COP-16 no. 5: spectacle and resistance

NB: Also published on Climate & Capitalism

As Cancún’s COP-16 nears its close, its spectacular nature continues on unabated. Recent days have seen Mexican President Felipe Calderón dress in green, test-drive a ‘green’ electric car, and propose that all of Mexico’s incandescent bulbs be phased out of use within four years, while U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, conceding publicly that the failure to avert climatic changes would be a “disaster,” has declared that a general transition to renewable energy in the U.S. cannot be expected to take place for a number of decades. Pablo Solón, Bolivia’s ambassador to the U.N., has fiercely rejected the proposals that have been made at COP-16 by the United States, which would, he claimed, result in the death of a million people per year within the near term—up from an estimated 300,000 in the present day.

On Monday morning there was held a panel at Via Campesina’s Global Forum for Environmental and Social Justice regarding the climate crisis. A representative from the U.S.-based Grassroots Global Justice Alliance who works with the bus-riders’ union in Los Angeles, California, emphasized the dire need to develop high-quality public-transportation systems in the United States as a means by which to reduce dependence on personal automobiles and the greenhouse gases emitted from such; additionally, and in light of the marked failures of bourgeois-hegemonic environmentalism in the U.S., she stressed that a movement for climate justice in the U.S. can be expected to emerge from working-class and people-of-color communities, given the experiences such groups historically have had with marginalization and oppression. The panel also included a speech by Andrés Barreda from Mexico’s National Assembly of the Enviromentally Affected, who presented the climate crisis in stark terms by declaring it to menace humanity with its very own extinction. He dramatically concluded his comments by claiming that humanity now more than ever faces the choice identified by Rosa Luxemburg nearly a century ago: that of socialism or barbarism.

On Monday evening there was had a march through downtown Cancún organized by Anti-C@p, an explicitly anti-capitalist grouping founded in opposition to COP-16 that is largely anarchist in nature. The participants in the march, mostly youth who donned Zapatista-esque ski-masks and bandanas to conceal their identities, expressed moods of rage and even sadness regarding the present socio-environmental predicament; as had been done in the general march on Sunday, contingents from the grouping at times broke off to adorn particularly offensive centers of power—a Chedraui supermarket, OXXO convenience stores—with graffiti denouncing capitalism and inhumanity. The march, in which participated some 300 individuals, was meant to climax with the arrival at the Cancún office of PROFEPA, the federal environmental prosecution-agency, but it was blocked-off by police at some distance before. Though the situation at the interruption of the march was surely tense, no arrests were there made by police.

On Tuesday took place the highly anticipated popular mobilization that was intended to reach Moon Palace, center of the COP negotiations. The march, in which participated perhaps 3000 people, began at the Jacinto Canek park in downtown Cancún, site of the Global Forum, and proceeded for some distance through the area before continuing by bus to a point some kilometers south of the city on the Cancún-Chetumal highway. Upon disembarking from the fleet of buses here, march participants continued on through the mid-day heat for a number of kilometers before stopping a few hundred meters from a police barricade erected near the Moon Palace. Here Via Campesina held a popular assembly that featured the interventions of a number of representatives from various Latin-American social organizations denouncing the historical imposition of capitalism—and in particular, its neo-liberal variant—in addition to the numerous false solutions being promoted by many of the world’s country-governments and their supporters, with agrofuels and REDD being the primary objects of derision here. A number of members of Anti-C@p as well as unaffiliated individuals separated themselves from the popular assembly to approach the police-line protecting the entrance to Moon Palace, but no violence was there had—violence, that is, as taken to mean arrests, beatings, or tear-gassings, and not the defense of world-destructive elites, which is most certainly violent.

The close of Tuesday’s march marked the end of protests planned by Via Campesina for the duration of COP-16, though Anti-C@p is expected to organize actions during the final days of the summit. Furthermore, Bolivian President Evo Morales is slated to address the Global Forum tomorrow afternoon.

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