Thursday, April 22, 2010

Some last thoughts

What is hard to convey are the tears. The tears of Susanna, an Athabascan from Alberta Province in Canada, who lost 13 family members in one month. Multinational corporations such as BP, Shell, Exxon Mobil and even the Norwegian government produce oil from tar sands from mines covering an area as large as New York State and pollute the native lands causing countless cancers and poisoning the fish. One 8 year old boy is afraid to eat the food or drink the water. The land is crying along with the people.

The tears of participants in our session on building a movement. The tears on an Oneida from New York who does not know how to stop the proposed drilling of the shale for oil. Should she stand at the site and say drill me?

Tears, courage and determination. I hope these will in the end be enough to save us all.

Defending Water at World Conference

Defending Water held two sessions at the World Conference. Emily Posner presented on Lessons Learned from the Climate Disaster in the U.S., describing with words and slides what happened in New Orleans when Katrina and Rita hit the coast and the city. Property was protected while people from the 9th Ward were blocked from getting to dry land. Some African-Americans crossing through the Algiers white neighborhood to get to the evacuation location were shot. When acrisis hits again, is this the way we will behave or will we have learned to act together when the next climate or othr crisis strikes? Some workshop participants reported that in Oakland CA they are trying now to build a cooperative strategy so that they will be prepared if (when?) the next earthquake strikes.

Thursday morning, we led a session on Building a Movement for the Internationa Declaration of Mother Earth Rights. It was good to sit in a circle rather than have presentations from the podium. Brent Patterson from the Council of Canadians talked about how local organizing to stop the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) led to stopping the trade agreement that would have given corporations and investors unbridled rights. (This was also the first major campaign of the Alliance for Democracy). Emily spoke about our work in Maine. Mari Margil with Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) explained the history and significance of rights-based organizing. Finally, Maria Lauron from IBON in the Phillipines spoke about their success in getting the Supreme Court to put the rights of nature into their law. But, even though people are given the power to enforce the law, she made clear that this would not be an easy route in the Phillipines, where 43 community health workers have been arrested and are now in jail on a hunger strike.

Many others spoke including a representative of the Canadian Postal Workers who explained how the privatization of mail delivery means much energy inefficiency has deliveries are made by mulitple providers like UPS and FedEx. Others spoke of saving seeds, of contaminated water in Patagonia, of the many ways the struggle continues in communities around the world, and of the need for global solidarity.

Declaration on Mother Earth Rights

Several weeks before we arrived from around the world, representatives of indigenous communities in Bolivia met to draft a declaration on the rights of Pachamama, Mother Earth. This became the working draft for Table 3 to prepare a UN Declaration on Mother Earth Rights. After an indigenous opening ceremony to bless the effort, we were told to elect two Presidents, one from the international community and one from Bolivia. About 20 internationalists clustered and elected Cormac Cullinan from South Africa, who wrote the book Wild Law and helped draft language on the rights of nature for the Equadoran Constitution, as President. But the Bolivians were not all of one mind as to who should represent them and the Peruvian indigenous participants felt totally excluded, not international and not Bolivian. How would they be represented? They walked out. Next Pablo Solon, Ambassador to the UN from Bolivia arrived, and brought everyone back together. The Bolivian couple who had led the opening ceremony became the second joint President.

The day was filled with passionate speeches and with the presentation of many position papers, including our water statement from Cochabamba. The next day the text was read and many specific suggestions were made, interspersed with more passionate speeches by indigenous men and women in their traditional dress. It became clear that the economic systems, based on mass exploitation of the environment to fuel a consumption addiction, was seen as the root of the problem. After much discussion it was recognized that this was not just capitalism, but also other systems. What about China?

I tried to get Article VI on the right to water to also include that water must not be privatized, later expanding this to water, air and our bodies. Although there was clear support for this in the room, I am not optimistic that it will be in the final language. As Pablo Solon, the Bolivian ambassador, explained to me, including such language would mean the declaration would not be considered at all by the UN. Clearly we have a very long way to go to convince the world´s governments that water being a fundamental right means it should not be privatized.

Pablo Solon also made the point the the Universal Declaration on Human Rights had much general language, but became a start for recognition of human rights by many governments. This is the hope for the Declaration on Mother Earth rights. I think we need two declarations: one for the UN, and one for mobilizing people around the world where our language can be as clear as needed.

As of this writing, we do not yet have the final language. Hopefully by next week we can post it on our website

Conferencia Mundial begins

In some ways, the People´s World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (Conferencia Mundial de los Pueblos sobre el Cambio Climatico y los Derechose de la Madre Tierra) reminded by of the early World Social Forums in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Thousands of people, high energy, celebrations, so many meetings it was hard to choose where to go. But there were also differences. This conference was called together by President Evo Morales of Bolivia so many of the booths represented government offices. And because some world leaders were expected, there were soldiers about.

It was also different in that it was organized as 17 "tables," each on a different theme. These included structural causes, visions, climate justice tribunal, forests, agriculture, finances, Kyoto Protocol and others. I chose to attend Table 3 on the Rights of Mother Earth (pachamama), to be able to understand the global and indigenous perspective on the rights of nature which is now part of local ordinances in Shapleigh and Newfield and in four New Hampshire towns, as well as some in Pennsylvania.

The purpose of this table was to prepare a declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth to bring to the United Nations and to have it adopted to sit alongside the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a fundamental reframing from people centered rights to recognition of the inherent rights of Mother Earth. As I learned over the two days from the eloquent and passionate presentations from many indigenous peoples from across the Andes region, we must respect and live in accordance with the inherent rights of Mother Earth, with her laws, if the planet is to be saved.

The conference began officially on Tuesday morning in an outdoor stadium in Tiquipaya. The stadium was filled with Bolivians in their beautiful and colorful local dresses and a smattering of us westerners looking quite drap by comparison, but filled with good spirit. After several hours of music and some speeches, including by a leader of the North American Indigenous Environmental Network, Evo Morales arrived. To my surprise he walked back and forth in the field just in front of the bleachers where I was sitting and then paused almost directly across from me to say a few words of welcome facing his soldiers in full regalia. To know what he said later in his long speech from the podium, you will have to read the press, as none of it was translated and I was one of very few gringoes present who do not speak Spanish.

Cochabamba Water Forum-Last Day

Apologies for the long delay in posting to my blog due to difficulties finding a computer with internet and some quiet time to write. Much has happened since my last post.

It was on the last day of our water gathering in Cochabamba that the real meaning of "Feria", the "Water Fair," became clear. Indigenous local communities from the south of Cochabamba which helped to lead the water war against Bechtel have been self-organizing to provide water for their neighborhoods. All around a large field next to the labor center, booths had been set up showing the neighborhoods and what they were doing to provide water for their households. The grounds were filled with people and vendors selling food, ices, and drinks. It was truly a celebration of the people´s local control of water. But there is still much to be done to ensure that this water is clean since contamination of the water by industry in this part of Cochabamba is a serious problem. Fair booths included demonstations of water filters. Photos will have to wait until I am back in the U.S. and can upload them to our website.

Also on the last day, we adopted a declaration to bring to the Global People´s Conference on Climate and the Rights of Mother Earth. The statement connects the pollution caused by large scale mining and energy extraction and the environmental destruction by large hydro dams to the disruption of the natural hydrological cycle and the pollution of water. It emphasizes the need to return to the regenerative practices of our ancestors and of indigenous peoples in order to protect our watersheds and prevent the catastophe of climate change. It concludes by calling on all governments attending the summit to withdraw from the World Water Forum which promotes privatization of water and is led by multinational water corporations. Some may remember the documentary, Thirst, which opens with scenes of the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto where demonstators protested the corporate control of water.

While the fair was going on outside, Climate Justice Now activists gathered inside to lay out why climate justice means saying no to carbon trading and carbon offsets. It dawned on me that depending on market solutions to our climate crisis is actually privatizing our air. Even though I have been part of an international network opposing the privatization of water, I never thought privatizing our would be possible.

My day ended with a rush to Tiquipaya, the town next to Cochabamba, where I arrived just in time to regiser for the People´s World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth and avoid a long line the next morning.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Feria Internacional del Agua begins

Friday morning the gathering is in full swing with five groups meeting in tents and in the labor center where there is translation for the session on Water, Climate and Contamination. The session begins by Anil Nadoo from the Council of Canadians explaining why it is essential to keep water in the soil and in watersheds if we are to combat climate change. This fits into our work in Maine to keep water out of corporate hands and in the watersheds and communities.

Janet Redman with Institute of Policy Studies provided the historical perspective that the connection between water and climate change was made 20 years ago. She went on to critique the Clean Development Mechanism established as part of the Kyoto Protocol as establishing a carbon market which pays people in the Global South to compensate for the continuing pollution by people in the Global North, a kind of outsourcing. (Of course these terms are not just geographic for there is mining and industry in countries in the southern hemisphere just as there are efforts to reduce carbon emissions by communities, states and countries in the northern hemisphere.) She also emphasized that the people most immediately impacted by climate change were shut out of the Copenhagen negotiations. The climate justice platform includes reparations for climate debt from north to south; the rights of all peoples; and that the carbon market is a false solution which is a form of privatizing the air, adding to our concern about water privatization.

The impact of climate change was then brought home dramatically by the report of how the melting glaciers in the Bolivian Andes is already impacting indigenous communities dependent on irrigation using water from the glaciers. The glaciers are now melting rapidly and not being replenished. How can there be a right to water when there is no water? How can there be a right to indigenous culture when these communities may be forced to become climate immigrants? In La Paz the water system is now public and workers have installed 3250 local systems in the last 2 months. Yet there is less rainfall. What will the poor do who can´t afford to buy bottled water? (Not mentioned until another session the next day was the development of new mines in the Alto Plato which consume huge quantities of water. What does this mean for the human right to water?)

False solutions were discussed including eucalyptus plantations which suck up huge quantities of water and cannot be used by rural communities for needed firewood and the World Bank´s promotion of mega hydro projects as a key source of renewable energy when most of this energy is used to fuel industry and displaces thousands of households.

In the end, water justice and climate justice must be pursued as two sides of one coin.

In the afternoon, we heard from the other working groups including the role of local communities in distributing water from cooperative water companies; the need to create strong legal frameworks for the right to water including Emily Posner describing the local water ordinances passed in Shapleigh and Newfield Maine; and difficult questions relating to regulations and autonomy to go beyond words to actual practices, such as the use of water by the mining industry when water is to be treated as a commons.

This last theme was made graphically clear on Saturday during a session on Derechos Colectivos y Derechos de la Madre Tierre. Here the impact of mines on indigenous communities was made painfully clear. The El Alto indigenous economic system, ayllo, is simply not compatible with the pollution emanating from the mines which is polluting the water of mother earth. For a new copper mine, land was taken from the indigenous communities for building dykes without any consultation with the communities. Both violated the Bolivian Constitution. The pollution also violates the Constitutional protection of the right to water. So clearly the goals of economic development and fundamental rights are clashing in Bolivia. How do words on paper get translated into the practices of government is a question we must all grapple with.

The day ended with a session to prepare a statement to go to the climate conference, raising the fundamental question of how can there be climate justice in a world still following an economic model based on more and more consumption.

Before leaving, I checked out our quilt square project and noticed that many new squares are being made by people visiting our art show, El Agua is nuestra, ¡¡Carajo!!

Arriving Cochabamba

Early Thursday morning, we arrive in La Paz, at 12,000 feet the highest airport in the world. My first conversation is with a doctor from Wales who is returning to Cochabamba for his mother´s birthday. I explain that I am coming for the 10th anniversary of the uprising in Cochabamba against the privatization of the city´s water by the U.S. corporation, Bechtel. Ah, he says, I remember the march. They were throwing stones and my brother was very upset because he couldn´t fill his swimming pool twice a week! Then he says that his son-in-law works for Bechtel in the U.S. at the Richmond WA nuclear site. How far apart could we be? Yet, he was sympathetic with the marchers and thought his brother selfish. So what is it like to be a doctor in Wales with a government system of health care? He said it was a good system. Everyone got coverage paid by the government and he got a decent salary. Not wealthy like in private systems, but quite adequate. A lesson for me in not jumping to conclusions about people.

After a short flight to Cochabamba, I get a ride to the labor center and upon entering see our art show, "It´s Our Water, Damn It," beautifully displayed by Emily Posner who had arrived several days earlier. The quilt pieces have been sewn together and are hanging on the wall. The 6 foot banner of Nestle sucking water from the towns in Maine is also hung. Even the sculpture of the earth weeping is on display. Cochabamba and Maine don´t seem quite so far apart.