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Requiem by AVINA

Requiem by AVINA

By Francisco Puche

So far the death certificate of a kind of Avina, the one who has tried to dominate, confuse, and deactivate social movements, link civil society leaders with business leaders to carry out inclusive business with the poor and "paint" the green capitalism, to make it more opaque and bearable to the groups increasingly affected by their unstoppable greed. (Capitalist) companies are shortsighted by nature: their goal is to make immediate money, not to fix the future of the planet.


Dedicated to all the people who have faced Avina, especially Daniel Verzeñassi

"When we reflect on our twentieth century, the misdeeds of the wicked will not seem the most serious thing, but the scandalous silence of good people" - Martin Luther King

"The first principle of hope lies in the improbable" - Edgar Morin

A few days ago, Avina announced a 180 degree change in its strategy (the one it had been developing since its foundation, fifteen years ago) and the “closure” of a large part of the infrastructures that existed up to that moment, through a letter from CEO Sean McKaughan, dated May 14, 2009.

[There is the curious circumstance that two days before, on May 12, its president Brizio Biondi-Morra, on the occasion of his reflection on the 2008 management report, did not say a word about the immediate dismantling of the line followed up to now , which we could call Avina-cooptation of partners-leaders of social movements. In his reflections, he once again made clear the ideology of the foundation (“the movement… that emerged in the past decade has matured into an innovative capitalism that seeks to use market tools to solve social problems, and even uses wealth-generating business methods to the majority neglected ”), and subtly hinted at a change in strategy (“ At the beginning of 2008, Avina called a meeting… which was attended by all the members of the board of directors, the presidents of Viva Trust and Grupo Nueva, and the virtual participation of our visionary founder Stephan Schmidheiny… and on which we are focused (on achieving) at least 10 relevant changes on a continental scale by the end of 2012… (for this) Avina partnered with other institutions… (specifically with) the Bill Foundation and Melinda Gates ”)]

The executive director, in his letter, gave all the keys to the liquidation and, as is done when a company is closed, he announced:

- As justification, the change in strategy and the crisis (-the new- "institutional strategy is a natural evolution of our actions up to now (...) it has also coincided with the global financial crisis")

- The closing of offices. At present there are twenty-one, only in the Latin American continent ("we decided to close several physical spaces")

- The reduction of the budget, the workforce and the massive dismissal of workers ("the budget reduction has forced us to project a reduced staff of collaborators ... and (a) disengage many excellent collaborators")

- A negotiation, how could it be otherwise, for those laid off

- (“… offering a voluntary retirement plan and a benefits package to support them in their next phase”)

- A declaration of good intentions towards its “creditors” (“- despite the changes- in the priorities of our resources, all financial and support commitments previously assumed with partners and initiatives will be fulfilled”)

- An appeasement checkpoint, to avoid conflicts due to the abruptness of the change (“We understand that changes can generate doubts and questions on the part of our partners and allies… in this critical phase… so (we give) a list of reference persons in each country that are available to you ”- the list consists of thirteen names, their emails and the countries they serve, and not a single operational telephone number.)

- And a lightened future structure with which they will operate, it is assumed that, preferably, virtually ("we will continue working in all countries ... accompanied in person or virtually")

As can be seen, it is the same as closing a company, and in part it is, but in which the terms have been modified: "collaborators" instead of "workers"; "Termination" due to "dismissal"; "Voluntary retirement plan" instead of "severance pay", and so on. It is an abrupt closure of a line of commitments with its close to a thousand partner-leaders and its more than four thousand allies, who are like its creditors. And it is a relocation: they change scale, go to other places and leave in the air a promise of virtual contact for the most nostalgic. All those, until yesterday, protected, financed, educated, interwoven and used, have been left, in the blink of an eye, with only thirteen email addresses for the entire Latin American continent and for the rest of the world. What is said vulgarly, in the street pajolera.

The letter from the executive director also confirmed the change in strategy suggested by Avina's president, in the letter that preceded him. The new strategy has a name "Opportunities of Continental Relevance" and, as that name indicates, it is about "concrete transformations (...) with potential repercussions throughout the Latin American continent") And they have announced that there will be ten, of which only one has been made explicit: "the one destined to the preservation of the Amazon Biome".

In this new strategy, an eagerness to join with other large capital foundations is outlined: "we will seek to establish alliances with other donor institutions to increase the scale of impact ..."

And so far the death certificate of a kind of Avina, the one who has tried to dominate, confuse, and deactivate social movements, also, as they explicitly say in their promotional documents and videos, the one who has tried to link civil society leaders with business leaders to conduct inclusive business with the poor and those who have tried to "paint" capitalism green, to make it more opaque and bearable to the groups increasingly affected by their unstoppable greed. As José L. Sampedro says in his conversations with Carlos Taibo (Libros de la Catarata, 2009) “(capitalist) companies are myopic by nature: their objective is to earn immediate money, not to fix the future of the planet: That means that we must to say goodbye to measures, for example, that show concern for the environment ... We must stop thinking about saving deserts, forests, and the Amazon. From all of it, nothing". Goodbye to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) stamps!


The fifteen-year period that this strategic line has lasted (1994-2009) has coincided with the rise and fall of neoliberalism. It is not by chance.

With this liquidation act that we comment on, it must be remembered that the partner-leaders who have accompanied this foundation to date have assumed commitments with Avina (of support and financing, as stated in the document) and not merely of aseptic support and “Respectful”, as those who belong to Avina maintain.

Why does Avina close the small-scale, capillarity strategy?

I think for three reasons:

A first, apparent and merely justification: the financial crisis. With the crisis, it would have been enough, if that was the case, to reduce the percentage of activities in view of the decrease in income.

A second, deeper one: on the visionary tycoon that controls Avina weighs, from now and for the next thirty years, what has been called the “Chernobyl of asbestos”. Indeed, the Schmidheiny family, now led by Stephan, have been the world's leading manufacturers of this lethal product.

As a sample button, it is enough to consider that in the trial that has been held in Turin since April, the prosecutor requests 13 years in prison for the Avina magnate, for involuntary homicide, and one million euros for each of the victims who died as a result of the asbestos, and there are more than two thousand lawsuits for this circumstance that are being heard in the trial.

As stated in the report prepared by CCOO in 2007, "the removal of asbestos, the dismantling of buildings, machinery or facilities of various kinds, will cost tens of millions of euros to the public purse" Why the public purse? Hadn't we agreed that the polluter pays? Schmidheiny must save his assets, which he will need in full, to be able to face what financially awaits him, instead of dedicating himself to playing green capitalism. The same thing that we have said to the beneficiaries of Avina, that the money and the means they have used belong to the victims of asbestos.

According to an EU report, 500,000 people in Europe alone are expected to die from asbestos in the coming years. In the world there will be millions.

The dramatic words of Remi Poppe, former member of the European Parliament for the Netherlands, serve to close this argument: “With the exception of gunpowder, asbestos is the most immoral substance that people have been made to work; the sinister forces that profit from asbestos do not think twice when resorting to blackmail, deception, and dishonest practices to protect what is essential; they sacrifice the health of the workers in exchange for the benefits of the companies ”(CCOO, Asianto, 2007)

And the third reason, we understand that the decisive one to bring the abrupt closure to which we are amazed, has been the resistance of the social movements in the specific places that Avina's capillarity has tried to penetrate.

Let's see some milestones of these resistances in the last five years:

In the autumn of 2005, the founding member of the Fundación Nueva Cultura del Agua, Federico Aguilera Klink, resigned, professor of ecological economics, national prize for Economy and Environment, in 2004, and the highest Spanish authority on water economics. In his resignation letter he says:

Since I don't know what the foundation does, or how it spends, or how it is financed, or what commitments it has ... and if I realize that I have to read the minutes to see whether or not it includes what was said, I am not comfortable ... and that is why I have decided to leave.

In November 2005, the document against looting and contamination of the assembly of the Coordinadora Patagónica por la Vida y el Territorio, states, in an additional text:

for such reasons:

- we reject Avina's insertion in Patagonia
- We alert social organizations in the region about this situation.
- We invite people and organizations related to Avina, particularly those that receive financing from it, to review its principles, reformulate its programs and reconsider its sources of financing.

In 2006, Dr. Daniel Verzeñassi, on behalf of the Paraná Ecologist Forum, wrote the memorable text entitled “Amanco, Avina and water in Latin America. When alms are big… ”where you can read:

The IIRSA project, denounced by the Paraná Ecological Forum as the project for the necessary infrastructures for the plundering of common goods (…) was the framework project for the AVINA Foundation's strategy on water resources and coastal borders in Latin America… NEW CULTURE DEL AGUA, a seal of the AVINA Foundation, come from Spain by the hand of a leading partner of said Foundation.

As you can see, a legitimate and prestigious proposal in Spain is appropriate, distorted and "burned" by Avina. That is why he co-opts partner-leaders of social movements: to neutralize them.

In June 2008, several complaints by Garífuna fishermen and representatives of the Fraternal Negra Hondureña organization appeared in the magazine El Observador, including bans on fishing in traditional indigenous sites, murders, and environmental deterioration due to tourism and the filming of programs such as "Survivors". The reference islands are located in Cayo Cochinos, owned since 1993 by Swiss Stephan Schmidheiny

In July 2008, the National Environmental Action Network of Argentina, in a statement informing about the admission of the transgenic “king of soy”, Gustavo Grobocopatel, to the Avina Foundation, says:

In this regard, we cannot and do not wish to live with members of NGOs linked to bloodstained funds of corruption (…) The purpose Avina pursues when trying to co-opt the most outstanding minds and the most representative leaders (…) as we see in the model of soy, mean more colonialism and dependency for the peoples of the South.

In December 2008, Boris Ríos, one of the prominent militants of the Cochabamba movement against the multinational water companies, wrote an article in Rebelión, entitled “Eco-efficiency and corporate responsibility”, in which we can read:

It is unquestionable that the private company is built on the basis of the search for profit, no private company exists if it is not for the profit margins that it always seeks to expand, that is, higher ranges of profitability. The proposal that is promoted by the Avina Foundation, the New Water Culture Foundation and the related institutions, inclusive businesses and corporate responsibility, are nothing more than the friendly face of business, especially in the case of common goods, which They affect many people and so they require "better relationships" with local communities to carry them forward.

In March 2009, El Observador de Málaga appeared in the magazine, described as "an explosive dossier that dismantles the friendly face of two gigantic foundations, Avina and Ashoka", entitled "The cases of Avina and Ashoka: warning for social movements ”Coordinated by the author of this article.

In the aforementioned report, in a rigorous and documented way, the purposes and procedures of both philanthropic entities of big capital are revealed.

We have to celebrate this victory of the social movements. And it is very important to do so because it affirms the conviction that we must have that when the looting reaches the towns, no matter how disguised it may come, it ends up meeting the resistance that is difficult to overcome from the people. And unless they do away with the species, the presumption of victory for the many affected will be reasonably higher than that of the few exploiters. Dignity will always surpass money and power ...

And if they destroy all of us and the species, as Jorge Riechmann says, I quote from memory, "we will always have the double B: bacteria and Bushmen."

And we also have to celebrate it for those many people, who without having any idea of ​​Avina's true nature have been in her alliances or financing. Thus they will be freed from this insidious lie.

But capitalism, senile and in the process of self-destruction, in its twilight, has not been, much less defeated, walks among us and within us. Therefore the task continues, we are like long-distance runners. Jorge Riechmann again: “the curse for the land is a mass of capital in the hands of a tiny minority of investors and“ developers ”, who scrutinize every last square meter on which they could pounce to obtain benefits. The image of the swarm of locusts is not unreasonable "

We could conclude with that sentence that someone recited to me, an anonymous author, and that turns out to be a beautiful paradox of hope. Says so: "They got it because when they started it they didn't know it was impossible." Hallelujah!.

Francisco Puche, Malaga, May 2009


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