The morals of Morales

By Pascale Palmer
December 10, 2010

The Bolivians are always tainted with the melodrama brush at the climate change talks. Either openly or in cables (as revealed by yet another WikiLeaks allegation) Bolivia is seen as a loose cannon: a nation that won’t play the international political long game. There is a very strong argument for being inside the tent in order to bring about the change you want to see, yet even within an institution as plural as the UN that tent is still marshalled by the most powerful nations in the world. So when Bolivia walks in with its brand of all-or-nothing brokering, it is very much at odds with the Western-style politicking that holds sway.

And you can see why Bolivia does get up the noses of countries like the United States. Today in a press conference President Evo Morales spoke of Latin America “beating the American Empire” and how the WikiLeaks revelations show that the US can’t “even control their forms of espionage”. These are not the words of a subtle diplomat.

But having listened to Morales at Cancun, you can’t help but admire his chutzpah, and more to the point, his undeviating focus on how climate change is affecting people. In the rarefied atmosphere of the negotiations, where each day sections of text are released for analysis by delegations, observers and media, in which single words and phrases have been argued and additions fought over during late night sessions, it is easy to forget that we are all here to try to save lives and ways of life.

Morales, again and again, in plenaries and press conferences, brings the conversation back to the people being affected by changes in climate. To some, his impassioned pleas and repeated examples of climate and weather devastation are too emotive, too low-brow perhaps for the high-level technical and legal negotiations taking place. But what Morales brings to life is that behind every square bracket left undecided in the text, behind every proposal still being considered rather than decided, behind every nation that delays agreement, behind every emissions reduction target that is too low, behind every dollar for the poorest that is a long-time coming – behind each of these, and every other detail of the printed black ink of the negotiating text, stand millions of people who are or will feel the destructive impacts of climate change. Their lives and ways of life are what hang in the balance of these words on a page.

With less than 24 hours left for negotiations at COP16, I will leave the rest of this blog to Morales: “We have felt the convulsions of Mother Earth in recent years. We all share a responsibility towards life and mankind, to nature. Each of us, especially heads of state, must live up to the hopes of millions of families who are the victims of global warming.

“Families lack water, some because of climate change. If these families have no water, they have no food, they have no work, no source of income. Their extreme poverty is compounded. Every day they watch their livestock dying. And what about the families that lose their land when islands disappear beneath the waves? They will have to leave, but where will they go?

“We must understand that nature is our home, our life. The Earth is growing hotter – it is injured. We must defend the rights of Mother Earth – she also has her rights. We are not here to turn nature into a commodity. We’re not here to try to ensure the survival of capitalism with carbon credits.

“I believe that human beings cannot live without our planet; the planet can very well exist without us. If we do not accept our responsibilities we will be responsible for genocide.”


(c) Pascale Palmer is Media Advocacy Officer at CAFOD (

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