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If you are not yet familiar with the Latin American Climate Caravan Action-Tour, please allow me to introduce you to la Caravana Climática por América Latina. This itinerant grassroots initiative for climate justice, associated with Marea Creciente México (Rising Tide Mexico), is now in the third month of its activist tour which is dedicated to making-visible the destructive effects of climate change on people and nature in Latin America as well as highlighting the various resistance efforts taken by front-line communities in the region to confront the root causes of global warming. Beginning in March 2014, the Caravana’s flagship—a vegetable oil-powered schoolbus affectionately known as the Che Bus—inaugurated the action-tour in the northern Mexican state of Sonora, and it now finds itself in Honduras, having visited several climate hotspots in western, central, and southern Mexico as well as Guatemala and El Salvador en route. The Caravana is presently embarked on an epic journey that will soon see its collective members complete the first leg of their journey—Mesoamerica Resists—and pass to the second and third phases which are to take place in South America. After documenting the struggles and demands of countless peoples for socio-ecological justice in myriad parts of Latin America, the members of the Caravana ultimately hope to reach the Twentieth Conference of the Parties (COP20) of theUnited Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which is to be held in Lima, Peru, in November and December of this year. But they need our help to get there. They are currently crowdfunding to cover the costs of their time in South America.
In their own words, the Caravana members describe their goals as two-fold: first, to “draw urgent public attention to the climate crisis and the need for grassroots civil societies of Latin America to take the lead role in articulating a regional emergency plan of action to seriously address it,” and second, to pressure the governments of the region to advance an unprecedented spirit of international cooperation at COP20 toward the end of dealing rationally with the climate crisis. In their journey, thecaravaner@s seek to reflect the proposals made in Latin America from below and to the left for addressing the root causes of the environmental crisis: commodification of nature, destruction of indigenous societies, land-grabs, and inequality. Specifically, the Caravana promises to promote campaigns during its cross-continental action-tour calling for “moratoriums and divestment in fossil fuels and other extractive, polluting, and unjust industries” throughout the region. Its collective members propose to advance these goals—as they already have done in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras—by hosting open climate forums involving film-screenings, art exhibitions, workshops, musical performances, and presentations as well as engaging in direct action and political mobilizations at the various spaces to which it has been invited on its route. A particular initiative in this sense is the Caravana’s campaign for Art, Culture, and Action for Life and the Peoples of Mother Earth (Madre Tierra), a call for artists living along the action-tour’s route to participate and contribute works dealing with socio-ecological problems.
In terms of presenting critical information on the climate and environmental crises, the Caravana has already achieved much. In a section on its website are collected various Spanish-language articles and essays on these crises: for example, a column by Ángel Guerra Cabrera in La Jornada on the disconcerting recent report on the collapsing West Antarctica ice sheet as well as a contemplative essay written by Mayeli Sánchez, who criticizes the twenty-year COP process for never having thought to call into question economic growth and capitalism but celebrates the multitude of social alternatives to the dominant system which are emanating from below. She dedicates her thoughts in part to our mutual friend and comrade Jyri Jaakkola, a Finnish human-rights observer and climate activist who was murdered in in the Triqui region of Oaxaca four years ago. (Indeed, Jyri’s name is one of several on a list that was read aloud by ex-Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos in a speech presented on 24 May as an homage toJosé Luis Solís, “Galeano,” a Zapatista who himself was murdered in a paramilitary attack on La Realidad that took place on 2 May.)
In keeping with the desire of the caravaner@s to help illuminate climate-change policies as processes too often considered mysterious and daunting, moreover, their website hosts a note by Javier Flores summarizing the findings of the recent Fifth Annual Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), particularly the report by the Panel’s Working Group 3, which is tasked with examining the possible mitigation of climate destruction. In this vein, the Caravana has also shared a Spanish translation of “Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: False Solutions to Climate Change,” written as a collaboration between Carbon Trade Watch and Rising Tide North America, as well as an essay written by ETC investigator Silvia Ribeiro on a recent study which concludes that the world’scampesin@s produce a majority of the world’s food on less than a quarter of all available lands. Perhaps most critically, the collective has posted a stunning new report in La Jornada (4 June 2014) which details the “tragic” findings of environmental researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) regarding the very profound risks which climate change and the overall environmental situation represent for humanity and nature in general.
Beyond collecting and sharing perspectives on the climate and environmental crises, of course, the main work of the caravaner@shas been and continues to be its geographical visits to Mexican and Central American communities impacted by these crises. The Caravana’s very first stop occurred in Vicam, Sonora, where groups of indigenous Yaqui had blockaded the international Pan-American Highway leading north to Nogales and the U.S. border. The Yaquis have intermittently maintained this roadblock—a common form of social protest seen in Mexico and elsewhere Latin America—for more than a year in resistance to the planned construction of the El Novillo dam, which the state government of Sonora seeks to build on the Yaqui River toward the end of supplying the burgeoning city of Hermosillo (population 750,000). After Vicam, the caravaner@s saw it necessary to cancel their planned visits to Culiacán and Mazatlán in Sinaloa due to lack of security conditions following the State’s arrest of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, head of the Sinaloa Cartel, on 22 February 2014. Nonetheless, the Caravana’s subsequent stop in the coastal state of Nayarit centered around the Federal Electricity Commission’s (CFE) intent to construct the Las Cruces dam, a project that would flood vast stretches of wetlands, destroy a great deal of biodiversity, threaten the agro-fishing means of subsistence engaged in by local Nayeris, and inundate several spaces considered sacred by Tepehuan and Wixárika peoples, as well as Nayeris. Continuing southeast towards the interior of Mexico, the Caravana then visited the highly polluted Great Santiago river that adjoins the metropolis of Guadalajara (4.5 million), having been subjected to the excesses of industrial waste created for capital and urbanization: indeed, among the corporations that have discharged the most heavy metals and cyanide into the river are Nestlé, IBM, and Modelo beer. Due to this industrial pollution, thecaravaner@s report that the Santiago River is now largely bereft of the myriad fish and bird species it previously had supported, and that the toxic waste contributes to local cancers, respiratory illnesses, and other maladies. Also in the state of Jalisco—now in the highlands—the Caravana met with peoples in Temacapulín in resistance to the Zapotillo dam, a project that, in a parallel to El Novillo and Las Cruces, would inundate their locality along with others to provide water for the cities of Guadalajara and León.
Yaqui Valley, Sonora, Mexico
Pressing on beyond Jalisco, the Caravana came to the cerro (mountain) of San Pedro in the state of San Luis Potosí, located just outside the capital city which bears the state’s name. San Pedro is the site of the notorious San Xavier mining operation, which since commencing in 2007 has involved the employment of an estimated 25 tons of explosives and 16 tons of cyanide to extract silver and gold—not to mention an estimated 32 million liters of water daily, this within a highly water-stressed, arid region, as the Subversiones collective explains. In an ironical-absurd reflection of the historical founding of San Luis Potosí—so named in 1592 by the Spanish colonizers after the silver mines of Potosí, Bolivia, which they hoped to outperform in terms of mineral extraction using indigenous slave labor—much of the mineral devastation seen today in the San Xavier open-pit mine has been performed in the service of Canadian capital, which is involved in a mind-boggling 1500 mining projects throughout Latin America. Next, in Morelos, the home state of Emiliano Zapata, the Caravana visited the city of Cuernavaca to meet activists from the Front for the Defense of Land and Water in Morelos, Puebla, and Tlaxcala (FPDTA), a collective which stands against an infrastructural megaproject called the “Comprehensive Morelos Plan.” Soon thereafter, in Tepoztlán, the caravaner@s met with groups in resistance to a very specific manifestation of this Plan: a governmental bid to expand a highway into a natural protected area belonging to theAjusco-Chichinautzin ecological corridor that contains important archaeological sites from pre-Columbian times.
Cerro of San Pedro, San Luis Potosí, Mexico
Coming to arrive in the Mexican southeast, the Caravana visited Veracruz state, where it connected with communities living on the Antigua river who have taken positions of resistance against the Los Pescados dam that is planned for the river, and caravaner@s linked up with activists and housewives in Veracruz City as well as Jáltipan organizing to demand the closure of petroleum-coke processing centers for their pollution and negative health impacts. Heading south to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, the Caravana was next received by indigenous Binnizá and Ikojts residents of Barra San Teresa, a community that has served as a nucleus of popular opposition to the wind-energy megaprojects which have been “developed” on communal lands here, largely—once again—by international capital. The struggle against the imposition of “renewable energy from above” has been sustained for years now, and has involved serious repressive violence being exercised against critics of the corporate project. After taking leave of Oaxaca, the cavaner@s reached the neighboring state of Chiapas and participated with MOVIAC (the Mexican Movement for Alternatives to Environmental Impacts and Climate Change) in a public meeting and street-dance in San Cristóbal de Las Casas dedicated to raising the issues of government energy reforms and local resistance to climate and environmental destruction. In northern Chiapas, moreover, the Caravana visited the ejido of San Sebastian Bachajón, where indigenous Tseltal communities associated with the Zapatistas have resisted expropriation by State and touristic interests on the one hand and paramilitary attacks on the other. Before the Caravana finished with its stay in Chiapas to cross Mexico’s southern border into Guatemala, its collective members had the good fortune to observe the “blood moon” eclipse in San Cristóbal, seeing in the juxtaposition of red and black a symbolic representation of the anti-authoritarian political philosophy which has guided their odyssey.
Continuing on into the second Latin American country on the action-tour, the Caravana first visited Santa Cruz Barillas in Guatemala’s western department of Huehuetenango to meet with communities that have resisted the imposition of several Spanish-owned dam projects for the past decade. The people of Barillas have met with political imprisonment as well as declarations of states of emergency in response from the State. Continuing east to the Quiche department, home to Ixil indigenous Mayan peoples, members of the Caravana held interviews with survivors of the genocidal Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996) who were protesting the impunity which marks the one-year anniversary of the momentous decision by a Guatemalan court to find former U.S.-backed dictator Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983) guilty of genocide in the region. Nonetheless, in a typical counter-move to this ground-breaking decision from a lower court, the Guatemalan Constitutional Court formally nullified the genocide ruling within days of the decision, thus paving the way for the present impunity which Ríos Montt and the other perpetrators of the Civil War enjoy at present. Thecaravaner@s also interviewed survivors and protestors in Guatemala City who were similarly marking the anniversary in critical fashion. What is more, the Caravana came to visit the two-plus year blockade maintained largely by the La Puya women’s collective before the El Tambor open-pit gold-mine that had successfully halted all mining operations there for some time—at least, until just days after the visit by the Caravana, when police forces in turn violently dispersed the protestors and so opened the way for extractive machinery to be installed at the mining site, in accordance with the wishes of the U.S. capitalists who own the mine. Speaking to its time in Guatemala, the Caravana collective has produced a program specifically on the various forms of resistance it encountered in the country in “Guatemala Resiste!”
In El Salvador, the third country on the tour, caravaner@s interviewed Ricardo Navarro, founder of the Salvadoran Center for Appropriate Technology (CESTA) and avid proponent of the widespread use of the bicycle, and shared the highly critical drawings made by the Beehive Collective about capitalist globalization at a public gallery in San Salvador. As of this writing, the Caravana finds itself somewhere in eastern Honduras, where it has met with Garifuna peoples of mixed African and Carib descent.
In the near term, the Caravana will complete its Mesoamerica Resiste!tour after making what promise to be fascinating visits to Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. From Panama City, the Caravana collective hopes to take a ferry-ride around the Darién Gap to Colombia, and to begin the second phase of its tour—Tahuantinsuyo Late—in South America. This first leg of the South American tour will involve Venezuela and Colombia as well as the Andean countries of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, while the third phase—Somos Sur hacia la COP20(“Let’s Go South to the COP20”)—is slated to involve Brazil and the other countries of the Southern Cone: Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile. Finally, the Caravana seeks to be present at the COP20 itself, presenting radical alternatives to the official absurd processes.
As is evident, the Caravana represents an important intervention within the present multidimensional crisis (ecological, social, economic, political); its work, steeped in the struggle for climate justice and social transformation, advances these ends in significant and creative ways. Given the links the Caravana has made with communities resisting the imposition of mining and hydroelectric projects thus far during its action-tour, it will be intriguing to see how its collective members engage with the much-maligned extractivism that has been intensified by the “socialist” regimes in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Uruguay; it is to be imagined that their perspective will be quite close to that of Manuela Picq, who writes in Upsidedown World about the parallels between indigenous resistance to extractivism and self-determination.
In addition, it is to be hoped that the spirit of defiance embodied by thecaravaner@s will be echoed at the resistance to the UN’s preparatory meeting for Lima that is to be held in New York City in late September—and particularly by those resistance currents which, like thecaravaner@s, take critical views of capital and the State. Whether the NYC experience will represent a continuation or even intensification of the anti-WTO mobilizations seen in Seattle in 1999 is an interesting question to ponder.
Assuming the Caravana reaches its destination of Lima toward the end of the year, it can be expected to form a strong countercurrent to the COP20—much as a similar grouping did to resist the COP16 in Cancún in 2010.
You can help the Caravana get to COP20 by supporting it here.
Javier Sethness Castro is a translator and author of two books who worked as a human-rights observer in Chiapas and Oaxaca during 2010. His current project is to complete a political and intellectual biography of Herbert Marcuse. Visit his blog on libertarian eco-socialism here.