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(en) We are everywhere! People’s Global Action (PGA) meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia

From Chiapaslink <chiapaslink@yahoo.com>
Date Sat, 8 Dec 2001 11:11:35 -0500 (EST)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

We are everywhere! People’s Global Action (PGA)
meeting in Cochabamba, Bolivia By Sophie, Chiapaslink UK

The water is ours!

Cochabamba, the third largest city in Bolivia, is best
known as the “city of eternal Spring”. But, as Oscar
Olivera, a factory labourer and spokesperson for la
Coordinadora (the Coalition for the Defence of Water
and Life) reminded us at the beginning of the third
People’s Global Action conference, it wasn’t the
pleasant climate that made this highland city the
perfect location for a meeting of grassroots groups
from all over the world in September 2001. Last year,
Cochabamba became a key symbol of the struggle against
global capitalism, when tens of thousands of local
people took to the streets against the privatisation
of their water supply by the US transnational Bechtel…
and won! 

As a powerful and unique coalition of  peasant
irrigation unions, coca growers, labour activists,
local professionals, young people, and street
children, la Coordinadora was able to overturn the
contract signed under World Bank pressure and have
control of the water returned to the people of
Cochabamba, although not without costs. At the third
massive mobilisation in April 2000, where 30,000
people shut down the city-centre for five days, the
President sent in military units including a
sharpshooter trained at the School of Americas who
gunned down a 17 year-old protestor (young people and
women were at the forefront of resistance). Months
later, though, and spurred by their victory, Olivera
says “the water is sweet”.  They now embark on the
unexpected journey of managing a community-controlled
water company. If it succeeds (and there are many that
want to see it fail), this would be a forceful example
of a genuine alternative to either state or corporate
control of natural resources.

Our resistance is as transnational as capital 

News of the water wars in Cochabamba spread quickly
around the world via the internet, and the web of
international solidarity - which is at the heart of
the PGA network – sprung immediately into action. On
April 23rd 2000, for example, the front 3 pages of the
local paper in Cochabamba carried stories of a protest
in New Zealand by activists known as "The Water
Pressure Group” who hosed down the Bolivian consulate
in Auckland from a bright red fire truck, bearing
placards reading “Bolivia, the World is Watching
You!”.  A map on the front page of the newspaper
linked the two cities - previously, perhaps, unknown
to each other, but now interwoven in the same vibrant
patchwork of struggles against privatisation. 

People travelled from all five continents to reach the
gathering in Bolivia, many with nightmarish journeys
complicated by the timing of the conference,
post-September 11th, and relentless visa difficulties.
One of these was Stanis, whose trek from Papua New
Guinea to La Paz took eight days instead of two. On
his second day in Cochabamba towards the end of the
week, surrounded by almost 250 fellow activists from
over 40 countries, he shared the story of protests
last June in Port Moresby against World Bank
privatisation policies, where four students were
killed and countless others injured. His excitement,
though, at realising suddenly that he and his brothers
and sisters are not alone in their discontent, was
hard to contain.  “I thought that only Papua New
Guinea was struggling with the World Bank and IMF, but
now I just came to realise that everyone is fighting
against this giant, this dragon. This is the first
time I’ve realised that there are other people
fighting on the same issues, that it is all common.”

This exhilarating realisation began to dawn on me as I
sat in the blazing heat on a squatted farm in
Andalucia, southern Spain, in July 1997. Inspired by
the Zapatistas, this was the second encuentro “for
Humanity and Against Neoliberalism”, which gathered
around 4000 women and men from around the world -
trade unionists, peasants, indigenous peoples,
feminists, anarchists, ecologists, students,
unemployed, fisherfolk, writers, artists, and poets.
Conversations that had begun the previous year in
Chiapas at the first encuentro were continued; people
listened to each others stories, of hunger strikes,
seed saving, dancing on motorways, blockading nuclear
convoys, squatting land, being tear-gassed, and
reclaiming tribal languages. In spite of vastly
different contexts, we discovered that our struggles
are increasingly similar in every part of the global
empire, and that a new, horizontal form of solidarity
is emerging. 

A brief history of PGA

It was immediately after this gathering in August
1997, at a meeting with representatives of grassroots
movements from the South and North, that the idea of
PGA of was born. It is hard to define exactly what PGA
is. In many ways it doesn’t really exist. PGA is not
an organisation, it has no members or constituted
legal identity, no central funds, leaders or
spokespeople. Instead it is more of a tool or a fluid
network for communication and co-ordination between
diverse social movements who share a loose set of
principles or “hallmarks” (see below). Even these have
been continuously modified or expanded over the past
three and a half years reflecting the dynamic,
evolving process which is central to the philosophy of

The hallmarks were first drafted at the launch of this
worldwide network in Geneva, from 23-25 February 1998,
hosted this time in the urban reclaimed spaces of
Geneva’s lively social centres - a far cry from the
nearby palaces of the United Nations and WTO, and
attended by over 300 people from 71 countries. A
similarly eclectic international gathering took place
a year and a half later in Bangalore, India in August
1999, home to the Karnataka State Farmers Association
(KRSS) who in Gandhian style have cremated fields of
GM cotton and dismantled Cargill’s seed factories. 
These conferences, including this latest one in
Bolivia, have been organised, at least in theory, by a
rotating group of “convenors” drawn from all
continents and social sectors, and a floating “support
group”. Parallel to these, PGA meetings have also been
organised at a regional level (South Asia, Latin
America, Europe) and on specific topics (gender, Plan

Since February 1998 then, PGA has evolved as an
interconnected and often chaotic web of very diverse
groups, with a powerful common thread of struggle and
solidarity at the grassroots level. These gatherings
have played a vital role in face-to-face communication
and exchange of experience, strategies and ideas,
something that will never be replaced by the internet.
Equally, they have provided a key impetus for the wave
of co-ordinated global days of action around the
world. Building on mobilisations against ‘free’ trade
which have been growing since 1980s, these have spread
dramatically over the past three years. From the G8
Summit meeting in Birmingham in 1998, which was
accompanied by over 65 demonstrations worldwide, these
have multiplied to encompass the growing list of now
household names: Seattle, Prague, Quebec, Genoa… PGA
has also facilitated the participation of many
Southern social movements at the meetings of the rich
and powerful in the North, for example through the
Inter-Continental Caravan for Solidarity and
Resistance which brought together 450 women and men -
mainly farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous and anti-dam
protestors - in Western Europe to culminate at the
demonstration against the G8 Summit in Cologne in June

Delegates in Bolivia 

The incredible diversity of groups which make up the
PGA network was one of the most striking aspects of
the conference in Cochabamba, a richness which brought
with it its own tensions and contradictions. Not
surprisingly, the largest contingent came from Latin
America. This included representatives of some of the
most powerful social movements across the continent
such as the Ecuadorean peasants confederation
(CONFEUNASSC), landless peasants in Brazil (MST), the
Zapatistas of Chiapas, and the Six Federations of the
Tropics of Cochabamba. The latter group, representing
over 35,000 subsistence farmer families in the
tropical coca growing area of Chapare, was one of the
hosts of the conference; the other was the National
Federation of Domestic Workers of Bolivia (FENAETROB)
who organise in defence of the rights of domestic
workers throughout the country, 99% of whom are women.
There was a strong presence of organisers from women’s
movements in Latin America, in particular from
Colombia, Nicaragua and Mexico, some of whom are
equally active in trade unions working on gender
issues. Similarly strong was the presence of
indigenous peoples or pueblos originarios: Quiché of
Guatemala, Kuna of Panama, Mapuche of Chile and
Argentina, Quechua and Aymara from the Andean region,
and Quichua from Ecuador. 

Many of the Brazilian and Argentinian delegates were
from a new network of young, mostly urban
organisations that have specifically organised around
Global Days of Action such as May 1st, the Prague
World Bank meeting or around the Free Trade Area of
the Americas. Equivalent in a lot of ways to these
groups were those present from Europe, North America
and Australia who have mobilised on the streets of
London, Prague, Quebec, Melbourne, Gothenburg, Genoa,
Barcelona and Davos.  Delegates came, for example,
from Ya Basta in Italy, the Movement of Global
Resistance (MRG) in Catalonia, the Swiss anti-WTO
coordination, London Reclaim the Streets and the
Comité de Lutte Anti-Capitaliste (CLAC) from Canada.
The airline chaos stopped almost all the United States
participants from coming. Also present were ecological
activists from the Rainbow Keepers in Russia and
Ukraine, and a delegate from CUPE (Canadian Union of
Public Employees), the largest and one of the most
progressive unions. Two delegates from Aoteroa
Educators, the training branch of the inter-tribal
Maori independence movement called
Tino-Rangatiratanga, involved from the start. 

In spite of huge visa complications and delayed
flights (much like Stanis from Papua New Guinea), a
small delegation from Asia and the Pacific arrived
towards the end of the meeting. From India, there were
representatives of National Alliance of People’s
Movements (NAPM) and of BKU, the national farmers
federation. One of the key initiators of the PGA
network, Prof. Nanjundaswamy of the KRRS, was unable
to attend, nor anyone else from the group, as they
were in the middle of organising a rally of 500,000
people for the 2nd October. From Bangladesh, the
General Secretary of the Krishok Federation of
peasants and landless agricultural workers attended
and a woman from the Aboriginal Association. One of
the walls in the main meeting area was draped with
banners from the Movement for National Land and
Agricultural Reform from Sri Lanka (MONLAR). Among the
new groups attending, there were three representatives
of the huge Indonesian farmers federation, and a
representative of the Nepal peasants association, both
with over 10 million members. 
Since the launch of the PGA network, there has been a
very obvious under-representation of social movements
from both Africa and the Middle East. Unfortunately
neither of these imbalances were rectified at this
conference, partly as a result of visa restrictions
but primarily due to a lack of links in these regions.
However, four delegates from the new popular movements
in South Africa - landless peasants, Forum Against
Privatisation, and urban struggles against evictions
and service cut-offs - were able to make it to
Cochabamba, immediately after the mobilisations at the
Durban conference on racism.  Other groups from Africa
who have been part of the PGA process are the Ogoni
and Chikoko movements in Nigeria and peasant groups in
Senegal and Mozambique. Important discussions about
the broadening of the PGA network in these areas are
still to be had. Only a few weeks after the meeting in
Cochabamba, for example, Lebanese and Palestinian
organisations sent out a call to mobilise diverse
groups in the Middle East to launch a grassroots
anti-globalisation movement, spurred by the WTO
conference in Qatar. 

Criminalisation of the movement

Even in the run up to the conference, over the past
year, we had been witnessing a steady build up of new
anti-terrorist laws by governments across the world
which are broad enough to and sometimes explicitly
include protest groups part of PGA network. This issue
was already high up on the agenda for discussion, but
with the meeting starting only days after the suicide
attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, it
gained a renewed sense of urgency.  The implications
of these attacks on the anti-globalisation movement
could be felt immediately. Before we knew it, the
local and national media declared that suspected
terrorists were taking part in the meeting. Interpol
paid a visit to the conference site. The border was
practically sealed to delegates trying to get to
Cochabamba, including a bus load of 25 people
travelling from Colombia and Ecuador whose entry was
completely denied (unless, of course, they paid a
large fee for a business visa). At the opening
assembly, it was almost impossible to see beyond the
sea of cameras and microphones in front of the panel
of convenors from all continents and sectors – the
Bolivian press all waiting for a response to the

In a sense, the response was quite simple. Although no
one person or group can speak for PGA, a multitude of
voices from around the world expressed a sharing and
identification with the sudden suffering and pain of
ordinary people in the U.S., expressed by women and
men who know and experience on a daily basis the same
terror and unnecessary violence. These voices equally
spoke out against the absurd use of military power
against civilian populations in retaliation for these
attacks, and against the double standards of the U.S.
government. Many groups present in Cochabamba have a
very intimate experience of the darker side of Uncle
Sam’s foreign policy. Only a few hours away in the
Chapare region, for example, poor peasant farmers come
face to face with a US military base as part of the
aggressive coca eradication programme in Bolivia, much
like Plan Colombia. Since we left at the end
September, 10 people have been killed by the army in

I found it difficult not to be overtaken by fear in
this newly tense situation, but the fearlessness of
those around me was overwhelming – people who are
already engaged in a battle for life or death in a
much more direct way than I have ever experienced.
Many people have asked me if the conference wasn’t
overshadowed or taken over by discussions about
September 11th. Of course it was very present
throughout the week, and had some direct and tangible
impacts on the meeting. But it soon became clear that
the rapidly unfolding responses to the attacks only
affirmed the importance and relevance of two major
themes of the conference, ones which had been proposed
long before that fateful September day. 

Global opposition to privatisation and militarism 

The first of these was about the strengthening of
campaigns across the world against privatisation and
militarism. Both of these issues couldn’t be more
relevant now that the mantra of free trade is being
chanted more vociferously than ever as the source of
peace, freedom and democracy, and as the gigantic
machinery of state weaponry is propelled into action
while the share prices of major arms companies rise.
In the U.S. and Britain, political figures have tried
to justify the war on Afghanistan with this revived
rhetoric of economic development as a panacea,
particularly in the run up to the WTO trade
negotiations in Qatar. I wish that anyone with doubts
in their mind about this equation could have sat in
that school dining hall in Cochabamba listening to
accounts of some of real results of ‘free’ trade
policies – the very reasons why this movement was born
in the first place.

In the workshop on land, for example, delegates from
Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, South Africa and Asia
described the same stories of lands taken over by
agribusiness, either directly or subcontracted to
locals, and the subsequent escalation of landlessness,
hunger and urban slums.  This rapid privatisation of
traditional communal lands has intensified across the
world with regional free trade agreements such as
NAFTA, and there was much discussion on the
devastating implications of the new Free Trade Area of
the Americas (FTAA) and the  regional development
plans in South America. Massive mobilisations were
planned for the FTAA meeting in Ecuador next March. 

Similarly, at another workshop on water, people shared
stories of their struggles against World Bank driven
privatisation plans in Canada, Sri Lanka, South
Africa, Spain and Bangladesh. PGA was seen as an
important tool in the co-ordination of these
resistances.  These discussions culminated in the
decision for a worldwide campaign against the
privatisation of the global “commons”, which includes
market-based “solutions” to climate change such as
carbon trading. For indigenous peoples at the meeting,
this was framed very much in terms of an
all-encompassing struggle for territory and
sovereignty, and the right of communities to freely
organise their societies, livelihoods and relation to

The discussions around a sustained campaign against
militarism were only quite tentative in Cochabamba but
a later meeting of many PGA delegates in Ecuador came
up with some more concrete proposals. These included
organising a specific gathering on this issue,
inviting movements struggling for autonomy in the
context of heavy militarisation, in areas of strategic
geopolitical importance that are rich in natural
resources (for example, Afghanistan, Chechenia, the
Andean region, Central Africa, the Middle East, East
Timor, West Papua, the Balkans, Turkey and South
Asia).  Broader links for this campaign will also be
made with groups working against the arms industry,
the prison industry, police brutality, religious
fundamentalism, anti-war groups, women’s peace groups,
and self-organised migrants. One of the most memorable
days of the conference in Bolivia for most people was
a trip to the heavily militarised Chapare region where
the group was welcomed by over 10,000 cocaleros waving
hundreds of rainbow coloured “huipil” banners, the
indigenous flag of diversity.

Decentralising and diversifying

The second major theme of the conference is equally
relevant to the ‘post-September 11th’ context and is a
part of discussions that have been taking place over
the past year within the PGA network. There was a
general agreement in Cochabamba that we need to go
further towards localising anti-globalisation actions
and ground them in local realities, and also that
there is a need to decentralise the way the network is
organised.  We had all witnessed the incredible energy
and concentration of efforts in recent years at mass
actions like Seattle that have brought previously
obscure institutions like the WTO and the G8 into the
public consciousness. But the growing repression of
these mobilisations, manifested so horrifically in
Genoa, and the cowardly retreat  of the WTO to the
desert of Qatar or the G8 to the remote Canadian
mountains resort of Kananaskis next June, has raised
wider questions within the movement about where and
how we organise actions. 

Issues came up at the meeting around the burn-out
people had felt after spending up to a year planning
for one or two days of action, the increasing
logistical problems of crossing borders to reach the
meeting places of these summits, and the drying up of
many sources of funding for anti-globalisation
movements. In any case, this move towards
decentralised mobilisations  was perfectly illustrated
by the response of groups around the world to the WTO
Ministerial in Qatar. Reports have come through on
Indymedia websites, for example, of over 120 actions
in towns and cities in over 40 countries between the
9th and 13th November. Of course, these don’t reach
these headlines but reflect an ever more co-ordinated
movement that is rooted in local struggles on global

These same questions also relate very closely to
future international PGA conferences. It was decided
in Cochabamba not to hold the fourth one for at least
the next two years, and instead to focus on regional
meetings to strengthen and broaden the network at the
regional and local level. Also, as a way of not losing
the incredibly rich cross-cultural exchanges that have
taken place at global days of actions and PGA
meetings, there were various discussions about having
exchanges between movements, where one or two people
would travel to another country and take part in a
specific campaign with another group, learning from
each others strategies and forms of organising.
Another similar proposal was a new variant of the
“caravan” formula, where, for example, one participant
from each continent would travel in a small group to a
specific region to meet with groups and research a
specific issue, and then feed back to the network as a
whole. These projects would hopefully go towards
retaining the sense of unity and shared struggles that
is so central to PGA.

A further proposal on the theme of decentralising and
diversifying the network revolved around the idea of
popular education campaigns or “consultas”, which have
been used very successfully by the Zapatistas across
Mexico, la Coordinadora in Cochabamba and in Spain
earlier this year. After two massive mobilisations,
for example, la Coordinadora held a popular
consultation in the area served by the water company,
asking people whether they wanted these services to be
privatised. Fifty thousand people voted, and between
94 and 98 percent of the people said no. The basic
idea, then, is to build coalitions of social movements
in towns, cities and villages, and together to explore
creative ways of getting direct participation,
feedback and debate from a wide cross-section of
society. This could be on a range of global issues
(e.g. militarism, economic globalisation, labour
rights, immigration, the environment, women’s rights,
and democracy) and their implications at a local
level. Again, discussions on this were very much in
germination, but people are already starting to work
on popular consultations Brazil in March 2002 to
coincide with Inter-American Development Bank meeting,
and in Europe in 2004 during elections for the
European Parliament in June. 

Chaos and complexity

Imagine for a moment a room full of 200 people from
around 35 different countries, who speak about as many
languages (although translations are only made between
Spanish and English in the large group discussions).
Some are representatives of movements with 10 million
members while others are from autonomous collectives
representing only themselves. All come from a wide
range of political cultures with strategies that range
from working within political parties to direct action
outside the system (or both). And the convenors
committee haven’t been able to meet before the
conference to propose a timetable for the first three
days based on people’s suggestions for topics, or to
propose a process for group discussions and taking
decisions. Welcome to chaos! 

Certainly there were moments of real tension and
frustration during the week, some of which I feel
raised important issues for the network. One of these,
it seems to me, touches on power relations between
“North” and “South”, and the vastly different contexts
and realities in which we are organising. For one of
the few times in history, perhaps, we are attempting
to radically challenge the legacy of colonialism and
stand side by side as groups in the same struggle. But
have we really debated and reflected in an open way
what this actually means and how many of our
perceptions and actions may still need to change in
order to move towards being a genuinely post-colonial
movement? To give a couple of examples, I know that
many of us from the so-called “developed” world have
felt uncomfortable with the expectation that we can
‘help’ or ‘support’ groups from the South, either
financially or through solidarity actions, in what
feels still feels like a paternalistic relationship
and an old-style, one-way solidarity. 

Another is that during the conference in Cochabamba,
many from the so-called “developing” world felt like
the organisational process was dominated by people
from the North, both in terms of facilitation (and
what could be described as a particularly Western
style of consensus decision-making) and in terms of
planning the timetable and agendas for meetings. The
problem partly stemmed, I think, from the fact that we
didn’t give adequate time at the start of the
conference to agree a process that everyone felt happy
with and understood and that reflected cross-cultural
differences and decision-making styles. I think this
also raises the challenge of having very open and
transparent processes for how decisions are taken,
which, as much as possible, empowers everyone rather
than entrenching informal hierarchies. This was in
part addressed by the move to decentralise the way in
which the network is organised, and bring the
organisational principles of PGA more into line with
actual reality.  

A further key issue which ran throughout this third
international conference was that of gender, which it
was felt had been neglected as a central and
permeating theme in previous meetings. A number of
women also made it clear that they felt that sexism
was still very much a problem within the movement and
that this has to be addressed much more explicitly
from now on. These imbalances began, in some way, to
be rectified in Cochabamba, although, like the
question of how we liberate ourselves from
neo-colonial attitudes within this network, both could
definitely have had much more space to be debated
honestly, and I hope that we will create the spaces to
deepen these discussions in the future.

Finally, in terms of some of the internal dynamics of
this incredible self-organising and inter-connected
network, perhaps there are a few tentative parallels
that can be drawn with new paradigm thinking in
science, especially to chaos and complexity theories.
Amidst this chaos, like in many natural systems, an
incredible amount of creativity was generated, in ways
that couldn’t have been predicted. By the end of the
week, mutual understanding had undoubtedly developed
and a kind of order did come out of all the chaos. PGA
is by nature, like an ecosystem, a remarkably flexible
and adaptive network which is continuously changing
and responding to internal and external challenges.
These are still early days.

By far the best part of the week in Cochabamba were
the informal conversations, one-to-one or in small
groups, over meal-times or in the evenings over the
local Bolivian home-brew “chicha”.  It was here that
we really discovered the most about each other and had
potentially the most fruitful discussions, in the
midst of laughing, singing and dancing together! “What
has actually come out the meeting?” - I’m often asked.
I think above all it has strengthened and deepened
connections between people and the movements they are
part of, sown the seeds for real horizontal solidarity
and renewed hope in a time of many shadows. 

For more information: see www.agp.org

For donations to PGA (September 11 created a big
deficit for the conference):
Mouvements Populaires et Mondialisation (MPM), Maison
des Associations, 15
Rue des Savoises, Geneva, Switzerland
Account No. 70.505.5, Clearing No. 8390, Banque
Alternative BAS,Post Box 161, Lausanne 1001,

PGA Hallmarks September 2001

1. A very clear rejection of feudalism, capitalism and
imperialism, and all trade agreements, institutions
and governments that promote destructive
[Changed from:  A very clear rejection of the WTO and
other trade liberalisation agreements (like APEC, the
EU, NAFTA, etc.) as active promoters of a socially and
environmentally destructive globalisation]
2. We reject all forms and systems of domination and
discrimination including, but not limited to,
patriarchy, racism and religious fundamentalism of all
creeds. We embrace the full dignity of all human
3. A confrontational attitude, since we do not think
that lobbying can have a major impact in such biased
and undemocratic organisations, in which transnational
capital is the only real policy-maker
4. A call to direct action and civil disobedience,
support for social movements’ struggles, advocating
forms of resistance which maximise respect for life
and oppressed peoples’ rights, as well as the
construction of local alternatives to global
[Changed from: A call to non-violent civil
disobedience and the construction of local
alternatives by local people, as answers to the action
of governments and corporations]
5.   An organisational philosophy based on
decentralisation and autonomy.

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