Impressions from Cochabamba

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They say that Cochabamba is the "corazon," the heart of Bolivia, and that Bolivia is the heart of South America. So it was appropriate that the city at the heart of the world's epicentre of social change became the focal point of solidarity by hosting the first-ever World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth last month.

The international presence and exchange were remarkable, with people and delegations from the U.S., France, Italy, Zambia, Colombia, England, Brazil, Tanzania, Venezuela, Cuba, Chile, Argentina, and even compañeros from Paraguay and Greece, to name only a few. Canadian activists also had a significant presence among the tens of thousands of participants.

The conference, which took place April 19-22, featured six venues with panels and presentations going on around the clock. Information was plentiful, the possibilities boundless. There was a lot of activity condensed into four days and letting it all permeate was a task and a beautiful privilege.

The conference was structured for 17 different working groups, including action strategies, structural causes, climate debt, agriculture and food sovereignty, the Right of Mother Earth, and harmony with nature and Vivir Bien [living well]. The goal was to draft a declaration for each theme as an official position statement for the conference, which will also be sent as a set of demands in the name of humanity and Mother Earth to the U.N. Climate Summit in Cancun, due to take place in November and December of this year.

The experience was about the empowering experience of networking, exchanging contacts, meeting new people and gaining new perspectives. Strength lay in the complexity of our mosaic, in the confidence of our collective threads, and the summit illustrated this very successfully.

The dynamic between the conventional anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist discourse took hold early on in the summit, in a process of collective creation, of two correlative schools interacting with each other, which made for a fruitful and fiery exchange of ideas.

In his opening address, Bolivia's president, Evo Morales, spoke not so much about the ravages and inequalities of capitalism, and the destruction of our planet, but about rejecting foreign, artificial consumption habits, and about making small daily changes. He told anecdotes about changes that we need to make in our personal lives, not drinking Coca-Cola and checking our indifference to plastic waste.

The answers already exist, he explained, sustainable solutions are at our fingertips, and the way of life we aspire to is there. Politically, collective mentality can be changed and advanced tenfold, but if people keep consuming like the current system compels them to consume, then we are running on treadmills.

Indigenous culture, its values and practices is where to go to seek and find answers. This involves living a life in affinity with Mother Earth, and severing ties to the artificial, the chemical, the unnatural. We need to be living as we should be living -- of the earth.

We have to see the path of change as a tangible entity; humanity has to rediscover humanity, and we have to understand that the practices needed for a natural and sustainable world already exist, and that the consciousness and values required to affect that change are already carried inside us. As Eduardo Galeano, a great friend of the earth, has said, we have to understand that "the answers to the future lie in the traditions of the past."

Julien Lalonde is an activist from Toronto, and one of the delegates to Cochabamba for Toronto Bolivia Solidarity. He is also a regular contributor to America Latina newspaper.


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