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Joining the Franciscans at the 2012 People's Summit for Social and Environmental Justice in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – June 13 – 20, 2012

d2Panel discussion at the People's Summit
d3A tank covered with bread – 'Money for war cannot feed the poor'

Invited by our Congregational Leadership, I joined with 60 Franciscans working on justice, peace and integrity of creation issues by participating in the People’s Summit for Social and Environmental Justice. This event ran parallel to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, called “Rio+20."  

This UN Conference had been proposed by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as an evaluation of the 1992 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (“ECO92"), also held in Rio de Janeiro.  The threefold purpose of these conferences had been furthering a worldwide green economy, eradicating world poverty, and strengthening the institutional framework for sustainable development.

The People’s Summit inspired a rise to a new global convergence among movements of women, indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, youth, peasant farmers, rural workers and other minorities, who are advocating their human, cultural and religious rights. The assemblies, mobilizations and massive People’s March were powerful expressions of this convergence.

The People’s Summit gathered about 350,000 people from around the planet in tents outside the UN Conference. They held a diverse program, which included about 800 autonomously managed activities.  Our Franciscan representation was comprised of Franciscans International, the worldwide Franciscan Family, and the Franciscans of Brazil along with many young people who accompanied us.

In our tent called “Religion by Right,” renowned author Leonardo Boff criticized the topics of the UN Conference beginning with "Sustainable Development." He called this phrase oxymoronic since the word "sustainable" is not consistent with the idea of "development."  The logic is intrinsically contradictory.

There is wide criticism about the green economy concept, the myth of a "green economy" and of a “greening of technology” by presenting them as solutions to the environmental crisis. This is a strategy to further advance the interests of capital and targets rural workers’ lands who are already experiencing its effects in land concentration, privatization of water sources, pollution of oceans, invasion of indigenous lands, national parks and natural reserves.

We focused on four main concerns that are really myths:

d4Sr. Maria Lúcia protests with FI members on behalf of poor people

1. Carbon Offsets and Biodiversity Credits - Large companies purported to be “developers” are allowed to pollute and destroy whole ecosystems if they pay someone to supposedly preserve biodiversity in some other corner of the planet.

2. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) - A system which imposes for a very small payment some management plans that deny entire families and whole rural communities all access to their own land, forests and water sources while ensuring the developers unrestricted access to pristine forest areas.

3. A “climate-smart agriculture”-  Developers want to impose the use of transgenic (genetically modified) species "adapted" to drought and pests, as well as the use of new, toxic pesticides.   Besides producing potentially poisonous food, they place entire populations at grave risk.

 

4. Water-use restrictions to further higher valued cropsDevelopers defend the use of most available water to irrigate export crops, such as biofuel and other industrial purposes, instead of growing crops to feed the people.

d5Paz – Sr. Maria Lucia (at left) with friends and FI members5.  "Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity” (TEEB) - A strategy to put a price on all natural goods (like water, biodiversity, the landscape, wildlife, seeds, rain) in order to privatize them and charge a fee for people to use and enjoy them.

I also participated in the events held at the Recyclers’ Tent since I am preparing a project on garbage recycling for Pires do Rio (where I live).  The dominant economic model does not seek to meet the main needs of the people.  It constantly produces a huge amount of goods and seeks to persuade, through advertisement, that they are essential for life.

St. Francis of Assisi was totally immersed in his society.  As his followers, we too are called to understand the world in which we live and support life in all its fullness and diversity for all of God's creatures.  Pope John Paul II, in responding to the challenges of modern times, called our attention to the need for an "ecological conversion."

Besides attending the People’s Summit, our Franciscan group visited Favela Rocinha, one of the largest shanty towns (favelas) in Brazil – and we received a glimpse of the reality of how these people exist. They live on a steep, large hill overlooking the postcard view of Guanabara Bay. We also visited the Center for the Defense of Life, in the nearby city of Duque de Caxias, which helps women who are living in violence and vulnerable situations.

d6Rio +20 – Evaluating the 1992 Conference

Though the official document of our People’s Summit left out many important issues such as health and education concerns and the proposal that a common fund be created, it served an important purpose. It achieved many of its hopes and goals to be a counterpoint to the so-called “green economy” politics of national governments.  The Final Declaration of the People’s Summit at Rio+20 can be accessed online in English, Portuguese, French and Spanish at: http://cupuladospovos.org.br/en/2012/07/final-declaration-of-the-peoples-summit-at-rio20/

We, the Franciscans, were fully present in solidarity with causes such as these: marches by women; protests by Brazilian Native Indians in front of the National Bank of Economic and Social Development (BNDES); demonstrations against corporations in front of the energy giant Vale Company and in defense of the poor community; advocacy for pesticide-free food supplies and for alternative production models in Brazilian agriculture; protests against the green economy and the commercialization of life.

The whole experience was immensely enriching for me.  Just by being present among so many different kinds of like-minded people, I felt our hope being rekindled within me. Though we may be a minority, the banners of our struggle will always remain fully visible in the hearts of those who have faith. We believe that indeed "Another World is Possible!”

 

Sr. Maria Lúcia Barbosa de Oliveira, SFP