Hundreds of delegates from all corners of the globe descended upon Lima to be heard at a summit willing to listen to their struggles, hardships and success stories in confronting climate change in their respective regions. Activists and Environmentalists from the far reaches of the diverse Peruvian topography came to share their experiences in resisting transnational corporations and defending their Pachamama, or mother earth, sometimes resulting in the deaths of their compañeros. Organized panels and workshops were held throughout the week of December 8th on tracks with titles such as the Crisis of Civilization, Social Change and Alternative models of Social life to ones on Agriculture and Nutritional Sovereignty.
To no one’s surprise, this isn’t the 20th Conference of Parties mostly commonly known as the COP20 held in Lima, Peru, but the alternative Cumbre de los Pueblos or People’s Summit held at a nearby park close to where the UN summit was. The conference was everything the COP20 summit was not: It addressed the underlying issues of capitalism and systemic problems that contribute to climate change while focusing more on a grassroots, bottom-up approach to solutions as opposed to superficial remedies proposed by those who cause and profit from climate change ( The Mayor of Lima, Susanna Villarán, was booed from stage at the opening of the People’s summit). It hosted indigenous groups, human rights activists, campesinos, Labor workers and student organizers among others. I came down to Peru with the Alliance for Global Justice delegation in order to participate in the conference as well as meet with activists, organizers and campesinos to learn from their struggles and build trans-hemispheric solidarity. What I came back with was rewarding and moving experience which provided me with the tools and knowledge to continue their struggle, our struggle, for climate justice back home in the US.
Once we were all settle in Lima, we met with Forum Solidarida Peru, an organization dedicated to building North-South Relations thru international solidarity to build a more inclusive society. Antonio Allende, a member and local activist, welcomed us and gave us a brief synopsis of Peruvian political history and the relatively recent implementation of neoliberalism which opened the doors for the agro-extractive policies in place today.
The next day, we embarked for the highland city of Cajamarca. Upon arrival at our hotel across from the regional government building, we were greeted with a crowd of protesters preparing for an education rally. This was a normal sight in the city of Cajamarca; a very politically-conscious city with a history of resistance and struggle. It was in the central plaza where the fall of the Incan Empire began with the capture of its king, Atahualpa. The descendants of the Inca continue to fight to this day not against Spanish colonizers, but against a neoimperial project of extractivism.
All throughout the city one can find political graffiti with the words, Aguas Si, Minas No, Yes to the waters, no to the mines. With the most grandiose display of art on the hilltops surrounding the City with slogans such as, Conga No Va or Conga shall not pass – If the hills and mountains could speak, these would most certainly be the words cried out, reverberating from the valleys.
Our Delegation then made the hazardous yet beautiful trip up to the Conga mine in the Yanaocha region north of the City. A spectacle awaited us there: immaculate Andean scenery interrupted by the atrocious devastation of open pit mining. Pristine blue, green and white mountain tops surrounded the disgusting man-made blemish on mother earth – the Yanacocha mine is an ongoing project of Conga by the Newmont Corporation based out of Colorado. However, it has been kept at bay by the valiant and brave Ronderos or community patrols of Bambamarca, originally organized as community watchers, who have now taken on the gargantuan duty of confronting these transnational corporations threatening their land, sometimes ending in bloodshed. But they have succeeded in halting the encroachment of the Conga project on their land despite being surrounded by territories already parceled off to these transnational corporations.
Soon after our return to Lima, we participated in the climactic event of the Cumbre de Los Pueblos, the largest environment march in Latin American History. The colorful march brought out students, environmentalists, activists, women, children and indigenous communities demanding their rights to their ancestral lands, nutritional sovereignty and system change – a bold mobilization, in a country and region that has historically marginalized and exploited its original inhabitants.
While ministers, politicians and technocrats were hauled up in their ivory tower debating technical and economic data on how to advance some sort of superficial action on climate change, blocks away people from all walks of life were already developing and discussing alternatives and actions for what they expected would be another monumental failure by states to come up with any effective policy. The Declaration of Lima, a proposal and list of demands, was drafted and read out loud as a culmination of the week’s events. The Declaration – presented to officials of the COP20 meeting – demanded that governments “respect our territories, rights and ways of life, our cultures, customs and cosmovisions about life and the world we inhabit.” The clear proposals outlined in the declaration connect the exploitative nature of capitalism and transnational agribusiness.
The people who proposed it viewed the declaration as symbolic because they will not be waiting around for a response, but are creating alternatives and mobilizing challenges to the failed policies leading up to the next summit in Paris, France. Agua es Vida, was a rallying call heard throughout the march and conference, and there can be no truer statement. We must fight for the rights to land and water because without them there is no life. See you in Paris and in the streets until then.