Yesterday was the big march which was supposed to be the only co-ordinated effort between the different alternative spaces here in Cancun, but unfortunately 24 hours before, according to Dialogo Climatico Via Campesina decided to not march with them and do their own route. We were all terribly distraught, sad and angry by the news! We didn’t really get a clear explanation as to what the differences were, but rumour has it, that it’s mostly a history of old divisions between networks and groups here in Mexico which infuriated us the general participants all the more…..how could these national issues between organisations be put in the way of such an internationally important event!!! But, that’s the context of these lands and in some strange way, we had to accept it, if not really understand or repect their decision.
On a practical level , it was explained to us by some of those in the Dialogo Climatico(DC), that the two groups disagreed on the marching distances. Dialogo Climatico marched 10km yesterday around the centre of Cancun as far as the start of the hotel zone, while Via Campesina and Anti-cop marched about 20km as far as the start of the red zone where the first police blockades are. With a the heat here in Cancún, DC did not see it as wise to march for so long especially with children and older people in our ranks, with possiblilities of conflicts at the police barriers, which still were 10km from the Moon Palace where the official COP16 is being held. However, word through the grape vine has it that the divisions are stronger than this…..that Via Campesina has openly criticised Dialogo Climatico and some other alternative spaces for ‘selling out’ to the green capitalist solutions being offered at COP16 via REDD+ and green technology transfer mechanisms. These basically opens up new green markets of selling our forests, rivers and who knows what else in the near future! I for one have heard most organisations here at DC speak very strongly against REDD+ but like I mentioned before, Greenpeace and Oxfam are seeing this as a good interim solution, which I see as a fatal mistake! Hence, as Greenpeace and Oxfam are involved in DC, the entire other lot of hundreds of participants and groups have been bad-mouthed by Via Campesina Mexico. Yet Friends of the Earth International (FOEI) and Via Campesina International have strong alliances which leaves FOEI is a precarious position of trying to attend both spaces.
Our Chiapas Caravana had a long heart-felt discussion the night before, about the division in the march and it was really inspiring to hear what many campesinos, activists and indigenous people had to say who had travelled so far to this event..not just Chiapas, but from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, not to mention many foreigners from Europe mainly (though some are travellers in these parts at the moment). Those who spoke voiced their reasons for coming and that we shouldn’t get overwhelmed by these divisions, that we should transcend them, and remember our common cause and common ground between us. Despite there being this division, we should be bigger than these supposed leaders that caused the split, and continue with our march with conviction. And so we did…..
What really pained some of us though, is that there seems to have been little communication about the different working groups in the DC on who decides what. There’s been hardly any open decision-making meetings where all the participants can attend…..but not necessarily out of a lack willingness to let everyone participate, but more perhaps out of a lack of people behind the scenes putting in the hard slog. The core group who put this together, despite the many-named groups on the webpage were very few and worked very hard to get this space together for the past year. However, there seems to have been a big oversight in my view, in not creating a daily space for the participants to take decisions together…..how does one do this with a few thousand participants though? I think it is possible like I’ve seen done at UK Climate Camps. Is it down partly to lack of experience of the organisers in being unfamiliar with non-hierarchical structures for organising? Moreso I think it’s the context we find ourselves in. Grassroots Latin America in what I am seeing here at CO16 has a very different history to us in Europe to state the obvious. Not only in the organisation but also in the talk styles that are taking place, I feel things are very much in an old-socialist school mode….big long speeches which can be inspiring, but incredibly non-participative, and quite repetitive. Not only are the leaders unfamiliar with more participative techniques, but also the participants, so having efficient spokes meetings like one might have in Europe, isn’t something that people can learn over night. It frustrates me endlessly, but there’s something to be learnt in this too. And how people organise and communicate is something I’m passionate about. This is probably all pretty basic for anyone who’s been here a while, but there are just some small personal insights that I’m living and sharing with you the reader!
So, we marched, we numbered about 3,000 in my opinion. Some said about 5,000, who knows. We marched with many groups (photos laters, can’t download em now eeek!) and local Cancún groups too for worker’s rights, women’s rights, indigenous rights….more than I can remember now. It was a good energetic march, with the usual speeches at the end, and some nice touches of typical local music and dances. Some of us wanted to join the Via Campesina and Antic@p marches after ours, but soon found out that they’d blocked off access to that part of town and there was no way in. However, we all knew that despite the momentary energy we might feel in seeing the cop-lines and the face of those with power, there was never a chance in hell of reaching the Moon Palace considering there was around 10 police blocks in between, police helicopters overhead and word of an unmanned military aircraft also monitoring us from somewhere! We also knew that changing the minds of the COP16 government delegates wasn’t going to be achieved by a march either. So, we returned back to base and later met our compadres who had gone to the Via Campesina march and the AntiC@p one. They had numbered probably 5,000 they said and there was good energy though they were wrecked after having walked twice what we did in quite some heat. They reached the front of the restricted red zone about 100m from the first police barricade and that’s where Via ended without any police conflict.
Our friends told us that Anti-c@op numbering about 200, went a tad further to the police line but little enough was done as hundreds of police were in typical kettling formation on 3 sides of the protestors, with 2m high barricades ready for anything! So they didn’t get up to much. Most of them retreated around 4pm (having started at 10am!) leaving a small group of radical ‘punkies’ still wishing to keep watch over the cops. Supposedly nothing much more happened. In one worrying report, some greek participants heard that some Greek tv stations reported that one of the marches here turned violent with windows broken on the route, but none of us saw any of this happen. It’s complete bullshit if you hear any of those stories.
Another interesting thing for me in the prep for the march was the different forms of organising the groups here have to protect against possible infilrators/police agitators etc. For example, we cordoned ourselves off as a group with a rope on 3 all sides and all kept watch for unidentified folks just in case! Luckily nothing happened but tis a good to know for the future! We have many experienced groups among our caravan who have suffered from government and military repression here in Mexico, like the Abejas from Acteal Chiapas who suffered a terrible massacre in 1997 and have incessantly campaigned and protested for those who killed their families and friends to be brought to justice.
All in all, it was a disappointing turn out of maximum 10,000 between the two marches, compared to 100,000 in Copenhaguen. Reasons for this? Cancun is further for those in the rich nations to attend, and we might be in Latin America, but again, there’s huge distances and costs for these poorer peoples to reach Cancun to voice their concerns. What of COP17 which will be in South Africa? Who can afford to attend from the world’s poorest continent? What hope have we really of COP16 reaching any good decisions without market-reliant solutions? What alternatives have we other than the this UN platform? Will there be a continuation of the Bolivian initiative for an alternative platform? What can we do in the meantime to strengthen our possiblities of taking back power from those who abuse it with COP and green capitalism being only the latest manifestation of the same problem. As Colin Rajah from Grassroots Global Justice USA, said in a talk today “Climate change is a symptom of a much larger disease, the neoliberal global economic system which is the agenda of the rich and powerful people and governments both in the north and south which do not suffer the consequences of climate change”. We need to really face up to this challenge in the north….no more tippy-toeing around these issues…..the system has got to change, reformist solutions like green capitalism only leave us with another set of similar or worse problems…. it’s up to all of us to debate and decide how to do this.
good footage from an indy collective here reporting on COP16 – KOMAN ILEL