Class Warfare evident in & outside UN climate talks

12/03/10 Kelly Benjamin
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The United Nations climate change talks in Cancun are taking place in a high security fortress called Moon Palace in an exclusive beachfront resort area but as WMNF's Kelly Benjamin reports, there are 2 sides of Cancun in and outside the UN talks.

Cancun, Mexico is famous as a sun and fun vacation destination for US tourists. Sparkling luxury hotels and elite resorts with fine dining restaurants and multiple swimming pools blanket the coastline where the picturesque Caribbean waves hit the white sand. But few tourists venture past the hotel district to the other Cancun, where the majority of the vast majority of the population lives.

"Our salary for one day is five dollars. All the day, working like eight or ten hours."

That's Maru Garcia, she's the head maid in an all inclusive hotel in the zona hotelera or the hotel zone that spreads across a narrow strip of land between the beach and Lagoona Nichupte, a lagoon that effectively divides the rich and the poor.

"Of yes, it separates the people living here, it's to separate the people living here, it's too different. The hotels are for people coming to Cancun, it's not for people living here. The prices are too high for us."

Valentina Martinez is the President of the Mexican Network of Environmental Journalists

"Cancun, when it was planned, it's a really young city, it originated because of business purposes, touristic purposes so that's why it was built to have all these hotels, 5-star hotels, and not thinking of Mexican users. It was mostly for international tourism that they wanted to attract to this place. So, I'm not surprised to see this."

Martinez says it's not right that some of the best beaches in Mexico are reserved for the rich.

"How can I say that in English? ... It can be insulting because, for many Mexicans to come it's really expensive. It's even more expensive than to go outside of Mexico, to a US city. It's real expensive, so my thought is why if it's our resources why wouldn't we be entitled to enjoy them as well? I see that as a contradiction. Who has the access to come here? Definitely not Mexicans."

The divide between the rich and poor is a familiar theme during the UN climate change talks in Cancun and is as evident outside the UN talks as it is inside as developing nations attempt to negotiate with industrialized nations for a fair deal to tackle climate change. Abdul Ganiyu Labinjo is a climate negotiator from Nigeria.

"As you can see, it's very obvious the developed nations are not being extremely committed and sincere as far as I'm concerned. They've got to be less ambivalent and face the facts that they have a role to play and must really put their money where their mouth is on this matter so that we can all save the future. I'm not too impressed. What you see is a lot of talk, a lot of backward and forward."

Labinjo says that developing nations are feeling the effects of climate change but it is the rich nations that created the bulk of greenhouse gasses that are causing climate change.

"It goes without saying that the bulk of the greenhouse gases that we have in nature are caused by the developed nations. It is a fact. And for them to now come and say 'okay, we have done this, now you want clean energy, you want more expensive kinds of energy and so on, for the future of the world.' It's strange because they got it cheap and they want us to pay for it. It's unfair, there's an imbalance that they must subsidize."

Labinjo's sentiment is echoed with by other developing nations. Peter Tujay is a negotiator from Sierra Leone.

"Especially for developing countries, they've [developed nations] got to take leadership on this whole issue. Because if we look at the arguments, they are the ones that actually started...they should be held responsible for the climate change problem that we have right now. And if they should act up to their responsibility as current leaders on global actions, then obviously they should put their mouth where their money see, if anything goes wrong to this global farce, all of us will suffer, and I believe those that will suffer worst are developing nations."

International negotiations on tackling climate change will continue next week in hopes of a solid agreement.

Meanwhile for Maru Garcia, the head maid in an opulent Cancun resort, life goes on.

"It's like a big hole, you know, the difference. You say we are divided between the rich and the poor? Oh, yes...yes."

From Cancun, Mexico, this is Kelly Benjamin for WMNF News.

Kelly Benjamin is a fellow with Earth Journalism News. Tune in next week for his continued daily coverage of the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Cancun.

Previous WMNF coverage of COP16

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Uninvited guests…

I’m with Sonia Alvarez on this one… it's not right that some of the best beaches in Mexico are reserved for the rich... from the good ol’ US of A. The 111 million citizens of Mexico should have unrestricted access to their own beaches!!! As the climate negotiator from Nigeria points out… “…it is the rich nations that created the bulk of greenhouse gasses that are causing climate change...” So… let’s fight… to make the tourists from those rich countries… use their own beaches and spend those $millions$ in their own countries!!! For US, that would be places like… Key West… Miami… Clearwater… Virginia Bch… Galveston… you get the picture. We just need to make a few changes to the laws in our "tourist traps" regarding the availability of sex, drugs and alcohol… and… presto chango… we have 5 Cancun’s within driving distance. Of course our worker protection laws won’t let US get away with paying $5.00 a day… but… as long as the sex, drugs and alcohol are more or less unregulated… I don’t think anyone will gripe about it.

just the way it is

You're a typical East Coaster Glenn, you neglected to mention any of the fine beaches of California. You also have a skewed view of Cancun, those vices you mention are probably more readily available in Daytona, Miami Beach, Panama City, Venice, Malibu (you get the picture) than they are in Cancun. Your comment, an apparent attempt at humor, doesn't make a whole lot of sense. I assume you have no problem with poor brown people getting paid $5.00 a day to wait on rich white people?

Not enough troops...

You know me… never leave my county except for weddings or funerals. And it’s not that I don’t have a problem with what a person is paid. It’s just that as a US citizen… I can’t dictate what the government of another country says is legal to pay their own citizens. What… are you suggesting that we impose the laws of our government… on another government’s citizens??? Wouldn’t that be an act of aggression??? Jeez… we’re already fighting 2 wars… you trying to make it 3???

So, what to do?

Nice story, Kelly. You really captured the irony and frustration of this Cancun climate scene. Good to have you here. The guy from Nigeria is right of course, but where does that leave us? Most African negotiators are saying, USA cut your emissions ... and give us cash. I agree with the first part for many reasons, war and ecocide being products of our addiction to fossil fuels. But I have trouble with the money part. Sure, we need to compensate Africa -- for hundreds of years of pillaging and murder. An Illinois oil burner owes the people of the Niger Delta. Big time. I just don't want to compensate some guy with a villa outside Lagos. The trick is, we need to reduce our economy -- consciously, systematically, explicitly, sustainably. Our money mainly screws up things in Africa and elsewhere. There needs to be less of it, used better. But who the hell is talking seriously about that kind of stuff?? Keep up the good work! Jeff with EJN

I don't owe Africa anything!

OK, Jeff, you cough up your own money and send it to Africa if your conscience is bothering you but don't encourage policies that will force the rest of us to pay. I don't owe anyone in Africa anything!