Some Advice to Evo Morales

Most informed Americans do not have a high opinion of Bolivian president Evo Morales. They think that Mr. Morales is an anti-American leftist aligned with President Hugo Chavez and former President Fidel Castro.

None of these facts is strictly wrong. President Evo Morales is a leftist; he is an ally of Venezuela and Cuba; and he certainly hates the United States.

Yet Mr. Morales is not just this. To many people in Bolivia, Mr. Morales is the Barack Obama of their country. He is the first democratically elected indigenous president, much like Mr. Obama is America’s first black president, in a country where two-thirds of the people are indigenous.

“…imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever,” British author George Orwell once wrote. For six centuries, ever since the Spanish conquest of the Americas, that boot has been stamping on the faces of the indigenas in Bolivia and other Latin American countries. Mr. Morales represents, to many Bolivians, the end of this subjugation.

Many Americans are unaware of this other side to Mr. Morales because the American media does not report it. Partly this is because many journalists do not fully understand the history of Latin America.

Mostly, however, the American media is hostile to Mr. Morales because he takes every opportunity possible to spit in America’s face. Mr. Morales delights in making his anti-Americanism as public as possible – whether he is expelling America’s ambassador, or accusing the United States of assassination attempts against him, or talking about the evils of neoliberal economic policy.

To be fair, there is certainly a reason for Mr. Morales to hate the United States. In general, American policy has been more friendly to the right-wing (i.e. non-indigenous) elements in Bolivia, mainly because  left-wing Latin American movements often slip into communism. The United States policy against coca planting also goes against the interests of the people Mr. Morales represents.

Yet for all this, spitting in the face of the world’s superpower (as Mr. Morales loves to do) is not a wise policy. Whatever its recent troubles, the United States still holds an enormous amount of influence and power – influence that will be directed against Bolivia as long as Mr. Morales continues his current anti-American policies.

This is not hard power – the United States will not intervene militarily in Bolivia anytime soon (indeed, under Mr. Obama it would probably condemn a right-wing coup against Mr. Morales). This may not even be action taken by the U.S. government.

Rather, it may look something like this: American businesswoman Ms. Smith, director of corporate operations in Latin America, picks up her morning Wall Street Journal. On the front page is an article about Bolivian nationalizations and its increasingly hostile environment to foreign investment. Ms. Smith is in the middle of deciding where to locate the company’s new factory; reading this article, and thinking about that crazy leftist Evo Morales, she crosses Bolivia off the list and instead decides to build in Brazil, where the climate is much friendlier to business. Bolivia thus loses several million dollars in possible foreign investment, and several thousand potential jobs.

The funny thing about this hypothetical is that Brazil’s President Lula de Silva probably hates the United States just as much as Evo Morales does. Mr. de Silva, however, is smart enough to keep his anti-Americanism quiet and pursue good relations with the world’s superpower. A belligerent America would only be a distraction to Brazil’s continuing and successful efforts in reducing income inequality.

This is true for Bolivia as well – a hostile America would probably hurt Bolivia and therefore hurt Mr. Morales’s attempts to raise the status of Bolivia’s poor indigenas. Being friendly with the United States would probably be a bitter pill for Mr. Morales to swallow. In the end, however, it would be better for the people he is trying to help.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Some Advice to Evo Morales

Most informed Americans do not have a high opinion of Bolivian president Evo Morales. They think that Mr. Morales is an anti-American leftist aligned with President Hugo Chavez and former President Fidel Castro.

None of these facts is strictly wrong. President Evo Morales is a leftist; he is an ally of Venezuela and Cuba; and he certainly hates the United States.

Yet Mr. Morales is not just this. To many people in Bolivia, Mr. Morales is the Barack Obama of their country. He is the first democratically elected indigenous president, much like Mr. Obama is America’s first black president, in a country where two-thirds of the people are indigenous.

“…imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever,” British author George Orwell once wrote. For six centuries, ever since the Spanish conquest of the Americas, that boot has been stamping on the faces of the indigenas in Bolivia and other Latin American countries. Mr. Morales represents, to many Bolivians, the end of this subjugation.

Many Americans are unaware of this other side to Mr. Morales because the American media does not report it. Partly this is because many journalists do not fully understand the history of Latin America.

Mostly, however, the American media is hostile to Mr. Morales because he takes every opportunity possible to spit in America’s face. Mr. Morales delights in making his anti-Americanism as public as possible – whether he is expelling America’s ambassador, or accusing the United States of assassination attempts against him, or talking about the evils of neoliberal economic policy.

To be fair, there is certainly a reason for Mr. Morales to hate the United States. In general, American policy has been more friendly to the right-wing (i.e. non-indigenous) elements in Bolivia, mainly because  left-wing Latin American movements often slip into communism. The United States policy against coca planting also goes against the interests of the people Mr. Morales represents.

Yet for all this, spitting in the face of the world’s superpower (as Mr. Morales loves to do) is not a wise policy. Whatever its recent troubles, the United States still holds an enormous amount of influence and power – influence that will be directed against Bolivia as long as Mr. Morales continues his current anti-American policies.

This is not hard power – the United States will not intervene militarily in Bolivia anytime soon (indeed, under Mr. Obama it would probably condemn a right-wing coup against Mr. Morales). This may not even be action taken by the U.S. government.

Rather, it may look something like this: American businesswoman Ms. Smith, director of corporate operations in Latin America, picks up her morning Wall Street Journal. On the front page is an article about Bolivian nationalizations and its increasingly hostile environment to foreign investment. Ms. Smith is in the middle of deciding where to locate the company’s new factory; reading this article, and thinking about that crazy leftist Evo Morales, she crosses Bolivia off the list and instead decides to build in Brazil, where the climate is much friendlier to business. Bolivia thus loses several million dollars in possible foreign investment, and several thousand potential jobs.

The funny thing about this hypothetical is that Brazil’s President Lula de Silva probably hates the United States just as much as Evo Morales does. Mr. de Silva, however, is smart enough to keep his anti-Americanism quiet and pursue good relations with the world’s superpower. A belligerent America would only be a distraction to Brazil’s continuing and successful efforts in reducing income inequality.

This is true for Bolivia as well – a hostile America would probably hurt Bolivia and therefore hurt Mr. Morales’s attempts to raise the status of Bolivia’s poor indigenas. Being friendly with the United States would probably be a bitter pill for Mr. Morales to swallow. In the end, however, it would be better for the people he is trying to help.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/

 

 

Weekly Mulch: For Cancun Climate Summit, Activists Consider the Long View

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

A year ago, it seemed possible—likely, even—that President Barack Obama would sweep into the international negotiations on climate change at Copenhagen and make serious progress on the tangle of issues at stake. The reality was quite different. This year, the expectations for the United Nations Climate Conference in Cancun are less exuberant.

The conference will be held from Nov 29 to Dec 10 and the same issues from 2009 are up for debate. Countries like the United States, Britain, and Germany are still contributing an outsize share of carbon to the atmosphere. Countries like India and China are still rapidly increasing their own carbon output. And countries like Bangladesh, Tuvalu, and Bolivia are still bearing an unfair share of the environmental impacts brought on by climate change.

A very different set of expectations are building in the climate movement this year. If last year was about moving forward as fast as possible, this year, climate activists seem resigned to the idea that politicians just aren’t getting it. Change, when it comes, will have to be be built on a popular movement, not a political negotiation.

Climate change from the bottom up

Last year, climate activists put their faith in international leaders to make progress. This year, they believe that it’s up to them, as outside actors, to marshal a grassroots movement and pressure their leaders towards decreased carbon emissions.

“There’s a recognition that the insider strategy to push from inside the Beltway to impact what will happen in DC, or what will happen in Cancun has really not succeeded,” Rose Braz, climate campaign director at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Making Contact’s Andrew Stelzer. “What we’re doing in conjunction with a number of groups across the country and across the world is really build the type of movement that will change what happens in Cancun, what changes what happens in DC from the bottom up.” (This entire episode of Making Contact is dedicated to new approaches to climate change, at Cancun and beyond, and is worth a listen.)

Fighting the indolence of capitalists

Here’s one example of this new strategy: as Zachary Shahan writes at Change.org, La Via Campesina, an international peasant movement, is coordinating a march that will begin in San Luis Potosi, Guadalajara, Acapulco, Oaxaca, and Chiapas, then converge on Cancun. The march will include “thousands of farmers, indigenous people, rural villagers, urbanites, and more,” Shahan reports.

After they arrive in Cancun, the organizers are planning an “Alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice” for the final days of the negotiations, which they say will be a mass mobilisation of peasants, indigenous and social movements. The action extends far beyond Cancun, though. Actually, they are organizing thousands of Cancuns around the world on this day to denounce what they see as false climate solutions.

These actions echo the strategy that environmentalist and author Bill McKibben and other climate leaders are promoting to push for climate change policies in the U.S. All this talk about building momentum from the bottom up, from populations, means that anyone looking for change is now looking years into the future.

The U.S. is not leading the way

Of course, ultimately, politicians will need to agree on a couple of standards. In particular, how much carbon each country should be emitting and how fast each country should power down its current emission levels. The U.S. is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to agreement on these questions, especially due to the recent mid-term elections. As Claudia Salerno, Venezuela’s lead climate change negotiator wrote at AlterNet:

Unlike what many suggest, China is not the problem. China, along with India and others, have made considerable commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and are already working to realize them. Other developing countries have done the same, although we only generate a virtual drop in the bucket of global carbon emissions. The key player missing here is the U.S.

China, the U.S. and Clean Coal

The most interesting collaborations on clean energy, however, aren’t happening around the negotiating table. This week, The Atlantic’s James Fallows wrote a long piece about the work that the U.S. and China are doing together on clean coal technology, the magic cure-all to the world’s energy ills.

In the piece, Fallows recognizes what environmentalists have long argued: coal is bad for the environment and for coal-mining communities. But, unlike clean energy advocates who want to phase coal out of the energy equation, Fallows argues that coal must play a part in the world’s energy future. Therefore, we must find a way to burn it without releasing clouds of carbon into the atmosphere. That’s where clean coal technology comes in. So far, however, researchers have had little luck minimizing coal’s carbon output.

A few progressive writers weighed in on Fallows’ piece: Grist’s David Roberts thought Fallows was too hard on the anti-coal camp, while Campus Progress’ Sara Rubin argued that the piece did a good job of grappling with the reality of clean energy economics. And Mother Jones‘ Kevin Drum had one very clear criticism—that the piece skated over the question of progress on carbon capture, the one real way to dramatically reduce carbon pollution from coal. He wrote:

All the collaboration sounds wonderful, and even a 20% or 30% improvement in coal technology would be welcome. But that said, sequestration is the holy grail and I still don’t know if the Chinese are doing anything more on that front than the rest of us.

On every front, then, the view on climate change is now a long one.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Citizens Lead Cochabamba Climate Negotiations

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Environmental advocates from around the world gathered in Cochabamba, Bolivia, this week and resolved that, a year from now, they would hold a world’s people referendum on climate change to marshal support for the rights of the planet.

“Although it is hoped that some states will cooperate, the participation of governments will not be essential to the referendum, as civil society organizations are to plan it according to their own lights and the traditions and customs of each local area,” reports Franz Chavez for Inter Press Service.

The conference’s democratic, citizen-oriented format starkly contrasted with March’s United Nations-led summit in Copenhagen. The conference at Cochabamba emphasized inclusion and a diversity of voices, providing an antidote to processes like the U.N. climate negotiations, where smaller countries were excluded from key discussions.

No official United States delegation attended the conference, but this week, the country held its own celebration of the environment: the 40th annual Earth Day. On Thursday, arguments over climate change were put on pause, as environmental leaders recognized both accomplishments and the unfinished business of cleaning up the air, land, and water.

“Environmentalism isn’t such a mysterious thing anymore. People are looking more at environmental values as being things that are tangible and relate to how we live our lives,” Pete Carrels of the South Dakota Sierra Club told Public News Service.

The mystery, now, lies in finding a way to shore up defenses against old environmental hazards—dirty water, dirty air, diminishing resources—and to agree on a path towards a low-carbon future that avoids the worst calamities of climate change.

At Cochabamba

“Bolivian music, indigenous ceremonies and the Bolivian army’s honor guard were on hand to greet the first indigenous president of the Plurinational State of Bolivia, Evo Morales,” Democracy Now! reported from Tiquipaya, the town just outside Cochabamba where the actual conference is being held.

In a stadium crowded with fifteen thousand people, President Morales opened the event Tuesday morning with exhortations to choose life for the planet. Franz Chavez of Inter Press Service reports:

“The stadium, ablaze with the multi-coloured traditional garments of different Andean and Amazonian native communities and the flags of people from different countries around the world that contrasted with the cold formality of presidential summits, served as the stage for Morales, of Aymara descent, to call for an “inter-continental movement” in defence of Mother Earth.”

You can get a sense of the atmosphere in this GRITtv report or the below video from Yes! Magazine.

Too many cooks?

One of the main goals of the summit was to draft a “universal declaration of rights of Mother Earth,” envisioned as a complement to the United Nations declaration on human rights. There were also 17 working groups that dealt with issues like climate migrants, the Kyoto protocol, and technology transfer. Any conference participant could participate in up to five working groups.

The open format was, at times, chaotic. Cormac Cullinan, an environmental lawyer from South Africa who provide the baseline text for the declaration of rights, told Democracy Now! that on one day of the conference four hundred people were contributing revisions to the text. Another day, that number jumped to one thousand.

“The challenge is to make sure we integrated all the different comments and point of view,” he said. “We’re essentially expressing an entirely new world view from an indigenous perspective in legal language.”

Many voices, but what are the solutions?

Elizabeth Cooper affirms this emphasis on a diversity of voices in a report for Yes! Magazine. “This issue of valuing the knowledge and abilities of indigenous peoples and those from the South was an undercurrent to the rest of the afternoon as it is to the Summit as a whole,” she writes.

But this scale of participation also meant that conversations could veer from essential topics. Also at Yes! Magazine, Jim Shultz asks, “If forcing rich countries to pay a climate debt is a dead end, what is the plan to move “climate debt” from a catchy idea to a real proposal with a chance of delivering some results?”

“At a workshop today on that topic, there was an abundance of declarations about why climate debt is important, but few ideas of how to make it real,” he reports.

The need

There’s a need, though, for people to participate in these discussions, even if the conversations don’t take a smooth and tidy course. At The Nation, Naomi Klein writes that “Bolivia’s climate summit has had moments of joy, levity and absurdity. Yet underneath it all, you can feel the emotion that provoked this gathering: rage against helplessness.”

At a conference like Copenhagen, the worries and priorities of smaller countries were ultimately excluded from the debate. In Bolivia, Klein explains, glaciers—the water source for two major cities—are melting. Yet that problem did not earn the country a place in the Copenhagen discussions that could determine its fate. Cochabamba’s goals were, in part, to reestablish a more democratic system for decision-making about climate reform.

As Regina Cornwell documents at the Women’s Media Center, left to its own devices, international bodies like the United Nations easily exclude interested groups from the conversation.

“In early March, just as the entire area of Manhattan around the UN was crawling with women wearing their blue Conference for the Status of Women tags, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced a “High-level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing” composed exclusively of men,” she writes.

Earth Day 2010

The conferees at Cochabamba traveled to Bolivia because they saw a gap in leadership after UN climate talks at Copenhagen crumbled. The ideas developed this week could prompt the world’s leaders towards brave action on climate change. Strong leadership can make the difference between real change and status quo.

At The Nation, John Nichols reflects on the leadership of Sen. Gaylord Nelson, who helped create Earth Day. Nelson, was “a bold progressive who recognized the need to make the health and welfare of human beings, in the United States and abroad, a priority over the profits of multinational corporations,” he writes. Nelson’s vision for Earth Day was to produce an outpouring of empathy for the environment “so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy.”

It worked. The first Earth Day is credited with driving action on the environmental institutions that still protect Americans today: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency.

Today’s leaders

Today, other leaders are fighting the same fight as Nelson did. At Cochabamba, these climate leaders, profiled by Colorlines, are marshaling their communities to push back against global warming, as are these conference-goers. They lack official titles but are leading nonetheless. Young people, like those honored by the Brower Youth Award, are coming up with amazing ideas to ensure a healthy future for the planet, reports LinkTV. At The Progressive, Winona LaDuke explains how native communities are working to produce a new energy economy.

And all over the world, individuals are working to minimize their impact and the impact of their societies on the environment. AlterNet suggests “five ways you can help save life on earth,” and Care2 has two other suggestions: eat less meat and reduce use of water bottles.

For more inspiration, check out the climate rally on Sunday, April 25 on the Mall in Washington, DC; organizers are promising the largest climate rally ever, along with an awesome line-up of speakers and performers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Cochabamba Summit to Combat Climate Change Innovatively

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

On Monday, climate activists, nonprofit leaders, and governmental officials will gather in Cochabamba, Bolivia, to look for new ideas to address climate change. The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, organized by leading social organizations like 350.0rg, “will advocate the right to “live well,” as opposed to the economic principle of uninterrupted growth,” as Inter Press Service explains.  In the absence of real leadership from the world’s governments, the conferees at Cochabamba are looking for solutions “committed to the rights of people and environment.”

The United States certainly isn’t stepping up. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), along with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), were supposed to release their climate legislation next week, just in time for Earth Day. But yesterday the word came down that the release was being pushed back by another week, to April 26.

No matter when it finally arrives, like other recent environmental initiatives, this round of climate legislation falls short. Even if Congress manages to pass a bill—and there’s no guarantee—it will likely leave plenty of room for the coal, oil, and gas industries to continue pouring carbon into the atmosphere. And a wimpy effort from Congress will hinder international work to limit carbon emissions: As a prime polluter, the United States needs to put forward a real plan for change.

Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman

Although the text of the bill is not public yet, it is likely that this attempt at Senate climate legislation will limit carbon emissions only among utilities and gradually phase in other sectors of the economy. On Democracy Now!, environmentalist Bill McKibben called the bill “an incredible accumulation of gifts to all the energy industries, in the hopes that they won’t provide too much opposition to what’s a very weak greenhouse gas pact.”

Climate reform began with a leaner idea, a cap-and-trade system that limited carbon emissions while encouraging innovation. The Nation’s editors document the transformation of climate reform from the Obama administration’s original cap-and-trade proposal to the behemoth tangle  it has become. Both the House and the Senate fattened their versions of climate legislation with treats for the energy industry. The Senate’s new idea to gradually expand emissions reduction through a bundle of energy bills only opens up more opportunities for influence.

“Some of these pieces of legislation may pass; others may fail; all are ripe for gaming by corporate lobbies,” the editors write. “Kerry-Lieberman-Graham would also skew subsidies in the wrong direction, throwing billions at “clean coal” technologies, nuclear power plants and offshore drilling, a questionable gambit favored by the Obama administration to garner support from Republicans and representatives from oil-, gas- and coal-producing states.”

Even with these goodies, the climate bill may not pass. The Washington Independent rounds up the D.C. players to watch as the next fight unfolds, including the Chamber of Commerce’s William Kovacs and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lisa Jackson.

Green leftovers

In theory, the climate bill should not be America’s only ride to a greener future. But the other vehicles for green change choked during start-up. The EPA was going to regulate carbon emissions, but Congress has reared against that effort. The climate bill could snatch away that power from the executive branch.

If companies won’t limit their carbon emissions, individuals still have the option for action. But as Heather Rogers explains in The Nation, carbon offsets, one of the most popular mechanisms for minimizing carbon use “are a dubious enterprise.”

“To begin with, they don’t cut greenhouse gases immediately but only over the life of a project, and that can take years–some tree-planting efforts need a century to do the work. And a project is effective only if it’s successfully followed through; trees can die or get cut down, unforeseen ecological destruction might be triggered or the projects may simply go unbuilt.”

The pull of carbon offsets should diminish as energy use in buildings, cars, food, and flights gains in efficiency and uses less carbon. But if the green jobs sector is any indication, that revolution has been slow in coming. ColorLines reports that “there are no firm numbers on how many newly trained green workers are still jobless. But stories abound of programs that turn out workers with new, promising skills—in solar panel installation and weatherization, in places like Seattle and Chicago—and who nonetheless can’t find jobs.”

Cochabamba’s unique approach

These failures and setbacks don’t just affect Americans; they keep our leaders from negotiating with their international peers. The United Nations led a conference last winter in Copenhagen that promised to hash out carbon limits, yet produced no binding agreement. This coming winter, the UN will try again in Mexico, but if the United States shows up with the scant plan put forward by Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman, those negotiations have little promise.

In Cochabamba, leaders from inside and outside the government will attend a summit to discuss the future of climate change action. In The Progressive, Teo Ballve writes that,

“One of the bolder ideas is the creation of a global climate justice tribunal that could serve as an enforcement mechanism. And conference participants are already working on a “Universal Declaration of Mother Earth Rights” meant to parallel the U.N.’s landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.”

With U.S. government action paling, it might take outside ideas like these to revitalize the push towards a green future. By the end of next week, we’ll see if the Cochabamba group made any more progress than the bigwigs at Copenhagen.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

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