Voices from Bolivia people's conference: The `most important event in the struggle against climate change'

Nnimmo Bassey interviewed by Democracy Now! (Transcript below).

April 21, 2010 -- Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: Among those who spoke at the opening ceremony for the World Peoples’ Climate Conference was Nnimmo Bassey. He’s the prominent Nigerian environmentalist and chair of Friends of the Earth International. By contrast, at the UN climate summit in Copenhagen in December, his group, along with several other mainstream environmental organisations, was barred from the talks.

Democracy Now! producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous spoke with Nnimmo Bassey outside the conference gates here in Tiquipaya. He began by asking to talk about the significance of the Bolivian summit.

    NNIMMO BASSEY: I’m here because this peoples’ summit is the most important event in the struggle against climate change. And it’s been so inspiring to find people from all around the world gathered with the same objective. We don’t have corporate lobby—maybe they’re hiding, but certainly they are not openly lobbying as they did in Copenhagen. So this is a real opening for fresh breath, for peoples and governments who are sensitive about the issues to talk to one another and forge a way forward.

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you were at the Copenhagen summit, the UN summit. Friends of the Earth was expelled, as were you. Now you’re here. Your thoughts on the difference between the two?

    NNIMMO BASSEY: The difference between the two, Copenhagen and Cochabamba, is so huge. In Copenhagen, I was kicked out, locked out a number of days. And here, you see a real sense that government wants to speak to people, wants to listen to people. In Copenhagen, this was not possible. Copenhagen was the question of secret dealings in secret rooms called “green rooms”, which are more like grey rooms. And there was no openness. They asked us to raise our voices, but then they muffled us. So this is so—the only thing that is similar between Cochabamba and Copenhagen is that both start with letter C, and they both have ten letters. Otherwise, the difference is so huge.

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And what do you think the point of this conference is? There’s no binding agreement that will come out of it, and the United States and the world’s biggest polluters are not being represented here in a government form. What do you think is the point of the conference?

    NNIMMO BASSEY: Yeah, I think the point of this conference is not to come out with an agreement, the type that we fought for in Copenhagen, which did not happen. The point of this is to provide a space for the environmental justice movement, for peoples’ movements, [inaudible] movement, environmental movement, to take a step ahead of what they did on the streets of Copenhagen and really organise, to show that this is the real alternative, this is the real space, and the voice of the people just must be listened to.

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And Africa is on the front line of climate change. How has your continent been affected by global warming?

    NNIMMO BASSEY: You know, Africa is the most vulnerable continent. And what came out of Copenhagen was Copenhagen Accord, with no binding agreement with suggestions about emissions cut. Governments could do whatever they want to do. From what I’ve heard, the acknowledgement we got is that if Copenhagen Accord stands, we’re going to have global temperature increase of more than four degrees, and this will mean for Africa over four degrees Centigrade. That will mean roasting Africa, destroying African people, destroying African environment, and simply, possibly, just having a continent on the map with nobody in it. So Africa has—we have real interest in this conference to make our case and then to get people from around the world to stand together and really, really take this struggle of climate change.

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And you just came from speaking at the main inauguration rally at the stadium. There’s been some criticism of the Bolivian government, which is looking to expand oil and gas extraction, expand lithium extraction. What are your thoughts about the fact that Evo Morales, the president, is hosting this conference, and yet continuing to extract raw materials which may hurt the environment?

    NNIMMO BASSEY: You know, we love Evo Morales. We love the government of Bolivia. The positive things that the government is doing is much—very inspiring. But when it comes to the issue of extracting further, deepening and widening extension of fossil fuels, like gas and so on, of course that’s also a concern. And we believe that, like any other government, that issue, they have to struggle with. And we are going to press for leaving the oil in the soil, coal in the hole, tar sands in the sand. It doesn’t matter which government, no matter how much we love the government, we will look at the government of Bolivia in the face and say, “No, this is one way you should not go.”

    SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Thank you very much.

    NNIMMO BASSEY: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Nnimmo Bassey is the chair of Friends of the Earth International. He was speaking yesterday at the opening of the World Peoples’ Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth. Mother Earth, in the Bolivian Indigenous languages of Aymara and Quechua, is Pachamama.

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Colin Rajah and Yasmine Brien on the World Peoples’ Climate Conference Climate Migrants Working Group

From Justice and Ecology. Colin Rajah is the director of the  International Migration and Justice Program at the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Oakland, California (USA). Yasmine Brien is from the organisation No Borders in the UK. An initial translation of the final document from climate migration working group is available HERE.

Bolivian Indigenous activist: `We must respect Mother Earth, our Pachamama'

April 20, 2010 -- Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: As we broadcast from Tiquipaya, a village in Cochabamba, we are in Bolivia.

Representatives from the world’s biggest polluters met behind closed doors in Washington on April 19 at a meeting billed as the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. The meeting comes four months after the Copenhagen UN summit ended in failure as world leaders failed to reach a binding agreement to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

After the meeting of the biggest polluting countries, the top US climate negotiator, Todd Stern, admitted that a binding agreement may not even be possible at the next UN climate summit scheduled for December in Mexico. Stern said, quote, “There’s still considerable support for the notion of a legal agreement…but I think that people are also quite cognizant of the notion that it might or might not happen”, he said.

While the United States and other nations met behind closed doors on April 19, a very different climate summit began here in the Bolivian town of Tiquipaya, just outside Cochabamba. The World Peoples’ Summit on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth opened here.

Bolivia's President Evo Morales called for the gathering to give the poor and the global South an opportunity to respond to the failed climate talks in Copenhagen...

We begin today’s show with Peregrina Kusse Viza, a member of the Bolivian indigenous group CONAMAQ. She served in the constituent assembly that drafted Bolivia’s new constitution. She spoke with Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke just outside the library here on campus at La Universidad del Valle, the University del Valle.

    PEREGRINA KUSSE VIZA: [translated] First of all, let me say hello to all of you, to all the people attending this conference. And let me also say hello to the rest of the world.

    Well, my name is Peregrina Kusse Viza. I’m from J’acha Carangas. I’m part of CONAMAQ. Now I am here as a former member of the constituent assembly. Today we are talking about Mother Earth, which we call the Pachamama. We respect a lot our Mother Earth. She is our earth. We are the sons and daughters of that land. The earth has given birth to us, and the water is the blood of the Mother Earth, of our Pachamama.

    In ancient times, or when I was very young, there was still a lot of respect for Mother Earth. When we started, or before the sowing season, first of all, we respected the Mother Earth with a waxt’a. That could be an offering of a llama or a lamb, or something had to be offered. Then, when you start irrigating the crops, when you start using the water, then, first of all, once again, we had to bless the earth. So, once again, we offered a llama. And after that, we started working on the lands. And then we started harvesting beans, onions, all types of vegetables.

    But today, things have changed. There is no longer the same respect we had before. People, they have forgotten about Mother Earth. They have forgotten about Pachamama and forgotten about respect for the water. And now people—people, they want money. We want to earn money, and we want to have a lot of money. Before, things were very different. That was not so. Before, we had a lot of respect, a lot of respect, so that we would have enough to eat. Now, people, they work in the mines, taking out gold, silver.

    And to take out the gold, to wash the gold, we use a lot of chemicals. And those chemicals, they are doing a lot of damage to the earth and also to the water, because those chemicals, they flow into the rivers and into the sea. And in the sea, those chemicals, they damage the fish, and the fish are now having different faces. We have seen fish that were born with the face of persons, of human beings. So there’s no respect anymore. And that is why the earth and the environment, the sky, they’re all damaged by the transnational companies.

    Those transnational companies, with the smoke, they are contaminating the earth and the Pachamama. There’s holes in the sky, and that is not OK. There’s a lot of damage. So, therefore, all of us, we have to reach an agreement, an agreement to protect the Pachamama, because, otherwise, we will be—goodbye, we will be gone. So all of us together, we have to reach an agreement so that we can put a halt, so that we can stop those transnational companies. They have to stop with that smoke. That smoke is damaging our environment, so we have to stop them. They should not continue contaminating. At least every year they should stop one week, or they should stop working on Sundays, because now they work without stopping, 365 days a year. The whole time they’re contaminating. So we have to reach an agreement for those companies to stop.

    That is what I want to tell the world. Let’s be very much aware of this. Let’s respect our Mother Earth, the air and the water, because there’s also diseases. Few diseases are happening. They’re contagious diseases. And they come from those companies. They’re poisoning us. And then they send us, for example, disposable toys, tires, and everything is disposable. It all becomes waste. And that is contaminating our Mother Earth. So let’s stop that, all of us together. All of us together, let’s reach an agreement, and let’s rise up against this, so that at least the earth can last a bit longer for our children and grandchildren. Otherwise, I think that all of us will die by the year 2070. I don’t know whether the world will explode or what, but something will happen. And we have to stop that, so that we can extend the life of the earth a bit more. This is what I want to tell the whole world. Let’s reach an agreement. Let’s be strong, all of us together, very strong. Hayaya!

AMY GOODMAN: The Bolivian Indigenous activist Peregrina Kusse Viza. She is a member of the Indigenous group CONAMAQ, and she is one of the members of the constituent assembly that wrote the Bolivian constitution.
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North American Indigenous activists in Cochabamba

Indigenous Environmental Network via Climate and Capitalism

April 20, 2010 -- Cochabamba, Bolivia — Indigenous Peoples from across North America and their allies from around the world gathered at the invitation of Bolivian President Evo Morales in Cochabamba this morning for the kick-off of an historic conference on climate change and the “rights of Mother Earth”. Morales called this conference in the wake of failed climate talks in Copenhagen last year.

Over 15,000 delegates from 126 countries heard President Morales speak at the soccer stadium in the village of Tiquipaya today, and are meeting in working group sessions this week to develop strategies and make policy proposals on issues such as forests, water, climate debt and finance, which President Morales pledges to bring to the international negotiations of the COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico later this year.

The convocation this morning included a multicultural blessing ceremony by Indigenous Peoples from across the Americas, and speeches by representatives of social movements from five continents on the urgency of the climate crisis and the need for bold action that protects both human rights and the environment.

“Indigenous rights and knowledge are crucial to addressing climate change, but the United States and Canada have not signed on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and are pushing corporate climate policy agendas that threaten our homelands and livelihoods”, said Jihan Gearon of the Navajo Nation, Native energy organiser with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

“We have traveled to Bolivia because President Morales has committed to bring our voices to the global stage at the next round of talks in Cancun.”

“President Morales has asked our recommendations on issues such as REDDs (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation)”, said Alberto Saldamando, legal counsel for the International Indian Treaty Council.

“REDD is branded as a friendly forest conservation program, yet it is backed by big polluters. REDD is a dangerous distraction from the root issue of fossil fuel pollution, and could mean disaster for forest-dependent Indigenous Peoples the world over.”

“We are here from the far north to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the [global] South”, said Faith Gemmill, executive director of Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands (REDOIL), who spoke from the stage at the invitation of President Morales.

“We have a choice as human kind -– a path of life, or a path of destruction. The people who can change the world are here!”

[The Indigenous Environmental Network is in Cochabamba for the duration of the Climate Conference (April 20-24). Onsite cell: +59 740 28531.Indigenous Environmental Network: Indigenous Peoples empowering Indigenous Nations and communities towards sustainable livelihoods, demanding environmental justice and maintaining the Sacred Fire of our traditions.]


Video by thejuicemedia

April 21, 2010: Forget corporate climate politics in Copenhagen: the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the rights of Mother Earth is currently being held in Cochambamba, Bolivia, hosted by president Evo Morales. Key on the agenda is to press for a global referendum on climate-change and the creation of a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth.

"We are not here to accept deals... we are here to deal with those who make 'deals' on our behalf", Maria Theresa Nera-Lauron passionately said at the International Meeting on Climate Crisis and Alternative Visions of Civil Society session. Maria goes on to say how we should unite grassroots movements around the globe in order to bring about climate justice.