An Evening with Evo

On September 23, Global Justice Ecology Project co-director Orin Langelle and I traveled to Manhattan for a meeting with Evo Morales Ayma, the indigenous President of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, and Pablo Salón, Bolivia's Ambassador to the UN, to discuss the preparations for the upcoming UN Climate Conference in Cancún. Invited to the event were a small number of people representing NGOs, Indigenous Peoples' Organizations, and social movements, including the Indigenous Environmental Network, La Via Campesina, Grassroots International, the National Family Farm Coalition, and the Institute for Policy Studies, among others.


After gathering at the Bolivian Mission on Second Avenue, our group of 30 or so negotiated the maze of police barricades and uniformed officers to arrive at the Church Center for the United Nations, directly across the street from the UN building. We waited in the "Boss Room" of the Church Center until news came that President Morales was speaking to the UN General Assembly at that very moment and would arrive at our meeting as soon as he was finished.


Morales finally arrived, greeting and shaking hands with new friends and old. Pablo Salón opened the meeting with an update on the status of the negotiations going on at the UN General Assembly across the street. He was not optimistic about where they were headed and, instead, emphasized the importance of the upcoming UN Climate meetings in Cancún (November 29 to December 10) for advancing the "Cochabamba Accord" and the "Rights of Mother Earth." Both of these emerged in April of this year as outcomes from the World Peoples' Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth that took place in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Morales organized the summit to bring together climate justice and indigenous leaders from around the world to discuss a peoples' alternative to Obama's heavy-handed and highly undemocratic "Copenhagen Accord" that had been "acknowledged," but not adopted at the Copenhagen Climate Summit last December.


Obama, Ambassador Salón pointed out, had just that morning at the UN General Assembly pushed his Copenhagen Accord. Salón emphasized that, although language from the Cochabamba agreement had so far been included in the text of the negotiations at the interim climate meetings, it was going to take a major mobilization before and during Cancún to ensure that the Cochabamba language makes its way into the final text. This call to mobilize had been raised at the recent Social Forum of the Americas in Paraguay and was being taken up by social movements around Latin America.


Next on the agenda, Representatives from Mexican social movements discussed the plans already being organized for Cancún. The crux of this long and detailed series of presentations was that, although there have been some differences between the Mexican social movements and organizations in terms of tactics and objectives, they were trying to put aside those differences to create one unified alternative space in Cancún where social movements of all types could share strategies and information to advance the struggle for climate justice.


Caravans of social movements to Cancún are being planned from points throughout the Americas. On November 20, a huge march will take place in Mexico City on the 100th Anniversary of the Mexican Revolution and on December 7, Via Campesina has called for "Thousands of Cancuns" to take place all over the world.


President Morales, too, emphasized, "If we want the Cochabamba Accord, it will be up to the power of the people. I don't believe very much in governments, but we need an alliance of social movements and progressive governments to find solutions, otherwise the planet is going to cook…. We must cool the earth down."


When the topic moved on to discussing the advancement of REDD—the UN's hotly contested scheme to supposedly reduce deforestation by including forests in the carbon market—Salón explained that REDD will be a major focus of the negotiations in Cancún. He emphasized that pro-REDD forces there are stacking the deck, hand picking who will be allowed to participate. Meanwhile, the Mexican government is doing its best to legitimize REDD. "They are trying to manipulate the process to make it seem like Indigenous Peoples support REDD…. Using Indigenous Peoples to legitimize the buying and selling of nature is a big problem and we will do what we can to stop it."


The consensus of the meeting was that the movements supporting the Cochabamba Accord and the Rights of Mother Earth need a unified message that is strongly opposed to carbon markets and REDD and that social movements must continue to organize for Cancún, including making a concerted effort to raise the issues in the media. As Salón explained, "We need as much media coverage as possible."


Those of us who attended are now taking these mandates to our allies and constituencies in the countdown to Cancún. The Global Justice Ecology Project will be doing our part to advance the principles of the Cochabamba Accord and the Rights of Mother Earth.


Anne Petermann is executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project and has been involved in movements for forest protection and Indigenous rights since 1991; and the international and national climate justice movements since 2004.