Peruvian Communities Reject COP 20 and Build the Movement of the People for El Buen Vivir

All eyes were on Peru as December began as this rising economic star hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP 20 (20th yearly session of the Conference of the Parties), the annual climate talks in which 195 states congregate to discuss our changing climate. The main mission in Lima was to advance in negotiations for a new climate treaty that is hoped to be agreed at the COP 21 next year in Paris.

All eyes were on Peru as December began as this rising economic star hosted the United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP 20 (20th yearly session of the Conference of the Parties), the annual climate talks in which 195 states congregate to discuss our changing climate. The main mission in Lima was to advance in negotiations for a new climate treaty that is hoped to be agreed at the COP 21 next year in Paris.

Peru, to mark the occasion officially labeled this year ´The Year of the Promotion of Responsible Industry and Climate Commitment´. Alongside this noble gesture, this year the Ollanta government also passed a series of laws cutting back whatever weak environmental protection had existed and stripping the already weak Ministry of Environment of many of its key functions, in addition to laying down the red carpet in terms of tax breaks and ease of project approbation for the big investors/big polluters(1).  The economy has indeed risen in recent years as a result of this neoliberal strategy, however so has the number of social conflicts; a report released by the Public Ombudsman´s Office in September 2014 showed that on average almost 200 social conflicts are reported across the country every month, 69 percent of these conflicts being related to socio-environmental issues(2). In the majority of cases conflict arises when a mega project is being forced through without consultation and against the wishes of the local population, and the resistance that naturally rises up is met with the heavy handedness of the armed forces that are tasked with repressing it.

Alternatives Emerge

In response to the obvious hypocrisy of Peru´s actions, as simultaneous climate change conference and big business host, and the lack of faith in the leaders of the mega polluters – such as the USA and China, who lack the political will to step up to the mark and make hard but necessary decisions, several initiatives emerged from civil society to take matters into their own hands.

One of the most successful and visible of these initiatives was the ´Cumbre de los Pueblos, Cajamarca´ or People´s Summit, Cajamarca which started in Celendin, Cajamarca and convoked all communities in resistance across the country. Cajamarca is host to the most emblematic struggle in Peru – that of the resistance against the Conga mining project. The organization that welcomed the diverse gathering of Peruvian indigenous and farming communities, workers and activists was the Plataforma Interinstitucional Celendina (PIC), which is the coalition of grassroots organisations resisting the mega projects that threaten their territory. The Cumbre was initiated on 23rd October 2014 in the community of Lirio, one of the communities to be directly affected by the aggressive open pit project. Up for discussion was the problems they faced as a province, as a region, as a country, and as members of the human community, not just Conga, as PIC president Milton Sanchez Cubas states, ´but all the Congas that are destroying life on our planet´. Also on the agenda was the discussion about the alternatives, that already exist or that could be developed, to the destructive capitalist model that was being imposed on them from Lima and from further afield. They praised local, organic and sustainable agricultural and cattle-rearing production, responsible tourism, amongst other ´economic activities of solidarity´ and called for more investment in said activities.

The following two days in the city of Celendin saw the arrival of delegations from communities from across the country, many of which are involved in their own local resistance against destructive mega projects. Delegations came from the Amazonas, Apurimac, Cuzco, Ancash, Junin, Lambayeque, Lima, Piura and La Libertad. The indigenous awajún community of San Ignacio who are fighting of the Chinese mega mining company Águila Dorada; the population of Espinar, Cusco who are suffering the contamination that the Swizz Glengore Xstrata has left in its wake, the campesino community of Huancabamba, Piura who have seen two deaths in their conflict against the British Rio Blanco Copper and the indigenous, campesino community of Cañaris who have seen recent conflict over the imposed presense of the Canadian company Candente Copper, all formed part of the groundbreaking summit. Also present were activists from Argentina, Brazil, Belguim, France, Honduras, Ireland, Italy, and USA.

Over the final two days four themes were expanded upon by academic and professional experts and activists: economic justice and solidarity; the protection of natural resources and territory; democracy, human rights and socio-environmental conflicts; and women confronted with extractive projects and climate change.

The Summit ended with the approval of the pronouncement(3) which encapsulated the three days of work. The pronouncement has 13 agreements and 13 demands but four main talking points stand out. Firstly, it called for the organization of and participation in ´the Great National March of the People for Environmental and Climate Justice and the Protection and Liberation of the Defenders of Mother Earth´ which was to begin on 7th December at the mountain lakes of Conga and finish in Lima where it would join with the People´s Climate March on 10th December. Secondly, it rejected the laws of the so-called anti-environment package which slashed environmental protection, and the laws which permit the criminalization of the social protest and the repression of dissenters. Thirdly, it also inaugurated the formation of a network or coordinator between the social movements of Peru that struggle against extractivism, that network would be called ´The movement of the people for ´El Buen Vivir´´. Finally, it demanded that the right of communities to self-determination be respected; the right to reject this imposed destructive capitalist model of development and to choose their own sustainable model which works towards ´Living Well´. This pronouncement has been received as crucially important for the strengthening of the social movements in the country. It`s biggest achievement, states one participant, `is to go further than denouncing the extractive capitalist model and to launch concrete and constructive proposals, and to vindicate the necessity and viability of another model, ´our´ model´.

Women´s Summit

Despite the fact that one of the topics considered at the Cumbre de los Pueblos treated the theme of how women are affected by the extractivist model, the women participants felt that a separate summit was needed to delve deeper into this aspect, and to similarly `sow` the connections between the country`s women who are looking for an alternative to the capitalist, sexist, racist, colonialist reality in which they live(4). With this objective in mind, the `Cumbre de las Mujeres´ or Women´s Summit was given life from 28th to 30th November and once again took place in the symbolic center of Celendin. Women, like the previous summit, came from all regions of Peru. The FEMUCARINAP (National Federation of Women Farmers, Artesans, Indigenous, Native and Employed of Peru)  invited women from all their bases, who were joined by Rondas Femininas from various provinces, and hosted by the newly organized women of Celendin. The organisation PDTG (Programme for Democracy and Global Transformation) also played a central role in organizing the three day summit.

The Women`s Summit stood out for its vibrancy and spirit, it started with a `mystica` where offerings were made to Mother Earth or the Pachamama and intentions were laid amongst the fruits of the earth. Apart from the presentations and group work, songs were sang, dances were danced and stories were told. There was a feeling that this was a celebration of the diversity and force of the women of Peru. Yet it was also productive, and on the final day the pronouncement of the Women`s Summit was approved(5).

Great National March of the People

The next step then was to bring the pronouncements to Lima to be handed into the Cumbre de los Pueblos, Lima, by way of the Great National March of the People. The march began at 4am on the morning of the 7th December, the gathered crowds piled into waiting trucks and the journey to the mountain lakes of Conga began. After five hours travelling and stopping to collect many more marchers in the communities along the way, the march arrived at the first lake – the Laguna Cortada. On the way to the next lake – the Laguna Azul the marchers were met by a police blockade, preventing them from arriving. The Laguna Azul lies at the foot of the land of the Chaupe family who have been fighting off attacks – physical, psychological and judicial, from the Yanacocha mining company for the past three years. On 17th December at the Superior Court of Cajamarca they finally saw justice served as their previous sentence ordering their eviction was overturned(6).

When the marchers were confronted with the police shields and guns the women of the group advanced to meet them and offered green hearts with slogans such as ´No more repression´ to the police officers, who refused to accept them. When the proclamations of local leaders such as Marco Arana about the right to free transit on communal roads failed to break the blockade the march had to take an alternate route – causing a delay of more than four hours, to the city of Cajamarca.

A warm reception was waiting from the campaigners of a city that has seen more than twenty years of Yanacocha´s extraction activity (the same mining corporation that want to expand into Celendin with the Conga project), a city that consumes water laden with heavy metals(7). Shortly after midnight the march continued its journey through the night awaking to the coastal city of Trujillo. The marchers were joined by local sympathizers and the swollen ranks marched to the main plaza. This peaceful march would have passed without much commentary if it had not have been met by a police blockade preventing entrance to the main square. Crowds gathered to watch the cajamarquinos singing their songs and chanting their slogans (such as ´our struggle is just and nothing will frighten us´) to the gathering number of riot police. The mother of Joselito Vasquez Huamán, who was shot and killed along with three others on 3rd July 2012 by the armed forces while peacefully protesting, appealed to the police officers to stop protecting the interests of the transnationals and start protecting the people. Finally, once again the march re-routed and eventually arrived at its destination of San Juan College for a public forum.

After another stop in the city of Chimbote, another march, another police interruption, a vigil in honour of those who had lost their lives defending the Pachamama (Mother Earth), and two more incidents of police harassment, the march triumphantly entered Lima on the morning of 9th December. It is here that the Cajamarquinos were reunited with other members of the ´Movement of the People for ´El Buen Vivir´´ to continue the work of articulation that began in Celendin.

Another public forum was held in Lima and on the following day, 10th December, the movement rolled out their ecological banner, the largest in the world, and joined 20,000 others for the People´s Climate March. The march was carried out with joy, music and dancing, and a determination to show those gathered in the Pentagonito (the little Pentagon) in the COP 20 that the real force was in the streets.

Cumbre de los Pueblos, Lima

Meanwhile in Lima another initiative as an alternative to the COP 20 was taking place. From 8th to 12th December the Cumbre de los Pueblos, Lima took over the Parque del Exposicion and hosted a series of talks from experts from across the world, on themes such as sustainable agriculture, the crisis of civilization, energy autonomy and the road to the COP 21 in Paris. This Cumbre was organized by seven national organizations(8) and they started with an ambitious statement, however there were widespread criticisms that the organization and execution of this summit in the capital was Lima-centered and excluded the interior of the country. There was a notable deficiency in the agenda of participation by social movements and organizations from the provinces, where the majority of social conflicts and the majority of negative effects of climate change, are taking place. At the culmination, which saw a line of representatives from the national organizations take the stage as the People´s Climate March came to an end, much of the rhetoric was the same. Milton Sanchez Cubas, elected coordinator of the Movement of the People for ´El Buen Vivir´ broke the trend by not simply denouncing, or pleading the world leaders to take notice, but calling to action all communities in struggle – across Peru and across the world. He called for solidarity with those struggling, for example, with Mexico as the country mourns their 43 murdered young people at Ayotzinapa.

Another controversial note about the Cumbre in Lima was the supposed participation of so-called progressive presidents of Latin America. It was believed that Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rafael Correa of Ecuador had confirmed their participation in the People´s Climate March. The organising organisations welcomed this, such as the President of the flailing national organisation of communities affected by mining CONOCAMI(9), however there was strong opposition, such as the activist group YASUNIDOS who are denouncing President Correa´s decision to abandon the Yasuni protection project and begin exploiting the oil-rich national nature reserve. The YASUNIDOS were on route to Lima, having joined the ´Caravana Climatica´ or Climate Caravan, made up of six Mexican activists who started their nine month journey from northern Mexico to the Cumbre de los Pueblos in Lima(10). Once the Ecuadorian dissenters were on board the bus came under repeated police harrassment and eventually seized by the Ecuadorian police. The driver was arrested and faces up to three years in prision(11).

Evo Morales was also criticised for the contradition in his dialogue about the rights of Mother Earth and the deteriorating environmental situation in Bolivia due to Morales´ government´s embrace of an economic model based on extractivism. In the end the two presidents did not participate because they were too busy (12), or perhaps because they were worried about encountering opposition and subverting the image of popular presidents that they were trying to portray.

Permanent Tribunal for the Rights of Nature and Mother Earth

One other initiative worth mentioning is the Permanent Tribunal for the Rights of Nature and Mother Earth which took place on 5th and 6th December in Lima. “This permanent ethical tribunal is a call to humanity to encounter nature. This instance arises when states fail to fulfill their obligation to preserve the lives of human beings” said Alberto Acosta, president of the Tribunal.

The Tribunal, organized by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature, aims to promote universal respect and ensure the rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, in order to promote a harmonious coexistence between humans and other beings of natur (13).

Twelve emblematic cases were heard, including that of Yasuni-ITT, Chevron-Texaco and the Condor Mirador mining project in Ecuador; the case of Brtitish Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico; the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; the repression of defenders of Mother Earth in Bagua, the Conga mining project in Cajamarca, the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant in Brazil; and global cases on fracking, amongst others.

One sinister turn to the procedings was the murder of the indigenous shaur leader José Isidro Tendetza Antún who was due to speak at the tribunal to denounce the case of the Mirador mining project, owned by the chinese mining company Ecuacorriente. Tendetza disappeared on 28th November, a week before he was due to speak at the Tribunal and the Cumbre de los Pueblos, and was later found buried with his arms and legs tied(14). Domingo Ankuash, another shaur leader, accuses the Ecuadorian authorities of being complices to the death of Tendetza.

What came out of the COP 20?

As the events of the various alternative Cumbres ended the COP 20 struggled along in the pantomime style we are now used to from the world leaders – the pre-COP positivity soon dissolved into stalemate, the conference was extended two extra days and after marathon sessions they finally arrived at a document that they all agreed on. However it appears they all agreed on it because it doesn`t say much. The negotiations themselves took on a tone that is worrying for the prospect of any worthwhile agreement at Paris next year; the USA proposed cuts that would put us far over the two degree limit, and the developing countries were pushed into accepting equal share of carbon cuts – sharing equally the responsibility of cleaning up the mess that the industrialised countries have caused. The Green Climate Fund received more pledges, bringing it to almost $10.2 billion(15) but still falls short of what is needed to help developing countries adapt to the disastrous effects of climate change.

It appears then that the world leaders have wasted yet another opportunity to make the radical changes that are needed if we are to avoid climate disaster. And it appears that the 20,000 marchers on the streets of Lima and the 400,000 that marched in New York(16), are sick of waiting. The people, the communities, already have the solutions: it starts with the rejection of this neoliberal capitalist model that the ´leaders´ came to Lima to protect, it continues with the strengthening and uniting of the struggles, and moves on to implementing the alternatives.


  5. As above