Category Archives: Cochabamba

World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth

Statement on the UN Climate Conference in Warsaw by Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director, Indigenous Environmental Network

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Tom Goldtooth, IEN

The United Nations climate meetings involve the big powers of the United States and other industrialized “developed” countries. Lurking in the background are the financial sectors and investors of capital often having meetings in 4-5 star hotels.

Everything I have seen from the industrialized countries (including G20 countries) is false solutions towards addressing climate change. They have been playing a game of chess with climate.

As articulated at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in 2010 in Cochabamba, Bolivia, the root cause of climate change is capitalism. IEN had a delegation in Cochabamba actively involved in the outcome documents. The problem is countries will continue to drill, dig, and burn up every drop of oil, gas, and coal; no matter how expensive it is, till it runs out globally.

After fossil fuel resources are depleted, the world will move into a global bio-energy and bio-economy (plants, energy crops, trees, algae, etc.). To do this, they need full access to land (and water), with no restrictions – worldwide. Everyone’s rights to land and water will be diminished.

The issues of access to and political power games over Energy and Water will be the battleground for our next generation. It will be over the Privatization of Nature – of Mother Earth. We will witness more deregulation of corporate activity, more privatization and commodification of the natural “commons”. They have given themselves rights to have Dominion over Nature.

What will it take to turn this around?

Many are grappling with this question. But, I believe a mass movement globally is needed to resist this insanity. But, it also involves a spiritual awakening. As I have said many times, the people of the world must re-evaluate what their relationship is to the sacredness of Mother Earth.

As Indigenous Peoples, those that follow our teachings, we know what our responsibilities are to the Natural Laws of Mother Earth. But the industrialized man, industrialized societies do not know this. IEN has spoken to this for over 22 years!

The modern world of capitalism and its world of corporate schizophrenia are already co-opting our Indigenous leadership with false solutions via benefit-sharing scenarios, or to be nice “Indians” and just share our traditional knowledge for adaptation to climate change; rather than our participation demanding real change and action.

Real binding commitments and real actions to reduce emissions at source must be the major path in these negotiations. But, this is not the agenda in Warsaw at this time. This is why the tar sands in Canada is ground zero in Turtle Island – North America to fighting for climate justice; for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and for a new colonial paradigm (not ours, but their system) that moves away from a Property Rights regime, towards a system that recognizes Earth Jurisprudence.

–Tom Goldtooth, Executive Director of Indigenous Environmental Network and member of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, the Indigenous caucus within the UNFCCC

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Gazprom, Total to explore promising oil and gas fields in Bolivia

Note: Well, so much for the Rights of Mother Earth…if major energy corporations are now seen as “partners” in Morales’ Bolivia, maybe Morales’ Bolivia isn’t quite the dream world for which so many fought.

-The GJEP Team

August 1, 2013. Source: Latin American Herald Tribune

Contract YPFB - Gazprom - Total - 1Russian gas giant Gazprom and French energy major Total plan to invest $130 million to explore the Azero block, a highly promising area in Bolivia’s southeast.

State-owned Bolivian energy company YPFB, Gazprom and Total signed the contract Thursday in a ceremony presided over by Bolivian President Evo Morales, who expressed the country’s “deep satisfaction” over the deal and said foreign companies now operate in the Andean nation as partners not “bosses.”

Morales noted that the Bolivian government took in just $300 million in oil and gas revenue in 2005, a year before his government nationalized the sector, while last year those revenues climbed to more than $4 billion.

“Those are the results of the nationalization,” he said.
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It begins with respect: The meaning of living well for the Tseltal and Tsotsil Mayans of Chiapas

Note: Jeff Conant is the former Communications Director for Global Justice Ecology Project.

-The GJEP Team

By Jeff Conant, July 30, 2013. Source: Intercontinental Cry

A dialogue with Pedro Hernández Luna and Miguel Sanchez Alvarez concerning el lekil kuxlejal, June 29, 2013

Throughout the Americas and the world, the name of Chiapas, Mexico, has become synonymous with struggles for indigenous resistance. From the First Indigenous Congress held in San Cristóbal de las Casas in 1974 to the 1994 uprising in which the Zapatista Army of National Liberation launched a struggle for land and liberty that would change the political geography of Mexico and shake loose historical memory across the continent and around the world, to the 2001 March for Indigenous Dignity in which thousands descended on Mexico City to demand that the congress of the nation amend the constitution to include a Law of Indigenous Rights and Culture, Chiapas has been at the vibrant heart of the construction of new forms of indigenous struggle and territorial autonomy.

One set of beliefs, generally translated as el buen vivir, or living well, is at the heart of indigenous resistance. A similar concept, the Quechua notion of sumak causay, gained a certain recognition among climate justice activists following the Cochabamba People’s Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth convened by President Evo Morales of Bolivia in 2009. Assumak causay was brought to the awareness of the non-indigenous by Andean social movements a few years ago, now in Chiapas a generation of autocthonous scholars is bringing to light – theorizing, they would say – the local understanding of buen vivir: a concept articulated in Tseltal and Tsotsil as el lek’il kuxlejal.

I first encountered el lekil kuxlejal in 2009 in a book by scholar Antonio Paoli called Education, Autonomy, and lekil kuxlejal. Paoli resists a simple definition of lekil kuxlejal in favor of giving its socio-linguistic context amidst related concepts such as k’inal, (meaning environment, including both ecosystem and mind) and the broader slamalil k’inal, a tranquility of mind on which the state of lekil kuxlejal depends. “lekil kuxlejal, or buen vivir,” Paoli writes, “is not a utopia, because it is not a non-existent dream. No, lekil kuxlejal has been degraded but not extinguished, and it is possible to recover it.”
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From water wars to water scarcity: Bolivia’s cautionary tale

By Emily Achtenberg, June 6, 2013. Source: North American Congress on Latin America

When Bolivian President Evo Morales arrived at the new Uyuni airport last August and found no water running from the tap, he publicly reprimanded and promptly dismissed his Minister of Water. As it happened, the pipes were merely frozen. The incident underscores the critical—and highly symbolic—role of water in the politics of this landlocked Andean nation.

Water Wars

Cochabamaba 2000. Photo: thehealthculture.com

Cochabamaba 2000. Photo: thehealthculture.com

In April 2000, a popular struggle against water privatization in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city, ignited a chain of events that profoundly altered the nation’s political landscape. The Water War was precipitated when SEMAPA, Cochabamba’s municipal water company, was sold to a transnational consortium controlled by U.S.-based Bechtel in exchange for debt relief for the Bolivian government and new World Bank loans to expand the water system.

A new law allowed Bechtel to administer water resources that SEMAPA did not even control, including the communal water systems prevalent in the ever-expanding southern periphery and in the countryside, which had never been hooked into the grid. Local farmer-irrigators feared that “even the rain” collected and distributed for centuries by their associations would fall within Bechtel’s grasp.

These concerns, along with a 50% average increase in water rates for SEMAPA customers, prompted the formation of a broad alliance of farmers, factory workers, rural and urban water committees, neighborhood organizations, students, and middleclass professionals in opposition to water privatization. They were joined by the militant federation of coca growers from the Chapare, led by then labor leader Evo Morales, who lent his considerable expertise in organizing civic strikes, road blockades, and massive popular assemblies. Eventually, Bechtel was forced to abrogate its contract, return SEMAPA to public control, and withdraw its legal claim against the Bolivian government for $50 million in compensation.
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Quinoa: To Buy or Not to Buy…Is this the right question?

By Tanya Kerssen, Food First Research Coordinator and leader of upcoming delegation Bolivia: Llamas, Quinoa, and Andean Food Sovereingty

BOL-quinoa-e1342206575917-225x300We’ve been hearing a lot about quinoa lately.[i] While US consumers prize it as a delicious ‘super-food,’ there is growing anxiety about the impact of the quinoa boom in the Andes, and particularly Bolivia, the world’s top producing country. The media has focused primarily on the fact that global demand is driving up the price of quinoa, placing it beyond the reach of poor Bolivians—even of quinoa farmers themselves—leaving them to consume nutritionally vacuous, but cheap, refined wheat products such as bread and pasta. By this logic, some suggest, northern consumers should boycott the ‘golden grain’ to depress its price and make it accessible once again.

Others point out that the impoverished farmers of Bolivia’s highlands are at long last getting a fair price for their crop—one of the few crops adapted to their arid, high altitude environment. In this view, global markets are finally “working” for peasants, and a consumer boycott would only hurt the hemisphere’s poorest farmers.

In short, the debate has largely been reduced to the invisible hand of the marketplace, in which the only options for shaping our global food system are driven by (affluent) consumers either buying more or buying less. It’s the same logic that makes us feel like we’ve done our civic duty by buying a pound of fair trade coffee. This isn’t to dismiss the many benefits of fair trade or other forms of ethical consumption, but the so-called quinoa quandary demonstrates the limits of consumption-driven politics. Because whichever way you press the lever (buy more/buy less) there are bound to be negative consequences, particularly for poor farmers in the Global South. To address the problem we have to analyze the system itself, and the very structures that constrain consumer and producer choices.

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Struggle for land and water in the Andes

By Bill Weinberg.  Source: WW4 Report

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March 22, 2012 World Water Day march at the Conga site. Photo: Bill Weinberg

In what has become an emblematic struggle against government plans to open peasant lands to mineral interests throughout the sierras of Peru, local campesinos continue to hold strikes and protests in the northern region of Cajamarca—in defiance of a state of emergency and a heavy presence of army and National Police troops.

The months-long campaign to halt the mega-scale Conga gold mine high in Cajamarca’s alpine zone—which Colorado-based Newmont Mining hopes to develop with Peruvian partners and investment from the World Bank—cost five lives last July 3 and 4, when government troops opened fire on protesters in the rural towns of Celendín and Bambamarca. The youngest of the fallen was only 17 years old.

At issue are four highland lakes that would be destroyed at the site where Newmont hopes to develop the giant pit mine. The company proposed to replace the lakes with new artificial reservoirs, and says this will not affect the underlying watersheds. But in an aridifying region, the local campesinos pledged they would not allow the lakes to be destroyed. When President Ollanta Humala was on the campaign trail last year, he promised to put an end to the project; upon taking office in July 2011, he promptly reversed his position and started backing it.
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Bolivia: Indigenous demand autonomy from state

By Bill Weinberg, February 7, 2013.  Source: WW4 Report

374332_gdBolivia’s Aymara indigenous alliance CONAMAQ issued an open letter Jan. 27 to President Evo Morales, the official rights watchdog Defensoría del Pueblo, and the independent Permanent Human Rights Association of Bolivia (APDHB),  charging that the ruling Movement to Socialism-Political Instrument for the Sovereignty of the Peoples (MAS-IPSP) is seeking to divide their organization. The statement warned of the possibility for violence at CONAMAQ’s upcoming Mara Tantachawi, or annual gathering. “The MAS-IPSP government of Evo Morales…in the different suyus [regions] is organizing and mobilizing groups of confrontation led by ex-authorities suspended by CONAMAQ…to sabotage [hacer fracasar] this event and take over by force the CONAMAQ council for political ends,” the statement reads.

In the end, parallel CONAMAQ gatherings were held Jan. 29—one led by the organization’s council in Sucre and one by a MAS-aligned breakaway faction in La Paz. Both claimed to be the organization’s legitimate Seventh Mara Tantachawi. (Bolpress, Jan. 29 FM BoliviaEl Diario, Cochabamba, Jan. 27 Jan. 27)
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Evo Morales will mark the solstice by sailing across Lake Titicaca in one of the largest reed ships built in modern times

By Sara Shahriari in Suriqui, Thursday 20 December 2012 Source: guardian.co.uk

The looming end of the Mayan long-count calendar has prompted fervid doomsday predictions on the internet, mass arrests in China, and a small tourism boom in southern Mexico. But whereas some believe Friday’s solstice will mark a fiery endpoint to the world as we know it, Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, says the date is the beginning of a new era of peace and love.

Morales will mark the day by boarding one of the largest reed ships built in modern times and join thousands of people for celebrations on the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca.

“According to the Mayan calendar, the 21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time,” he told the UN in September. “It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth.”

The Bolivian government has hailed the solstice as the start of an age in which community and collectivity will prevail over capitalism and individuality. Those themes have long been present in Morales’s discourse, especially in the idea of vivir bien, or living well. He has stressed the importance of a harmonious balance between human life and the planet, though some people question its application in Bolivia, where the economy depends heavily on mining, oil and gas industries.

Morales has attempted to shake off European cultural denomination, creating a vice ministry of decolonisation and celebrating Native American beliefs and customs.

The 15-metre totora reed boat is a replica of those that plied Titicaca’s waters for thousands of years. The Thunupa is the creation of Demetrio Limachi, 67, a renowned Aymara boat builder who worked with the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl.

Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and situated more than 12,000ft above sea level. All along the shoreline the flexible, sweet-smelling totora reeds ripple in the wind, sheltering water birds, serving as food for livestock, and providing raw material for boats. Limachi learned to dry the reed and bind it into cylinders as a child, creating the tiny craft that local people used for fishing and transport before the rise of more durable wooden or fibreglass boats. But when the Limachi family crossed paths with Heyerdahl, they became wrapped up in international adventures of epic proportions.

Heyerdahl, who had already sailed a balsa wood raft from Peru to Polynesia and attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a papyrus boat, was fascinated by early sea travel. That’s how a young Limachi found himself travelling to Morocco to spend three months building the Ra II, which set out in 1970 and successfully travelled from Morocco to Barbados, more than 3,700 miles (6,000km) away. The Aymara boat builders were at first shocked by the size of the boat Heyerdahl wanted them to construct, because until their boats had been just three to four metres long. But effort showed they could build bigger, and the Thunupa, now ready to sail across Lake Titicaca, is the child of those experiments.

“As our parents taught us – that’s how I am teaching our children,” Limachi said. It’s a skill his son Porfirio has taken to heart. “Building this boat united the community,” said Porfirio, as he watched young men on the island of Suriqui bind the reeds of the Thunupa tight with yellow cords under a bright blue sky. “It’s preserving the values and the knowledge of the Aymara of Lake Titicaca.”

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Bolivia: UN Convention on Biodiversity has lost its track

Note: Global Justice Ecology Project has watched the steady takeover of the UNCBD by business interests, which dominate its outcomes.  Now with the Green Economy, the CBD is busily creating schemes to advance the commodification of all life to allow business as usual to continue as long as possible.  The Convention on Biological Diversity has become the Convention on Buying Diversity…

–The GJEP Team

by M Suchitra, Oct 19, 2012.  Source: Down to Earth

Bolivia is one of the few countries that has consistently been opposing treating biodiversity as a commodity at the ongoing Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity at Hyderabad. It has raised its voice against pro-market approaches in implementing the Strategic Plan and Aichi Targets of CBD. Even during the high-level ministerial segment of CoP 11, Bolivia did not leave any room for guessing while expressing its views. Diego Pacheco, head of the Bolivian delegation, explained his country’s stand to M Suchitra. Some excerpts:

Diego Pacheco

Diego Pacheco (photo by M Suchitra)


On many occasions, Bolivia has expressed its apprehensions about the implementation of CBD objectives. How do you view the processes of CBD?

We are totally against mainstreaming biodiversity and ecosystems with a profit-oriented, pro-market approach. Natural resources are the treasures of the poor. We are against taking biological resources out of the hands of local communities and indigenous people and making natural resources mere commodities. We believe it is not right to move biodiversity conservation and its sustainable use into plain economic terms to achieve the objectives of the CBD.

Are you saying that CBD has lost its track?

Yes. Why should we conceal the truth? When CBD was concluded for the first time in 1992, before the Earth Summit in Rio, it was considered as something very positive for developing countries. But somewhere along the line CBD has lost its track and now its approaches for implementation of its objectives favour market forces. Through the present mode of mainstreaming biodiversity, CBD gives leverage and power to the private sector and the market forces for utilising the natural resources only for their profits. Everything connected with nature is being commodified, putting at risk the livelihoods of indigenous and local people, and of the common goods. Continue reading

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Mining Conflicts and The Politics of Post-Nationalization Bolivia

by Dylan Harris, 05 October 2012.  Source UpsideDown World

Miners’ road blockades outside La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz - Protests between rival mining groups have been growing in power and intensity over the past three weeks. However, the demonstrations began as early as two months ago. Walking through different parts of La Paz, one could see large groups of miners – obvious because of their mining helmets and clothing – holding signs and holding small congresses with people passing by and policemen. Tuesday, September 18, 2012, the protest between the two rival camps erupted into violence, resulting in the death of one miner and the injury of at least seven more. As the conflict continues to swell, blockades have gone up across Bolivia, virtually crippling transport in and out of La Paz.

The conflict is between private miner cooperatives that are common across Bolivia and the unionized miners that work for the state. In line with the trend of nationalization in Bolivia, President Evo Morales recently ousted a Swiss multi-national corporation from the valuable Colquiri mine located near La Paz. The most lucrative part of the mine is said to have nearly 5 billion mineral deposits. Morales divided control for the mine between the two camps, which are now at the heart of the conflict. The cooperatives want one hundred percent exploration rights of the mine, which puts the Morales government – the heroes of the nationalization movement in Bolivia – in a difficult position.

Al Jazeera reporter, Gabriel Elizando, rightfully points out in his report of the situation that this conflict is “historic and symbolic for what Bolivia as a country is going through right now… working itself through a post-nationalization period. The questioning this country is no longer, ‘Can Bolivia take back natural resources into their own hands?’ They have proven that they can and they will. The question now is how to divide up those resources afterwards to avoid the deadly conflicts we have seen this week”

However, as evidenced by the growing numbers of other Bolivian social movements setting up blockades alongside the miners, this conflict may represent something more complex than who owns this particular mine. While walking through the blockade between the capital city of the North Yungas, Coroico, and La Paz, it was obvious that this conflict was much larger than the rights to the Colquiri mine. Thousands of protesters gathered along the sides of the road in makeshift tent cities, piling more rocks into the blockaded road. Miners positioned themselves on the rocks, making sure that no cars passed. While the blockade seemed relatively calm, the sporadic dynamite explosions were constant reminders of the miner’s demands.

When asked about the blockade, several miners mentioned that the conflict was very complex, and remained relatively tight-lipped about the exact details. When asked about the purpose of the blockade, one independent miner smiled and said that it was “very, very complicated… a long story.”

Dirk Hoffmann, director of the Instituto Boliviano de la Montaña, explained: “Historically, Bolivia is a mining country, and the ‘Código Minero’ (mining law) stands virtually above other legislation. There is some hope that once the Ley de la Madre Tierra (Law of the Mother Earth) is going to be signed by President Morales, environmental issues might be of higher relevance. But then, mining is still a main pillar of the country’s economy, so that might be an illusion.”

Elizabeth Peredo, director of the Bolivian human rights and research organization, Fundación Solón, responded similarly: “This issue is part of the reality that our country has become a supplier of raw materials: minerals and unprocessed food for the world… I do not think that governments have the ability to set more sustainable policies to care for Mother Earth, despite the rhetoric that adorns the constitutions and legal frameworks.”

The strength of Bolivian civil society defines Bolivia. Civil disobedience, protests, and social movements are more or less a cornerstone of contemporary Bolivian culture. Living here, it is not uncommon to have to walk an hour or so because of some strike or protest taking place in La Paz, but this current conflict has swept across the entire country. It is not too surprising, as mining is Bolivia’s second largest industry, but the rapidity and inclusion of other social movements is intriguing.

There have been rumors of counter-protests staged by the unionized workers, demanding some kind of resolution from the Morales government. The conflict will only grow more intense. The miners are only one sect of Bolivia’s capable civil society that want a say in the current political stasis of Bolivia. The protests and blockades will likely continue until there is resolution, which depends largely upon which way the Morales government swings on this decision.

To echo Elizando, this current conflict is historic and symbolic, but it is not only about nationalization. It is more complex. Peredo believes these protests represent a confluence of “dynamic corporate and social sector organizations struggling for specific interests but are devoid of a national vision,” and that, “This unfortunately has been fostered by a way of exercising power and policy management from the central government, which has shown a minimal consistency in its principles and values ​​that arose early in the last decade thanks to popular struggles.”

Depending on the response from the Morales government, it could be about what is the next political step for an increasingly ambivalent Bolivian civil society, the same one that put him in office nearly a decade ago.

Dylan Harris is a writer and political ecologist from the United States, living and doing research in Bolivia.

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