Letter to the Alternative Globalization Movement on the situation in Bolivia

[Versión en español / version française]

Dear friends,

The morning of October 23* President Evo Morales held a press conference saying that there is a coup taking place in Bolivia and calling for international solidarity to defend the ‘process of change’ in Bolivia.

With deep regret, as I was part of the government between 2006 and 2011, I must disagree completely with Evo Morales statement. It is certainly true that Bolivia is in a state of extreme polarization and social unrest. The buildings of various departmental electoral courts have been set on fire and there are massive mobilizations throughout the country.

What is the source for the social unrest that could lead to even worse scenes of violence? Is it possible that Bolivia is living through the fifth stage of a ‘soft coup’ against President Morales promoted by imperialism and Carlos Mesa [the main opposition candidate] as has been suggested by a former government Minister? Continúa leyendo Letter to the Alternative Globalization Movement on the situation in Bolivia

The Sloth and the Bonfire

By Pablo Solon
Translation by Tom Kruse

Of all the ways to die, the most painful is by fire. Feeling your skin char, the flames invading even your bone marrow and screaming until your voice melts, you plead for cardiac arrest.

In the times of the inquisition witches and heretics were burned at the stake. Today human bonfires are prohibited. Since World War II and the Nazi Holocaust, the cremation of the living is considered a crime against humanity. No government would consider promoting policies of human incinerations, yet torching other living beings is on the rise in various countries on Earth.

Supporting itself on a branch with its three claws, a sloth smiles, without sensing what is coming. It just finished eating a few leaves and it readies itself for its never-ending nap to help along digestion. Sloths are the slowest mammals on Earth. Their lives of repose have allowed them to survive for 64 million years, much longer than humans and other more agile animals.

The fire remains unseen but travels at the speed of the wind. The sloth sleeps.

“The fire was an accident,” exclaim the politicians. In 2019, how can there be a fire that razes 957,000 hectares (3,700 square miles)? This is sixty times the area of Bolivia’s capital of La Paz. It’s almost the entirety of the Isiboro Sécure National Park and Indigenous Territory (TIPNIS). A fire of these dimensions is not the product of one or one hundred accidents; it is the product of thousands of fires all started in recent days.

Every year there is chaqueo (slashing-and-burning) but this time it has been multiplied a thousand-fold by the government’s call to expand the agricultural frontier. Ethanol and biodiesel require hundreds of thousands of hectares for inputs like sugar cane and soy. To this, add meat exports to China which require millions of hectares of pasture for cattle. There are also the political land grants and illegal settlements in forest areas. What is happening is no accident. Five years ago, the Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera challenged Bolivian agro-industrialists to expand the agricultural frontier by one million hectares (3,860 square miles, or two-thirds of Connecticut) per year. That target figure has been reached, but with lands devastated by fire, not productive agricultural lands.

The fire approaches. First a spark, then another. Ash falls on the fur that camouflages the sloth. It wakes, confused, without understanding what is happening. It feels burning pinpricks and lets out a painful moan as it slowly moves in search of refuge.

This is Bolivia. The country where Mother Earth has rights. Where there is a law that says forests, rivers and sloths have the right to life and to “maintain the integrity of the life systems and natural processes which sustain them.” A country where schizophrenia is in power. Where the President gives speeches at international meetings in defense of Pachamama, the Mother Earth revered by the indigenous people of the Andes, while in Bolivia the rights of Mother Earth are violated. A country where in just 24 hours the parliament unanimously approves a law for the massive expansion biofuel production. Not a single parliamentarian speaks for the forests that, even then crackling at more than 300 degrees centigrade. The legislators all celebrated Bolivia’s entry into the era of biofuels. The same happened with the export of meat to China. None demanded prior environmental impact studies.

The fires this year are the product of a reelection strategy for national elections to be held in October. From a prior position of opposition to biofuels, the government flipped 180 degrees – without even blushing – to promoting ethanol and biodiesel as “green energy” sources. The idea is to grow agribusiness of Bolivia’s eastern lowlands to win their support in the elections. The same with the cattle producers, and large refrigerated shipping companies. Following the example of Paraguay which devastated their forests to feed cattle, the Bolivian government cleared agribusiness a pathway to export meat to China.

The dry leaves start to catch fire. The sloth hangs, climbing in slow motion until it reaches another tree. Anguish is reflected in its face. Smoke filling its lungs, it breathes with difficulty. Without hurrying or pausing it continues its climb. Occasionally wavering, it’s sustained by claws and survival instinct.

The candidates, who have said little or nothing about deforestation, biofuels and meat exports, run to the disaster areas for photo opportunities. Among themselves they look for who to blame, but no one wants to point to the development model of agribusiness in the eastern lowland capital of Santa Cruz, which is responsible for most of Bolivia’s deforestation. In 2015, of the 240,000 hectares deforested in Bolivia, 204,000 hectares were in Santa Cruz. In 2012, when deforestation in Santa Cruz stood at 100,000 hectares, 91% was illegal. By 2017, with a stroke of the pen the government had declared legal one-third of that deforestation.

Nature should not be burned at the stake, legally or illegally. Setting fire to a forest or other living beings, human or not, is a crime that degrades the human condition.

The sloth reaches the top of the highest tree, an imposing mapajo (ceiba pentandra) 70 meters tall. The horizon is in flames. It is said the sloth lives slowly to not die fast. Now all depends on the fortitude of a 300-year-old tree. Hopefully the winds will help. No chance of rain. In the distance the President’s helicopter flies over the inferno. He talks of evacuating people without uttering a word about the sloth or the other beings of Mother Earth.

In a few days the candidates will return to campaigning, some to challenge totalitarianism and others to camouflage it, but none to denounce the anthropocentric totalitarianism we carry inside.

Originally published in Spanish on 25 August 2019 in Rascacielo (Skyscraper), the Sunday magazine of Pagina Siete. https://www.paginasiete.bo/rascacielos/2019/8/25/el-perezoso-la-hoguera-228197.html

Video: El TIPNIS y los Derechos de la Naturaleza

El TIPNIS y los Derechos de la Naturaleza es un video producido por la Fundación Solón que en once minutos resume una historia de promesas, dignidad, lucha, represión, victoria y traición contra los derechos de la Madre Tierra y los pueblos indígenas en Bolivia. Continúa leyendo Video: El TIPNIS y los Derechos de la Naturaleza

Sombath Somphone: Your spirit is also in Bolivia

Today I found this letter. I looked for it because it’s December and on the 15th of December of 2012, Sombath Somphone was abducted in Vientiane. After five years, the Lao Government still has not clarified his disappearance.

Dear Sombath

Today (May 30 2015) I left Asia. Among my memories yours is for sure the most brief and none the less the most deepest. We meet very shortly in Vientiane during the Asia Europe Peoples Forum in 2012 and we shacked hands saying that we would continue chatting. Nonetheless, that never happened. Few months later you were last seen going into a police station and since then the authorities of Laos have never giving an explanation of what happened to you. Continúa leyendo Sombath Somphone: Your spirit is also in Bolivia

TIPNIS: the saga for the rights of nature and indigenous people

by Pablo Solón

[Versión en español] The story of TIPNIS is a story of dignity, struggle, glory, betrayal, heroism, repression, victory and renewed betrayal against the rights of Mother Earth and of indigenous people. Continúa leyendo TIPNIS: the saga for the rights of nature and indigenous people

As water scarcity deepens across Latin America, political instability grows

Ecuadorians clash with police 30km from Quito in 2010 in a protest over proposed water privatisation. Photograph: Pablo Cozzaglio/AFP/Getty Images

[John Vidal, The Guardian, 01/03/2017]

In Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador disputes over water shortages are part of a wider fight for equal access and shared responsibility. Continúa leyendo As water scarcity deepens across Latin America, political instability grows

From Paris with love for lake Poopó

By Pablo Solón

Lake Poopó becomes a desert while in Paris, governments conclude an agreement they call “historic” to address climate change. Will the Paris Agreement save over 125,000 lakes that are in danger of disappearing in the world due to climate change?

08 MujerTemp1947The second largest lake in Bolivia did not disappear by magic. The causes of their demise are many and complex, but among them is the rise in temperature and increased frequency of natural disasters like El Niño caused by climate change. The lake Poopó that had an expanse of 2,337 km2 and a depth of 2.5 meters, is now a desert with a few puddles in the middle with no more than 30 centimeters of water depth. Continúa leyendo From Paris with love for lake Poopó

Art 3ter. New Carbon Markets under the name of Sustainable Development

By Pablo Solón 

A draft climate agreement and decision with 48 pages and 939 brackets has been presented to the ministers in Paris on Saturday 5th of December. Many things can be said about this text. For example, the words “fossil fuels” don’t appear once. There is no proposal [in brackets] to limit coal, oil or gas extraction in the coming years, and no proposal to halt deforestation. Also, as was expected, no text [in brackets] from any country addresses the issue that current INDCs (Intended Nationally Determine Contributions) will actually increased the greenhouse gas emissions gap from a surplus of 12 Gt CO2e in 2020 to around 25 Gt CO2e by 2030. Continúa leyendo Art 3ter. New Carbon Markets under the name of Sustainable Development

When the Walls speak

El Cristo de la Higuera - FragmentoWalter Solón Romero Gonzales (1923-1999) was a master Bolivian muralist that lived with the obsession to make the walls speak, embrace and dream. He painted walls and canvas to refresh the memory, unhide the truth and light up rebel spirits.

Today to address climate change we must use all our creativity, humor and imagination to challenge the pragmatism that erodes human beings. These are difficult times in which capital can capture almost every idea and transformed in its opposite like it has happened with the “green economy” concept. That is why it is so important to go from the discourse to the practice and to link the local with the galobal to reveal the contradictions of this system with real alternatives.

In this task the Fundación Solón aims to contribute combining art with utopia. Continúa leyendo When the Walls speak

Another Tomorrow is possible!

El Encuentro de la Diversidad

The future is not written. It depends on what we do now. What happens at COP 21 is the result of a long process through which big corporations have captured governments and climate negotiations at the United Nations. The Paris agreement is a good deal for politicians that seek popularity and re-election because it does not force them to do anything. For the extractive industries it is also a good deal because they can continue with business as usual and benefit from new carbon markets like REDD+, Climate Smart Agriculture, CDM+, land use change offsets, and also from false technologies like Carbon Capture and Storage, Bioenergy and geoengineering. Continúa leyendo Another Tomorrow is possible!

COP21: A new disguise for an old agreement

[Pablo Solón] The Climate Paris Agreement carries with it the shadow of the Cancun Agreement and like it, will fail. Both Agreements are based on voluntary pledges that prioritized the interests of polluting corporations and governments rather than the needs of humanity and life on Earth.

Ayer fue por la fe, hoy es por la democraciaTo limit the temperature increase to 2°C, the Cancun Agreement should have guaranteed the reduction of annual emissions of greenhouse gases to 44 Gt of CO2e by 2020. But with the pledges from Cancun we will instead be at 56 GtCO2e by 2020. Continúa leyendo COP21: A new disguise for an old agreement

43 years ago, he was 22: The struggle to find Jó and to bring justice continues

Tunup@ Nº 02/2015 E 

#Jo43años (version en español)

On February 2, 1972, 43 years ago today, José Carlos Trujillo Oroza, was last seen by his mother Gladys Oroza de Solón, and would never be found again. He had only been 22 years old. Jó, as he was fondly called by his loved ones, had been in the infamous State prison called “El Pari” for 41 days. He had been detained by the members of the Political Control Department (DOP) of the city of Santa Cruz. He was brutally tortured, but thinking of the pain it would cause his mother, who would visit him regularly, he had tried unsuccessfully to hide his grotesque wounds from her. Jó was a young activist full of hopes and dreams inspired by Che Guevara. This was very dangerous in times of the cruel and brutal dictatorship of Hugo Banzer Suarez.  And in the blink of an eye, Jó was gone, disappeared from within the steel bars he was imprisoned in. Two other prisoners disappeared with him that fateful day, Carlos López Adrián and Alfonso Toledo Rosado. Continúa leyendo 43 years ago, he was 22: The struggle to find Jó and to bring justice continues