Short personal account of the 3rd PGA Conference in Cochabamba

Knowing that it will take a little while for the many things decided in Cochabamba to be put in form, on the web page, etc. (many people are still traveling on the caravan to Colombia), I propose a personal and provisional synthesis.

The conference was a great step forward for PGA in several ways, despitethe very difficult conditions created by the events in New York. A large number of people of course arrived late (some not at all) and this quite disorganised the first days. However, this reunion of amazing movements and people had a common purpose and a great common will to go forward. The dynamic of the meeting became more and more intense as things got organised and as mutual understanding and confidence developed. The last day of the conference, an incredible number of agreements were reached in a marathon of meetings in which working together seemed to be more and more efficient and agreable. At 2 AM Monday morning (!), we finished the agenda in high spirits, topping it off with " chicha " (a traditional indigenous beer made from fermented corn) and a collective dance ! On a human level, this was perhaps the warmest PGA meeting yet : what are now old friends from across the world meeting again, and the pleasure of seeing that dozens of new ones feel immediately at home - simply because so many grassroots movements seem to share our practices and dreams.

The airline chaos stopped all United States participants except one from coming and caused many others to arrive late. Worse, the new repressive world order that the USA plans to justify by the attack in NY was immediately evident. Already, there had been some police pressure on people organising the conference, but after the attack, the Bolivian government practically sealed the border for PGA. Delegates with valid visas were turned back or detained (sometimes for days !) at the frontier, the immigration authorities stating that " visas for PGA people are no longer valid ". Several persons who had already passed the frontier were rounded up in a police sweep of the airport and threatened with expulsion. The bus from Colombia, with delegates of Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and several other countries was stopped at the frontier. The arrival of nearly all the asian delegation was retarded for days. When finally forced (by political pressure) to grant visas, immigration demanded prohibitive prices for a " business " visa. Meanwhile, the governor of the province declared to the press that the PGA delegates were all " potential terrorists " and had organised the riots in Europe and North america. The US ambassador actually publicly threatened Evo Morales, the leader of the host organisation (the Cinco Federaciones del Tropico de Cochabamba, Bolivia's most powerful farmer's movement) for having dared to condemn together the terrorist attack and the state terrorism practised by the USA in Iraq, Colombia, etc. The first day of the conference was a little tense...

Fortunately, political pressure from our hosts and from the bolivian human rights organisations finally had its effect. In the end, about 170 foreign delegates made it, but 25 (essentially from the caravan on the border) were excluded. They improvised their own discussion table with the local Peruvian farmer's movement, while awaiting the caravan that is now returning from Bolivia to Colombia, via Peru and Ecuador.

With the Bolivian participants, the conference thus brought together about 230-250 people from (from what I can remember) Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, USA, Canada, Spain, Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Sweden, Russia, Ukraine, South Africa, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Papoua New Guinea, Aorotea (New Zealand) and Australia.

From Canada there were representatives of the CLAC (Comité de Lutte Anti-Capitaliste), PGA convenors for North America and organisers of the highly successful direct action against the Quebec summit of the Americas, and a delegate of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), the largest and one of the most progressive unions.

From India, there were representatives of NAPM (National Alliance of People's Movements) and of BKU (the national farmers' federation), who brought with them news from a movement that is more and more powerful and unified (apparently thanks in part to the dynamic initiated by the InterContinental Caravan). The movements take turns organising huge demonstrations once a month, with as many as 50,000 people arrested at a time in non-violent direct action. Prof. Nanjundaswamy could not come, as the KRSS was organising a rally of 500,000 people for the 2nd of October. The whole indian farmers federation has already served notice to the government that they must distribute the 20 million tons of grain in their stocks by the 5th of November or the farmers will do it themselves for the opening of the WTO summit in Qatar !

Among the new arrivals, there were three representatives of the huge Indonesian farmers federation, a representative of the Nepal farmers federation and four enthusiastic and inspiring delegates from the new popular movements of South Africa (landless peasants, Forum Against Privatisation, urban struggles against evictions and service cut-offs). (Unfortunately, the other african delegates failed to get visas.)

From Latin America, there were representatives of some of the most powerful movements : the Cinco Federaciones, the ecuadorean peasants (CONFEUNASC) and indigenous (CONAI), the Zapatistas of Chiapas, the MST of Brazil. From Colombia there were representatives of the two peasant federations, the afro-colombians (PCN), the national indigenous organisation (ONIC) and the national women's movement. There were also representatives of various indigenous peoples : of Guatemala, the Kuna of Panama, the Mapuche (Chile-Argentina), the Meskitos of Nicaragua and of course a strong presence of the Quechua of the Andean region. There was also a good number of delegates from Argentina and Brazil, who (like the delegates in the bus from Colombia) traveled up to six days each way to get there.

Many of the brazilians and argentinians were from a new network of young mostly urban organisations that had specifically organised for the Global Days of Action of May 1, for Prague or against ALCA. Their presence highlighted the echo that the new anti-globalisation movement in the North has had in the South. In the beginning of PGA, southern struggles (in particular civil disobedience from India) inspired the northern activists. Now, the circulation of forms of struggle is also bringing ideas from north to south. Groups are linking up in horizontal networks to take action together. Indymedia sites exist in Brazil and Argentina, and delegates from Bolivia, Ecuador and other countries were asking for help to set up their own.

The presence of delegates from northern groups like Reclaim the Streets, Ya Basta from Italy, CLAC of Canada, MRG of Catalonia, the swiss Anti-WTO coordination - groups which were responsible for the victories of direct action in London, Prague, Genoa, Quebec, Barcelona and Davos - of Swedes who had organised for Goteborg or Australians from anti-WEF demos in Melbourne, also marked the incredible advances made by the movement in the North since the last PGA Conference. These young movements can hardly be compared to the massive southern organisations, but they have earned their place in the discussion. Everyone at last understands that northern groups have their own struggles and perspectives and do not exist only in solidarity with southern struggles.

(list of Applications)

Turning to the actual content of the conference:

This campaign can thus include opposition to all kinds of privatisations of public services - or much more generally of global or local " commons ". In particular reference was made to climate change and the rejection of carbon trading and other market based " solutions " which are de facto a privatisation of the right to clean air.

A particularly rich round table concerned the struggles around water, with the exemplary struggle of the people of Cochabamba, who rose up last year and threw the US multinational Bechtel (which had taken possession of the city's water supply) out of the country, at the same time blocking the general privatisation of all water (including agricultural uses !) being pushed by the World Bank. (Their beautiful, inspired texts are in appendix 4). Similar struggles are going on in Canada, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Spain, etc. A coordination of these resistances can be an important task for PGA.

And of course, huge extents of land are being taken over - directly or by " subcontracting " agroindustrial enterprises to locals - by multinationals world over : Brasil, Colombia, Mexico, Africa, Asia..., in particular with coercion from the IMF/WB and treaties such as NAFTA which makes the privatisation of traditional communal lands of the indigenous and of the black communities of Africa a condition for financial " aid ". (To some it seems that a huge speculative bubble is happening in agriculture. This could be compared to the urban land speculative bubble of the early '90ties. But of course if it deprives hundreds of millions of small farmers of their subsistence it will have incomparably more serious consequences.) Here too, sharing experiences (for example those of the landless of Bangladesh, Brazil, India and South Africa) and coordinating struggles could be decisive.

The conference also took important decisions concerning PGA's organisational principles, its political hallmarks and the manifesto.

Several ideas were approved:

The first was to not necessarily have the next conference in two years (that is before the next WTO summit), although a conference within two to three years seemed necessary.

Debate and communication in the whole network could be stimulated by a new variant of the " caravan " formula. The idea would be to have for example one participant from each continent in a small group that would tour one continent or region with a mandate to investigate and debate on certain clearly defined subjects. The results of these exchanges would be regularly broadcast to the whole network via email lists, webpages, etc., as the caravan advanced. This contact at the grassroots would also be a much more effective way of getting to know movements and making known PGA, thus preparing a richer convening process.

This formula implies taking MUCH more time, say a minimum of two or three months, with at least several days in each place, to be able to discuss in depth, take time to write up results, etc. This in turn implies that it could not involve movement leaders but people less centrally involved or younger people who can take the time to fill this role of " movement reporters ". It could be much more efficient, less costly and easier to organise than conferences or regional meetings. Smaller conferences could possibly be just as effective and representative if the delegates could thus come having already debated the questions at home.

Other ideas included finding more volonteers for the support group (particularly in the South), including some with a precise committment to communication and debate facilitation. Making sure that convenors and other southern partners have real access to email (not just an expensive hotmail account in a café).

Well, I guess this wasn't finally so short, but there would still be so much to tell. What is impossible to communicate is the richness and warmth of an international meeting of popular, grassroots organisations. In this space so many very different human beings and cultures can so quickly find so much in common, sharing enemies, but also so many visions, hopes, questions and practices.

Amandla ! ! Power to the people!


Appendix 1: The PGA call to action against the WTO summit in Qatar
Appendix 2 : Declaración de Cochabamba
Appendix 3 : Declaración de las y los participantes a la Conferencia de la Acción Global de los Pueblos, reunid@s el lunes 17 de septiembre del año 2001.
Appendix 4: Texts of the Coordinadora del Agua of Cochabamba

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