Group Protests Alleged Environmental Damage

Lexi M Del Toro

Protesters gather outside President Faust's office on Friday afternoon demanding justice at Harvard's timber plantations in Argentina. The Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition reports that Harvard's two timber plantations in Argentina are endangering the Ibera wetlands and thousands of farmers.

Chants of “Sin justicia, no hay paz,” Spanish for “without justice, there is no peace,” filled Harvard Yard Friday as about 30 students gathered outside Massachusetts Hall to protest the findings in a report alleging environmental damage by two Harvard-owned timber companies in Argentina.

The report, released Tuesday and published by the California think tank Oakland Institute and the student group Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition, alleged that the timber companies are responsible for lower water levels, high levels of dust, and non-compliance to fire codes endangering the homes of those who live near the plantations.

Organized by Responsible Investment, the protest started on the steps of Widener Library, before marching to Mass. Hall, where four students left a copy of the report as well as a letter to University President Drew G. Faust signed by Argentine environmental groups, agricultural worker associations, and the area’s local Catholic Church.

The letter, about half a page long, outlined the grievances of those living around the Ibera Wetlands, where the timber plantations are located.

“Your university’s lands are dedicated to an exploitive and extractive activity that is the worst enemy of our communities and our ecosystems,” the letter states, referring to the alleged deleterious practices of the timber companies on the plantations.


The letter also asks that President Faust advocate for the removal of plantations within two kilometers of  habitation and for a ban on the expansion of plantations until the completion of a study on their impact. It asks that the University honor those requests within 15 days of receiving the letter.

“I hope that Drew Faust will give the communities what they are asking for, but I expect that she will not,” said Gabriel H. Bayard ’15, a member of Responsible Investment who helped organize the rally.

“More work will be needed to convince the University administration that the use of Harvard’s investment is important to students,” Bayard added.

In a statement emailed Tuesday, University spokesperson Kevin Galvin wrote that the Harvard-owned timber companies are “in compliance with, or exceeding, all applicable rules and regulations in order to minimize impact to the wetland.”

“Both sites are operating with the full support of the local authorities and neither has been subject to an environmental or labor claim by the Argentine authorities,” Galvin wrote.

According to Michael E. Danto ’13-’14, those living around the Ibera Wetlands are considering pursuing legal action against the timber companies, but are waiting on Faust’s response before doing so.

“If Harvard decides to reform, then it might not prove necessary for the groups in Argentina to file formal legal complaints,” Danto said, adding that the groups might face difficulties filing a lawsuit in the area and troubles negotiating with the local government.

After one last march around Mass. Hall, the protesters vowed to return in 15 days if they have not received a response from the University.

“The whole Harvard community is impacted by Harvard’s investments, so we all have a responsibility to see that those investments are responsible,” Bayard said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

CORRECTION: Oct. 26, 2013

An earlier version of the caption of the photo accompanying this article misstated the name of the Responsible Investment at Harvard Coalition.


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