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Small Farmers Gather for Alternative Global Forum on Climate Change and Social Justice

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While climate negotiators, NGOs and delegates gather at the walled-off U.N. Climate Change Conference at the plush Moon Palace Hotel in Cancún, Mexico, those who were not invited have organized their own meetings. The international small farmers movement La Via Campesina and other grassroots organizations are holding the alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice, with participants attending from across Latin America. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: While climate negotiators, NGOs and delegates gather at the secured U.N. talks, the international small farmers movement La Via Campesina and other grassroots organizations are holding an alternative Global Forum for Life and Environmental and Social Justice. They organized caravans from across Mexico and Latin America and arrived here in Cancún a few days ago to hold the forum in parallel with the U.N. climate summit. Democracy Now! visited the Via Campesina Global Forum to find out what was going on.

LAURA CARLSEN: My name is Laura Carlsen. I’m the director of the Americas Program in Mexico City. And right now we’re in the campesino — that’s peasant farmer — and indigenous camp in Cancún. This is a camp of social grassroots organizations that have come to Cancún to protest against the climate change conference and to make certain demands that they want heard by the official negotiators. It’s been a really important process here in Mexico and internationally, because these movements are finding each other, they’re getting to know each other.

First, there were two day caravans that arrived in Mexico City. They started out at different points within Mexico, and they had international delegates, as well. They went to look at specific places where there’s severe environmental destruction going on. And some of these are toxic waste dumps, huge landfills, hydroelectric plants that would flood out literally hundreds of communities. And they heard the people there, who were struggling against these projects, talk about what they’re up against. And they often found that they were up against the same things in their own country.

One of the reasons for doing this also was to tell the world that Mexico is setting itself up as the great defender of the environment in these climate change talks, but really the situation here in Mexico is disastrous. We’re seeing, especially since NAFTA and industries that have come in and created industrial corridors, pollution of rivers, where, for example, a young boy fell in in Jalisco and died of arsenic poisoning from the river itself. So we’re seeing situations that are really drastic, and people don’t know about them.

And now, in the official negotiations, they’re talking about, “Well, we failed at Copenhagen. We’ll probably fail at Cancún, too. So we’ll just go on to South Africa.” And these people are trying to convince them that there’s a real urgency.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So, can we go talk to some of the organizers?

LAURA CARLSEN: Yeah, that’d be great.

JESÚS LARA CHIVARRA: [translated] My name is Jesús Lara Chivarra. I come from the indigenous community of San Sebastián de Teponahuaxtlán. I come to denounce a threat against a sacred location that we have in Huiricuta, since this has been a sacred place for us for many years. But today it is threatened, since we will be exploited by a Canadian mining company. So we are here to denounce this.

ANTONIO CANDELARIO: [translated] My name is Antonio Candelario. I come from the north of the state of Jalisco. As indigenous people from Sierra, we are protectors of the environment. We are appealing to the world on behalf of life for all of humanity. But these people who know so much and have the latest technology don’t realize that they have broken the womb of Mother Earth through exploiting oil, mining, cement making, building highways, deforestation.

CACAHUATEPEC WOMAN: [translated] I come from the community of Cacahuatepec, Guerrero. Eight years ago, they announced they would construct the Parota hydroelectric dam. When we became aware what the Parota would mean, we opposed it. We began to rise up with clubs and machetes. They wanted to force the dam down our throats through the assemblies which were set up. They did not want to ask our permission and were not even going to pay for our territory. They wanted to build the Parota by force. So we have to struggle, to struggle a great deal for this project not to move forward. And we will overcome.

JORGE CASTILLO: [translated] My name is Jorge Castillo, and I am here because history calls me to be here. I am from Mexico City. I hope to meet with many people. It’s great that so many have come from so many places. The presence of the indigenous peoples is very important in this resistance. And what I want to do is to learn and see how we are going to strengthen ourselves to move forward in order to face the war with capitalism.

KELDA MILLER: My name is Kelda Miller. I am from Sumner, Washington, outside Seattle. And I’m here because I really want to be a voice for the Americans, for the United States. Remember Cochabamba. Remember the Cochabamba agreement and that, well, a lot of us are really wanting the rights for indigenous people, rights for the Mother Earth. We’re really wanting real solutions. And so, it seems like what’s going on inside is not real solutions.

PAUL NICHOLSON: My name is Paul Nicholson. I’m a Basque farmer, and I’m a member of Via Campesina. We’re here at the Peoples’ Forum for Social and Environmental Justice, communities of all Mexico, witnesses of the climate change, and demanding alternatives, demanding that governments address climate change and its causes and not just making a business out of it. And when you go to the other official forum, in incredibly luxurious conditions, the only subject they are addressing is business, how to make money out of climate change. For us, a non-agreement is the best possible solution of this week — a non-agreement, because what is being proposed is a very bad agreement, a very bad agreement which legitimizes all the privatization of all life. We think that this non-agreement gives us a chance of fighting for a binding agreement in the future.

ALDO GONZALEZ ROJAS: [translated] My name is Aldo Gonzalez. I come from a group that is called the Union of Organizations of the Sierra Juarez, which is in Oaxaca. And I’m here because we are part of the national assembly of those affected by the environment. And we are involved in a struggle for corn against genetic modification and for the defense of our territories, so that we can freely determine our own way. We’re not interested in being paid for environmental services or programs. What we want is self-determination.

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: And finally, do you have any message to the people watching and listening to this program?

ALDO GONZALEZ ROJAS: [translated] I think the U.S. is one of the countries where most of the greenhouse gases are produced, and the model of consumption that exists in that country is a good part of the cause of all those greenhouse gas emissions. I think that development should not be measured by those who consume the most. In our communities, we have a saying, that the one who needs less is wealthier than the one who has more. This contradiction between our way of life and the way of life for those in the U.S. tells us that the rich are not necessarily the ones who consume the most.

AMY GOODMAN: That report by Democracy Now!’s Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Elizabeth Press.

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