Author Archives: econusta

From Fairytales to Collective Realities

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Galeano Vive

Galeano Vive

Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to participate in the solidarity caravan to La Realidad (Reality, the village name) in the south of Chiapas on May 24-25th, to show solidarity to the first-established Zapatista caracol (organisational hubs). The Zapatistas had asked for support after a local Zapatista school teacher José Luis Solís Lopez (his Zapatista name was Galeano), was brutally ambushed and killed on the 2nd of May this year . A tribute would be paid to Galeano on Saturday 24th of May at the caracol. Little did we all know that Subcomandante Marcos would give his last public speech that evening, and once again surprise us with the words and vision of the Zapatistas on their steady paths to re-imaginging and remaking this world.

La Realidad is about 6 hours by car ( about 200Km on mostly small curvy roads) if you go direct from San Cristóbal de las Casas, heading towards the Lacandona jungle and very close to the Guatemalan border. It’s an isolated little village where Zapatistas live side-by-side with non-Zapatistas (as happens in many Zapatista areas). Recently tensions had been mounting there between CIOAC-H* (Central independiente de Obreros Agrícolas y Campesinos, The Historic Independent Agricultural Workers and Campesinos Central) and the Zapatistas over a detained Zapatista vehicle. While both sides were in negotiations, a group of Zapatistas were surrounded and attacked by CIOAC-H members. Galeano was surrounded by 20 CIOAC-H paramilitaries, brutally beaten and shot in the head.

 

camioneta GaleanoLa Caravana de Solidaridad

On Friday morning, all those participating in the solidarity caravan were to arrive at the departure point by 7am to register, split into our respective vehicles, and leave together around 8am. Now this is Mexico, and I’m well used to delays, but nobody could have anticipated the day ahead of us. We knew we may be waiting for the Mexico City caravan to join us, plus others who were coming from Oaxaca, Yucatán, and even some very determined people from as far north as Chihuahua (not to mention various overseas people). Yet the more vehicles of all shapes and sizes we added to the caravan, the harder and slower it was going to be to travel together. In the end around 45-odd small vans, cars and 6 50-seater buses from Mexico City (around 600 people in all), set off from San Cristóbal at 1pm, 5 hours late.

In the end it took us 25 hours to reach La Realidad. I’m not going to bore you with many details of the mishaps en route, but I think it’s important to mention this because of the way our caravan was organised, how the organisers treated us punters, how we all reacted, was in stark contrast to what we saw at the caracol compared to how the Zapatistas organised themselves. Many lessons for organisation, self-control and basic human decency to be learnt right there!

The village of La Realidad

The village of La Realidad

In short, there were vehicle break-downs, infiltrated corporate media people who were kicked off the caravan, people left behind in hammocks who’d decided to take naps en route (nut-jobs!), and larger buses getting stuck on the small Chiapas roads. But the worst of it was how the caravan coordinators started off on the wrong foot with everyone, with most of them yelling at us at the toilet stops to hurry up, pushing people aside to get through, never informing us as to why we stopped a million times (we’d find out later through hear-say), and basically treating us like cattle being shipped from A to B. Lots of bad sentiments were created en route, and in the end we slept on the buses in the middle of nowhere at around 3am till sunrise at 630am. We later found out that some Zapatistas had come to meet us after we didn’t arrive at sundown and for our own safety told the caravan to wait till sunrise to continue travelling. This way we would not arrive at night to the village where there were the CIOAC-H paramilitaries and create possible provocation with 600 people descending on them in the dark.

puesto de salud zapa

Zapatista health promoters at La Realidad

The Zapas call the CIOAC-H organisation paramilitaries, because they have seen many cases of these leaders incentivising and arming their members to cause conflict with the Zapas and other neighbouring indigenous groups in different parts of Chiapas. The Zapas see it as part of the low-intensity war that the Mexican government (at federal and local level) has been engaged in since 1996. In this way, the Mexican government can look away and claim that it’s just another dispute between different indigenous communities.

Paramilitaries is a strong word for me. I see paramilitaries very much linked to the historical Colombian paramilitary context, but I think it’s me who needs to expand my concept of this. Here I see that paramilitary groups can be much smaller, less organised, less well-funded. It’s not like the specialised well-trained and well-funded private armies hired in Colombia by large wealthy land-owners to protect their interests. Here it varies a lot, but it seems that in Chiapas, those in the front lines are just poor fellow campesinos who are looking for a quick buck to feed their families, and a few bricks to build their house. That makes it even sadder, to see the government use indigenous peoples against each other.

 

En La Realidad

Mujeres Zapatistas en la Realidad Justicia para Galeano

Mujeres Zapatistas en la Realidad – Justicia para Galeano

But back to the caravan….we arrived Saturday morning 8am and after some cuing we went into the caracol. La Realidad is caracol I, the first organisational hub set up by the Zapatistas in 2003, when they decided to move towards a civilian-led organisation, and no longer led by their military-wing, the EZLN. (more info. on Zaptista caracoles here) Each one of the other 4 caracoles had also sent a solidarity caravan of their indigenous members (men, women, teenagers, children, sucking babies, the lot!), which had arrived the previous night. When we all assembled a little later, infront of the podium to hear Subcomandante Moises pay hommage to Galeano, I could see that we were in the vast minority, with about 2,500 Zapatistas all lined up and masked-up, well organised, while us 600-odd mestizos, city-slickers, and foreigners were a bit of a disorganised mumbling mess after our 25 hour ordeal on the buses!

el sub borrowed

Subcomandante Marcos

 

In the afternoon, word got around that the leading commanders of the EZLN were about to make an appearance, and so all the indymedia people started prepping their gear, while all the compas started lining up in the main plaza. The indigenous women’s colourful clothes were so eye-catching, with some of them carrying their babies on their backs. The leaders of the EZLN came out on horse-back to music playing over the loud-speakers, gave some quick salutes and quickly retreated to let Sub Moisés begin his homage speech. Sub Marcos was among them, with his pipe, eye patch, and machete on his back, and gave us all a middle-finger salute. Very rock-n-roll you might say. They say he always salutes outsiders that way! Afterwards many commented about the skeletal glove he was wearing, the eye-patch…..; what did it all mean?, what would he say later? The groupie-mania peeved me off, but the Sub later pulled his final stunt.

 

sun moises

Sub Moisés pays homage to Galeano

Subcomandante Moisés gave the homage speech for Galeano. He told us how their local good government central committee had called for the EZLN to come to their community and carry out an investigation into the murder of Galeano. “When we look at compañero Galeano, we see the murderers, and we also see who is behind the murderers. They think that by assassinating compañero Galeano, our organization’s struggle will end, but no. That is why we are here, to clarify that the Zapatista struggle has not ended. What they have done to our compañero Galeano is sad and painful for us, but we’re not going to go from one bad thing to another,” said Sub Moisés. He said that they didn’t seek vengeance, but justice. Those who killed Galeano were only weak people he said, following orders from their leaders in CIOAC-H, who were all just being used as pawns by the rich and powerful for their own profit. “The rage we have is against capitalism, because what they did to compañero Galeano…they would have done to anyone”,  he continued. He named particular politicians linked to the PAN (National Action Party, Spanish: Partido Acción Nacional, PAN) political party, and The Green Party in Mexico, which are a total right-wing front here!

Galeano's grave in La Realidad

Galeano’s grave in La Realidad

Sub Moisés invited us all to go to Galeano’s grave at his wife’s house to pay our final respects there. It was moving to see his simple house, his small little yard, his grave all lit with candles, flowers, hand-embroidered messages on cloth. Everyone left a small stone beside the grave as they passed by.

 

At around 11.30pm Sub Marcos finally took to the podium for his last comunicado, of which ye’ve all probably read something about. Marcos opened by stating that these would be his last words in public because he would ‘cease to exist’. And so he proceeded to recount in brief how and why their struggle started, what they had been fighting for, how they had decided to struggle to build their autonomies, to build schools and clinics instead of training squadrons. He explained how the persona that is Subcomandante Marcos had been contrived for us outsiders who could only see a mestizo (mixed-race person), because we were not ready to converse with the indigenous peoples themselves. We were only looking for our own reflections. He portrayed the indigenous Zapatistas as giants, which we were unable to see because we were too busy looking down.

Sub Marcos gives his final discourse

Sub Marcos gives his final discourse

I started taking photos, but I soon stopped and began to just listen to what he was saying, about working collectively, to stop living within the cult of the individual, to stop looking for messiahs or leaders. I realised that even in my photo-taking action, I was being egotistical, wanting to get a good photo of him myself. Why not just download a copy of some indymedia photos that would be put up? So I sat down, and just listened.

It was time he said, to let the figure of Marcos die, which the indigenous Zapatistas had created, so that Galeano can live. It is time to let go of the façade that they have uDSC05649sed to communicate with the us. Now with the Zapatista Little School we outsiders can find out more directly how they have built up their autonomies (they’ve announced they will have another escuelita, date coming soon).

Marcos brought tears to my eyes in one memorable part when he described the atmosphere in La Realidad when he arrived just after Galeano’s death……

“ ……Our pain spoke quietly, our rage in whispers.

It was as if we were trying to avoid scaring Galeano away with these unfamiliar sounds.

As if our voices and step called to him.

Wait, compa,” our silence said.

Don’t go,” our words murmured. …….”

Then he listed so many names of people who have been killed in struggles in Mexico and all over the world, so many loved ones who have ceased to exist while struggling for justice. It really brought the shared grief home to me. I shed a tear for all those I will never meet but who have suffered and will continue to suffer while struggling to change this world. It was one of those moments that fills you up with determined sorrow and rage, that I know that these things are all worth fighting for, and we’ve got to keep struggling together. As Marcos said “To struggle, one only needs a sense of shame, a bit of dignity, and a lot of organisation.”

The Sub said many other things. His speech is worth hearing or reading. He does not disappoint. Astute simplicity.

And so concluded the mirage of Marcos which I’m grateful to have witnessed. I have not been a huge follower, but seeing him in the flesh and hearing his last words left me well impressed. The Zapas were the magicians behind the curtain.

 

Paths home

This entry has got lengthy so just some quick notes to round up. Our solidarity caravan had a terrible mishap on the way home. Just as we were lining up in all the vehicles to leave in the morning, one small truck nearly crashed into another. One passenger saw the two cars were about to crash and decided to jump from the back of the truck thinking the truck  would fall into a ditch and turn over. This passenger, Davíd Ruíz García, obtain a bad head injury when he jumped and fell, and died in hospital 3 days later. He was a dedicated activist from the town of San Francisco Xochicuautla, in the State of Mexico, near Mexico City. David was involved locally in defending the Otomi-Mexica forests, and had been part of many other solidarity campaigns and processes with different indigenous communities around Mexico.

 

What next?

The Zapas have put a call out for anyone who can help them with fund-raising to build their autonomous school and clinic again. They estimate it will cost about 1,100 euro and have asked anyone who can help in any way they can, to pass on construction materials, books, medical supplies, funds etc.   If anyone wants to do a fundraiser wherever they may be, do so, and if you let me know, we can do some bank transfer and I can get it delivered here. I’m helping some folks who are running one here next Saturday.

Keep yer ear to the groun at Enlace Zapatista to find our when the next Zapatista Little School is to be announced.

But what’s really next? Well, just start up or keep running our own autonomies with whoever we have around us, our own autonomous spaces in whatever form we can, with our communities, our friends, our families. It’s tough work, but isn’t everything that’s worth fighting for?

 

* CIOAC-H – is an organisation the Zapatistas call “paramilitary” – of the National Action Party (PAN) and the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico (PVEM) – represented in Chiapas by Governor Manuel Velasco Coello, whom the EZLN consider the “ultra paramilitary boss.” They believe the government is directly paying off the leaders of CIOAC-H to create conflict in their communities, to continue the low-intensity war that they have been resisting for many years.

Other good articles :

Zapatistas decide to do away with Subcomandante Marcos

Subcomandante Marcos steps down

The Zapatista Escuelita and the National Indigenous Congress

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PART 2

Ok, ye, excuse the extreme deeeeelay.  Here it is…part deux,

La Escuelita (The little School)  (12-16th August 2013)

escuelita zapatisa cartelWatching people leave for the escuelita made me very sad and jealous as I really felt I’d missed up on a great chance which I don’t know if I’ll get again. Im not alone I heard, as some groups close to the Zapatistas also felt they should have been invited.  The indications on their website were anything but clear as to how to be accepted.  In the end many folks coming from abroad were given invites as well as many Mexicans as they wrote to the general email asking to be invited.  I had presumed it would only be groups working closely with them so I counted myself out ( It was never officially said that you could ask to be invited). oh well.  Now they’ve announced 2 more rounds of escuelitas but Ill be home at Xmas when they are taking place (get online quick if yer interested) . It’s a huge amount of work on the part of the Zapatistas and they only asked for donations from all participants to help cover costs.  They seem to be planning the second level of the escuelita too…who knows, maybe next summer it might be my turn! 🙂

But the good thing about waiting a while to write this blog entry is that it gave me time to get over my great sense of disappointment and ask a friend if I could interview him to share in my blog a bit of his experience of the Escuelita.  Figure I should include something in this entry on it! So here goes….

The Escuelita has definitely been a momentus event as much for the participants, and maybe even more for the Zapatistas.  If I’m not mistaken, it’s probably been the first time in history that such a large autonomous group have opened their doors to share their learnings with the outside world in this way.

So, here’s the highlights of my friend’s experience during his time at the Escuelita (let’s call him Joe, as he said he’d rather not have his real name mentioned).

Leaving for La Escuelita

Leaving for La Escuelita

The trip there Joe said was pretty exhausting for most, as 4 out of the 5 caracoles are quite a few hours away, and between the loading up of the buses of a couple of hundred students to each one, and then forming convoys to travel together on the road, most folks arrived in the early hours of the morn after between 5-8 hours travel or more!  Joe just wanted to collapse on whatever floor or bench and just sleep but they were greeted by quite an overwhelming site.  As they entered, all the Zapatistas gathered there with their balaclavas on, clapped them all as they entered welcoming and congratulating them for having arrived.  It was quite emotional he said, and felt very humbled wondering who was he to deserve such congratulations when it was they who had struggled for 20 years to have got this far.  Either way, from here on in, he felt a strong sense of responsibility, to communicate afterwards the Zapatista learnings to the wider world.

After only a few hours sleep, class at the Zapatista Escuelita began.  The format on day one he said, was in short lecture, whereby individual ‘compas’* gave them short talks on themes to do with the four printed books they were given which were called ” Autonomous Government I & II”, “Womens’ participation in Autonomous Goverment”, and “Autonomous Resistance”.  Fighting back the sleep, Joe listened attentively as they explained the basics of how they organise their caracol structures with some priceless low-tech diagrams and maps held up by three Zapas while the speaker talked.

They had already been assigned personal tutors from the families with which they’d be staying for 3 days.  They’d be working with their families in the morn with farmwork mostly, and reading, studying and conversing with their tutors in the afternoons.  The last day they’d return to the caracol for some last talks, and take their buses back to San Cristóbal de Las Casas.

Zapatista hubs in Chiapas

Zapatista hubs in Chiapas

My friend Joe went to Caracol La Garrucha about 5 hours from San Cristóbal de las Casas, where he and I both live.  But after reaching their autonomous government hub, all participants were then taken to their respective families the day after.  Some were more than an hour or two away.  All in all, a lot of travelling was done by participants giving a real sense of how rural some of these families and communities live!

And so things kicked off with Joe staying with a family and his very dedicated botán (tutor) who was determined to have him finish reading his 4 books in 3 days (!!), because he didn’t realise the students were able to take the books away at the end, so he was worried that Joe wouldn’t get all his studying done in time!  Joe found the books were very self-critical and easy to read, though detailed on how progress has been made on the topics discussed, mentioning lots of trial and error examples on the Zapatistas’ path to autonomy.  (I hope to nab them off him afterwards for a gawk!)  They read and discussed many interesting topics during the 3 days, such as how the Zapas had developed their own organising and decision-making structures.  The five caracoles (or regional organizational centres) can all independently make their own decisions, even though they have previously all decided certain basic guidelines together.  The Zapatista communities are separate from their military wing (EZLN), but when the caracoles were formed in 2003, the communities themselves decided that the EZLN would no longer take military action unless the communities asked them to.  In this way, they follow they own maximum rule of ‘ Aquí el pueblo manda y el gobierno obedece’ (Here the people govern and the government obeys).

The books also cover how they have lived their resistance and what this means in practical terms, how women’s rights have been progressing in their communities, and specific examples of projects such as how some caracoles have been working micro-credit systems called Banapaz, plus much more!  (I hear they are in pdf form now but still in Spanish. Maybe soon they’ll get translated. Will post more when I find out more! )

Joe talked with his tutor a little about his personal experiences and how he found life after joining the Zapatistas.  His tutor said that things were mightily improved even though he had to move far from his original community, to get some land to cultivate with his family.  Originally it was his father who’d secretly started going to Zapatista meetings near his community since 1983.  This was how the Zapas worked for quite some time right up to the uprising in 1994, because there was serious crack downs by the government at different stages and some key figures were killed over the years before the Zapas became known on the international stage.

Looking at their humble house and lifestyle, Joe wondered how bad things must have been beforehand as to him, things still looked incredibly basic and hard, but at least now, most Zapatista families have access to cultivate a lot of what they need, though when crops fail, supplies are short but everything is shared out as equally as possible between communities when others need it.  Being autonomous means they don’t accept a penny from the government at any stage, although they do have some links with external groups for funding for specific programmes, such as health, education and communications development.  In 2012, official reports still gauge that 50-60% of children suffer from malnutrition in Chiapas.  It’s hard to get figures from Zapatistas to compare as they don’t really share out these figures much, but they claim to be faring better than the most marginalised indigenous communities.

This is where indirect means of wearing down Zapa communities has come into play.  Sometimes Zapatista families live right next door to others in their communities which can cause direct conflict or sometimes they just try their best to keep out of each other’s way.  But the Government has not missed an opportunity to accentuate these situations since 1996, the year in which the San Andrés Peace Accords were signed but never kept.  There are ample cases of the government indirectly arming neighbouring communities (mini-paramilitary groups such as El Ejercito de Dios (The army of god) ) and pitching them against the Zapas to take lands off them to make it look like an internal conflict among indigenous folk (article on recent conflict here in Spanish).  Yet as one Zapa at the CIDECI Escuelita talks, simply pointed out, why do these other indigenous groups always try to take lands off the Zapatistas while right next door, there might be massive fertile farms owned by rich landlords?  It’s a bit suss to say the least!  Another example is how Governments have chosen to very strategically distribute funds and particular government projects to areas that border with Zapa communities, thereby creating more visible inequalities giving to those that support them, and tempting many poor Zapatistas to take the easier short-term route of receiving financial support for their families to eat, for education or health.  If a Zapa family decides to accept any sort of government funding, they automatically must leave they Zapatistas.  Over the years, many indigenous folk have left the ranks of the Zapatistas probably finding it too hard to continue in such a long-term struggle, when they could get some immediate benefits for malnourished sick children.  Many families have been divided in this way.  Some may still keep some contact even if some have left the movement, but others may never see each other again.  One Zapa girl I met once fell in love and married a non-Zapa and left the movement as indigenous tradition has it that she must go and live with his family (he didn’t want to join the Zapas obviously).

At the craic of dawn, the families and their guests were waking up to have some breakfast and head to do the farm work.  From around 7am until 11am thei participants mucked in with whatever work was needed with their families.  In terms of division of labour, it’s all still very traditional says Joe, with the men heading out to tend the fields of corn and beans mostly, while the women stay close to the house tending the chickens, rabbits, looking after the kids, collecting firewood and preparing the meals.  Joe had never done farm-work before but enjoyed it  quite a lot.  I heard from some other participants that some found the work very strenous and city folk ain’t used to that level of sustainability as so to speak.

Their generosity also overwhelmed Joe and he mentioned how they’d sacrificed 2 cows in their honour to have a huge feast for all their visitors.  All the participants were invited to the slaughter and they watched how 15 men skinned and sliced up the carcasses in 2 hours.  All the participants were fed incredibly well with all local organic traditional produce, with freshly-made tortillas, vegetables and beans (their daily staples), and a delicious beef stew on the night of the feast held in their honour.

As Joe got to know his family over the 3 days he realised how proud they were with what they have achieved with their movement, and how much their struggle has given them a sense of dignity and a ownership over their own lives, cultures, and futures.  And in the end, this has given them an incredible sense of self-belief, something so many indigenous people lack.  He was even more amazed when his tutor thanked him for coming to learn about his struggle and said that if there was any way that he could help whatever struggles Joe might be involved with at home, he offered to do what he could.  That sense of not being victims but very active players in their struggles and being equals to those visiting, spoke miles about the process of self-awareness that these generous-hearted Zapatistas have gone through to build their new worlds.  These are their gems of inspiration that continue to give hope and courage, to help the rest of us break our own chains of fear and keep on fighting to create a myriad of alternative worlds for dignified living.

I have to say, the format of their mini-course was astoundingly novel whereby the emphasis is on living the experience to learn from it.  There’s nothing like seeing and smelling a reality for it to sink in.  I think most participants managed to take a little magic away in their hearts which they can treasure and find endless amounts of inspiration from.  And if we could all imagine alternative forms of educating ourselves and our children outside the system? Oh the possibilities!!

And to the last piece….right after the 5 days of the Escuelita, all the students came back and there was 2 last days of a gathering in San Cristóbal….this is what I wrote during those 2 days…..

* short for ‘compadre’ which means friend but in this political context, it refers to a fellow political comrade.

17-08-13

“NUNCA MAS UN MEXICO SIN NOSOTR@S”  (Never again a Mexico without us)

National Indigenous People’s Congress, CIDECI

hall of zapasIt was great to be able to do a bit of interpreting and translating and feel useful a this event, as I haven’t really found any sort of proper niche here with my activism really.  It’s all still weird and new,inspiring but terribly frustrating.  I came with a set of ideas of what I wanted to be involved in, but mostly they haven’t worked for many reasons.  I find I have to find new ways and listen more to what the movement needs here, as opposed to what I think I need.  Interpreting isn’t my first love, but I really liked being able to share the passionate words of some of the speakers to a wider audience.

Apart from those who came to present their declarations representing their communities, most of those present there seemed to be more urbanites between 20 and 30.  It was quite an eclectic mix to watch the merging of many worlds during these 2 days, with anarcho-punks selling homemade patches, pamphlets and stickers beside indigenous women selling their wonderful weaves.

mujer zapatistaThe morning and afternoon was filled with short declarations from a vast array of indigenous communities across Mexico all resisting in different ways, sharing their situations in which all denounced the involvement of the corrupt government in giving away their ancestral lands at different stages during the years since the conquest started, to mostly foreign transnational companies that are displacing them to exploit their natural resources and leave their territories devastated from contamination.  The sharing of their heartfelt stories is an important part of this gathering, for them to feel heard and share their plights with so many other indigenous groups, as well as the international public baring witness to take their words, their struggles further afield.  I noticed mostly men spoke, but many women also represented their communities, and some young people.  Many speakers spoke passionately and elevated their voices which sometimes got a little sore on the ears over the loudspeakers.

Many declared themselves as autonomous communities (apart from Zapatistas), starting to create their own education systems, feeling that state education goes against everything that their culture means to them.  Some have even created their own community policing where government policing has completely failed to protect them from narco-traffickers or paramilitary groups, or worse still are in cahoots with them or discriminate or treat them bad directly. (more here ).

DSC_0045They talked about Canadian mining companies, national and international agri-business, huge hydroelectric dam projects. It’s the same story the world round.  Many mentioned all the judicial proceedings that they have been involved in to try and gain legal rights over their ancestral lands, but none have had overall victories, and very few partial successes, where small fractions of their territories were given back to them.  Many talked of how organised-crime is working hand-in-hand with the Government to undermine their resistance efforts, or very openly displace them, threaten them, are responsible for disappearances, the killing many of their comrades, making false accusations against their leaders to imprison them among other tactics.

One terribly dirty tactic mentioned by one group, that stuck in my mind was one used by the Mexican Government over the decades to pitch indigenous communities against neighbouring mestizo communities.  In one case mentioned, the government spread misinformation to the  communities saying that the indigenous communities who were fighting to preserve their lands against a mining company didn’t even want to let the mestizo farming communities have access to water or land.  In this way, the Government got these mestizo farming communities to go against the indigenous struggle as they felt they were jeopardised and might be driven off their lands too by the indigenous.

What came through loud and clear in all of the testimonies is the absolute importance of the land to all these communities.  Their ancestral lands, is their mother, Pachamama, Mother Earth, and to take that from them and destroy it is like sticking a knife in their hearts.  It is their identity, their culture, their spirituality, their history, their community, their source of food, their shelter, their everything.  There is no separation between them and the earth.  This is a concept that we westerners, city-slickers, whiteys, gringos etc can accept at a logical level, but not an emotional or spiritual one.  And that’s what we lack to truly make a leap towards creating new worlds.  When these indigenous communities loose their lands, they know they have lost themselves, and that’s why they struggle so relentlessly.

I had been expecting some more reflective political analysis talks, with some famous speakers perhaps (I did get to salute Hugo Blanco, prominent Peruvian peasant leader, x-guerilla and all-round revolucionario 🙂 ), but it was more of a baring witness together to so many struggles all over Mexico, with a few other latino countries thrown in, namely Guatemala, Colombia and Perú.  I did learn a lot about more struggles but it was hard to gauge what to do with so much more information in practical terms. I’m not an indymedia person who’s main aim is to spread the word.  I want to know other things that I can personally do about these things; what actions I can personally take.  But I didn’t get much of a feel for that, other than I still have more to learn and read.  Mexico is so big too, that visiting most of these struggles is a feat in itself while working full-time, not to mention the dangers involved in some cases.

Sometimes all these endless terrible stories of injustice overwhelm me.  I can’t keep up with all the latest terrible details.  It’s good to reflect, to understand more, but then to do something with that knowledge.  I’ve never been a passive political-theorist-type!  So far now, this blog entry is one active step, but I need more.  Some personal-life decisions, but I need group organisation for action which I still lack here.  I’ve found it hard to be part of some group here for various reasons (will try write more on that soon to help me think too!).  Gotta keep trying. I’ll let ye all know how that pans out for me.

All in all though, it was good to be able to live some moments with the Zapatistas this August.  They put so much work into organising things. I could probably write more, but I’d never publish this month-late article already, but if you’ve any questions or want more detail on something in particular, just shout and I’ll get on to it if I can. (or let us know if I’ve missed some terrible mistakes/errors etc….tired now finishing this up! , g’night!)

 You can find another interesting article in english on these Zapatista events here. 

10 years of Autonomous Zapatista Government – time to share the learning

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escucharon¿ESCUCHARON?

Es el sonido de su mundo derrumbándose.

Es el del nuestro resurgiendo…..

(“Can you hear that?

It’s the sound of your world tumbling down.

It’s the sound of our world resurging……”)

From the comuniqué from the Zapatistas, 21-12-12

Im definitely not a born-blogger, but this is an occasion I couldn’t pass up on to share with those back in Ireland and another few places, so that ye can get a small sense of what it’s like to participate in some of the celebratory events that the Zapatistas have organised to celebrate their 10 year anniversary of the formation of their ‘caracoles’ ( conches), which are in short, their organisational hubs around Chiapas (more later).  I’ve decided to break up this blog into two parts, coz if not, I’ll never get it all done in one go and I don’t want to leave folks waiting too long. So here goes the first part…..

 It’s been a few years since the Zapatistas have opened their doors to the outside world.  Since 2008-2009 to be precise, when they last held an international gathering on the occasion of  El Festival Mundial de la Digna Rabia ((The World Festival of the Dignified Rage), held in Mexico City and  Chiapas (Dec. 2008-January 2009), to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the beginning of the armed movement of the EZLN. The invite to this event was published in their regular ‘comunicados’, which they bring out regularly via enlacezapatista.org.mx .  They announced that there would be a 2-day party for all to attend in each of their caracoles, and everyone was welcome to join them, except government officials, politicians  and mainstream journalists.  After this La Escuelita (the little school) would take place; a 5-day course which the Zapatistas designed whereby those invited by them would get to stay with an indigenous Zapatista family for 3 days and go to class for 2 days at the caracoles to ask any questions they wanted about how they run their autonomy.  Finally the week would culminate with a 2 day congress of the Mexican National Indigenous Congress at CIDECI  (Centro Indigena de Estudios, Información de Desarrollo, Indigenous Centre for Studies, Information and Documentation) an autonomous indigenous university that support the Zapatistas, in San Cristóbal.

oventikI went along to Oventik, one of the caracoles, with some indymedia friends who were going to film some of the festivities with permission of the compas.  Oventik is caracol number 2 (order in which they were originally formed).  It is in Los Altos (the highlands) of Chiapas .  There was a chance to comandantes were going to make an appearance here hence we went there.  I was exited to be able to witness this event and obviously hoped that La Nariz (The Nose…Subcomandante Marcos’ nickname for himself) might make an appearance.

As we entered the caracol we were told we were only allowed to take photos of the murals and not the people.  Later on when they would make an official speech, and there would be a chance to take photos and video when all the zapatistas place their characteristic headpieces on.Bienvenidos a Caracol II ELZN

I figure about over 4,000 people were there over the two-day event, mostly indigenous, with a few hundred foreigners, and urban mexicanos (Remember, this is just one of 5 caracoles, though it is the largest, so easily there could have been about 15,000 folks celebrating all around the place).  It was like market-day with lots of little outdoor stalls selling all their home-grown fruit and veg, from corn on the cob, to atole (a hot yummy corn drink), rabbit mole (spicey chocolate y dish),tacos and even pizza! That, I’m told is a new one, sponsored by some Italian activists who’ve been busy running pizza/bread oven-making workshops for some years in these parts. Tasty too they were, Chicago-style thick based with their zapatista home-grown mushrooms and the mole was great too.  The one steep road in Oventik is lined with small wooden cabins which are little centres for different community collectives of which many are women’s artisan collectives making weaves to sell for their women’s projects mostly being health and educational projects.  There were some urban collectives too selling the usual merchandise, documentaries, t-shirts, stickers, jewelry, but strangely enough I saw very little books on sale.

I hadn’t been to Oventik before.  It’s got the largest amounts of beautifully painted murals on most of the buildings done in conjunction with many artist collectives who have visited the zapatistas over the years. It’s one long path down to the central podium where the basketball tournament was already getting underway at 10am.  Anyone could sign up teams for football, basketball, and volleyball.  The compas are big in

to these sports and already had many men and women teams signed up for these blitz leagues over the course of the 2 days.  The courts and pitches were basic but this didn’t stop them playing with passion!

First up was a team of not-so-fit gringos against a ‘compa’ (the local term used for a zapatista or zapa sympathisers, coming from the word ‘compadre’, meaning ‘friend’) basketball team.  With revolutionary hard rock music playing in the background, watching the sight of these short indigenous players running circles round the tall yanks was a crazy sight to behold just after breakfast.  The gringo players knew that they were a novelty for the mostly indigenous public and did some funny little moves for extra laughs.  Every time the speedy indigenous players intercepted the ball off the gringos,  giggles could be clearly heard.  Everyone enjoyed the show, but the indigenous players take their game seriously and don’t waste any time mourning missed opportunities or mistakes.  In the same way that they collectively live and decide together, it seemed that their game strategy was all about the team and not about self-glory in the least.  Watching their faces you couldn’t tell if they were delighted when they scored or got ticked when they missed, or the others scored. Straight poker faces concentrated on the game!  Culturally, indigenous communities here are known for being very shy about showing emotions in public.  They must think Im a wierdo-clown smiling to salute whoever passes by in my engrained Irish-mode.

Mexican sky band playing during the festivitiesBut tell me more about the Zapatistas I hear you say! Ok ok, so they play sports, and the description is quaint, but you really wanna know what they are doing these days, how does their autonomy really work, what are they planning, and how things really are on the ground?  Well, there’s no one comprehensive summary I can give you, and I’ve only begun learning, but I’ll try a smattering from here and there.

Well, claiming one’s autonomy is not a small feat, and not something to be taken lightly.  When the zapatistas carried out their uprising in January 1994 they first hoped to spark a national rebellion in all of Mexico.  Im sure they figured this would be difficult so they had other thought-out strategies just in case.  After a heavy prolonged counter-attack from the government once they realised who the hell was attacking them, the Zapatistas decided to try to negotiate with the government to buy time during the cease-fire to retreat their troops to safe places and minimise more casualties.  A document was drawn up jointly over many months, called the San Andrés Peace Accords.  With the eyes of the world watching , both sides signed on febuary 16th 1996. It seemed like a historic occasion as this document enshrined many basic rights for indigenous peoples in Mexico.  However, as was to be expected from a 70-odd year monopoly of the PRI government at the time, these accords were never kept.  With this latest expected deception, the Zapatistas slowly took steps towards making the world in which they want to live in, a reality on their own reclaimed lands, with their own cultivated crops, their own education, their own health clinics, and their own autonomous governments and justice system.  But it didn’t happen over night; there were many steps along the way which were slowly discussed, planned, and cooked over a low flame.DSC03569

I’m reading a book at the moment by Raúl Zibechi, called Dispersing Power which  I bought at Solidarity Books in December actually, and he mentions two core principles on which the Zapatistas base themselves….firstly, that the means is the end, and that you need to carry out your revolution in your timeframe, not theirs.  So trying to keep up with capitalism’s crazy pace and letting them set the pace will only wear you out….you gotta set the pace of your game or you can never win.  Just thought I’d throw that in, as it’s a hard one for me still….the panic and stress of how much there always left to do is always overwhelming and can only wear us out if we think of it in those terms alone.

Well, very briefly, caracoles are the hubs for the centres of the ‘Councils of Good Government’ of the Zapatistas (for them the ‘bad government’ is the Mexican national Government). These councils run on a continual rotation basis, just like indigenous community local councils and assemblies would run.  In indigenous communities (here and in many parts of Latin America), all the council positions are run on a rotation basis everyone has to give their time freely to help make decisions that affect the community.  Nobody gets any pay. It’s a duty everyone must take up.  It must be said though, that there’s still more men in these positions than women, but Zapatista communities are making big head-way in narrowing this gap with seriously active strong women going around creating awareness among many of the isolated villages so that women step up and take up these positions which is enshrined as their right under the Zapatista’s Revolutionary Women’s Law (which was drawn up by indigenous Zapatista women even before their uprising!). Basically Zapatista women had their own revolution within the ranks of the Zapatistas demanding these laws be passed a year before the uprising, and they are seriously progressive too!

But back to Oventik to finish this wee part.  The day was mostly made up of all these sport tournaments, with a couple of ‘whiteys’ taking part. I’m not really into any team sports, though it would have been nice to play against some of the indigenous women basketball players.  They were tough in their own right, but the women seemed to have less access to proper sports shoes, and many were in their traditional indigenous skirts making it a bit difficult to play.  It didn’t stop them from getting stuck in, even as the rain poured down for much of the afternoon.

I listened to some great mexican ska, rock and rap bands and MCs, and zapatista bands during the rainy afternoon, and then the point in the evening finally came when they announced that they were making their public speech.

DSC03590The rain poured on down and we all stood there covered in all sorts of umbrellas, jackets, coloured plastic sheets to watch the show, in a sea of little Zapatista black-hooded people. None of the commandantes showed up which was quite disappointing, but watching them do their whole flag show with the EZLN flag and the Mexican flag side by side (Mexican nationalism is so huge, it does not seem a contradiction to the Zapatistas to vow allegiance to both flags).  I was so enthralled with taking photos that I didn’t really listen to the darn declaration which was read out in Spanish and 2 indigenous languages.  I’m gonna try find a recording of it and give ye a summary soon, though it wasn’t anything very novel, mostly commemorating their anniversary and reaffirming their struggle….no mention of new strategies or campaigns as some people were expecting.

Seeing all these people standing in the rain, united, speaking of 500 years of resistance was very inspiring and made me think of all the hardships they have had to face just to get to this point.  We may over-romanticise this movement from the outside, and I may even feel jealous that they have been able to have the numbers to move forward to this point, but I ask myself if I would really be able to give up all I have to fully follow in their footsteps?  The life of a campesino (farmer) is in no way easy, and theirs in particular has many extra hardships as the government is always finding indirect ways to wear them down, causing strife among communities instead ofDSC_0038 attacking them these days.  I know that I have a ways to go and still lots to learn, but I also think I need to continue to find new ways to use the privileges that I have (education, social class, nationality etc) to support these struggles and find new ways of personally resisting the system and creating other ways of living.  John Holloway talks of urban Zapatismo, and applying and adapting some of their ideas to urban environments is definitely a good strategy because I have to be realistic and can’t think that I, let alone so many others, will be returning any time soon to work the land in the ways they do.  It’s a lot of fucking hard work, and maybe one day it’ll go that way again, but finding some inbetweeners  first would be a good start and see how much we can get out of urban agriculture first.

Next up in a few days will be how the Zapa Escuelita went down and the final weekend of the National Indigenous Congress in San Cristóbal….. check back in soon!

If we don’t take a stand, Who will?

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Please excuse the delay in completing my blog on the gathering, but between intermittent net access and the crazy heat, I decided to finish it up on my return to my gaff in Mexico.  Tis hard going being a pseudo-journalist on the road….but it’s apt that I’ll get this blog entry finally finished after seeing a great documentary about James Nachtwey, a famous US war photojournalist who believes his pictures can really help to change the world for the better. Deadly documentary; I recommend it.

So, the second and concluding day of the Gathering I found to be the more interesting because in the afternoon we got to visit some of the local communities which are under continuous threat and repression.  That was the big eye-openner. But Im getting ahead of myself….a quick recount of the morning first.

The morning took off with some key speakers taking the stage in the main auditorium. Camille Chalmers talked about the militarisation in Haiti (with many troops from all over Latin America hanging out there wierdly enough) and how it compares to Honduras.  Not only are the Honduran heads of the military being trained in the School of the Americas, but highly suspect unmarked cars and trucks have been doing the rounds in Bajo Aguan with Colombian accented folk intimidating the communities.  Colombian paramilitaries seem to be on the scene helping the Honduran army, and recently Israel has offered security assistance to Honduras.  And once again it’s blatantly obvious that these corrupt governments cannot and never operate on their own.  There’s a vast in-house network of thug governments at work here doing their damndest to keep the status quo of the rich and powerful. Chalmers also spoke of shock economics in Haiti since the earthquake with millions of squandered aid money, and how it’s operating in Honduras too, forcing through big neoliberal projects robbing from the poor to give to the rich (e.g. read about Charter Cities in prev. blog). Having recently read Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, this struck a clear chord with me.  He mentioned that Honduras was the country with the second-most developed REDD projects in the world.  This highly criticised UN programme is one of the false green economy solutions being guinea-pigged in Latin America.

Our world beyond conflict - A Future's Thinking Brainstorm from the Women's Gathering

Many international organisation reps gave small speeches of solidarity to the community members present.  At this point, the full registration count was at 1200 attendees, between internationals and Hondurans.  Despite the dizzying heat in the main auditorium where most of the gathering was held, local people were full of energy and enthusiasm to see and hear such important messages of solidarity and support.  Even though I should know by now, I always forget how significant these small acts are in giving strength to others in their struggles.  Witnessing it firsthand brought it home to me.  Knowing you are not alone brings great power to those struggling, and also makes the oppressors think twice.

I’ve never been involved with human rights groups, although I support these causes completely. As I’ve been more of a direct-action eco kinda person, either directly at demos or blockades, supporting these actions, or directly up-skilling and trying to change my life to more sustainable ways through veg. growing, wind turbine courses, composting etc. Im more hands-on so to speak.  So when it comes to human rights, I feel very unfamiliar with what tactics work.  I don’t believe in lobbying really….or am very cynical about it mostly.  But pressuring governments, even the most corrupt ones, and exposing their crimes for the world to see, is a powerful tool.  I’m not a petition-believer kinda woman, but I see I’ve a lot to learn from human rights campaigning tactics.

Which brings me nicely on to the afternoon….a mini internationalist peace-brigade visit to two nearby communities.  There was supposed to be a 2-week-long international peace brigade organised for after the gathering for internationals who wanted to stay on, but as the Permanent International Observatory of Human Rights in Bajo Aguán is just getting off the ground, it became two short day trips, although peace brigades are being planned for the near future.  I went on one of them and it was an eye-openner for me indeed.  So on Sunday afternoon after the gathering ended, 6 trucks and cars set off packed with Hondurans and international participants to visit Rigores and Marañones, two nearby communities being persecuted.  I was in the back of a pick-up truck with a few folks that had done the video workshop with us.  We soon left Tocoa city and turned off onto a dirt road lined with endless kilometres of African Palm

African Palm everywhere but not a drop of biofuels for the locals

which became a common occurence on the north coast of Honduras.  The locals told us what big land-owner owned what bits and pointed out a cross on the road where one of their community members had been murdered.  Despite the buckets of dust we were eating riding ‘bare-back’ in the pick-up, it was turning out to be a nice drive until up ahead a military check-point was spotted.  Well, they soon had all our 6 vehicles pull-over and the 6 drivers lined up against one of the trucks, checking their IDs and demanding that one of them accompany them on their own to their commanding officer across the road.  Obviously, we outnumbered the 10 odd soldiers there but their M-16s were very intimidating.  We weren’t letting this man go alone anywhere, and the soldiers eventually gave up.

 I have to say, I definitely felt nervous the first couple of seconds.  The internationals pulled out their cameras of all sorts and starting filming and shooting, so I did likewise.  The soldiers said no cameras and I thought I might get mine pulled off me, but luckily they made no grabs at any, during our 20 minute pull-over.  Some soldiers proceeded to remove their identity badges as we photographed them.  At no point would any of them identify themselves by name or tell us who their orders were coming from. Then, they let us pass.

 At Rigores and Marañones, the community received us with watermelon and testimonies of more recent events and their unending plight to keep their small pieces of land for growing food and raising their families.  Actually seeing these small towns/settlements again helped to paint the picture of the injustice being perpetrated by these mega-landlords with thousands of acres, compared to what these families were laying claim to.  When we left the communities, all I kept thinking was how crazy the idea was that they felt and knew they were safer because we were there as internationals with the world watching, but tomorrow they would be back to the same threats and every-day persecutions (and they were see blog for latest arrests this week).  After this experience I think I would consider going on a peace brigade sometime in the near future.  I suppose, Im just not a paper-jammer type activist…..I need to be close to what I’m fighting against and fighting for.

I am no James Nachtwey, and I don’t want to be.  That much witnessing of suffering by photographing wars and other great sufferings is too much for me.  Instead I would like to think that by being there, and pointing my camera, I can prevent some injustices from happening and spread awareness to encourage others to act in whatever way they feel they can, to do likewise.  Contacting the local Honduras embassy in your country via phone or email or post is a simple but important act. Check out the Mioaguan blog for more ideas on what you can do, or email them.

The Last Scream of Globalisation

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Openning Ceremony

Last night the International Human Rights Gathering here in Tocoa Honduras was officially launched with a lively cultural evening with music, motivational speeches and dancing. We had folk musicians and dancers take to the stage.  But my favourite was always going to be the Garifuna drums and dancing.  There’s just no denying it…Africa just owns planetary rhythm, and their more recent descendents have the fab physique to pull off those ass-shaking manouvers!

But all was not rosy.  When ex-President Zelaya walked into the the auditorium last night there was definitely a mixed reaction from folk.  Many of the anti-coup organisations support their x-president and his party, but some definitely don’t.  You gotta remember that Zelaya used to belong to a right-wing party so it’s not so long ago that his ways of thinking were quite different. But it also serves to highlight just how radically right the right-wingers here are, with ample support from their pals up north in Washinton.  Just an inkling of lefty-ness from Zelaya was enough to merit a swift coup in 2009.  He took to the stage and gave a speech in solidarity with all the communities that have been struggling for their lands and against repression.  I actually missed that part, so I can’t say exactly how well received it was.

Victims of the Honduran rsistance

This morning things kicked off with a homage paid to the victims of the repression with many family members coming up on stage with large printed photos of their murdered loved ones.  They were mostly men murdered, which burdens so many women left behind to mourn them, and raise families alone.  I took some photos and then stopped.  Seeing the tears in their eyes, brought tears to mine and I just wanted to stand their in silence in sympathy with their terrible losses, some of them being children holding placards.  I couldn’t be a proper photographer I don’t think….despite the power of an image to bring the world’s attention to something, it doesn’t always feel right to take a photo or video….not sure. I suppose just remembering not to loose your humanity along the way is important.

With over 600 present delegates from all over the world including El Salvador, Argentina, Germany, the USA, Mexico, Australia, Brazil and others, we gathered this morning in the main auditorium to hear some openning speeches from international and national participants.  One of speakers was Camille Charlmers a Haitian activist, economist and intelectual, from the organisation PAPDA-Haiti (Plateforme Haïtienne de Plaidoyer pour un Développement Alternatif), and from the coordinating committee of the COMPA (Foundation for the Convergence of Movements of American Peoples), Jubilee South and other continental movements.  Camille gave us a brief synopsis of the general world crisis we’re in from the obvious world recession, to climate change, peak oil, and food crises, all pointing to one big fat blatant fact….that capitalism is not only in crisis,  but all of humanity is facing the biggest challenges of this era. And as capitalism bases itself on destruction, then it cannot offer any solutions from within its framework. He warned us not to buy into any green capitalism false solutions, but to create our own alternatives and spaces of hope.

Camille spoke passionately about Haiti’s solidarity with the people of Honduras, as they too have suffered two coups over the past number of decades and are still fighting for their basic human rights.  With many new US military bases all over the Caribbean, it’s easy to see that the US has no immediate plans to allow these peoples to live peacefully without their interference to help out the local oligarchies to take over the maximum number of lands.  He warned that the G20, in trying to bring in the new emerging leading economies like Brazil into the big boy’s club, will change nothing because they are still pushing the same neoliberal accords which aren’t really accords but more imposed upon the poorer countries and peoples.

I liked Camillle’s suggestions to move forward towards building the world we want ,citing practical examples to look into.  He applauded the Ecuadorian process towards carrying out full environmental audits of ecological debt owed to that country for damages incurred by oil companies etc, as well as them being the first country in the world to champion the concept of  “Leave it in the Ground” in terms of fossil fuels,  arguing that they should be paid to not pollute and conserve the Amazon.  Another example he mentioned was participating and studying “El Banco del Sur” (Bank of the South), an alternative global bank managed by Latin American countries which is trying out a different basis of operation to the World Bank and IMF.

Next Miriam Miranda, National Director of  the Garifuna people told us about the national situation in Honduras at the moment. She spoke about the latest crazy plans to try out ‘charter cities’ in Honduras which I explain below. She also spoke of the high levels of corruption in the national media and in the police as well, making it impossible to even report any crimes for fear of it getting back to the perpatrators.

Miranda also spoke about local farmers in the Aguán region, that are being murdered, tortured and forcefully evicted from their lands, which large land owners want to plant with African Palm (among other things) to sell palm oil to the developed world so the ‘white folk’ can pretend to be eco-saints and preach to those in the developing world about how they should be saving the planet, and solve the problems that the first world created.  But it’s not a new struggle for these farmers.  These lands are some of the most fertile lands in Central America and have been highly coveted for over 200 years by various foreign companies, notoriously the fruit companies, such as Chiquita.

It’s definitely giving me a much better perspective of how all these ridiculous supposed eco-solutions proposed by the technologified First World just don’t work, and in principle are completely unjust from their inception. The first thing is that it’s still focused on the developing world picking up the pieces of the developed world which doesn’t want to stop consuming. Very much like Irish banks saying “Woops, shit, we fucked up…eh, would you mind paying our huge debts small tax-payers? “. And just like people are starting to speak out in Ireland and Europe saying “How dumb do you think I am?”, people here have been saying it for decades…well, in terms of general exploitation of an entire continent, some would argue it’s been over 500 years.

But the dastardly neoliberal project doesn’t end with biofuels.  Why aim only to pillage the land when you can have it all? The craziest thing I’ve heard in ages has been the idea of Charter Cities (‘Ciudades Modelos’ in Spanish), or “How to live the American Dream in Honduras” as one article I read, referred to them.  Once again, a third world country could fall prey to being the latest guinea pig to a whole new level of Western capitalist imperialism.  In a nutshell, massive expanses of territory within Honduras would function like independent territories, where they can create their own labour laws (no workers rights Im sure!), have their own security forces and courts, their own financial regulations such as tax-exceptions, and any other neoliberal policies they want.  Hondurans would even need passports to enter these territories. This might sound something similar to the extensive tax-free zones created in Asia with dire consequences for workers slaving in the infamous Nike sweatshops among many other well-known brands. However, it ain’t. It takes things to a whole new horrific level. Team up charter cities with plans to build a private inter-oceanic new train link (not useable by locals) totting up at 14 billion US dollars, and you start getting the picture about how determined the powers-that-be are about overriding any democratic processes whatsoever to get their hands on what they like best…múla (as we say in Ireland…money).

The afternoon sessions at the gathering consisted of 3 split groups baring witness to individual testimonies of Hondurans from around the country and their stories of what they’ve had to bare in defending their lands and basic human rights.  Some spoke of their loved ones who have been murdered, tortured, disappeared or up for trial and facing sentences of up to 250 years in prison with no hard evidence against them for supposed killings or property damage. Others won’t leave their houses during the day for fear for the landowner’s private security who have already shot at them.  Some spoke of eternally watching their backs, even while at this gathering not knowing when they may become the next statistic.  And many, it seems, were too afraid even to come here. Two locals were already picked up last night after they left the gathering by the police, but luckily they were let go this afternoon.  But we’ve all be asked to be careful and not leave the gathering alone or without telling someone where we are going and when we’ll be back as the Lobo Government and their eyes are watching this gathering closely.

An exiled priest Fausto Milla, from Santa Rosa de Copán, who has openly spoken against the atrocities concluded the testimonials with a captivating short speech pleading all the internationals present to distribute all the testimonials and stories as far and wide as possible and to continue participating in the International Observatory to accompany local communities with peace brigades in Honduras. A man of the cloth who inspired me. That doesn’t happen often.  I don’t believe that the Church does any good really….I think people do. And here, there’s an incredible gathering of such admirable simple people of valour with spirit and determination that give me the courage to be a little braver every day.

 

Honduras – the forgotten coup

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Ive been neglecting my blog but I figure this was a good reason to make a come-back. I don’t think I’m a natural-born journalist but after going to a talk last week on the political situation in Honduras at present and hearing from the horses mouth (via skype-call during the talk) how their community campaigns rely mainly on independent media to get their message out, due to the massive censorship in mainstream media in the country, I figured I better step up and do what I can. As I had a lift to Honduras to an International Human Rights Gathering being hosted in Tocoa (just inland from Santa Fe…see map) this weekend, I decided to jump at the chance, get my indymedia skates on and oil my rusty writing brain.

I’ve also been going through a bit of an activist-existentialist crisis of sorts on this side of the Atlantic, trying to find my niche, my role, my new purpose in these movements. How can I best use my talents and take things at my own pace as it’s definitely a different ball-game here, and I’m not quite prepared to jump in at the deep end. So, I figure getting info out to the wider world is something I can do, even if I’m not the most stylish writer as yet!

 

A quick recent history lesson…..

So, I’ve set myself the task of reading up some old news articles to summarise (and plagarising with references!) the most important points for those of you out there, who like me, know very little about recent political history in Honduras.

As some of you may well remember, Honduras made world headlines back on June 28th 2009, when democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was ousted from power in the first successful military coup d’etat in Latin America in decades. The Honduran Congress had just issued the trumped-up charge that Zelaya, of the Liberal Party, had violated the law by attempting to carry out a poll of the general population to gauge interest in potentially rewriting the outdated Constitution to include new progressive reforms. Hondurans were scheduled to vote that day in a non-binding referendum.

Instead, the president was flown out of the country by military troops under the orders of Congressional head Roberto Micheletti (of the same party), who then became de-facto president. The people took to the streets in protest. The police and military, acting under Micheletti’s command, responded with violence, and a saga began which continues to this day, despite a new administration.

It quickly became apparent that many of the leaders of the military establishment which seized Zelaya and have spent the past 3 years ensuring that Hondurans live in perpetual fear, had been trained at the infamous School of the Americas. And as I’m sure you’re thinking, the links with the US don’t end there. The US mainstream media has worked hard to discredit Zelaya supporters and any protestors, making them out to be crazy thugs, and/or lefties in bed with Cuba commies, and Chavez and his satanic possy. Zelaya has also been accused by the media of having links with narco-drug trafficking with no hard evidence. (original article from upsidedownworld ) In fact that the most prominent drug trafficker in Honduran history, Juan Ramon Matta, was a business ally of the CIA in the 1980s. So, the USA’s usual drug-trafficking excuse to increase militarisation in the area is just the usual cover-up to stick their claws in.

But why was Zelaya such a threat to the US? He wasn’t even that radical when he first started out, but between uping the minimum wage in some sectors, rejecting IMF agreements at the time, and wanting a bit of agrarian reform, the large land owners in Honduras saw red and wanted him out ASAP. Zelaya basically wasn’t playing ball with the regional neoliberal project, and the elite Opus Dei in the country wanted to ban the morning-after pill.

When Zelaya was forced out, Obama barely gave a verbal wrist-slapping to the golpistas, but stopped short of using any legal language which would require any drastic measures against the coup government, such as economic sanctions, freezing assets, or withdrawing his ambassador, as so many other countries did immediately. Considering Obama is supposed to be some sort of shining beacon of hope in the US, this illegal coup has not only happened under his watch but has been endorsed by his government.

When happened next was also to be expected. The popular uprising from a truly grassroots movement was formed based on the premise that the electoral process which brought Zelaya to power by popular support must be respected and defended to its legal end. This uprising has been met with brutal repression and violence since its inception. The amount of recorded evidence of illegal abuses in the form of murders, torture cases and disappearances carried out by the Micheletti and Lobo governments is undeniable. Many protestors that have been violently killed by the police have even been blamed in the national media for their own deaths, because they supposedly just got in the way of the police !! (Ref. Aljazeera.com)

There’s so much more I could tell even of just recent events, but Im gonna leave it as yer homework to look up some good sites like the ones I’ve just quoted http://www.upsideworld.org and http://www.aljazeera.com and do searches there. For those with Spanish, don’t forget to do the equivalent spanish searches for personal blogs etc. There’s a lot of good reporting on this out there.

Community radio reps and video folks preparing for the gathering

16-02-2012 Communications workshop

And here I find myself in the Aguán region, in Tocoa on the carribbean coast where the international human rights gathering is taking place. Folks from all corners of Honduras have come to participate in a communications workshop which I’m helping out with. Some are learning about radio techniques while others are doing video. The idea is that all these semi-experienced community indymedia folks are going to take on the actual transmission of the gathering itself from Friday to Sunday, with the help of some experts. I really like this idea, because it’s incredibly empowering, participative and practical. It may not have perfect results, but it’s real-time education which they’ll walk away with to use in their communities.

These community activists have it real clear in their heads that even the sympathetic stations, that have somewhat favoured the transmission of objective news, are still commercial stations. One minute they are trasmitting the news of the land evictions and tortures, and the next minute they transmit propaganda for one of the companies owned by Miguel Faccuse, a big business tycoon and landowner who is closely linked with the autrocities being commited. Everyone here at the gathering knows the links between certain national products and these terrible abuses, but maybe many people in the rest of the country don’t know. As one lady said during the workshop, “We don´t want these products coming in and sweet-talking us and buying us up. No, we don´t want to loose ourselves, our identity, our culture. That´s one of the aims of our radio stations – to protect our culture. And they are also bad for our health!”.

Today there was also a women’s group session and a Honduran indigenous group’s meeting to prepare for the gathering. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be everywhere at once, and I was helping out with the video stuff a wee bit. But tomorrow I hope to get to the children’s meeting. I’ve never been to any event where there’s been a formal children’s meeting so I’m really interested in seeing how this will work, the format, the facilitation etc. All I know is that the reason for having this meeting with children is because so many of them have been witnesses to atrocities in their communities and have even witnesses their own parent’s or familiy members being killed or kidnapped.

17-02-2012

Net connection is turning out to be a trying business during this event, so if i´m lucky I may get to stick up something later this evening…at least more photos. Not even gonna try for video! eeek.

Today the communications teams are getting their last panics on. The gathering kicks off tonight with a cultural event. Can´t wait for a bit of Garifuna drums and beats! God I love (well-played) afro-rhthyms! Registration is underway and it looks to be good numbers. They expect about 500. Hopefully Ill be back online soon with more. If not, keep an eye on other web sources, although it looks to be few enough journalists…mostly indymedia.Glad I came to spread it round a bit.

What do we want? Food Sovereignty When do we want it? NOW!

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Nyeleni Forum  – August 18th – 21 – Day 3-6 – Thurs-Sunday

Well, the forum is concluded, and sorry I didn’t keep the blog daily, but heck, I’ve never had such a densely packed week of meetings, conversations, more meetings and partying! God forgive me, but I had to catch up on some sleep and figure out a way home since my eurolines open return botched up on me. (don’t rely on an open return in peak season!!), but I made it back thanks to a lift from the Via Campesina Belgian film crew who took me to Brussels!

I was incredibly inspired by everyone’s energy and enthusiasm to get the absolute max out of our time together…..to the point that after Saturday night’s final party evening, the PIIGS countries (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain) in crisis called an 8.30am meeting on Sunday morn, over breakfast to see how we could create more solidarity in our particularly nasty recession positions we find ourselves in.  With 4 hours sleep on me, I made that meeting! But I digress…, let’s go back a bit…

Thursday

Second discussion day in subtopics, I lost concentration a bit. It was hard with all the translations.  We reported back to our main thematic groups and then to our constituency groups. (mine was consumers/urban movements).   Its a bit complicated, so hopefully ill get to draw a lil chart and stick it in next week and you’ll get how the structure of it worked.  Some action ideas were materializing and good overlaps were happening even between thematic topics.  For example, in my ecological production group, trade policies and alternative distribution methods were identified as key challenges which overlapped with two other thematic groups of the same names.  Encouraging ecological production is not a clear case of convincing farmers that these methods work….it’s about diminishing the stack of active policies against this mode of production as well as ensuring access to a market, as well as other challenges.

That night, a fab Balkan DJ Tom took us on a whirlpool dance bonanza till 3am in the morn. I was wrecked but happy.

Friday

Friday was the relax day, with around 15 trips organised to different eco-places around Krems, like workers co-ops, alternative farms and some general history tours thrown in too.  Myself and Sian went on the trip to Arche Noah, one of the best seed banks in the world they told us.  We saw amazing varieties of everything; purple and black tomatoes, loads of different types of blackberries which I savoured slowly, mad purple and white carrots.  It was such a good feeling to just walk around this place.  This is where I want to be if the shit hits the fan! Our guide told us that sometimes when older people who visit and find a ‘lost’ variety lets say of apples, which they hadn’t eaten since they were young, and then they taste it again after so long, they get quite emotional as is brings back a flood of memories.  I got the feeling that this place held a lot of magic.  We need more seed banks. Visit and support Irish seedsavers!!

Our guide also told us that 80% of their customers are gardeners, and  only 20% are farmers growing strange/local varities. It’s incredible that EU law already is prohibiting sale of unregistered seed varieties….for now seed swapping is possible but for how long? If I’m not wrong, there’s a law in the pipeline to seriously restrict this too.

Friday afternoon saw a colourful musical march happen…..the direct action folk who were all engaged in the thematic discussions organized a small demo with SAMBA -ATTAC band through Krems city centre, stopping at some chainstore supermarkets and handing out fliers.  The march ended at the “Market of Ideas” which was set up in a square in the town with lots of local produce, and interactive activities for the public to engage with, as well as some great live music.  There was even a stall of locally skipped food for anyone to take for free which some dumpster divers had collected to emphasise the food waste that goes on in our supposed civilized countries!

I showed The Pipe flick that night on the Anti-Shell campaign in Mayo Ireland and had a small discussion afterwards. Folks were pretty interested in it, and some people took copies to show in Germany, Turkey and Austria.

Saturday

On Saturday morning we had the first reading of the final declaration….and we were all able to give feedback at the general plenary for final changes.  The organisation committee had been pulling all-nighters trying to assemble the essence of the 20 different subgroups which had been discussing issues, ideas and actions over the last 2 days, to try to come out with a declaration which would be acceptable to all.  I didn’t envy them the task! I have to confess though….I slept it out for this. After a week of late nights and early starts, I had to get one lie in, so I turned up at lunchtime, but got filled in by the rest of the Irish delegation.

The afternoon saw people meeting up to discuss the declaration and make final suggestions to the writing committee.  Again the translators/interpretors astounded me, as the text was translated into at le3ast 10 different languges before the day was out.

I attended a Friends of the Earth meeting where we were able to input into the declaration…most of us wanted it more strongly worded, with more explicit references to climate change being both a impact on food production worldwide, as well as food sovereignty being part of the solution to climate change.  When the final declaration was read that evening, there was great appalause from the crowd paragraph by paragraph nearly. People were well satisfied.

That evening, some Belgian folks organised a direct action sharing workshop where 4 folks got up to present….first up was a Belgian guy against GMOs (forgotten his name!) pulling crops up in Belgium which has one of the highest number of GMO trials in Europe at present, which meant that the scientific community mostly called them luddites for their actions. Then I talked about Climate Camp Ireland , the  Rossport Solidarity Camp, and general activist personal sustainability skills. Amoury from the Belgian Artivist collective gave us the lowdown on their YESMEN stunts around Belgium in the EU Commission, many on food sovereignty issues. And finally Morgan from France talked about Reclaim the Fields (see previous blog for more details),  There was interesting discussion then on the effectiveness and importance of direct action and its role in wider campaigns and the pre and post work needed.  The question of what is non-violent direct action also came up, to which I urged everyone to keep debating it in their groups, read more on it, and keep evolving their ideas on it, because my experience over the years is that I cannot judge someone’s actions without knowing the context and other relevant info.  It’s a difficult but important debate.

Many folks there were well interested in trying to organise an European-wide direct action gathering….to discuss theory, strategies and tactics, and take a little action.  It’s another one for the pipeline. I think it would be brilliant.  I’m on a mailing list now. We’ll see what happens.

Sunday

The forum came to an end with quite a bit of madness in the form of a mystica, where 8 countries while we all stood in a circle, and the chairs were laid out as spokes of that circle in double rows facing inwards, where we later were asked to converse to someone across from us about how the event went in total.  Twas a bit chaotic trying to organise the couple of hundred folks there, some which were hungover, or not even gone to bed.  But we did a great bit of cheering at the end and did big thank-yous to the organizers, amazing kitchen collective crew, facilitators and interpreters.

I really saw what it takes to pull off an event like this…..I was well impressed as were most people. I know now that it’s possible to have a very participative event.  The forum did cost over 200,000 euro though, with almost 100 volunteers giving their free time to translate, facilitate and cook….so it’s no small task, that’s for sure. But when people come together…..we can be the change we want to see in the world!

Now back to Ireland, and spreading the good fair food buzz there…..

Creativity and Direct Action at Nyeleni…

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Day 2 – 17-08-11

….”and the Mystica will be starting at 8.30am sharp” said one of the plenary session speakers as Monday’s session came to a close.  Aha….I thought, some kinda spiritual ceremony thing to start the day. Depending on how it works,  I sometimes like those things, and sometimes not. And wasn’t I pleasantly surprised…it was a multilingual mini-theatre performance by 4 clowns on GM crops! a great way to start the day, laugh over breakfast, and see creativity being used to transmit these messages! Classic.  We need more clowns and creatives;we need to have more fun while campaigning and doing. Get me to a clown workshop!

And so all 400 odd participants then got stuck into the first full-day’s work, first in a general plenary where international delegates spoke about the situations in their countries. Miriam Bassey spoke about her country Nigeria, and mentioned  that recently Shell admited in court to 2 cases of pollution paying 1 billion dollars in damages (pennies for them!)  in Nigeria after decades of contaminating vast tracks of land.  She acknowledged the great work being done by the forum, but stressed that the problems they suffer in Africa are mostly due to European and other global north transnationals either polluting and abusing them, or then coming in and telling them how to solve their problems, be it with GMOs or other technologies. “It is good to have big dreams, but we need to wake up and act!” she said.

That’s heavy stuff to hear, but I always come away inspired and empowered to continue campaigning on these issues, because meeting these people face to face really reminds me about how real people are suffering and how I admire them for battling and struggling against all odds, not only for what they believe in, but for their lives!

We then split into out thematic groups, and within these there were subgroups too and we spent the rest of the day discussing our particular strands. I ended up in the largest group which was part of the production strand, and within that the ecological production subgroup. I had chosen this because I wanted to learn more about this, but I think in the end I probably belonged more in the consumers and markets because I know more about it. All the same, it was an interesting debate and discussion with some final suggested action points reached. Our group being the biggest, and with at least 4 languages being translated meant the going was hard at times.  We got somewhat bogged down in terminology and definitions at the beginning, but finally moved on to more practical actions we could work towards together.

Couldn’t possibly write even half of what was said, but some of the final things that are materialising is a call to action on World Food Day on October 16th, with all sorts of events and actions around Europe to highlight food sovereignty issues. April 17th was also mentioned as a day of action. People called for European platforms to continue working together, more regional meetings, and databases to share info on events, initiatives and actions. French farmers called for everyone to be inspired by young people’s direct actions against GM crops, and in general it’s been beautifully refreshing to hear so many people talking about direct action to be used along side other strategies!! Are we finally breaking through to a bigger crowd?

In the evening I went along the a Reclaim the Fields meeting despite being quite tired, and hey presto I found a little more of the stuff I was looking for….permaculture, squating and direct action crew all under one roof! Reclaim the fields began in 2008 as a Via Campesina project but within a couple of meetings in differnet countries, it soon expanded and became its own project.  The amount of amazing land squatting actions and planting escapades these folks told from France, to Spain, UK (Grow Heathrow) to Hungary were amazing! I felt really inspired, especially with their stories of anarchists working side by side with farmers getting their hands dirty and taking action in cities, with crowds as big as 1,000 marching with their garden tools to reclaim a piece of land. The next gathering is in Romania, and its looking real tempting.  Reclaim the Fields is a non-hierarchical group thats fluid undefinedness very much reminds me of Gluasieacht’s basic ethos.  They think of themselves as constellations; roughly interconnected networks and groups (which depending on how you look at the stars, you can see different shapes and patterns ), which come together to support each other as needed. So Romania is the place to be at the end of September. God Im tempted! We’ll see…..mmm

And as I’m writing this thursday about Wednesday, things are melding in my head.  Reporting back to our main thematic groups and consituency groups has been long and intense, but some seriously great exchanges have been had, and once the final report is done in a few weeks, ill link it up here. We’ll also be doing one ourselves, either among the Gluheads, or hopefully with the 7 irish delegates in total.

Last night we danced our socks off to a crzy Balkan DJ who were amazing, and there’s more on tonight, so I better get me ass over there and chill after another hard day’s intensive communication, but truely satisfied at having met such great people and learning lots and being inspired about movements everywhere!

Nyeleni 2011 – European Food Sovereignty forum – and so it begins….

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16-08-2011

I am in Krems Austria at the end of the first day of the European Food Sovereignty Forum and it’s been a jam-packed day!

The Nyeleni forum originated in Mali in 2007, and now the first European one is taking place near Vienna in a town called Krems an der Donau (on the Danube) with 35 different countries participating.  For those new to the term Food Sovereignty, I must admit I’m pretty new to it myself and that’s half my reason for coming,(to learn more) but in short I’d describe it as taking back control over what we eat, how it’s produced, who produces it and making all these processes socially just for those involved and sustainable for the planet. Food sovereignty fights for local, GM-free, organic, seasonal, culturally-appropriate and fairly priced foods.

So, I’ve come to this gathering representing Gluaiseacht along with an Irish delegation of 7 in total, from LASC, Dublin Community Gardens, Seomra Spraoi Food Action Group, and Leitrim Organic farmers group. Gluaiseacht decided to fund 4 folks coming over, from Gluaiseacht and Seomra Spraoi Food Action, of which 3 made it in the end. We all travelled by land to get here….Donna hitched most of the way from Lyon, as she was travelling round Europe for the summer anyhow, (and found herself a real nice mountain bike in a bush on her way here yesterday!) Mad but true! Myself and Sian (Seomra Food Action) travelled by land from Ireland, because Gluaiseacht doesn’t fund air-travel to save a wee bit of the climate and cut down on carbon emissions, short-haul flights being the worst.

So land travel huh? How insane is that? Ireland to Austria? Well…..yes, it wasn’t that bad or that pricey. A 2 day trip for 200 euro (Dublin – Vienna). Land travel is pretty cool if you have the time . The bus wasn’t the cushiest( best night buses I’ve experienced were in Brazil; why can’t we have better ones here??) so the legs were feeling it the next day but we got plenty of time to talk about the forum, our reasons for coming, and basically to get to know each other better too, apart from meeting some very colourful charaters on the way (Harry Bird and the Rubber wellies).

I started out a from Dun-Laoghaire port with a sail and rail ticket to London. I was a bittired, having had a great wee evening at the first Irish Permaculture Gathering in Wicklow where the lovely crew had made a great communal meal for all on Saturday eve from many local veg followed by a great sing-a-long by the fire.  That was great start to my trip towards Austria in terms of healthy, local, fresh, seasonal food, all in line with food sovereignty.

However, that was the last of the good ethical food as despite our best efforts to be eco and travel by land, buying local, fresh produce on the route was absolutely impossible.  I’d brought some wholemeal bought bread, nuts and a tomato from Lidl (grown in Holland).  Sian brought some home-made flapjacks.  We bought Charleville cheddar in a centra near the port (no local shops to be had), which Sian later told me is partly produced in the UK, so it may not even have been that local! It was mostly cheese sandwiches for the first day. We stayed the night in London with friends (in a great squat! ‘ Colorama’) and took off early the next day on our Eurolines 22hr ride to Vienna. As expected, all the bus stops en route were at stupid motorway multinational chain stores, such as Carrefour, and Shell petrol statis.  We got some more bread, yoghurt, brie, crisps and saucisson but none were very local or cheap! We picnic’d away the day while reading, chatting and stretching our legs at each stop. We soon realized that although travelling by land might be more eco but we had no control over our food supply!  We could have brought more homemade stuff with us, but 2 days was a bit long to keep things fresh on a bus.

We arrived into Vienna Tuesday morning at 9am, and promptly found our way to Krems on a local train, where after setting up our tents and having some much-needed (glorious) showers and lovely lunch, we got stuck into the women’s meeting which was first on the agenda.  About 70 odd women from all over western and eastern Europe took part (15 different countries at least), plus some international delegates from almost all continents.  In smaller groups, we were asked to envision a future world without discrimination or violence against women, and then what steps we could take to get there. Some interesting suggestions came out of this, including such things as feminization of economics and more egalitarian participation, more rights for children to participate, redefining values from a more feminine point of view such as salaries and work and being prepared to engage in civil disobedience to take a stand for what we believe in.

After that the whole forum split into constituency meetings which meant splitting into the sectors we represented, namely producers, NGOs, Consumers/urban movements, and trade unions. I went with urban movements, as Gluaiseacht is more of a network of mostly urban-based people.  We all introduced ourselves and then said what main topic we were attending during the forum (1. Production models 2. Markets/food chains 3. Social aspects and conditions of work 4. Land access and resources 5. Public policies) so that we could then report back at the end of the week. After this session, 2 Belgian guys came up to me as they were interested in the direct action stuff I’d mentioned Gluaiseacht supports in campaigns such as the Rossport Camp.  They were part of an artist collective called collectifartivist.be, and we exchanged addresses to grow the network.  Yes….networking is definitely a huge part of me being here. Personally, I’m also interested in meeting people from Latin America in struggles there to see what links can be made between farmers and consumers in how food sovereignty affects them.

The plenary came next with everyone together in the main hall where the forum was officially opened with some speeches, and later a cool world café was done where we all moved about to different tables to answer 2 questions: Why was the forum important for us? The interpreters did a great job through out translating via radio transmitters, and then live at the discussion tables of the world café.  A bit of Austrian traditional dance ended the evening, with some nice beers drunk over chats before folks off to bed.

There are no main speakers at this forum. It’s all about small discussion groups through sectors and topics we associate ourselves with.  The methodology is very participative and the organizers are doing a great job of trying to document the discussions, ideas, proposals and actions which develop in each of the sub-groups of the thematic axes. So, I’m looking forward to getting stuck in over the next few days!

Another Cop, Another Cop-out

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Real sorry I didn’t do a better job of daily updates at the COP16 considering I hear there was very little in the Irish media on it, although I was happy to see Aljezeera and The Guardian had good daily updates, and even hourly ones on the last night.

A week has passed since the end of COP16 official and counter-summits and before things fade more in my mind I’m going to put down some last thoughts and summaries of things that most stood out to me.

Well, last I left ye, it was the day after the big split march. Disillusionment reigned high in my mind at least, as it did in many of the other younger folk in our Chiapas Caravana at least, and some of the other community campaigners who like me, felt unconsulted about this unwanted unnecessary split.

Wednesday I finally managed to attend some more talks at the Dialogo Climatico but things were generally starting to slide quite a bit, with many workshops cancelled or rescheduled and everything slowly descended into more random chaos on Thursday and Friday, with Friday I think being an almost complete cancellation of everything that was scheduled ( I went to the beach for myself that day….twas time!). What a disaster this was as much for the participants, as the speakers…..I bumped into some of the Canadian folk from the Indigenous Environmental Network who’d been at the UK Climate Camp in Edinburgh this summer and their workshop had been cancelled….CRAZY….all that way,…huh…well, luckily they were presenting at some of the other alter-summits….the vastly numerous ones…Klimaforum10 and Villa Climatica (run by the government directly)…not sure if they spoke a Via Campesina.

One of my favourites was Casey Camp-Horinek , a Ponca Pa tha-ta Indian woman from the States (Nebraska I think). She spoke from the soul reaching across languages and cultural divides, and touched the audience which included many indigenous folk from Mexico, Bolivia, Guatemala and more. She spoke of her tribe’s experience, and her personal family’s ordeal, how all the US treaties with her people had been broken, and to not trust REDD in the least. ” This REDD treaty is not ready…. They will take your territories, your land, they will contaminate it. They always do.” she said in her steady wise voice. And as she reached out her hand to grab a fistful of air she added, “See this carbon I just grabbed from the air, it is not mine, the trees are not mine, neither are the waters. They cannot put a price on these things which do not belong to us.” She spoke from the heart and even though I know everything she talked about it, she made me feel it to the bone, and that’s worth a thousand scientific facts and reports and articles.

There was mostly strong oppostion to anything to do with REDD and opposition to the large NGOs who were supporting this….Greenpeace, Oxfam and others. Those NGOs are seen as completely in cohoots with the corporations, and out of touch with reality. As Camila Moreno from FOE Brazil, said “Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres ” (A person is know by the company they keep). And that’s basically it….if these big NGOs are prepared to rub shoulders with the very culprits who’ve caused the vast amount of damage to our planet, they can’t really be trusted in my book at least. She called for agrarian reform on a planetary level, which is Via Campesina’s main call too…..that redistributing land into the hands of small farmers worldwide would be one of the most effective methods of cooling the planet. She mentioned that REDD had divided organisations in Brasil, that those who were attracted to its possible financial gains were being blinded by these trivial crumbs being thrown down from the corporate elite table.

On Thursday Dec. 9th, Evo Morales made an appearance at the Via Campesina camp and gave only a regular enough speech for my liking. He said the usual stuff , no to REDD, no to Capitalism blabla, but nothing much either inspiringly poetic or strong or symbolically captivating. Nimmo Bassy on the other hand, head of Friends of the Earth International, was on just before him and he was way more powerful and emotive. Some representative from the Cuban government was also there (didn’t catch his name) and he also gave the usual old socialist speech with a lot of hailing to Fidel and Chavez by him and Evo. That was not my cup of tea at all. I don’t hail any government or political leaders, only the people who self-organise and take their power back. But what was much more inspiring than the actual speeches was the build-up with andean music playing beforehand and many indigenous Bolivians and many others all dancing energetically and proudly before Evo arrived.  Shortly before Evo took to the stage, a glorious rainbow appeared in the sky. This was an amazingly important sign for the Andean community, with their communal flag being the ‘arco iris’. It was a symbol of something great going down….

Thursday night rounded off with a great street jam party which the younger contigents of the separate camps (Anti-C@P, Diálogo Climático, Via Campesina, and Klima Forum) decided to organise (me being one of them) to spite the ‘leaders’ who hadn’t been able to work out their differences even for the march (we advertised it on the radio, net and flyering). So, we took to the streets after Evo’s speech with a jenny-powered sound system owned by two cool Danish lads, and set up residence in a wee plaza up the road. We had a full free show for all to join in on with political clowns doing a fab performance, Canadian rappers, a short theatre piece in ‘theatre of the oppressed’ style depicting the COP with governments, corporations and activists, and well, a lotta lotta dancing! And hey presto, the cops stood off till 1am which is when we roughly had agreed that we’d finish. It was definitely the best night of all….unity in dancing at least I tells ya!

And the official COP? Well, there’s many an article written up about the ins and outs of the negotiations….no targets for emissions were set, REDD wasn’t exactly agreed but is still very much on the cards, Bolivia was the only country to object strongly against the loose agreement signed by 194 nations. At least China seems pretty determined to take some lead on the issue now, indicating that it would be interested in renewing the Kyoto Protocol.  Most stuff hase been deferred till next year. All in all, I really wonder what the UN COP is ever going to offer us in the small timeframe we have to stop runaway climate change. It’s desparately daunting and I have less and less faith in it. But what real alternatives have we? Cochabamba and the people’s accord? It’s all nice inspiring wording but there’s no techinical anything to back it up at all…… how do we measure emission reductions etc…it’s very complex. It’s enough to make my brain tumble round a while. I’m a science-head, so without reasonably exact measuring mechanisms, I don’t see how we can really stop climate change. It’s a long road we have to travel….these massive international negotiations have many flaws, but do we the grassroots movements have the capacity to really develop an alternative independent of the UN, without access to paid experts who can flesh out how an alternative system would mean?  I hope, I really hope we can…..