Maggie von Vogt reports on the new focus of the Mesoamerican Campaign for Climate Justice and asks 'Mesoamerican communities are willing to adapt in the face of climate change, are your communities'?

I've been thinking a lot about something Angel Ibarra, President of UNES, stated in a recent press conference. He said that Central America suffers from “low self esteem", referring to a collective tendency where folks think that they don’t know the solutions to the many problems they face, or don't have the capacity to solve them themselves, thus hoping that the answers will come from the outside.

But why do people think like this? It could be the result of a long history of on-going US government, military, and business intervention in the region, repressive governments, and brutal civil wars. Angel's words have stayed with me, and have helped me to understand more of why we see the "vulnerability beauty contests" that governments of poor countries play into with the hopes of receiving Green Fund money, or desperate hopes for some kind of "advanced" technology developed by northern countries to resolve the climate crisis.

But at the Regional Forum, on 30 - 31 August, looking at "A Proposal for Sustainability for the Mesoamerican People in the Face of the Climate Crisis”, I noticed that things are changing.

Sea change in Mesoamerica

Approximately 50 organizations and 150 people from throughout the Mesoamerican region joined together outside of Tegucigalpa, Honduras with a revived spirit of sharing information, experiences, visions, and histories. There was hope and a drive to change things as well as a vested interest in survival and the urgency that the climate crisis causes us to fight for the survival of this precious part of the planet.

It seems a complex history of repression and resistance has created a striking resilience, creativity, and commitment to survival that has its own unique form in this part of the world.

Proposals for sustainability: this is the new focus of the Mesoamerican Climate Justice Campaign. It's not about just pointing out everything that's wrong, but pointing out what's right, and working to define strategy, policy, and practice towards solutions. This pro-activeness is a positive and new element of the campaign, and I honestly feel this is what will give it life and hope amidst all the environmental, political, and economic challenges in Mesoamerica.

Local organisations have their say

In an effort to strengthen ties to the local level and highlight sustainable practices that should be adopted in public policies, the organisers gave participating countries space to share the work they are doing to develop sustainable practices in the face of climate change on a community and national level.

I was struck by the diversity of tactics, wisdom, and creativity shared as they brought their local experiences to the spotlight.

On day one, we heard about culturally relevant mitigation and adaptation being used in Garífuna coastal communities in Honduras, about the work of UNES-member OIKOS in educating small-scale farmers in crop diversification, sustainable water management and advocacy with local governments.

Alfredo Coc Caal from Ixcán, Guatemala, left me impressed and inspired by the clarity of his community's connection between the long-standing struggle of indigenous communities for sovereignty and access to natural resources, and the relationship of this struggle to climate change.

From Nicaragua, Youth United for Life shared reflections on their youth education programme that focuses on environment, culture, sports, and sexual and reproductive health. Nestor Alvarez, a young man from a rural community, commented in his presentation:

“Most of us young people really didn’t know much about the environment before. It has been really good to see the theme of the environment included into the work of a youth organization. As young people, we try to increase the participation of youth in these conversations. We want young people to know what is happening on the planet, since we are the ones who will inherit it."

Looking forward to 'el buen vivir'

On the second day, we all meandered to breakfast a little late after having enjoyed the Corn Festival the night before – an evening of dancing, cultural presentations and food. I felt a surprising amount of energy amongst people as we moved into the meeting room to listen to a presentation by my colleague José Luis from UNES talking about “a Mesoamerican proposal for sustainability."

The power had gone out, and he couldn’t screen his powerpoint presentation. But despite sleepiness and darkness, I noticed attentive and interested expressions on the many faces across the room, as José abandoned the computer and began to explain his argument about how interpretations of adaptation and mitigation have been co-opted by capitalism, and made to become lucrative.

Hands raised, and I witnessed a richness of exchange, commentaries, and debate. The conversation moved from recognizing that, whether it is called sustainability, a solidarity-based economy, or “el buen vivir”, the Mesoamerican people have to take adaptation and mitigation and mould them based around this new paradigm, not the traditional capitalist model that has consistently negatively impacted the ecosystems and majority of the population in the region.

Doing away with false solutions

In a call and response session, my colleague José Luis placed the word “mitigation” on the white board, and people launched their proposals of what it would mean within this new paradigm of sustainability.

The proposals came one after another for ways to create sustainable communities, countries, and Mesoamerica. ‘Not REDD (Reducing Emissions for Deforestation and Forest Degradation), not CDM (Clean Development Mechanism), not green capitalism’…., but rather ‘living with less, gender equality, transition to the solar era, a new attitude towards natural resources, environmental education’.

“We don’t need the computer or the projector to do this”, commented José Luis, who left his powerpoint presentation on a computer and returned to the white board to jot down the key elements coming out of the conversation. People laughed in agreement.

In the last 5 minutes of the presentation, the power came back. A technician passed the microphone to José Luis, who started to talk into it and then said, "No thanks, I don't need it."

“He already adapted!" commented Bety, a lively and friendly woman from a local radio station and anti-mining activist from Olancho, Honduras. Everyone laughed in agreement.

Where there's a will there's a way

Through creating this space for sharing stories and case studies, and opening dialogue, things are shaping into an idea of precisely identifying what is wrong, and also what is right, guided by a clear vision of what we want: a just and sustainable relationship between human beings and the planet.

“We were able to adapt when our ancestors came to Honduras from Central Africa. If we could adapt then, we can now,” says Oscar Miranda, the presenter from the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras.

There is a willingness and capacity to adapt in Mesoamerica. Are people willing to adapt where you live?

Maggie Von Vogt is a Progressio development worker in El Salvador.

Photo: Angel Ibarra presenting a talk on adaptation in the face of climate change.

Read our latest briefing about Catholic perspectives on climate change here.