April 24, 2010

Is Bolivia taking the right steps?

By Soumya Dutta, Cochabamba, 22 April 2010
On this Earth Day at the historic People's Conference on Climate Change and Rights of Mother Earth, standing at the Estadio Felix Capriles de Cochabamba (Felix Capriles Stadium of Cochabamba) full of enthusiastic crowd of climate justice activists, peasants movements, anti-mining groups, and all sorts of left-leaning social formations - numbering about 25,000 ad full of vibrant energy, it would probably not be right to have any negative thoughts about anything that is happening here in Bolivia. The spirit is all pervading - yes, we can reclaim the world from an exploitative system and get it back to the hands of its caring citizens.
Yet, the last five days at Cochabamba and Bolivia at large, gives rise to some questions, if not discomfort. The President of the self declared "Plurinational state" of Bolivia - Evo Morales Ayema has declared that people of this world will henceforth, determine the agenda of climate change discourse, and this unique World People's Conference is a bold step in that direction. But is Bolivia taking the right steps, turing in to the right path?
The city of Cochabamba has less than one million residents, and yet the number of cars - big and huge cars - on its roads is astounding. You can find single occupants in every third big car, and these are far in excess than the proportions seen even in the richest Indian city - and Bolivia is not a rich country - even by Latin American standards!!! Most cars run on gas - no doubt the cleanest of all the fossil carbon fuels, but the gas is very cheap - leading to large consumption, big driving around - even by the middle class. This also helps keep the taxi fares cheap, but just money was never the concern in the crisis of climate change. The sheer number of trips just the 9,00,000 odd Cochabambans do every year would be putting in a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere - and so unnecessarily. Most of the buses are old and ramshackle, and there are share taxis in fixed routes, which people prefer again, a policy which cannot claim to be climate friendly.
The so-typical glass-concrete-aluminium buildings seen in any other capitalist metropolis is seen here in abundance also. The spread of glittering shopping malls is still not visible in a scale being seen in big Indian metros, but innumerable shops selling imported and unnecessary consumer goods in a great variety - again an American consumerist trait - is an eyesore. Evo is an icon in the struggle against the capitalist system but Coca Cola does unhindered business, even copied by local bottlers with "Coca Cola" selling from hand carts all around the market places.
Whild the many market places, including the mind-bogglingly large "La Cancha" near the centre of Cochabamba are full of small shops run by small shop-keepers, the rule of dollars is seen everywhere. The goods bear an uncanny resemblance to things American - whether original or copies and the people feel so comfortable in "dealing in dollars".
The food consumption is glaringly dominated by very large amounts of meat that too mostly beef (and pork). Both are known to be the worst food items in terms of their climate change impacts - whether for energy consumption for producing the meat, for destruction of rich forest lands for industrial scale cattle farming, and for the huge water consumption and pollution from the cattle farming. Yet, there was no sign that these are even on the radar of the Bolivian climate movement leaders.
Being a favourite tourist destination of Europeans and Amricans, who come attracted by the Andean mountains, the unique Altiplano and the rich indigenous cultures, Bolivia has adopted all the evils of the consumerist, wasteful global north. Bottled water is staple drink - along with bottled fruit juices. Even the poor seem to follow this strange economic logic, though the juice presses are still seen in some numbers in peripheral areas. The markets are flooded with American-company names, whether these came from those US companies or are local copies is the less important question - the cultural preferences is very clear.
There are other questions about the mining policy, about the old tin mining that damaged the lake-planes, and the newly targeted Lithium mines. There are doubts about the Bolivian stand about market mechanisms as part of climate solutions - and one sincerely hopes that these doubts prove unfounded.
A beginning on a concept level has been made by the visionary leadership of Evo. But a nation runs on its peoples cultural lives, and unless the new revolution being visualised comes down to the people on the ground in letter and spirit, it is hard to see any real breakthrough. Great visions are those that transcend the rhetorical and can inspire spontaneous actions. That is yet to be seen in the fertile Bolivian grounds - which inspiringly, were the last battle ground of Che.
Let's hope that the dream and the vision quickly overcome the harsh realities, and this test will prove Evo to be history maker - or another one to try and wither away.


Post a Comment