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From New Voices Speaker Ben Powless: The road from Copenhagen to Cochabamba passes through the Amazon – Part I

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The road from Copenhagen to Cochabamba passes through the Amazon – Part I
By Ben Powless Created Apr 14 2010 – 1:21pm

Soon thousands will meet in Cochabamba to talk climate justice. It is the voices of the Amazon we should listen to. A report from the Amazon.

The Amazon, it is often said, functions like the lungs of Mother Earth. The dense forest and undergrowth absorb much of the carbon dioxide that we manage to pump into the skies –- an ever more important and taxing effort in light of the threats to our climate.

Rio Wawas, Amazonas, Peru

In December, countries around the world gathered in Copenhagen to reach an agreement to protect the climate, even if purely face-saving, and failed. With that sour taste gone, Bolivia has invited governments, social movements, Indigenous Peoples, politicians, really anyone who cares, to attend the so-called World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth [3]. The conference will be held the 19th-22nd in Cochabamba.

Ahead of that trip, I’ve flown into Lima, Peru to head back into the Amazon. It has been almost a year since the tragic day of June 5th, 2009 left over 30 people dead in the worst violence Peru has seen in modern history. The dispute was over a series of laws the government wanted to push through to open the Amazon to foreign companies, an effort linked to the Free Trade Agreement Peru’s President Alan Garcia signed with Canada and the United States. Amazon Indigenous Peoples resisted the laws with a blockade outside the town of Bagua, on the outskirts of the Amazon, and the government’s decision to send in armed forces still reverberates here. You can see my coverage from Peru last year here [4].

Bagua at Night

Indigenous groups here and elsewhere have maintained that their role in protecting their lands, their resources, their ecologies is paramount, and also serves the rest of humanity. In this case, the Awajun and Wampis peoples were concerned about the entry of oil companies into their lands, ultimately polluting the waters, the flora, the fauna, everything, as has been the case so many times in other parts of the Amazon.

A walk through the jungle outside Wawas, Amazonas, Peru

Bagua today is a much different place than in those tense days after June 5th, when military patrols roamed the streets, and a curfew kept people in hiding. Now, the only sense of tension was between teenage boys and girls in the plaza, whistling and blasting around on motorbikes. As they say, calm waters run deep, and the Amazon has a long memory.

I managed to catch up with Salomon Awananch, who since I ran into him last year, had been elevated to the position of Amazon Leader from his position leading the protests. He understood the protests had forced the government for the first time to seriously consider Indigenous cosmovisions. In order to further make the point, Amazon leaders had recently gathered to pass a resolution rejecting all transnational corporations from their lands, which has yet to be released. They are also heavily investing in an education plan which aims to keep Indigenous knowledge like traditional medicinal plant in use.

Salomon Awananch

At one point, I asked him about the film Avatar. He laughed a bit, admitting he really enjoyed the film, despite having lived a similar experience in the “Baguatar” episode last year. His demeanour hardened. “But if that happened again, it would be a complete war, the end of all dialogue. We have been open to dialogue this whole time, but the government hasn’t had the will (voluntad) to talk. Next time we won’t be protesting on the roads, we would be in the forests and mountains, where we couldn’t be defeated.”

The main threat now? It’s a Canadian mining company, Dorato Resources [5]. Dorato is looking for gold, one of the world’s oldest plunder-able resources, and Peru has much to offer as the 8h largest producer in the world. This mine would be unique, however, situated at the headwaters of the Cenepa River, in the Condor Mountain Range, a very sacred area to the Awajun and Wampis peoples who live downstream. For them, “you can’t touch this hill, you can’t interfere with it,” according to Edwin Montenegro, Secretary of the organization representing Indigenous Peoples of the north Amazon, ORPIAN.

Edwin Montenegro, explaining the Amazon river systems

“This mountain is very important to us. If it is destroyed, if the water is polluted, it is the end of all the Indigenous Peoples along the Cenepa,” continues Montenegro, from his office in Bagua. They also point out that this river flows into the Mariñon River, which flows into the Amazon – and any contaminants, such as mercury, would end up poisoning the Indigenous Peoples of all five water basins that make up the area. They even have a website [6], with a well-produced video overview, all in English.

“We need to do our own Environmental Impact Assessment to study the impacts. There are many understandings of man, territory and the forests. There exist great trees that have energy in them, and that force, that unity is lost when they are cut,” recounted Awananch. Even the mayor of Bagua has taken a stand against the mine. For the Awajun and Wampis, though, the stakes are much higher. “We’re ready to defend the land until the last consequences, and we have an agreement across the five basins of the Amazon to support our demands.”

Violeta, Widow of last year’s violence

I took a side trip to visit the Awajun communities of Wawas and La Curva, hours down the road from Bagua, where the families of victims of the 2009 violence lived. I had gone to drop off some photos to family members and other people in the community, but wasn’t expecting the results. Passing from community to community, by boat and jungle trail, we learned the loss of a community member had divided the community and many families, which was seen as the government’s fault, if not intention. After some unexpected conflict resolution, I was able to share the photos, which brought up many heartbreaking emotions from loved ones, and will hopefully help the children to remember. I also received testimony from Roman Jintach Chu, 45, who was also shot in the violence. In the end, Jintach’s family decided to honour me by naming a newborn baby after one of my family members.

Roman Jintach Chu

As I arrived in Lima on Monday, April 5th, a mining related protest [7] left six civilians dead and dozens wounded. Peru under Alan Garcia in particular has shown itself to be allergic to dialogue, and more than comfortable resolving disputes with a gun. This government is not alone in using force, when needed, to force compliance with corporate and governmental interests.

But it is the community members of places like Wawas and La Curva that must live with the consequences in the long term, and they are on the frontlines of protecting their rights, their environment, and in the end, all of us from the very activities that lead to climate calamities – loss of rainforest, oil refining, water poisoning. It is these very communities whose voices should be elevated and respected when pretending to be able to deal with a problem such as climate change while ignoring its predatory causes.

Community of Jaez

I left Bagua en route to Lamas, San Martin province, where Amazonian Kichwa communities were toiling to be recognized by the government and stop a biofuel company from taking their land. To be continued…

More photos will appear on Flickr [2].

Source URL (retrieved on Apr 16 2010 – 2:59pm): http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/ben-powless/2010/04/road-copenhagen-cochabamba-passes-through-amazon-part-i

[1] http://rabble.ca/taxonomy/term/2686
[2] http://www.flickr.com/photos/powless/sets/72157623729448987/
[3] http://pwccc.wordpress.com/
[4] http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/ben-powless/2009/06/massacre-peru-trip-amazon-brings-answers-and-more-questions
[5] http://www.doratoresources.com/s/Home.asp
[6] http://odecofroc.blogspot.com/
[7] http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=50952
[8] http://rabble.ca/print/blogs/bloggers/ben-powless/2010/04/road-copenhagen-cochabamba-passes-through-amazon-part-i#comment-1133599
[9] http://www.ninosdelaamazonia.org
[10] http://rabble.ca/print/blogs/bloggers/ben-powless/2010/04/road-copenhagen-cochabamba-passes-through-amazon-part-i#comment-1133874
[11] http://rabble.ca/user
[12] http://rabble.ca/user/register

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Filed under Climate Change, Climate Justice, Copenhagen/COP-15, Indigenous Peoples

Let’s Seattle CorporateHaven!

by Orin Langelle, Co-Director and Strategist from the Global Justice Ecology Project

Dennis Brutus, poet, scholar and famous anti-apartheid activist, shot in the back by the white controlling regime of South Africa, who served time with Nelson Mandela at Robben Island, recently encouraged that we should all ‘Seattle Copenhagen’.  This is in reference to actions a decade ago when activists shut down the World Trade Organization negotiations in Seattle.

He is on the mark, as the Copenhagen UN climate talks scheduled for this December have been hijacked by corporations.  Copenhagen is no more than a CorporateHaven for trade talks by corporations.

But what does “Seattle Copenhagen” mean?  Well to those who understand our history, it is obvious. But to tell you the truth, I was thousands of miles away when tens of thousands of anti-corporate globalization activists, labor unionists, environmentalists and anarchists halted the march forward of the trade model of neoliberal capitalism in Seattle: a harbinger of modern day resistance.

So where was I when this historic moment occurred?  Why wasn’t I in Seattle, where in the words of friend and songwriter, Jim Page, “Didn’t we shut it down?”  For what it’s worth, I was with other solidarity activists in the Selva Lacandona of Chiapas, Mexico visiting indigenous Zapatista communities of resistance, that had declared their autonomy from Mexican governmental authority. That resistance resonated around the world on New Years day in 1994–the day the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) took effect–when the indigenous resistance movement (EZLN) said “¡Ya Basta!” (enough!) and took control of most of the state of Chiapas, including the municipal offices in San Cristobal and other major cities, freeing political prisoners while while taking control of their land.

Another cry heard from campesinos and indigenous in a resistance movement many years earlier in Mexico  was, ‘Tierra y Libertad’.

Tierra y Libertad.  Land and Freedom.  It all boils down to who controls the land and what it is used for.

But I digress.  Back in 1999, after we dodged the Mexican military on the way out of rebel territory, we returned to San Cristobal (a city of intrigue with many different foreign service observers embedded in the secrecy of obscure hostels and bars) on the day after the shut down in Seattle.  Our Mexican colleagues from the above ground resistance in San Cris saw us and waved the front page of the leftist La Jornada daily newspaper in front of us that showed a photo of U.S. police pointing weapons and spraying tear gas at protesters in Seattle.  Our friends exclaimed, “It’s about fucking time you people in the United States did something for the rest of the world and got off your asses!”  We smiled.  Sometimes in this corporate dominated world something happens that you can really smile about.

Okay, so I’m not a seasoned Seattle veteran. However, two weeks prior to Seattle, a team of us went to Toronto, Canada where one of the first Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) ministerial meetings took place.  The FTAA is a neoliberal scam designed to expand the disaster of NAFTA and control production, land and people from Alaska all the way to Tierra del Fuego–encompassing all of the Americas.  At the Toronto Convention Center where the trade ministers were meeting we unfurled at 600 square foot banner decrying, “Stop the FTAA!”  To us, unfurling the FTAA banner was a warning shot over the bow of a runaway capitalistic death ship headed for oblivion. To us, the reformist notion of rearranging the deck chairs of this Capitalist Titanic is intensely absurd.

So we fired a warning shot with the words, “Stop the FTAA.”  Was it was heard?  Well that’s a matter of bizarre existentialist thought. Seattle was indeed shut down.  Afterwards did the WTO continue?  Sort of– but then in Cancun, Mexico a Korean farmer committed suicide on the barricades during the 2003 WTO ministerial in Cancun  There the cry was “WTO kills farmers.” Where does the does the WTO flounder now?  Ten years after, in Geneva, on the tenth anniversary of the WTO shutdown and a week before the Climate talks in Copenhagen, a limp attempt will be made to revive it.

Did our struggle against the FTAA succeed?   Yes, but… A Miami Model, named for the city that in November of 2003 hosted the FTAA ministerial meeting and saw the police unleash extreme violence against activists.  The Miami Model of repression, still practiced by the U.S. government today, basically denies the right of protest in the U.S. (unless you consider protest an expression “permitted” and/or behind razor wire and cages).  The almost-stop of the FTAA has produced the rash of bilateral trade scams that former U.S. trade representative (and co-author of the Neoliberal blueprint “Project for a New American Century”), Robert Zoellick, now World Bank President, has fostered.

So get ready for CorporateHaven.  This possibly is one of final gatherings where all the players with stakes in their neoliberal trade games will come together again to conduct their high stakes gambling with all of life on earth to squeeze out every final dollar.   As the planet burns, the questions haunts, “which side are you on?”  To me it doesn’t matter if we shut the ‘self appointed governmental-corporate leadership’ out of the climate negotiations or shut them in–what matters is that we take responsibility to ensure the Earth is inhabitable for all with justice. That is our challenge and that is our struggle.

It really boils down to who controls the land and what it is used for, doesn’t it?  Remember, CorporateHaven is only a symptom of the bigger problem.  It is this bigger problem that must be shut down.  We don’t need to go to Copenhagen to solve the big problem, CorporateHaven is in your own backyard.

For more information on what North American activists are planning for the road to CorporateHaven, please visit the Mobilization for Climate Justice http://www.actforclimatejustice.org/

For more information on Global Justice Ecology Project please visit http://globaljusticeecology.org/

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Filed under Climate Change, Photo Essays by Orin Langelle

Sign Petition for Right to Sleep in Copenhagen during COP15! http://www.petitiononline.com/cop15cph/petition.html

Yesterday the Copenhagen Municipality excluded from its “Accommodation meeting” some of the people that have been working for one year now. All of us, from the Climate Collective, who have been working hard to create a solid infrastructure for international activists that are coming to COP15 in December, are not welcome any longer.


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Filed under Climate Change