Socialist.ca’s Peter Hogarth interviewed Chihiro Geuzebroek, director and producer of Radical Friends, a climate justice film premiering in North America November 7.
Can you tell us a bit about what the film is about?
The film is an activist coming of age story. Radical Friends tells the story of a Dutch/Bolivian singing activist who ventures out to Bolivia to connect to the grassroots of the Bolivian fight for worldwide recognition of legal rights for Mother Earth: mountains, forests, rivers as sentient beings.
What inspired you to take on this project?
In 2009 I was in Copenhagen during the UN Climate Summit. It was inspiring to protest for environmental justice with 100,000 people on the streets. It was scary to see the police state preventing reclaim power actions by confiscating bikes of bike-block a day before the action and arresting over 1800 citizens for questioning capitalist eco-terrorism.
It was life changing to find out that Bolivian UN delegates made proposals in line with the indigenous cultures that nurture life, and furthermore how they attacked the capitalist policies that favour centralized elite power that damages the earth and any perceived outsiders (both human and non-human communities). Making all victims invisible. For the first time I felt proud to be half Bolivian. I knew Bolivia didn't get the attention it deserved in the media. I felt it was my task to spotlight this underdog pride and reclaiming UN Climate Change talks discourse.
What part did the social movements in Bolivia play in telling this story?
Well, the reality is social movements can be diverse and are often not unified. In Bolivia I also experienced the culture is more introvert. The Dutch culture is very blunt. Both these factors make it difficult to have access to honest full representation of social movements.
I always knew I would be a bridge-figure inside the story: the bridge between two different cultures. But I soon found out the only way to tell a truly honest story if I would tell “my story in Bolivia” and not pretend to tell “THE story of Bolivian environmentalism.” I could only reach out to city-based activists as country-based activist either speak one of the 36 other languages or it takes sustained living with them to gain access.
I think however that Ramiro (the waterwar activist) does a good job in breaking the myth that social justice progress is the product of a president or group of policymakers. Making it clear that both in distant history as in recent history with the water war protests it was the grassroots that opened up the way for more progressive leaders to rise. Marcelo (working with Quechua communities) does a good job to covering profound indigenous insights that are not understood in academic discourse.
How do indigenous rights fit into the climate justice picture in Bolivia?
This is very connected. Colonialism and later corporate disaster capitalism reduces Bolivia to an extractivist economy. This means global south countries are enslaved to export their wealth of natural resources to rich countries that make profit of turning it into consumer goods. This involves landgrabbing, mining, logging taking place on the most well kept land of indigenous people.
In 2010 Bolivia held the World People Conference on Climate Change and the Rights for Mother Earth. There were over 31,000 people from 140 countries. Among them many representatives from indigenous communities and speakers referred to indigenous concepts which all had to do with vitality and communal values—of balance and it is this exact thing that capitalism sets out to destroy: the ability to govern themselves.
What alternatives have been created in Bolivia? How can they challenge the logic of the capitalist system?
When Evo Morales started out as president, Bolivia was in horrible condition. The accomplishments of the MAS government include the redirection of wealth toward the creation of 485,574 new jobs between 2006-2010. In this time extreme poverty dropped from 38 to 25 per cent and the percentage of people living in poverty from 60 to 49.5. The gap between the richest ten per cent and the poorest ten per cent has shrunk from 128 times to 60 times more wealth.
The irony is that most of the recuperation operations have been done by nationalizing transnational capital. That means less corporate giants bloodsucking Bolivia—but the industries in place are still predominantly extractavist and this is still harming the land. On a good note: 21 million hectares were declared public lands and largely converted into protected forest areas—which was previously land-grabbed illegally by large landowners.
What is the relationship between the government and the activists and social movements on the ground in Bolivia?
It must be known that up until the revolution of 1952 indigenous people were not even allowed to enter main squares of Bolivian cities. But in 2011 five of the country’s nine governors were of indigenous or campesino (farmer) origins, while 90 of the 166 elected representatives in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly came directly from the ranks of Bolivia’s social movements. The new constitution that was voted in (with 60 per cent of voters supporting) also advanced the process of decolonizing the state: With the elections of judicial authorities in 2010 a record number of 50 per cent women and 40 per cent indigenous entered into the judicial branch of state.
Will people watching your film leave hopeful? What do you see as the next step for the climate justice movement internationally?
Yes! I didn't want to make a sad-bastard movie. I feel responsible to offer media discourse that is both confronting and disarming and most of all battery-charging, so people go out there and take the next step to bring out the hero in yourself—rather than waiting on the couch for some politician or some clicktivism to deliver breakthroughs. The movie is a mission to make radical friends around the globe.
The screening is November 7—but the movie will also participate in the online fest – 1 month VOD possibility after the festival. For more information visit http://planetinfocus.org/