By Ron Ridenour
“The Nobel War Prize winner walked in and out of a secret door, and that is the way capitalism and the United States Empire will end up leaving the planet, through a secret back door.” So spoke Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez from the plenary podium on the last afternoon, December 18, of the 12-day long Copenhagen climate conference (COP15).
“While the conference was a failure, it, at least, led to more consciousness of what the problem is for all of us. Now starts a new stage of the struggle for the salvation of humanity, and this is through socialism. Our problem is not just about climate, but about poverty, misery, unnecessary child deaths, discrimination and racism—all related to capitalism,” Chavez said at the Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of Latin America (ALBA) press conference held at the Bella Centre immediately following Chavez’ last remarks at the plenary.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales followed Chavez’ remarks by saying: Barack Obama said a while ago – the only delegate to walk in and out of the stage from a concealed door – that he came here not for more words but for action. Well, then you should act by using the money you are spending for wars against the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq, for militarizing Colombia with seven military bases to save lives, to save the planet, our Mother Earth.
Both presidents, the only heads of state representing eight of the nine ALBA countries present at COP15, denounced the failure of the Copenhagen conference in both form and content.
Chavez: “There are no documents presented for consultation by all. The responsibility is a lack of political will by a few rich countries, including the host Denmark, headed by the U.S. Empire.”
Morales: “There is profound difference between their document (26 rich countries drew up a so-called `Copenhagen Accord’) and the peoples fighting for humanity and the planet. This group of friends led by Obama accept that temperatures can increase by 2 degrees Celsius by 2020. This will end the existence of many island states; it will end our snow-capped mountains. And Obama only seeks to reduce gas emissions by 50% in 2050. But we want and need 90 to 100% reduction, in order to save the planet. Then they speak of spending crumbs for mitigation and adaptation. The third theme, which they are only just now debating, is how to set up a system of controls for monitoring agreements and what sanctions there will be if this is not done. That is why we want an International Climate Justice Tribunal that can sanction failure to comply with agreements, so that we can govern based on balance and achieve real solutions.”
President Morales was referring to one of the five questions — to be answered yes or no– that he proposes for a global referendum on climate change. The other four are:
1. Do you agree with re-establishing harmony with nature, recognising the rights of Mother Earth?
2. Do you agree with changing this model of over-consumption and waste that the capitalist system represents?
3. Do you agree that developed countries reduce and re-absorb their domestic greenhouse gas emissions so that the temperature does not rise more than 1 degree Celsius?
4. Do you agree with transferring all that is spent on wars to protecting the planet and allocate a budget for climate change that is bigger than what is used for defense?
At the press conference, and on various other occasions during the three days of his attendance, Morales posed the problem and the solution to it thus: “The rich countries seek to divide the rest of us … by offering crumbs of money. Mother Earth can’t be preserved with money alone. Europe’s food almost entirely depends upon petrol. What happens when there is no petrol? This dependency on fossil fuel is a threat to humanity, so we have to change the structures of food. It is a structural problem of two forms of life: one way of living is the way of over-consumption and waste, the way of luxury, of egoism and individualism-capitalism. The other way is vivir bien — living well — food enough for all and living in harmony with others and our Mother Earth, in solidarity and complementarily.”
At the final press conference — for which I was one of two media consultants during this two weeks, along with Nick Buxton — for the ALBA countries, Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela attended. Cuba’s vice-president Esteben Lazo said that socialism offers greater protection for the Earth than does capitalism: “Before our revolution, capitalism had nearly depleted all our forests. We have focused on replanting and now 20 percent of the land is covered by forests. We also educate our school children about ecology, and about the ALBA network. We are founded on principles of solidarity, of human rights and nature’s rights.”
Nick and I had rushed to put out a media advisory announcing the above press conference, about which we were informed only 90 minutes beforehand that Morales would be attending rather than leaving Copenhagen earlier that day as he had planned. We wrote it in a blink and passed out 200 fliers. At the appointed time, the press room began to fill with media and delegates from several countries. Bolivia was the only state, as far as I know, that insisted on allowing anyone to attend our press conferences, in accordance with Morales’ practice of inclusiveness and transparency. The time allotted was 30 minutes. Morales did not arrive on time, which he usually does. We heard from a top Bolivian delegate inside the plenary that Evo had just gotten an opportunity to respond from the floor to the rich countries’ secret document, now leaked. Fifteen minutes ticked by and he did not arrive. Another phone call informed us that Chavez would be following Evo and then they were both coming to the media hall. Oh, no! Chavez never talks briefly. We would lose the conference time and 100 people present would be disappointed.
Use the “dead” time, my experience told me. I asked two indigenous social movement delegates if they would take the podium and speak, perhaps about their movements and the five-point referendum. They agreed. I translated for them. They spoke of how this very act of taking the podium before their president’s arrival illustrated how democratic the new Plurinational State of Bolivia actually is. Social movements work hand in glove with the government and their president — reelected less than two weeks before with a 64% majority.
As the activists were speaking, about their movement and the referendum, in walked presidents Morales and Chavez followed by the Cuban, Ecuadorian and Nicaraguan leaders. The activists and I calmly walked off the stage and the leaders took our seats as we nodded to one another.
Morales’ entourage of ministers and ambassadors took their seats. They are known to us as Eugenio, Pablo, Roberto, Ivan, Angélica, David, Rene and not Your Honorable, Excellency, Minister, Ambassador. When speaking with or about their presidents, most common people call them Evo and Chavez.
On other occasions — such as before 3000 persons at the ALBA People’s Meeting held in a sports stadium on December 17, where Morales and Chavez spoke alongside top leaders from Cuba, Ecuador and Nicaragua — the leaders of the Bolivian and Venezuelan governments thoughtfully thanked their teams of paid workers and volunteers, and the organisers of political events. They also praised the activists inside and outside the Bella Centre conference.
They applauded the 100,000 plus demonstrators who mobilised on December 12 — twice the size of the hitherto largest demonstration ever held in the Banana Republic of Denmark — and the 1500 activists arrested preventatively, nearly none of whom had performed an illegal act. Only two handfuls were eventually charged with any violation. Several hundreds had their hands handcuffed behind their backs and were forced to sit on the cold ground and asphalt for up to five hours before being bussed to makeshift cage cells. No water, no toilet. This is the treatment a “democratic” police state can render potential “terrorists” under their new terror laws, which they deem to be necessary to accompany their imperialist wars.
In addition to these demonstrations, there were smaller ones attended by hundreds or thousand in several parts of the city everyday. Some were decidedly opposed to capitalism and its wars. I participated in one in front of the Yankee Embassy of Murder the day before its president was to receive the so-called Nobel Peace Prize.
Evo Morales, 50, comes from the people’s struggles. He was an amateur soccer player, a musician, a coco farmer and a union organiser and leader before entering politics. He is a man of dialogue with his people. I note one illustration. When he came out of a news conference, the Indian Youth Climate Network, a group of youth from India, wanted him to hear a song one of them had written about Bolivia. He stopped to listen to “I wish I was Bolivian,” sung to the tune of “Homeward Bound” by Simon and Garfunkel.
“Every day they are stalling and they are saying the same old things again, But one bright country stands apart, They’re saying things close to my heart, They’ve got a plan with hope in hand, They’re saying c’mon, let’s just start… Bolivia, I wish I was Bolivian… Just one degree temperature rise, 300 ppm in the skies, 100 per cent emissions down by two thousand forty, Does anyone know the price of waiting? Fighting, hating, procrastinating, My future stands in front of me, While people here make history, I hope and pray that it will be, What the world’s children wish to see, Bolivia, We’ve got to take the boldest steps, There’s work to do; clean up the mess, Bolivia”
The evening before, Morales attended one of the hundreds of side events organised by people’s movements and NGOs. This one was about the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. He spoke briefly giving plenty of time for questions and comments from the floor. Anyone could speak and there was no formality or nervousness before the president.
At one point, Evo Morales said that he couldn’t always set in motion all that we wanted but it would be easier now, given that the Movement Towards Socialism, the president’s party, had won so overwhelming in the presidential electoral campaign and also now controls both parliament houses. “Politics is a science of serving the people. I live to serve the people. Participating in politics is part of assuring our dignity, our traditional way of life. It is my duty to take your message to the heads of state here. If I make a mistake, let me know so that I can rectify it.
“I don’t think we’ll make progress here. We must organise and mobilise all the more. Not just climate justice activists, but all of us: workers, farmers, media people, academics, everybody. That is the answer.” Following this meeting, several Indigenous people told me that those are not empty words. “We always speak out in meetings with the president and we offer criticisms and make demands. He listens.” Niels Boel, a writer for the daily Danish newspaper Information had one of two dozen bilateral interviews with Evo Morales. He wrote: As the police fought against demonstrators … the world’s greatest activist, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, got off with being chased by the press.
While he did not go to jail this time, the world’s first Indigenous president knows what prison and torture are all about. He was so treated under previous Bolivian presidents doing capitalism’s bidding. As Boel wrote: Solutions for Morales come only from people’s organizations, which can overcome capitalism.
That is why I say this conference was a smashing success. Especially because of Morales and Chavez’ anti-capitalist dialogue in those few days, and the many thousands carrying picket signs displayed during the massive march that damned the greedy economic system (“Change the system, not the climate”), capitalism is now on the agenda of many more people than in a long time. Even some of the mass media could not avoid headlining this message from the two “bad boys.”
“I have heard many debates in the UN where presidents condemn climate change but they never say — cowardly enough — what causes it. We say clearly that it is caused by capitalism”, Morales said in closing.
Ron Ridenour worked with the ALBA countries’ delegation at the Copenhagen climate talks. He has written widely on Latin America and other political developments.
Ridenour, is a former Venice resident, now living in Copenhagen. He used to write for the L.A. Free Press, and contributes to the Beachhead.