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Environment

Environmentalists Owe an Enormous Debt to Julian Assange

By Mitchel Cohen

Environmentalists throughout the world owe an enormous debt of gratitude to political prisoner Julian Assange, the founder and publisher of WikiLeaks—and most of them don’t know it.

It wasn’t only secret recordings pertaining to war and crimes-against-humanity that WikiLeaks published, based on the heroic work of Chelsea Manning who downloaded thousands of secret U.S. military files. A slew of cables Assange published revealed massive U.S. government attempts on behalf of Monsanto to coerce governments to allow foreign corporate land ownership, and with it genetically engineered agriculture throughout the world, and to squelch opposition to GMOs, breaking down existing laws prohibiting the genetic engineering of agriculture.

The cables revealed U.S. officials applying financial, diplomatic, and frequently military pressure on behalf of Monsanto and other biotech corporations.

These cables were followed by revelations that U.S., the World Bank, and IMF loans “opened up Ukraine to major corporate inroads,” writes Joyce Nelson in The Ecologist and also in Counterpunch. “Loan conditions are forcing the deeply indebted country to open up to GMO crops and lift the ban on private sector land ownership. U.S. corporations are jubilant at the ‘goldmine’ that awaits them.”1

The information, under the radar here in the U.S., reveals stipulations in the terms of the U.S.’s massive arms financing of Ukraine going back for more than a decade.

And on April 28, 2020, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a bill into law authorizing the sale of farmland in Ukraine, lifting a moratorium that had been in place since 2001. This bill is part of a series of policy reforms upon which the IMF conditioned its $8 billion loan package.2

WikiLeaks’ revelations about agriculture became the basis for understanding the mechanisms imperialism uses. The U.S. exerts its muscle on other countries to allow Monsanto et al to take over huge tracts of land in Ukraine, bypassing direct purchase by foreign companies. Foreign ownership of land had been prohibited by law in Ukraine—a sudden realization that so-called internet “fact checkers” have been relying on to “debunk” news stories on the privatized dispersal of agricultural land there. But the “debunkers” ignore the many mechanisms utilized by foreign corporations to gain ownership and control of the land and skirt the law. So, we find massive U.S. corporate investments in Ukrainian companies, controlling the kinds of seeds planted and how they are grown.

In a 2007 cable marked “confidential,” Craig Stapleton, then U.S. Ambassador to France, advised the U.S. to prepare for economic war with countries unwilling to introduce Monsanto’s GM corn seeds. He called for retaliation, to “make clear that the current path has real costs to EU interests and could help strengthen European pro-biotech voices. In fact, the pro-biotech side in France [has] told us retaliation is the only way to begin to turn this issue in France.”3

The U.S. diplomatic team recommended that “we calibrate a target retaliation list that causes some pain across the EU since this is a collective responsibility, but that also focuses in part on the worst culprits.”4

In another cable, this one from Macau and Hong Kong, a U.S. Department of Agriculture director requested $92,000 in U.S. public funds for “media education kits” to combat growing public resistance to genetically engineered foods. It portrays attempts to mandate the labeling of GMOs as a “threat” to U.S. interests and seeks to “make it much more difficult for mandatory labeling advocates to prevail.”

The cables released by WikiLeaks revealed that officials in the Obama administration, particularly in Hillary Clinton’s State Department, intervened at Monsanto’s request “to undermine legislation that might restrict sales of genetically engineered seeds.” Under Hillary Clinton, the U.S. State Department was so gung-ho to promote GMOs that Mother Jones writer Tom Philpott called the agency she presided over “the de facto global-marketing arm of the ag-biotech industry, complete with figures as high-ranking as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton mouthing industry talking points as if they were gospel.”5

The New York Daily News reported that State Department officials under Hillary Clinton were actively using taxpayer money to promote Monsanto’s controversial GMO seeds around the world.

U.S. officials recommended pro-biotech and bio-agriculture DVDs be sent to every high school in Hong Kong.6

The cables reveal the joint strategic planning of Monsanto and the U.S. government. In one series, Monsanto concluded that northern Thailand would be an ideal location to cultivate genetically engineered corn for export to other countries, due to the area’s very low labor and infrastructure costs.

In this cable released by WikiLeaks, one country, Peru, is mentioned as recipient, and the U.S. official suggests that even with transportation expenses across two oceans included, it would nevertheless be more profitable to grow and ship GMO corn from northern Thailand than from neighboring Argentina or Brazil, since U.S. “diplomatic efforts” would be used to drive down the cost of production in northern Thailand. The U.S. would press Thailand to drop its opposition to GM cultivation, and the country would be rewarded.

The cables provide a fascinating (and terrifying) glimpse into the seemingly mundane mechanisms of global imperialism and consolidation of control of world agriculture on a very localized level.

WikiLeaks “acquired” and published a searchable database and unabridged text of the secret 2015 TransPacific Partnership, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and Trade in Services Agreement.7 By publishing the secret text of the agreement, Assange exposed the U.S. government’s pressure on other countries to purchase and plant Monsanto’s patented genetically engineered seeds, which required the concomitant purchase of Monsanto’s patented pesticides, in order for the crops to grow.

The treaties limited the ability of one country to legally challenge environmental depredation in trade with another, making it abundantly clear that environmental issues could not be successfully addressed in piecemeal fashion, but must be seen as integrated political, technological, economic, and scientifically packaged warfare. To succeed, movements would be compelled to not only examine the dangers of each pesticide du jour, but the underlying mechanisms by which corporations such as Monsanto, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta, Novartis, BASF and other pesticide and pharmaceutical manufacturers have come to determine government policies overall, as well as those of global regulatory agencies, which in turn allow them to get away with masking the truth about their products and outright lying about their danger.

While socialist and ecology activists have always exposed the collaboration between government and corporate expansion, the details revealed by WikiLeaks’ published documents are nothing short of astounding. They reveal the need for ecological movements to develop far more radical strategies for dealing with the immense destruction by capitalism in practice, and not just in theory nor in a piecemeal fashion. For this largely unknown contribution by Julian Assange, ecological activists, along with antiwar radicals motivated by Assange’s publishing of the now infamous “collateral damage” video (obtained from Chelsea Manning), owe Assange a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid.

Today, Julian Assange is locked away in a British prison and is fighting for his life. The U.S. government seeks to bring this Australian citizen to the United States for a show trial and then lock him up forever, if they don’t assassinate him en route, as the CIA and U.S. State Department had discussed.8 The sacrifices Julian Assange has made are profound, and his contribution to ecological as well as antiwar movements is enormous. It is incumbent on all to demand an end to his incarceration and torment by the U.S. and British governments.

And yet, despite worldwide exposure of glyphosate’s dangers and its designation as a “probable carcinogen,” only a handful of governments throughout the world have joined with environmental activists and health professionals in banning Monsanto’s Roundup. We need to turn up the volume:

Free Julian Assange NOW.

“No” to GMOs and the planet destroyers

CounterPunch, August 23, 2023

https://www.counterpunch.org/2023/08/23/environmentalists-owe-an-enormous-debt-to-julian-assange/



1 Joyce Nelson, “Monsanto and Ukraine,” Counterpunch, August 22, 2014, and also, Joyce Nelson, “Ukraine opens up for Monsanto, land grabs and GMOs,” The Ecologist, September 11, 2014.

2 Oakland Institute, “Walking on the West Side: the World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict,” July 28, 2014; and also, Oakland Institute, Ben Reicher and Frederic Mousseau, “Who Really Benefits from the Creation of a Land Market in Ukraine?” August 6, 2021.

3 https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/07PARIS4723_a.html

4 Ibid.

5 Tom Philpott, “Taxpayer Dollars Are Helping Monsanto Sell Seeds Abroad,” Mother Jones, May 18, 2013.

6 Anita Katial, Senior Director Europe Operations at USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), is named as the responsible officer for the pro-biotech propaganda effort on behalf of the U.S. government. https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09HONGKONG128_a.html

7 https://wikileaks.org/tpp-final/

8 Julian Borger, “CIA officials under Trump discussed assassinating Julian Assange report: Mike Pompeo and officials requested ‘options’ for killing Assange following WikiLeaks’ publication of CIA hacking tools, report says.” The Guardian, Sept. 27, 2021.