Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Maine to Cochabamba: El Agua es nuestra, ¡¡Carajo!!

That’s the message which the Alliance’s Defending Water for Life campaign in Maine brought to the Feria Internacional del Aqua in Cochabamba, Bolivia, April 15-18. The message was in the form of an art show brought from Maine by Emily Posner, our Maine organizer, who arrived early to set up the show in the main entrance to the Complejo Fabril (labor center) where the Feria (fair) took place.

We were there with water activists from around the globe to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the people’s uprising in Cochabamba to take back their water from the private international consortium headed up by Bechtel Corporation. The story has been told around the world and featured in two documentaries: first in Thirst and more recently in FLOW.

We heard heart rending stories of the water crisis developing among indigenous communities in the high plains of Bolivia as glaciers are melting far faster than they are being replenished and where already one has disappeared entirely. We heard of the ecological disasters from large dams in the Philippines and from the reversal of river flows for irrigation in Brazil. We heard how the eucalyptus tree farms, an easy way to earn carbon credits, actually consume vast quantities of water and replace native trees. We learned about how 20-year contracts with local communities to maintain forests as a climate initiative, actually puts the community in financial jeopardy and threatens loss of their autonomy.

We heard from indigenous leaders in the Bolivian Andes about how water-intensive mining is threatening protected water basins, contaminating water supplies, drying up springs, and even so, how some water is being sold to Chile for mining.

On Saturday and Sunday, we understood why this really was a “feria” or fair. The large field adjacent to the labor center had blossomed with small tents showcasing the water cooperatives created by local neighborhoods in the poor, southern side of the city. Organizing is not just about throwing out the corporate thugs, but about taking local control. But as was made clear the day before, neighborhoods must work together to combat pollution and to ensure a sustainable source of water. How can the neighborhoods have a meaningful voice in establishing needed regulations to protect their water supplies?

As we turned our attention toward the upcoming People’s World Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth, we starting making the connection between climate justice and water justice. Just as water must not be commodified with the market setting the price, clean air should not be commodified through a reverse pricing where polluters buy carbon credits from native forest communities and tree farm entrepreneurs in the Global South. Clean air, once a commons, is now being given a price in a new market where speculation can run rampant.

Is this what we want? The conclusion of the Climate Change conference which followed was a resounding no. Instead, it was recognized that Mother Earth has intrinsic rights which must not be violated if we humans are to survive. In the working group on Mother Earth Rights in which I participated, alongside several hundred indigenous participants from Andean communities, a Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth was prepared for presentation to the U.N. General Assembly for its consideration as a critical complement to the International Declaration on Human Rights. Here is the link to the declaration.

Now the organizing to get the declaration adopted by the United Nations must begin! The six local ordinances passed in NH and Maine all of which declare that nature has rights are an important start.

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