28th April- The Campesino Congress

April 29, 2010

We arrived into Sucre early this morning and checked into our hostal. Over breakfast a woman from the Bolivian Solidarity Campaign in London told us that she wouldn’t have come to Sucre if it wasn’t for the congress as this is
the capital of racism in Bolivia.

We headed down to the march of the CSUTCB, (Confederación Sindical Única de Trabajadores Campesinos de Bolivia- or Trade Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia.)  It is evident that the congress happening here in Sucre is a political decision.  As Anna Rodas Cuellar, the local MP told us today in an interview, they are reclaiming the right of the campesino movements to organise in this city, Bolivia’s official capital.

In May 2008 there was a gross act against indigenous peoples here, a manifestation of the racism that many Bolivians had hoped was over.  At least 18 campesinos were beaten, taken hostage and later humiliated, semi- naked, in the middle of Plaza 25 de Mayo, the main square in Sucre. At the same time right-wing groups acted to prevent the arrival of President Evo Morales to the city, where he was supposed to be taking part in an ceremony in which some new ambulances were to be delivered.

A mob of young people raided several homes in the city, where campesinos here to attend the event were staying. Villagers suffered physical and racist verbal abuse and were then taken hostage. They were led to the Plaza 25 de Mayo where,  half-naked and on their knees, they were forced to “apologize” and insult the Morales administration. The Wiphala, the pan-indigenous flag, was burned. There is a short video available here.

This morning we marched defiantly, 2000 strong through the streets of Sucre. There were loud chants, “Notice, we are here!” while fire crackers sounded above a bright sea of flags and banners. We bumped into a friend we had made in the Climate and Migration working group who quickly passed us the banner to hold while she had a rest.

There were some shocked faces and a palpable tension as we marched through the busy, colonial style streets to the opening ceremony of the 13th Congress.  This was very different from all of our experiences in Cochabamba and was a reminder that we should not read the MAS government and its supporters too simplistically. While the climate conference exposed some of the criticisms and contradictions in the current electoral politics, today we recognised that the very existence of Morales in all of his roles is a challenge to what has gone before and what remains throughout the region. The undertones of racism and elitism still present here help to explain why even his Bolivian critics are very careful so as not to align themselves with the right.

In the covered sports complex there were delegations from all over the country, as well as Mapuche people from Chile, MST, (Landless People´s Movement) from Brazil and representatives from other ALBA countries. One of the aims is to elect a new leadership, which happens every 5 years.

The opening ceremony included a speech from Evo, yes our 3rd Evo speech in 2 weeks! It was really interesting to compare what he said here with the other ones during the conference. He talked about how he saw this union as one of the major instigators of the process of change that is now underway. He called this process “unstoppable” and called for unity within the confedaration, saying that there are internal problems, but they should be dealt with in house and not let them become a public affair. He said that the work done in the union was an example to the world.

More reports and pics will follow tomorrow.


26th April – interviews and exciting news from home

April 27, 2010

Here are a few things we want to share. First the documents from our panel discussion, not ours but the other people who presented. It’s quite detailed but will hopefully be useful for anyone working in this area.

So we have been having a  bit of a rest, partying and carrying out more interviews before we leave. Today we spoke to someone from the local ALBA chapter, the Bolivarian alliance of Americas and also anti-water privatisation activist Marcela Olivera. We were also on a local radio show one of our friends presents which was unexpected but great.

The final declaration is now online in English, http://pwccc.wordpress.com/

There have been a lot of fascinating conversations about the significance of this document and what will happen next. More analysis to follow.

Tomorrow we are off to Sucre, leaving Cochabamba after almost 2 weeks. We are going to be ‘journalists’ at the conference of the CTUSCB, Bolivia’s campesino union, which is again going to be very interesting.

It was amazing to hear our friend Cristian Dominguez, who we met in Bristol before we went to the COP last December, talking on TV last night about the summit. He mentioned the visit to Bristol and how we had mobilised to Copenhagen, what he called People’s diplomacy.

One of the key themes for both this and the radio show was demystifying Europe and how people are there, that there is resistance  and that this is a common struggle. This is particularly powerful in countering the media produced myths that there are no problems in the north, and that southern countries should be aspiring to develop in our image.

The face to face relationships that are developing all around this process are sowing the seeds of ongoing solidarity actions and transnational organising. We heard today that our companer@s from Bristol and Bath Rising Tide blockaded a rail line from an open cast coal mine, read more here. Whoop whoop!


22nd April – Workshops and the Final Declaration

April 23, 2010

Disappointingly we only ran one of our workshops yesterday. At 8.30am when we arrived to the campus there was hardly anyone there, and it later transpired that the free buses had not been running that morning. We only discovered this as people arrived one by one closer to 10am, and so the workshop about the growing threat of  population controls didn’t happen, which is a real shame. We had wanted to share a really important example of the perverse lengths that the wealthy north will go to as a means for not making the changes that are really necessary to tackle the root causes of climate change and build for climate justice. At Copenhagen the Optimum Population Trust launched their new “population offsetting” project, which you can read more about here. www.popoffsets.com/

Many of the people we have spoken to about this all shared the same sense that on first appearances this project must have been a joke, something along the lines of Cheat Neutral… but sadly no, this is for real. What has been most worrying is the number of known environmentalists that are part of the Optimum Population Trust, and the fact that David Attenborough is a patron. As well as reading a general critique of overpopulation discourses in our texts and articles section entitled “Too Many of Whom and Too Much of What?”, you can read a critique of population offsetting here offsetdavidattenborough.wordpress.com/

We will also later try and post some of our thoughts on the topic.

Our second workshop, about Migration and Freedom of Movement went well. There were about 50 people and a really good translator, luckily! Again, we will post longer reflections on the outcomes of all this work on climate migration later, but the most important thing to come out for us was a sense that people in the room really understood that borders, nation states and the categorisations of human beings are another construct of the system.

After the workshops, we headed for the stadium in town to hear the final declaration of the conference. We haven’t been able to find it translated into English yet, though presume it is being worked on. It may appear here when done, http://pwccc.wordpress.com/

It seems crazy that the conference is over already as it only just felt like things were getting going! On the other hand, you could say that the process is only just beginning. Certainly the text that emerged, the 9 page long ‘People’s Accord’ is impressive when compared to its Copenhagen counterpart. There is an engagement with the structural causes of climate change, demands for binding 50% emissions cuts on 1990 levels through Kyoto for the 2012-2017 period, and the expected proposals for an international court for climate crime based on the rights of the earth.

The million dollar question will be how this text is used and how it is responded to. The plan is for an  intercontinental delegation to present it to the UN, and that it be used as a basis for a negotiating position at the next COP in Mexico. Indeed Chavez called for a Global Movement for the Rights of the Earth to mobilise to Cancun and even offered to pay for people to go there, unless I missed something in the translation.

we are realists. we ask for the impossible

It seems that it’s actually a good declaration. Despite earlier concerns, and after much effort in the forests working group, it comes out against REDD, the market mechanism for forests, which is great. The main points will surely be reported and analysed elsewhere but importantly it also criticises GM technology, false solutions, extractive industries and in general the whole process of climate negotiations through COP.

reading the declaration

One small extract from the section on migration says; “(The developed countries shouild be) accountable for the hundreds of millions that will have to migrate because of climate change, which they have caused, and to remove their restrictive policies on migration and provide migrants a decent life and respect their rights in all countries.”

Seeing Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales etc, presenting these quite radical discourses obviously raises questions about how their political projects, based as they are on the wealth from exploiting natural resources, will be justified at the same time as promoting this declaration.

It would be easy for some to cynical about the intentions of the ALBA, (Alliance of Bolivarian states in the Americas) in terms of using climate change as just another stick to beat the capitalist North and to promote their vision of global socialism that still relies on exploitation. However, even if this were true, there seems to be something much more complex going on as well. Bolivia glaciers are melting at an alarming rate, threatening the water supply in two major cities. All around this country and the region people are experiencing the effects of climate change that they did not cause, and that they know they are impotent to stop; impotent in the face of the current global system of capitalism. As for the concept of the rights of Pachamama, which has surely been co-opted to an extent for political purposes, it is also a very compelling argument that comes from the indigenous or original knowledges from Bolivia and beyond. We do indeed have a lot to learn from this with regards to re-discovering a respectful relationship with the earth.

Throughout the conference, there have been strikes, occupations and  blockades against San Cristobal mine. One of Evo’s biggest social movement support bases, CONAMAQ, were reported in the paper as saying that they will withdraw their support if the MAS government continues with its megaprojects and extractive industries.

The people here know that they have brought down governments and kicked out corporations. A Bolivian friend said last night, “This isn’t about one man, or one party, this is about bigger structural changes. We are not duped.” And it’s true that people are aware of the contradictions, and yet have still been engaging with this process. Just as we can suspect that the government is using social movements for its own ambitions, individuals and social movements may also be playing the same game. Only with time will really enable us to analyse the contradictions, until then we keep asking, listening and trying to understand.


21st April -Final texts emerge

April 23, 2010

We spent the morning in our working group, trying to agree on the final text. This will be then edited down to a few paragraphs for the final declaration of the conference. But it was still important to get it right! There was a lack of a clear process and at times it was really frustrating. But when we saw the final version of the text that the presidents of the group had worked on, we thought it was pretty good, and a huge improvement on the pre conference text. For example, the refeneces to the IOM had been taken out and  Freedom of Movement is mentioned twice.

It was quite chaotic looking for the venue of where the final texts from the 17 working groups were being presented  and we missed ours but got a paper copy. It is in English  here . It’s a rushed translation.

The rest of the day was spent chatting with people from our working group, who included a woman from Oruro who is a quiona farmer, an organiser from the local Regantes, (people who work in irrigation) union and a immigrant rights organiser from the US.


20th April- Opening Ceremony and first full day- contradictions and exciting connections

April 22, 2010

Opening Ceremony

We weren’t sure about making the early morning trip to Tiquipaya for the opening ceremony, but in the end our curiosity got the better of us. We were soon installed in the stadium with thousands of others, as the sun ravenously ate the bit of shade we had found. The atmosphere was quite incredible with hundreds of flags, the majority being the Wipala, the pan-Andean flag. There were also loads of banners from local unions, some against mining, and again the massive Jesus flag!

There was a curious mixture of military bands, chants from the Argentinian youth and indigenous people’s ceremonies, at times all of them happening simultaneously. Whilst we waited for the speeches to begin there was a range of live folk music from across Latin America, and a lot of merchandise being distributed by Entel, the state telecommunications company. Their slogan is “technology to live well.” They are the co-sponsor of the conference with Coca Cola, although they are less visible. We’re not sure what they think about Coca Colla, the Bolivian alternative, which apparently does contain coca! There are many contradictions here.

After a false alarm, in which other VIPs emerged from fancy cars, Evo arrived. An array of different flavours of police, military, and men in suits with ear pieces scuttled about as the several hundred strong military band with bayonets stood to attention. Met with cheers, Evo walked down past the crowd, gave a short speech to the military which ended with “Patria o Muerte” (recently added to the army slogan), and then made his way up to the stage.

The ceremony continued with speeches from a first nation woman (Alaska), someone from India, Friends of the Earth International (Africa), Via Campesina, (Brazil), Izquierda Unidad, (Europe) and finally a message read from Eduardo Galeano. When an envoy from the UN got up to speak about how the UN process was reflecting the need for climate justice, a strong boo and hisses emerged from the crowd. The reaction was so strong to her unpopular statements that she ended up saying, “You invited me here, if you want I will go, but the international process is still important.”

Following several other local dignitaries, Evo finally began his speech. Starting about three hours after we arrived and lasting for more than an hour, we left towards the beginning. Friends report that he was very much focussed on a popular explanation of environmental problems and did not give much time to the complexities of the international processes. He talked a lot about the differences between the Bolivian traditions and the importance of these forms of knowledge in fighting climate change using metaphors of traditional ceramics v plastic plates, woven ponchos v modern plastic fabrics, Alka Seltzer v herbal treatments. It seems that this is a major theme, to establish pride in national customs as a way to resist patterns of consumption and living associated to El Norte, (the north.)

Climate and Migration Panel

In the afternoon, one of us spoke on the panel about forced migration due to climate change. Despite some early problems with the translations, which were heartily corrected by various attendees in the audience, it went well. What was most interesting was that while one of the speakers gave a very dense and technical speech about legal frameworks, the two other speakers from both North and South America made very similar political points as those that were given from a European context. Summaries of these two talks will be posted soon.

One of the strange images from the conference, the Migration patrol and the Bolivian police for the protection of the environment.

Rising Tide

An informal meeting was held between activists from Rising Tide in Australia, Rising Tide UK, folk from the USA, and a selection of other European based climate justice activists.

Much of our discussions were around ongoing work on coal issues in both the UK and Australia, and experiences of taking direct action at points of extraction, distribution and production into electricity. This was a really interesting chat that allowed for the sharing of tactics, both of direct action and of movement building, and ideas for collaborative call outs.

Another key discussion was the call for a Global Day of Action on October 12th. Historically the date of “Colombus Day”, there has been a subverting of this pro-colonialist celebration and many indigenous groups have been using it as a day to take action around the protection of Mother Earth. An original call came from the Global Minga, a network of indigenous groups, and is being developed and built upon by activists from a variety of networks. We’ll post the call out once it is finalised, and we urge people to share it with their groups to build for worldwide autonomous direct actions.

CJN Side Event

Later we went to a Climate Justice Now (CJN) meeting, entitled “How should social movements enagage with the UNFCCC process?”  There were reflections on Copenhagen and looking forward to COP-16 in Mexico later this year. One of the big questions was whether we should mobilise to Mexico, and if so how? And what other transnational strategies for action were available to us?

Over dinner we chatted with some of the folk from Mexico (including other Rising Tiders), who reflected on how weird it is for them being in the position of living in the place where the next big summit is coming, and trying to decide if/how to mobilise locally and internationally.

There is really so much other stuff going on. These are long and intense days and it gets more difficult to keep up with daily reports!


19th April – From the Migration and Climate Change Working Group

April 20, 2010

The first day of the Climate and Migration Working Group finished today after four hours of comments, proposals and questions around the existing text. It began by ‘electing’ a bilingual International Secretary and two Presidents, one man and one woman, from the audience. While there were around 400 people registered online as part of the working group, there were around 50 people here today, and we were all given an opportunity to present ourselves. The group included academics, activists, representatives from social and environmental organisations, unions, farmers, community activists and local students. Countries of origin included all parts of Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Panama, Italy, The Basque Country, England, Scotland, Norway, US and Switzerland. It was noticeable that there was no one from Asia, Africa, Australasia, Eastern Europe, or the Middle East. It’s not clear if the participation would have been wider if it were not for the volcano cancelling flights, as we know this has affected both Europeans and those travelling from Asia who would have had to transit through Europe.

The International Organisation for Migration or IOM were visible from the moment that we arrived. Their logo is on the poster advertising the working group, they have a banner in the doorway of the meeting room, and there are two Bolivian employees in the audience.

We have always expected that they would be here, and because of our understanding of their activities and what they represent, we have been concerned about the implications of their presence for the outcomes of the working group. Having worked on raising awareness of this organisation and campaigning against them it feels uncomfortable to be in a space where they are sitting in the row in front of us.

The IOM manage migration, for the benefit of nation states, particularly those of the global north. Their policy of managed global migration is not concerned with the well being of people, despite how they might at first appear, but the well being of economies. One of their main activities within the UK is the management and provision of so called Voluntary Returns programmes. People are offered flights and financial incentives to return to their country of origin, and a welcome provision of basic housing and sustenance until they leave. Although there are some cases where this is indeed a choice, the overwhelming majority of “voluntary” returns are in fact a result of well planned and executed coercion. States are actively encouraged to make the conditions intolerable for those who are refused permission to stay and therefore the carrot of the IOM only works with the stick of the UK Border Agency’s policies of enforced destitution (no housing and no money) and indefinite periods of detention. In a powerpoint presentation on their website they explain that voluntary returns  are cheaper, less administratively cumbersome, and more palatable to the wider population than forced removals, as well as laying out the conditions necessary to make people choose to leave in this way. While it is a few years old, you can read more about the IOM here.

Don’t fear though, we were hardly going to leave them unchallenged. Another European No Borders activist got in before us and spoke about structural causes of migration, the development of Frontex in Europe, and the role the IOM has in training some of the world’s border police with the worst human rights records. We followed with a question to the organisers of the working group about the role of the IOM here, and our associated concerns. While it is clear that there is some relationship between the IOM and the Bolivian state, we wanted to know if their support of the working group went as far as financing, and highlighted the fact that many of the social movements in Europe are struggling against the IOM and the policies that they are responsible for. This certainly caused a little bit of tension, and was responded to by both one of the organisers of the working group, and an employee of the IOM. In short, we were told that the entirety of the conference was funded by the Bolivian government, and that the IOM work for the Bolivian government and not the other way round. While we weren’t able to further expose the real nature of the IOM, and who they really represent, it was clear that a point had been made and aside from this response there were no interventions made by their employees within the debates that were had throughout the day.

The nature of most of the discussions today were for the most part really quite exciting and engaging. It seems so strange to be at a state sponsored event with a genuine political space opened up for social movements to meet, debate and find common ground. Further, our No Borders political position has not before been aired and engaged with in a global south context and we have not been sure what the nature of migration related discourses would be here. The context and position is so very different to that of ours in Europe. A clear difference for us to think more on is the way in which our northern borders are used to keep out and “protect” us from the poor of other countries, while here in one of the poorest nations of the world there is a border policy that aims to keep out the rich, the speculative, and the capitalists. Nonetheless, the majority of the early interventions had us nodding heads vigorously, and restraining ourselves from doing “wavy hands”.

People spoke of the fact that climate related displacement and associated migration is not a new thing, especially here in Bolivia. During the early 1980s there were a series of droughts that forced many Quechua people from the Potosi region into the cities. What was spoken of was the need to make these displacements visible, and one of the major debates that will continue to be had is that of the pros and cons of defining climate migrants within a legislative framework, as well as the inherent problems of categorisation.

For some, finding consensus around definitions and terminology for people migrating as a result of climate change is fundamental. A need to name what is happening at both a national and international level. However, many know that any attempt to label a new class of migrant is likely to be limiting, and asserting a definition within a legal framework could be an error. Will a “climate refugee” or “climate migrant” classification include those people who are forced to move as a result of economic problems. Within a climate justice framework there could be space to include people who move as a result of forced displacement, a lack of work opportunities, a lack of food and water sovereignty, and impoverishment as a result of capitalist models of production that are the root cause of climate change. However, if we are to narrow merely to those affected by natural disasters, the category will never be satisfactory, and will only serve to exclude the majority of affected peoples. Capitalism itself is disastrous, and any actions must be to open up spaces to discuss all people who are forced to migrate, both internally and across borders.

Another key debate was had around the use of projected figures for just how many people are, and may be on the move as a result of climate change. Discussions were had as to where the figures used in the current working group document have come from, and how they can exist at all if there is no shared definition of climate migrant/refugee. There was also debate about the uses and risks of such figures. Some stated that they are necessary to make the issue visible, while others pointed out that the figures could easily play into the hands of states and authorities who can use them as an excuse to tighten their borders and immigration policies.

Nonetheless, it was clear that equally the work is to name and have clarity on the structural causes and consequences of climate change, namely neoliberalism and industrial capitalism. Further, within a discourse of historical climate debt it is the most polluting countries of the north that must take responsibility for the futures of displaced peoples. The struggle must be located against the current economic and political systems of the most powerful countries, against private property and against multinationals. It was felt strongly that our work is not solely about “picking up the pieces” with regards to forced displacements, but about tackling the root causes and within this promoting peoples right to stay in their home lands. While it was generally felt that there was a need for social movements to force governments to take concrete actions around these issues, it was strongly felt that the proposals need to come from the grass roots, that the process of change does not come from technical people and officials. The struggle must be not only to protect the planet, but to construct societies based on principles of solidarity, respect, integration, sovereignty and cultural recognition of different communities.

While class has not been discussed explicitly, one person spoke of the need to build movements and affinity between campesinos, migrants and indigenous communities. Another person stating, “for indigenous communities, borders do not exist.”

The other thing here is the 10th South American Conference of Migration, also including some IOM involvement, which is going to take place here tomorrow. This isn’t something we had heard of before but with a quick look at the declaration from last years summit in Ecuador it seems to be looking for some regional integration of migration policy. The language of freedom of movement is used, perhaps within a programme of regional integration like we have in the EU.

Tomorrow the working group is not reconvening until later in the afternoon, as the morning is filled with the Inauguration Ceremony and is followed by a panel specifically on climate migration on which one of us will be speaking of the European context. It will  be interesting to hear from the other speakers who appear to have very similar politics to us…. the IOM, it appears, actually have the minority position.


19th April- Beginning of the Conference

April 19, 2010

An early morning start to beat the queues for accreditation has paid off and we are in the conference, taking place at the UniValle, a big university campus in Tiquipaya, about 10km out of CBB. It’s beginning to bustle with people handing out leaflets, a woman is standing with a large banner reading, “JESUS, the first revolutionary,” and there is some bad piped rock music!

The big news of the morning is that the Forests working group have got  a provisional statement that uses the language of REDD, and seems to be supporting this disaster initiative. It has also been discovered that the appointed moderator of the working group is a REDD supporter from the UN. See the Durban statement on REDD in our list of articles to know more, and please encourage groups to sign it as soon as possible.

The conversations we have already been having with people regarding REDD are increasingly worrying. While it is clear that REDD projects pose an imminent threat to the land rights of indigenous communities, and threaten the integrity of areas of the Amazonian rainforest, there have been cynical moves within the UN and pro-REDD groups to co-opt a minority of indigenous leaders. These leaders have been offered financial incentives to speak out against any dissent, claiming that an anti-REDD position is racist, and this is dividing the communities. Numerous groups and communities from around the world are here to ensure that the declaration of the Forests Working Group does not present a pro-REDD statement in the planning for COP16 in Mexico.

A Brazilian friend, who has just returned from meeting with Amazonian communities, explained that satellite technology is being used to monitor and control areas of REDD plantations. The technology is so advanced, along the lines of the CCTV we are used to in Europe, that she said “they can even see you taking a piss in the forest”, and night vision is being used to ensure that areas can be managed and monitored at all times. These incursions into the Amazon have dramatic impacts for uncontacted indigenous tribes, and for other groups living and working in the rainforests.

We’re off to find our working group and see what happening there.