Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Goa struggles remembered in Bolivia

Update From the People’s World Conference on Climate Change and Mother Earth’s Rights, Bolivia 19th April

A call to the ‘people’ and people of the world responded

The official inauguration of the Peoples world conference on climate change and the rights of mother earth, is scheduled for the 20th, but on Monday the 19th, the streets of the ‘Andean’ city of Cochabamba have come alive with a meriad shades of the Latin American indigenous people mingling freely with those from other continents. Four months ago, Copenhagen was looking very official, very ‘Statish’, with hundreds of police personnel at every corner – ready to shut out any protesting action. Four months later, it is the peoples movements, civil society … who have started deliberating with concern and care, and with the enormous knowledge base of communities and societies in countries & continents.

From the very long Q’s leading to the municipal hall for accreditation, which was being handled by bunch of young and helpful ‘activists’ gathered from several countries, to the hundreds of display booths & kiosks, it was free expression of free people written all over. It is people reclaiming what should be theirs. There were a few police men & women here & there, but no one at any point was trying to drive home the hierarchies of State power.

The 17 working groups – on different issues like defining mother earths rights, on indigenous communities, on technology transfer, Were meeting right from morning 9 am in different halls, or Sala’s of the Universidade de valle – Univalle in short, trying to come out with what all these issues should focus on based on the perceptions, knowledge & experiences of the ‘common human’ . It is reported that about 70 governments have responded to the call by Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma, but there were no official hierarchies visible.

Also striking was the difference with COP15 in Copenhagen, was how much these people’s deliberations were central to the whole process. In the Bella centre during COP15, large networks of grass-roots people’s organizations were given one or minutes each – to intervene in the official negotiations on different issues, and they had to prepare days in advance for that one minute. Here, the primary deliberations, the agenda is being set by these very grass-roots groups, with intense discussions about how humanity must rediscover its umbilical bonds with mother nature, how the relationship between communities and between nations must be on the basis of justice & equity.

In the Hall of Culture (sala cultura), in a well attended session on People Speak out, the indigenous leader Florian was explaining how serious a challenge it was to people & their environment in the lake lands of Bolivia – by the mining companies digging for Tin inside the Uru basin. Over 300 mining activities have polluted all available water sources, exhausted the ground water from upper aquifers, and caused large scale diseases & deaths. And it was not only the human beings, many other animals too – which were being born deformed, abnormal. The indigenous communities of kochi picala, kavari, isway, sora, colcaya, yucari, .. all got together under the banner of CORIDUP, and started peoples resistances against these companies. They have also started a ‘museum’ of these unnatural / deformed animals – to constantly remind people and their representatives that something is seriously wrong with these all-polluting mining operations, and these are mother nature’s warning signs. But the indigenous communities are not yet demanding a total closure of these mines – which provide the locals with some jobs – only mining with all environmental regulations followed.

The story reminded us about the struggles in Niyamgiri, in Goa, in Chhattishgarh. The difference in Bolivia of the new century is that these struggles have started getting recognized by the ‘plurinational’ state of Bolivia, and profit-driven corporate plundering the Earth are being challenged on an ever larger scale. The large mining companies Sinchinyara, San Lucas, Avicaya, Estalsia etc were forced to implement effluent treatment measures after the inspection by ministers accompanied by CORIDUP representatives proved their guilt, and the people are getting encouraged to have support to their struggles from the State. What a difference from Niyamgiri, Kalinganagar, Raigad etc struggles back home in India – where the State is actively conniving with the plundering corporate. What a difference one ‘people’s president’ and a sensitized administration can make !

The session organized by the Beyond Copenhagen coalition from India on the issue of ‘Bringing Agriculture to The Centre of Climate Negotiation’ – at the Sala Idiomas in the Informatica building was not very well attended, but became alive with many participants taking part in the questions, posers, their experiences from their homelands. After three brief presentations by Soumya Dutta from SADED, Whtney from the Brighter Green campaign and Ajay Jha of PAIRVI, there were a large no of questions and real participation by the participants. Ana Maria from Peru explained how they have started a campaign called farm to table, addressing the Food-Climate Change problem in multiple ways. Chaitanya from Canada talked about how the huge meat consumption in north-America is being tackled by their groups. .

The animated discussions in the different ‘indoor’ workshops and sessions were out-matched by the colourful enthusiasm outside. There were scenes of people from different continents sitting on the lawns and sharing experiences of their struggles, their successes and their hurdles. There was a large no of Latin American indigenous peoples groups in their colourful costumes, some coming down from the famous Altiplano with their Llamas & Alpacas. There were farmers movements making their presence felt in more ways than one.

One recurring difficulty that non-Spanish speaking people faced was the paucity of volunteers and officials who understand and speak English, inspite of all of these people going out of their way to help the conference participants. It was a striking realization that is not only a President, or a State who is /are hosting this world people’s conference, it is a whole nation of people who feels and acts as the host. From the ease & courtesy that we experienced at the airports and immigration – arriving without any visa except a printout of the conference registration no, to the warm welcome and guidance at every street & square of Cochabamba – it was a new realization, that the democratic State is not the master of its people, but a trustee for all its citizen. It was a new realization that the nation-State borders are to be seen as mere conveniences of governance, not instruments of exploitation and denials.

Soumya Dutta, South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED) / BJVJ

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