Saturday, October 18, 2008

Message of President Evo Morales to the Continental Gathering of Solidarity with Bolivia in Guatemala City

October 9, 2008, Reproduced from Bolivia Rising

Sisters and brothers, on behalf of the Bolivian people, I greet the social movements of this continent present in this Act of Continental Solidarity with Bolivia.

We have just suffered the violence of the oligarchy, whose most brutal expression was the massacre in Panda, a deed that teaches us that an attempt at power based on money and weapons in order to oppress the people is not sustainable. It is easily knocked down, if it is not based on a program and the consciousness of the people.

We see that the re-founding of Bolivia affects the underhanded interests of a few families of large landholders, who reject as an aggression the measures enacted to favor the people such as a more balanced distribution of the resources of natural gas for our grandfathers and grandmothers, as well as the distribution of lands, the campaigns for health and literacy, and others.

To protect their power and privileges and to evade the process of change, the ruling elite of large landholders of the so-called Half Moon (Media Luna) clothe themselves in the movements for departmental autonomies and the rupture of national unity, lending themselves to the yankee interests of ending the re-founding of Bolivia.

However, in the revocation referendum of August 10, we just received the mandate of two thirds of the Bolivian people to consolidate this process of change, in order to continue advancing in the recovery of our natural resources, and to insure the well being of all Bolivians, to unite the distinct sectors of society of the countryside and the city, of the east and the west.

Sisters and brothers, what happened with this revocation referendum in Bolivia is something that is not only important for Bolivians but for all Latin Americans. We dedicate it to the Latin American revolutionaries and those throughout the world, reaffirming the struggle for all processes of change.

I was going to express the way to recover the life ways of our peoples, called Live Well (el Buen Vivir), to recover our vision of the Mother Earth, that for us is life, because it is not possible for the capitalist model to convert Mother Earth into a commodity. Once again we see the profound correlations between the indigenous movement and the organizations of the social movements, which also throw in their lot in order to Live Well. We greet them so that together we can seek a certain balance in the world.

Along these lines, I want to share and propose for debate some 10 commandments to save the planet, for humanity and for life, not only at this level but also to debate among our communities, and our organizations.

First, if we want to save the planet earth to save life and humanity, we are obliged to end the capitalist system. The grave effects of climate change, of the energy, food and financial crises, are not a product of human beings in general, but rather of the capitalist system at it is, inhuman, with its idea of unlimited industrial development.

Second, to renounce war, because the people do not win in war, but only the imperial powers; the nations to not win, but rather the transnational corporations. Wars benefit a small group of families and not the people. The trillions of millions used for war should be directed to repair and cure Mother Earth wounded by climate change.

Third proposal for debate: a world without imperialism nor colonialism, our relationships should be oriented to the principle of complementarity, and to take into account the profound asymmetries that exist family to family, country to country, and continent to continent.

And the fourth point is oriented to the issue of water, which ought to be guaranteed as a human right to avoid its privatization into few hands, given that water is life.

As the fifth point, I would like to say that we need to end the energy debacle. In 100 years we are using up fossil energies created during millions of years. As some presidents are setting aside lands for luxury automobiles and not for human beings, we need to implement policies to impede the use of agro-fuels and in this way to avoid the hunger and misery for our peoples.

As a sixth point: in relationship to the Mother Earth. The capitalist system treats the Mother Earth as a raw material, but the earth cannot be understood as a commodity; who could privatize, rent or lease their own mother? I propose that we organize an international movement in defense of Mother Nature, in order to recover the health of Mother Earth and re-establish a harmonious and responsible life with her.

A central theme as the seventh point for debate is that basic services, whether they be water, electricity, education, or health, need to be taken into account as human rights.

As the eighth point, to consume what is needed, prioritize what we produce and consume locally, end consumerism, decadence and luxury. We need to prioritize local production for local consumption, stimulating self-reliance and the sovereignty of the communities within the limits that the health and remaining resources the planet permits.

As the next to last point, to promote the diversity of cultures and economies. To live in unity respecting our differences, no only physical, but also economic, through economies managed by the communities and their associations.

Sisters and brothers, as the tenth point, we propose to Live Well, not live better at the expense of another, a Live Well based on the lifestyle of our peoples, the riches of our communities, fertile lands, water and clean air. Socialism is talked about a lot, but we need to improve this socialism, improve the proposals for socialism in the XXI century, building a communitarian socialism, or simply a Live Well, in harmony with Mother Earth, respecting the shared life ways of the community.

Finally, sisters and brothers, certainly you are following up on the problems that exist. I have reached the conclusion that there will always be problems, but I want to tell you that I am very content, not disappointed or worried because these groups who permanently enslaved our families during the colonial time, the time of the republic and this period of neo-liberalism, they continue as family groups, resisting us.

It is our struggle to confront these groups who live in luxury and who do not wish to lose their luxury, or lose their lands. This is a historic struggle and this struggle lives on.

Sisters and brothers, in the hope that the Continental Gathering of the III Social Forum of the Americas culminates with strong bonds of unity among you and a strong Action Plan in favor of the people of Bolivia and of our peoples, I repeat my fraternal greeting.

Evo Morales Ayma
President of the Republic of Bolivia

Translation by S. Bartlett

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Climate change -- the case for public ownership

Trent Hawkins, September 24, Links

Arising out of the UK Climate Camp in August 2008 there has developed an interesting debate between Ewa Jasiewicz, an activist in Britain, and well-known radical columnist George Monbiot about the role of so-called “state solutions” to climate change. Jasiewicz’s article, published on the Guardian website[i] and entitled “Time for a Revolution”, was an attack on Monbiot for a “controversial presentation [at climate camp] … in which he endorsed the use of the state as a partner in resolving the climate crisis”. It was also prompted by a debate between Monbiot and former National Union of Mineworkers’ leader and head of Britain’s Socialist Labour Party Arthur Scargill about what is more polluting: nuclear or coal energy.

Jasiewicz stated:

“State solutions to the climate crisis were presented to us 10 years ago through the Kyoto protocol – what were they? To privatise the air we breathe and turn carbon emissions into commodities, to buy and sell atmospheric poison, to create a new market of trading in the means of ecological destruction. It's no wonder many at the camp reject state solutions to climate change.

“The question is, who and under what conditions, controls decision making, and has climate-changing power?”

In response, Monbiot, in an article on his website[ii] wrote:

“[Jasiewicz] claims to want to stop global warming, but she makes that task 100 times harder by rejecting all state and corporate solutions. It seems to me that what she really wants to do is to create an anarchist utopia, and use climate change as an excuse to engineer it.

“Stopping runaway climate change must take precedence over every other aim. Everyone in this movement knows that there is very little time: the window of opportunity in which we can prevent two degrees [Celsius] of warming is closing fast. We have to use all the resources we can lay hands on, and these must include both governments and corporations. Or perhaps she intends to build the installations required to turn the energy economy around -- wind farms, wave machines, solar thermal plants in the Sahara, new grid connections and public transport systems -- herself?’’

There are some confused notions in these two articles, like the Kyoto protocol was a “state solution to the climate crisis” (Jasiewicz ) and that the role of the state is to “prevent the strong from crushing the weak” (Monbiot). However, the basic point that both fail to comprehend is that we do need the wealth and resources that are currently monopolised by corporations to stop climate change, however what’s needed is for that wealth to be torn from the hands of those corporations and put under popular control.

The reality is that no fossil fuel corporation can be convinced to stop expanding and making profits and instead invest its wealth in a wholesale conversion of its operations to a renewable energy-powered, sustainable industry. At the same time no capitalist government is going to be either willing or able to constrain corporations’ rights to make profits in order to drastically reduce emissions.

In other words, the only way we can make use of the massive corporate wealth that isn’t in the hands of the people is with a revolutionary struggle that institutes a government which acts in the interests of people and the planet and puts control of all sectors of the economy in the hands of ordinary working people.

The real question is what needs to be done to achieve this? There does not need to be a contradiction between what we call for today in terms of immediate measures to combat global warming and building the movement for revolutionary change. Arguing for the nationalisation of polluting industries, to be placed under the democratic control of ordinary people, is essential to constructing a movement capable of halting climate change.

Market anarchy or a planned approach

Since the release of the interim Garnaut Review (a report commissioned to recommend what policies are required by Australia to address climate change) and the Australian federal Labor government’s green paper on climate change, the focus of the debate has been almost solely on what is the best market response to global warming and how much “government regulation” is appropriate to guide this. The role of the government is reduced to determining how much large corporations will be subsidised under an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

On August 27, 2008, a report by the National Snow and Ice Data Center found that the amount of ice coverage in the Arctic was the second-worst on record (the worst being last 2007).[iii] It stated: “With about three weeks left in the Arctic summer, this year could wind up breaking that previous record”.[iv] There is now almost near certainty that the Arctic will be ice free in summer within five to 10 years.[v]

It is clear that we have reached a major tipping point in climate change, which indicates that we are already experiencing dangerous climate change. As Dr Jay Zwally, glaciologist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, put it, “the Arctic is often cited as the canary in the coal mine for climate warming… and now as a sign of climate warming, the canary has died.”[vi]

NASA Climatologist Dr James Hansen has concluded that a safe climate zone necessary to preserve the Arctic lies somewhere within the region of 300 to 325 parts per million (ppm) carbon dioxide (CO2) atmospheric concentration. However, we currently are sitting around 385ppm.[vii]

In short we need an urgent and immediate response to the crisis, one which relies on a centralised accounting and coordination of the activities of major polluting industries through the government and enforced by the state. Market mechanisms, corporate handouts and government investment in false solutions like “clean coal” spell nothing less than the death of the liveable planet.

Cuba and Venezuela show us what is possible

Two examples illustrate what is possible when the primary sources of wealth are under popular control.

The first is Cuba, where in the space of 10 years it was able to effect an extraordinary transformation from a highly import-based and unsustainable agriculture and energy sector, to become the most ecologically sustainable country in the world.

With the advent of the film The Power of Community, a number of environmental activists have developed the perception that this transformation was merely initiated by the artificially imposed “peak oil” crisis that hit Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Because of the US-enforced and illegal economic blockade of Cuba, Cuba was forced to rely heavily on the Soviet Union as its primary trading partner. As a consequence, 98% of its oil and oil-based products came from the USSR. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba lost half its oil imports in two years. Furthermore, 66% of all its food was imported and agriculture operated along the “Green Revolution” model, whereby single monoculture crops where grown primarily for export, using high levels of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides to increase yield. [viii]

The result was an enormous food crisis. While Cuba’s response included community initiatives to grow urban vegetable and fruit gardens, the biggest factor that enabled Cuba to rapidly overcome the crisis was the significant level of state ownership of resources and industry and the existence of a socialist government.

A very useful report conducted by the UK Institute of Science in Sustainability, “Organic Cuba without Fossil Fuels”, documents exactly how the government was able to drive the process of transformation.[ix]

Beginning with a nationwide call to increase food production by restructuring agriculture, the government redivided the land and gave control of that land to the community, to best determine how to respond to the community’s food requirements. One major initiative was in urban areas, where all sorts of land was given over by the government for food production, including old car parks, disused buildings, vacant lots, etc. As a consequence 60% of Cuba’s fresh fruit and vegetables are grown in urban farms. [x]

But the government’s role extended far beyond this. It set up a seed bank in the cities to distribute seeds to urban farmers, it massively invested in biotechnology to develop increased food production without pesticides, and it even passed a law banning the use of pesticides.[xi]

As Cuban permaculturalist Roberto Perez pointed out in an interview with Green Left Weekly, no rapid solution to Cuba’s crisis would have been possible without Cuba having control over the totality of it’s resources.

“When the revolution gained sovereignty over the resources of the country, especially the land and minerals, this was the base for sustainability. You cannot think about sustainability of your resources if they are in the hands of a foreign country or in private hands. Even without knowing, we were creating the basis for sustainability.”[xii]

The second example worth considering is Venezuela.

Venezuela is one of the major oil-producing nations in the world, being the fourth-largest exporter of oil to the United States. Despite this, the country had high levels of poverty and extensive environmental destruction.

While Venezuela’s oil industry was technically nationalised in the 1970s, PDVSA was the only state-owned oil company that ran at a loss. This was primarily due to the fact that the profits of the company where being used to fatten the pockets of the bureaucrats who leached off the industry.

Since socialist president Hugo Chavez was elected in 1998 the government has taken back control of the oil industry and used the wealth from it to fund social programs aimed at alleviating poverty.

It has also been extremely conscious of reducing the country’s dependence on the oil industry and of ending the legacy of putting the needs of the environment behind that of oil production.

This is indicated in the new United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) program, which includes a section on “Defence of Nature; Planned Production”. This states that “the program of the PSUV proposes the preservation of nature and the planning of production for the satisfaction of collective necessities in harmony with the requirements of the ecosystem.” [xiii]

In 2005 the Chávez government and the PDVSA oil company made the decision to eliminate lead-based petrol. Since then, PDVSA has begun recuperating green areas, reducing emissions and cleaning up rivers and lakes. [xiv]

Under Mission Energy, some 53 million light bulbs in more than 5 million homes have been replaced with energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs[xv], with the next step being to substitute almost 27 million inefficient incandescent light bulbs by energy-saving light bulbs in the official, industrial and commercial sectors.[xvi]

President Chávez has also announced plans for a wind farm to generate electricity on the Caribbean coast[xvii] and in April 2007 the government banned construction of all new coal mines on Indigenous land in the opposition-controlled, major oil-producing state of Zulia.[xviii]

While there are major restrictions on the Venezuelan government’s ability to implement these plans, due to a corrupt bureaucracy within state institutions, it is clear that none of these things would be possible if the government didn’t have real control over the oil industry to be able to fund and enact these programs.

Nationalisation, a transitional demand

As socialists we recognise that the only way out of the mess of climate change is for the vast bulk of the economy to be put under public ownership and control, with the creation of a workers’ government that can oversee a thorough and detailed process in which the entire community can have democratic control over how the economy is run and for what purposes.

However this doesn’t prevent us advancing the demand for the nationalisation of strategic industries even before we reach that stage. In fact this demand is extremely important for posing the possibility of working people having complete and democratic control over the wealth of society (which after all was created by the labour of working people and has been stolen by a tiny number of capitalist owners), and building a movement that can win this.

Given the state of the crisis and the urgency with which we need to act, any effective program of action advanced by the environment movement to stop climate change must include the demand for nationalisation – that is to put the key energy-producing and energy-consuming industries, and other unsustainable industries, under public ownership.

But first we need to make it clear that we aren’t arguing for a public sector operating like the commercialised, profit-making enterprises we see all too often today.

Most of the public sector, if it already hasn’t been sold off and converted into privately run companies, has been turned into more or less the same thing in preparation for the time when it becomes politically possible for governments to privatise it.

Second, the public sector under capitalism is run by a big bureaucracy that the people have no control over. While we can vote for people to be in parliament who can introduce new laws, we don’t have any say over who the state employs to implement those laws. Not to mention the fact that the major parties in parliament are the representatives of big business and act to preserve profits. This means that such a struggle for nationalisation needs to be accompanied with a push for real democratic control over how the public sector is organised.

What would real government action on climate change look like?

Currently, governments in Australia, both state and federal, aren’t just sitting on their hands on climate change; they are funding and pushing for the expansion of the very industries that contribute most to the problem.

So the question is, what kind of government response is needed to avert the catastrophe?

Electricity sector

First it is essential that the electricity generation sector be put under public ownership, instead of sold off to private companies, as is being attempted by the New South Wales state Labor government. The majority of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from coal-fired power generation. In order to stop global warming we need to halt the construction of all new coal-fired power stations and effect a rapid conversion from coal to renewable energy, primarily wind and solar, within five to 10 years. Yet this will be virtually impossible unless the government has complete control over the electricity sector.

Furthermore, a national network of publicly owned electricity generators would ensure that the electricity produced actually meets people’s needs. A board could be elected democratically by the people and given the task of drafting a plan to transform the sector to meet the needs of the environment. This plan could be ratified by referendum and if those in charge fail to implement the necessary measures there should be the right to recall them.

The government could also set up programs to roll out energy-efficient light bulbs and whitegoods, and ban the selling of inefficient ones.

The government should adopt stringent limits on how much greenhouse gases private companies are allowed to emit and take serious measures to curb energy inefficiency. If a company continues to break the rules it should be made clear that it will be nationalised.

Public transport and freight

In Victoria, the public transport system was sold off to the multinational company Connex under the Liberal government in the 1990s. Connex’s contract is due to expire next year, but despite the atrocious state of Melbourne’s public transport system, the state Labor government is now toying with the idea of renewing Connex’s contract.[xix]

A recent article in the Melbourne Age newspaper showed that there had been a 70% increase in public transport use in last 10 years, but only a 9% increase in services, and very few new services in peak hours.[xx] Instead of re-nationalising the public transport system, the government is considering the construction of a new road tunnel at a cost of A$9 billion, and the introduction of “congestion taxes” and new tollways.[xxi] Meanwhile the major “City Link” tollway nets the Transurban corporation $1 million a day![xxii]

The federal government should nationalise Australia’s vehicle manufacturing industry, and retool the factories to pump out new trams, trains and buses to provide the massive needed expansion of the public transport system and, if necessary, produce electric cars that can be plugged into grid for those who can’t access public transport.

A publicly run public transport system is essential for rapidly expanding public transport, so that we can take millions of cars off the road, while providing the necessary levels of alternative transport. This must extend to rural areas and involve the development of high-speed, long-distance trains to drastically reduce need for carbon-intensive flying.

Another major task is the moving of freight. It was recently revealed that the state government is planning to expand Victoria’s roads to allow more “B Triple” trucks – three-carriage freight trucks.[xxiii] Such a plan is ridiculous in the context of climate change, when what’s needed is the development of a thorough system of freight-train lines to drastically reduce emissions. Such railways can be electrified with renewable energy, which could cut emissions significantly.


Another problem project of the Victoria Labor government is the $3 billion desalination plant, which will have its carbon emissions “offset” by ``clean coal’’ and other “clean’’ energy sources, possibly from interstate.[xxiv] The plant is being used to discourage people from installing rainwater tanks, and failing to introduce tighter restrictions on commercial irrigators who use up most of the state's water.[xxv]

Australia is still in extreme drought, with constantly diminishing water supplies. There is a threat to the survival of one of our most important water supplies – the Murray-Darling river system. It was recently revealed in a report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics that found that almost 2 gigalitres a year is consumed on Victorian farms each year. [xxvi] As the Age reported on August 28, “in total the Australian farming sector used 8521 gigalitres of water in 2006-07, with nine out of every 10 litres used for irrigation.”[xxvii]

To preserve future water supplies and the natural environment, it is essential that our water supply is completely publicly owned, and managed in a manner that responds to the needs of people, not of big business.

One major thing the government must do is take over the most water-consuming farms, particularly cotton and rice, and instead use the land to grow less water-intensive crops like hemp. Instead, the government is unwilling to restructure the water allocation to irrigators to help save the Murray-Darling system.

For domestic urban water usage the government could set up a system to roll out free water tanks and fit grey water systems to each home.

There are also a range of big corporate industries like the aluminium industry, logging, coalmining etc., which contribute enormously to climate change. The basis of their profits are processes which are intrinsically harmful to the environment so it is essential for them to be put under public ownership. Only by ensuring that the big industries are no longer run for profits, will it be possible to determine to what extent they are actually needed and to what degree their impact on the environment can be reduced.

Jobs versus the environment?

The bulk of the industries that are the biggest polluters are simply going to have to be shut down, and no corporation is going to willingly accept such a proposition. Furthermore, while some corporations are investing in renewable energy, what’s needed is a massive government investment and commitment to renewable energy, and the direct conversion of the fossil fuel industry not just a gradual “transition”.

The socialist approach puts it clearly that it isn't about putting the environment ahead of jobs, but instead that the only way any sustainable industry can operate is with workers to run it. It's clear there is a huge pool of possible workers to fill jobs in new renewable and sustainable industries, but these workers will be thrown onto the scrap heap unless there is a government plan to utilise these workers and skill them to work in those industries.

The reality is that under capitalism big business regularly chucks workers onto the scrap heap, in order to preserve profits – just look at the 380 workers being axed from the Fairfax newspapers in Australia. It’s not like there is less news to cover!

Some right-wing unions, such as the Australian Workers Union, have been able to tap into this fear by workers that they will be left without jobs. The radical environmental movement must make it clear that the only solution is the nationalisation of those industries which will have to be reorganised or phased out, to allow public boards to be established to plan the rapid industrial transition and retrain workers so that they can be (voluntarily) deployed where they are needed. This is what happens in the public education sector.

What we propose also includes a huge investment in education and skills training – to re-skill workers in the fossil fuel industry to run solar thermal plants or build wind turbines etc. There also needs to be serious investment in the research and development of more energy-efficient technology and renewable energy sources.

But it is clear that no demand for nationalisation can be won without a mass struggle of workers that forces the government to do so. Furthermore we know that no industry can operate long term within a capitalist framework as a truly community-controlled public sector. Whenever a private corporation thinks it can make a profit, there will be a push from our present capitalist governments to carve up the public sector and privatise it. Despite the fact that these are necessary services and real public assets, wealth built up by the hard labour of working people, capitalism cares only about finding new areas it can take over and operate for profit.

If we win our demand for partial nationalisation, it would open the way for many more workers to comprehend the advantages of far wider (and even complete) public ownership of the economy and shift the struggle towards achieving real democratic control over entire industries. Only when we have control of the gears, pedals and steering wheels of the economy will we have any real chance to steer us away from the brink of a climate catastrophe.

[Trent Hawkins is an activist with the Australian socialist youth organisation Resistance and a member of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist organisation affiliated to the Australian Socialist Alliance. He also runs the Inhabitable Earth blog at]




[iv] Ibid.


[vi] ibid.



[ix] ibid.

[x] ibid.

[xi] ibid.
















[xxvii] ibid.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Climate Emergency Rally

These are the photos from the very successful Climate Emergency Rally held in Melbourne yesterday (July 5).

About 4000 people attended the protest, which happened the day after the Final Draft Garnaut Report was released.

This rally was significant for three reasons:
1. It was the first mass rally organised in a clear democratic manner by a broad coalition of groups (over 60 Victorian and interstate groups endorsed the event).
2. It had a clear political focus and fairly radical (although not overly contraversial) demands, inc. *Renewable Energy Not Coal Power
*Public Transport Not New Freeways
and was centred around demanding that the State and Federal Government take real action on climate change now, not in 2-4 years as proposed under the Garnaut Review
3. It was able to draw on the strength of two single issue campaigns that are not about climate change directly, but are projects that in the context of climate change have galvanised large amounts of community opposition. These were the Desalination Plant that the State Labor Government has forked out $140 million for, which will create unnecessary carbon emissions to without really improving the water supply, and the campaign to stop the dredging of the bay in Melbourne. The other issue implicit in the second demand, was the Eddington Review that sought to address the overflow of vehicle and public transport traffic into the city. Its main proposal was to construct a massive underground road tunnel to link up the east and the west.

The collective who organised the rally have already started discussing the possibility of initiating a national Climate Emergency Rally on October 4, one week after the final Garnaut Report will be released. Members of Resistance will be taking this idea to the Climate Camp happening in Newcastle next week.

Check out the media from the day below:,21985,23973776-5005961,00.html

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Put oil firm chiefs on trial, says leading climate change scientist

Ed Pilkington, June 23, The Guardian

James Hansen, one of the world's leading climate scientists, will today call for the chief executives of large fossil fuel companies to be put on trial for high crimes against humanity and nature, accusing them of actively spreading doubt about global warming in the same way that tobacco companies blurred the links between smoking and cancer.

Hansen will use the symbolically charged 20th anniversary of his groundbreaking speech to the US Congress - in which he was among the first to sound the alarm over the reality of global warming - to argue that radical steps need to be taken immediately if the "perfect storm" of irreversible climate change is not to become inevitable.

Speaking before Congress again, he will accuse the chief executive officers of companies such as ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy of being fully aware of the disinformation about climate change they are spreading.

In an interview with the Guardian he said: "When you are in that kind of position, as the CEO of one the primary players who have been putting out misinformation even via organisations that affect what gets into school textbooks, then I think that's a crime."

He is also considering personally targeting members of Congress who have a poor track record on climate change in the coming November elections. He will campaign to have several of them unseated. Hansen's speech to Congress on June 23 1988 is seen as a seminal moment in bringing the threat of global warming to the public's attention. At a time when most scientists were still hesitant to speak out, he said the evidence of the greenhouse gas effect was 99% certain, adding "it is time to stop waffling".

He will tell the House select committee on energy independence and global warming this afternoon that he is now 99% certain that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has already risen beyond the safe level.

The current concentration is 385 parts per million and is rising by 2ppm a year. Hansen, who heads Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, says 2009 will be a crucial year, with a new US president and talks on how to follow the Kyoto agreement.

He wants to see a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, coupled with the creation of a huge grid of low-loss electric power lines buried under ground and spread across America, in order to give wind and solar power a chance of competing. "The new US president would have to take the initiative analogous to Kennedy's decision to go to the moon."

His sharpest words are reserved for the special interests he blames for public confusion about the nature of the global warming threat. "The problem is not political will, it's the alligator shoes - the lobbyists. It's the fact that money talks in Washington, and that democracy is not working the way it's intended to work."

A group seeking to increase pressure on international leaders is launching a campaign today called It is taking out full-page adverts in papers such as the New York Times and the Swedish Falukuriren calling for the target level of CO2 to be lowered to 350ppm. The advert has been backed by 150 signatories, including Hansen.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

New push for nuclear waste dump

Chris Hammer, June 9, The Age

THE Federal Government is preparing to fast-track a decision on the site for a nuclear waste dump, with every indication it will be in the Northern Territory.

Consultants investigating Top End sites are expected to report to the Government this month.

Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson told The Age that after decades of government indecision, he wants to act soon.

"I know I've got one of the tough decisions of this parliament. It's got to be done. You can't hide from your responsibilities and you can't play politics," Mr Ferguson said.

The minister has left open the possibility of using Howard-era legislation to locate the waste in the Northern Territory against the wishes of the government there, despite a pre-election promise by Labor that it would repeal the legislation.

Mr Ferguson said he would not take piecemeal decisions, such as ruling out locations or the use of the legislation, before determining a final outcome.

But he did promise to consult with all affected parties, including the relevant state or territory government.

If the Government uses the Coalition-era law, it could prove a political nightmare for Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who condemned the law before the election and who would need to approve the site under the Environmental Protection Act.

But Mr Ferguson said: "It's about time we took the politics out of it and front up to our responsibilities. Let the Greens and the fringe groups play their little games, it's the responsibility of this parliament once and for all to resolve it."

He said it was necessary to finalise the site well before the next election because nuclear waste from Sydney's Lucas Heights research reactor sent overseas for reprocessing would return to Australia from 2011.

Under agreements signed in the 1990s, spent nuclear fuel rods are sent to Scotland and France to have their uranium extracted before the remaining medium-level waste is returned to Australia for disposal.

The minister would not comment on particular sites for the waste dump or even canvas which state or territory would host it, saying this had got previous ministers into trouble.

But a Senate committee heard last week that a consultant engaged by the previous government to examine four sites in the Northern Territory was expected to report this month.

The Howard government identified three sites on Defence Department land, plus Muckaty Station near Tennant Creek.

Muckaty Station emerged as a frontrunner for the site after the Northern Land Council said it would welcome the waste repository. The council has received $200,000 of a $12 million grant initiated by the Howard government, but won't receive the balance unless Muckaty is selected.

A Labor member of the Northern Territory Government, Elliot McAdam, whose electorate covers Muckaty Station, said he believed Martin Ferguson had made up his mind.

"I think Ferguson is locked into a departmental arrangement between the NLC and the previous government," he said.

The Rudd Government committed $1.4 million in the budget for an environmental impact assessment in 2008-09, with $2.4 million to complete it in 2009-10.

Adele Peddler, of the Australian Conservation Foundation, said such a process could not fully proceed until a site had been determined, suggesting a decision is imminent. "The people in the territory are left in limbo, waiting to see if Labor will repeal the legislation. It's not looking good," she said.

Mr Ferguson was clear that any repository would only be used for Australian waste.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Cuba: The Food Crisis is Systemic and Structural

Address by José Ramón Machado Ventura, vice president of Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers, to the high-level conference on World Food Security: The Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy

(English translation by Climate and Capitalism, from Juventud Rebelde, June 4, 2008)

Mr. Chairman:

Two years ago, in this very hall, the international community agreed to eradicate world hunger. It adopted a goal of halving the number of malnourished people by 2015. Today that modest and inadequate goal seems like a pipe-dream.

The world food crisis is not a circumstantial phenomenon. Its recent appearance in such serious form, in a world that produces enough food for all its inhabitants, clearly reveals that the crisis is systemic and structural.

Hunger and malnourishment are the result of an international economic order that maintains and deepens poverty, inequality and injustice.

It is undeniable that the countries of the North bear responsibility for the hunger and malnourishment of 854 million people. They imposed trade liberalization and financial rules that demanded structural adjustment, on a world composed of clearly unequal actors. They brought ruin to many small producers in the South and turned self-sufficient and even exporting nations into net importers of food products.

The governments of developed countries refuse to eliminate their outrageous agricultural subsidies while imposing their rules of international trade on the rest of the world. Their voracious transnational corporations set prices, monopolize technologies, impose unfair certification processes on trade, and manipulate distribution channels, sources of financing, trade and supplies for the production of food worldwide. They also control transportation, scientific research, gene banks and the production of fertilizers and pesticides.

The worst of it all is that, if things continue as they are, the crisis will become even more serious. The production and consumption patterns of developed countries are accelerating global climate change, threatening humanity’s very existence. These patterns must be changed. The irrational attempt to perpetuate these disastrous forms of consumerism is behind the sinister strategy of transforming grains and cereals into fuels.

The Non-Aligned Countries Summit in Havana called for the establishment of a peaceful and prosperous world and a just and equitable international order. This is the only way to an end to the food crisis.

The right to food is an inalienable human right. Since 1997, this has been confirmed on Cuba’s initiative by successive resolutions adopted by the former Commission on Human Rights and later by the Council and the UN General Assembly. Our country, representing the Non-Aligned Movement, and with the support of more than two thirds of UN member states, also proposed the calling of a seventh special session of the Human Rights Council, which has just called for concrete actions to address the world food crisis.

Hunger and malnourishment cannot be eradicated through palliatives, nor with symbolic donations which — let us be honest — will not satisfy peoples’ needs and will not be sustainable.

At the very least, agricultural production in South countries must first be rebuilt and developed. The developed countries have more than enough resources to do this. What’s required is the political will of their governments.

  • If NATO’s military budget were reduced by a mere 10% a year, nearly 100 billion dollars would be freed up.
  • If the foreign debt of developing countries, a debt they have paid several times over, were cancelled, the countries of the South would have at their disposal the 345 billion dollars now used for annual debt service payments.
  • If the developed countries honoured their commitment to devote 0.7 % of the Gross Domestic Product to Official Development Aid, the countries of the South would have at least an additional 130 billion dollars a year.
  • If only one fourth of the money squandered each year on commercial advertising were devoted to food production, nearly 250 billion dollars could be dedicated to fighting hunger and malnutrition.
  • If the money devoted to agricultural subsidies in the North were directed to agricultural development in the South, our countries would have around a billion dollars a day to invest in food production.

Mr. Chairman:

I bring this message from Cuba, a country ferociously blockaded but standing proudly by its principles and the unity of its people: yes, we can successfully confront this food crisis, but only if we go to the root of the problem, address its real causes and reject demagogy, hypocrisy and false promises.

Allow me to conclude by recalling the words of Fidel Castro, when he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York in October 1979:

“The din of weapons, of threatening language, and of arrogance on the international scene must cease. Abandon the illusion that the problems of the world can be solved by nuclear weapons. Bombs may kill the hungry, the sick and the uneducated, but bombs cannot kill hunger, disease and illiteracy.”

Thank you very much.

Protests around the globe as oil prices pinch

June 7, Reuters

Oil prices have doubled over the last year and risen 44 percent this year alone, with U.S. crude surging to a record high $139.12 a barrel on Friday, a troubling rise for energy ministers of the Group of Eight Nations plus China, India and South Korea, who are meeting in northern Japan this weekend.

Since 2004, oil prices have shed their typical $20-$30 a barrel stability to climb steadily, due to factors such as new demand from India and China and supply threats from conflict in the Middle East.

The Group of Eight consists of the United States, Canada, Japan, Russia, Germany, France, Italy and Britain.

Here are some facts on how people around the globe have reacted to rising fuel costs:

* Belgium: Fishermen, mainly from France and Italy, demonstrated against soaring fuel prices on June 4, and some clashed with policy near the European Union's headquarters. French fishermen say they will go broke unless they can buy diesel at half the market rate.

* Britain: Hundreds of protesting truck drivers blocked London roads on May 28, causing chaos. Almost a week later fishermen's groups massed in the centre of the capital to demand urgent government aid to ease rising fuel costs.

* Bulgaria: More than 150 truck drivers and dozens of bus drivers from across Bulgaria converged in a convoy on the outskirts of the capital Sofia on May 28, saying high fuel prices meant they were operating at a loss.

* Chile: Thousands of Chilean drivers parked their trucks along national highways this week to protest soaring fuel prices and diesel taxes in a tacit rejection of the government's $1 billion dollar (509 million pound) cash subsidy on consumer fuel prices. They lifted the strike on June 6.

* Italy: Commercial fishermen went on strike on May 30, closing down the industry on both coasts.

* India: Protests and strikes called by India's opposition parties and the government's own communist allies hit India for a second day on June 6 after the government raised fuel prices by about 10 percent, its second increase in two years and the biggest one-off hike since 1996. But the strikes themselves seemed as unpopular as the price increase.

* France: Lorries and taxis blocked a major motorway in Paris and called for low-cost diesel on Tuesday, a few days after a mass fishing boat strike. Fishermen, truckers and farmers have staged numerous protests over the past month to pressure the government into helping them after oil costs doubled in a year.

* Indonesia: Hundreds of Indonesian students and police clashed in May 26 protests sparked by an almost 30 percent fuel price hike. Days before, police detained dozens as 2,000 people marched on Jakarta's presidential palace, and similar rallies took place in Medan, North Sumatra, and Surabaya

* Malaysia: Barely half a dozen people turned out for an opposition-backed protest in the capital Kuala Lumpur on June 6, two days after the government hiked petrol prices by 41 percent and diesel prices by 63 percent, and said it would let rates rise to market levels in coming months.

* Portugal: Portuguese fishermen stayed in port on May 30, as part of a wave of protests in European commerical fisheries.

* Spain: Almost the entire Spanish fleet, by far Europe's biggest, stayed in port on May 30, calling for government action to lower fuel prices. Madrid fishermen handed out 20 tonnes of free fish, calling it worthless because of rock-bottom prices.

Cuba: Urban Farmers 'Make Soil From Scratch'

Monday, June 02, IPS

The soil in Cienaga de Zapata is salty, shallow, stony and hard to plow, but this Cuban municipality is nevertheless home to more than 140 urban farmers.

"Here you have to make soil from scratch, and to begin with I had to bring it from Jagey Grande," said Nibaldo Ortega, who joined the urban agriculture movement five years ago. He plants his vegetables in beds, and between these he puts sawdust, "to carry on making soil," he said.

His crops are few in number. "I grow tomatoes, beans and radishes, mainly. Now I'm planting fruit trees," he said. But his real vocation is rearing pigs, rabbits, chickens and other farmyard animals as part of an urban agriculture livestock program.

The 43-year-old Ortega began by "raising a few little pigs" with a friend, on a small plot some distance away from the neighborhood of El Caletcn in Cienaga de Zapata. With a population 10,000, it is the largest and most sparsely populated municipality in the country, located in Matanzas province, east of Havana. The municipality is also the location of the largest and best preserved wetland in the Caribbean.

The farm now has more than 100 pigs, 292 laying hens, 30 rabbits and several Muscovy ducks, as well as other animals. "I'm the son of a small farmer, and I like this work," he said, while massaging a sow's belly to help her give birth.

As his initial land area became too small, Ortega was given the right to use (but not own) another plot of about half a hectare, opposite his own. He is getting it ready and has made a map of where he will put each sector. At the back he has reserved space for the "infirmary," for the benefit of the veterinarian who looks after his animals.

"Some inspectors came and said, 'Don't worry about how much you'll make. As long as you're producing food, there's no problem.' Before, it used to be viewed differently -- they were afraid of people earning too much personally. But now there's a different attitude to what you earn from your work. And there are certainly no days off here," he said.

Ortega signed a contract with the state for raising pigs, under which he was given 10 breeding sows. He must sell the pork he produces to the state buyer, who pays for part of it at the official price and the rest at market price, which is four times higher.

"I think it's a fair agreement, and it's good business for me, because as part of the contract they sell me imported fodder for the pigs practically at cost. Besides, it's legally earned money," he said. In his view, producers are more motivated now.

Luis Lazo, a People's Power delegate for the barrio of El Caletcn, said that previously people always had to go to other places to find pork and vegetables, "but now they can buy them nearby."

"Part of what is produced by urban agriculture provides food for social programs, such as for low-income elderly people," he said.

Alicia Abella, who is in charge of urban agriculture in Cienaga de Zapata, told the local media that there are now 146 producers in this municipality, some of whom grow vegetables, fruit and grains, while others raise livestock and poultry.

The urban agriculture movement, which now involves some 300,000 producers all over the country, on state farms, cooperatives or private farms, is based on environmentally sustainable farming methods.

According to official figures, more than 15 million metric tons of chemical-free foods -- basically vegetables, fresh herbs, fruit and rice -- have been produced in urban and peri-urban areas in the last decade.

As for the livestock programs, available reports indicate that small-scale breeders in peri-urban areas produce 12,000 metric tons of pork a year, as well as 76,000 metric tons of mutton and goat meat, and 3,400 metric tons of rabbit meat.

Experts point out that another interesting aspect, from the agro-ecological point of view, is that the agricultural and livestock programs are interdependent, so that livestock programs, in addition to producing food, supply more than 70 percent of the organic fertilizer used on the crops that are grown.

An annual 8.5 million metric tons of organic fertilizer are produced, of which 1.4 million metric tons are made of earthworm humus. These maintain the fertility of soils devoted to urban agriculture and also supply the needs of organoponic and intensive vegetable farmers. Official reports say roughly 5,000 polluted sites, generated by unauthorized rubbish dumps and abandoned lots, have been eliminated by transforming them into organoponic and intensive vegetable gardens over the past decade, in more than 200 cities and towns.

Spurred by soaring international food prices, the Cuban government decided last year to restructure its agricultural sector in order to boost productivity and reduce food imports, which this year will cost $1.9 billion.

The restructuring will include granting the use of uncultivated land to small farmers who wish to farm it and the decentralization of agricultural planning, which will focus on the local characteristics of each part of the country. The authorities have declared the food crisis to be a matter of national security.

The Worst is Yet to Come

Alexander Cockburn, June 1, Counterpunch

Between Grant’s Pass, a pleasant retirement town in southern Oregon’s Siskiyou mountains, and the Californian fishing port of Crescent City, chiefly noted for the nightmarish state prison known as Pelican Bay, stretches route 199. It runs alongside the spectacularly beautiful Smith River ravine for some 50 miles. To drive it, particularly on long holiday weekends, can be a teeth-grinding, bumper-to-bumper affair. This last Memorial Day weekend, on a late Sunday afternoon, I shot through in record time, meeting as little traffic as I normally would at 2 am.
For the first time since the national trauma known as the great gas shortage of 1973 Americans are experiencing a collective shock as they adjust to gasoline prices that are now three times higher than they were four years ago.

Last weekend, on the edge of what used to be a summer’s worth of driving sprees, many of the families who would normally have been chugging along 199, looked at the $4 a gallon basic price of gasoline in the Pacific north west and stayed home or crept round the corner to the local mall. Hence my pleasantly rapid drive home from Olympia, Washington to Petrolia, California, the first place oil wells were sunk in California, in the 1860s, though the industry lasted only a couple of years. The drive comprised a distance of 630 miles, achieved in my 1962 Plymouth station wagon, which gets 15 mpg on the open road, better than the SUVs most Americans can no longer afford. The round trip cost me $336.

Of course Europeans, paying roughly twice as much to fill their tanks, snigger unfeelingly at American moaning at these prices. But comparisons are not the issue here. The median family income in Crescent City (pop. 4,000 excluding 3,300 prisoners) is about $20,000 a year. A third of the population lives below the poverty line. As in thousands of American towns across the country there’s no slack in the family budgets here to accommodate a fuel bill here that’s suddenly shot up 300 per cent.

A family of four that decides, as many will this summer, that it can’t afford to drive 1,200 miles down Interstate 5 from Seattle to Disneyland is making a decision that spells slim business for motels, roadside restaurants and the tourist industry overall. Americans routinely drive huge distances, starting with the long distance truckers. It now costs well over $1,000 to fill the tanks of an 18-wheeler with diesel fuel averaging around $4.20 a gallon. Over 1,000 trucking firms have already gone bankrupt this year and the independent drivers – about a fifth of the industry overall – face imminent ruin.

Roman emperors knew well that political tranquility marched arm in arm with the cost of bread. As energy costs have soared in his term, Bush’s popularity ratings have plummeted. Doug Henwood, editor of Left Business Observer calculated a couple of years ago that an "uncanny" 78 per cent of the shifts in Bush's ratings mirrored changes in gas prices. But the political implications are far larger and more long-term than the dismal trendlines of the 43rd president.

Across the past generation American incomes, below the very rich, have remained essentially static, or have actually gotten worse. Year after year Americans work harder, longer, for less money in real terms. Political tranquility has been maintained by cheap gasoline, cheap food and, in recent years, the seemingly easy credit and tax deduction on home mortgage interest allowing middle-income families the illusion they owned a home. Gasoline is no longer cheap. The cost of food is going up. The subprime crisis has pitchforked thousands of Americans into forfeiture.

There’s worse to come. Since the subprime meltdown there’s been a lull. But now the so-called “Alt-A” loans, made to supposedly more credit-worthy borrowers and amounting to a trillion dollars, are allegedly about to go down the tubes, carrying banks and insurers with them. And this time Ben Bernanke, chairman the Federal Reserve, has no bail-out strategies left. He can’t lower interest rates to banks below the current 2 per cent, a level partially responsible for oil costing almost $130 a barrel. Round the corner looms hyper-inflation.

The sky is dark with chickens coming home to roost. America is in a terrible fix. But you wouldn’t know it from the politicians. Obams, Clinton and McCain flourish quick-fix recipes that are as inconsequential as a pop gun aimed at a gunship by an Iraqi child. Whoever is in charge come January 2009 will have to set as drastic a change in course as did Roosevelt in 1933, the last time the political economy faced this serious a crisis. Not that we need another Roosevelt, trying to bail out capitalism and stave off the left.

We need an an active radical mass movement, shoving Congress into action. There’s no sign that any of the candidates have advisors at their elbows capable of offering pertinent counsel. Thirty years of vacuous boosterism about the virtues of neo-liberalism and unfettered markets have exacted a fearsome toll on the intellectual capacity of the policy-making elites.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Victorian Climate Emergency Rally

Climate change will probably beat us: Garnaut

June 5, AAP

Economist Ross Garnaut thinks humanity will probably lose the fight against climate change.

The architect of Australia's response to climate change says the issue is "too hard" and there is "just a chance" the world will face up to the problem before it's too late.

Professor Garnaut issued the chilling prognosis in a speech in Canberra tonight.

"There is a chance - just a chance - that Australia and the world will manage to develop a position that strikes a good balance between the costs of dangerous climate change and the costs of mitigation," his prepared speech said.

"The consequences of the choice are large enough for it to be worth a large effort to take that chance, in the short period that remains before our options diminish fatefully."

Prof Garnaut was pessimistic about Australia's ability to tackle climate change.

"An observation of daily debate and media discussion in Australia could lead one to the view that this issue is too hard for rational policy-making in Australia," he said.

"The issues are too complex, the vested interests surrounding it too numerous and intense, the relevant timeframes too long. Climate change policy remains a diabolical problem."

And Prof Garnaut said the effects of climate change on the planet could outlive human beings.

There was one positive note in his speech - the soaring price of of oil, gas and coal of recent months will see the nation's greenhouse gas emissions fall below the limits set under the Kyoto Protocol.

Higher prices for petrol and electricity will reduce demand and the effects of higher prices will be felt over the next few years, Prof Garnaut said.

"If we had been more or less in line with the Kyoto requirements, we will now be tending below," he said.

Prof Garnaut was delivering the HW Arndt Memorial Lecture at the Australian National University.

He will release a draft report on how the federal government should tackle climate change in July, and a final report in September.

The report is expected to influence the design of an emissions trading scheme, the government's main response to climate change, which will start operating in 2010.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Will the Bolivarian Revolution End Coal Mining in Venezuela?

Plans for new coal mining in the Sierra de Perijá, the northwestern region of the state of Zulia, Venezuela, were suspended by President Hugo Chávez last year following anti-coal declarations by Chávez and several ministers. The Wayúu, Yukpa, and Barí indigenous communities who would have been displaced by the projects cautiously interpreted the suspension as a temporary sign of relief. But their struggle against coal mining has lasted a quarter of a century and will not conclude until mining concessions are repealed for good.

On May 11th, 2008 President Hugo Chávez announced on his weekly Sunday talk show Aló Presidente that Corpozulia, the state-owned development corporation in the oil and mineral-rich state, would acquire 51% of all coal mining projects in the region within two years. Transnational coal companies that already operate in Zulia, such as Carbones de la Guajira, which is controlled by the Chevron-Texaco-owned holding company Inter-American Coal, will be turned into state-run “socialist” enterprises, the president said.

Have plans for new coal mining been renewed, this time under the management of the state rather than the transnationals? The national government did indeed decide in 2005 to create a national mining company that would replace transnational companies. Since then, Venezuela’s electricity, telecommunications, oil, cement, and steel sectors have been nationalized, which suggests that coal could be the newest front.

However, a recent anti-coal decision by the Ministry of the Environment suggests otherwise. On May 15th, Minister Yubirí Ortega proclaimed a total ban on open-pit coal mining and gold mining in the Imataca Forest in southeastern Venezuela, and the revocation of the environmental permits previously granted to transnational gold mining companies in that region. An official statement of the Toronto-based gold mining corporation Crystallex, which had coveted the Imataca concession for years, said the ministry “appears to be in opposition to all mineral mining in the Imataca region.”

Minister Ortega cited environmental concerns and protests from local indigenous communities in the Imataca region as the reasons for her decision, but it is unclear if the ministry will extend this policy to the Sierra de Perijá.

Coal policy in Zulia has gone through several back-and-forth changes in the last four years since new coal plans were announced, partially because the home base of decision-making power in the region has been obscured. Corpozulia, nicknamed the “second government of Zulia” by the indigenous communities, has contradicted national mining policies on several occasions. Corpozulia and transnational corporations are allies, and their pro-coal tentacles grip and surreptitiously manipulate local, state, and national decision-making bodies, including the national ministries under whose authority the state corporation is officially ascribed. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Zulia’s governor is Manual Rosales, who was an active participant the U.S.-backed April 2002 coup and ran against Chávez in the 2006 presidential elections.

The government’s indecisiveness could also be because the choice about whether to expand or eliminate coal mining aggravates a persistent contradiction in Venezuela’s evolving, multi-faceted development model.

On the one hand, it appears the government seeks to expand the exploitation of natural resources, necessarily displacing the local population, while administering the projects in a more worker-friendly way and investing the profits in housing, education, health care and other social programs for which the Chávez administration is renown.

On the other hand, a large sector of the indigenous communities of the Sierra de Perijá have taken the initiative to organize their communities in an empowering, ecologically sustainable way that allows the local economy, culture, language, and identity to survive and be determined by the local people. They oppose any type of “progress” that includes coal exploitation.

Such community-led projects have been embraced by the federal government in other instances. The “23 de enero” barrio in Caracas is an inspiring example. But will local empowerment initiatives be prioritized in the region that holds 80% of Latin America’s coal?

Only by way of tireless struggle and confrontation have the local indigenous peoples injected their voices and opinions into the debate over whether the Bolivarian Revolution will carry on coal’s legacy in the Sierra de Perijá. It is crucial to review the history of this conflict in order to shed light on the realities which have led up to the ambiguous present situation, and to anticipate what the future holds.

Coal in the Bolivarian Revolution

In 2004, the Venezuelan government approved mining concessions for three mines along the Socuy, Mache, and Cachirí rivers in northwestern Zulia to be operated by the Brazilian, U.S., and Dutch conglomerate Vale do Rio Doce, the Dutch and United States company Inter-American Coal, and the Irish coal company Caño Seco, along with Corpozulia and its state-owned affiliate Carbozulia. The same year, the government also turned over a 12,000 hectare (30,000 acre) concession of lands formerly demarcated for the Barí indigenous community to the Chilean coal company Carbones del Perijá.

Corpozulia President Martínez Mendoza announced during a ceremony presided over by President Chávez that the projects would contribute $20 million to social programs in the Zulian region in the first year. Corpozulia spokesperson Hernando Torrealba, projected that yearly national coal production would be increased from 8.3 million tons to 39 million tons. Given that Venezuela’s internal coal consumption hovers around 100,000 tons of coal per year, the majority of the extracted coal was destined for the United States, Japan, Europe, and South America, Torrealba confirmed.

These developments fit the plans of South American Regional Infrastructure Integration plan (IIRSA), which was based on the recommendations of the World Bank and the Southern integration organization MERCOSUR, of which Venezuela currently aspires to become a member.

Chávez and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe collaborated to concretize IIRSA plans for the massive expansion of export infrastructure, including the Port of Bolívar (some said it would be called the Port of America) in the gulf of Venezuela, railroads, superhighways, and bridges. All of this would be necessary to export coal by way of the Colombian Pacific Ocean, Panama and Central America, and the “Andean Axis” of IIRSA which would link South American countries.

These announcements ignited the most recent phase of the anti-coal struggle of the indigenous communities allied with ecologist groups from Zulia’s state capital Maracaibo and Venezuela’s alternative media network, ANMCLA.

The communities of the Socuy, Maché, and Cachirí rivers had already received refugees who had been displaced by the two open-pit mines opened along the nearby Guasare River in 1988 and in the late 1990s, which still operate today. The Devil’s Pass Mine and North Mine are controlled by Carbones del Guasare, a conglomerate which includes the U.S. company Peabody, the English and South African company Anglo-American Coal, and Inter-American Coal.

In well-documented reports by independent media, these refugees describe how they were promised to be moved to fertile lands and promised health care, housing, educational and cultural activities, and how these promises were not kept. Reports are plentiful of rashes, lung diseases, fertile lands rendered infertile, aborted livestock pregnancies, and the protracted contamination of the Guasare River on which local communities depend for subsistence.

Proponents of new mines also promised local residents that the coal will be extracted cleanly and they will benefit from the profits. There is evidence that these promises are more credible than those of previous governments. Indeed, the government’s subsidized food market, Mercal, Barrio Adentro health care clinics, and educational programs have impacted the neighborhoods just outside of the lands the coal companies seek.

Despite having received some benefits from these government programs, the 350 indigenous families living on top of the coal deposits are skeptical of any promises coming from Corpozulia or the government. They have taken the reins to organize alternative community programs which respond better to their culture, native language, and history. These inspiring local initiatives deserve attention and will be detailed in Part II of this series, since the purpose of Part I is an overview of coal politics in the region.

The two active mines employ approximately 2,200 workers including the transportation workers. Most engineers are creole or white, and most lower-level workers are of indigenous descent and lived off the land before the mines took over. Workers have denounced not being paid and not receiving health benefits. Lung disease is extremely common. Workers have been intimidated or fired when they organized to defend their rights. Worker unions are small and dominated by the leadership, which in some cases has made deals with the management to push sections of the workforce, particularly transportation workers, into lower-paid, less protected contract work. The workers thus contracted were registered by Corpozulia as “worker cooperatives” promoted by the state company, even though cooperativism was not the real purpose.

On several occasions, the workers, with the financial and political backing of Corpozulia and Zulia’s principal newspaper Panorama, have defended the coal industry and asserted that coal exploitation does not actually contaminate the environment. However, the workers are not clamoring for nationalization, and have on other occasions acquiesced to government proposals for a transition away from coal.

The towns in the area are frequented by both coal workers and small farmers who sell their products or attend school in the city. The towns are not wholly dependent on coal, and coal mining is not a big part of Venezuela’s economy. It composes less than one percent of national GDP, and Venezuelan coal deposits represent less than 1.5% of the coal in the world, according to professors from the University of Zulia in Maracaibo.

On January 3rd, 2005, the waste disposal site of the Devil’s Pass mine spilled an estimated 20,000 to 120,000 liters of diesel waste into the Guasare River, according to an investigation by the National Front for the Defense of Water and Life, made up mainly of professors and activists from western Venezuela. Indigenous communities downriver, which had not been originally forced from their land when the mine arrived, were no longer able to survive in the zone due to the contamination. Many of them migrated to lands nourished by the Socuy, Maché, and Cachirí rivers. Two years later, $90 million was allocated from the National Development Fund (FONDEN) for the cleanup of the Guasare River.

Following this incident, amidst increasing pressure from the indigenous communities of the Sierra de Perijá and their growing network of social movement allies across western Venezuela, President Chávez and several of his ministers began to change their rhetoric on mining policy.

In September 2005, Chávez proclaimed a “big turnaround” in national mining policy, assuring that Venezuela would no longer grant private mining concessions to national or foreign companies, but instead would favor state-run “socialist” enterprises and small-scale mining cooperatives that would act more responsibly. Chávez said, “we are going to launch a national mining company of our own – we do not need [outside] investment.”

The policy shift was substantiated when 600,000 hectares (1.5 million acres) of mining land were handed over to local cooperatives and 125 new state-owned Social Production Units (UPS) were created, mainly in another of Venezuela’s principal mining regions near the Imataca Forest in the south eastern state of Bolívar where similar conflicts have occurred among indigenous communities, transnational gold mining corporations, and the government.

Shortly after this, in 2006, the Venezuelan National Assembly unanimously voted to reform the mining law to force companies with idle mines to become minority partners in mixed enterprises with the state.

This set the legal precedent for Chávez’s most recent declarations. The government had decided to stand up to transnationals by taking charge of coal mining, but showed no signs that the mining would be halted. It remained unclear what effect this would have on the active mines, and whether new coal extraction plans would proceed under state management.

In January 2006, during the World Social Forum in Caracas, indigenous communities from the Sierra de Perijá and their allies marched to demand that all new mining plans be discarded. Independent media allies pounded their networks with news on the reclamations being made.

Then, on May 24th of that year, Chávez made his first public statements in opposition to coal mining in Zulia. Chávez told the press in the Miraflores presidential building in Caracas that he had said to Corpozulia President Martínez Mendoza, “Look, if there is no method of assuring the respect of the forests and the mountains… in the Sierra de Perijá, where the coal is… this coal will remain in below the ground.” This is “a concept that each day should become more of a reality, it should be concretized in our model of construction of socialism,” Chávez added.

The president repeated his anti-coal statements on June 10th, 2006 in Maracaibo. Paradoxically, during the same press conference, he ratified the construction of the Bolívar Port, railways, mega-highways, and bridges that were an integral part of the 2004 plan to expand coal exploitation in Zulia according as part of IIRSA. He also announced plans to construct a grand pipeline between Venezuela and Panama.

At that point, the government and Corpozulia’s paths diverged, their policy agendas began to clash, and Chávez’s declarations were sometimes out of sync with the actions of his supporters.

On November 17th of that year, the president launched the Energy Revolution Mission, a federal program which replaced 300,000 light bulbs across the country with energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs, demonstrating the government’s commitment to save energy so as not to rely on coal-powered electricity, which was the previous plan.

Meanwhile, Corpozulia stepped up its acts of brutal intimidation against indigenous communities’ efforts to organize in the Sierra de Perijá. The weekend of Indigenous Resistance Day, October 12th, the communities invited activist allies to gather in the Socuy River community known in the Wayúu language as Wayuumana for an anti-coal conference. Before the activists from the city arrived, Corpozulia functionaries accompanied by armed National Guard troops arrived in Wayuumana, uninvited, and aggressively interrogated and threatened the Wayúu gathered there. The interrogators quickly retreated, however, when a community leader pulled out a hand-held video camera that had been gifted by independent journalists.

Those months were especially tense because Chávez was running for re-election against Zulia’s coup-supporting governor, Manuel Rosales. The communities in the Socuy area were suspected of being agents of the opposition because they criticized the president during election season. The indigenous peoples and their allies were frequently accused by Corpozulia and pro-Chávez electoral campaigners of being counter-revolutionaries, terrorists, and lackeys of the empire.

In reality, Governor Rosales has always been recognized by the communities in the Sierra de Perijá as an ally of transnational coal corporations, along with Corpozulia, although Corpozulia and Rosales are publicly at odds. Both red-shirted (pro-Chávez) and blue, green and yellow-shirted (opposition) government officials from the federal, state, and local levels have worked in the interests of pro-coal sectors, and are not trusted by the community. The community does not claim to be Chavista or anti-Chavista, but rather an indigenous struggle of which the government is sometimes an ally.

In the midst of this, anti-coal momentum seemed to be on the rise. In October 2006, the Minister of the Environment Jacqueline Faría made a sweeping statement that coal was "unnecessary" for national development, since Venezuela had plenty of oil to rely on. She clarified, however, that coal extraction would be permitted only by presidential order in areas where the mining would not harm the rivers which are Maracaibo’s principal source of potable water. Since Chávez had previously come out against coal, Sierra de Perijá communities rejoiced at what they perceived to be a sign of victory.

An executive ministry report from July 2005 shows that Minister Faría had originally made this exact policy recommendation more than a year before she made public statements about it.

In a strange and unfortunate turn of events, Minister Faría was dismissed shortly following her nationally televised declarations. The new minister appointed after President Chávez’s landslide re-election in December 2006, Yubirí Ortega (who currently holds the post), did not immediately uphold Faría’s policy pronouncements. At the same time, Corpozulia and ministry officials repeatedly arrived in the Sierra de Perijá in their satellite technology-equipped jeeps and hummers for purposes that were not explained to the local community, and it soon became clear that the pro-coal campaign in the region was still underway.

Sierra de Perijá communities marched on Caracas once again in March 2007, this time as part of the broader “March for All Our Struggles”. The march was promoted by ANMCLA and included the Ezequiel Zamora National Farmer’s Front, a radical farmers’ rights group, Urban Land Committees (CTUs) representing Venezuela’s barrio-based revolutionaries, and the left wing of Venezuela’s workers movement. These groups collectively sent the message that, while they support President Chávez as a leader of the revolution, the persistent contradictions which perpetuate many forms of oppression in the country must be overcome, and the oppressed must be the protagonists in team with the government.

A smaller countermarch occurred in front of the Ministry of the Environment in Caracas. Workers from the active mines on the Guasare River and community councils from the municipality of Mara where the miners live were brought to Caracas by their employers. They declared that “coal is life” and demanded that the Ministry of the Environment provide them with an alternative form of subsistence if the mines are closed.

While the anti-coal indigenous communities and their allies rejected new coal mining projects, they called for a gradual end to the active mines. Some anti-coal activists met with miners to discuss possible methods of phasing out coal while supporting the miners as they find alternative forms of subsistence.

Success seemed once again on the horizon for the anti-coal movement. The next day, on March 20, 2007, the new Minister of the Environment declared that, by presidential order, plans for new coal mines and the expansion of existing coal mines in the state of Zulia were officially suspended.

Simultaneously, the community councils from the municipality of Mara declared their support for the Environment Ministry’s proposal of sustainable agriculture and tourism as alternatives to coal mining in their communities.

Two months later, Chávez reiterated publicly that he had “ordered [coal mining] to stop” and that “between the forests and coal, I'll keep the forests, the rivers, the environment… coal remains below the ground!” He acknowledged the “high level of lung diseases in all those communities where the coal big-rigs pass through,” and said he had flown in a helicopter over the prospective coal mining areas and seen the beautiful forest for himself.

During the same declaration, however, the president stated, “now, if someday a technology is developed to extract this coal without destroying the forest, well then, that would be a reserve for the future, it is possible”. To this day, coal concessions have not been officially repealed by the president, and the mines on the Guasare River continue to operate.

The pro-coal campaign of Corpozulia persisted in the face of the government’s anti-coal rhetoric. On May 14th, 2007, the Panorama newspaper, which is usually pro-government, published a two full-page, color advertisement defending the coal mines. The ad accused ecologist groups of being counter-revolutionary, and criticized the Wayúu, Barí, and Yukpa communities of sadly falling into the scheme of the opposition led by Governor Rosales.

Since the Ministry of the Environment and the coal miners` community councils came to an agreement on an alternative form of subsistence for mining communities, no further steps have been taken toward this end.

Also, the IIRSA infrastructure expansion plan is still officially underway. In October 2007, Chávez and Colombia’s President Álvaro Uribe jointly announced the completion of a 220 kilometer pipeline connecting Venezuela, Panama, and the Pacific Ocean. The two presidents signed a gas industries integration accord with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. The project was promoted as a symbol of the regional integration of which South American independence fighter Simón Bolívar dreamed. But for the anti-coal movement, it caused uncertainty as to whether coal mining would eventually be made part of the project again.

Uncertain Future

After four years of conflict over coal exploitation in Zulia, the outcome of this complex and drawn-out debate over Venezuela’s development paradigm is far from clear.

Sources from within Corpozulia have leaked that Chávez recently made firm, private statements to Corpozulia directors that new coal projects will not proceed. The president’s enthusiasm for the construction of the Port of Bolívar, which was one of the principal projects Chávez had planned in 2004 with President Uribe, has also waned, possibly because of the current diplomatic dispute between the two countries, these sources report.

Meanwhile, Corpozulia continues campaigning for coal exploitation on several new fronts. The state company is asserting various forms of control over local community councils, promising to help indigenous communities become shareholders in the future coal projects, and hiring infiltrators of indigenous descent to carry out the company’s media campaign and intelligence work with a lower profile. This local and regional battle for control of community councils, for the demarcation of indigenous territories, and the ways this has been affected by recent secessionist efforts by anti-Chávez sectors of the Zulia state legislature, shall be examined in the second part of this series.