Guatemalan indigenous girls. Credit: Danilo Valladares/IPS
COPENHAGEN (IPS/TerraViva) – “We don’t need to change the climate, we need to change trade,” said Brazilian activist Marta Lago at Klimaforum, the civil society meeting held in parallel with the climate change summit in the Danish capital.
Lago and Norma Maldonado from Guatemala, who belong to the International Gender and Trade Network (IGTN), criticised the free trade treaties signed by Latin American countries with the United States and the European Union in a panel Tuesday.
They said free trade agreements accentuate poverty and the loss of biodiversity, as a result of megaprojects for the extraction of natural resources which use water intensively, spew out pollution, and exacerbate the effects of climate change.
Examples are mining projects, construction of large hydroelectric dams, and plantations of monoculture crops and genetically modified (GM) organisms.
Free trade deals include strict regulation of intellectual property rights for patented GM seeds, which harms small farmers, creating food insecurity in poor communities that already suffer from harvest variability because of global warming.
“Where there is biodiversity, where there is wealth, where there is culture, that’s where corporate interests flock,” Maldonado, deputy head of Ecumenical Services for Christian Development in Central America (SEFCA), an organisation working with women and young people for community development and political effectiveness, told TerraViva.
SEFCA’s work covers a wide range of issues, focusing on the recovery of traditional farming practices, the carving out of local markets for products, the improvement of the diets of people in rural communities and the provision of training for international trade negotiations.
“The trade treaties give (foreign countries) a legal claim to plunder our natural resources. We cannot separate the trade treaties from their everyday effects: the privatisation of water; the loss of land; the mining companies that use 250,000 gallons of water a minute for free, while polluting our rivers,” she said.
“Guatemala was the birthplace of many food crops, and yet its people are undernourished. Children are dying of hunger. How can we have a country that produces food, but all of it for export, to sell to the great international markets?” she demanded.
In her view, the EU “gives with one hand,” through development aid, “and takes away with the other,” by means of its trade treaties.
In Guatemala, SEFCA works with Q’eqchi’ indigenous communities that are recovering degraded coffee plantations.
Women bear the brunt of climate change effects, Lago and Maldonado said, as the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) stated in its latest report.
SEFCA is making a documentary to raise awareness on the water crisis, which includes footage, screened at Klimaforum, showing rural women who spend four hours a day fetching water from streams around their communities.
According to Maldonado, “the problem of water has been, and will continue to be,” a women’s issue, “for cultural reasons,” because they are the ones who do most of the cooking, bathing of children and washing of clothes in their homes.
“Lack of access to water adds to women’s burden,” already a heavy one, she said.
“Women take four hours to fetch two gallons of water at a time, and then we want them to further their education and participate in community affairs. What time do they have for this?” she asked.
How much do Guatemalan women supported by SEFCA know about climate change? According to Maldonado, they are unaware of factors like greenhouse gas emissions and other scientific aspects. “Actually, I don’t understand them very well myself, yet,” she admitted.
“What we are very well aware of is that there are constant landslides and floods, while we women can’t even swim, that the weather is getting hotter all the time, that the rhythm of the crops is altered – sometimes the coffee is ripe in January and previously it was in October – and the cycles and agricultural calendars are upset, and we don’t have enough water,” said the activist.
“We may not know what a carbon sink is, but we do know that our land is being taken from us,” said Maldonado, who said she has been threatened and intimidated for her opposition to free trade agreements in Guatemala.
“A wave of repression swept the country when the first free trade treaty between Guatemala and the United States was signed. Since then there has been systematic persecution of the leadership and raids on organisations (opposed to the trade accords). They searched my house, injured two colleagues, took our computers: we are on their blacklist,” she complained.
Maldonado is in Copenhagen, but she said she “expects nothing” from the Dec. 7-18 15th Conference of the Parties (COP 15) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, attended by delegates from 192 countries and 3,500 journalists. She says she is putting her faith in the alliances that emerge from Klimaforum, where the keynote is scepticism of the current development model.
This huge alternative meeting is being held in a multi-purpose centre in the Danish capital that includes a conference centre and is 15 minutes by train from the Bella Centre, the venue for COP 15.
The Klimaforum programme lists 150 panels and talks, 50 exhibitions and 30 artistic events, including documentaries, theatre and music, which will continue until Dec. 18.