The World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth , held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in April, has fueled a growing debate in Latin America over the validity and usefulness of traditional Indigenous value systems and forms of organization in resolving the pressing social problems of the region, not least the challenges posed by the climate crisis. We publish here two differing assessments.
- Pablo Stefanoni is the editor of the Bolivian edition of Le Monde Diplomatique.
- Hugo Blanco is a longstanding indigenous leader of the peasant movement in Peru and editor of the newspaper La Lucha Indígena.
The Cochabamba conference was called by Bolivian President Evo Morales in the wake of the disastrous United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen last December. It was attended by more than 30,000 activists from over 100 countries. They adopted a People’s Agreement  that assigns responsibility for the climate crisis to the capitalist system and rejects the use of market mechanisms in combating climate change.
Conference participants were critical of the dependency of most semicolonial “Third World” countries on resource-based export strategies that devastate local environments while frustrating attempts at endogenous development in the interests of local and national communities. However, they identified the main culprit as the uneven development intrinsic to imperialism, a system “that has led the richest countries to have an ecological footprint five times bigger than what the planet is able to support.” And they concluded:
“It is imperative that we forge a new system that restores harmony with nature and among human beings. And in order for there to be balance with nature, there must first be equity among human beings. We propose to the peoples of the world the recovery, revalorization, and strengthening of the knowledge, wisdom, and ancestral practices of Indigenous Peoples, which are affirmed in the thought and practices of ‘Living Well,’ recognizing Mother Earth as a living being with which we have an indivisible, interdependent, complementary and spiritual relationship.”
Mother Earth, in the Indigenous languages of Latin America, is known as Pachamama. Prominent among the conference participants were Indigenous peoples, and their thinking and influence were clear in its decisions.
Evo Morales followed up the Cochabamba Conference by presenting its proposals in a major speech at the United Nations before the G77 + China , a group of the world’s poorest countries (plus China) that (as he put it) “are the least responsible for climate change and, nonetheless, the most affected by the dire impacts of global warming.” The other South American heads of state, gathered at the UNASUR conference in Buenos Aires on May 4, endorsed the Cochabamba People’s Agreement , urged other member governments to join the effort “to open spaces on the subject of climate change,” and agreed to discuss further such actions at their scheduled meeting in Cancún, Mexico later this year.
The Bolivian government, along with its partners in UNASUR and the anti-imperialist Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), has sought to use tribunes like Cochabamba’s as a means to enhance consciousness and build international support that can help provide these oppressed and exploited countries with greater latitude to resist imperialism and develop their own people-oriented alternative development strategies. The Cochabamba Conference marked an important step forward in this process.
However, that is not the view of Pablo Stefanoni, whose newspaper is the Bolivian edition of Le Monde Dipomatique, the Paris monthly magazine that is influential in the broad left, including in the milieus that organize the World Social Forums. Stefanoni saw the Cochabamba Conference as a diversion from the pressing tasks facing Bolivia. In his opinion, its dominant Indigenous discourse, which he scornfully dismisses as pachamamismo, is an obstacle to efforts to free Bolivia from dependency on resource exports and “prevents Bolivia from being a serious player in the big international leagues.”
Hugo Blanco, responding to Stefanoni, offers a very different, positive assessment of the contribution of Indigenous thinking to the world struggle against the climate crisis.
Related reading: Ian Angus, Cochabamba: Climate Justice Has a New Program and New Hope for Victory
by Pablo Stefanioni
Rebelión, April 28, 2010
The Tiquipaya summit  — over and above the chickens, gays and bald men that were given such extensive media coverage, over what could be interpreted as a presidential slip  — revealed something of relevance to the future: The process of change is too important to be left in the hands of the pachamámicos. The affectation of ancestral authenticity may be useful for seducing revolutionary tourists in search of Latin America’s “familiar exoticism” and even more so Bolivia’s (according to Marc Saint-Upéry ) but it does not seem capable of contributing anything significant in terms of building a new State, instituting a new model of development, discussing a viable productive model or new forms of democracy and mass participation.
What is more, pachamamismo — a sort of stylish newspeak — serves to dissolve Bolivians’ profound yearnings for change in the deaf ear of a supposed alternative to Western philosophy, even though it is learned in such global spaces as NGO workshops, in the calm of Duke University or in the courses supervised by Catherine Walsh in the Universidad Andina  or the FLACSO Ecuador. In the last analysis, as becomes more obvious each time, we are presented with a global new-age Indigenous discourse with scant capacity to reflect the actually existing ethnicities. And, as in the countries of actually existing socialism, this “newspeak” can infinitely expand the hiatus between discourse and reality (why do they say nothing about extractivism and the reprimarización of the economy,  for example?), weakening the transformative energies of the society.
So, instead of discussing how to combine developmental expectations with an intelligent eco-environmentalism, the pachamámico discourse offers us a cataract of words in Aymara, pronounced with an enigmatic tone, and a naďve reading of the crisis of capitalism and western civilization. Or directly, in interpretative broadsides like that of Fernando Huanacuni, a foreign office official, who told an Argentine newspaper that the earthquake in Haiti was a small warning of the economic-global-cosmic-telluric-educational impetuousness of the Pacha Mama.
Do the politics of Edgar Patana [the elected mayor of El Alto and disputed labour leader] reflect a new spirituality? Does Isaac Ávalos [the senator and peasant leader] intervene in the Senate asking leave of Grandmother Cosmos? Or does Gustavo Torrico [the deputy interior minister] base his management of the police on the criterion that the rights of Pacha Mama (and ants) are more important than human rights?
In Europe there is much greater awareness of the recycling of garbage (including plastic products) than there is in our country, where in many ways everything remains to be done, and an informed and technically solid environmentalism seems much more effective than managing climate change on the basis of a supposed First Nations’ philosophy, often an excuse of some urban intellectuals for not addressing the urgent problems facing the country. Many of the official mistakes in the summit are not unrelated to its having handed over the theme of climate change to the pachamámicos, whose irresponsibility prevents Bolivia from being a serious player in the big international leagues. For many intellectuals, the Bolivian laboratory may provide enormous material for their own investigations, and many NGOs are delighted to fund all kinds of social experiments. But for Bolivians the cost of a new lost opportunity could not be covered by all the cooperation projects combined.
by Pablo Stefanoni
Rebelión, May 05, 2010
My previous column in this newspaper provoked an irate reply from some comrades who (without saying so) consider themselves part of the pachamámica current, which — without any evidence — they seek to transform into a synonym for Indigenous and the sole ideological basis of the current process of change. In reality, indianismo did not exist in the Chapare, and in the Altiplano, Felipe Quispe talked less of Pacha Mama and Pacha Tata  than he did of tractors, the Internet, and rural development projects for the commune residents, in the framework of an Aymara nationalist project. Kataristas and Indianistas engage in politics; the pachamamicos the cult of the esoteric. I have never seen a blockade for vivir bien [to live well], although I could be mistaken.
Nor was pachamamismo the discursive basis of the Indigenous rebellions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, as Forrest Hylton shows in relation to Chayanta (1927),  where the representative chiefs were demanding education and recognition of their authorities and lands in alliance with sectors of the urban left, their pleas laden with modern/western anti-slavery discourse. And in the Forties and Fifties the unions in many regions broke with the conservative role of the traditional authorities in the preservation of a neocolonial status quo.
Many of their categories, such as the chacha-warmi to mention only one,  do not stand up to historical investigation, and according to Milton Eyzaguirre have more to do with the imposition of the Catholic vision of marriage than they do with ancestral customs. Does decolonization mean returning to the two republics of the Viceroy Toledo?  In the last analysis, there are non-Indigenous pachamámicos and non-pachamámicos Indigenous — possibly the majority — so there is no basis for labelling just any criticism as racist. While it seems profoundly radical, its “philosophical” generality provides no clue to overcoming dependent capitalism, extractivism and rentismo,  nor to the construction of a new State or the need for “post-clientelist” forms of politics. While it has little impact in the Government, pachamamismo is a useful discourse for turning any serious debate into hollow “philosophical” rhetoric.
The debate over decolonization cannot overlook the tension between the survival of the ghetto (in the form of preservation of “ancestral” identity and culture or theories of the “good farmer” Indian or, directly, the good Avatar-like ecological savage) and assimilation: access to “universal” culture. Possibly, intermediate between both extremes, there might arise a successful road to decolonization and social and cultural mobility. (In some haciendas the landlords, not exactly supporters of pluriculturalism or multiculturalism, would only allow entrance to priests who would speak Aymara with their Indian tenants; otherwise the latter would learn Castellano and leave.)
Pachamamismo inhibits any serious discussion, for example, of what it is to be Indigenous in the 21st century. How can the Aymara owner of a fleet of minibuses in El Alto and convert to Pentacostalism be compared simply with the resident of a commune in the north of Potosí who continues to produce in the context of an ethnic economy? How is it possible to apply the communitarian model in a country that is majority urban and criss-crossed by all types of hybridization/migration/insertion in global markets, and the rise of an Indigenous/mestizo commercial bourgeoisie? And finally, who elected the globalized pachamámico intellectuals to speak on behalf of the Indigenous of Bolivia and the world? Yes, these are the words of a “mono-thinker”, but they may be worth a response.
by Hugo Blanco
Lucha Indígena, May 11, 2010
Pablo Stefanoni begins his article “Where is pachamamismo taking us?” by taking his distance from the stupid assessment that the right wing made of the Cochabamba Summit. It seemed that he would analyse the meeting, but apparently anti-Indigenous racism has blinded him and there is no serious assessment.
Let us see what Silvia Ribeiro, a researcher, journalist and coordinator of environmental campaigns in Uruguay, Brazil and Sweden, has to say about this meeting. She is an international lecturer on those subjects and has followed the negotiation of various United Nations environmental treaties:
“The response to the official call for this summit exceeded all expectations, both in numbers attending (35,000) and in content, making it an historic landmark in the international debate on the climate crisis. Faced with the maneuvers of the powerful governments in Copenhagen, Bolivia appealed to the grassroots of the world’s societies to demonstrate their positions and present them to the governments. In both respects it was an overwhelming success. And it strengthened the networks and interactions among the movements….
“A common basis was created for developing understanding, critical analysis and strategies in relation to the climate crisis, enriched by various perspectives from many cultures, peoples, and interest groups on the continent and around the world. The Cochabamba People’s Agreement reflects this.” 
A serious analysis would have begun by specifically evaluating the conclusions of the meeting, the People’s Agreement mentioned by Ribeiro. Stefanoni does not do that; the only comment he makes of the meeting in another article of his is that “the summit would be of little advantage if it served only to confirm the (deserved) international popularity of our President and to engage in emotional anticapitalism in a tumultuous collective catharsis.” 
Stefanoni says “Many of the official mistakes in the summit are not unrelated to its having handed over the theme of climate change to the pachamámicos….”
Who handed it over? Morales, following his correct intervention in Copenhagen, which precisely corresponded to the sentiment of the 100,000 persons who were protesting the inaction of the governments, was the only president who called the summit, not only for the Indigenous but for the people of the world.
No one has handed over the subject of climate change to the Indigenous. They are the ones who day after day are fighting and dying, as they have in Bagua, Peru, in defence of Mother Earth and against the environmental pollution resulting from the action of the big multinational corporations. Currently, the Indigenous peoples of Ecuador have shifted towards opposing Correa’s “Socialism of the 21st Century” because of his resource extraction policy. But these ecological battles are of no importance for Stefanoni; they do not amount to civilized ecology. “In Europe there is much greater awareness of the recycling of garbage (including plastic products) than there is in our country, where in many ways everything remains to be done, and an informed and technically solid environmentalism seems much more effective than managing climate change on the basis of a supposed First Nations’ philosophy….”
We agree with the criticisms by the compańeros of Mesa 18 [Working Group 18] [Mesa 18 was an informal working group at the Cochabamba summit, in addition to the 17 official working groups, comprised of people from social movements opposed to mining and hydrocarbon policies of the Morales government. SEE ( ]] of the continued resource extraction practices of the Bolivian government. They criticized the government specifically for not being, as Stefanoni puts it, consistently “pachamamista”.
Stefanoni says, among other things, “I have never seen a blockade for ‘vivir bien’, although I could be mistaken.” In Peru, the environmental battles I mentioned are waged on behalf of “buen vivir” in opposition to capitalism’s teaching that we should “earn more money in the least possible time.” As a woman in those battles recently stated, “I am not going to eat gold.”
“The pachamámico discourse, on this and other points, simply takes the debates onto the terrain of philosophy, a discipline worthy of the greatest respect, except when used as an excuse not to address the burning issues that we must confront.” 
We agree that it should not be used as an excuse, but we are entitled to use it to defend Mother Earth, which is not what Stefanoni does when he demands that we abandon our Indigenous way of viewing the world — which, of course, is not his. We are entitled to maintain and develop our identity just as he has the right to maintain his vision of the world.
“The debate over decolonization cannot overlook the tension between the survival of the ghetto (in the form of preservation of ‘ancestral’ identity and culture or theories of the ‘good farmer’ Indian….”
First, let’s talk about the ghetto. The great majority of Indigenous are not and do not want to be a ghetto. (Of course there are exceptions who do have that reverse racist spirit, such as Felipe Quispe, who is respectfully mentioned by Stefanoni.) The Pachacuti party in Ecuador accepts gringos as members, provided they agree with its program. In Peru, we consider ourselves part of the broader mass movement. Morales invited everyone to come to the Cochabamba meeting (unfortunately, many of the Europeans who were in Copenhagen could not attend because their flights were cancelled due to ashes from the volcano in Iceland).
The best example are the Mayas of Chiapas [in Mexico], who have said “We are Indigenous, we are proud of it, we want to be respected as Indigenous. We consider ourselves brothers of all the poor people in Mexico and the world.” Bear in mind that the first international meeting to debate the theme “Against neoliberalism, for humanity,” much before the World Social Forums, was held in the mud of Chiapas in response to the call of the Zapatista Indigenous, and it was attended by representatives from 70 countries.
As to “the good farmer Indian,” of course this is true, we have an age-old heritage of farming that safeguards the soil. Indigenous agriculture does not engage in monoculture, which destroys the soil, nor does it use agrochemicals that likewise destroy the soil as does modern agro-industry which also uses genetically modified organisms and has discovered the wonders of the terminator seed, which cannot be used for reproduction. Indigenous agriculture, among other things, mixes crops and practices crop rotation, which conserves the soil.
“The process of change is too important to be left in the hands of the pachamámicos.”
Who wants to do that? The Indigenous movement, which is fighting for change, appeals to all the people to join in that struggle.
“The affectation of ancestral authenticity may be useful for seducing revolutionary tourists in search of Latin America’s ‘familiar exoticism’ … but it does not seem capable of contributing anything significant in terms of building a new State, instituting a new model of development, discussing a viable productive model or new forms of democracy and mass participation…. its ‘philosophical’ generality provides no clue to overcoming dependent capitalism, extractivism and rentismo, nor to the construction of a new State….”
The Indigenous community exists in any country in America with an Indigenous population: Bolivia, Chile, Honduras, Mexico, the United States, Canada. This community holds that it is the collectivity that is in charge (which does not mean there are no communities deformed by the capitalist environment surrounding them). It is, on a small scale, an organism of political power, struggling and coexisting alongside the power of the system.
Struggles against the system strengthen the community as an organism of power. I experienced this personally in the valley of La Convención, in Cusco, Peru, during the struggle for the land. We experienced it last year after the massacre in Bagua, when the police were afraid to enter many forest communities being ruled by the communal government.
We are seeing this strengthening now in Ecuador, as a result of the tension that exists between the Indigenous and “socialism of the 21st century.” In Cauca, Colombia, notwithstanding attacks by the government, the paramilitaries and the FARC,  the Indigenous organization is taken to higher levels of the community, and the communities are organized and are joining together.
The best example are the Indigenous of Chiapas, where the Indigenous have been governing themselves for more than 16 years in a collective, truly democratic form through “Juntas de Buen Gobierno” [Councils of Good Government], the members of which serve in rotation and are unpaid. The Zapatista National Liberation Army, which is also Indigenous in composition, does not participate in the government; its members are prohibited from being members of the councils. Its role is to protect the Indigenous communities from the attacks of the “bad government”.
The Indigenous do not “take” power, they build it from below in an authentically democratic form. They do not call it “socialism” because the “socialist” government in Chile has been jailing the Mapuche using Pinochet’s laws, and in Ecuador, as we said, they are struggling against “Socialism of the 21st century.”
Sooner or later, in Bolivia they will be confronting the government of the “Movement toward Socialism”, which is still not the Indigenous democratic government but an anti-imperialist government midway between the oligarchy and the Indigenous and Bolivian population in general, similar to the governments of Ecuador and Venezuela.
We hope that the non-Indigenous population will also participate in building the new society. We are excited by the existence of the “fábricas recuperadas” [occupied and worker-run factories] in Argentina. Probably there are other examples.
The use of the pachamámico language by government agencies and NGOs, which use it to hold back the movement and for other purposes, does not invalidate the Indigenous spirit, the Indigenous cosmovision, the Indigenous language, the Indigenous struggle. “Marxism-Leninism” was also used in the Soviet Union to massacre the workers’ vanguard, which does not invalidate Marxism or Leninism. The so-called democratic neoliberal governments do not invalidate democracy.