Dispatch from the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia, by Robert Garcia
An estimated 20,000 people are gathered at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Evo Morales, the first indigenous president of Bolivia, called the conference after the collapse of the Copenhagen climate change talks in December 2009. According to President Morales, the people least responsible will suffer the most from climate change. Those most affected by climate change will be the poorest in the world, who will see their homes and their sources of survival destroyed, and who will be forced to migrate and seek refuge.
The conference began on April 20, 2010, when people began pouring in to an outdoor coliseum in Tiquipaya in the outskirts of Cochabamba, in a valley set against a backdrop of the Andes. Indigenous people from around the world are engaged in all aspects of organizing the conference. The conference provides a forum for people traditionally excluded from government “summits.”
The vast majority of Bolivia’s population of nine million people are indigenous. Over half speak an indigenous language. One third speak Quecha, the language of the Inca empire. About a quarter speak speak Aymara. Smaller minorities speak another 30 languages. Spanish, Quecha, Aymara and Guarani are official languages of Bolivia.
Indigenous music, dance, and spiritual ceremonies opened the conference. Representatives from five continents spoke during the inaugural ceremony in addition to President Morales. No government representatives or mainstream environmentalists from developed nations spoke during the opening ceremonies or were evident among the participants. Cuba sent doctors to tend to medical needs at the conference.
“We, the indigenous nations want the world to listen to us. We seek dialogue and debate and want to spread our principles, codes, values and culture, which is the Culture of Life,” according to the conference program.
A Native American woman from Alaska spoke first representing North America. “The imperialists cannot sell what the creator has given us,” she said in English with a Spanish translation. “Stop the corporate interests from taking the life of Pachamama,” an indigenous name for Madre Tierra or Mother Earth.
The representative from Spain and Europe and the united left gave an impassioned, fist waving speech – “Capitalism makes a few very rich at the expense of empoverishing the majority.”
The representative from Africa delivered a message from Friends of the Earth International, which has chapters in 77 nations. He called for climate justice, and rejecting false solutions like market solutions because the market is creating the crisis. He read a poem: “I will not tolerate climate change that means death for me and profits for you. I will not dance to your beat unless we dance on the sustainable path, accept real solutions, and respect Mother Earth.”
According to the representative from India/Asia, sustainability is an everyday way of life for 90% of the people in India.
The woman from Brazil representing South America urged: “Globalize the struggle.” “Globalize hope.”
The representative from the United Nations was widely booed when she called for each nation to do what it can to stop climate change. Father Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, M.M., who is a priest and the former president of the United Nations, later explained that the reaction reflected the sense that the United Nations does not represent nations united but nations subjugated, more than anything by the United States. The priest referred participants to the web site at reinventingtheun.org.
In his presentation, President Evo Morales noted that the collapse of the Copenhagen talks is not a failure for the people of the world, it is a victory to prevent rich countries from imposing an agreement that would have freed them from responsibility as the principal countries causing climate change. Yet it was also a failed opportunity to achieve an agreement to save the planet. Capitalism is the main problem. It requires growth without limit in a finite world. Capitalism values people only because they work and consume. Capitalism values people for what they have, not because they are (“por que tienen, no por que son”). The Earth and its people are in a limited and precarious situation as long as the system of capitalism is not changed. There cannot be equilibrium for the Earth unless there is equity among people. One percent of the people own 50% of the wealth in the world. There must be peace among the people of the world and Mother Earth. Western nations seek to dominate and exploit the Earth. Indigenous people realize that they come from the earth and will return to the earth. President Morales gave examples of simple things people can do to reduce their impact on the Earth, such as using ponchos made from alpaca instead of plastic or nylon that never decomposes. He concluded that there are two paths, Pachamama or capitalism. Capitalism dies, or Mother Earth dies. Capitalism lives, or Mother Earth lives. President Morales, who was elected in 2005 and reelected in 2009 as the head of the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), combines socialism with indigenous values.
President Morales concluded: “Que vivan los pueblos del mundo en defensa de la Madre Tierra.”
According to the program, the conference seeks to analyze (1) the structural and systemic causes that drive climate change; (2) principles to live well in harmony with nature; (3) a Universal Declaration of Rights of Mother Earth; (4) a World People’s Referendum on Climate Change; and (5) a Climate Justice Tribunal.
Leaders from Los Angeles are participating in the People’s Conference — Robert Garcia, President and Counsel of The City Project; Raul Macias, President of Anahuak Youth Sports Association; Irma Munoz, President of Mujeres de la Tierra; and Angela Sanbrano, President of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities — in a delegation organized by Antonio Gonzalez of the William C. Velazquez Institute.
The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth concluded on Earth Day, April 22, with Venezuelan President Hugo Morales calling for publication of the recommendations presented by working groups at the conference, and a follow up conference in Cancun, Mexico.
Over 35,000 accredited participants attended the Cochabamba conference. Over 9000 came from abroad from 147 nations, with 47 nations sending official delegations.
President Evo Morales joined participants in a spontaneous dance to Afro-Bolivian beats at lunch.