Under the slogan, "Organise the struggle, land, food, dignity and life", the Via Campesina held its IV International Conference in Itaici, São Paulo, Brazil, to evaluate proposals and strategies, strengthen internal structures, welcome new organisations into membership and prepare days of struggle in the forthcoming period. Five hundred delegates, representing 117 organisations from 70 countries in all continents, attended the conference. The IV Conference ratified the movement’s radical opposition to the neoliberal model that kills and destroys peasant peoples and cultures, agreed to strengthen its campaigns for land reform, seeds and food sovereignty, and agreed a plan of action that includes a week of struggle against the WTO. These agreements were contained in the Final Declaration, which outlines the history of the first efforts to set up an international movement, back in 1992, till the present, by way of conferences in Tlaxcala and Bangalore, milestones in the Via Campesina struggle for the rights of peasants, indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers all over the world.
"We have witnessed the growth and strengthening of our organizations and movements which successfully put the peasant movement at the core of peoples’ struggles", says the document. It goes on to refer to the main battles fought by Via Campesina, such as the struggle for land reform, food sovereignty and for the protection of peasant seeds as the heritage of the peoples at the service of humanity, the experiences at Seattle in 1999 and the events of Cancún in September 2003, where the WTO suffered its heaviest defeat.
However, despite these struggles and the strengthening of our movement, we have also seen how the neoliberal economic model under which we are suffering continues to be unscrupulously imposed. Since our last conference, we note how agricultural policies cause the disappearance of peasant families in the European Union, Canada and the United States, and disappearances, repression and death of peasants in Africa, Asia and Latin America, regions in which poverty is increasing, and wars repress the social movements, take control of basic resources, and generate armies of cheap labour.
The document notes peasants indignation at the way that United Nations agencies, like the FAO have joined the IMF, WTO and World Bank as the guardians of capital. At the same time, they repudiate the FAO for legitimising genetically modified crops and the use of biotechnology with the only aim of ensuring bigger profits for transnational companies in the agricultural sector. In addition, the declaration refers to the Free Trade Treaties as representing one of the greatest threats to peoples in both the North and the South. These instruments have imposed legal changes that have destroyed basic principles used to protect human and social rights and tried to criminalize the life of peasants and indigenous peoples.
The declaration goes on to add that women and youth are those that suffer the worst consequences, because "they are the most marginalized of all, and they are the main victims of the privatization of basic services, the concentration of land ownership, and the destruction of local forms of food, agriculture, and trade. However, the women continue to be the ones who guarantee food, and the continuation of agriculture and peasant cultures.
Faced with this reality, Via Campesina is convinced that it must respond with greater social mobilisation, the convergence of struggles and making alliances in defence of the lives of peasant and indigenous peoples. So, in addition to radically rejecting the neoliberal model, it proposes to make more effort to fight "the most perverse expressions, such as the free trade agreements, wars, the privatisation of the planet, life, seeds, water, the atmosphere, biodiversity and knowledge and will fight for public policies to be changed in order to provide services to peasant agriculture, and for support mechanisms and subsidies that do not cause the social, environmental and productive destruction that they do today"
The final conference declaration also reiterates Via Campesina’s commitment to struggle against the patriarchal system and to make gender equality a reality and continue with the campaigns for land reform, food sovereignty, defence of seeds and defence of peasant human rights. It announces the main actions in the forthcoming period, starting with the week of struggle against the WTO, 19-24 July. It declared 10 September to be the Day of Peasant Struggle and promised to mobilise a million peasants in Seoul in homage to comrade Lee, who sacrificed himself in Cancún. Via Campesina will also organise a conference on Land Reform, 4-8 December 2004.
"We commit ourselves to continue struggling for the well-being and the dignity of our peoples. We must link all the struggles and movements from the global to the local, and create new forms of alliances that allow us to demand once again the respect and protection of our rights and our cultures", states the document, which concludes with the slogan that reverberates round all corners of the world: Globalize the struggle, Globalize hope!
The IV Via Campesina Conference also made progress in the discussion on a Programme that calls for respect for biodiversity, democratisation of the possession and use of land and the defence of food sovereignty; condemns genetically modified seeds under the principle that peasants and their communities have the right and duty to produce seeds; fights against prejudice, cultural and sexist discrimination; calls for unconditional respect for human, social and individual rights, the defence of associative forms and cooperatives of agro-industries and agricultural trade based on relations of equality and fair exchange; demands the reorganisation of all international agencies, such as the IMF, the WTO and the World Bank, which are mere instruments of domination; and calls for the cultivation of human values that have grown through millennia, such as solidarity, social, political and economic justice, equality and democracy, in the daily work of each one of the organisations and movements.
The plenary also agreed that the V Conference of Via Campesina be held in Africa and that the Operational Secretariat should move to Indonesia, under the responsibility of the Peasant Federation of that country and its leader, Henry Saraghi.