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Máximo Cangá Castillo

Food Voices: The Interviews

Máximo Cangá Castillo, Farmer and Fisherman
San Lorenzo, Esmeraldes 

Máximo Cangá Castillo is a farmer and fisherman from San Lorenzo, Esmeraldes in Ecuador. He is active with local, national and grassroots organizations.

We have been very lucky. We were lucky to be able to build the farm early, when we did. Many don’t have anything now. They don’t have a farm, they don’t have a house, nothing.I believe the grandchildren will continue on the farms. I believe it is in our genes. My children grow up in the town, but they always want to be here on the farm. They learn about the plants and how to grow them, including the ones used for medicine. From a child, you start learning, they are not secrets.

The government does not support food sovereignty. It is just a world that they use so they can catch the attention at the international level. They are promoting food sovereignty without land. They think food sovereignty is having money to go buy food at the supermarket. But, if you don’t have the money to buy the food, how are you going to eat? Today, we didn’t buy any food for our meal. The traps caught the crabs, the other traps caught the rats and the net caught the fish, the earth gave us the coconuts, the oregano, chiles, spices to cook the meat. The water is from the well. That is why our struggle is in the defense of the territory. Territory is not just a piece of land. It is water, plants, trees, animals – biodiversity. Without territory, we cannot practice food sovereignty.

I had a farm that was four hectares in area. One day, all the farms around mine were bought with money from the Medellin mafia of Columbia. These people have tons of money. I asked them, “What will happen to my farm?” The gentlemen told me, “The farm belongs to us. You have to go get the money for your farm.” I told him, “But, my land is not for sale.” “Too bad, that is your problem,” they said. I filed a complaint with Plan Ecuador and to some authorities. That was around 2 in the afternoon and around 4 in the afternoon, they went to my house to get me. They put you in a car and take you away. If you are lucky, your body will show up. Most of the time, people can’t even find the bodies of their loved ones. They have killed many peasants in that way. I was not at home and I had to leave, because these people wanted to kill me. I went to Quito. I decided to start negotiations with them because every body was telling me that at least I should get some money and they were offering me $3,000. By then it was too late.

The land investors are the ones that are connected to the current government in power. The sugar cane that we use as food for the cows are now used as fuel. The corn that we used as food for the hens and to make tortillas is now used as a fuel. Now, our food is used a fuel. The land that used to be farms is now African palm plantations and all the palm oil is for fuel. Places that were farms are now balsa, eucalyptus, teak plantations and all of that is exported. All of those monoculture plantations are for export. That is why sugar and all the food are more expensive than before.

The shrimp industry, in order to get our land to make shrimp farms, they killed our brothers and sisters. Our shell collectors, crab harvesters in the entire coast of Ecuador. There are even shrimp farms where before they use to be cemeteries. In entire villages, they kicked the people out to put a shrimp pond. And those people went to the cities, but they do not know any other livelihood. Because we had the same problem all over the coastal area, the leaders start travelling to meet with other leaders of coastal organizations. That is how we started building a bigger, larger, national movement that represents us at the political level to manage our request to kick out the shrimp industry from our territories.

In Ecuador, we have had assembly members, members of Congress, presidents, ministers who are part of the shrimp industry. The same people who make and approve the laws are part of the shrimp industry. The shrimp industry was allocated here in an illegal form. And now, with this government of the citizen’s revolution, they have made it legal. That affects us a lot, because from one mangrove hectare in a natural state, ten families could live from there directly. But, if you have a shrimp farm on 100 hectares, only three families live off of it.  The family who feeds the shrimp, the family who takes care of the shrimp and the owner's family.

For us, they are destroying the entire territory. They leave us without territory, without jobs, without food. And this just to make one family rich. The main problem in ecosystem destruction and we blame the people from North America because they want to eat shrimp. The shrimp farms are subsidized through World Bank credits and that money that finances the shrimp farms is going to be paid by all Ecuadorians in order to cancel the foreign debt. We continue to fight the expansion of shrimp farms and it is a war that is never going to end.

After several harvests, those ponds are no longer useful to them. Because of the amount of chemicals they put in them and so they need fresh land and they continue killing the mangrove. People have put their lives on the line to protect the mangroves and stop the cutting of the trees. Were they go to cut the mangrove, that is the source of income for the shell collectors or the crab harvesters. If they cut the mangroves, the bio-aquatic life is gone. And people know they are not going to have anymore source of income, so they put their bodies on the line. At the end, the industry wins, because they always end up killing shell collectors or crab harvesters.

People have organized. In many cases, the industry has to slow down. The international and regional alliances have helped a lot. We need all the allies to spread the word and tell the world about our struggles. When we defend the mangroves, it is not because we are crazy or because we want to save the little birds. We are defending food, our source of income and our life. If we don’t have mangroves, we don’t have crabs, shells, fish and thousands of families won’t have access to their livelihoods. So, for us, it is important because life starts right there for the People of the Mangroves. I will die before I leave the mangroves.

1 Ecuadorian government plan for increased security along the northern border of Ecuador, which borders Columbia.