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“The central aim of any climate summit is not to save itself and accept any outcome, but to come to an agreement that will save humanity.” — Pablo Solon, Bolivia’s climate negotiator
In the days before this week’s conference, and while a global preparatory negotiations were being held on climate change in Bonn, this news came:
The US State Department is denying climate change assistance to countries opposing the Copenhagen accord, it emerged today. The new policy, first reported by The Washington Post, suggests the Obama administration is ready to play hardball, using aid as well as diplomacy, to bring developing countries into conformity with its efforts to reach an international deal to tackle global warming. The Post reported today that Bolivia and Ecuador would now be denied aid after both countries opposed the accord. (Guardian)
This came as a shot across the bow of other developing countries who are caught between environmental principles and economic realities.
These pressures are quite serious. A leading daily newspaper in Cochabamba, Los Tiempos, ran an op-ed yesterday that circled around the movie Avatar, a story of indigenous resistance to extractive industry. It was a blunt caution to the Bolivian government under the headline “Truths that hurt“:
If Bolivia were to act in a more diplomatic way, it could have a great opportunity in the carob market, and this could even be a part of the new economic base of the country. … With the poverty of people, they cannot make speeches which at the moment of settling accounts will amount to no more than that. Bolivia could play its cards in a different way, avoiding the politicization of an issue in which its vote matters very little. The rest is for the movies and for science fiction.
Of course, Bolivia is making just such speeches and hosting a massive civil society gathering on climate change. And it’s clear from the compendium of speeches all of us participants were given by the Foreign Affairs Ministry that this didn’t start yesterday. Instead, Bolivia has been playing a diplomatic role on behalf of the world’s hundreds of millions of indigenous people: pushing for the passage of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, calling for the Rights of Earth to be globally recognized, and connecting with environmental and indigenous delegates in the Copenhagen summit. It would represent a major reversal of rhetoric and a betrayal of the government’s indigenous base to turn back under pressure.
It’s also true that for many countries, the outcome of climate negotiations is the primary issue. The overall targets agreed to, and the effectiveness of the measure worked out determines how severe climate change will ultimately be. As long as negotiations are open, their resistance can push climate agreements to be more serious. Agreeing to take money from a mechanism
But there is something else at stake. To abandon a political initiative under this kind of pressure, is effectively to admit that the hemisphere’s great power determines your policy. As Bolivian climate negotiator Pablo Solon put it, “We are a country with dignity and sovereignty and will maintain our position.” To do otherwise would be to admit that the country’s principles come with a price tag.
At yesterday’s Root Causes panel, Ecuador’s Ambassador to the UN, María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, took this one step further.
Last week, the United States suspended Ecuador from$2.5 million in assistance in its climate change agenda because Ecuador did not adhere to the Copenhagen Accord. It was a punishment that the United States carried out upon Ecuador for not adhering to that Accord that was not an Accord. It was a spurious document made by just a few, without consulting all the governments and all the peoples of the world. Ecuador is not going to accept these forms of extortion. In return, the president of Ecuador and the people of Ecuador have said to the United States with all seriousness that Ecuador offers the United States $2.5 million if the US would sign the Kyoto Protocol. [applause] And we say it seriously. If the United States signs the Kyoto Protocol, we will transfer $2.5 million in cooperation to that country to help them in their process of technological conversion that will so help the planet.
The offer stands.
I’ll be in Bolivia for at least the next four weeks, and Ecuador after that. I’m flying to the Andes to get an up-close look at the very remarkable social changes that have been going down here since 2000. I’m feeling very curious and optimistic, and here’s a bit of why…
In January 2000, with many of us freshly back from the WTO protests in Seattle, we were still thinking in terms of cracks in a monolith of corporate-backed power. A “Washington Consensus” imposed policies on Latin America that would be unthinkable in the U.S.–rolling back guaranteed social services, accelerating the growing extraction of oil, gas and timber, privatizing resources like water, and assigning the costs largely to the poor. It was called structural adjustment, because it was negotiated to make the debts owed by the countries of the South payable, but with everyone selling off their country at lower and lower bids, it never even balanced the books.
Ecuador’s January 2000 national uprising was the first of many to topple a neoliberal government, even if only for a few days. It wouldn’t be the last time mass unarmed movements succeeded in doing so. A few months later, tens of thousands in Cochabamba, Bolivia occupied the center of their own town in the culmination of a months-long conflict with Aguas de Tunari (owned by San Francisco’s Bechtel), who had assumed private control over the cities water supplies and proceeded to double (or more) the bill. The privatization was reversed and the city’s water system is now a massive experiment in a community controlled utility.
Life in both countries has simply gotten a lot more interesting each year since. Stay tuned for the latest.