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Americas Social Forum 2008 

Monday, October 13, 2008

Report from the Americas Social Forum

October 12 is an important day for Indigenous social struggles throughout the Americas. Previously celebrated as the anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival, indigenous peoples now commemorate it as a day of resistance. Building on this symbolism, nearly 10,000 people gathered at the Americas Social Forum in Guatemala to demand social and economic justice for indigenous and all peoples in the hemisphere. We now go to Marc Becker and Jeff Juris in Guatemala City.

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Sunday, October 12, 2008


The Social Forum closed today with a march to the National Palace in the center of Guatemala City. On the main plaza we had a rally with the reading of final statements from the forum. Today dawned bright and beautiful, a wonderful day for a march. Now, however, I'm sunburned.

Right now I'm waiting for transportation to Antigua. I'll spend the night there, work on my reports, and tomorrow I fly back to the States.

Assembly of Social Movements

Saturday was the last day of sessions. I returned again to the Iglu to Indigenous meetings, where the main topic of discussion was relations between Indigenous movements and the World Social Forum. A particularly strong topic of conversation was Indigenous representation on the WSF's International Council.

We then all gathered in the Campesino Tent for the final Assembly of Social Movements where different groups took three minutes each to make statements.

We then came back to the hotel to work on the FSRN report. It is taking a lot of time to pull it together, and since I'm so new at this the quality of the sound clips that I have are not very good. I'm worrying that after all this work that they won't use the report anyway....

Saturday, October 11, 2008

More forum

The days are starting to run together, and I'm having trouble keeping track of which parts are associated with what day. It doesn't help much that I spend most of my time in the Iglu at the Indigenous events, and that those discussions are so heavily focused on plurinationalism and neoliberalism that they tend to blur together after awhile.

In the afternoon, the campesinistas were supposed to have a meeting in the Iglu, but for some reason they moved it to the campesino tent (which they were calling the indígena-campesina tent). Other than more banners and more slogans, the content was not that different and both have the symbolic altar in front of the stage. More of an organized presence of campesinos (ie, Via Campesina and the like) had come to the Iglu than an indígena presence at the afternoon session.

In the eventing, Grassroots Global Justice organized a reception for the United States Social Forum. Rumors are that the next USSF will be held in the summer of 2010 in Detroit, but that local arrangements are being problematic.

So, I get back to the hotel later than I would like, but after 3 days the morning rooster crowing no longer bothers me as much as it did the first morning. Today (Saturday) is the last day of sessions, and tomorrow is the final march. The forum flies by quickly.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Evo Morales was supposed to show up at the Forum today. He did not come. I'm losing track of how many meetings I've been to recently where he was supposed to show up but did not make it. I saw Evo speak in October 2002 at an anti-FTAA meeting in Quito and was really drawn to his discourse. I've been looking forward ever since to hearing him speak again, but he never shows up because of emergencies back at home.

So, instead, there was a message from Evo and a public event with a band on stage playing the Social Forum Hymn and a Kichwa woman attending to the Indigenous alter in front of the stage.

This morning I went back to the Iglu for more Indigenous meetings on plurinationalism and food sovereignty issues. In the afternoon, the rally and concert in solidarity with Bolivia and Cuba was supposed to start at 2pm. The sky was clear and the sun was hot out on the Plaza of the Martyrs. A little bit later, it started to rain again. We went instead to a Grassroots Global Justice panel on social movements in the United States.

In the evening we went to a film Voices from the Mountain about the Santa Anita coffee cooperative. After the event, I introduced myself to one of the farmers as from Madison, the home of Just Coffee that buys and roasts their coffee. He was so excited to meet someone from Madison, and raved about Matt & Mike and all the folks at Just Coffee. I told him I was sorry that I was on the only person from Madison at the Forum, but he said no--there is Beth, who is also from Madison. Nothing like being introduced to someone else from Madison by a coffee farmer in Guatemala.

By now it was late and we're in the middle of Guatemala City looking for dinner and I am way outside of my comfort zone. But we make it back to the hotel ok. I'm always torn--I should have come back to the hotel to get some work done, but I also don't want to miss anything. Norm volunteered me to do a report for Free Speech Radio News, but fortunately it is not due now until Sunday nite so I can go to sleep instead of staying up all nite working on it. The roosters woke me up early this morning (something like 5am), so I'm happy to go to sleep now since I'll probably be up early again in the morning.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Peoples and Nationalities of Abya Yala

We went early over to the forum this morning because they said that traffic would be bad and it would take us along time to get there. Instead, we arrived very quickly and long before much was happening. So, we walked around and checked stuff out and took some pictures, and finally picked up our bags and information, including a map of where events will be on campus.

Armed with that info, I started checking out panels. The first one I went to was one that Indigenous groups had organized, but nothing was happening there. So, I went to another panel, but no one was in the room. So, I went one room over which was very full with people talking about resistance to mining. After awhile I wondered back over to where I had started, and now that room was full and things were in full swing. Apparently the second panel I had searched for had moved over so that all the Indigenous events were together. I recorded the talks and wondered if I would ever use them. Sylvia sat beside me frantically taking notes, and I wondered if I should be doing the same. But I've already pretty much heard everything that Blanca Chancoso was saying.

I went to find lunch, and then it started to rain (hard) so I stayed in the Via Campesina tent where people were talking about food sovereignty issues in Central America. It was not that different from what people were talking about this morning, but it was an entirely different set of organizations. I guess the campesinista/etnicista divide is still very much alive.

When the rain let up, I headed over to an AMARC panel on new digital media--where I originally wanted to go. I just caught the tail end, and it seemed a bit disconnected, tho Jeff said it was a good panel. We waited around after the panel for my press credentials and an indimedia meeting that never happened.

On the main stage in the evening they were having a musical celebration for Che Guevara on the anniversary of his fall in combat 41 years ago. El dia del guerrillero heroico. We get back too late again (moving around this city is such a hassle), and I'm in a different house again tonite. These logistics are such a nightmare.

I should write more content, and I'll try to do that some other time. Today, however, seemed like we were talking to ourselves about things we already know. Oh well.


The morning dawned bright and beautiful in the paradise that is San Pedro de Laguna. It was horribly tempting to stay there and enjoy the day, but it was time to go back to Guatemala City and get to work.

We get on a shuttle where we are crammed in uncomfortably like sardines, and we have these round about discussions whether a chicken bus would be faster, safer, and more comfortable. Who knows. It sure would be cheaper. We need to pass by Antigua to drop some people off, and once in Guatemala City we start dropping others off downtown, and the bus station, before finally continuing on to drop us off at the hotel by the airport.

We get to the hotel only to find out that a bunch of people who were supposed to leave that morning had their flight canceled, and despite our reservations there was no room in the inn. So, I get outsourced to another hotel, which is a further pain because their internet does not work (probably because of the kid running the hotel playing with porn on their computer). It's going on 4pm and I still have not had lunch and I'm starving, but out here there are no places to eat.

We go the San Carlos University where the forum is being held and registration is a mess. Apparently their computers with the registration database crashed, and so we all have to register again, and by hand. By the time we figure out the entire process, all of the bags with registration information are gone. I still haven't eaten and am starving, and so we go across the street to a cafeteria which turns into another whole zoo (can you make me a vegetarian burrito without meat, I ask? Ok, I'll make you one with chicken then, is the standard answer).

It's getting dark now, and the inauguration of the forum is surely going on by now. So finally we give up on filling our stomachs and go join the festivities. With the wonderful music and inspiring talks (Alberto Acosta talked about Ecuador's new constitution), all of the old worries melt away. We're here at another forum, and we're working to make a new and better world.

Monday, October 6, 2008

marc vs. the volcano

Right now I feel like Ernesto Guevara on his 39th birthday when he wondered how much longer he could continue on his chosen career path. Maybe I need to hang up the idea of climbing volcanoes. San Pedro just absolutely did me in today. When I summitted Acatenango when I was 23 years old, my fellow climbers said that Guatemalans liked the paths to go straight up so that they could "feel" the volcano. That one almost killed me then, and even tho San Pedro is much lower the equally steep path (up up up) really did me in now that I'm so much older. Equally bad is the descent, with the constant pounding on the body as we lost altitude more quickly than we had gained it earlier in the day. What should have been a 3-hr round trip (about 10 km, I think) took us three times as long. Running out of water and getting sick just adds to the fun.

But, nevertheless, I pocketed another volcano, and in this regard Guatemala treats me much better than Ecuador (where my record is something like 10-1). We had nice views from the top before the clouds quickly moved in (a half hour later and we would not have seen anything). And the hike took us through interesting changes in vegetation, past coffee plantations and corn milpas up into primary forest stands. Plus I got a better picture of the town of San Pedro. It really is a normal town (at least compared to the other ones around the lake), and the only thing that is weird is this tourist district plopped down in front of it in which should be the town's milpas and water front.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

San Pedro la Laguna

So this is the weirdest place, a bit of hippy dropout culture plunked right in the middle of a traditional, conservative Maya village. I'm on the opposite side of Lake Atitlan from Panajachel, and this must be what Pana was like some 30-40 yrs ago. I'm staying at the very nice but overpriced Hotelito El Amanecer Sak'cari with a room overlooking the lake. There aren't any really clear streets or maps, and although this is a very small town I got completely lost on my way here. I walked to the end of a road and asked at a tourist place where this hotel was. They said just to keep walking on a trail through milpas and basically through people's front yards until I finally found it, along w/ other hippy restaurants, basically dropped in the middle of peoples' milpas. Later I found a more standard stone path above the hotel, but yet the whole setting is so beautiful but also so discordant. I'm tapped into a feral internet connection, listening to a stream of Third World View on WORT as I blog. I guess if you're going to drop out of life, this is as good of a place as anyway to drop out. So, I can hang out here for a couple days, chill, and get some work done.

The whole tourist economy can drive me crazy. When I was looking for prices for shuttles in Antigua they were all over the map. I asked at my hotel why this was, and they said that it depended on the type of vehicle a company used. But the reality is that no matter where one buys a ticket, everyone seems to get dumped together anyway so that the companies can run full vehicles. So, yesterday on the way to Pacaya I had paid more through Atitrans even though people who paid less were on the same van. I bought my ticket for the shuttle to Pana this morning at my hotel because it was a couple dollars cheaper than Atitrans, even though a couple people who had purchased their tickets through Atitrans were also on the van. Or perhaps there is a difference. Yesterday I road shotgun, the most comfortable seat in front beside the driver with the best views. Today, I got stuck on one of the very uncomfortable fold-down seats that was made doubly worse because mudslides had closed the main highway and we went on back roads with a driver who took corners too hard, braked too hard, and shifted gears too roughly. I was constantly thrown around, though it was not nearly as bad as The Vatican Express in Cameroon when we were smashed 5 across on a Toyota Coaster bus designed to seat 4, which meant that I was half on the fold-down seat. Being on a back road today, though, meant that the scenery was absolutely stunning.

Third Assault on Pacaya

This was my third time on Pacaya.

The first time was decades ago when I was studying Spanish in Antigua. I had just climbed Agua, my first summit, and was completely enthralled by volcanoes. So, I skipped Spanish classes on Monday to climb Pacaya with this crazy Aussie dude. It was an end (or beginning) of the world type of experience with sulphur wafting everywhere and stones being thrown up in the air. It was one of the most incredible experiences I have ever had. I almost dropped out of Spanish school and forgot about Nicaragua just to dedicate myself to climbing volcanoes.

The second time was a night climb with a group most memorable for a whinny little french thing, a driver who tried to kill us by passing on blind curves, and a little green man w/ a big gun who went along with us.

On this third time security was better, roads were better, no little french things, and the lava flow was quite an experience--tho still not the same as that first assault. And it was crowded--talk about traffic jams.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Back in Antigua, Guatemala, where I studied Spanish a couple decades ago. This place has become so gringo--with signs all over the place in English & prices in USD. Time to go find something to eat.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Setting up the blog

I'm leaving on Friday for Guatemala, and just setting stuff up so it is ready to go.

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