Julian: So, like Gachi says, we designed what might start out to be a fairly standard consensus-building process, except that it has all these elements that keep derailing us in a lot of ways. But the thing I think I'm most struck by is the amount of power that we have as outsiders and as third parties in this situation. First of all, because we have access to everybody and the local actors don't. The government doesn't have very easy access to the ocupantes, the ocupantes don't have very easy access to the various levels of government. But we get in everywhere and we talk to everyone so basically in the beginning it wasn't exactly like this and it has taken a little time, but no one can say no to a meeting with us, basically. We go everywhere. Which is, you know, gets us a lot of information and information in this situation is critical. The ocupantes a lot of times have no idea what the legal situation is, and we have three lawyers on our staff and they're always trying to figure out through the Freedom of Information Act in Argentina, what the legal situation is of the suits that are going on because everyone who is in the suit will claim whatever is most advantageous for them, whether it's true or not, they'll pull up what looks like a legal document and say the court case is going our way, so we really need to circle around the wagon and join forces, and get together and make moves, which may or may not be true.
One of our jobs is giving out information constantly. The fact of observing and asking questions in the 2,000 hectares had a tremendous impact on the ocupantes and the leadership among the ocupantes. The very fact that we were going to put together a local process where people could come and access a space in which big decisions might be made, had a big impact on people, in the sense that, as soon as we started asking questions, leadership started to fragment among the ocupantes. I'm sure some of that would have happened anyway, but I think that our asking and our questions and our observing were a huge factor in accelerating the process of fragmentation among the leadership. The second-place finisher in the mayoral election that I'm talking about ended up organizing ocupantes around him and they were sort of incorporated into a semi-formal organization. But he had very abusive practices. He had a very hierarchical-authoritarian decision-making structure, which is fine with a lot of people because that's what they're used to - which is one of the challenges to trying to start any kind of dialogue is that people are used to this very hierarchical way of decision making. So you have these sorts of abusive practices, where if there was a better offer from a wealthy person in Iguazu, he would come and kick out a poorer person and give the wealthy person that piece of land, which ends up making some people very upset in the organization and because they know that we're about to start a process in which people are going to have access to a space where they can have influence over the decisions that are going to be made over that space, all these leaders started to pop up and say, "Well, I represent these people," you know, and all these leaders are former members of this other group, and as soon as you start asking questions they go, "Well, yeah I've got a group." And the next day there's a group of 25 people, 30 people, 40 people that has formed practically overnight, like mushrooms. And there are leadership changes. The situation seemed to be frozen in time, because there was no legal or political situation. Nobody cared who their leader was (I'm talking about the urban section now - previously I was talking about the rural section), but in the urban section everybody thought things were going just the way they were going, it's the natural way that Iguazu expands. Until we come around and start asking questions and saying, "We're going to put together this process where you're going to be able to make some decisions. Are you interested?" "Yes, yes we're kind of interested," but then all of a sudden people start complaining about their leader and saying, "Well, this guy can't represent us, he's corrupt. He took what little money we had in our neighborhood treasury for events for his own political purposes. So we're going to knock him out of this thing." So just the fact that you're putting together this kind of space can change the power dynamics within a neighborhood, town, or whatever unit of political space you're working in, just by the very fact that people want someone who can represent them better - either that or -- that's the idyllic view -- or the other view is that they want to be the person sitting there negotiating and they want to have decision-making power so they can benefit themselves at the table.
Gachi: So in terms of the process, I think one of the most interesting things was how we, in the main public meetings, which are actually very political ones - people are talking knowing that everyone is listening. We have done a lot of work with the media, we have really developed a strategy with the media, we have involved journalists, educated journalists, on what is the real importance of this process and the key role that they could play. So they were not inside the meetings, but they were, because we made this agreement them, they were not inside the meetings because this would bring people to talk in a different way, but yes, they were totally committed with us in terms of where we would keep them totally informed, in terms that they would try to figure out the stories in a way that would help us continue to work. The other interesting thing was how we could frame a new problem for everybody.
We work with some technology in those meetings in spite of the fact that we went to very, very poor places but we made the effort of not only bringing flipcharts but a screen, a PowerPoint projector so we can put their maps and make some presentations so people could see, understand environmental and strategic importance of the place. And we are getting everybody's voice and they see that we are taking them because we are writing where they are getting some conclusions and it was very interesting because they could see the different perspectives, and this was a lot of work of our team, of course, between meetings - we could put this in new frame. And from a new frame, everybody was included but they understood that they could continue discussing because the problem is really something that matters to them. And we started working and we actually were getting like successful in some way because the people started to organize themselves, they started working with the mayor's government, the church was doing a great job helping us, going to the most rejected people because they have confidence in the church and the church started working in collaboration with the mayor, which previously they were just fighting with him.
So people started understanding the power of collaboration and then like one month ago they started giving the titles to some of these, to the first neighborhoods that were organized. So we were having some good outcomes and some new obstacles as soon as we were working. One of the obstacles was, of course, that elections would come again and polarization in the elections is terrible. So you can work in a collaboration context when you have the elections it's like a schizophrenic thing to try to motivate the people to work together and they are like - we brought some very key officers from the provincial government and they were really excited about working in this process, but then as soon as the elections were coming they have some instructions. They won't collaborate with this mayor because this mayor was against the governor, so that's one of the big deals we have to work with. And then one of the outcomes was ??? all this transparency make the people realize that this leader was not a good leader and that he was taking their money. He was not in a legal position to bring the titles for them. So the formal movement of the landless people start fragmenting the [Spanish, Julian translates]
Julian: Right, they left the administrative board
Gachi: And this leader really get in problems because he was losing power, so he started [Spanish] threatening the people and [Spanish] to shoot some of the new leaders that were bringing the people out of his movement
Julian: We truly I don't know where you were going with that but I was going to say, that was the back side of the power argument. We have all this power to bring people to the table but when they do it has sort of internal consequences. Thinking in sort of a do-no-harm perspective, the fact that all this leadership got fragmented ended up almost killing one of the new leaders that we saw as a more positive leader who came to the fore, because the other guy - who was a second-place finisher in the mayoral race -- was a pretty violent guy. And he ended up trying to assassinate this guy by shooting him, and there's different points where we've considered stopping the intervention but it's a real tricky decision, because if we stop, we sort of leave these guys hanging. And this sort of leadership, that we didn't create by any means, but certainly gave a lot of voice to at this table are now at risk because they're going head-on with this ex-military guy who has a lot of support from the province which is the place that has all the resources so if we had left, we would have just left him hanging.