the people’s summit

by anzya

All this week, the “People’s Summit on Climate Change” is taking place in the usually sleepy town of Tiquipaya, just outside of Cochabamba, in Bolivia. The summit was called by Bolivian President Evo Morales and is seen by many as an alternative to the failed Copenhagen summit –  one that isn’t driven by the interests of government and corporations, and one that engages people in the global south who are the most affected by climate change. Below is a snapshot of some of the attendees at the Summit.

Though it might sound like a random place to hold a world climate conference, Cochabamba is where the “Water Wars” took place in 2000, where citizens shut down the city in protest over the privatisation of their water supply by the American corporation, Bechtel. Jim Shultz, the founder of the Cochabamba-based NGO, the Democracy Center, gives a great overview of the climate summit and the history of the town in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now. It is well worth taking a look at it.

The Conference is divided into 17 working groups on climate change. But a very interesting twist to this is a group that calls itself “Messa 18” that has set up just outside the official conference to hold alternative workshops and discussions. A participant and blogger, Elizabeth Cooper, writes on Blog from Bolivia:

Here, participants lay bare some of the conflicts within the government that is now looked at by many as a global rallying point for (more) radical movements against climate change. One participant addressed the tension in the new government’s and the new constitution’s pro-indigenous rhetoric. “There are a series of contradictions here,” he said. “On one hand, the new laws recognize indigenous sovereignty in theory, but on the other, they are permitting capitalism to pervade our communities even more.”

An indigenous woman sitting next to me in the audience explained another shortfall of the supposed autonomy afforded by nationalization. “According to the constitution, we have the right to be consulted in the plans for development the corporations bring, but what we must have is the right to their administration itself, and the power to actually make the decisions. Right now, what happens is that the corporations arrive and they cheat us. They come and the first thing they do is offer some small improvement for our homes to gain popularity, but then once they gain approval for their plan, the way is wide open for them to do what they want.”

If, as Marek Edelman says, (and I paraphrase Dave Slucki here ;)…) being a Jew means siding with the oppressed and working towards their liberation, then it is important, I think, to follow what is happening at and around this summit, as it represents a gathering of people committed to giving a voice to those usually silenced in the mainstream discourse of climate change.

The Democracy Centre is  blogging about the summit every day on Blog from Bolivia,  so make sure to check it out.

(Post updated on 22 April)