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.
Adrian Obregon, an organizer with a small producers association in Corrientes, Argentina, is on campus for the next week meeting with students, workers, and administrators.
MEDIA ADVISORY: SHAME TOUR OF HARVARD
Two organizers from Corrientes, Argentina will visit Cambridge, Mass.
Cambridge, MA—On Saturday, April 5, two organizers from the communities most affected by Harvard’s timber plantations will arrive in Cambridge, Massachusetts for an 11-day tour and week of action sponsored by the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition.
In spring 2013, RI@H launched its responsible ownership campaign, demanding that Harvard take responsibility for the ethical practices of the companies it owns fully as part of its endowment.
After learning of ecological, land rights, and labor rights violations in Corrientes, Argentina near the plantations of Harvard-owned companies EVASA and Las Misiones, RI@H published an investigative report and mini-documentary, delivered letters to Harvard administrators, and held demonstrations on campus.
Community organizations in Argentina want Harvard to
1) stop expanding plantations within their communities,
2) remove plantations within 2,000 meters of their homes, and
3) comply with all legally required employment standards.
Although Harvard has responded to both students and Argentinian organizers, Harvard’s timber plantations have not yet complied with these demands.
With the support of Food and Water Watch, the Responsible Endowments Coalition, XminusY, and the Oakland Institute, as well as over 70 individual donors, RI@H has invited Emilio Spataro, an organizer working with local farmers in Corrientes, and Adrian Obregon, a leader in the local small producers association and a liaison to the larger Argentine campesino movement, to come to Harvard’s campus from April 5 – 16 for the SHAME tour (Stop Harvard’s Argentine Mismanagement and Exploitation).
Over the course of the week, the two delegates from Corrientes will speak to student groups, Harvard administrators, and student leaders about their experiences living under the shadow of Harvard’s plantations.
Spataro and Obregon have a scheduled meeting with Harvard administrators including Jameela Pedicini, Vice-President for Sustainability for Harvard Management Company; Lars Madsen, Office of the President of Harvard University; and Katherine Murtagh, Director of Compliance for Harvard Management Company.
The week of action will also include the following public events:
Wednesday April 9, 7–9PM: “From Harvard Yard to the Ibera Wetlands” (CUNY Graduate Center 365 Fifth Avenue Room C-203).
Thursday April 10, 8:30–11:00 AM: “A Conversation about Transnational Movement Building with Organizers from the Campaign to Save the Ibera Wetland’s in Corrientes Argentina” (New York City, location TBA)
Friday April 11, 2–3PM: “Rally for Justice in Iberá” (Convening on the steps of Widener Library, Harvard Yard)
Tuesday April 15, 4–5PM: Harvard College Undergraduate Council “Forum for Responsible Investment” (Harvard Yard, Room TBA)
The Harvard Undergraduate Council unanimously approved the Responsible Ownership Policy Endorsement Act, which furthers the Council’s official support of encouraging Harvard to adopt responsible investment practices.
As a part of the legislation, UC leaders will engage with administrators to urge them to ensure that university’s investments uphold Harvard’s values. Furthermore, the Undergraduate Council will work with RI@H to send a “mail merge” to all undergraduate e-mail addresses to publicize the campaign and to raise awareness among members of the student body.
The UC will also hold a campus-wide forum regarding responsible investment during the SHAME Tour and Week of Action in early April. The Council will invite administrators, faculty, members of the Harvard Management Corporation, and students to attend.
Sincerest thanks to the Undergraduate Council for their continued support of Responsible Investment!
SHAME stands for Stop Harvard’s Argentine Mismanagement & Exploitation (clever, right?) but it’s also how Harvard administrators are going to feel when confronted by the stories of those who are most affected by their irresponsible investments.
Last semester, we sent letters, signed petitions, and demonstrated outside in the rain and cold. We even published an investigative report and produced a mini-documentary. But Harvard President Drew Faust has refused to enact responsible ownership policies, ignoring the requests of people who suffer every day from Harvard-owned plantations.
We don’t think she can ignore community leaders who travel 4,884 miles to defend their way of life. It’s one thing to read about Harvard’s out-of-control companies halfway around the world, but it’s another thing to hear about them from the people who suffer the consequences.
We’ve estimated that it will cost $4,000 for visa fees and international airfare, and we want to buy tickets by February 19th. Please help donate now so we can bring Harvard’s neighbors in Argentina to Harvard Yard this spring!