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An Evening with Evo

By Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

On Thursday, September 23rd, Global Justice Ecology Project co-Director/ Strategist Orin Langelle and I traveled to Manhattan for a meeting with Evo Morales Ayma, the Indigenous President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia and Pablo Salón, Bolivia’s Ambassador to the UN to discuss the preparations for the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Cancún. Invited to the event were a small number of people representing NGOs, Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations and social movements including Indigenous Environmental Network, La Via Campesina, Grassroots International, the National Family Farm Coalition, and Institute for Policy Studies, among others.

After gathering at the Bolivian Mission on 2nd Avenue, our group of 30 or so negotiated the maze of police barricades and uniformed officers to arrive at the Church Center for the United Nations, directly across the street from the massive UN building.

We waited for an hour or so in the “Boss Room” of the Church Center until news came that President Morales was speaking to the UN General Assembly at that very moment, and would arrive at our meeting as soon as he was finished.  The techies in the room did their best to transmit the live broadcast of Evo’s speech through the LCD projector but managed to finally get it working just in time to hear the applause as Morales exited the stage.

President Morales and his entourage finally arrived, greeting and shaking hands with new friends and old, along the walk to the front of the room.  Pablo Salón opened the meeting with an update on the status of the negotiations going on at the UN General Assembly across the street.  He was not optimistic in where they were headed, and instead emphasized the importance of the upcoming UN Climate meetings in Cancún for advancing the “Cochabamba Accord” and the “Rights of Mother Earth.”  Both of these emerged in April of this year as outcomes from the World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth that took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia.  Morales organized the summit to bring together climate justice and Indigenous leaders from around the world to discuss a peoples’ alternative to Obama’s heavy handed and highly undemocratic “Copenhagen Accord” that had been “acknowledged” but not adopted at the Copenhagen Climate Summit last December.  Obama, Salón pointed out, had just that morning at the UN General Assembly pushed his Copenhagen Accord.

Ambassador Salón emphasized that, although language from the Cochabamba agreement had so far been included in the text of the negotiations at the interim climate meetings, it was going to take a major social mobilization before and during Cancún to ensure that the Cochabamba language makes its way into the final text.  This call to mobilize had been raised at the recent Social Forum of the Americas in Paraguay and was being taken up by social movements around Latin America.

Next on the agenda, Representatives from Mexican social movements discussed the plans already being organized for Cancún.  The crux of this long and detailed series of presentations was that, although there have been some differences between the Mexican social movements and organizations in terms of tactics and objectives, (differences which were being exploited by the government and the media), they were trying to put aside those differences to create one unified alternative space in Cancún–a space where social movements of all types could come together and share strategies and information with the aim to advance the struggle for climate justice.

Caravans of social movements to Cancún are being planned from points throughout the Americas.  On the 20th of November, a huge march will take place in Mexico City on the 100th Anniversary of the Mexican revolution.  And on the 7th of December, Via Campesina has called for “Thousands of Cancuns” to take place all over the world.

When President Morales finally spoke, he too emphasized the need to show a united front.  He insisted, “It’s up to us.  If we want the Cochabamba Accord, it will be up to the power of the people.”  He continued, explaining, “I don’t believe very much in governments, but we need an alliance of social movements and progressive governments to find solutions, otherwise the planet is going to cook.  We need a party in Cancun.  We must cool the earth down and heal the earth of her fever.”

When the topic moved on to discussing the advancement of REDD–the UN’s hotly contested scheme to supposedly reduce deforestation by including forests in the carbon market–Pablo Salón explained that REDD will be a major focus of the negotiations in Cancún.  He emphasized that the pro-REDD forces there are stacking the deck, hand picking who will be allowed to participate.  Meanwhile the Mexican government is doing its best to legitimize REDD.  “They are trying to manipulate the process to make it seem like Indigenous Peoples support REDD. REDD will be a crucial battle.  It must be clear that there is no agreement among Indigenous Peoples about REDD.”  He concluded by saying, “Using Indigenous Peoples to legitimize the buying and selling of nature is a big problem and we will do what we can to stop it.”

The consensus of the meeting was that the movements supporting the Cochabamba Accord and the Rights of Mother Earth need a unified message–one that is strongly opposed to carbon markets and against REDD.  But it was also agreed that it is not so much the Cochabamba Accord itself that must be supported, but its ideas and positions.

The final take away message of the meeting was that social movements must continue to organize and coordinate in preparation for Cancún, and that this must include a concerted effort to raise the issues in the media.  As Pablo Salón explained, “We need as much media coverage as possible.”

Those of us who attended are now tasked with taking these mandates to our allies and our constituencies in the countdown toward Cancún.  Global Justice Ecology Project is taking this up and will be focused on connecting mainstream and alternative media with the voices of people resisting the impacts of climate change and fossil fuels, and with the messages of social movements fighting for climate justice.  We will be doing our part to advance the principles of the Cochabamba Accord and the Rights of Mother Earth.

See you in the streets!

Photo: Evo Morales speaks at the Church Center of the United Nations while Cassandra Smithies translates.  Photo: Petermann/GJEP

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Filed under Climate Justice, Indigenous Peoples, Posts from Anne Petermann, REDD