incredible privilege. The least we can do is listen to those who are harmed in Harvard’s name, and work to make Harvard a positive force in communities from Cambridge to Corrientes. We have seen the effects of Harvard’s companies on people like Adrian and Chochón firsthand, and we demand that Harvard do better.