Bolivia and the birth of a movement for Climate Justice

One of the most important but too often neglected events of 2010, was the little country of Bolivia putting itself at the head of the Climate Justice movement. This report, written May 8, 2010, showed how that action galvanized Climate Justice activism in Toronto. Longer version of report published at Rabble.ca  (Part of a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) • MAY 8, 2010 – Yesterday, a lively crowd of between 200 and 250 piled into the Steelworkers hall in downtown Toronto in an event that brought together Latin American solidarity, First Nations and environmental activists. Toronto Bolivia Solidarity had helped sponsor a group travel to Cochabamba, Bolivia, for the April people’s summit, called by Bolivian president Evo Morales, as a response to the failed Climate Change talks in Copenhagen in December of 2009. What was clear to all in Cochabamba – and in the Steelworkers hall on May 7 – was that we are witnessing the birth of a new movement, a movement led by the Global South, calling for climate justice.

More than 30,000 people from 100 countries had participated in the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Kimia Ghomeshi, Campaign Director for the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, reported how the event was infused with an anti-capitalist spirit. What is clear to the participants, she argued, was the fact that the devastation to the environment is deeply rooted in a world driven by the priorities of corporate profit.

The evening had earlier been opened by a powerful set by the Red Slam Collective (http://www.youtube.com/RedSlamCollective) and a video put together by Raul Burbano. Ben Powless, a member of the Indigenous Environmental Network, accompanied his presentation with a slide show of images from the conference. The combination of the video and the slide show gave the audience a sense of what it meant to be at the extraordinary Cochabamba summit. Danny Beaton, 2010 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award (NAAA) for Environment and Natural Resources, reminded us of the roots to past struggles. He told the audience that he had not been in the Steelworkers Hall for 20 years – but recognized some faces, because those 20 years ago he and they had been in the same hall to help organize solidarity with the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation, in their battle against energy corporation exploitation of their land. His words were important – indicating to people that our movement is a marathon, not a sprint.

The closing speaker was Robert Lovelace, a leader of Ardoch Algonquin First Nation. His moving speech culminated with an observation, that we will not win climate justice until we recognize that we are all indigenous. All of us, he argued, have been separated from the land by forces we don’t control. Recognizing our connection to the land is an indispensable first step in creating a movement to build a society based on climate justice.

Ten years ago, Cochabamba made world headlines for the first time. It was the centre of a desperate battle to prevent Bechtel corporation – under the watchful eye of the IMF and the World Bank – from privatizing water in that city. After bitter protests, and the tragic deaths of six protesters, suddenly in April 2000, the movement had won. Privatization was defeated, and the control of water in Cochabamba was handed over to a grassroots coalition. Cochabamba in 2000 was a spark that helped ignite the anti-corporate globalization movement of the early 21st century.

Now in 2010, Cochabamba is again a spark. The three strands of the movement at the conference and in the Steelworkers Hall were beginning a conversation. For those whose focus has been Latin American solidarity, the focus has been on the damage done by Global North imperialism to the countries in the Global South emerging from the shadow of colonialism. For those whose focus has been First Nations’ struggles in Canada, the focus has been on Canada’s own colonial legacy. For activists in the environmental movement, the focus has been on the threat posed to the environment by unconstrained corporate development. A remarkable feature of both the Cochabamba event, and the report back on May 7, was the extent to which all three streams are flowing together into a common river. The result is a Climate Justice / Global Justice movement, called into being by Latin America’s second poorest country, with its first Indigenous head of state – Evo Morales.

The challenge thrown down by Cochabamba is enormous. A people’s agreement was drafted – now being nicknamed the “Cochabamba Protocol.” It points the figure at capitalism and the Global North, and puts forward a plan to effectively deal with the threat to the environment posed by unregulated capitalism. Given the failure of the Global North leadership at Copenhagen, an important part of this protocol is the call for a Global Referendum so that the people of the world can have their say.

To become involved in this new Climate Justice movement, contact Toronto Bolivia Solidarity, torontoboliviasolidarity@gmail.com.

The documents from the conference have been made available on the site “Climate and Capitalism.”

The Cochabamba Protocol
Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration
Universal Declaration of the rights of Mother Earth

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg

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