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California and Chiapas advancing land-grab policies:

Tijdens de klimaatconferentie van de VN in 2010 maakte de regering van de Staat Californie bekend dat het een verdrag had gesloten met Chiapas en de Braziliaanse deelstaat ACRE om daar projecten voor opvang van CO2-uitstoot te starten. Onderdeel van die projecten blijkt te zijn dat dorpen in het hoogland van Chiapas ontruimd worden en de bevolking naar een soort modeldorpen gedwongen worden. Daarmee worden dan ‘carbon credits’ gegenereerd die aan Californische bedrijven verkocht worden (die daarmee hun koolstofuitstoot af kunnen kopen.  Toevallig of niet is de getroffen bevolking veelal aangesloten bij de opstandige Zapatistas. Opstandsbestrijding onder het mom van klimaatverbetering? In het Engelstaile stuk hieronder worden de details uit de doeken gedaan.

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Monoculture plantations, cement cities and polluting concessions as part of their climate strategy

The government of California announced in 2010 during the UN climate negotiations an agreement with the government of Chiapas, Mexico and the government of Acre, Brazil to establish the world’s first sub-national cap-and-trade agreement to use the emerging mechanism known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). Among these projects is a government push to delimit Natural Protected Areas within the Lacandon Jungle in Chiapas, in order to generate carbon credits to be sold to California companies. This decision coincides with a long history of struggles over land and territories aimed at the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), as well as other forest-dependent and campesino communities in Chiapas.

**Cap-and-trade is a market-based mechanism where an overall limit on greenhouse gas emissions in a certain time period is set (“a cap”) and then grant industries a certain number of licenses to pollute (“carbon permits” or “emissions allowances”). Companies that do not meet their cap can buy permits from others that have a surplus (“a trade”). At the same time, offset projects, which are implemented in the global south, generate more “credits” which allow pollution over and above this cap.1


** REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) aims to make forests more valuable standing than they would be cut down by creating a financial value for the carbon stored in the trees. Once this carbon is standardized and quantified, REDD will allow polluters to purchase cheap carbon offsets (or “pollution licenses”) from countries in the South instead of reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions at source.2


The Agreement


When the governor of California started bilateral agreements with governors in Mexico and Brazil, he set in motion a process that grassroots organizations and movements see as leading to potential land grabs in Chiapas and Acre, as well as continuing industrial contamination in California.


In 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which set the 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal into law. It directed the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to begin developing early actions to reduce pollution while also preparing a “scoping plan” to identify how best to reach the 2020 limit. The reduction measures to meet the 2020 target are to be adopted by the start of 2011.3


In this regard, two weeks before the UN Climate Summit in Mexico in November 2010, Schwarzenegger hosted the third annual Governors’ Global Climate summit (a gathering of sub-national leaders from across the US and around the world) from which the Regions of Climate Action (R20) organization came out with the aim to break through the current climate negotiations “impasse” and take concrete actions at the sub-national level.


The R20 has been incorporated as a nonprofit organization in Geneva, under Swiss law. During the year 2011, the R20 “will facilitate public-private partnerships, share best practices, accelerate the development of green innovations, and begin implementing clean energy demonstration projects.”4


Among the participants were politicians from states and provinces in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Ecuador, European Union, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Philippines, Qatar, Rwanda, South Korea, Ukraine and the US.


Moreover, corporate participants included representatives of BMW and Chevron, Cisco Systems, Frito-Lay, Veolia Transportation, the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.5


Then, during the UN climate summit in Mexico in December 2010, Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the Memorandum of Understanding adopted with the governor Arnobio Marques de Almeida from Acre, Brazil and Juan Jose Sabines Guerrero from Chiapas, Mexico, which included a sub-national REDD working group to develop recommendations for bringing REDD programs into California’s cap-and-trade.


California’s AB32 has a controversial reliance on market mechanisms, such as cap-and-trade, which will allow California companies to buy offset credits from, in this case, Chiapas and Acre.


The cap-and-trade provision hit a major roadblock in March this year, when the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that the California Air Resources Board violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by not fully evaluating alternatives to the cap-and-trade system in the 2006 law. This is a significant sign of opposition to market-based climate solutions in California; but the local impacts in California are but one side of the global equation.


The lawsuit was brought by a handful of community groups and individuals concerned that low-income and minority groups bear a disproportionate burden of pollution impacts.The judge did not reject the cap-and-trade plan but rejected the way the board approved it, so now the board must present a full analysis of the alternatives to satisfy the order. 6



The Chiapas side: imposing the conditions for the sale of carbon credits.


In the forty years since the Lacandon Community was established, the Mexican government has been unable to demarcate the Lacandon border, despite many attempts. Many of these attempts have involved military efforts by the government of Chiapas to remove settlers, and specifically Zapatista-aligned communities, from the territory of the Lacandon Community and the Montes Azules Reserve. On October 18, 2000, then-President Zedillo expropriated 3.5 hectares of Amador Hernández, a Zapatista-aligned community located precisely on the border of the Reserve, to build new military installations. On July 4, 2004, the government moved families from the community of San Francisco El Caracol, in the Montes Azules Reserve, to a “new population center” called Santa Martha, in the municipality of Marqués de Comillas. On January 23, 2005, 160 Tzeltal families were displaced from Montes Azules to the pre-planned community of Nuevo Montes Azules, near Palenque. On November 13, 2006, hundreds of armed peasants from the Lacandon Community reportedly attacked seventeen families living in the village of Viejo Velasco Suárez, leaving 4 people dead and 4 people disappeared, in what entered local mythology as the Massacre of Viejo Velasco. On August 18, 2007, a joint police and military operation evicted 39 families from the communities of Buen Samaritano and San Manuel, also in Montes Azules. Now, with the promise of financing under REDD, work is underway again to delineate the “brecha lacandona”. While there are many other potential sites for REDD-related projects throughout Chiapas and throughout Mexico, all worth keeping a close eye on, the historic tensions in the Lacandon region make the reopening of la brecha lacandona a case of particular concern.7


On March 19, Juan Francisco Leo Durán, a federal government topographer with the Secretary of Agrarian Reform working at the archeological zone of Bonampak, told me that the demarcation was nearing completion, with all but 80 kilometers left to delineate. “That 80 km,” he said, “lies in the region of the cañadas, where the EZLN communities are.” On March 20, the Governor of Chiapas, Juan Sabines, paid a high profile visit to Frontera Corazal, a population center of the Lacandon Community, to deliver the first REDD payment of 2000 pesos to each landholder. In the words of Miguel Angél García, Coordinator of the Chiapan NGO Maderas del Pueblo, “the monthly payments for forest protection go to only about 600 landholders; as the next generation comes up with no possibility of planting to feed their families, and with no options for employment besides tourism and managing plantations of African palm, what it means for the Lacandon culture is all too clear.”


Investors in REDD demand legal demarcation of the territory involved. As a result, according to a statement from the Council of Traditional Indigenous Doctors and Midwives for Community Healthcare in Chiapas (COMPITSCCH), in April of 2010, with no prior warning or explanation, the government withdrew all medical personnel and suspended the supply of medical supplies and the aerial evacuation of the gravely ill in the Amador Hernández region, undoubtedly with the aim of punishing and weakening communities that have historically fought back against the attempts to seize their land8. Clearly, the authorities are attempting to use the dependence on the medical system created in the region as a means to force the rebels into surrender, beginning with children and the elderly.


In April, the community assembly of Amador Hernández sent an open letter calling on the federal and state public health officials to re-establish health services and asking the governor of Chiapas to “suspend the state REDD+ project in the Lacandon Community Zone, as it constitutes a counterinsurgency plan that promotes conflicts between neighboring communities” and to “stop lying to the indigenous peoples regarding the climate-related objectives of the REDD+ Project in Chiapas, and declare its true purpose: to conserve and recuperate biodiversity in the areas of greatest biological wealth in order to turn it over to the control and exploitation of transnational interests.”9


Meanwhile, those communities that had negotiated for resettlement have already made roadblocks as a protest towards the hostility and abusive terms of their resettlement. On March 22, the residents of Nuevo Montes Azules issued a public denouncement condemning the conditions of their resettlement. In their statement, they say:


“On February 4, 2005, seven communities that were located in the Lacandon Jungle, in the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve, were relocated in the municipality of Palenque. We accepted the offer of relocation due to the fact that, in the process of negotiations, the government of the state of Chiapas assured us that the lands we would be given were in perfect state, that our land title was assured, that the houses were well-constructed, that our electricity would be subsidized, that we would receive good educational and health services, potable drinking water, and modern systems of sewage and drainage. They offered us a dream, but they gave us a nightmare. As we were moved to the new location, we were threatened that if we returned to our former home in the jungle, we would be arrested and taken to jail; those who refused to leave were forcibly removed.”10


Among these intertwined developments are the rapid expansion of African palm and Jatropha plantations for biofuel production, numerous dams and mining concessions, and the dubious resettlement centers known as “sustainable rural cities”. These so-called sustainable cities include sixteen pre-fabricated housing developments planned precisely at the locations of strategic resource extraction and land conversion (with the sad case of Nuevo Montes Azules considered to be the first trial effort, followed by two more UN-backed efforts, Nuevo Juan Grijalva and Santiago El Pinar). Also under development is an effort to further exploit the Mayan history of the state for tourism; a superhighway under construction designed to link major tourist centers and Mayan archeological zones has led to violent conflicts in the communities of Mitzitón and Bachajón, where several people have been killed and hundreds arrested for attempting to block the development. All of these development projects run roughshod over autonomous indigenous territories.11


Therefore, in order for the governor of Chiapas to sell the carbon “stored” in the forests to transnationals in California and else-where, and to give them guarantees for this program, the displacement of the communities from the forests is carried out by making larger another governmental project, the so-called Sustainable Rural Cities.


Miguel García, general coordinator of Madreas del Puebelo del Sureste, declared that “They are denying the rights of other peoples who have been harassed and displaced. They would have neither land nor employment, given that the REDD mechanism prohibits the cultivation of milpas, on pain of losing its economic benefits.”12