Bolivia’s president opened the inaugural international ‘people’s conference’ at Cochabamba, with delegates from 125 nations
“Planet or death!” chanted Bolivia’s leftwing president, Evo Morales, to a crowd of 20,000 people. “We will be victorious!” the crowds answered back, waving rainbow-coloured, chequered Andean indigenous flags.
Morales was officially inaugurating the first international “people’s conference” on climate change – the grassroots alternative to last year’s failed United Nations talks in Copenhagen.
The meeting in the city of Cochabamba has attracted people from more than 125 countries, although many delegates from Africa, Europe and India were unable to come because of the travel chaos caused by the Icelandic volcano. The meeting has no direct bearing on the UN climate talks, which continue this year, but is billed as a venue for the grassroots movements to put pressure on governments to act on climate change.
“The positive thing here is that people have a space. Until now, the voice, the lead, was always given to governments. And now it is the turn of the people because the governments, particularly some governments from developed countries, did not understand that we are on the verge of a catastrophe and they are not assuming responsibility,” said Juan Pablo Ramos, Bolivia’s deputy environment minister.
His president will have raised some eyebrows though with bizarre comments in his opening address that baldness is the consequence of genetically modified chickens and potatoes and that Coca-Cola is “poison and sewage water”. Bolivia’s first indigenous president, a former llama herder and coca grower, added: “Either capitalism dies, or it will be Mother Earth.”
Later this week, Morales and other Latin American leaders are expected to call for the establishment an international climate court, demanding compensation from rich countries to assist poor nations, and urging countries to open their borders to future waves of climate refugees.
“We are not part of the problem, we are part of the solution, we the indigenous peoples, the peasant communities, so let us offer you the solution because we are the ones suffering,” said Justo Cruz, an Aymara indigenous leader. “Ordinary people are never allowed to talk, [yet] we are the ones paying the price for what the rich are doing to our planet, to our Mother Earth.”
The UN, which organised the Copenhagen talks is not popular here. The UN representative in Bolivia struggled to make her voice heard over a chorus of booing and during a presentation, the former president of the general assembly, Nicaraguan Catholic priest Miguel D’Escoto, declared that the “fraud, lie and dictatorship” that is the UN should be “re-invented”.
“It is not that it wasn’t important what governments were discussing in Copenhagen but the problem is that it was discussed from a corporate perspective and here we are discussing it from an indigenous perspective we have a great deal of respect for Mother Earth, we have a direct accountability to her, something that developed nations seem not to have”, says Vanessa Inarunekia, a Taino indigenous woman from Puerto Rico. “Human beings cannot survive without Mother Earth; Mother Earth can survive without us,” she said.
Domingo Lechon, climate justice co-ordinator from Friends of the Earth Mexico, said: “Cochabamba represents a unique opportunity for popular demands to be adopted by governments. We will use this new people’s agenda as a rallying call to mobilise movements of affected peoples, indigenous peoples, peasant farmers, trade unions and women to dismantle corporate power and force our governments into action.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010.