Short personal account of the 3rd PGA Conference in Cochabamba from Olivier
Knowing that it will take a little while for the many things decided in Cochabamba to be put in form, on the web page, etc. (many people are still traveling on the caravan to Colombia), I propose a personal and provisional synthesis.
The conference was a great step forward for PGA in several ways, despite the very difficult conditions created by the events in New York. A large number of people of course arrived late (some not at all) and this quite disorganised the first days. However, this reunion of amazing movements and people had a common purpose and a great common will to go forward. The dynamic of the meeting became more and more intense as things got organised and as mutual understanding and confidence developed. The last day of the conference, an incredible number of agreements were reached in a marathon of meetings in which working together seemed to be more and more efficient and agreable. At 2 AM Monday morning ( !), we finished the agenda in high spirits, topping it off with " chicha " (a traditional indigenous beer made from fermented corn) and a collective dance ! On a human level, this was perhaps the warmest PGA meeting yet : what are now old friends from across the world meeting again, and the pleasure of seeing that dozens of new ones feel immediately at home - simply because so many grassroots movements seem to share our practices and dreams.
The airline chaos stopped all United States participants except one from coming and caused many others to arrive late. Worse, the new repressive world order that the USA plans to justify by the attack in NY was immediately evident. Already, there had been some police pressure on people organising the conference, but after the attack, the Bolivian government practically sealed the border for PGA. Delegates with valid visas were turned back or detained (sometimes for days !) at the frontier, the immigration authorities stating that " visas for PGA people are no longer valid ". Several persons who had already passed the frontier were rounded up in a police sweep of the airport and threatened with expulsion. The bus from Colombia, with delegates of Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and several other countries was stopped at the frontier. The arrival of nearly all the asian delegation was retarded for days. When finally forced (by political pressure) to grant visas, immigration demanded prohibitive prices for a " business " visa. Meanwhile, the governor of the province declared to the press that the PGA delegates were all " potential terrorists " and had organised the riots in Europe and North america. The US ambassador actually publicly threatened Evo Morales, the leader of the host organisation (the Cinco Federaciones del Tropico de Cochabamba, Bolivia's most powerful farmer's movement) for having dared to condemn together the terrorist attack and the state terrorism practised by the USA in Iraq, Colombia, etc. The first day of the conference was a little tense
Fortunately, political pressure from our hosts and from the bolivian human rights organisations finally had its effect. In the end, about 170 foreign delegates made it, but 25 (essentially from the caravan on the border) were excluded. They improvised their own discussion table with the local Peruvian farmer's movement, while awaiting the caravan that is now returning from Bolivia to Colombia, via Peru and Ecuador. With the Bolivian participants, the conference thus brought together about 230-250 people from (from what I can remember) Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, USA, Canada, Spain, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Papoua New Guinea, Aorotea (New Zealand) and Australia.
From Canada there were representatives of the CLAC (Comité de Lutte Anti-Capitaliste), PGA convenors for North America and organisers of the highly successful direct action against the Quebec summit of the Americas, and a delegate of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), the largest and one of the most progressive unions.
From India, there were representatives of NAPM (National Alliance of People's Movements) and of BKU (the national farmers' federation), who brought with them news from a movement that is more and more powerful and unified (apparently thanks in part to the dynamic initiated by the InterContinental Caravan). The movements take turns organising huge demonstrations once a month, with as many as 50,000 people arrested at a time in non-violent direct action. Prof. Nanjundaswamy could not come, as the KRSS was organising a rally of 500,000 people for the 2nd of October. The whole indian farmers federation has already served notice to the government that they must distribute the 20 million tons of grain in their stocks by the 5th of November or the farmers will do it themselves for the opening of the WTO summit in Qatar !
Among the new arrivals, there were three representatives of the huge Indonesian farmers federation, a representative of the Nepal farmers federation and four enthusiastic and inspiring delegates from the new popular movements of South Africa (landless peasants, Against Privatisation, urban struggles against evictions and service cut-offs). (Unfortunately, the other african delegates failed to get visas.)
From Latin America, there were representatives of some of the most powerful movements : the Cinco Federaciones, the ecuadorean peasants (CONFEUNASC) and indigenous (CONAI), the Zapatistas of Chiapas, the MST of Brazil. From Colombia there were representatives of the two peasant federations, the afro-colombians (PCN), the national indigenous organisation (ONIC) and the national women's movement. There were also representatives of various indigenous peoples : of Guatemala, the Kuna of Panama, the Mapuche (Chile-Argentina), the Meskitos of Nicaragua and of course a strong presence of the Aymara and Quechua of the Andean region. There was also a good number of delegates from Argentina and Brazil, who (like the delegates in the bus from Colombia) traveled up to six days each way to get there.
Many of the brazilians and argentinians were from a new network of young mostly urban organisations that had specifically organised for the Global Days of Action of May 1, for Prague or against ALCA. Their presence highlighted the echo that the new anti-globalisation movement in the North has had in the South. In the beginning of PGA, southern struggles (in particular civil disobedience from India) inspired the northern activists. Now, the circulation of forms of struggle is also bringing ideas from north to south. Groups are linking up in horizontal networks to take action together. Indymedia sites exist in Brazil and Argentina, and delegates from Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries were asking for help to set up their own.
The presence of delegates from northern groups like Reclaim the Streets, Ya Basta from Italy, CLAC of Canada, MRG of Catalonia, the swiss Anti-WTO coordination - groups which were responsible for the victories of direct action in London, Prague, Genoa, Quebec, Barcelona and Davos - of Swedes who had organised for Goteborg or Australians from anti-WEF demos in Melbourne, also marked the incredible advances made by the movement in the North since the last PGA Conference. These young movements can hardly be compared to the massive southern organisations, but they have earned their place in the discussion. Everyone at last understands that northern groups have their own struggles and perspectives and do not exist only in solidarity with southern struggles.
- A call for Global Days of Action was of course issued against the next WTO minsterial summit in Qatar (November 8-12th), including proposals to block the departure of trade ministers in each country, to block stock exchanges and financial centers and to use popular consultations or other means to mobilise the huge majorities that sympathise with our action. (see call below)
- A call was also issued to mobilise the Americas against the next meeting of the Free Trade of the Americas Accords (FTAA) in Ecuador next March and the simultaneous meeting of the Interamerican Bank in Brazil.
- The Global Sustained Campaign against militarism, paramilitarism and state terrorism, already launched with respect to " Plan Colombia " (tours of Europe and North America, demonstrations, etc., have been going on since the end of 2000) will be continued and enlarged, not only to the whole Andean region, but also to the general problem of repressive violence that social movements the world over have to face - and more than ever after the events of New York and Washington.
- Two other proposed Global Sustained Campaigns, one on water and the other on land, were finally brought together under one larger heading of " Territory and Sovereignty ". This was largely due to the input of the indigenous delegates who pointed out that such themes were much richer if taken together. The questions are not only those of land reform versus expropriation by the multinationals, or of privatisation of water. The larger question is that of the right of communities to freely organise their societies, livelihoods and relation to nature. This can include options that stem from their particular cosmovision, for example.
This campaign can thus include opposition to all kinds of privatisations of public services - or much more generally of global or local " commons ". In particular reference was made to climate change and the rejection of carbon trading and other market based " solutions " which are de facto a privatisation of the right to clean air.
A particularly rich round table concerned the struggles around water, with the exemplary struggle of the people of Cochabamba, who rose up last year and threw the US multinational Bechtel (which had taken possession of the city's water supply) out of the country, at the same time blocking the general privatisation of all water (including agricultural uses !) being pushed by the World Bank. Similar struggles are going on in Canada, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Spain, etc. A coordination of these resistances can be an important task for PGA.
And of course, huge extents of land are being taken over - directly or by " subcontracting " agroindustrial enterprises to locals - by multinationals world over : Brasil, Colombia, Mexico, Africa, Asia , in particular with coercion from the IMF/WB and treaties such as NAFTA which makes the privatisation of traditional communal lands of the indigenous and of the black communities of Africa a condition for financial " aid ". (To some it seems that a huge speculative bubble is happening in agriculture. This could be compared to the urban land speculative bubble of the early '90ties. But of course if it deprives hundreds of millions of small farmers of their subsistence it will have incomparably more serious consequences.) Here too, sharing experiences (for example those of the landless of Bangladesh, Brazil, India and South Africa) and coordinating struggles could be decisive.
- A third Global Sustained Campaign of a different type was proposed for the construction of grassroots alternatives to the capitalist system and included popular education campaigns and popular consultations (" Consulta ") among the tools envisaged. (A consultation was in particular proposed at least in the European region by the MRG of Catalonia.)
- Other round tables and working groups developed their own projects. Among them the strong indigenous group, which decided to organise a specific latin american indigenous meeting next year.
The conference also took important decisions concerning PGA's organisational principles, its political hallmarks and the manifesto.
- Hallmark 1 was modified to read: "A very clear rejection of feudalism, capitalism and impèrialism; all trade agreements, institutions and governments that promote destructive globalisation." - "Un rechazo muy claro del feudalismo, del capitalismo y del imperialismo; todos acuerdos comerciales, instituciones y gobiernos que promueven una globalizacion destructiva."
In the Bangalore Conference the opposition to " free " trade had already been extended to capitalism in general, but the change was made in the " goals " of PGA, less often cited than the principles. At the same time, the Nepalese and Indian delegates asked that feudalism should be added as it remains the immediate form of domination for many in that area.
- The hallmark number 4 was modified to read: "A call to direct action and civil disobedience, support for social movements' struggles, advocating forms of resistance which maximize respect for life and oppressed peoples' rights, as well as the construction of local alternatives to global capitalism." - "Un llamado a la accion directa y a la desobediencia civil, al apoyo a las luchas de los movimientos sociales, proponiendo formas de resistencia que maximizen el respeto a la vida y a los derechos de los pueblos oprimidos, asi como a la construccion de alternativas locales al capitalismo global."
This change removes the word " non-violent " from the principle. This was considered a change of verbal form more than of political substance. The problem with the old formulation was first that the word " Non-violence " has very different meanings in India (where it means respect for life) and in the West (where it means also respect for private property). This basic misunderstanding has proved quite impossible to correct in media - or indeed in the movement itself. The north american movement felt that the term could be understood to not allow for a diversity of tactics or even contribute to the criminalisation of part of the movement. The latin american organisations had also objected to the term in their regional conference, saying that a " call to civil disobedience " was clear enough, whereas " non-violence " seemed to imply a rejection of huge parts of the history of resistance of these peoples and was as such badly taken by large parts of the movement.
This point of view was particularly put forward by the movements of Ecuador and Bolivia, who at the same time have actually been practicing civil disobedience by the hundreds of thousands these last years, although they may throw some rocks when the army kills with bullets (as it regularly does).
In fact, there was always an understanding in PGA that non-violence has to be understood as a guiding principle or ideal which must always be understood relative to the particular political and cultural situation. Actions which are perfectly legitimate in one context can be unnecessarily violent (contributing to brutalise social relations) in another. And vice versa. Precisely to make this clear, the zapatista army (EZLN) was invited to be among the first generation of convenors. The wording finally found seemed to respect this fundamental stance, since it explicitly advocates MAXIMISING respect for life.
- The PGA manifesto was extensively reworked by a working group that sat for a large part of the conference to incorporate a gender perspective throughout. (Consult the web page www.agp.org in a little while for all the changes, too many to include here.) The gender group also worked out the declaration below).
- The manifesto was also modified to include a paragraph relating to climate change. The section on the environment now refers not only to the effects of WTO, WB, etc., but also says : " The global commons´ is being appropriated....this now includes the atmosphere. Climate change is a result of capitalist resource exploitation. It reinforces existing global inequalities initiated by colonialism. As the climate warms, essential resources with further become the privilege of the elite, who will use increasingly militarised force to acquire them.
Also, the very problem of climate change is being seen as a profit making opportunity. Market based ´solutions´ include carbon trading) in which governments and TNC´s buy and sell their ´rights to pollute, and carbon sinks appropriated forest areas or GM plantations which theoretically absorb carbon pollution) to avoid reducing their own emissions´. "
The organisational principles of PGA were also extensively modified to bring the theory into line with actual practice and experience. It was generally admitted that three successive convenors committees had not been able to assume many of their tasks, lacking either the necessary means, time or information to do so. At the same time, PGA has been scoring amazing successes due to a much more decentralised, spontaneous form of organisation. Solutions must therefor be looked for in that direction.
- The choice of convenors and the convening method will be left to regions to decide in their continental meetings : one convenor or more, collective convenorship (Eurasian proposal), sub-regional assemblies (North American option), etc. The only imperative is to have a contact point for circulating information, practical work, decisions, etc., from one continent to the rest.
- Adapting to the actual practice (Indymedia, for instance, being the way by which in fact infos about Global Days of Action circulate), information will be open, decentralised and have no " official " PGA stamp. The web page will be restructured in a series of open " Indymedia-type " pages for information or discussion of different campaigns and themes. Bulletins will be printed (using this information or others) by participants in the network on their own responsibility.
- Of conferences and caravans. There was generally agreement that anti-globalisation actions should be more grounded in local struggles. First, in order to continue to widen the mobilisations and make the link with the day to day struggles that are the real resistance to capital. Second, to avoid the isolation and criminalisation that threatens after Genoa and New York.
But localising means risking losing unity and general perspective unless we can better analyse and communicate the common aspects of our different struggles. And PGA has been as bad at stimulating debate and communication as it has been brilliant in inspiring action across the globe. So how can we make sure this happens, and that the next conference is preceded by a real debate on strategies, alternatives, etc. ? Or, in the worst case, how to assure that PGA can continue to grow even if repression (visa difficulties, etc.) and the drying up of institutional funding for anti-globalisation movements (aggressively organised now by the multinationals) make future conferences impossible - or much smaller ?
Several ideas were approved:
The first was to not necessarily have the next conference in two years (that is before the next WTO summit), although a conference within two to three years seemed necessary.
Debate and communication in the whole network could be stimulated by a new variant of the " caravan " formula. The idea would be to have for example one participant from each continent in a small group that would tour one continent or region with a mandate to investigate and debate on certain clearly defined subjects. The results of these exchanges would be regularly broadcast to the whole network via email lists, webpages, etc., as the caravan advanced. This contact at the grassroots would also be a much more effective way of getting to know movements and making known PGA, thus preparing a richer convening process.
This formula implies taking MUCH more time, say a minimum of two or three months, with at least several days in each place, to be able to discuss in depth, take time to write up results, etc. This in turn implies that it could not involve movement leaders but people less centrally involved or younger people who can take the time to fill this role of " movement reporters ". It could be much more efficient, less costly and easier to organise than conferences or regional meetings. Smaller conferences could possibly be just as effective and representative if the delegates could thus come having already debated the questions at home.
Other ideas included finding more volonteers for the support group (particularly in the South), including some with a precise committment to communication and debate facilitation. Making sure that convenors and other southern partners have real access to email (not just an expensive hotmail account in a café).
- On the next to last day, the whole conference boarded four buses to make the incredible descent (more than 3000 meters in a few hours !) from Cochabamba to the Chaparé region, stronghold of the cocaleros of the Cinco Federaciones del Tropico. A demonstration organised to welcome us (and to protest against the yanqui army base) gathered 20,000 peasants from all over the region in an impressive show of strength. Men, women and children of all ages, gathered under dozens of the rainbow colored huipil banners, responded with enthusiasm to speaches from spokespersons of the asians, africans, maoris, europeans, north americans and divers latin american countries and peoples. There own slogans and banners (" El pueblo unido, lucha sin partido ! ", " El pueblo unido vive sin estado ! ") showed that PGA had found appropriate partners there. A strong and moving response to the post-NY media hysteria.
- And the next conference ? We will have to choose. PGA is invited to Russia and South Africa!
Well, I guess this wasn't finally so short, but there would still be so much to tell. What is impossible to communicate is the richness and warmth of an international meeting of popular, grassroots organisations. In this space so many very different human beings and cultures can so quickly find so much in common, sharing enemies, but also so many visions, hopes, questions and practices.
Amandla ! ! Power to the people !
The PGA call to action against the WTO summit in Qatar
Peoples Global Action calls on all grassroots social movements, community based organisations, trade unions, student organisations, indigenous peoples, farmers organisations, autonomous collectives and everyone who wishes to participate around the world to carry out actions against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) during the next ministerial summit in Doha, Qatar, November 9th-13th, 2001.
The WTO´s aim is very simple: to remove anything that gets in the way of big business and free trade, upholding the freedom for multinational companies to act as they please. Made up of 135 member countries, the WTO polices international trade rules and continues to set an agenda that places profit above people and the planet.
Faced with a rapidly expanding grassroots resistance to capitalist globalisation, the WTO has fled to an isolated desert dictatorship for its next meeting. Already built into the agenda are three immensely destructive trade agreements: the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA), the General Agreement on Trade and Services (GATS) and the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). Between them, they cover issues like: the privatisation of health, education and water, forcing GMO foods and seeds on member countries and patents on life forms.
THEY CAN RUN BUT THEY CAN`T HIDE: WE ARE EVERYWHERE!
RESIST THE WTO THROUGHOUT THE WORLD THROUGH DIRECT ACTION AND CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE WHEREVER COMMUNITIES ARE DESTROYED AND ECOSYSTEMS SACRIFICED FOR THE SAKE OF FREE TRADE!
Regardless of whether the WTO meeting is maintained or not, we will be in the streets, because the streets are ours. Grassroots organisations all over the world are organising the following kinds of actions and call on others to do the same:
1) Awareness-raising campaigns against WTO and the effect of their policies on a global and local level: community based consultations, counter-meetings, public debates, publications.