Bolivia's UN ambassador on climate change finishes term

Pablo Salon.

Pablo Solon completed his term as Ambassador for the Plurinational State of Bolivia to the United Nations on June 30.

As representative of a small and poor country, Solon has played a key role in perhaps the decisive political struggle of this century: the fight against climate change and the unjust economic system causing environmental and social crisis.

On behalf of the Bolivian government led by indigenous President Evo Morales, Solon has pushed for the UN to enshrine the right to water as a human right, and led efforts to implement a Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth.

Most importantly of all, Solon has been at the forefront of the battle for climate justice ― the effort to address the climate crisis in an urgent and equitable manner.

I first met Solon in early 2010. He was in Vancouver to speak at an inter-faith social justice conference, and he was kind enough to also address a forum called “Change the System, Not the Climate” that several groups, including the Canada-Bolivia Solidarity Committee, had put together at the local Unitarian Church.

Solon’s speech was an eye-opener, sobering yet energising. He calmly outlined the audacious course of action Bolivia was proposing towards building a global movement for climate justice.

The Vancouver forum was held only a couple of months after the disastrous Copenhagen UN Climate Summit in late 2009, which had left climate activists dejected.

In concluding his remarks, Solon invited our Vancouver audience to participate in the Cochabamba People’s World Conference on Climate Change.

In April 2010, more than 30,000 indigenous people, Latin American activists and delegates from around the world converged on Cochabamba, Bolivia.

The summit was a space for discussion and cross-pollination, but it also set out concrete plans and proposals for achieving climate justice.

Little Bolivia helped present a big vision when it was needed most.

The “Cochabamba Protocals” were part of a new, more combative and less patient mood, with less tolerance for Titanic-deckchair-shuffling by politicians or cynical “greenwashing” by corporations.

Where governments failed, people’s movements had to step it up and take matters into their own hands.

In Vancouver, we were inspired to organise meetings promoting the Cochabamba agenda, including a report back from the conference featuring Ardoch Algonquin activist Robert Lovelace. Plans for a local People’s Assembly for Climate Justice soon followed.

Unfortunately, over the course of 2010, many governments that had shared Bolivia’s disgust with the ‘Copenhagen Accord’ were cajoled, bought off or just plain threatened and bullied into coming on board.

By the time the Cancun UN Climate Summit came around in late 2010, Bolivia’s position had become more isolated within the official negotiations.

So it was that, late one night in December 2010, Solon was a lone voice loudly objecting to the Summit chair’s attempt to push through “consensus”.

He spoke at some length, enumerating the many problems with the Cancun agreement. It was a sort of filibuster on behalf of Mother Earth.

There are times when you must stand alone in order to stand on the right side of history.

Inside the Summit halls in Cancun, Solon no doubt endured scorn and abuse from other delegations. But outside the Summit his stoic effort was noticed and appreciated.

If as a species we can still unite to salvage a decent, sustainable future, Bolivia’s Cochabamba Summit and Solon’s stand at Cancun will no doubt be recorded in the story of how we managed to begin to pull the emergency brake on climate chaos.

All this simply to say: thank you, Pablo Solon. And thanks to the people of Bolivia whose inspiring revolutionary process made it possible to have a diplomat/social activist like him at the UN during these crucial years.

La lucha continua.  The struggle continues.

[Derrick O’Keefe is a writer, editor and social justice activist in Vancouver. The article is reprinted from]


"Little Bolivia helped present a big vision when it was needed most." Come to Bolivia, come to Cochabamba - talk to people of all walks of life, and you will find out that you have been dreaming. Cochabamba is one of most polluted cities in this thirld world country; it is dirty, people do not respact "Mother Earth" here at all, nobody gives a damn about the environment. There are about 100.000 used cars that have been smuggled in recently, with the assistance of corrupt customs officials and police officers. The offenders have now been granted a large-scale amnesty by the Morales government to "legalize" these cars, many thousands of them stolen in the neighboring countries. Solon is leaving his post not because he finished his term as you stated. A Chilean newspaper, La Tercera, reported that Solon fears to be implicated in the scandal surrounding retired Police General Sanabria, ex anti-drug Zar of the Morales government, who is being tried in Miami for drug trafficking. Solon said he was leaving the UN position to go back to Bolivia in order to "take care of his mother".... You, Mr. O'Keefe are well meaning - no doubt about that. But you have no clue what makes 'little Bolivia" tick. You have been charmed by a member of the ruling party. Many gringos like you fall into the trap of Latin charme. Again - come to Bolivia, and meet people who oppose the government, imcluding former supporters of Evo Morales, and you'll have a clearer picture of what's goin g on down here.
A short few months ago, I would have applauded your comments on my country. However, I find myself now scratching my head over how does a publication titled "Green Left" balance its implied vision with the recent policy turns by the Bolivian government. For illustration, I will only cite: 1) Legislating the "Ley de la Revolución Productiva, Comunitaria Agropecuaria" which in fact legalizes the cultivation and trade of GMOs in Bolivia. 2) Building of highway between Villa Tunari and San Ignacio de Moxos, running through a national park located in the provinces of Chapare (Cochabamba) and Moxos (Beni) which houses the most diversie flora and fauna and natural wealth in the world due to their particular, location, topography and general area. All this without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the three Indigenous Nations custodians of that land, namely the Yuracarés, Chimanes and Moxeños. They did not just NOT CONSENT but they REJECTED this project. Lastly, if you were in fact in Cochabamba why do you not mention the unofficial session/working group 18 which attempted to highlight the contradictions of the discourse of Protecting and Recognizing the Rights of Mother Earth with Bolivian internal policies of carrying forth development strategies to insert itself and profit from global industrial capitalism via extractive industries. They seem to think the "greening of Bolivia" is through acquiring more US Dollars for the few, are you this kind of green vision as well????
Whatever dirty rumours you want to spread about Solon or the Bolivian government, it doesn't disprove a single thing mentioned here. I was at the Cochabamba climate summit. It was timely and very welcome as an intervention into the ghastly charade seen at Copenhagen and Cancun. I met many people with strong criticisms of the Morales government, not entirely surprising, but none of those criticisms can take away the fact that Bolivia more than any other nation in the UN pushed for serious climate action. If you can't see that, then your factionalised blindness is just as bad as the faults you say you oppose in the government. And Cochabamba was not so badly polluted. It was what I'd expect from a city in a poor country. I see far worse smog here in Melbourne. Your affected "Latin charme" doesn't fool me. BCC