These days you hear “Venezuela” and you start thinking of long lines, misery and hunger. But in 2000, Venezuela was a middle income country, with a lots of problems, but optimistic and hopeful. Our universities were well funded, our professors well payed and we were pioneers in the region in biotechnology. And then we had an early sign of the dark times that would come later and of the anti intellectualism that destroyed the life of millions of people. An experimental field of GM papaya was burned by anti GM activists, and the scientists responsible for the experiments were harassed and threatened with jail.
I was on my first year in college and I got a front seat to the campaign of lies, fear and misinformation that was unleashed in Mérida by these activists. All sort of rumors were told, radio interviews with naturopaths and activists and newspaper articles told us not to buy any big and pretty vegetables, as almost certainly they’d be GMO. These papayas had “rat genes” that would give us the bubonic plague. Or they had caused mental retardation in newborns in Lagunillas, where the experimental field had been. Many posters were pasted all over my beloved Mérida, claiming that GMOs were deadly, and that these activists supported life. I remember that people were scared, they were nervous, and the scientists scared, thinking they’d go to jail. Nobody was countering these wild claims, they stood unopposed and we lost a great chance to communicate science, but I cannot blame the professors who kept a low profile. I tried to do my bit, vandalizing their posters with my own slogans, writing my first article in a newspaper, talking on the radio, and even talking to some of these activists. Of course, I did not do a lot. I was young, naive, inexperienced and it was only me against a resolute movement. The people on my side had too much to lose and they didn’t speak. I had nothing to lose, I was full of teenage rage and bravado, it was me against the world. Of course, the world won, and I moved on to other things, but this issue always remained close to my heart.
Now I realize that the scientist’s version of this story has never been told. They had remained silent all these years, after devastating losses, after witnessing the work of a lifetime being persecuted and banned, after seeing the Venezuelan govt promoting ignorance and irrational fears. I think it is time for us to listen to them and and learn from their experience. I also want to learn how are the papaya farmers doing now. Have they solved their problems? Have the activists (some of them foreigners) remained in touch with them and helped them to take care of their fields? Are they doing better because of the banning and destruction of GM papayas? We know a lot about the Hawaiian papaya farmers, we know they are thriving and that their fields are healthy, free of disease, and they do not need to use pesticides to get rid of the aphids that carry the papaya ringspot virus.
I want to fund a short documentary about these farmers and scientists. I want to talk to them before it’s too late and the lessons are lost irrevocably. I also want to talk to some of these activists and see if they have changed their mind and if they think what they did then was right. In order to do this, I need your help. I need funds to pay for the filming crew and filming expenses to make a short documentary telling us the highlights of the story, we also want to make a proper social and cultural study of the farmers and understand how they lives are affected by these agricultural issues
Risks and challenges
The political situation in Venezuela is very volatile,but we already secured our interviews, we have a filming crew in place and we are ready to hit the ground running.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (45 days)