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Thousands March in Cancún at La Via Campesina’s “Global Day of Action for Climate Justice”

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At the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancún, La Via Campesina—the world’s largest federation of peasant and smallholder farmers—held what they called the “1,000 Cancún Global Day of Action for Climate Justice.” Several thousand people took to the streets to march in protest of the summit. Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke filed this report. [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, outside the U.N. talks, the farmer and peasant organizations, Via Campesina, organized a march. Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke was there to cover the protest. He filed this report.

MIKE BURKE: While the U.N. climate change talks continue in Cancún, thousands of activists have shut down one of the major highways in the city. Let’s go talk to some of the activists taking part in today’s march.

ROGELIO ALQUISIRAS BURGOS: [translated] My name is Rogelio Alquisiras Burgos, and I’m a member of the National Union of Regional Autonomous Peasant Communities. Our goal is to tell the world that the strategies that the governments and these transnational corporations have presented for the climate change crisis are false — for example, continued use of biofuels, transgenic crops, and continuing to pollute the planet with greenhouse gases. And all the while they’re taking no responsibility for the cause and effects of the contamination. The villagers of the world are the ones most affected by global warming. We are the most affected by the loss of our harvests. We have to deal with the effects of hurricanes, floods, droughts and with the changing climate.

CLAYTON THOMAS-MULLER: My name is Clayton Thomas-Muller. I am a Cree man from Canada, and I’m a tar sands campaigner with the Indigenous Environmental Network. Well, today we’re answering the call out from La Via Campesina, one of the world’s biggest social movements, four million members strong, and we’re marching today through the streets of Cancún to call out the governments of the world and their failure to adequately address the global climate crisis. We’re specifically calling out the World Bank and its attempts to co-opt the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change with its REDD readiness initiative, which stands for Reducing Environmental Degradation and Deforestation. This program is nothing more than a market scheme aimed at privatizing the lands of indigenous peoples in the Global South and turning them into commodities to be bought and sold on the International Forest Carbon facility. This type of market-based mechanism will enable industrialized nations of the North, investors in the World Bank, to continue to expand the fossil fuel regime and prop up the fossil fuel-based economy. And this impacts indigenous peoples, forest-dependent peoples and all peoples that are fighting the global climate crisis disproportionately. And we’re here to stop it.

MARIA PETRA LEAL ALTAMIRA: [translated] My name is Maria Petra Leal Altamira. We are here because we, too, worry about what is happening to the planet, the destruction, the melting down of the poles. This is why we are here to protest, but also because los de Atenco, our territory, is affected. It is like that everywhere. The problem is that all over the world, there is a lot of things happening, and that is why we unite ourselves in this protest.

STANLEY KIMAREN RIAMIT: My name is Kimaren Riamit. I come from Kenya, East Africa. And I’m here on behalf of indigenous people and also on behalf of my country, Kenya. We are looking towards a recognition of indigenous people as not only the first victims and immediate victims of the negative impact of climate change, but that indigenous people also, through their indigenous knowledge, systems and practices, are part of the solution to the problem of climate change.

NANDINI KHARANAHALLI: You know, agriculture and climate is interrelated, and it affects directly on our livelihood. And this is a stage for us to put our voice, because sitting in my farm, I can’t tell what I feel to the person whom I have to tell. And Via Campesina and Rajya Raitha Sangha — that is KRRS organization — have given a stage for us to put our voice to the person whom it had to reach.

MIKE BURKE: Minutes ago, Pablo Solón, the U.N. ambassador for Bolivia, left the climate change talks to join the people on the street.

PABLO SOLÓN: We need to hear what our people are saying. We need to know that what we are negotiating there is the lives of the people that here are marching. And the best way to know what is the feeling of the people here in Cancún and in 1,000 Cancúns that are taking place all over the world is to come to this march, to come to this protest. We believe that the only way to change the course of the negotiation is through the mobilization, the organization of the people of the world. Here, we are negotiating human lives, because if there are no emission reductions that are substantive, what is going to happen is that the temperature will increase more than four degrees Celsius, and many people are going to die. Actually, already 300,000 persons are dying because of natural disasters that have to do with climate change every year. This figure can even go to one million by the year 2020.

HECTOR RODRIGUEZ: [translated] What we need to do is support the Bolivarian people from Bolivia, who have asked to form a climate justice court. That is what we need to work on, not COP16. Delegates from all over the world have come here and are polluting my city. Yes, my city, because I am from Cancún. And it makes me very angry that they have come here from all over the world just to contaminate it more.

MIKE BURKE: The goal of today’s protest was to march to the gates of the Moon Palace to confront delegates at the U.N. Climate Change Conference. But Mexican police set up barricades along the highway, preventing anyone from passing.

ALLAN GRAM: Right now we are being held. We can see there’s a barricade in front of the Moon Palace, where we wanted to come in with Via Campesina, a lot of peasants and a lot of indigenous people, to pretty much just share our voices and tell them that, “Hey, we have an opinion, too. Can’t you just listen?” And apparently, no way.

MIKE BURKE: And when you say “no way,” what is behind you?

ALLAN GRAM: Behind us, a lot of police force. And, I mean, even to our standard, the European standard, where I’m from in northern Europe, they are pretty well guarded. They’re pretty well armored. I mean, do you want to face that with a bottle of water and nothing else? No. We’re not going to create any violence. That’s pretty much up to them, right?

AMY GOODMAN: Special thanks to Mike Burke and to Elizabeth Press for that report of the march. Yesterday’s protest was part of activities that took place around the world as part of La Via Campesina’s 1,000 Cancúns Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. There were 30 actions in the United States and Canada, and more than a hundred worldwide.

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