Presenting the People’s Agreement — “mother earth does not belong to us, we belong to it” — worldwide was the first act of the Global People’s Movement for Mother Earth. This was carried out in May by Bolivia’s President Evo Morales and representative activists from five continents.
Representing 35,000 people from 147 countries, they presented the conclusions of 17 workshops — held April 19-21 at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (WPCCC) — to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, to the Non-Alignment Movement (now 130 Third World countries) plus China (the world’s second greatest polluter), and then to leaders of the European Union.
President Morales initiated the people’s conference as a response to the failed COP15 held in Copenhagen, Denmark last December. The so-called Copenhagen Accord was strongly biased in favor of the rich governments and transnational capitalist corporations that continue business as usual: extracting unlimited profits from human labor and natural resources while contaminating Mother Earth with its gaseous emissions and devastating wars.
Although conference delegates decided to take their analysis and proposals to COP16 to be held November-December in Cancun, Mexico, President Morales warned, at a May 6 news conference in New York, that there are only two choices: “Either save capitalism, or save Mother Earth. If Cancun is the same as Copenhagen, then unfortunately the United Nations will lose its authority among people in the world.” He implied that peoples’ movements might replace the UN.
- Key points of the final document arrived at in 17 workshops include:
¤ “Live well” (indigenous philosophy), not “live better” (capitalism’s creed). This enhances the environment holistically and encourages meeting everyone’s basic needs while the latter requires greed and destruction of the planet, and war amongst men and between nations over the earth’s natural resources.
¤ Demand the United Nations force the rich nations (capitalist west) to reduce their CO2 emissions 50% of 1990 levels by 2017, the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol.
¤ These nations must use at least 6% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP), much less than they use for wars, for mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate changes in the developing world.
¤ Recognize the Universal rights of Mother Earth — the right to life, clean water and air, free from contamination; every human being is responsible for respecting and living in harmony with her; guarantee peace and eliminate nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; decolonization of the atmospheric space.
¤ Conduct a worldwide referendum of five points concerning how to protect nature: agree or not to eliminating the capitalist economy; transfer all financing for wars to finance the defense of mother earth; our territories be freed of troops and military bases; create an International Climate and Environmental Justice Tribunal to judge and sanction contaminating nations and firms.
¤ “Capitalism as a patriarchal system of endless growth is incompatible with life on this finite planet…the alternatives [to both capitalism and the Soviet experience with a predatory production system] must lead to a profound transformation of civilization.” Workshop 01 structural causes.
Unique climate conference amidst tumultuous transition
Mother Earth angrily erupted just as the first world conference seeking to protect her was about to begin. Iceland’s volcanic ash darkened European skies and prevented the arrival of hundreds of would-be delegates to the world’s first celebration of mother earth. 17,000 flights were cancelled in the first days and in some countries there were no flights for a week.
In the same period, BP, a major contaminator, could not control an oil drill in the Gulf of Mexico, one of many which the US president had allowed against his campaign promises, and the greatest ecological catastrophe in US history was underway. Even with one million liters of oil daily spreading over an area that quickly grew to the size of Puerto Rico, Obama continued to issue executive exceptions to the freeze on oil well drilling in the seas to his buddies in the oil business. As Morales told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, the only difference between oil millionaire Bush and Obama is the color of skin.
The people’s conference was held in Bolivia’s central Cochabamba department at Tiquipaya (place of flowers). And as it was being prepared and then underway, the revolutionary transition clashed with reactionary intransigence emboldened by the ubiquitous Yankee Empire. However, the Empire’s Enjoy Coca-Cola warring falsetto is now challenged by the descendent of Inca Empire President Evo Morales with his Coca-Colla natural coca energy drink.
From early April to early May, the time of my stay, I witnessed regional elections in which President Morales’ party, Movement towards Socialism (MAS), won overwhelmingly in more areas than ever before. However, MAS was accused to have engaged in fraud in some electoral districts of La Paz by other left-wing political parties, whose members are largely the same ethnic people as Morales, Aymaras. In Ancoraimes for instance, the province where Eugenio Poma was born and raised, four left-wing parties contest for city power. Poma is Bolivia’s ambassador to Denmark, a man I work with. When I visited his hometown, I discovered Aymara against Aymara within the left. Besides MAS, there is the social-democratic MSM (Movement Without Fear), MACA (Ancoraimes Movement for Community Action), and the current mayoral party SFCATK (Your Ancoraimes Peasant Tupak Katari Federation). SFCATK is just a local party and shares power almost equally with MAS yet the former accused the latter of electoral fraud, and there was serious anger between the two Evo-supporting parties.
In the richest eastern department of Santa Cruz and in adjoining Beni and Pando departments, the right-wing parties favoring secession were found culpable of stacking fictitious votes in several municipalities hoping to diminish the fast encroaching MAS party. This led to daily protests and calls for new elections.
Upon the day of my arrival in La Paz, I witnessed a long march protesting vote counts pass in front of the Methodist John Wesley guest house where I stayed. Down the street in the very center of the city stood the departmental electoral court, and before it groups of indigenous inhabitants in La Paz and upper El Alto shouted against the court’s decision not to allow reelections in their particular voting district. The doors were guarded by heavily-armed riot police, who were of the same people.
The departmental electoral courts did decide to have new elections in 154 voting districts in 45 municipalities of four of the nine departments. This would affect 52,000 voters. New elections were held within the month and did not affect the original outcome.
MAS took six of the nine governorships, with 2/3 majority in five of them. In the other three departments, right-wing opposition parties won, yet in all departments the voters for MAS greatly increased over 2005 elections. In the former, MAS had 33% of the regional vote, nearly one million, while in this one they nearly doubled to 1.83 million or 50.4%. They also won the majority of council seats in 229 — up from 101 — of the country’s 337 municipalities.
MSM took second place, with 14%, a significant increase, and it won key mayor spots including La Paz and Oruro, Morales’ hometown. The rightist Verde party took Santa Cruz. Its new governor, Rubén Costas, is under investigation by the attorney general for possible conspiracy to secede. He is one of 300 members of the secret Caballero (Gentlemen’s League of the East) club, some of whose members allegedly stood behind an attempt to murder President Morales, in April 2009. Three of the conspirators were killed in a battle with police. Among them was Eduardo Rózsa, a former mercenary with Croatians in the Yugoslav war. Two witnesses to the conspiracy, which would have included other mercenaries in Argentina, the Painted Faces, spoke before the Senate at the same time as the outcry about the elections. They named names and linked leading capitalists and politicians to the conspiracy. The state investigation continues with probable charges to be forthcoming in some months.
Amidst elections and re-elections, assassination and coup d’état plans, a dispute broke out in the western province of Caranvá over where a citrus-fruit plant should be located. For some unknown reason to me, inhabitants were quite violent about the authorities’ decision and began smashing things, including using dynamite and refusing trash collection. Two people died violently. Thirty people were arrested in those days. At the same time, in eastern Santa Cruz, a large group of People Without Land seized parts of a sugar plantation where 800 workers earn a decent living. Many of the hard laborers were attacked by the “homeless”, or peasants without land. Suffering some injuries, the workers then defended the owners’ land, because this gave them a stabile income. Marginals pitted against Workers!
If that wasn’t enough for the country to bear at once, at the end of April, the public workers unions, along with the important and powerful miners’ union, called for spot strikes against the government’s proposal for a meager 5% increase in wages. And its offer for pensions and changes in the labor code were far less than the workers expected and demanded.
Public workers unions, under the umbrella of the overall Bolivian Workers Center (COB), challenged the Morales government for the first time since coming to office in 2006. Hundreds of thousands marched and more went on strike for greater wage increases, for greater and equal pensions and an improved labor code. Some workers even conducted hunger strikes and a few threw dynamite at government offices. Factory workers in La Paz attempted to takeover the Labor Ministry. The government threatened striking teachers with docking their salaries. Policemen’s wives went on a hunger strike protesting an offer for 3% increase. The minimum wage was raised by 5% to the sum of $96 (679 bolivianos) per month. Many civilian workers were upset that not long ago the government gave a 36% increase to the army across the board. Did Evo need soldier-backing more than that of workers, asked some workers, and not only anarchists and antagonistic Trotskyists? In Bolivia, there are many adherents to all shades of red.
COB leader, Pedro Montes, is considered a moderate, even a traitor, by not a few workers and local and regional union leaders, because he sought to appease the workers. He is known to be close — too close, say many — to Morales. But the mounting pressure from below forced his hand and he stood for the strikes and an indefinite one begun nationally on May 10 — (still in effect as of this writing). Although not all workers are in agreement with the strikes, national backing is strong and many workers in unions with only private company contracts are in sympathy with public workers. This is hard for the government to tackle, also on a personal level. For the first time since Morales’ presidency, the unions held Mayday marches without him. The president was not invited.
Instead of marching with, and speaking to, the workers, President Morales held his Mayday speech in his safest city, Cochabama. Here he announced the nationalization of three foreign-held electric generator firms, and the successful worker cooperative ELFC (Empresa de Luz y Fuerza de Cochabama). Electric firms from Britain, Switzerland and France complained that they had recently been told by government officials that no plans existed to nationalize their companies, of which they shared proceeds with the government. And until two years ago, the worker-owned ELFC was under foreign ownership. The 400 workers, along with 120,000 city dwelling shareholders, took over. The workers have become quite efficient and have added funds to the national coffers.
So why did the national government take them over, and do so against the will of city dwellers and the company workers? And why would Morales’ government send in police and troops and take over the electric company buildings at 04:00 a.m Mayday? Although workers were camping in, expecting some such reaction, there was no violence, albeit there was disillusionment. All electric worker unions signed letters of strong protest. The government replied that with these seizures the national electric network would control 80% of the energy industry, and a 20% decrease in electric rates. Workers in Sucre, with whom I marched that historic day, doubted the government decision.
Though there should be no doubt that this is a massive strike with massive backing — 39 of the 50 COB sectors abided by the strike1 — and that most protestors are Morales voters, Morales and Vice-President Alvaro Garcia made unsubstantiated and unpopular remarks that the right-wing and the U.S. Embassy stood behind the conflict, as though they were the cause of it. No doubt the real enemy will use anything to its advantage, but this must not lead us to ignore our own inadequacies, differences and debates. Even Morales’ friend COB leader Montes denied his accusation.
North-South tensions, the boiling national class conflict, sad struggles within the working class as well as between campesinos and jungle-dwelling indigenous tribes over Mother Earth usage —to live well or to live better contradictions within the lower and middle classes — in addition to rightist attempts to secede and to murder the provoking leader. This is one busy man, this president, who comes from coca leaf indigenous farmers. He also comes from the soccer culture and the homespun musicians too. Evo hails as well from grass roots movements, from the war for water and for the coca. He is a natural leader. He made promises, spiritual and practical. His activist brothers and sisters remind Evo of his promises and make him stick to them.
Often there are contradictions, even conflicting interests amongst the peoples. He stresses unity. Others stress real participatory democracy. He agrees, also with equal rights. Already, half the ministers are women. Yet no matter where he looks, the president is under critique. He must not go back on his word. He must not be like what he said of Obama. He must not rest, this activist president Evo Morales.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Choquehuanca, coordinated with the renowned private university at Tiquipaya, Univalle, to host the unique climate conference. Classes were suspended and many students helped with logistics. We were accredited with a photo and number, which had to be checked each time we entered the campus.
The final program included more than we had anticipated. Aside from the workshops, there were three important speeches by President Morales and others by visiting presidents. In addition, there were several panel discussions on main themes that ran during our work sessions. At times there were three panels at once. Then there were the outdoor stands where groups sold their wares, mostly information and propaganda, but also textiles and the new drink Coca Colla complete with a bag of coca leaves was on sale for 10 bolivianos ($1.40) for a half-liter. At that price, four times the drink of the death squads, Coca-Cola did not have to worry. There were also outdoor speeches and music during the day to distract those weary of workshop concentration.
I concentrated on workshops 1 and 16, structural causes of the climate changes and activities to protect Mother Earth. I wanted to assure the presence of language about, and activities against, the wars. My friend Jamie, an attorney and law professor, took on workshop 5 about a climate tribunal, and his girlfriend Lorraine attended workshop 2 on harmony with nature. In addition, there were workshops on Mother Earth’s rights, Evo’s proposed 5-point referendum, the 50 million climate migrants, indigenous peoples, climate debt and adaptation, financing, development and transfer of technology, carbon market dangers, the Kyoto Protocol, agriculture and food sovereignty, compared visions, and the forests.
Each workshop was to have two presidents selected by the participants. One was usually a Bolivian. There was also a secretary and two local organizers, who kept notes and drew up a draft of commentaries during the evening to be read the next morning. This took place three days and on the third day we were to decide on a final draft to be edited and approved by the presidents. The overall People’s Agreement was read from the podium on the 22nd, the day of closure and celebration of Mother Earth. Then the workshop resolutions were to be edited and written in both Spanish and English. The latter was published on May 3 by the government newspaper Cambio as a 16-page supplement. All documents can be read on the conference webpage.
Preparations for the conference were extensive and well done yet no one foresaw that we would be twice as many people as expected. So some workshops had to be closed to would-be delegates for lack of space. The largest room could hold perhaps two hundred persons but many rooms held less than one hundred. And it was difficult to allow everyone to speak, at least more than twice or thrice. Not everyone thought that their ideas were taken into account, and some expressed the opinion that workshop resolutions were basically decided by Bolivian organizers or leaders beforehand.
My own take on this is that participatory democracy was the order of the week yet with textual help prepared by Bolivians beforehand. It would not have been possible to take into account all discussions and debates and wrap them into one resolution times 17 in just three days.
But I have one major criticism about the process in regards to the lack of any mention of “war” in workshop 16’s declaration. The wars were part of the discussion — I had sent in a two-page proposal with argumentation to both 01 and 16 workshops. Yet not one activity concerning the damage that wars cause to humanity and Mother Earth was adopted. This baffles me especially since Morales speaks of the wars as a major cause of Mother Earth damage, and wars were included in the declaration of structural causes and other workshops.
In Morales’ excellent “10 Commandments to Save the Planet, Humankind and Life”, the first one is “To end with capitalism”; followed by “Renounce War” with figures of damage to Mother Earth, which I used in my presentation. I also provided evidence of this in “Cambio”, April 16, “The wars of the Empire kill Mother Earth”.
Nevertheless, I had to fight three days running in workshop 01 to get a few lines included in the resolution about causes and even then the most important facts and figures were left out.
I sent this in to organizers several weeks before the conference, and then argued for it:
Besides the daily murder, maiming and torturing of the invaded peoples of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the U.S. government-military is contaminating the entire environment and the globe with its weapons of aggressive and “preventative” war. We, united in Bolivia at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights, declare that wars, especially those instigated and perpetuated by the United States of America, the self-styled policeman of the world, is the single major cause of pollution, the major cause of destroying Mother Earth. We hereby pledge to act in multifarious ways to end these wars. The anti-war movement must be revived and linked internationally. Anti-war activities must take number one priority for all of us who wish to preserve human life and the planet.
I included supportive evidence.
Co-director of International Action Center, Sara Flounders, recently wrote, “Pentagon’s Role in Global Catastrophe”. The Pentagon, as Flounders wrote, “is the largest institutional user of petroleum products and energy in general. Yet the Pentagon has a blanket exemption in all international climate agreements.” In 2006, the CIA Factbook stated that only 35 countries, out of 210, consume more oil per day than does the Pentagon. Officially, that is 320,000 barrels a day but that does not include fuel consumed by contractors or consumed in leased and privatized facilities, nor the fuel energy used to produce and maintain their “death-dealing equipment or the bombs, grenades or missiles they fire.”
“The Pentagon wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; its secret operations in Pakistan; its equipment on more than 1,000 U.S. bases around the world; its 6,000 facilities in the U.S.; all NATO operations; its aircraft carriers, jet aircraft, weapons testing, training and sales will not be counted against U.S. greenhouse gas limits or included in any count.” How can that be?
The Pentagon demanded during Kyoto Accord negotiations that “all of its military operations worldwide and all operations it participates in with the U.N. and/or NATO be completely exempted from measurements and reductions.” It secured this concession and then had the audacity to refuse to sign the accords. Yet to this day, the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change ignores all US military emissions of CO2 and all other lethal toxics and radiation.
That means that when it is written in workshop 01’s declaration that the United States increased its Greenhouse Gas emissions by 16.8% from 1990 to 2007 (while the rich block as a whole increased emissions by 11%), this does not include GHG emitted by the Pentagon and its wars. This is certainly a major factor when arguing to retain the Kyoto Protocol as does Evo and workshop 10.
Besides spreading CO2, U.S. weapons include depleted uranium, which “have spread tens of thousands of pounds of micro-particles of radioactive and highly toxic waste throughout the Middle East, Central Asia and the Balkans”, see Sara Flounders.
“The U.S. sells land mines and cluster bombs that are a major cause of delayed explosives, maiming and disabling especially peasant farmers and rural peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America. For example, Israel dropped more than 1 million U.S.-provided cluster bombs on Lebanon during its 2006 invasion.”
“The U.S. war in Vietnam left large areas so contaminated with the Agent Orange herbicide that today…dioxin contamination is 300 to 400 times higher than ‘safe’ levels,” causing high rates of cancer and birth defects.
Environmentalists Against War activist, Gar Smith, wrote that the U.S. dropped 25 million bombs and 72 million liters of chemical weapons on Vietnam between 1960 and 1975. Additional millions of bombs and liters of chemicals were also dropped on Cambodia and Laos. Fourteen percent of Vietnam’s forests were ruined forever; 15,000 square kilometers of land destroyed.
Smith added that in the 1991 U.S. war against Iraq, 80,000 tons of climate-warming gases were dropped by the Pentagon in just a few weeks. In 2003, the U.S. hit Iraq in the first few weeks with 28,000 rockets, bombs and missiles, many using toxic depleted uranium. The Pentagon wars in Iraq and elsewhere include the use of lead, nitrates, nitrites, hydrocarbons, phosphorus, radioactive debris, corrosive and toxic heavy metals.
The US spends half the world’s expenditures of $1.3 trillion on wars and defense. The US and Europe just gave their major capitalists $3 trillion to bail them out of their self-made financial crisis. These rich governments offer .03% of that for developing countries to “adapt” to climate changes.
Yet workshop 01 used only the following text about war in a three-page declaration of causes of climate change:
Capitalism responds through militarization, repression and war to the resistance of the people. It requires a potent military industry, the militarization of societies and war as conditions necessary for its process of accumulation as well as for its control over territories, mineral and energy resources, and to suppress the struggles of the people. Wars, through their direct impact on the environment (massive consumption of combustible fossil fuels, oil spills, GHG emissions, impoverished uranium contamination, white phosphorus, etc.) have become one of the primary destroyers of Mother Earth.
No facts and figures and no encouraging call to action. The four-page “action strategies” of workshop 16 call for scores of actions during the rest of 2010. They include days and weeks of “mobilization in defense of Mother Earth” yet nothing about capitalism’s wars.
I am simply at a loss to understand this neglect especially given that this Global People’s Movement could unite environmentalists with a revived anti-war movement, currently dormant, and with the strong addition of an anti-capitalist analysis as the core problem for humanity and Mother Earth.
Then there was the controversy about “workshop 18”. One of Evo’s strongest supporting groups, the indigenous Conamaq, wanted a workshop on national preservation of the earth including banning or curtailing the extraction industry from removing petroleum and minerals. In a closing interview with Democracy Now, Goodman asked Morales of this dilemma, given that a fourth of national income comes from this industry. He replied that while studies had to made, and controls utilized, “of what are we going to live” if this demand is accepted?
Before the conference began, Conamaq leader Tata Quispe asked for the workshop to be included, but Evo said no. There would be no workshops on national issues of Mother Earth protection. Nevertheless, Foreign Affairs Minister Choquehuanca later announced that “workshop 18” would be allowed to proceed as a separate event two blocks outside the university grounds. It was well attended and referred to in most of the national media. The mining and petroleum industries, as well as deforestation, were criticized, and the participants asked Bolivia’s government to take into consideration its own contamination of Pachamama (Aymara for Mother Earth.)
Running parallel to this controversy over national contamination, indigenous Trinitario Mojeño people from the Isiboro Sécure Park in northern Cochabamba and Beni provinces attended the people’s conference and learned that a peasant group living outside the jungle had approved government plans to build a major highway that would cut through their virgin territory. According to these jungle dwellers, their lifestyle would be ruined; many animals, such as jaguars, tigers, deer and many unique bird species, would disappear. Native leader Antonio Ignacio Moya said his people, who live off the land hunting and gathering, were not even consulted about the plans. And it was at this conference that he learned that Evo Morales had recently signed a law for the construction of the highway, which should cost $415 million.
The new constitution, chapter 4 regarding the rights of indigenous peoples, requires that any alternation of their territories must be approved by them. Yet the only public hearings on this highway were held outside their territory and attended by farmers who would benefit from a highway connecting eastern and western provinces. Furthermore, no environment impact study had been conducted. The April 25 edition of Opinion pointed out that in the last 18 years since the first law aimed at protecting the environment was signed, no contaminator has been sanctioned. And, according to national environmentalists, nothing has changed since Morales became president.
Workshop 14 on forests concluded that: “The Peoples are ancestral protectors, conservators, and dwellers of their native forests and jungles; they are autonomous and sovereigns of inalienable, indefeasible, unattachable, and nontransferable territories.”
But progressive governments in countries where capitalism is still the dominant economy, such as Bolivia, Venezuela and Brazil, deforestation and extraction of fossil fuels is still going strong, and jungle dwellers are still being ignored.
Who is to shake these resolution words in the face of this still popular indigenous president? “The direct involvement of organized Peoples in the management and administration of protected areas must be promoted in all countries as part of policies integrating Peoples and directly relating native forests and jungles, territory, and water basins… Institute a new process where Peoples who depend on forests and jungles participate fully and effectively in all actions to mange and conserve forests.”
Inaugural Chicken Speech
Screwing back a couple days to the inauguration, April 20, I must speak of Evo’s “Chicken Speech” since in many countries this was the only mention in the mass media of the people’s conference, and they got it wrong.
Some 25,000 people, including representatives from 56 governments were present. We listened to various musicians and watched native dancers. A ceremony of permission from Mother Earth to conduct our conference was performed. A woman singer gave a tremendous representation of Pachamama and a shaman stroked the air with incense and asked us all to stand for Mother Earth.
The first speakers were activist representatives from the five populated continents. Then the United Nations Cepal representative, Alicia Barcena, offered greetings from the secretary-general. I felt a commotion run through the audience, then whistles and boos. The UN spokeswoman’s voice cracked. “We represent the people too,” was met with more boos. “If you don’t want us here, we’ll retreat,” was met with whistles. She sat down.
Evo came to the podium amidst a standing ovation. He did not refer to the UN woman but launched right into his speech keeping his eyes on us. No notes. He spoke of United Nations double speak, but COP15 was not a failure because it was a triumph of people’s movements, and it led to this historic conference and celebration. We will construct a new system, one of harmony among us and between us and Mother Earth.
Then Evo explained how the capitalist economy seeks to turn humans into consumers, and without sufficient or good nutrients. He spoke of transgenic elements transnational corporations put into our food, of GMOs, and female hormones inserted into industrialized chickens, and “therefore when men eat these chickens, they experience deviances in being men.” Evo suggested, instead, that we only eat homegrown chickens, criollos, which are only fed naturally. The fact is that the man is right. Men can experience reduced testicles and develop “sports tits”, enlarged breasts, just as can women from eating products stuffed with GMO and quick growth medicines.
Nevertheless, the national right-wing media twisted Evo’s words and his meaning. He was misquoted as saying that men who ate industrialized chickens could become “sexual deviants”, clearly a reference to homosexuality. This was picked up by international news bureaus and gay groups in some countries, such as Spain, protested. Evo sent a letter to the Spain federation of homosexuals and lesbians explaining he meant no disrespect.
Evo also recommended naturally grown foods to prevent baldness. Evo put down Coca-Cola as well. He told a story about plumbers using coca-cola to unplug stopped up toilets because it has so much acid in it. He recommended instead that we drink chica, a fermented corn drink. I thought he missed an opportunity here to plug Coca-Colla. And I also thought that Evo could have mentioned other good reasons to boycott Coca-Cola, such as its hiring paramilitaries in Colombia and Guatemala to murder its workers who seek to bargain for better working conditions, and who join unions, and in India where its firm drains the soil of its water and nutrients and causes hundreds of thousands of farmers to quit their land.
Anyway, the conference is now known by some in the world as the “Homosexual Chicken Speech”. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, ran an 18-line story on the conference in which 16 were devoted to that theme. Only the last two lines referred to anything else: “The Cochabamba conference ended Thursday with accords calling for industrialized nations to ‘change the system of capitalism that is imposed upon us’.” At least the closing sentence was accurate.
National commentators went to great lengths to characterize their president as a buffoon, who uses “grotesque” language to insult his opponents.
Evo did criticize UN COP organizers for serving drinks and food on throwaway plastic cups and plates, whose production contaminates the environment. When food was served during the people’s conference, ceramic plates were used.
Evo Morales concluded his talk by explaining how capitalism invents wars in order to accumulate more and more, and when people resist they are murdered in wars. But, he noted optimistically, the voice of the United States is heeded less and less. And our presence in such great numbers from so many lands shows that capitalism is at a crossroads.
On the 22nd, our last day, the sun was so strong that firefighters sprayed the audience of 25,000+ with water. Seeing so many banners naming the true enemy of humanity and the planet—capitalism—made me happy and reminded me of my young activist days in the United States. After the inspiring 60s turned into Reaganism, it seemed to me and many other revolutionaries that the vanguard for socialism would not come from the most industrialized—and thus most pacified—workers but rather from some of the most exploited and oppressed, namely, from Latin America, and where Che Guevara is still revered.
Here, in this stadium in Cochabamba, I was witnessing that thought come true. Now there are the eight ALBA countries, and tens of thousands gathered here had understood that we cannot advance the spiritual aspects of humanity; we cannot eradicate hunger and poverty nor maintain a lively planet with this depraved economy. A sign showed us that “Bolivia is the capital of dignity”. We were happy and felt dignified chewing on coca leaves and listening to the People’s Agreement being read by a Bolivian woman and a Usamerican man.
Then Tomas Borge, one of the best of the Sandinista leaders in my opinion, spoke of the revolutionary tide rising in Latin America, a wave started by Cuba and under the leadership of Fidel Castro. He was followed by one of the many vice-presidents from that island-nation, Esteban Lazo, who read a rather tiresome speech. Then came fiery Hugo. Surprisingly, he mentioned the sad fall of the Soviet Union and that today was the birthday of that great leader, Lenin. There was little applause. But he went on to tell us we should read his works, that of Marx, Bolivar, Sucre, Fidel and Che as well. Chavez recalled that, in 2001, Fidel had told him that ALCA (the US-led “free trade” pact first with Mexico and Canada, and later attempts to corral all of Latin America) would fail. No one could have believed him then but four years later it was dead and ALBA was begun.
ALBA, Chavez told us, would include the people’s conference declarations and proposals. And we will all go to Cancun “with more fury”.
Evo Morales’ closing speech had no chickens in it. He spoke seriously about obligating the rich nations to respect and adopt our resolutions. “If they don’t then the peoples will do it.” Evo referred to progress in his own land since his presidency. For the first time in many decades, there has not been a budget deficit, and the country is “better off without the IMF and the United States,” which had just cut out its aid to the country.
“Fidel began the fight for our Mother Earth in 1992 when he told us Latin Americans not to pay the ever-rising debt to their banks. And he told us it is they, the rich countries and their rich banks, who owe a climate debt. We have to defeat capitalism and imperialism, fight their military bases in Latin America. We can do it.”
The next day, hundreds of us activists and Bolivian students and soldiers planted 10,000 trees on one side of Kötu Mayu mountain, in Tiquipaya. The president planted Tipas (the tall Rosewood tree). I planted the Jacaranda, which sprouts lovely fragrant trumpet-shaped blooms. This was the beginning of reforestation planned with planting 10 million seedlings each year for five years.
For these days we 35,000 people were of one common mind: unity against capitalism and its depravities. We hope that environmentalists and others around the world will listen to our conclusions and draw from them the understanding that as long as capitalism exists, our planet will continue dying and one day no life will awake.
- My figures are taken from local and national newspapers including those backing and not backing the national government. I do not use extreme right-wing sources. [↩]