Cancún Eyewitness #5: Via Campesina protests

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Via Campesina holds panel discussions and demonstrations. Morales speaks tomorrow.

by Javier Sethness

Recent days have seen Mexican President Felipe Calderón dress in green, test-drive a ‘green’ electric car, and propose that all incandescent bulbs in Mexico be phased out within four years, while U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, conceding that the failure to avert climatic changes would be a “disaster,” declared that a general transition to renewable energy in the U.S. cannot be expected to take place for a number of decades.

Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s ambassador to the U.N., has fiercely rejected US proposals that would, he charged, result in the deaths of a million people per year in the near term—up from an estimated 300,000 today.

On Monday morning Via Campesina’s Global Forum for Environmental and Social Justice featured a panel discussion on the climate crisis. A representative from the U.S. Grassroots Global Justice Alliance who works with the bus-riders’ union in Los Angeles, California, emphasized the dire need to develop high-quality public-transportation systems in the United States to reduce dependence on personal automobiles and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions. She stressed that a movement for climate justice in the U.S. can be expected to emerge from working-class and people-of-color communities, given the experiences such groups historically have had with marginalization and oppression.

The panel also included Andrés Barreda from Mexico’s National Assembly of the Environmentally Affected, who declared that the climate crisis menaces humanity with its own extinction. He concluded by stating that humanity now more than ever faces the choice identified by Rosa Luxemburg nearly a century ago: socialism or barbarism.

On Monday evening Anti-C@p, a largely anarchist group, held a march through downtown Cancún. The participants, mostly youth who donned Zapatista-esque ski-masks and bandanas, expressed rage and even sadness regarding the present socio-environmental predicament. As in the general march on Sunday, contingents at times broke off to adorn particularly offensive centers of power—a Chedraui supermarket, OXXO convenience stores—with graffiti denouncing capitalism and inhumanity. The 300-person march was supposed to go to the Cancún office of PROFEPA, the federal environmental prosecution-agency, but it was blocked by police, although no arrests were made.

Tuesday saw the highly anticipated march to the Moon Palace, center of the COP negotiations. About 3000 people set out from the Jacinto Canek park in downtown Cancún, site of the Global Forum, and proceeded through the area before continuing by buses to a point some kilometers south of the city on the Cancún-Chetumal highway. They continued on through the mid-day heat several kilometers before stopping a few hundred meters from a police barricade near the Moon Palace. Here Via Campesina held a popular assembly that featured the interventions of a number of representatives from various Latin-American social organizations denouncing capitalism (in particular, its neo-liberal variant) and the numerous false solutions being promoted by many of the world’s governments and their supporters. Agrofuels and REDD werre the primary objects of criticism. Some members of Anti-C@p and unaffiliated individuals separated themselves from the popular assembly to approach the police-line, but there was no violence.

Tuesday’s march marked the end of protests planned by Via Campesina. Anti-C@p is expected to organize actions during the final days of the summit.

Bolivian President Evo Morales is slated to address the Global Forum tomorrow afternoon.

Javier Sethness is a libertarian socialist and rights-advocate. He maintains the blog Notes toward an International Libertarian Eco-Socialism.