Planeta o Muerte -- Evo Morales and the Revolutionary Politics of Mother Earth

TIQUIPAYA, BOLIVIA -- Bolivian President Evo Morales seems testier today than when he told me during a 2007 interview, "For 500 years, we have had patience."

The urgency felt by Morales and the more than 15,000 people from 150 nations attending the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth (CMPCC) was evident from the first sentences uttered by the host and convener of this unprecedented gathering in Tiquipaya, a small town just north of Cochabamba, home of the historic "water war" that helped sweep Morales into power.

In a 21st century twist on "Revolución o Muerte" (Revolution or Death), the slogan that powered Latin American revolutionary movements of the '60s and '70s, the generally soft-spoken Morales opened the conference by shouting "Planeta o Muerte!" (Planet or Death). Morales' slogan drew raucous responses from the diverse and mostly dark-skinned crowd filling a stadium that bore more flags of indigenous nations than it did of nation states like Bolivia. Having sung just prior to Morales' invocation the song Oye Amigo, Tu Tierra Está en Peligro, (Listen friend, your earth is in danger), a variation on the Spanish-language version of "The People United Will Never Be Defeated," the crowd was ready to accept Morales' challenge to forge "a new planetary paradigm to save the Earth."

Morales' choice of opening words as well as his convening of this unprecedented global mobilization represents more than a greening of revolutionary movements or a revolutionizing of green movements. It is something even more ambitious: inspiring a new era in hemispheric and global politics, one that fuses the best of indigenous, leftist, labor, environmentalist and other movements in the effort to save Pachamama (Mother Earth). The welcome from the president of the Plurinational State of Bulibiya (Bolivia in Quechua) also marks another stage in the remarkable rise of an indigenous former coca-grower and immigrant (Morales migrated to Argentina in his youth) who has become the de-facto leader of this hybrid global movement that links the rights of humans to what organizers have coined the "universal rights of Mother Earth."

"Without equilibrium between people, there will be no equilibrium between humans and nature," said Morales, who proposed the CMPCC after what he and all attendees here consider the failure of the top-down driven Copenhagen round of climate talks to secure commitments to emissions reductions that would keep temperature rises to less than two degrees centigrade. The unapologetically anti-capitalist philosophy, program and approach of the alternative climate summit and Morales (i.e., "Either capitalism dies or Mother Earth dies") stand in direct conflict with the approach taken by the leaders of industrial nations at Copenhagen. Critics came to Tiquipaya, a suburb of Cochabamba, out of dismay with the "Copenhagen consensus," which was brokered behind closed doors and rapidly ratified with little time for discussion and no connection to issues being discussed here: climate migration, agriculture and food sovereignty, climate debt, indigenous peoples and 14 other issues organizers say they will push during the next round of UN-sponsored climate talks taking place in Mexico this November.

Also reflecting the alternative cosmovisión (world view) of the burgeoning movement are proposals for the creation of, among other things, a climate justice tribunal that would establish an international legal framework to criminalize and punish those perpetrating climate crimes against the rights of Mother Earth and humanity. Filling the air of Tiquipaya and rooting all of the proposals of the CMPCC is what writer Eduardo Galeano called in a statement read by the Uruguayan ambassador to Bolivia, "the voices of the past that speak to the future."

Sponsoring a conference with the radical approach of the CMPCC puts Morales, the first indigenous head of state in Bolivia, a majority-indigenous country, in direct conflict with another head of state whose election marked a historic political and racial shift, Barack Obama, who also played an active role in the Copenhagen "consensus.

"The failure of Copenhagen caused Evo Morales and other leaders on climate change to call for the (CMPCC) conference," said Lim Li Lin, senior legal and environment researcher at the Third World Network, a global rights group based in Malaysia. "By leading Copenhagen, Obama helped provide a platform for the alternative leadership of the movement led by President Morales."

The growing conflict between the political interests and agendas embodied by Obama and Morales was on full display recently when the United States decided to cut aid for climate change to Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries opposed to the Copenhagen accord. Representatives of some of the governments attending the conference also told me that the Obama administration and other industrialized nations were applying pressure on countries not to attend the CMPCC. Though he may not intend it, Morales' leadership of the revolutionary movement for the rights of Mother Earth also appears to be overshadowing, at least momentarily, the hemispheric and global left leadership of his ally and fellow conference attendee, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has received similar treatment from the Obama administration.

Bursting with enthusiasm under the blaring hot sun filling the stadium that shook with chants of "Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Evo, Evo," Marcelina Vargas, a Quechua-speaking member of the Peasant Confederation of Peru, accepted Morales' Planeta o Muerte (Kay Pa Chachu o wanyuychu in Quechua). "For our people, for everybody, water is life. In Peru, we're defending Pachamama (Mother Earth) from companies with U.S. and Canadian investments, companies that are contaminating our water," said Vargas, who wore one of the ubiquitous hats and ponchos seen throughout the region. "Evo is an expression of our movement and I feel happy he's helping the world see our ways."

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