With UNIDEV, we recently had the pleasure of hosting grassroots activist Gustavo Esteva in Dublin at the first of our 40th Anniversary events for this year. Gustavo has been a central figure in a wide range of Mexican, Latin American, and international nongovernmental organisations and solidarity networks, including the community-based organisation Universidad de la Tierra en Oaxaca, which he founded and coordinates. In 1996, he was an advisor to the Zapatistas in their negotiations with the Mexican government and he is a strong advocate of Zapatismo.
A leading thinker in the ‘Post Development’ movement, Gustavo’s spoke of how he ‘contracted Underdevelopment’ when he was 7 years old, the way one contracts malaria or a cold, when US president Truman coined the word. He said “To become underdeveloped is still undignified and humiliating. You can no longer trust your nose: you need to trust the noses of the experts that will guide you to develop. You can no longer dream your dreams; they are already dreamt: to be like them, like the Developed, to adopt their dreams”.
He went on to speak of ‘Development’ as a failed as a socioeconomic endeavour, where the aspiration is for everyone to live an ‘American middle-class’ way of life, but also how ordinary people around the world at the grassroots still had their own definition of what ‘the good life’ was for them. He went on to cite examples of people taking things into their own hands ‘the revolution of ordinary men and women’, such as addressing hunger by cultivating food in cities such as Havana and Pasadena, and the Vía Campesina operating in several countries.
Paddy Reilly, representing Kimmage, responded to Gustavo’s speech speaking of the many points of compatibility, of complementarity, between Gustavo’s ideas and the work Kimmage Development Studies Centre has been doing for the past 4 decades. “Since this institute began in 1974, depending upon the perspective you choose, Kimmage has been identified as a service provider, as a place for education and training, as a point of reference for development practitioners, as a locus of experiential learning, as a community of activists and as a space for critical reflection”.
You can listen to Gustavo’s speech in full at the link below, and to Paddy Reilly’s response.